ST. PATRICKS DAY 1858 AND THE IRISH STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM.
Joseph Denieffe (left) , one of the founders of the ‘Irish Republican Brotherhood’.
Born in Kilkenny City in 1833 , Joseph Denieffe grew up to become a tailor by trade ; still in his early teens , he witnessed Daniel O’Connell’s campaign for the ‘Repeal of the Act of Union’ and would have been just ten years young when approximately one million people assembled at what was known in its day as a “Monster Meeting” at the Royal Hill of Tara in County Meath on 15th August 1843. The young Joseph Denieffe would have heard , on that day , the speech delivered to that vast crowd by Daniel O’Connell, who stated – “We are at Tara of the Kings – the spot from which emanated the social power , the legal authority , the right to dominion over the furthest extremes of the land . The strength and majority of the national movement was never exhibited so imposingly as at this great meeting. The numbers exceed any that ever before congregated in Ireland in peace or war. It is a sight not grand alone but appalling – not exciting merely pride but fear. Step by step we are approaching the great goal of Repeal of the Union , but it is at length with the strides of a giant.”
Imagine the scene as a ten-years-young child must have seen it : shoulder-to-shoulder with people packed together as far as a child could see ; one-million people , defiantly cheering and clapping at a lone figure on a wooden platform as he shook his fist and shouted rebelliously in the direction of Westminster. It was a day that was to have a life-long effect on young Joseph Denieffe , and thousands of other young boys and girls , and men and women. When he was twelve years young , Joseph Denieffe would have witnessed the ‘Great Hunger’ (1845 – 1849) when an estimated one million people died on the land and another one million people emigrated in ‘coffin ships’. He would have noticed how Daniel O’Connell and the other career politicians did not suffer, how the Church leaders would bless the dead and pray for the dying before retiring to their big house for a meal, after which they would sleep contently in a warm bed. And a million people died around them.
Others noticed that injustice, too. William Smith O’Brien, a follower of Daniel O’Connell’s , was one of the many who had grown impatient ; he helped to establish the ‘Young Ireland’ group, with the intention of organising an armed rising against the British. Joseph Denieffe joined the ‘Young Ireland’ group in 1847 (the year of its formation) – he was fourteen years young. He worked with William Smith O’Brien (who , as an ‘English Gentleman’, was an unusual Irish Rebel – he had been educated at Harrow , had a fine English accent and actually sat in Westminster Parliament for a good few years!) and others for the following four years when , at eighteen years of age(in 1851), the economics of the day dictated emigration. He ended up in New York, and contacted a number of Irish Fenians in that city, including John O’Mahony and Michael Doheny. When he was twenty-two years young in 1855, he assisted in the establishment of an Irish Republican group in America – the ‘Emmet Monument Association’ – which sought to raise an army to force England out of Ireland. The ‘Emmet Monument Association’ decided to send Joseph Denieffe back to Ireland to organise a branch of the ‘Emmet Monument Association’ there ; by 1856 , a small , active branch of the Association was up and running in County Kilkenny. Its membership included such well-known Irish Rebels as Thomas Clark Luby, Peter Langan and Philip Grey. On hearing of the establishment of the ‘Emmet Monument Association’ in Ireland and America , another Irish Rebel, James Stephens, returned to Ireland.
James Stephens had taken part in military action against the British in 1848, with William Smith O’Brien , in the town of Ballingarry in Tipperary , and had fled to Paris to escape an English jail sentence, or worse. He returned to Ireland and , by 1857, had set-up a branch of the Emmet Monument Association in Dublin. The leadership of the Emmet Monument Association in America , John O’Mahony and Michael Doheny, then sent one of their most trusted men – Owen Considine – to Ireland to assist in organising a fighting-force in the country. In December 1857 , Joseph Denieffe returned to America on a fund-raising mission ; he stayed there until about March in 1858 and , having raised eighty pounds – a good sum of money in those days – he came back to Ireland. On St Patricks Day that year (17th March , 1858) , Joseph Denieffe made his next move.
Joseph Denieffe , Thomas Clark Luby and James Stephens met, as arranged , on St. Patricks Day in 1858 ; the three Irish Rebels then founded the ‘Irish Republican Brotherhood’, a military organisation whose aim was to overthrow British mis-rule in Ireland. The following day , Joseph Denieffe returned to America to continue his fund-raising activities – but political trouble was brewing in America , too. Talk , and fear , of a civil war was everywhere. To make matters worse for Joseph Denieffe’s fund-raising efforts , James Stephens and John O’Mahony had fallen-out over the direction that armed resistence to the English was going. America was now home to literally millions of Irish men and women who had been forced to leave Ireland because of British interference and the Great Hunger yet , as far as James Stephens was concerned , John O’Mahony and the American leadership had failed to harness the support amongst the Irish for an armed campaign against the British.
James Stephens accused John O’Mahony and his people in America of being “….Irish tinsel patriots (who make) speeches of bayonets , gala days and jolly nights , banners and sashes , bunkum and filibustering , responding in glowing language to glowing toasts on Irish National Independence over beakers of fizzling champagne…..” . It was in the middle of the above turmoil that Joseph Denieffe found himself in America in the early 1860’s . Fund-raising in those circumstances was not possible , but he stayed in that country , perhaps hoping that , when things settled down …..
Joseph Denieffe never ‘lost the faith’; he was now living in Chicago and was in his early thirtys. He continued his work for Irish Freedom , even though the immediate momentum had been lost. He stayed in America , spreading the word and building contacts for the Irish Republican cause. In 1904, at seventy-one years of age , he wrote a number of articles for the New York newspaper , ‘The Gael’ ; those articles were later published as a book , entitled ‘A Personal Narrative of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood’ (link here) ,and is a fantastic read for those interested in the history of the on-going struggle for full Irish freedom.
At 77 years of age , Joseph Denieffe died in Chicago , on 20th April, 1910. He gave sixty-three years of his life to the Irish cause ,working for the most part either in the background or underground, never seeking the limelight. He is not as well-known as he should be but , like all true Irish Republicans , his objective was to promote and further the Irish cause , not himself.
“This land of mine , the old man said ,
will be alive when we are dead.
My fathers words still ring divine –
“God Bless this lovely land of mine.”
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow, Wednesday 18th March 2020 with, among other pieces, a sad story about a young Englishman who worked as a labourer in his own country, in the 1920’s, before he joined the British Army, leaving same to join a different contingent of same – the RIC – in Ireland. He died as a result of that decision three months later, at 23 years young. For ‘King and Country’, or otherwise in the service of imperialism, it was a self-inflicted waste of a young life.
See you tomorrow, Sharon.