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Arrest And Trial

The Fenian Landing At Helvic

5. Arrest And Trial

Meanwhile , the American Fenians had been easily recognized with their high boots and broad-brimmed hats. Most of them had headed for Cork but were picked up before evening between Ring and Youghal. Two made it to Carrigtohill and four escaped arrest altogether. One of these had changed his clothes in the locality. Another was one of the Downing brothers from Skibereen. 25 A third had relations named Whelan in Ballinagoul. He hid in a ditch all day and was sheltered by them that night. He eventually made his way back to America under an assumed name. 26

All the others were brought to Dungarvan to appear before the Magistrates. One of their number, Augustine E. Costello, spoke on their behalf asking the Magistrates under which law they were being detained. 27 The Magistrates had the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act to fall back on and adjourned the case. The prisoners were shortly afterwards transferred to Waterford Gaol where they were joined by John Warren end William Nagle and the two arrested in Carrigtohill. When these prisoners were being marched under armed guard from Lady Lane Police Station to Ballybricken Jail a riot occurred in which one man was killed and another badly injured. Five people were sentenced to terms of imprisonment for their part in the riot. 28 It could be said that the police reacted violently to stone throwing, but nevertheless pro-Fenian sympathy was strong in the City at the time. Corridan, the Fenian informer who visited Waterford to identify the prisoners on June 10th also met with a very hostile reception and had to receive an armed guard on his way from the Railway Station to the Gaol. 29

Through the month of June and July the Crown case against the Helvic prisoners was in course of preparation. At this time the Liberals had been defeated and a minority Government under Lord Derby ruled. The Duke of Abercorn and lord Mayor were appointed to Ireland with Sir Thomas Larcom as Under Secretary. Samuel Lee Anderson was given charge of the Crown case and he seems to have taken a personal interest in securing convictions. It appears that at one stage he secretly entered Kilmainham to persuade one of the prisoners, William F. Million, to divulge the Jackmel's signaling system.

This was afterwards denied by Larcom, 30 but Million was released on August 7th. He went to New York where he was shot dead by Michael Doheney's son. 31

September came and still Anderson did not have a good witness as he prepared the Crown brief. 32 The prisoners meanwhile kept up a war of propaganda from their cells in Kilmainham. Letters and notes were smuggled out to be published in American newspapers, being later republished here in the "Irishman". These seriously embarrassed the Government which was then trying to establish good relations with America. In August Congressman Wood of New York had complained to President Johnson of the continued detention of Warren, an American citizen, Johnson placed the letter before the U.S. Cabinet and William H. Seward was ordered to confer with the British Ambassador on the matter. Bruce telegraphed the Foreign Office recommending Warren's release. 33 "It becomes the question of right involving the liberty of every American citizen that sets foot on this soil", wrote Nagle. 34 Seward continued to press for Warren, Nagle and Costello's release, Larcom however was unwilling to accede to the Americans request as he thought it would be difficult to hold the rank and file if the leaders were released. One Civil Servant in Dublin Castle dismissed Seward's requests as "Yankee impudence".

Of the two sailors injured in Sligo, Nolan recovered quickly but the other, Smith, died from gangrene in December 1867. James Nolan was a native of Cork who had gone to America at the age of 14. He had joined the U.S. Navy in 1865 but deserted after 8 months and worked as a deckhand on cargo boats afterwards. He got a job as a cook on board the Jacmel. His wife and child were living in New York and were to draw the money while he was away. He was now 27 years of age and did not relish the idea of a long term in prison. Anderson soon realised this and set about getting information from him. Unfortunately for the Fenians, Nolan knew some very startling facts about Daniel J. Buckley, (which is presumably what lay behind the earlier shootings). Buckley was an Irish-American who had served in the War as a Lieutenant. He was involved in some kind of unpardonable conduct at the Battle of Cranston Ridge and was terrified lest the American authorities should hear of it. Nolan told this to Anderson and the Crown Solicitor threatened to inform the Americans unless Buckley became a Crown witness. In order to avoid a Court-martial and possible execution he became the principal witness at the trials of Warren and Costello. 35 The solicitor for Warren and Costello was Henry Mills, on the instructions of the U.S, Consul. He acquired the services of a Barrister called Heron to defend both prisoners.

Of the three whom the authorities took to be the leaders of the expedition, William Nagle was perhaps most fortunate. He had been born in America, was a Captain in the 88th New York, and became a centre in Washington where he held a Government job. 36 As he would have to be tried by a Jury of aliens, Anderson took no immediate action against him, merely holding him under the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act. John Warren on the other hand was born at Ross Carbery, Co. Cork. He had emigrated to America, became proprietor of a liquor store in Boston, they took a job as reporter with the Daily News in New York where he became Captain in the 63rd Brigade. The evidence marshalled against him was damning and he was sentenced to 15 years penal servitude for Treason Felony.

Most interesting of all, perhaps, was the trial of Augustine E. ("Gus") Costello. He was born in Killimor, Co, Galway and had served as a Lieutenant in the Civil War. He had worked as an actor in New York and was active in organising the expedition. The Jury failed to agree to the charges against him, however, and a retrial was ordered, using the same witnesses and before the same Judge Keogh. Despite a spirited defence by Costello, who at one stage cross-questioned the informer Corydon, the second jury found against him and he too was convicted 37 He was sent to Portland to serve his sentence in the company of Devoy and O'Leary. He seems to have been a man of much intelligence and integrity - and those qualities may so have distinguished him above the others involved - that he possibly became something of a scapegoat for the entire incident.

The rank and file members of the party were offered a passage to America provided they apologised for their part in the expedition. By February 1868 only 8 prisoners remained in custody. Nolan and Buckley the informers had been discharged; Smith the sailor had died in December 1867; P.J. Kain and Laurence Doyle had contracted T.B., while in prison and were released; the remainder apologised and were put aboard the liner in Cobh. One man from Charleville, Co. Cork was allowed to stay at home because he said he could not get the money to pay his passage.

As the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act was to expire in March 1868,Anderson - hurriedly prepared for the trial of Nagle, Patrick Nugent (who had accompanied the wounded men ashore) and six others who had refused to apologise. These cases were to be heard in Sligo but a jury of aliens could not be found for Nagle and Nugent's case was postponed as the judges had to attend Roscommon Assizes. 38 They were all released shortly afterwards Nagle returned to New York arriving in mid June 1968. Warren too was released in May but remained in Ireland. 39 Only the redoubtable Costello remained in prison.

Author: Sylvester Murray

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