Rossa's Farewell to Erin
DESCRIPTION: O'Donovan Rossa, on a ship, bids "Farewell to friends of Dublin." He will return sometime. He recalls joining the Fenian Brotherhood in 1864, curses "those traitors Who did our cause betray ... Nagle, Massey, Corydon, and Talbot" and sent him to jail.
EARLIEST DATE: 1939 (OLochlainn); c.1865 (Zimmermann)
KEYWORDS: exile rebellion prison pardon Ireland patriotic
Jan 5, 1871 - Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa is freed from jail by amnesty on condition that he exile himself. He arrives in New York Jan. 19, 1871. (see Notes)
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (3 citations):
OLochlainn 34, "Rossa's Farewell to Erin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Zimmermann 70, "O'Donovan Rossa's Farewell to Dublin" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Healy-OISBv2, pp. 136-137, "O'Donovan Rossa's Farewell (to Dublin)" (1 text)
ST OLoc034 (Partial)
NOTES: (Source Ireland's Own site "Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa (1831-1915)" from George Treanor, Irish Heritage Group): Formed the Phoenix Society of Skibbereen for the fight for independence. That organization joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), or Fenians, which formed in 1858. Rossa was arrested in 1858 for association with the Fenians, and again in 1865 after the Fenian Rising. His sentence was for writing seditious articles. He was treated badly in jail, and released in 1871 by amnesty on condition that he go into exile. In New York Rossa continued writing in support of the Fenian movement and was involved in planning bombing attacks in England. He died in the United States.
Rossa and four others -- the "Cuba Five" -- arrive in New York on January 19, 1871 on board the steamer Cuba (Source: History Cooperative site; Irish Culture and Customs site) - BS
Rossa was another of those Irishmen (like, e.g. Cathal Brugha) who changed his name to make it more "Irish"; according to Kee (p. 4), he was born Jeremiah Donovan Rossa (not O'Donovan) -- although Lyons, p. 126, has a different version: In this, he was born Jeremiah O'Donovan and added the name Rossa. Golway, p. 113, says that his father was one of those who starved to death during the potato famine (in Skibbereen, in fact, according to OxfordCompanion, p. 404).
In 1856, O'Donovan Rossa founded the Phoenix Society, a literary group devoted to resurrecting Irish culture and literature (Lyon, p. 126); and from 1863 he was one of the major forces behind the newspaper Irish People. The newspaper would be raided in 1865, resulting in O'Donovan Rossa's arrest.
In Charles Sullivan's Ireland in Poetry, p. 101, there is a poem, "The Returned Picture," credited to Mary O'Donovan Rossa (who was indeed a poet, having published Lyrical Poems in 1868). If this item is to be believed, Rossa's guards never let him see his wife, or the child still unborn when he was imprisoned, nor even let them see their picture. I cannot verify this,but it wouldn't surprise me.
Not that his behavior was exactly above reproach; Golway on p. 148 reports that he was known for flinging the contents of his chamber pot at his jailors. He wasn't much better when out of jail; Edwards, p. 16, reports that he was "Self-aggrandising, alcoholic, indiscreet and prone to helping himself to funds" and adds that "His plans included the assassination of Queen Victoria, the poisoning of the entire House of Commons, and the indiscriminate bombing of civilians." In context, one can hardly blame them for tying his hands behind his back for a month (Kee, p. 62). He was finally released in 1871. He went to American soon after (OxfordCompanion, p. 404).
In his life, Rossa wasn't a particularly effective figure in politics (although his writings had some influence), and he died senile in New York at the age of 84 -- but his body, shipped back to Ireland, proved a powerful rallying point for nationalists. (This even though Kee, p. 238, says that Rossa toward the end of his life inclined toward the moderate methods of John Redmond. It hadn't always been so; in the 1880s, he had organized bombings in England; OxfordCompanion, p. 404) Padraig Pearse gave his funeral elegy, and used it to call for Irish independence -- even as thousands of Irish boys were volunteering to serve in the British army.
The informers mentioned in the song are a varied lot. Corydon was a Fenian courier who worked for the headstrong Captain McCafferty, who revealed a plan to attack the Chester Castle military storehouse (Kee, p. 36). Nagle was a worker at the Irish People who was more spy than informant; he carried off correspondence coming through the paper's offices (Kee, p. 23). Thomas Talbot was a professional detective who infiltrated the Fenians under the name John Kelly (Kee, p. 25).
Gordon Massey was the most important but most equivocal; it's not sure if he turned informer before or after he was taken by the British (Kee, pp. 32-33). A Crimean veteran who had gone to America and changed his name several times; he was given high seniority in the Fenian movement based on his alleged command experience, but was betrayed by Corydon (Kee, p. 39). - RBW
Last updated in version 4.0
- Edwards: Ruth Dudley Edwards, The Seven: The Lives and Legacies of the Founding Fathers of the Irish Republic, Oneworld Books, 2016
- Golway: Terry Golway, For the Cause of Liberty, Simon & Schuster, 2000
- Kee: Robert Kee, The Bold Fenian Men, being volume II of The Green Flag (covering the period from around 1848 to the Easter Rising), Penguin, 1972
- Lyons: F. S. L. Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 1963, 1971 (I use the 1985 Fontana Press paperback)
- OxfordCompanion: S. J. Connolly, editor, The Oxford Companion to Irish History, Oxford, 1998
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