British authorities release over thirty Fenian prisoners including John Devoy and Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. The conditional amnesty of 1871 required those released not to return to Ireland for the term of their respective sentences for treason. Devoy, O’Donovan Rossa and three others: Charles Underwood O’Connell, Henry Mulleda, and John McClure boarded the S.S. Cuba bound for New York where the ‘Cuba Five’ were greeted as heroes by their Irish brethern.
Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa ran a ‘dynamite school’ in the United States and boasted of bombing campaigns in his self-published newspaper. He embraced new technologies of destruction and communication, ran bombing campaigns from afar and revelled in being a hate figure in Britain.
O’Donovan Rossa is best known by Pádraig Pearse’s graveside oration at his funeral in 1915, the one that concludes:
“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.”
In death O’Donovan Rossa became a unifying symbol of revolutionary continuity. In life he was more divisive. What radicalised him. The answer is relatively simple: he lived through The Great Hunger. His family were annihilated in The Great Hunger. They fell from such a high position so low that they had to emigrate. He remembered his father let some friends live in their property. They had a donkey, and he was devastated when he discovered the family were forced to eat the donkey.
On another occasion he had to bury a woman in a shallow grave. He recalled putting a pillow over her head and a tea cloth over her face. He argued very prominently that to call the Famine an act of God was an act of blasphemy, that it was the British government’s fault.
Photo: The ‘Cuba 5’ From the left: John Devoy, Charles Underwood O’Connell, Henry Mulleda, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and John McClure.