Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/213

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
175
HIS LIFE, POEMS AND SPEECHES

was its head when it assumed the extraordinary attitude of a foreign national government with headquarters in New York; its copious stream of gold passed through his hands; the scores of thousands of its builders, looking to their Center, beheld and believed in the rapt face, the solemn figure, and the streaming hair of their chosen leader. He was not merely the guide or fabricator of Fenianism. He, more than any man alive or dead, was the spirit and subtending principle of the movement. Its single-heartedness and devotion were his, no matter whose its narrowness and shortcoming. Stephens was the "Chief Organizer," but John O'Mahony was the "Head-Center." His whole life and aspirations were bound up in one word—Fenianism. It was he who christened the movement with this title, which was objectionable to most of its members. Only of late years, when they saw that the world knew them only by this name, did they accept the ancient word imposed on them by their leader.

The fate of too many Irish leaders followed O'Mahony. Dissensions came, and doubts, and divisions; the walls crumbled, the floors shook, and the antique figure descended in sorrow from its place in the Moffat mansion. The aim of the movement was broken; other minds than O'Mahony's entered in and were averse to the old style. As Young Ireland departed from O'Connell and followed the brilliant youths of the Sword, so Fenianism swerved from O'Mahony and half its supporters faced toward Canada. Col. William R. Roberts, a natural leader of men, sanguine, intellectual, eloquent, replaced O'Mahony in their hearts. Lower and lower went his Fenianism, till the only men who clung to it in a practical way were a few severe or simple natures, those who stand by a solitary idea for a lifetime, whose grasp and hope are coeval with their existence. With these was John O'Mahony. The gilded palaces were gone; and he was the same antique Fenian still. Years went by, and the name of the man was rarely mentioned; and when spoken, even in assemblies of Irishmen, too often the taint of suspicion was said or insinuated, and left uncontradicted. The money sent to him in the heyday of Fenianism was remembered, and the old charge was made—he had duped the people. If any man who made this charge had met John O'Mahony in New York for the past seven years, he would have begged the old man's pardon. A tall, gaunt figure—the mere framework of a mighty man; a large, lusterless face, with deep-sunken, introverted eyes; faded, lightish hair, worn long to the shoulders; an overcoat always buttoned, as if to hide the ravages of wear and tear on the inner garments; something of this, and something too of gentleness and knightlihood, not easily described, were in the awkward and slow-moving figure, with melancholy and abstracted gaze, so well known to the Irishmen of New York as John O'Mahony, the Head-Center.