Monday 20 May 2019

Author Eva's book charts history of the Fenian movement

Eva O’Cathaoir
Eva O’Cathaoir

Mary Fogarty

Bray historian Eva O'Cathaoir recently launched her book 'Soldiers of Liberty, A Study of Fenianism, 1858-1908', at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

The work is a history of the Fenian movement in Ireland, Britain, America and Australia, with 1,000 mini-biographies of Irish participants.

Eva has spent most of her life in Bray. She is a contributor to the Book of Bray and the official Wicklow County History, and an expert on the Wicklow workhouses and the famine. As a member of the Old Bray Society, she has lectured all over the county.

'Soldiers of Liberty' tells the story of the Fenian movement, which was founded by James Stephens, John O'Mahony and Michael Doheny in Dublin and New York in 1858. A group of survivors of the Rising of 1848 refused to accept that defeat as final and, reacting against the horrors of the Great Famine and ongoing emigration, worked to gain Irish independence.

The Fenian movement was active throughout Ireland, Britain, North America and Australia. The Rising of 1867 skirted Bray, when Capt Patrick Lennon took Stepaside and Glencullen RIC Barracks and halted at the Old Connaught, as Bray Barracks had been heavily barricaded. Despite these two successes, the initial Fenian Rising was a failure, but the movement managed to survive and initiated the insurrection of 1916.

Based on archival research mainly for Munster, this book contains mini biographies of more than 1,000 Fenians, including John Kelly of Tralee, who was actually a native of Bantry. He was detained alongside his brother during the 1860s, but continued his political commitment as a Land League and also a National League organiser. Frequent arrests by Dublin Castle ruined his drapery business in Tralee and, finally, his health.

This resulted in a Bray and James Joyce link, as John Stanislaus Joyce of Martello Terrace, Bray, and father of the future author of Ulysses, invited Kelly to recuperate in his pleasant home. John Stanislaus Joyce himself had been on the Fenian fringes in his youth in Cork. Both admired Charles Stewart Parnell, to whom Kelly was close. Young James Joyce watched his elders and didn't miss a turn. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, John Kelly features as 'Mr Casey' in the famous Christmas dinner scene, denouncing the interference of the Catholic Church in politics.

Kelly also stayed in Brennan's Terrace, Bray, and was watched by the police. He died of tuberculosis in April 1896.

The launch was attended by Dr Martin Mansergh, actor Stephen Rea, Dr Cormac O Grada, who gave the keynote address, Dr Gerard Lyne, formerly of the National Library, Aengus O Snodaigh TD, Padraig Snodaigh and local notables Michael Kelleher, just retired from Bray Library, Cllr Brendan Thornhill and Malachai Duddy.

Bray People