O’Donovan Rossa and Davitt

Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2016), Letters, Volume 24

Sir,—Gabriel Doherty writes how Michael Davitt ‘thought little’ of O’Donovan Rossa (HI 23.6, Nov./Dec. 2015, Platform). A man of Davitt’s moral stature couldn’t possibly condone Rossa’s dynamite campaign. However, in the course of his monumental speech before the Parnell Commission of 1889—on the 113th day of the hearing—Davitt used Rossa’s history as an example of one of the influences that aroused and kept fiercely alive the sentiment of Irish-American hatred of England, proclaiming that:

‘If any one will inquire in the town of Skibbereen, in County Cork, what Rossa was thirty years ago, he will learn that he was a genial, kind-hearted, and open-minded young man of unblemished character and undoubted respectability. He had been an eyewitness of the famine horrors. He joined the Fenian movement, in after years was tried for it, and sentenced to penal servitude for life. He had told the story of his prison experience, and that story related that on one occasion for twenty eight days he was so manacled that he was obliged to get down on his knees at meal-times and lap up his porridge like a dog.’

Another ex-Fenian who turned his back on violence was the highly respected John Boyle O Reilly. In 1883 a correspondent to his paper asked, ‘Why does not the Pilot sternly denounce the dreadful Irish dynamite policy?’ O Reilly replied that he was tired of ‘sternly denouncing’, and continued that

‘England has made O’Donovan Rossa and all the rest of the dynamiters, and now she must make the best of them. We refuse to help her by any more “denunciation”. When she had Rossa chained like a wild beast in the dark cells of Millbank and Portland she was sowing the seeds of the dreadful “policy of dynamite” that scares her now for her palaces. She is sowing similar seed today. She will reap the harvest of the hatred and despair she is planting in the hearts of unjustly imprisoning men like Davitt, Healy, Harrington, and Quinn.’

It was right that the Irish state commemorate the centenary of Rossa’s funeral. The success of the various events in West Cork and Glasnevin was thanks chiefly to the indefatig-able Gabriel Doherty.—Yours etc.,

FACHTNA O’DONOVAN
Beara Historical Society

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