There was wild commotion among the Irish people in America, when, on the 6th of March, 1867, the Atlantic cable flashed across to them the news that on the previous night the Fenian circles, from Louth to Kerry had turned out in arms, and commenced the promised rebellion. It was news to send a thrill of excitement through every Irish heart - to fire the blood - the zealous men, who for years had been working to bring the Irish question to this issue; and news to cause profound and anxious thought to that large class of Irishmen who deeply, occupied with commercial and professional pursuits, are less energetic than the members of the Fenian Brotherhood in their political action, but who scarcely differ from them in principle. It was, for all who had Irish blood in their veins and Irish sympathies in their hearts, a serious consideration that once again the banner of insurrection against English rule had been unfurled in Ireland, and that on many a spot of Irish earth the organized forces of England were in conflict with the hastily collected, ill supplied and almost unarmed levies of Irish patriotism.
The question; whether the cause of Ireland would be advantaged or injured by the struggle end its inevitable results, was differently answered by different minds. Some saw in the conflict nothing; but defeat and suffering for the country more, gyves and chains - more, sorrow and humiliation for her sons; and a fresh triumph for the proud and boastful power of England. Others, while only too well convinced that the suppression of the insurrectionary movement was sure to be speedily accomplished, viewed the position with a certain fierce and stern satisfaction, and discerned therein the germ of high hopes for the future.
But to certain of the Fenian leaders and Fenian circles in America, the news came with a pressing and a peculiar interest. They were largely responsible for the outbreak; the war was, in a manner, their war. Their late head-centre, James Stephens, was chargeable with it only in a certain degree. He had promised to initiate the struggle before the 1st of January of that year. Conscious that his veracity was regarded in somewhat of a dubious light by many of his followers, he reiterated the declaration with all possible passion and vehemence, and even went the length of swearing to it by invocations of the Most High, before public assemblies of his countrymen. When the time came for the fulfilment of his pledges he failed to keep them, and was immediately deposed from his position by the disappointed and enraged circles which had hitherto trusted him. But in the meantime, relying on his engagement to lead off an insurrection in Ireland, those circles had made certain preparations for the event, and a number of their members, brave Irishmen who had had actual experience of war in the armies of America, had crossed the Atlantic, and landed in England and Ireland, to give the movement the benefit of their services. To these men the break-down of James Stephens was a stunning blow, an event full of shame and horror; they felt their honour compromised by his conduct; they considered that they could not return to America with their mission unattempted, and they resolved to establish their own honesty and sincerity at all events, as well as the courage and earnestness of the Fenian Brotherhood in Ireland, by taking the desperate course of engaging forthwith in open insurrection. It was in conformity with their arrangements, and in obedience to their directions, that the rising took place on the night of the 5th of March, 1867.
The ill success which attended the attempted insurrection was reported In America almost as soon as it was known in Ireland, by the agency of the Atlantic telegraph. But, whoever believed the statements of its speedy and utter collapse, which were forwarded through the cable, the Fenian circles certainly did not. They felt certain that the truth was being withheld from them, that the cable, which was an instrument in the hands of the British Government, was being employed to mislead them, and that when it reported all quiet in Ireland, and no movement afoot save that of the British troops employed in 'scouring' the mountains of Cork and Tipperary, there was, in reality, a guerrilla warfare being waged over a great extent of the country, and many a tough, fight being fought in pass, and glen, and wood, amidst the picturesque scenery of the Munster counties. Their incredulity was but natural. They had no reason whatsoever to rely on the truthfulness of the cable messages. If there had been Fenian successes to report, it is very likely that no fair account of them would have been allowed to pass by that route. Still, as day after day went by, and brought no news of battles lost or won by any party, the conviction began to force itself on the minds of the American Fenians that the movement in Ireland was hanging fire, and that it was going hard with the brave men who had committed themselves to it at the outset. It was necessary that something should be done, if those men were to be sustained, and the outbreak developed into a struggle worthy of the cause, and of the long years of preparation, the bold threats and the glowing promises of the Fenian Brotherhood, the risks they had incurred, and the sacrifices they had made.
What was to be done? What was most needed to give force and power to the insurrectionary uprising in Ireland? They knew the answer. Arms and officers were wanted. To supply them, at least in some measure, was therefore, the great object that now presented itself to their minds. How they sought to accomplish it is known to the public - if the Attorney General and his witnesses, at the opening of the Commission in Dublin, in November, 1867, told a true story.
Any references we shall here make to that particular subject, that is, to the alleged voyage of a Fenian cruiser conveying men and arms from New York to Ireland, shall be derived entirely from the statements made in open court on that occasion, with an extract or two from a document otherwise published. We shall add nothing to them, neither shall we vouch for the authenticity of all or any of them, for at the time of our writing, "the Crown," as the government lawyers call themselves, are not yet done with some of the cases arising out of this alleged expedition. But, taking the narrative as we find it in the newspaper reports of the trials of Colonel John Warren and Augustine E. Costello, and in the lecture delivered in America, under the auspices of the Fenian Brotherhood, by Colonel S. R. Tresilian, John Savage, Esq., C.E F. B. in the chair, reported in the Irish People, New York, and in other journals,' We summarise briefly, as follows, its chief particulars.
It appears, then, that at the time to which we have referenced, when the necessity of transmitting a quantity of arms, and sending a number of military leaders to Ireland for the sustainment of the Insurrectionary movement had impressed itself on the minds of the Fenian leaders in America, they resolved on an attempt to supply, to some extent, those requirements. Two ways were open to them of setting about this difficult and hazardous undertaking. One was to avail of the ordinary mail steamers and trading ships between the two countries, send the men across as ordinary passengers, and ship the arms as goods of different kinds. Much had been done in that way during the previous three or four years, but it was plainly too slow and uncertain a process to adopt on the present occasion. The other course was to procure a vessel for this special purpose, freight her with the men and arms, place her under the command of a skilful and experienced captain, and trust to his skill and luck for landing the entire in safety somewhere on the west coast of Ireland.
This was the course adopted. How it was carried out the Attorney-General, with whatever degree of authority, may attach to his words in such a case, has thus described: - On the 12th of April, 1867, a party of forty or fifty men, almost all of whom had been officers or privates in the service of the American government, went down from New York to Sandyhook, in a steamer, a distance of about eighteen miles. There they found a brigantine of about 200 tons burden, which had been purchased for the expedition and in that brigantine these men embarked, and sailed for Ireland. She was called the 'Jacknell,' and she sailed without papers or colours. For the purpose of keeping their movements as free from observation as possible, these men embarked without luggage, a rather extraordinary thing in men the great majority of whom had been officers in the American service. The commander of the expedition was named John F. Kavanagh, and he had filled the office of brigadier-general in the American army, and was at one time a member of the American Congress. These men had on board a very large quantity of arms packed in piano cases, cases for sewing machines and wine barrels, in order to conceal them effectually; and the parcels were consigned to a merchant firm in Cuba. The ship steered for one day towards the West Indies, in order to avoid suspicion, and then shaped her course towards Ireland. Vessels occasionally came in sight, and when they did English colours were hoisted.
Nothing remarkable occurred until Easter Sunday, April 29th, nearly nine days after they had sailed from New York. The parties determined to celebrate that day as a festival, and they hoisted the green flag with a sunburst, fired a salute, and changed the name of the vessel, calling her 'Erin's Hope'. Kavanagh then produced Fenian commissions, and distributed them, and also produced sealed orders, from which it appeared that he was to sail to Sligo Bay, and there land his men and arms; and if he found it impracticable to land them there, he was to proceed to some other place in Ireland. Some days after this, they came in sight of the 'coast of the county of Limerick, and then they sailed towards Sligo' but they overshot the mark, and arrived off the coast of Donegal. They then turned back, and arrived at Sligo Bay on the 20th May.
The learned gentleman then went on to describe certain occurrences alleged to have taken place on board the vessel, while she remained in and about Sligo Bay. He said that on one evening a hooker came alongside, from which a man, who appeared to be a gentleman got on board the brigantine. This person went down into the cabin, conversed with the officers, and told them the landing could not be effected at Sligo, after which he returned on board the hooker, and sailed for the shore. The Attorney-General said 'About the 26th of May the ship left the Sligo coast. On the 1st of June she arrived at Dungarvan. During the voyage councils were held on hoard. Provisions were running short, and they could not remain much longer at sea. These matters were made the subjects of discussion. Some were for going to America, and some for landing; and at last the conclusion was arrived at that the majority of the officers should be landed, and that the others should go either to America or to the Western Isles - the Hebrides. They hailed a large fishing boat, and offered the man on board £2 to put two men on shore. He went on board the brigantine, and when he did so, twenty-eight men 'who were hitherto concealed, rushed on board his ship. He asked them if he would land them at Helvick Point, and they said no, because there was a coast-guard station there. They were eventually landed about two miles from that point, and they were compelled to wade through water three-and-a-half feet deep to the shore.
So far the learned gentleman, her Majesty's Attorney-General for Ireland. His statement was supported by the information's and the evidence of an informer, Daniel J. Buckley, the Judas of the expedition. He, however, represented Kavanagh as the captain of the vessel, and General James E. Kerrigan as chief of the military expedition. As to the armament on board, they had, he said, 'some' Spencer's repeating rifles, seven-shooters, and some Enfield rifles, Austrian rifles, Sharp's and Burnside's breech-loaders, and some revolvers. There were about 5,000 stand of arms on board, and 'three pieces' of artillery, which would fire three-pound shot or shell. With these pieces the salute was fired on the occasion of hoisting the sunburst on Easter Sunday. As regards ammunition, there 'were about a million-and-a-half rounds on board'.
Colonel S. R. Tresilian, in the lecture already alluded to, gave the following facetious account of the warlike, stores which were on board the vessel:-
We found the cargo to consist of 5,000 rat-tail files, 'of different sizes and descriptions. Then there were several smaller files that mechanics carry in their pockets; then again there was the flat file, in respectable numbers, that are used for cutting on either edge, and that are carried in sheathes, to prevent the mechanics from cutting their neighbours fingers. These files were to be distributed to the paupers in Ireland, to enable them to sharpen, their teeth, so that they could masticate animal food at the grand barbecue that was to be given on the landing of our vessel. Another portion of the cargo was 200,000 puff-balls and sugar-plums, for gratuitous distribution among our English friends and brethren in Ireland.
It surely was a daring venture to run that craft, freighted as she was, across the ocean, and sail her for' days along the coast of Ireland. The lecturer gave the following account of her voyagings:-
The craft made three landings in Ireland, and one in England, and they were very near being captured several times. At no time were they over twelve miles from a British man-of-war, a frigate, ram, or gun-boat, and were continually annoyed by pilots. The were at sea 107 days; 38 days from America to Ireland, in which they sailed 8,665 miles; 24 days round the coast of Ireland and England, 2,023 miles; 47 days from Ireland to America, 8,577 miles; making a grand total of 9,265 miles.
As regards the return voyage, the lecturer gave the following information:-
'On the return trip they had, in starting from the coast of Ireland, one barrel sound bread, one barrel mouldy bread, one rice, pork 6lbs., one box fish, one barrel of beef, one bushel of beans, two quarts of molasses, one-half lb. sugar, tea and coffee in sufficient quantities, one-third rations of water. They ran out of everything except bread and water before reaching the Banks of Newfoundland, where they received assistance from a fishing-smack, and again, off Boston, from a vessel bound to San Francisco. They succeeded in landing the entire cargo safely in America, and it is now in the hands of the Fenian Brotherhood.'
It is a strange story altogether. The voyage of the vessel to and fro, and along the well-watched coast of Ireland, unchallenged by a British ship, is a fact of no small significance, even if it be not quite conclusive as regards the argument of the lecturer, that the Fenian Brotherhood of America can, when they please, land large supplies, men and arms, in Ireland. 'Then the interest of the narrative is greatly enhanced by some of its romantic incidents, more especially by the remarkable scene stated to have occurred on Easter Sunday morning.
News of the landing which had been effected near Dungarvan was quickly spread amongst the coastguards and the police, and a few hours afterwards some twenty-seven men were under arrest, charged with having come into the country under suspicious circumstances. Amongst, them were two whose trials for having formed part of an armed expedition destined to aid a rebellion in Ireland, have since been had at the Commission which opened in Dublin on the 28th of November, 1867 and whose spirited defence of themselves in the dock it is our purpose to record in these pages: They were Colonel John Warren; of the American army and Augustine E. Costello.
Author: A. M. Sullivan