This is the address by former Governor of Maryland Martin O'Malley at the Kennedy Summer School in New Ross this summer.

Author’s note: In preparing these remarks, I am deeply indebted to the scholarship of author, Terry Golway, and his outstanding book, "Irish Rebel" – from which I will be quoting liberally.

Prologue: Why am I here?

The Irish Republic is a precious thing won by the sacrifices of Irish people, yourselves alone.

And so it is a very humbling privilege to be asked, as an American, to share some reflections on your achievement of nationhood in this centenary year...

I grew up one of six children in a family where Irish music was played in our home year 'round – not just on St. Patrick's Day.

In high school, those songs developed within me a keen interest in Irish history and events.

I devoured every book on Irish history I could get my hands on.

Started playing Irish music in a band.

As a college student, I volunteered on the Presidential campaign of Senator Gary Hart – the current U.S. Peace envoy to Northern Ireland.

As a Presidential candidate, Hart was the first to issue a statement calling for the creation of a U.S. peace envoy and All-Party talks...

I was the young person who wrote that statement which Senator Hart courageously put forward in 1983.

A position which then became accepted Democratic Party policy by all subsequent candidates running for my Party's nomination – including Governor Bill Clinton...

As an elected member of the Baltimore City Council in the early nineties, I led the effort to pass the MacBride Principles in my city – like so many cities across America.

As Mayor I hosted visiting groups of local officials from the North as part of the healing process of returning to local self-governance.

As Governor of Maryland, I received a joint visit from First Minister Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to our State capital of Annapolis.

We discussed new, more modern ways of governing and delivering results for all citizens – regardless of race or creed.

Irish music remains a passion of mine.

I know every word to, "A Nation Once Again.”

And, most times... I can even get the chords right...

Let us begin.

Easter 1916

A rising.

The Rising.

The Proclamation of an Irish Republic.

The calling of a People.

Irishmen and Irishwomen...

Every person is needed, each can make a difference.

With your kind permission, today I would like to focus on just one phrase of that historic revolutionary document – your document.

It is the phrase that reads, "supported by her exiled children in America."

Why is it there?


He was called by Padraig Pearse, "the greatest Fenian of them all."

When he died, The Times of London said, he was, "the most bitter and persistent, as well as the most dangerous enemy of the country which Ireland has produced since Wolfe Tone."

American citizen.

Irish native.

Veteran of the French Foreign Legion.

Rebel convict.


Newspaper writer and editor.

Unrelenting Fenian.

His greatness was not the flash of a shooting star.

Not the heroic entrance and youthful death of Celtic warrior death of Celtic legends.

His place in Glasnevin cemetery was not earned by the courage of a battlefield death.

Or the courage of facing a British firing squad.

John Devoy – "the greatest Fenian of them all" – lived a long life.

His courage was the lonely courage of the long fight.

"The excellence of the long accomplishment." 

The birth of an Irish Republic.



When we think of history.

We imagine iconic snapshots in time.

Old photos of isolated events and singular people.

Heroes rise above the continuum of time...

But biography – it is said – is the only true history.

And most of our lives are lived as threads, woven over the course of many days, into the tapestry of a future we can only imagine...

John Devoy's biography is an Irish thread like no other.

It is a thread that connects the Irish diaspora from Europe, to America, to Australia.

A thread that connects the struggle for Irish independence from the founding of the Fenian movement in 1858 through all of the events – and hard-learned lessons on both sides of the Atlantic – which culminate in Easter 1916.

Names like James Stephens, Charles Stewart Parnell, Michael Davitt, John Boyle O'Reilly, Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, Tom Clarke, Roger Casement, Padraig Pearse, and James Connolly were real people to him.

Not mere photos...

He shook their hands.

Worked with them.

Suffered with them.

Shared their deepest confidences and fears.

Grieved their deaths.

Looked after their widows.


His father was a farmer who would be involved tangentially in the Young Ireland movement of 1848.

His mother's great uncle, and John's namesake, had fought for Ireland in the rebellion of 1798 – a sporadic, rolling, and bloody uprising that claimed twice as many lives as were lost in the entire American Revolution.

John Devoy, himself, is born in 1842. 

He is the third of eight children born to William and Elizabeth Devoy near the village of Kill, in County Kildaire.

Ireland is on the eve of experiencing the worst Famine ever to hit Western Europe.

By the time he is five years old, starvation has cut Ireland's population by a quarter.

"Black '47."

Almost 2 million desperate people will emigrate.

Another million will die of hunger in hovels and ditches by the sides of the roads – their mouths often stained green by the grass of their last desperate attempts to eat...

His father is lucky. Lands a job as a clerk at a brewery. Moves the family to Dublin.

John's oldest brother dies of cholera during those famine years.

The other seven children survive.

John is a smart boy. A sensitive boy. A boy that a teacher might call, "proud" – without intending it as a compliment.

He is stubborn.

Doesn't take well to the controlling atmosphere of school.

He takes even less well to a overbearing English schoolmaster.

His first blow for independence is struck at this physically bullying classroom authority.

John Devoy is expelled – and not for the last time.

His mother dies when he is sixteen.

A trans-Atlantic Irish movement

A month before her death – in another part of Dublin – a single-minded, self-centered, and aging veteran of the aborted 1848 rebellion gathers some friends together in a private room.

As author, Terry Golway, writes, "There James Stephens and his comrades swear an oath pledging to bring about an independent Irish Republic. The group becomes known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood...

Shortly thereafter – on the other side of the Atlantic – an Irish immigrant in New York named John O'Mahoney establishes an American counterpart to the IRB.

O'Mahoney is a prosperous Catholic and an Irish-language scholar... he calls his American-based organization, the Fenian Brotherhood, after the legendary warriors called the Fianna,...the rubric, Fenian, sticks...

The Stephens-O'Mahoney alliance is a redefining moment in the long history of Irish national struggle...

From now on, British and Irish alike must to contend with a third party – the United States – the world's ascendant nation with its millions of exiled Irish ready, willing, and increasingly able..." 

It is O'Mahoney in 1861 who conceives and executes the public relations stunt of the trans-Atlantic funeral of obscure Fenian, Terrence Bellows MacManus.

Thousands turn-out – in America and in Ireland – to pay patriotic tribute to a man so little known in life.

Young Devoy would remember this.

In early 1861, at the age of eighteen, Devoy and a friend take the Fenian oath. 

That oath – to the establishment of an Irish Republic – will define his life.

His father catches wind.

Forbids John from any further involvement.

Headstrong as ever, and in search of military experience, young John Devoy resolves to emigrate...

In March 1861, he runs away from home.

Enlists in the French Foreign Legion.

Serves an uneventful year in Algeria.

Returns to Ireland, in 1862.

Reports back to Stephens.

And finds himself immidiatley drawn into the central planning for an imminent Fenian rising.

The plan has three parts...

First, recruit the nation's young men into an underground fighting force.

Second, recruit overseas where the American Civil War was making veterans and a potential officer's corps out of thousands of immigrant Irish that it doesn't kill on the battlefield.

Third, infiltrate and recruit from the 26,000 British soldiers garrisoned in Ireland – two-thirds of whom were Irish born.

It is to this final task Devoy is assigned. 

The Irish in America's Civil War

Meanwhile in America, in September of 1862, the Irish Brigade of the Union Army distinguishes itself in the bloodiest single day of the Civil War – the Battle of Antietam.

Amid the cheers of their Anglo-American comrades in arms, the Irish Brigade charges three times across an open field.

They lose two-thirds of their men.

But the Union victory at Antietam, Maryland gives Lincoln the credibility he needs to issue the Emancipation Proclamation – effectively declaring an end to slavery in the United States.

The War drags on. The casualties mount. They are especially high for the Irish Brigade.

In early July 1863, the Irish Brigade distinguishes itself once again in the decisive Battle of Gettysburg.

And then, just one week later, Irish America horrifies its new countrymen when the largest and deadliest race riots in U.S. history erupt in New York City.

Incensed by a war-time draft that allows the wealthiest of Americans to buy their way out of active service, Irish mobs turn their wrath on the homes of the wealthy, and the lives of any black men they can get their hands on.

Lincoln puts down the riots with troops and cannon.

A thousand people die.

In November 1863, the same month Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address, "America's Irish rebels – including many Union officers on leave – assemble in convention in Chicago to prepare for the coming battle across the Atlantic."

"In the spring of 1864, James Stepehens crosses the Atlantic to visit War-torn America."

"Tours Union encampments." 

He hears the popular Irish Nationalist song, "The Minstrel Boy," being sung around the Irish campfires of the United States Army.

"The Minstrel Boy to the war has gone, in the ranks of death you will find him?

His father's sword he has girded on and his wild harp flung behind hm..."

Stephens returns to Ireland in high spirits. He estimates 100,000 well-trained Irish-Americans are now sworn and ready to fight for Irish freedom...

Stephens determines the rising will take place the following year.

The Fenian Rising of 1867

The Irish Republican Brotherhood organizes now with a renewed vigor. They train recruits in musketry.

By spring of 1865, "couriers from New York start bringing a steady supply of cash to fund IRB efforts in Ireland..."

"British intelligence notes the sudden appearance in Ireland of men wearing felt hats and square-toed shoes – fashions that marked the men as Americans..." 

O'Mahoney tells the Fenian Convention gathered in Cincinnati, Ohio they are "already at war with the oligarchs of England."

In April of 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders at Appomattox.

The American Civil War is over.

Queen Victoria – well aware of British diplomatic coziness with the Confederacy – writes confidentially to one of her ministers.

She fears the Irish of the victorious Union Army will now turn their haughty wrath toward England.

Fenian fever is on the rise.

But the British are not distracted nor are they unaware.

They have very effectively infiltrated the Fenians with paid informers – both in Ireland and in America.

The British government decides it can no longer afford to watch and wait.

On September 14, 1865, they raid the offices of The Irish People – the IRB's newspaper – arresting everyone in the offices.

Warrants are also issued for the arrests of dozens of Fenians including one John Devoy of Naas.

Devoy begins to carry a revolver.

The arrests continue.

Stephens promotes Devoy – at the age of 23 – to be the chief organizer of the British Army in Ireland.

"Be prudent now," Stephens tells him. "You owe me this to justify the appointment of so young a man to so responsible a post."

On November 11, 1865, James Stephens is himself arrested.

In less than two weeks "a rescue party that included Devoy and an IRB operative on the inside named, John Breslin, set him free in a dramatic and attention-grabbing rescue." 

But Devoy's well-planned rescue does not embolden Stephen's timetable – the rising of 1865 will now be postponed.

Devoy is not happy.

He has skillfully organized 1,600 Irish-born soldiers within the British garrison in Dublin.

Formed them carefully into small cells.

Loyal, true, and faithful men like, John Boyle O'Reilly.

The Fenians inside the army fear betrayal.

They are anxious for an open fight.

Military men, they demand a definite decision – one way or the other.

As 1866 begins, the British increase their counter-pressure.

They order mass transfers of the army garrisoned in Ireland.

Suspend Habeas Corpus.

Over just two days, they arrest 150 Irish-American Civil War officers -- in Dublin alone – who had come over for the coming fight.

Between indefinite postponement, imminent arrest, and premature uprising, the options for Stephens are grim. 

A war council is called.

Devoy votes for immediate action. 

But the majority present vote with Stephens to postpone.

On February 22, 1866 – as Devoy shares the decision made with several British Army Fenians at a public house on James Street – detectives enter the pub.

As his uniformed co-conspirators slip out the back, the detectives burst into the meeting room.

Devoy reaches for his revolver but is overwhelmed.

He is arrested.

Taken to Kilmainham Gaol.


John Devoy's role in his first rebellion is over.

But it's lessons were still unfolding.

"A land across the wave"

Devoy is sentenced to 15 years of prison.

He is behind bars when the badly infiltrated Fenian uprising in Ireland is crushed – in its infancy – in March of 1867.

Most of the would-be leaders who had remained free, are now rounded up before a single shot is fired.

Sporadic fighting in the southwest and outside of Dublin is immediately put down.

A group of Irish-American Civil War veterans cross the Atlantic in the good ship, "Erin's Hope", only to find the uprising has already fizzled out.

Erin is hopeless.

Meanwhile as word of the failure spreads to America, the well-armed Fenian movement there is down but not out. 

Two separate factions decided to strike a blow for Irish freedom by embarking on one of the more bizarre chapters in U.S. military history – the Fenian invasion of Canada.

Deep in Canadian woods they met

Having purchased surplus arms – knowingly – from U.S. arsenals, Irish-America feels they have received a "wink and a nod" from President Johnson's Adminstration to mess with the Confederate-loving English. 

A one thousand mile Fenian front is quickly extended from Chicago to Albany with thousands of veteran Irish-American troops representing 22 different states.

The uprising in Ireland has failed, but Irish America decides to fight nonetheless.

There is a joke common, today, in Irish-American circles:

That the first order of business at every meeting of the St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee is,..."the split." [attribute joke to Behan]

And so it was with Irish Americans in 1866.

In April of that year – as John Devoy sat in prison – one of two factions of the Fenian Army of the United States takes Indian Island, a small bit of Canada off the Eastport Coast.

In May, another faction crosses the Niagra River, and takes Fort Erie.

Planting the American and Fenian flags, they claim the land on behalf of the Irish Republic in exile.

And so,... "deep in Canadian woods [they] met from one bright Island flown." 

In such fighting as there was, the flat-footed Canadians got the worst of it.

President Johnson eventually sends the Union Army – led by none less than Ulysses S. Grant and Union General George Meade – to secure the border and put an end to the Fenian invasion.

They arrest former Union Generals – now Fenian Generals – O'Neill and Sweeney.

The Fenian Army of America surrenders its arms and dissipates.

A small band would try again in 1870, but meet with even worse results...

For the white Anglo-Saxon ascendancy of the United States, the Irish in America have now added a propensity for senseless fighting, to the stereotype of a propensity for senseless drinking.

Devoy would ponder the ignominious impact of these events in prison.

He would also happen to be the beneficiary of another group of Fenians, a group he had never met – The Manchester Martyrs.

God save Ireland

In 1867, a group of 30–40 well-armed Fenians intercept and attack a horse-drawn police van transporting two arrested leaders of the Brotherhood, Thomas J. Kelly and Timothy Deasy.

One of the jail guards is accidentally shot and killed in the rescue.

Kelly and Deasy are never captured again.

But three of the Fenians in the rescue party are captured.

Allen, Larkin, and O'Brien are summarily tried and hanged.

They will become known to history as, "The Manchester Martyrs."

"God Save Ireland" becomes, overnight, the anthem of the Irish Republic in waiting.

Unrequited Irish songs are powerful things.

So, too, are Irish martyrs.

Cascading events – in reaction to the Machester executions – turn British public opinion in favor of amnesty for Irish political political prisoners like Devoy.

The Fenian threat is a chapter the British government wants to put behind it.

Better to export Fenians than execute them.

Although "by the end of 1870, the Irish-American movement was in shambles..,"

Ironically, it is the British government who now revive it "when a ship of the Cunnard line – called 'the Cuba' – sails into New York harbor in 1871" carrying five Irish exiles.

Among the five, are Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa and John Devoy.

Hard-earned lessons learned

While O'Donovan Rossa had spent his time in prison being angry, Devoy spent his time thinking about the next time.

Thinking about the hard-earned lessons learned – on both sides of the Atlantic.

What were those Lessons?

#1. Political circles must be grown wide; but revolutionary circles must be held close.

#2. When the time is ripe, delay becomes an enemy.

#3. Co-opting Irish members of British Army is a security risk, and a fool's errand.

#4. England must be distracted for any revolution in Ireland to have a chance.

#5. Untethered rage turns use of force into a farce.

#6. American support – political, military, financial – must be skillfully built and constantly directed.

#7. Small things done well make bigger things possible.

It is the application of these lessons learned – over the many years to come – that will provide the framework for Easter 1916 and the birth of an Irish Republic.

Irish America in 1871

When Devoy, O'Donovan Rossa and the rest of the "Cuba Five" walk down the gang plank in 1871, they walk into the open arms of a rising Irish American community in New York City.

An Irish-American population that is large, growing, politically fractured, and in many ways, culturally and morally lost.

As a people, the Irish in America are still far from acting like a people.

Irish gangs, Irish prosititutes, and Irish crime, are widespread. The New York Police Department's arrest wagons are popularly renamed, "Paddy Wagons" – and it isn't because of the people driving them.

Sixty percent of those arrested on any given night in New York are now Irish. 

The Civil War is over but the American economy is about to fall into one of the most prolonged recessions of its young history.

When the economic panic of 1873 hits, immigrants, Irish immigrants in particular, are blamed... (sound familiar?) for pulling America down with their weak morals, large families, strange looks, and weird religion.

But as Irish America approaches the early 20th Century, Irish American political power is on the rise.

So much so in fact, that President Grant invites the Cuba Five to the White House for a ceremonial handshake and audience. Devoy would later recall that President Grant shook his hand "like it was a water pump."

The Irish now run some of the nation’s largest cities, lead some of its most-prominent trade unions, are among the country’s most-celebrated athletes.

The Famine generation is fading.

A new generation is rising.

It is to this rising Irish America that Devoy will speak.

It is to this rising Irish America that Devoy will become not only a guiding light.

But, beneath that light, a constantly guiding revolutionary hand.

Living in America

For John Devoy takes the idea of America at its word.

He intends to live American freedoms to their fullest – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association. 

Freedom to work for Irish Freedom.

Devoy is literate and well-read, but he is first and foremost a man of action, not words.

A man of relentless planning and organizing.

A man who many times will "stoop down, and with broken tools, build up what others have torn apart."

He is determined – not merely to avoid past mistakes, but to act more boldy for the future.

He remembers how Stephens' indecision and lack of organizational discipline led to the Fenian debacle.

It will be different next time – tightly organized, well-disciplined, decisive.

And there will be a next time.

When he lands in America in 1871, he gets a glimpse of the parading and preening of the two competing Irish American factions in New York.

He sees how their factional jealousies reduce the cause they share to little more than comic opera.

Devoy sets out to change all of that – there will be no more blarney, no more posturing among the conspirators.

He joins Clan na Gael in 1872 and quickly rises to become one of its core leaders.

Once a Fenian, always a Fenian.

Sensing the need for a small victory done well, he reads a letter aloud to Clan na Gael from a forgotten Fenian prisoner in Freemantle, Australia. He persuades Clan na Gael to put in motion a global plan for the rescue of these Fenian prisoners.

He commissions a Connecticut whaling ship called, "The Catalpha," to effectuate the rescue. 

Uses his old IRB friend, John Breslin – the same John Breslin of the Stephens' jail break rescue – to work the plan on the ground In Australia.

When the prisoners are sprung, the IRB cuts a cable line from Australia as a pre-arranged signal to Devoy.

Unlike the Fenian rising, or the Canadian invasions, the rescue plan is a success!

When the Catalpha is fired on by an intercepting British ship, she hoists the Stars and Stripes.

The British back off. 

News quickly spreads.

The Irish diaspora cheers.

In Boston, tri-color waving throngs welcome the Fenian prisoners.

In Dublin, torchlight parades are held...

In 1877, Devoy becomes part of a seven-person international Directory of the Irish Republican Bortherhood.

The formalize an arrangement.

The IRB in Ireland shall call the shots in Ireland.

The IRB in America shall call the shots in the United States.

That same year --1877-- the largest mass execution in U.S. history takes place with the sham trials and subsequent convictions of the Molly Maguires – a secret Labor agitation group in the coal mining regions of Pennsylvania.

All of those hanged are Irish.

More and more Irish Americans are finding the Labor movement in the United States a more compelling and immediate cause than Irish freedom.

Devoy is a friend of Labor in the U.S., but he still has the bandwidth for land agitation in Ireland.

He befriends Michael Davitt. Puts his pen and his organizational abilities fully behind the Land League.

He embraces Parnell and enters into his deepest confidence.

A confidence he would never betray.

A confidence that allows Devoy to deal directly and very explicitly with Parnell's deputy about gun shipments to Ireland.

Publicly, Parnell disavows the use of force, and warns of the need to restrain "the men of the hills."

In violation of his parole terms, Devoy travels under a false name to Ireland. 

He brings Davitt and Parnell together in what will become known as "the New Departure," and the Land War.

Devoy founds and funds the American Land League – a bit of a spin-off from Clan na Gael – to marshal Irish American support for Land Reform.

Despite splits and feuds in America, Devoy is relentless as he shifts and tacks.

And then – just as it appears real change is the wind in Ireland – Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa goes rogue from America.

Regardless of Devoy's objections, Rossa commences a brutal dynamite campaign on the English mainland.

From 1881-1885 dynamite bombs explode at random locations all across England – military barracks, police stations, jails, train stations, the London Underground, London Bridge, the House of Commons Chambers, Westminster Hall.

Many innocent civilians are killed.

Devoy castigates the uncontrolled rage of O'Donovan Rossa's dynamite campaign.

One headline in Devoy's Gaelic American newspaper says of Rossa: "More Stupid Anger than Wit."

Whatever the kaboom, Devoy feels the terrorizing loss of innocent lives is hurting the movement – especially in America.

The campaign also costs the movement a fair number of good men – including a recently naturalized U.S. Citizen of Irish birth named, Thomas J. Clarke.

Clarke is arrested for his part in a failed mainland plot in1884, and is sent away for many years to an English prison.

In the midst of this ill-conceived bombing campaign, Parnell is imprisoned.

Charged with conspiring with violent men in Ireland and in Irish America.

Parnell survives the trial only to be brought brought down by a personal scandal.

Still Devoy does not give up.

Crisis emerges in the Balkans in 1876. 

Devoy sees the prospect of war with Russia as a new difficulty for England.

He leads a delegation to discuss Ireland's struggle with the Russian Ambassador to the United States.

The meeting does not go well.

Devoy and his colleagues are dismissed by the Russian Ambassador as romantic radicals without any real popular support.

Devoy is stung by the slight, as well as by the truth within it.

He organizes the Irish in America into a more cohesive political force in the United States.

Every official gathering of the Irish in A merica must be bigger and better than the last.

He and Clan na Gael invest in the development of an under-water ship, a submarine. It is dubbed, "The Fenian Ram." Their vessel will become the forerunner of today's U.S. Navy Submarine Force.

Time goes on, reputation increases. His ability does not decline.

After every bitter failure and bitter split, he rebuilds and carries on.

The body of organizational accomplishments would have exhausted a whole host of men.

None of these things happen by themselves.

All of these things require discipline, skill, dexterity, and relentlessness – not to mention a keen awareness of applicable laws on both sides of the Atlantic, and on both sides of a U.S. declaration of war.

By 1895 Devoy has now lived longer in America than he did in Ireland.

There would be public faces and public movements. They would be flexible enough to include politicians, clergy, and labor.

The public movements would avoid narrow specifics – they would use phrases like "self-government" rather than "Republic" – and they would get behind causes with mass appeal like land reform.

BUT,... the direction of the wide public circle would always be subject to the discipline of the smaller revolutionary circle.

AND this is exactly how the IRB will operate in the lead-up to the Rising.

Celtic revival

By the year 1900, it is the season of politicians and poets once again in Ireland's ongoing story.

Indeed, the cycles of Ireland's political progress have become like seasons to Devoy's long memory.

John Redmond's parliamentary party and a new push for home rule.

William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, and John Synge.

An Irish cultural renaissance.

In America, Irish Tenor, John McCormack, stirs the coals of Irish American sentimentality.

Romantic Ireland appears not to be dead after all.

But John Devoy is not a sentimental man.

He has never stopped writing, working, organizing.

He corresponds with an astonishing array of people.

Despite splits and feuds, he has once again reunited Clan na Gael.

It is now firmly under Devoy's control.

When Tom Clarke is released from prison in the year of 1900, he returns to America.

Devoy gives him a job working at Devoy's "Gaelic American" newspaper.

Helps Clarke re-enter civilian life.

Reconnects his energies to the cause they share.

They work side by side for the next ten years.

Clarke and Devoy develop a trust no ocean can separate.

The two men sense the time is coming fast to apply the hard-earned lessons they have learned.

In 1911 – at Devoy's urging – Thomas Clarke sells his little farm outside of New York, and returns to Ireland.

Clarke becomes the center of a tight circle of the IRB in Ireland.

Together, Devoy and Clarke become the critcal links of the small, revolutionary, trans-Atlantic conspiracy that will burst forth with the Easter Rising in just five year's time.

The promise of Home Rule brings about an opposite reaction in the North of Ireland.

Loyalist leaders in Ulster vow to use military force to prevent it.

The Ulster Volunteers are quickly armed with guns they purchase from Germany.

In response, The Irish Volunteers are formed.

It's command ranks are filled by men of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

In 1912, Clarke writes to Devoy, addressing him as "Uncle."

"...It is worth living in Ireland these times," Clarke writes. "There is an awakening... [the] slow, silent prodding and the open preaching is at last showing results."

In the wake of the Transit Worker's strike of 1913, yet another armed force – The Irish Citizen Army – is formed under the leadership of labor organizer, James Connolly, a man well-known to Devoy from his time spent organizing in America.

In 1914, a gun shipment at Howth, Dubin supplies the Irish Volunteers with needed arms.

When British troops try to intercept the guns at Bachelors Walk, a crowd gathers, melee breaks out, several Irish civilians are shot and killed.

"The British Army didn't try to disarm the Ulster Volunteers."

The public is outraged.

The table for Easter 1916 is now set.

Easter 1916

As the world lurches toward the opening shots of the First World War, John Devoy and Thomas Clarke are moving toward one more try at Revolution.

The lessons learned will now be applied.

With its entry into World War I, England's difficulty becomes Ireland's opportunity. England is too distracted to properly deal with rumors of a rising.

Pearse has now traveled to America to visit with Devoy.

So too, has Roger Casement.

A year or so later, Plunket travels to New York to brief Devoy on the military planning for a rebellion in Dublin, at Easter 1916.

There will be a conventional military discipline to this Irish rising – uniforms and a command structure – and it will be tethered to the most noble traditions of Irish nationhood.

Plunket tells him the operation suffers from a lack of sufficient number of arms.

But this time there will be no delay, no indecision.

Once the clock starts ticking down, the plan will proceed whether every piece falls into place or not.

The determined men at the center of this tight circle are playing a longer game than the first engagement.

Devoy sends a message Roger Casement urging him to abandon his not-so-clandestine efforts at recruiting a new Irish brigade from among British Army POW's in Germany.

Devoy warns Casement his activities are a security risk to the larger operation.

He doesn't need his help or his blundering.

Devoy becomes a near weekly visitor to the German Consulate in New York. He eventually secures their commitment to secretly ship arms to Ireland for the Easter rising.

In 1915 – borrowing a page from another trans-Atlantic Fenian funeral of a century before – Devoy sends the dead body of his friend, and one time nemesis, Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa back to Ireland for a funeral of far-reaching political importance.

The graveside oration of Padraic Pearse announces a new generation of leadership. And ties the coming action to the very survival of Irish language and culture.

With Devoy in charge in America, there will be no half-cocked Yankee incursions or expeditions. The Irish in Ireland will fight this fight. And her exiled children in America will support.

A lifetime of small things done well have now made a bigger thing possible. 

That bigger that happens on Easter Monday, 1916 when several hundred soldiers of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen army seize strategic locations across Dublin.

Pearse Proclaims the establishment of an Irish Republic.

The lead signatory of that Revolutonary document is John Devoy's friend, Thomas Clarke.

After the taking of the GPO and other locations across Dublin – but before the news of the rising can be reported through the media of the day – John Devoy receives a coded telegram message from Ireland.

It reads simply: "Tom's operation a success."


The Easter Rising is, of course, eventually put down.

The leaders are taken to Kilmainham Gaol, court martialed, and shot in the stone breakers yard by British firing squads.

Public opinion turns.

"They don't execute German prisoners."

People discover the poetry of Pearse, the mysticism of Plunket, the bravery of Connolly, the loyalty of Clarke.

On the eve of his death, Clarke tells his wife: "I'm glad it's a soldier's death I am getting. I have had enough of imprisonment."

There is a message written on the wall of the row home on Moore Street into which the 1916 leaders were forced to retreat by the end of the fight.

It is a message to a future that existed at the time only in the imaginations of unreasonable Irishmen and Irishwomen.

It is believed to be Clarke's handwriting.

It reads – "We had to evacuate the GPO. The boys put up a grand fight, and that fight will save the soul of Ireland."

And indeed it did.


Devoy and his colleagues of the Rising, were formidable people – something not often said of Irish American leaders before his arrival in the United States.

For all he had seen, touched, and accomplished, John Devoy would live out the final years of his long life regretting that he had not come back to Ireland – to fight and die with Tom Clarke and the others.

But only Devoy could do what needed to be done in Irish America.

That work would continue through the all the sad twists and turns of the struggle that followed.

In "the parting of the ways" that followed the War of Independence, Devoy would side with IRB man, Michael Collins.

He would become a trusted resource and confidant to W.T. Cosgrave...

To appreciate the life of John Devoy is to understand the unity of perseverance and generosity.

Of courage and sensitivity.

Of a broken heart and an unbroken will.

Yes, he was a hard-headed revolutionary, and a bare knuckled in-fighter. But there was a very sensitive and generous side to Devoy as well.

Taking care of Tom Clarke's widow, making sure Clarke's son received the medical care he needed in the U.S. The siblings, nephews, niece's in need,... bringing "home the Fenian prisoners from dying in foreign nations." Paying for Roger Casement's legal defense.

The young fiancé he never returned to marry but never forgot. The fiancé who became an old widow by the time Devoy – the life-long bachelor – sought her out in 1925. The two would correspond with each other, lovingly, in the final years of their lives.

When she died in 1928, he died a few months later...

Unbroken will, relentless work, "giving without counting the cost,…fighting and not heeding the wounds." 

In his time, Devoy became a voice and channel for thousands of Irish-Americans who had left Ireland in the late 19th Century determined to never forget.

People like Patrick Kennedy and Bridget Murphy who left this starving land in 1847 for Boston, and whose great grandson, John F. Kennedy, would return to visit Ireland as President of the United States.

The activism and passion of Devoy, and other Irish Americans of a century and half ago, laid the groundwork for the trans-Atlantic activism of successive generations of Irish Americans.

Those who passed the MacBride Principles for Human Rights in Northern Ireland in cities and states all across America in the 1980's and 1990's.

Those who brought the United States into playing a vital role in All-Party peace talks in our own times.

An on-going process that may yet bring about the ideals so clearly proclaimed in Easter 1916...


As a bright connecting thread of Irish and Irish American history, there is a song that rivals the long life of John Devoy

It was written in the early 1800's by Thomas Moore as a tribute to friends he knew who died in 1798 and Emmet's rebellion.

The song grew in popularity.

Was transported on the tongues of immigrants to the United State's.

Was sung on both sides of the American Civil War.

That song... is, "The Minstrel Boy." 

Even today most of us here know the lyrics by heart:

"...One sword at least thy rights shall guard

One faithful harp shall praise thee..."

When John Devoy died in 1928, they brought his body back to Ireland.

He was a given a funeral with full State honors.

Thousands turned out to pay tribute.

As his Tri-color draped casket was led to the Republican plot at Glasnevin cemetery, I would like to believe at least one person remembered a third, but now mostly forgotten, verse to "The Minstrel Boy." 

A verse that was added during the American Civil War by an unknown author.

It goes like this:

"The Minstrel Boy will return we pray

When we hear the news we all will cheer it,

The minstrel boy will return one day,

Torn perhaps in body, not in spirit.

Then may he play on his harp in peace,

In a world such as heaven intended,

For all the bitterness of man must cease,

And ev'ry battle must be ended."