“WHATEVER HIS CRIME, THERE WAS A GREATER CRIMINAL THAN HE –
THE ENGLISH GOVERNMENT WHO MADE HIM WHAT HE WAS.”
On his deathbed at age 83, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa sent for his old friends, John Devoy and Richard O’Sullivan Burke. He died a tired old warrior on 29 June 1915 in St Vincent’s Hospital on Staten Island, New York after a two-year illness. Devoy, aware that when Young Irelander Terrence Bellew McManus had died in San Francisco in 1866 the funeral procession became a massive propaganda coup, he contacted Tom Clarke in Ireland, himself a Clan na Gael member, and Rossa’s remains were sent home.
His body was returned to Ireland for burial and a hero’s welcome. In one of the largest political funerals that Dublin had ever witnessed. Despite the heads of the procession arriving at the cemetery at 4.30pm, O’Donovan Rossa’s remains did not arrive until 6.30pm. In a remarkable scene, the road outside the cemetery was lined with spectators, as for several hours beforehand crowds had been assembling at the cemetery in anticipation of seeing O’Donovan Rossa being finally laid to rest; garnering substantial publicity for the Irish Volunteers and the IRB at a time when rebellion (later to emerge as the Easter Rising) was being actively planned. Standing over the grave, giving the graveside oration was, Pádraig Pearse, which remains one of the most famous speeches of the Irish independence movement stirring his audience to a call to arms. It ended with the lines:
“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.”
His grave was renovated in 1990 by the National Graves Association.
A memorial to O’Donovan Rossa stands in St Stephen’s Green, and a bridge over the River Liffey was renamed in his honour. A street in Cork City bears his name, as does a street in Thurles, Co Tipperary – the constituency where he was elected. A park in Skibbereen is also named after him as is the local gaelic football team.
A memorial to O’Donovan Rossa stands in the village of Reenascreena, Rosscarbery, Co Cork where his descendants run the local village pub.
Other GAA teams throughout Ireland have also been named after him including Ard Bó Uí Dhonnabhain Rossa in the Tyrone GAA, O’Donovan Rossa GAC in Belfast, Ó Donnabháin Rosa Machaire Fíolta in the Derry GAA and Uí Donnabháin Rosa Mullach Breac in Armagh GAA.
The descendants of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa made their homes in Staten Island; they include writer William Rossa Cole and New York City Councillor Jerome X. O’Donovan.
Featured Photo: Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral, Glasnevin cemetery, photo credit: Glasnevin Trust