The Times/1907/Obituary/John O'Leary

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Obituary

Mr. John O'Leary, the Fenian leader, died at his residence, Warrington-road, Dublin, late on Saturday night. Mr. O'Leary was the last survivor of the literary staff of the old Irish People, the organ of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, or Fenians as they were popularly called. The first number of the paper appeared on November 28, 1863. The main purpose which the leader of the conspiracy, James Stephens, "chief organizer of the Irish Republic," had in view in founding the paper was to raise the money. In this he was sorely disappointed, for the paper never even cleared its expenses, and its editor, Mr. O'Leary, did not get a shilling of the modest stipend of £2 weekly at which his services were retained. He had however, a private income from house property in the town of Tipperary, where he was born in 1830 of parents who were well-to-do shopkeepers. He had a good education at the Erasmus Smith's School. Tipperary—one of the few endowed grammar schools in Ireland—and when 20 years of age he entered the Queen's College, Galway, with the intention of becoming a doctor, but never completed the course, and after spending three years at college began an aimless wandering existence on the Continent and in America. It was in the United States that the Fenian conspiracy was planned, and Mr. O'Leary, having been enlisted in its ranks, returned to Dublin in 1860 to assist in spreading the movement in Ireland. In appointing Mr. O'Leary to the editorship of the Irish People, Stephens undoubtedly selected the one man in the movement with journalistic ability; but though in time it attracted able writers to its columns, the only contributor who made any impression on the hearts of his countrymen, and whose name will live long in Irish literary history, is Charles J. Kickham, the novelist, whose principal works, "Knocknagon" and "Sally Kavanagh," hold high places in Irish fiction. The chief leading article in the first Irish People, which proclaimed the aims of the paper, was a most fantastic production entitled "Islo—Race—Doom," of which Stephens was the writer. He was very proud of the article until a friend, unaware of the authorship, described it as "all dashes, commas and bosh," after which he left to Mr O'Leary the entire control of the Irish People. The newspaper did not exist to celebrate its second anniversary. On the night of September 14, 1865, the police made a raid on the offices in Parliament-street—under the very shadow of Dublin Castle—destroyed the matter that was in type, seized the books and documents, and before morning all the leading members of the staff, literary and commercial, were in custody. Mr. O'Leary was arrested at his lodgings at midnight on returning from the theatre. He told the detectives that, as his companion at the theatre was a lady, he was unable to have a drink or a smoke all the evening; and they politely allowed him to finish a pipe and moisten it with a glass of whisky. Mr. O'Leary used also to relate another comic incident. When the assembled prisoners were informed the next morning that they would be indicted on the grave charge of high treason one of them exclaimed, "High trayson bedad," more impressed by the great dignity of the charge than apprehensive of the unpleasant consequences that might possibly ensue. But though the prisoners were returned for trial for high treason, the indictment at the special Commission held in Dublin was on the lesser count of treason felony. After a trial which lasted six days Mr. O'Leary was found guilty. He was sentenced to 20 years' penal servitude. Mr. O'Leary was released after five years' imprisonment; but was not allowed to return to Ireland until the full term of his sentence had expired. He spent the 15 years of his exile in Paris. In 1895 he went back to Ireland; and one of his first acts was to deliver a public address in Dublin attacking the Land League agitation. He was completely out of sympathy with the Irish Parliamentary party, as he showed in frequent caustic letters to the Press; and even the Gaelic League movement failed to find favour in his eyes. He never married, and his means were considerably reduced by the fall in the value of his houses in Tipperary, brought about by the Plan of Campaign of movement—which he never ceased to condemn—against Mr. Smith-Barry (now Lord Barrymore), the ground landlord, that ended so disastrously for the agitators. Mr. O'Leary was one of the most widely read men in general literature. In 1896 he published "Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism," which contains very little information about the conspiracy, but is most interesting as an expression of a curious personality. It is significant that he was an ardent worshipper of Carlyle. He seems to have drifted into Fenianism, not because he was an Irish Nationalist, but because he was a hater of established institutions. Once he was condoled with on the neglect shown him by the people of Ireland in his old age. "Ah," he replied with characteristic irony, "they'll make up for it by giving me a grand funeral."


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