Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Russell, Thomas O'Neill

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RUSSELL, THOMAS O'NEILL (1828–1908), a founder of the Gaelic movement in Ireland, born at Lissanode, Moate, co. Westmeath, in 1828, was son of Joseph Russell, a gentleman farmer who belonged to the Society of Friends. After a sound elementary education at the national school he assisted in the management of his father's extensive farm. About 1850 he found employment in Dublin in a small business firm of W. R. Jacob, a Quaker, which subsequently developed into one of the greatest concerns in Ireland. Russell soon travelled for the firm, and subsequently he followed the same calling for other houses in Ireland, France, and America.

In 1858 he was an occasional contributor to the newly established 'Irishman,' an advanced nationalist organ. There he urged the revival of the ancient Irish tongue. This became the foremost aim of his career. He learned Irish and soon wrote it with faculty. His association with the 'Irishman' during the Fenian activity exposed him to risk of arrest. Migrating to America, he remained in the United States for nearly thirty years. There he obtained employment as a commercial traveller, and in that capacity he visited every state of the Union. He regularly contributed to the 'Chicago Citizen' and corresponded with the Irish press, invariably writing on the Irish language. He also lectured on the same theme.

In 1895 he returned to Ireland with a moderate competence, and at once began to organise opinion in Dublin by means of essay and lecture in the interests of a Gaelic revival. To his efforts to arouse in Irishmen a sense of the value of their ancient language and music was largely due the inauguration of the Gaelic League in 1893 and of the Feis Ceoil (Irish musical festival) in 1897. He died on 15 June 1908 in Synge St., Dublin, and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery. Russell was helped in his propaganda by his splendid physique, his fiery enthusiasm, and his command of forcible language.

Apart from his contributions to the press Russell published two novels, descriptive of Irish life, of which the first, 'Dick Massey' was issued at Glasgow in 1860 (under the pseudonym of 'Reginald Tierney’) and has run through numerous editions. It is a homely story, not without serious faults of composition and construction, but it hit the popular taste. Russell's other works are: 1. 'True Hearts' Trials,' a novel, Glasgow 1873; new edit. Dublin 1907. 2. 'Speech of Robert Emmet translated into Irish,' New York, 1879. 3. 'Beauties and Antiquities of Ireland,' 1897. 4. 'Teanga Thíoramhuill na h-Eireann,' Dublin, 1897. 5. 'A Selection of Moore's Irish Melodies, translated by Archbishop McHale,' edited, with additions, Dublin, 1899. 6. 'Fíor Chláirsseach na h-Eireann, or the True Harp of Ireland,' edited by Russell, Dublin, 1900. 7. 'An Borama Laigean, or the Leinster Tribute, put into modern Irish,' Dublin, 1901. 8. 'The Last Irish King,' a drama in three acts, Dublin, 1904. 9. 'Red Hugh,' a drama in three acts, Dublin, 1905. 10. 'Is Ireland a Dying Nation?’ Dublin, 1906.

[Literary Year Book, 1906; Journal of National Literary Society of Ireland, 1900–4, p. 128; Irish Independent, 1908; personal knowledge.]

D. J. O'D.