NY-based hero of Irish independence all but forgotten in Ireland

Naas, County Kildare is going to honor the county's native son John Devoy with a statue. All I can say is that it's about time Devoy got some acknowledgment.

Devoy is one of the giants of Ireland's long struggle for national independence. Yet he is almost completely unknown here, which is par for the course when it comes to Irish-America. {You can get some idea of how forgotten Devoy is here from the local Kildare paper, which says he was born in 1861. Devoy was actually born in 1842.}

It's great that Naas is commemorating Devoy, but he only lived in the area a short while. The statue will be in the center of the town. There is a memorial along the road near Kill, Co. Kildare, which is where Devoy lived as a small boy. It's great that he's remembered in north Kildare, however, truly, Devoy should be honored in the capital, in Dublin.

During his life Devoy ...

  1. Was a Fenian – he joined the British Army in order to enlist Irish soldiers to join the Fenians. The Fenians were badly led and Devoy and his fellow Irish rebels were easily thwarted

  2. Lived as an exile – Devoy spent four years in prison for his Fenian role and was released on condition that he never again set foot in the United Kingdom (Ireland or Britain). He went to New York, where he lived out the rest of his days

  3. Organized a daring escape – from New York Devoy organized an escape of his fellow Fenians who were imprisoned in Western Australia. In 1875 he arranged for a whaling ship to sail from Bedford, MA to Australia to rescue the men who got out of jail through the assistance of Devoy's agents. (The Catalpa story deserves a big Hollywood production, but they'd probably ruin it.)

  4. Worked tirelessly for Irish independence – Devoy devoted his last 50 years to Irish independence. He led fund-raising campaigns, promotional tours for leaders from Ireland, helped organize the Irish Race Convention in NYC in 1916 and edited the Gaelic American.
He wasn't forgotten at the height of the struggle for Irish independence; Padraig Pearse said Devoy was "the greatest of the Fenians" and when he died in 1928 his body was returned from New York for burial in Dublin's Glasnevin Cemetery. You'd be hard pressed, however, to find his name in any of the schoolbooks used today.

The statue in Naas is a great idea. A better idea would be a joint project, one that would see two statues of Devoy - one in Naas (or Dublin!) and one in New York. Naas could feature a young Devoy and New York the elder statesman of the movement that he was in the early 20th century. It would be great if the Naas folks could collaborate with Irish-Americans on such a project.

It would be even better if the people of Ireland would simply remember him.

{Read more in Terry Golway's excellent Irish Rebel: John Devoy and America's Fight for Ireland's Freedom. Image above thanks to UCC.}

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