The Irish People, was a nationalist weekly newspaper founded in 1863 by the Irish Republican Brotherhood and was supportive of the Fenian movement. It was first printed on November 28, 1863 in Dublin. It was suppressed by the British Government in 1865.
In mid-1863, James Stephens informed his IRB comrades that he wished to start a newspaper with financial aid from John O’Mahony and the Fenian Brotherhood in America.
Offices were established at 12 Parliament Street near the entrance to Dublin Castle. The Irish People’s first edition appeared on November the 28th 1863. Its illustrious staff included Charles Kickham, Thomas Clarke Luby with Denis Dowling Mulcahy as the editorial staff. The Business office was run by Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and James O’Connor. John Haltigan was the printer. John O’Leary came back from London to become the Editor. Following The Irish people’s launch, James Stephens departed on an organisational tour of America. A flavour of the Irish Peoples content is contained in an editorial of February 1864 giving the following advice: ‘We have insisted, over and over again, that there is but one way in which Irishmen can benefit themselves fundamentally, and that is by regaining their lost independence, and at the same time re-conquering the land for the people’.
Raid on the Irish People
Fenians in America planned a rising in Ireland. Those plans were discovered by the authorities on 15 July 1865 when a courier lost them at Kingstown (Now Dunlaoghaire) railway station. They were soon in the hands of Dublin Castle’s Superintendent Daniel Ryan head of G Division. Ryan also had a spy named Pierce Nagle in the Irish People’s offices. He supplied Ryan with an “action this year” message on its way to the IRB unit in Tipperary. This prompted Ryan to raid the offices of the Irish People on Thursday 15 September 1865. John O’Leary, Thomas Clarke Luby and Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa were arrested. The last edition of the paper is dated September 16th1865.
Before leaving for America, Stephens entrusted Luby with a document containing secret resolutions on the Executive of the IRB. Luby intimated the documents existence to O’Leary but he did not inform Kickham of its existence as he didn’t consider it necessary. This document was later to form the basis of the prosecution against the staff of the Irish People. The document read:
I hereby appoint Thomas Clarke Luby, John O’Leary and Charles J. Kickham, a Committee of Organisation or Executive, with the same supreme control over the Home Organisation (Ireland, England, Scotland, etc.) I have exercised myself. I further empower them to appoint a Committee of Military Inspection, and a Committee of Appeal and Judgment, the functions of which Committee will be made known to each member of them by the Executive.
Trusting to the patriotism and ability of the Executive, I fully endorse their action beforehand, and call on every man in our ranks to support and be guided by them in all that concerns our military brotherhood.
9 March 1864, Dublin
Charles Kickham was caught after a month on the run. James Stephens would also be caught. With the support of Fenian prison warders, John J. Breslin and Daniel Byrne after less than a fortnight was spirited out of the Richmond Bridewell and quickly vanished and subsequently escaped to France.
A special trial began on 27 November 1865 at Green Street courthouse in Dublin. The Special Commission of Oyer and Terminer allowed the court to examine the cases of several prisoners associated with the Irish People newspaper and the ‘Fenian Brotherhood’.
The most serious charge was treason-felony. The Treason-Felony Act had been passed in 1848 to allow the government to try the Young Ireland leaders for treason without having to impose the mandatory death sentence in cases where high treason was proven. Evidence requirements to prove treason-felony which did not have the death sentence was also less exacting.
The prisoners were brought to trial before the notorious turncoat “Popes Brass Band” Justices William Nicolas Keogh (More on him in a future edition) and John David FitzGerald, who had been involved in the defendants’ arrest. Those two together with a packed jury as was common in such cases made the outcome inevitable.
Among those charged were James Stephens, John O’Leary, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Charles Kickham and Thomas Clarke Luby. Stephens had escaped from prison before he could be brought to trial.
All were leading members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and were well-educated and highly literate men. The most notable of their literary works are John O’Leary’s two-volume ‘Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism’, O’Donovan Rossa’s ‘Irish rebels in English prisons’ as well as his bestselling novels including ‘Knocknagow’ and John Devoy’s ‘Recollections of an Irish rebel’.
The National Library of Ireland contains material from the Luby, Devoy, Stephens, O’Leary and O’Donovan Rossa papers. The Catholic University of America has made additional Rossa’s papers and O’Mahony’s papers available on-line.
This call for the land redistribution allowed the prosecuting barrister, Charles Barry, to accuse the defendants of being socialists, an inflammatory accusation at that time and repeated by newspapers in Dublin and London. In September 1865 Charles Kickham written an editorial in September 1865 entitled ‘Priests in politics’, which advised priests to stay out of politics and called for revolution: ‘Our beautiful and fruitful land will become a grazing farm for the foreigners’ cattle, and the remnant of our race wanderers and outcasts all over the world if English rule in Ireland be not struck down. Our only hope is revolution.’
Their investigation allowed the police to link the Irish People newspaper directly with the Fenian movement in America and with James Stephens, who was known to be the head of the conspiracy in Ireland.
Luby, O’Leary and O’Connor each received sentences of twenty years. O’Donovan Rossa was sentenced to life imprisonment because of his previous convictions. The frail Kickham, lifelong nearly blind and deaf was sentenced to twelve years. Judge Keogh praised his intellect and expressed sympathy with his plight. Despite he had refused Kickham’s request for a writ of corpus to produce Luby and Charles Underwood O’Connell to his trial concerning his ignorance of the existence of the “executive document,” as Luby had already begun his sentence in Pentonville Prison.
Amnesty and Exile
In a general amnesty on January 5th 1871 the British released 33 IRB and Fenian prisoners. Most of these were the men who had been arrested and convicted as a result of the 1865 suppression of The Irish People newspaper.
Others had taking part in the Fenian Rising of March 1867 or had been arrested after the Manchester “Smashing of the Van” rescue of Thomas J. Kelly and Timothy Deasy in September 1867. Their condition of release was that they would not return to Ireland but go into exile elsewhere.
While the prisoners had been suffering a long and terribly incarceration as a result of their well documented inhuman treatment (The subject of a future article) a new generation of patriotic Irish people had arisen.
A Defining Moment
O’Donovan Rossa who remained an unrepentant enemy of English rule in Ireland died in exile in the United States in 1915. His body was returned to Ireland for burial, and at his funeral in 1915 one of the finest representatives of the new generation Pádraig Pearse in a passionate oration over Rossa’s grave concluded with those defining words.
“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.”
On the following April of 1916 on a bright Easter Monday Pearse went one great and fatal step further by declaring an Irish Republic in front of the Dublin’s General Post Office (GPO). That and the rest is history and it is our proud heritage.
Read and support The Irish People.
The Irish people newspaper was suppressed by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland John Wodehouse in 1865 but is here again, alive and well, more than 150 years later and will always rise to fearlessly inform the Irish people in times of crisis.