Tuesday 21 November 2017

Famous five and life in the US

Padraig Pearse
Padraig Pearse
Thomas Clarke

A century ago, the US press ­dramatised comparisons ­between the Easter Rising and the revolutionary activities against British rule that exploded in the American colonies near the end of the 18th century. Parallels to the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Lexington appeared ­frequently, and Pádraig Pearse was often ­likened to George Washington.

Of the seven signatories of the ­Proclamation announcing "The ­Provisional Government of the Irish Republic" on Easter Monday 1916, five spent time in the States.

Pearse voyaged across the Atlantic on a speaking tour in 1914 to raise money for the school, St Enda's, that he'd started in Dublin six years earlier.

In Patrick Pearse: The Triumph of Failure, Ruth Dudley Edwards calls Pearse's US sojourn "the most formative three months of his life", adding that he "discovered a natural aptitude for extreme rhetoric" in addressing Irish-American audiences.

Tom Clarke lived for a much longer period in America, ­emigrating twice: in 1880 (until early 1883) and then in 1900 (until late 1907). When Clarke returned in 1900, he worked on business affairs of the physical-force-minded US organisation Clan na Gael before becoming assistant editor of The Gaelic American, a weekly periodical based in New York City and strongly republican in its viewpoint.

James Connolly resided in the US from 1902 until 1910, ­dedicating most of his time to trying to develop a more powerful labour movement. A gifted speaker and writer with special appeal to Irish-American workers, Connolly travelled throughout the States on behalf of the Socialist Labor Party and later the Socialist Party of America.

Though well-known and respected in labour circles, Connolly never felt at home abroad, referring at one point to the US as "this cursed country".

Seán Mac ­Diarmada made his Atlantic crossing in 1912 to ­attend that year's Clan na Gael ­convention, which was held in ­Atlantic City, New Jersey. A close ­associate of Clarke in Dublin, Mac ­Diarmada was the delegate of the Irish Republican ­Brotherhood (IRB) and stayed several weeks on the East Coast, getting to know some of the most fervent ­republican ­sympathisers.

Mac Diarmada travelled under the assumed name of "Burke" to maintain the secrecy that both Clan na Gael and the IRB tried to protect.

The fifth signatory, Joseph Mary Plunkett, arrived in New York during August 1915 to discuss specific Irish plans for the upcoming Rising. Plunkett, a poet who would later carry the title of director of military operations for the IRB, was suffering from tuberculosis at the time and was initially denied entry into the US at Ellis Island.

Besides reporting to Clan na Gael leaders that the uprising would take place in the near future and include cooperation from Germany - Plunkett had recently been in Berlin to talk about arrangements - he had an opportunity to spend time with some American literary figures.

All five rebel leaders knew and discussed republican dreams and activities with John Devoy, who had been exiled to the US in 1871 at age 28 but always referred to Ireland as "home".

Devoy is buried in the patriots' section of Glasnevin Cemetery. Under his name, there's one word, 'Fenian'. Another side of the headstone carries the description 'Rebel'. The third says simply 'Patriot'. A year before the Rising, Pearse wrote an essay that included the prediction that history would judge Devoy, a naturalised American citizen, "as the greatest of the Fenians".

Robert Schmuhl

Indo Review

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