The Felons Track (7)



On the night of the 24th of July, I was awakened, where I was staying, by a rapping at my window. I recognised the voice of my sister-in-law, and learned from her, in a few seconds, how matters stood. Her information, in brief, was this that: Messrs. O’Brien, Dillon and Meagher had left Dublin on learning that the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended; and that it was supposed their object was to throw themselves on the courage of the country. This intelligence rested on the authority of two trusted members of the council of the Confederation, Messrs. James Cantwell, and P.J. Smyth. The fact was all which I then cared to know. I parted from my sister in half-an-hour, and rode off in the direction of Carrick-on-Suir, where I was certain Mr. O’Brien would direct his way, whether he came alone or followed by his countrymen in arms. ‘Mid the lone silence of that journey, while there was leisure to revolve all the difficulties and hazards of the future, the idea never once occurred to me that, supposing my information correct, the step was rashly taken. On such occasions, when centuries gather into moments, some one overmastering feeling, hope or passion absorbs and controls the whole understanding. That which was then present to my mind, and occupied all its faculties, was the hope of satisfaction, or vengeance, if you will, for so many ages of guilty tyranny. The tears, the burning and blood of nearly one thousand years seemed to letter the eastern sky, as day dawned upon my way. Apprehension, I had none. From earliest childhood to that hour, I never met one Irishman whose hope of hope it was not to deliver the country forever from English thrall. I had lived amidst all ranks (at least in their characters of politicians), had known the sentiments of all, from the most ignorant peasant to the very highest official of government; and then or now, I would find it difficult to say where hatred to English domination—English power in Ireland is neither government nor dominion—reigned the most intensely. Some men there are by nature cowards, and they would shrink from the perils of national deliverance; but if any sentiment could be said to live in natures so grovelling, the grudge against England, even though too craven to make itself audible, constitutes the essence of their mental vitality. Some there are, too, so selfish as to sell their own and their families’ honour for gold; but as they count their sordid gains, if they fall short by a scruple, whether in fact or in anticipation, the deficiency becomes a heap of hoarded spite against England. One man of that class, whom I had known, will furnish a conclusive example. Trusted and paid by the Whigs, he was a supreme West Briton, who saw in his country but a prey for meaner cormorants; distrusted and dismissed by the Tories, he would storm the Castle, even with the baton of the English office from which, he had been discarded. Others, also, of a loftier stamp, were reined in, in the path of allegiance, by considerations more justifiable, yet more or less cowardly in character.

Ballingarry, Slievenamon in the distance, 1848

Some doubted the ability of their country to effect her redemption. Some doubted the capacity, and perhaps the sincerity, of the chiefs. Some were schooled in duplicity, and under the ermine, or under the privy councillor’s robe, carried fierce hearts, benumbed by mendicancy and seared by shame. But the first flash of their country’s liberty would see them ranged at that country’s side, repaying with the fiercest hate the beggar crumbs which England had flung from the fragments of her overloaded table. It is true enough that a long course of corruption, beginning with the perjured peer and ending with the tidewaiter, had created a class of conditional loyalists, with nine-tenths of which the condition is always unfulfilled; while, in its very fulfilment, the other one-tenth has found but bitterness, the “sauce piquante” of their daily bread. But as a general rule, such a thing as a pure Irish loyalist does not exist. Its possible existence presupposes an absurdity in nature. An Irishman cannot become loyal to English domination, without divesting himself of the last attribute of his nature, not as an Irishman, but as a man.

The knowledge of this fact was my “base of operations.” Ten thousand armed men successful against a garrison of five hundred would produce a more abundant crop of avenging warriors than the fabled dragon’s teeth, and that simultaneously through every square mile of the island. In ten days there would be two millions of Irishmen in arms. It may well be asked, what arms? But even instinct will reply, what arms would be needed? England had in Ireland less than forty thousand men, and, without hazarding the question, how many of them could she rely on, it requires no consummate military genius to suggest how they could be dealt with by a simultaneous rising of the country. The arms of her enemies would then be hers. She would have time to form a regular army to aid her undisciplined strength. England’s position at home, where she had not a soldier to spare; her condition abroad, where she was beaten to the wall; and her relations with foreign powers would achieve the rest. To a successful Irish revolution, a coup-de-main is indispensable; and a coup-de-main would be incompatible with any organised plan other than existed. It will be seen at once that for this place details are unfit. The above sketch rather comprehends the bolder outlines of an insurrection in action, and they suggest nothing to warn the enemy as to future operations. The prospect they presented to me—a prospect which long contemplation seemed to have realised into fact—excluded from my mind the preliminary and intermediate considerations of time, place, and other circumstances. There was but one of any importance, the success of the commencement; and that seemed beyond all question if, as I hoped, the neighbourhood of Carrick-on-Suir were selected. As I approached that town in the grey of morning, and the past and the future in burning recollection thronged on my brain, I envied the destiny which God had awarded to its inhabitants, in breaking the first link of the slavery of nearly twenty generations. This, alas, was a dream. The people of Carrick had already, with shrinking hand, marred their own immortal lot.

Arriving at the house of John O’Mahony, one of the truest of living Irishmen, I heard what follows. On the previous day Messrs. O’Brien, Dillon and Meagher had arrived at Carrick. Their arrival was unexpected, sudden and startling. They had apprised no one of their approach; and no counsel had been taken or decision come to. It is needless to say that the crowd which gathered to see them, when the intelligence of their arrival spread, came unarmed and unprepared. The speeches addressed to them were brief, determined, and to this effect: “We learned,” said the chiefs, “that an act was passed authorising the Irish Government to seize our persons without even the imputation of a crime. You have vowed to strive with us in every extremity, and die with us if need be. We are here to demand the redemption of your pledge, in the name of your enslaved country. The hour has come when the truth of that country is to be tested; and first among her children the trust of her honour is committed to you.” How much more might have been said, and how far short of the passionate appeal made by the most gifted of men the above language may fall, this is not the place to inquire. The crowd answered with a loud shout. With the leaders of that crowd other thoughts were busy. Some of them waited on the “Traitors”; others, and the most influential, absented themselves. Among the latter was the Rev. Mr. Byrne, who, up to that hour, had taken an advanced position among those who were most forward in the cause of the country. Not a fortnight before, he delivered a speech to nearly one hundred thousand persons in the town of Carrick, pre-eminently insurrectionary in its tendency; and he had acted more than once as controller and regulator of the violent passions his own vehemence aroused. For this duty, which he effectively discharged because of his known disloyalty, he received the public approval of England’s Prime Minister. From all these circumstances, the responsibilities of his position were such as it would require great hardihood of character to shrink from. It was reported at the time that he did not rest content with abandoning a post which he had attained with intense ambition, but exerted his utmost influence with the people against an enterprise which he designated as rash, ill-designed, and fraught with ruin to the town. This report has been repeated as a fact by the present writer, and has not been contradicted by the Rev. Mr. Byrne. But it is right to add that a very respectable gentleman, a witness of that day’s proceedings, has distinctly contradicted it. He added that the Rev. Mr. Byrne remained a passive spectator; and he defended the conduct of those who really influenced the people, on the ground that the preparations seemed of their very nature to preclude the possibility of success; and that it was the sacred duty of every man capable of appreciating the position and resources of the people, the difficulties of the enterprise and the consequences of failure, not alone to Carrick but the entire island, at all hazards to prevent a useless wreck and slaughter. The great argument relied upon by every one was, why should Carrick be selected? The same question would apply everywhere else; and if the consideration it involves were to avail, there never could be a revolution. However, in Carrick it seems to have prevailed. Other arguments, no doubt, were urged, such as want of provisions, want of arms and want of ammunition. The moment of indecision is the harvest of evil passions—avarice, selfishness, cowardice cloud the intellect, and blast the destiny of man. There is some doubt as to who principally superinduced this indecision and the judgment which here ranks it with a faulty weakness and a fearful fatality refuses to question the motives upon which it was based.

One singular fact, attested by all, deserves particular notice. It is this: The other Roman Catholic clergymen of Carrick did not then interfere. They had been always opposed, on other grounds, to the Irish Confederation; but in that hour of fate they were silent.

Mr. O’Brien and his comrades left the town deeply disappointed, if not in actual disgust and despair. They were ignorant of my absence from Cashel and determined to join me there. When I had learned this, I was thirty miles from that town and knew that they had arrived there during the night, and had, long before then, taken some decisive course. My hope was that the town was in their hands. But, before I could decide on what it became me to do, a messenger arrived from Cashel, directing me to remain where I was, and conveying an assurance that Cashel was by that time captured. Mr. Meagher immediately followed, confirming the intelligence. He was on his way to Waterford. We immediately determined on scouring the country along the bases of Slievenamon and the Slatequarry hills, which stretch into the county Kilkenny. During that journey the enthusiasm of the people was measureless. At every forge, pikes were manufactured, the carpenter was at work fitting the handles, and the very women were employed in polishing and sharpening these weapons on the rough mountain stones. We called at several villages, and were surrounded by the young men and the aged, by matron and maid, and from no lips did one sound of complaint, or discouragement, or fear fall. Everywhere hope and resolution and courage lit up the hearts and eyes of young and old. We rode, at least a distance of twenty miles, and returned assured that there was not one man within that district who was not then prepared and would not be armed ere night came. We appointed the chapel of Ballyneal, within two miles of Carrick, as the place of rendezvous, determined to act according to the intelligence which we might receive from Cashel. Meantime deputations from Carrick waited upon us, to assure us the people there would follow us notwithstanding any advice they might have received. We agreed that we would not attack the town, and required five hundred men for another enterprise. A short time afterwards some directions were required, and I wrote one or two sentences on a scrap of paper which was taken from the messenger by the Rev. Mr. Byrne and torn. What his influencing motives might have been I know not, nor do I care to inquire. My first impulse was immediately to appear in the town and throw myself on the protection of the people. My friend dissuaded me from this attempt and proposed to go into town himself, which he could do without danger, to ascertain what would be the probability of my proposal’s success. After two or three anxious hours, he returned, impressed with the conviction that such an attempt would be fatal.

By this time crowds began to assemble at the place of rendezvous before alluded to, and word was brought us that the Reverend Mr. Morrissey, the parish priest of that place, was endeavouring to disperse them. Owing to his character, there was not much to be apprehended from his influence with the people. His associations had been with the aristocracy, and most of his friendships and sympathies contracted at the fox-covert, or on the “Stand House.” This is mentioned, not in disparagement of the man, but for the purpose of rescuing his Order from imputations attaching to his conduct alone. The very fact of his interference would suggest the conclusion that the course he recommended was opposed to the general sentiments of his brethren; so we felt at this time. But we mistook his influence with the people. It was reported to us that he used certain arguments, incredible, because blasphemous. But the argument which succeeded, and which all alike attested, was this, “that he would put himself at the head of the people if they but waited three weeks.”

Influenced by this promise, the people had dispersed before my friend arrived at the place of rendezvous. He returned to me sadly discouraged, after a day and night of labour and agitation as intense as ever strained the energies of man. I then determined to ride on to Cashel, to learn the fate of Mr. O’Brien and his comrades. I was accompanied by two young farmers, well armed. We arrived about midnight at Brookhill, where I was made acquainted with all that had occurred at Cashel.

The history was more melancholy than our own. My absence was used as an argument, sincere or pretended, against any effort in that town. Mr. O’Brien, in ignorance of whom to apply to, took counsel with one man at least, since accused of the darkest treachery. Others, from whom I had different hopes, shrank from an encounter which, at other times, they seemed to long for as the dearest blessing Heaven could bestow. There no clergymen interfered—the people were left to act for themselves; but it must be admitted that the actual people never had an opportunity of proving their courage. A young friend of mine, who had all my trust, and justified it by unshaken fidelity through many a trial, was despatched to the country to procure assistance, but he applied to the wrong source, and, deluded by the character of him to whom he had spoken, returned under the mistaken conviction that from the country nothing was to be expected.

This decided Mr. O’Brien and his friends. He had been joined at Cashel by P.J. Smyth, and James Cantwell, now in the United States, by James Stephens, now at Paris, and by Patrick O’Donohoe, now sharing the doom of his chief. As an episode in this history, the fate of Mr. O’Donohoe is singular and startling. He was much relied on by his friends in the Confederation, and was entrusted with the dispatches to Mr. O’Brien. He proceeded on his mission to Kilkenny, and there applied to one of the clubs. He was known to none of the members, and became at once the object of suspicion. It was, accordingly, determined to send him for the rest of the journey, under arrest, and Stephens and another member were appointed to that duty. They proceeded in execution of their mission to Cashel, where Mr. O’Donohoe was warmly welcomed by Mr. O’Brien, whose fate he thenceforth determined to share. Mr. Stephens came to the same resolution; but the other guard of Mr. O’Donohoe, refused to commit himself to fortunes which appeared so desperate. With Messrs. Stephens and O’Donohoe, their very desperation acted as the most ennobling and irresistible inducement. They clung to him to the last with a fidelity the more untiring in proportion as his circumstances portended imminent disaster and ruin.

Their departure from Cashel compelled a feeling of gloomier forebodings and deeper despair than they had yet experienced. The darkest consciousness that ever clouded the hopes of man began to darken upon them. Where they expected that every man would make a fortress for them in his very heart, they were almost abandoned. But their resolution remained unchanged. They, therefore, resolved as a final resource to take up their position in the most inaccessible part of the country. As they proceeded through the hilly grounds, skirting the Tipperary collieries, a crowd began to gather around them, and they saw what they hoped would form the nucleus of an army. Braver hearts never beat beneath a cuirass, but they were not armed, disciplined or even taught. On that day they took the road to the village of Mullinahone, situate about seventeen miles south-east of Cashel. As they entered Mullinahone, the chapel bell was rung, and a crowd of some thousands collected.

Mr. O’Brien addressed them with the same brevity and force as at Carrick-on-Suir, where his hopes were far brighter. The two clergymen, Rev. Mr. Corcoran and Rev. Mr. Cahill, appeared by his side, and openly resisted his advice. But, with the people, their influence totally failed. Three thousand persons at least formed their bivouac that night. Mr. O’Brien remained up with them most of the night. Notwithstanding the disappointments of former trials, he once more entertained most sanguine hopes of his country’s resurrection. But, ere morning, the counsels of the clergymen prevailed so far as to introduce discussion and disunion; and next day he was abandoned by more than half his followers. Once more the priests interfered and openly remonstrated against the course Mr. O’Brien had proposed. They tried every means, entreaty, expostulation, remonstrance, menace, but without any considerable effect; and Mr. O’Brien left the town with a large multitude, directing his way to Ballingarry. The village of Ballingarry is about four miles distant from Mullinahone; and the inhabitants of the latter accompanied Mr. O’Brien to the boundaries of the former parish, whose inhabitants in turn assumed the duty of his escort and, if need be, of his defence. When the cavalcade reached the village, they took up their position in the chapel-yard, and summoned the neighbouring people by the ringing of the chapel bell. A great number of people answered the signal, and Mr. O’Brien explained to them his purpose and his hopes. He did not then propose any plan of immediate offensive operations, but stated in general terms that his object was to protect himself from arrest, while the country would be engaged in organisation, and the crop coming to maturity. An idea prevailed among the people that he only wished to be protected for a time, and they seemed incapable of appreciating either his object or his motives. I reached the spot as the assembly was breaking up and the people retiring in small groups to their respective districts, some four or five hundred who were partially armed, remaining in the village. I was accompanied by Thos. D. Reilly, who made his way to me on that morning. We had entered into arrangements with certain men whom we met in the morning as to a joint movement, for which the followers of Mr. O’Brien seemed but ill-adapted and prepared. Our first care was to take counsel as to the future. We detailed mutually to each other the respective circumstances which had shaped our movements so far, and with which it was our duty then to contend. But one thing seemed quite clear; namely, that the country demanded a delay of at least a month. Although the sincerity of the motive on which this demand was founded seemed questionable to many, there was no way of counteracting its effect or denying its universality. The question then was, how was the demand to be complied with without compromising our liberty or the position we occupied? It was argued that the necessity of our condition would justify any act which would reassure the minds of the people in reference to the apprehension of starvation, which was so sedulously inculcated, and that a proclamation should forthwith be published confiscating the landed property of the country, and offering it as the gage of battle and reward of victory, and another proclamation directing the people to live at the expense of the enemy. This proposal was resisted on the ground that it required an aggressive act on the part of the Government to justify so sweeping a proceeding, which, if attempted by us in our then position, would be regarded as an act of mere plunder, unredeemed by any of the stern necessities of war. So decided the majority. It was then proposed that we should scatter, and take shelter individually as best we could until harvest time. But Mr. O’Brien refused to hear counsel which involved, as its first principle, the idea of becoming fugitives. A middle course was therefore decided on. It could not fairly be said that the country had been tested, and we were not, at the time, aware how far people at a distance were prepared to second our efforts. The strength of the Government, too, seemed paralysed. For miles on miles around, one solitary soldier or policeman was not to be found. The small garrisons had been withdrawn, and all the available forces stationed in the county had been concentrated in the large towns. The idea of maintaining our position for a few weeks seemed not at all improbable; and, meantime, we would have an opportunity of organising the distant parts of the country, and of preparing those then around us for active service. When men differ, a compromise is sure to prevail. It did so on that occasion, and it was accordingly resolved, that we should return to the neighbourhood of Carrick, wait the arrival of the expected assistance from Waterford, and keep the neighbouring garrison of Clonmel in awe, by signal-fires by night and scattered parties by day. We immediately returned and rode most part of the night on our way back. We slept a few hours at Brookhill and had interviews next morning with men who, on the previous day, were in high heart and hopes. We at once saw the effect that delay and indecision had produced on their minds. Reports, the most contradictory and false, respecting what Mr. O’Brien proposed and stated, had found their way among them, and it took hours to reassure them. They again promised us to be ready, however, and we proceeded across Slievenamon. On our journey we had interviews with the leaders of clubs and of other bodies, and at each step we found the difficulties of our position and the weakness of public confidence fearfully increased. We still hoped that the arrival of assistance which we expected from Waterford would restore unanimity and confidence.

When we reached Kilcash, at the southern base of Slievenamon, we learned that all hope of the expected assistance was at an end. Mr. Meagher had returned; and having despatched O’Mahony to Mr. O’Brien, to request he would once more return to the neighbourhood of the mountain, where he either could be more safely concealed for a time, or a last desperate effort could be made under better auspices, he waited several hours after the time appointed for his return, and then departed towards the direction of Borrisoleigh, in the northern riding of Tipperary, accompanied by Mr. Maurice Leyne, with whom unhappily he fell in, and to whose weak counsel, according to the information I received, much of his subsequent ill fate was owing. The distance to Borrisoleigh could not be less than forty miles. Mr. Meagher must have been persuaded by O’Mahony’s delay, that Mr. O’Brien had been driven from his position, and perhaps captured, or he would not have undertaken so long a journey, the sole motive of which could only be the hope of rousing, with the aid of the Rev. Mr. Kenyon, that district of the country, so as to rescue his chief or avenge him. It was then apparent that our position had become desperate. We instantly proceeded to the house of our friend, who recounted the particulars of his visit to Ballingarry, and its results. He agreed in the propriety of going a second time to meet Mr. O’Brien, and urging upon him the necessity of some decisive course. The startling events of the two preceding days too clearly proved that his position was not tenable, and that whatever might be resolved on, it was indispensable to remove from Ballingarry. It was then night, and we were all sorely taxed by long riding and want of rest. Not one of us was able to mount, so we placed hay in a car on which we flung ourselves, and trusted to the guidance of the boy who led the horse. We travelled about nine miles in this way, one endeavouring to act as sentinel while the others were asleep; but we found that unless we trusted to blind chance, we could not continue our journey. So, half by force and half by persuasion, we obtained liberty to stretch on a pallet in an empty room. Mr. O’Brien was then snatching a little broken rest in a field, not four miles away from us, without our being aware of the fact. In the morning we learned that he remained there only while a car was procured at Mullinahone, and then returned to the neighbourhood of the collieries. He left Ballingarry on the advice contained in Mr. Meagher’s message, and, accompanied by some hundreds of his followers, proceeded towards Carrick through the town of Mullinahone where for the third time he had to encounter the open hostility of the Catholic clergymen, who on this occasion had recourse to threats and even blows. Owing to their interference, one-fourth of those who followed him so far, did not accompany him outside the town. He was nearly deserted, when he changed his resolution of falling back on his former position. When the car arrived he proceeded directly to the town of Killenaule, which might be said to be the head-quarters of the colliery. There he and his companions entered the hotel, where they remained till morning. Early that day the chapel bell was rung, and a great multitude flocked into the town. They were, as usual in that quarter, miserably armed. But they were enthusiastic, and the Catholic priests did not interfere. While the bell was tolling, intelligence was received that a troop of dragoons was approaching. The people immediately erected a barricade at the farthest extremity of the principal street. It was constructed of empty carts and baulks of timber. The moment the troop entered the street, a similar barricade was constructed in the rear. The hotel was situated between the two barricades. The officer in command made no demonstration of active resistance; and as he approached the last barricade he was surrounded by a great multitude. A few of the people were armed with rifles and muskets, others with pitchforks, scythes and slanes, and others had no weapons but stones. John Dillon stood at the barricade. The officer asked why his passage was interrupted, and stated he was only on an ordinary march. Mr. Dillon demanded whether his object was to arrest Smith O’Brien? He said emphatically, No. Mr. Dillon then asked if he would pledge his honour as a soldier, that he had no intention of arresting Mr. O’Brien, adding, that if he did so, the troop would be allowed to pass unmolested. He unhesitatingly pledged his honour, and immediately the barricade was partially removed. Mr. Dillon took his horse by the bridle and led him out of the town.

We were approaching Killenaule by another route when Mr. O’Brien and his party left it by the high road to the collieries. We followed, and after a race of some ten miles overtook them near Lisnabrock. Thence we proceeded in cars to Boulagh, and thence to the Commons. This was on Friday evening, the 28th day of July. We retired to an upper room in a publichouse. There were then present Mr. O’Brien, Mr. Dillon, Mr. Stephens, Mr. Cantwell, Mr. Meagher, Mr. O’Donohoe, Mr. Maurice Leyne, Mr. Reilly, Mr O’Mahony and myself, with others whose names I cannot mention, fourteen, as well as I remember, in all.[10] The same questions that were discussed on the former day were again revived, and we, who felt the necessity of the bold course we recommended then, were much more convinced of it under the altered circumstances of our position.

The debate was long and warm, but Mr. O’Brien’s objections were even more immovable than ever. It will not be expected that all the proposals of that evening should be reproduced here. Suffice it, therefore, to add that as far as the principles by which Mr. O’Brien’s conduct was guided, he adhered to them the more steadfastly in proportion as ruin became more inevitable. Many calumnies have been circulated respecting that meeting. It has been said that the discussion was acrimonious and the separation final. The truth is, there was not one word, even, of an angry tone, and we separated just as on the former occasion, determined to cope as best we could with a doom we were unable to avert. Often afterwards it was a source of melancholy pleasure to some of his comrades that he had not been induced to incur what he regarded as guilt. The lofty consciousness of unerring rectitude which sustained his fortitude could not fail to be chequered by the recollection of acts which in his own estimation were not purely blameless. Had success attended the suggested proposals, they would receive the world’s unqualified approval; while failure, explained through the medium of a malicious law, and a warped and cowardly public opinion, would brand them as iniquitous. But Mr. O’Brien’s scrupulous sense of honour escaped the hazards of such feeble probabilities; and in the hour of deepest gloom his own unsullied conscience shed peace, light and glory on his fate.

A Street in Ballingarry, 1848

Some of his companions exulted in the morning scene at Killenaule. To seem able to capture a troop of her majesty’s dragoons, they regarded as a victory. But others, more thoughtful and correct, mourned over the escape of the military, which was only to be justified on the ground that the incongruous force around the feeble barricades, would be unequal to the task. It is a singular thing that while Captain Longmore utterly despaired of forcing his way, Mr. Dillon was fully conscious of his inability to resist him. The latter assumed a superiority he was unable to sustain, the former abjured a design which it was criminal according to the civil, and cowardly according to the military code, not to attempt the execution of Mr. Dillon, who led his horse, was a proclaimed “traitor.” So was Mr. O’Brien, whose presence was avowed; by virtue of his allegiance, and still more, by virtue of his commission he was bound to arrest them. To neglect it was cowardice, cognisable by a court-martial and punishable by death. There could be but one justification—utter inability to effect the service. The evidence, then, that could alone satisfy a court-martial must directly contradict that which Captain Longmore offered at the trial in Clonmel. But while Mr. O’Brien viewed the conduct of Captain Longmore as cowardly submission, it would be unjust to conclude that it imparted a single shade of inflexibility to his principles or purpose. On the contrary, they assumed their attributes of most rigid sternness as his fortunes became clouded by a deeper gloom. He was averse to everything which bore the stamp of desperation, or could possibly imply a shrinking from fate.

Of those who took part in the deliberations of that evening, Messrs. Dillon, Stephens, MacManus and O’Donohoe resolved to continue with Mr. O’Brien. There seemed a possibility, though a desperate one, that they could baffle the enemy for the time the country required, and maintain their position of open defiance, whilst we, in different parts of the country, should keep up an appearance of force, so as to distract attention and check any attempt to despatch a force from the garrison of Clonmel. Meantime we were to endeavour to organise a force, and, if strong enough, act on our own responsibilities and according to our own principles. We left him about nine o’clock in the evening, after the best dispositions available out of the number with us were made to prevent surprise during the night. Soon after our departure he strongly advised Mr. Dillon to leave for another part of the country. I proposed to take up my post on Slievenamon, where I would be in the best position to fulfil Mr. O’Brien’s wishes; where, at all events, I could escape arrest, in spite of any efforts to capture me, and where I expected, in a few days, to rally a considerable force. Mr. Meagher said he would take his stand on the Comeragh mountains, in the county of Waterford, with similar views and purposes. Mr. Meagher and Mr. Leyne, with three or four others, travelled together on a car. We dismissed ours, and crossed the country. Next day we arrived once more at Brookhill, which is within about one mile of Fethard, where we were able to procure a car that brought Mr. Reilly as far as Kilkenny. The first care of us who remained was to fulfil the commission assigned us. A young friend, of whom mention has been already made, joined me that evening. He had been two days in search of me, and was greatly exhausted by anxiety and fatigue. Rumours of various kinds were rife. But, what was most disheartening was that the courage of the people was fast subsiding. Men who were most eager for deeds of any daring two days previously, began to exhibit symptoms of hesitation, doubt, and even indifference. But a far sadder disaster had elsewhere befallen. Mr. O’Brien, after a night of anxious care, was still full of hope. He was even then engaged in drawing up a manifesto, embracing, as far as possible in such a document, the motives and causes which suggested and justified an armed revolt, and the principles upon which it was to be conducted. Whether the draft was destroyed or fell into the hands of the Government, is not now clear, save in as far as the non-production of the paper at his trial, is evidence that it never reached his persecutors. The leading principle of his entire conduct was, that the property, the liberty, the destiny of the island belonged to the entire people, and that the institutions which guaranteed them should be the calm embodiment of the nation’s deliberate judgment, ascertained through the medium of a free assembly, deriving its authority from universal suffrage. This was one potent reason why he refused to assume, either as military leader, or as the chief of a provisional government, the responsibility of an act which could be regarded as the basis of the future government of Ireland. He was scrupulously anxious that the great principles upon which the future liberty of Ireland was to be based, should emanate from the free will of the people, uncontrolled by dictatorial power or personal prestige.

But Mr. O’Brien was not destined to accomplish the object of his solicitude. About twelve o’clock on the morning of Saturday, the 29th day of July, he was apprised of the approach of a body of police, under command of Captain Trant. Simultaneously with the appearance of the police, an indiscriminate crowd, composed for the most part of women and boys with a few armed men, ranged themselves around him. They occupied an eminence in front of the road by which the police approached. Another road crossed this at right angles, and Captain Trant, instead of leading his men directly against Mr. O’Brien’s position, denied along the cross-road to the right hand—that which led to the Widow M’Cormick’s. The motive of this manoeuvre was obvious. Either from personal cowardice, or from cool judgment, he determined to await further reinforcements, and, meantime, to secure some place of shelter and defence. The crowd, with Mr. O’Brien, immediately rushed from their position and hung fiercely on the policemen’s rear. Captain Trant ordered a retreat, or those under his command adopted that precaution without his authority. The armed leaders among the people, Messrs. MacManus, Stephens and Cavanagh, hesitated to fire on troops flying for their lives. But they urged the pursuit so rapidly, that, by the time the police took shelter in Mrs. M’Cormick’s house, they were hot upon their track. The crowd surrounded the house, and Mr. O’Brien, approaching one of the front windows, called on Captain Trant to surrender. The latter demanded half an hour to consider, which Mr. O’Brien unhappily granted. Pending the half hour, the crowd became furious and began to fling stones in through the windows. Some of the men inside were knocked down by the stones, and the officer hurt. Seeing that their own leaders could no longer control the people, and believing the destruction of himself and his party to be inevitable, Captain Trant gave orders to his men to fire, whichpresented his only chance of escape. Mr. O’Brien immediately rushed between the people and the window, on one of which he jumped up, and once more demanded the officer to surrender. But the order to fire had been given and executed with deadly effect. Two men fell dead, and several were badly wounded. The crowd fell back; but Mr. O’Brien remained still in front of the house. There were several windows in front and two small ones only in the rear; parallel with the rear was a barn, in which there were two still smaller windows. Messrs. Stephens and MacManus took possession of this house, and, placing three or four sure marksmen inside for the purpose of taking down any of the police who should appear at the back windows, they proposed to burn the house in which the police took shelter. They carried bundles of hay and placed them against the back door and roof. The police seized on Mrs. M’Cormick’s children, and held them up to the windows, to terrify or appease the people. At this juncture the Catholic clergymen appeared on the scene. Either, being appalled by the scene of death before them, or being personally cowardly, or feeling that to continue the conflict would be productive of useless slaughter, they exerted themselves to the utmost to disperse the crowd. Whatever may have been their motives, it is certain that, although Mr. O’Brien was in the neighbourhood since the previous Wednesday, they had not in any way interfered, and only came upon the scene to attend to the dying and the dead. Mr. O’Brien and his comrades, finding themselves beset by this unexpected difficulty, retired a short distance, to consider what was best to be done. The people were again quickly forming around them, and all were hurriedly preparing to storm the house, when a fresh body of police was seen approaching from the opposite direction. This force consisted of sixty men; the first only amounted to forty-five. Constable Carroll rode on considerably in advance of his party. He found himself suddenly surrounded, and was forced to surrender and dismount. He and two others of the advance-guard were removed. But the main body continued to approach rapidly; and Mr. O’Brien was not in a position and had not strength to intercept their junction with the other body. His friends pressed Mr. O’Brien to retreat, which he refused. Admitting, fully, his inability to cope with these forces, he declined to avail himself of the means of escape at his disposal. His comrades impressed on him that his life belonged to the country; that another effort was yet within the range of possibility, and that it was incumbent on him to save himself for the final issue. By long and passionate entreaty, they induced him to mount the police-officer’s horse and retire. When he had left, Messrs. Stephens and MacManus led off the remainder of their party, without being pursued or molested.

After a short consultation, they determined to separate. Mr. Stephens proposed to go on to Urlingford, where a large force was collecting, and MacManus accepted the duty of bearing to us the intelligence of the disaster, and taking chance with us for the future. He came up with Mr. Meagher, Mr. O’Donohoe, and Mr. Leyne, who were then on their way to the Comeragh mountains, but changed their purpose on hearing this sad intelligence. They remained that night at the house of a man named Hanrahan, near Nine-mile House, a small village on the high road from Kilkenny to Cork.

I was all this time ignorant of what occurred. After Mr. Reilly had left me, and I was joined by the young friend already mentioned, I summoned as many of the farmers of the neighbourhood as I could collect, and it was agreed that ten of them, who would represent each one hundred men, should meet me next day, after divine service, at the wood of Keilavalla, situate near the western base of Slievenamon. We were to be joined by two others from the neighbourhood of Carrick-on Suir, from which we were distant about ten miles. On that morning the news of Mr. O’Brien’s disaster spread far, and was, of course, exaggerated. I had slept the previous night not far from the mountain, where I was watched by two brothers named Walsh, who lived at Brookhill, but have since removed to the United States. I gladly avail myself of this occasion to attest their fidelity and bravery. At the time appointed, my friend and I proceeded to the place of rendezvous. We remained for hours, and remained in vain. At last one only of the ten arrived. He told us that at the chapel the Rev. Patrick Laffan read the names of the proscribed traitors for whose persons a reward was offered….

We continued on the mountain during the remainder of the day; and toward evening about fifty men came up to us, who, one and all, expressed the utmost indignation at what had happened. Once more our hopes revived. If Mr. O’Brien could avoid arrest for a few weeks only, we expected that a sense of shame would sting the country to desperate exertion.

After night-fall we descended, and slept at a farmer’s house at the southern base of the mountain, where we were most kindly entertained and sedulously guarded. We there heard of the Ballingarry disaster. Next morning we once more ascended Slievenamon, where we endeavoured to dissipate the heavy hours and the still heavier consciousness at our own hearts by firing at a mark. The day suddenly darkened, and we had to seek shelter under rocks from a pitiless mountain shower. We had dispatched a messenger to O’Mahony to demand an interview that evening; and, after he had returned, we were invited to partake of some new potatoes (then beginning to exhibit the blight), milk, eggs and butter. I remember lying down in a bed, and getting so feverish that I believed my doom was sealed. My noble young friend sat at my bedside, with a rifle and two pistols, prepared to defend my rest with his life. The illness was, however, but trifling and temporary, and the necessity of acting enabled me at once to shake it off. After nightfall, we proceeded to the appointed interview. We travelled in a common car, accompanied by four others, all armed. Our haunt was a poor cabin on the roadside, near a place called Moloch, in the neighbourhood of Carrick. There I bid my faithful young friend good night, but was doomed not to see him afterwards. Mr. O’Mahony and myself slept on some straw, but we had scarcely closed our eyes when we learned that the cabin was surrounded by the military and police. We were apprised of our perilous position just in time to escape: this we effected, after a struggle, aided by extreme darkness. We spent the remainder of the night in a field, where I slept very soundly. At break of day we retired to a farmer’s house near the Suir, where, after partaking of some refreshments, we went to bed, and slept, one or two hours. The breakfast scene of that morning is not easily forgotten. Perhaps there is no place in the world where a more substantial breakfast can be produced than at a comfortable Irish farmer’s. On this occasion the silent, watchful, anxious grace of our young hostess, in her attentions, enhanced the flavour of the repast. It is only by those who have partaken of such hospitality that the speechless tenderness of the females among that class of farmers can be appreciated. But on the occasion to which I refer, there was added to the customary delicacy a deep anxiety for our fate. Save hushed words of pressing and eloquent looks of sympathy, the meal passed off without conversation; and we rose from the table to depart, as if conscious we had exchanged our last earthly greeting. It was not so, however, and our hostess shared much of our after fortune, and now shares our exile. Her fate, too, is harder than ours. We are occasionally cheered by public approval, by the sympathy and admiration of every lover of liberty, whereas her name is never spoken. She has fallen from a position of comparative affluence, lost her independence (I use the word in its practical worldly sense), and is doomed to toil for her daily bread. Of all the vicissitudes of fortune in which the attempt of which I write resulted, there is not one that has given me more pain than that of Margaret Quinlan, the lady (who has higher claims to that title?) to whom I have alluded.


[10] The other four were Terence Bellew MacManus, John Cavanagh, J.D. Wright (a T.C.D. student, afterwards a lawyer in America), and D.P. Cunningham, afterwards a journalist in New York.—Ed.