On 10 November 1861, 153 years ago, 100,000 people defied the Irish bishops and followed the remains of Terence Bellew MacManus to Glasnevin Cemetery.
Thirteen years previously Bellew had been sentenced to death for treason following the misbegotten Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848. His sentence was commuted in 1849 and he was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in Australia. He escaped in 1852 and fled to the United States.
McManus was one of a number of Irish rebels who were deported following the 1848 Young Ireland Rebellion. It was a very small scale poorly organised uprising which took place on 29 July 1848 in the village of Ballingarry, Co Tipperary. McManus apparently never acclimated to life in exile in the United States and he died in poverty.
When MacManus died on 15 January 1861, the Fenian Brotherhood of San Francisco, which had grown to respect and love this man, funded his trip back to the land he had spent his life fighting for. His extended funeral procession was the most effective fundraising means imaginable at that time. Any town with a sizable Irish population demanded the funeral pass through on its way to Boston.
These stops along the train tracks and dusty roads of rural America fed the Fenian Brotherhood and Clan na Gael with both funds and fresh recruits. The demand to hold memorials for MacManus in every town along the way was so great that it took nearly ten months for his coffin to reach Boston harbour. Arrangements for further processions once the body reached Ireland were made.
The funeral was a revival of the nationalist spirit, which had been thought dead after the Famine and the failure of the 1848 Rebellion. The IRB’s ranks grew in size. It showed that the people were ready to honour their Fenian dead and it was this funeral that was to inspire a future IRB man to orate: “Life springs from death; and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations. The Defenders of this Realm have worked well in secret and in the open. They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! — they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”