This months guest blog looks forward to a significant anniversary this year when in June of 1867 a band of Fenian freedom fighters were landed in Waterford having journeyed across the Atlantic to join in a planned insurrection. The ship was commanded by a Waterford man, and although it was unsuccessful it was none the less a courageous act and I’m delighted that my cousin James Doherty took the time to write it up for us.
Invasion has threatened Ireland on numerous occasions in modern history. In 1867 however, this threat lay untypically, to the west. The British administration were not worried about a European superpower attempting to use Ireland as a stepping stone towards the mainland rather they were concerned with landings by members of the Fenian Brotherhood. A nationalist Irish organisation pledged to the violent overthrow of British rule in Ireland.
In 1867 the Fenians announced their plans for rebellion in Ireland. The organisation however was riddled with informers and the planed uprising only produced a few skirmishes with police and rioting in Tallaght that was quickly brought under control. Unaware of the failed rising, plans were hatched in New York to send a large quantity of munitions (Between 5000- 8000 rifles and several small cannon) and a party of forty Fenians to support the rebellion in Ireland . On the night of the 13th of April 1867 the Brig Jacmel set sail, bound for Ireland and insurrection[i]
|“The Brig Jacmel”
From Harpers Weekly
In charge of the maritime element of this expedition was Captain Joseph Kavanagh of Passage East, Kavanagh (also spelled Cavanagh) had been recruited to the Fenian movement in New York by a tavern keeper called Baston who also hailed from Passage[ii].
On the 18th of May the Jacmel by now renamed the Erin’s Hope approached the Irish Coast. Almost immediately things started to go wrong. When the gun-running expedition arrived off the Sligo Coast she showed the pre-arranged signals but got no reply. Captain Cavanagh who was in charge of the expedition went ashore where he met a co-conspirator Richard O Sullivan Burke. O’Sullivan Burke advised Kavanagh of the real state of the insurrection and advised him to leave the area immediately. This was timely advice as the authorities had dispatched a gun boat to investigate this mysterious brig.[iii]
Initially Cavanagh set sail for the Cork coast where he had been led to believe some of the Fenians were holding out. However due to bad weather and having to play cat and mouse with Coast Guard cutters the expedition arrived off the Waterford Coast near Helvick on June 1st. At this stage the members of the expedition were getting desperate and they hailed a fishing boat and asked to be brought ashore. A local fisherman (under considerable duress) landed 32 Fenians which were then spotted by a vigilant Coast Guard who immediately raised the alarm.
The Waterford News of 7th June described in colourful terms the circumstances of this mini invasion. “Not since the French landing at Killala has more consternation been caused by the news of the landing of Fenians” The News went on to describe how the “foreigners split into groups of three and four and scattered through the countryside”, 26 Fenians were quickly arrested and brought before magistrates in Dungarvan where a variety of elaborate cover stories were sworn to. The authorities mounted an armed guard on the local jail whilst a transfer to a more secure location could be arranged. Throughout all this it was reported that the Fenians were in remarkably good spirits.[iv]
In what amounted to almost a carnival atmosphere the Fenians were brought in seven carriages to the jail in Waterford the next morning. The streets in Dungarvan were thronged and the prisoners were led out to great cheering. Security was very tight with a large party of the constabulary and sixteen soldiers of the 17th Regiment. On arriving at the outskirts of Waterford City the party was met by Mr. H.E Redmond R.M and a further force of thirty constabulary armed with breech loading rifles[v]
|Waterford city jail – Ballybricken via
On Monday the 10th of June the group of prisoners that had been sent from Dungarvan received two visitors a Detective Talbot and J.J Corydon. Talbot and Corydon (real name Corridon) were loathed by the Fenians as Corydon was an arch informer and Talbot had infiltrated the Fenian movement working as a double agent . The Waterford News of the 14th of June described their visit to identify Fenians. The paper referred to the “two obnoxious characters” and in colourful tones compared Corydon to Judas Iscariot. Corydon’s visit and his notoriety ensured a crowd numbering in the thousands which necessitated the whole force of Waterford Constabulary being turned out to escort the informer and the spy to the safety of the train station[vi].
The security surrounding this Fenian situation may have seemed excessive however subsequent events would prove otherwise. In addition to the main body of Fenians who had been detained and brought to Dungarvan a smaller party of four had been arrested heading towards Cork and had been brought to Youghal. These were to be reunited with their compatriots in Waterford.
On the night of the 13th of June four Fenians in the company of a small party of constabulary from the County of Cork stepped off the 8.45 train in Waterford. They were expecting to be met there by the local police but were disappointed. The Cork detachment of police started to proceed towards the gaol exciting considerable local interest. As they went some of the local police they encountered joined the group as the crowd following them grew larger and more hostile. Soon stone throwing began and the local police advised taking shelter in the Lady Lane police station and calling for reinforcements. [vii]
Just after 9pm the reinforced party left the Police Station heading for the gaol. The force of police now measured forty on foot and fourteen mounted. However the hostile crowd had also grown in force consisting of “Salters and Labourers with a sprinkling of fisherwoman who would prove the most formidable of assailants”. A full scale riot ensued as the police battled their way towards the safety of the gaol with the prisoners receiving many blows in the chaos.
At the gaol once the prisoners were safely secured the Constabulary turned to face their assailants who numbered in the hundreds. Head Constable Barry ordered a bayonet charge which resulted in “one unhappy man named Walsh being stabbed through the heart” and several other rioters and police seriously injured. It was stated later that the prisoners were highly incensed by the actions of the crowd and were grateful to make the safety of the gaol.[viii]
|A monument in Helvick of the event via
By the 14th of June both sets of Fenian prisoners were together and were sent by train to Dublin. The Evening Mail reported that the prisoners were met at the Kings-Bridge terminus by a strong detachment of mounted constabulary and two full troops from the 9th Lancers[ix]. Meanwhile the Erin’s Hope would loiter for some time around the Irish coast until still having made no meaningful contact with Irish Rebels it would set sail and return with its weapons still in their boxes.
Although unsuccessful the Erin’s Hope returned to a hero’s welcome in New York City and Kavanagh returned to life as a ship’s Captain. Despite his flirtation with the Fenian movement Kavanagh would later become a supporter of John Redmond. Dr. Nicholas Whittle Sinn Fein director of elections would complain in later life of the “fatalistic loyalty” shown to John Redmond by the people of Waterford and used Captain Kavanagh as a prime example of this support[x]
|Captain Kavanaghs last resting place
Crooke graveyard, Co Waterford
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[iv] Waterford News 07/06/1867
[vi] Waterford News 14/06//1967
[vii] Cork Examiner 15/06/1867
[ix] Dublin Evening Mail 15/06/1867