Historic Green-Wood Cemetery, the final resting place of countless Irish and Irish Americans, is now home to the newly unearthed gravestone of 19th-century Irish rebel Patrick O’Donohue (1815-1854). As one of the leaders of the Young Ireland Rebellion in 1848, O’Donohue was charged with sedition and sentenced to death. That sentence was later commuted to deportation to Van Diemen’s Land, a British penal colony from which many Irish prisoners escaped to America.
O’Donohue had been involved in the Repeal Association, a group of nationalists led by Daniel O’Connell working to repeal the Act of Union of 1800. The act had abolished the Irish Parliament, made the Anglican church the official church of Ireland, and denied Catholic Emancipation. While O’Connell achieved emancipation, O’Donohue and other followers eventually became disenchanted with O’Connell’s attempt to work within the system for piecemeal reform, breaking off to form the Young Ireland movement around 1840. The movement reignited the calls to repeal the Act of Union and fight for Irish independence through The Nation, an influential radical newspaper started in 1842.
In 1848, the movement culminated with rebellion amid widespread Famine-related deaths and tenant evictions. Gathering locals and Young Ireland members, William Smith O’Brien launched an unsuccessful attack on a police party barricaded in a house in Ballingarry, Co. Tipperary. O’Brien, along with O’Donohue, Thomas Francis Meagher and Terence Bellew McManus, were transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1849.
Upon arriving at the penal colony six months later, O’Donohue wasted little time reviving the nationalist agenda, publishing a weekly newspaper called The Irish Exile. Although the paper was shut down and O’Donohue was sentenced to a year in a chain-gang – hard labor with non-political prisoners – he immediately restarted the paper upon his return in 1851. Eventually, through a series of escapes with the help of Irish sympathizers, O’Donohue made his way to Melbourne, San Francisco, and finally New York. O’Donohue died in Brooklyn on January 22, 1854, the same day that his wife and daughter arrived in New York City.
This was the end of the story until about a year ago, when a letter came from Ireland inquiring whether O’Donohue was buried at Green-Wood. Cemetery historian Jeff Richman found a record of the interment but no trace of the headstone in the corresponding lot. Because over time headstones may sink into the soil, workers inserted a metal rod into the ground and hoped for reverberations from something buried below. The crew recovered a large ledger stone, about six feet long, with the words “Patrick O’Donohue” and “Irish Rebel” stamped across it. The stone is also engraved with a cross.
Announcing the exciting discovery, cemetery president Richard J. Moylan remarked, “Green-Wood Cemetery is the final resting place for countless prominent Irish Americans whose legacies and stories are kept alive by our willingness to remember and honor them. Green-Wood is proud to announce the recovery and restoration of O’Donohue’s headstone. The site is, once again, a place where people can visit a piece of Irish history and pay respects to this historic revolutionary.” The gravestone is within walking distance of the memorial marker for Thomas Francis Meagher, fellow Irish nationalist and escapee from Van Diemen’s Land who went on to become a Civil War hero.