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5OOTH ARTICLE - JOHN DEVOY'S RETURN VISIT TO NAAS AND KILL

The Kildare Observer, Saturday, August 9, 1924         
 
 
MR. JOHN DEVOY VISITS NAAS
MEETS HIS FORMER SWEETHEART WHOM HE MOURNED AS DEAD
                         
Mr John Devoy, the veteran Fenian, visited Naas on Sunday last, accompanied by his niece, Miss Devoy, and his three nephews, Messrs Devoy, of Dublin; Mr. Henry Conyngham, of New York, and Mr Garrett Lombard, of Gorey (who is married to a relative of Mr, Devoy’s). He first visited Greenhills, Kill, his native place, and was able to point out to his friends the exact spot where his home stood. It is quite close to Mr. Matthew Timmins’ house at Greenhills, but no vestige of it now remains.
The first of his old friends whom Mr, Devoy visited in Naas was Mrs. Kilmurry, of South Main St., to whom in his early days he was engaged to be married, when she was Miss Elizabeth Kenny, of Tipper. John Devoy was at that time a clerk in the “Cork Office,” Naas, in the employment of Watkins’ brewery, in whose employment were also his father and brothers. His association with the Fenian brotherhood necessitated his departure from Naas and from Ireland, and put an end to the romance f his early days. He, however, remained true to his first love, and never married. Mrs. Kilmurry warmly welcomed her friend of girlhood days, and entertained him and his friends to lunch. Although very deaf and suffering from defective sight, Mr. Devoy displayed remarkable recollection of persons and places in the vicinity of Naas. He informed Miss Curley (Mrs. Kilmurry’s niece) that he had a vivid recollection of his frequent visits to her father’s house at Halverstown, when her father, Mr. Michael Curley, played the fiddle and her uncle, Mr. Bernard Curley, the pipes during their youthful festivities.
“It is 58 years since John left Naas,” remarked Mrs. Kilmurry. “He was for six months under cover, sometimes visiting our house, but seldom staying more than one day at any one house. He was during that time engaged swearing in soldiers in the Fenian organisation, when they arrested and imprisoned him.” Mrs. Kilmurry added that in some way or other, information reached John Devoy in America that she had died, and on Sunday he told her he had mourned her as dead for more than 20 years. “It was like a voice from the grave,” he told her, “when he learned that she still lived.” Having chatted over old times and early recollections, Mr. Devoy took his departure, promising to return and spend a whole day with his former sweetheart before returning to America. 
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 JOHN DEVOY AND RESCUE OF MILITARY FENIANS
 
 The “Freeman’s Journal” published the following interesting rescue narrative:-
The rescue of the Military Fenians from penal servitude in April, 1876, was one of the great sensations of the time. It was the one Fenian enterprise that was entirely successful, and it was accomplished under such adventurous conditions that it sent a glow of pride and admiration through the Irish world, and spread alarm amongst the enemies of the Irish cause.
The voyage of the rescuing ship, the Catalpa, became a popular theme in two hemispheres, and her captain, George S. Anthony, became a hero and a toast wherever Irishmen assembled together. Poets sang the perils and victory of the gallant ship and her dashing captain, and story-tellers spun the yarn of their colossal impudence in the very teeth of England’s might. The rescue had, indeed, an interest and effect far more than personal. It occurred when the national cause was battling desperately against tremendous odds, and its stimulating and bracing influence on the Irish at home in the unhappy motherland and in America could scarcely be exaggerated.
The rescue sprang out of the fertile brain and the restless patriotism of John Devoy. He, almost of necessity, took a keen personal interest in the unfortunate convicts involved, for he had acted under James Stephens as chief organiser for the British Army. He operated for the most part in Dublin, and his business was to make as many Fenians in the regiments of the garrison as he possibly could. A great number of Irishmen at that time wore the red coats, but their hearts were sound Irish hearts, and Devoy’s success was extraordinary. Almost every regiment felt his influence, and Fenianism pervaded some of the crack corps, such as the Dragoon Guards. His success must have been almost an embarrassment to himself and at any rate so widely did he make the organisation ramify that his front became more and more exposed to the treachery of spy and informer. That part of the story need not be elaborated. The Rising was a failure. Amongst the best and bravest of those cast into gaol were the soldiers who were convicted by court-martial. The military Fenians were especially dear to the heart of Ireland. John Devoy, who had organised them, sworn them in, and plotted and planned with them, could not but regard them as his own favourite children, held behind prison bars or chained to labour in the convict gangs of Britain.
Prison Doors Open  
The British Government held these gallant military prisoners in peculiar odium. As ’65 and ’67 receded more and more into history, the prison doors were opened and captive Fenian men once more walked freely abroad. The leaders had been pardoned. But the English rulers kept the military men fast. They had added to their Fenianism the unforgivable offence of having joined the organisation while they still wore the uniform of England’s monarch, and it seemed as if a special vengeance was decreed against them. Even the pleading of some of the foremost Englishmen of the day, men more liberally minded than most, was ignored, and all hope was practically abandoned when John Devoy was inspired to the great adventure. Among the military convicts in Australia was that splendid unconquerable fellow John Boyle O’Reilly, matchless even among the resolute band of the patriots of ’65. He effected his escape in the barque Gazelle and was now in America. There were still six soldier Fenians in the convict chain, tearing their heart out in sheer despair.
John Devoy Invoked
Once or twice a hint of them reached home, and at length on James Wilson, a Newry man, whose real name was McNally, managed to get an appeal through to John Devoy.Wilson had served in many parts of the world, and while in the 5th Dragoons, also O’Reilly’s regiment, had become a Fenian. In 1876 he was not yet forty years of age, and had been in penal servitude for a whole decade. He did not appeal to Devoy in vain. That indomitable man was still in his prime. The Fenian organisation could boast no finer spirit, no more resourceful intellect. He seems to have been capable of uncommon labour and activity; his mind was extraordinarily keen, eager, alert. The rescue of the military Fenians became with him almost an obsession and he dedicated himself to the project wholly from the moment he got Wilson’s appeal. A cheery reply brought a ray of hope to the distant convict’s heart, and Devoy at once conferred with John Kenneally and James McCarthy Fennell, who had been prisoners themselves. He then took the matter to the Clan-na-Gael Convention at Baltimore in 1874. A committee was thereupon appointed to go ahead. It consisted of Devoy himself, John W. Goff, afterwards Recorder of New York, and three others, nut Devoy was the brains carrier and moving spirit of the whole amazing affair. Funds were the first necessity, and it was not easy to get enough for even so splendid and noble and undertaking. Only he himself probably could tell how hard was the toil involved in gathering £5,000. Spurred on by an ex-prisoner, John King, some New Zealand miners subscribed £800 and in Ireland £1,000 was collected. The famous John J. Breslin, who had planned the escape of James Stephens from Richmond Bridewell, was selected to go to Australia and establish communication with the prisoners. Devoy pervaded the operations. He naturally sought the advice of John Boyle O’Reilly, and from whom received the suggestion that a whaling vessel should be sent on the dangerous errand.
Devoy Finds A Captain
O’Reilly, when rescued in the Gazelle, met Henry C. Hathaway, who was third mate, and they became tremendous friends. Hathaway was now captain of the night police force in New Bedford, ant to him O’Reilly sent Devoy. Hathaway, a very daring spirit, entered into Devoy’s plans with zest, and at once pitched on Captain George Anthony, a whaleman of infinite courage, great experience, and imperturbable temper. He had recently married and retired from whaling, but still heard the call of the sea. A meeting was arranged trough Anthony’s father-in-law, John Richardson. It took place at Richardson’s store one night in the dark. Devoy and Hathaway studied each other – in fact, Devoy had prospected the captain for some days already. The captain was of athletic build, with brilliant black eyes. Devoy then was a short man with full black whickers. Devoy addressed the little meeting, unfolded the tale of the attempted revolution, and the gallant fellows pleading for rescue. He then sketched the plans he had matured. His friends would provide a whale ship. Would Anthony take the command? The latter asked for a day to think. Next day he came, he said “Yes.”
Devoy’s eloquence had captured the captain, for he knew the great risks – the proferred pay was as nothing – his young wife had given him a baby daughter but a few months before, his mother lay ill; he had to select a ship and start at once. It was an immense sacrifice the dashing American sailor made. Probably not a man on earth could have induced that sacrifice except the intrepid and invincible John Devoy. Anthony and Richardson now searched out the Catalpa, bought her for £1,100, but when she was ready and all the cost had mounted to about £3,600. She carried 23 of a crew.
Farewell!
When the ship was ready, Devoy, then night editor of the “New York Herald,” went back to New Bedford to give his final orders. They were: “You will cruise until fall, about six months, in the North Atlantic. Then you are to put in at Fayal, ship home any oil which you may have taken, and sail at once for Australia, where we expect you to arrive early in the spring of 1876. You are to go to Bunbury, on the west coast, and there communications will be opened up with you from our Australian agent.”
On Thursday, April 29, 1875, Devoy waved his farewell to the captain as he rowed away to the Catalpa, and from a wharf on the water-front of New Bedford, clad in a dark frieze ulster, watched the good ship till she dropped under the horizon. The voyage of the vessel, the rescue of the six military Fenians, the perils of the return voyage, are matters of history. Into the story Devoy does not return until his amazing enterprise had been successfully accomplished.
Twenty years later he sat on the platform at Philadelphia, and saw the gallant Anthony present to the Clan-na-Gael the flag which flew over the Catalpa on the day when he defied the British, and fulfilled to the letter the hazardous mission on which Devoy had sent him. On that memorable day the duty of accepting the flag most naturally fell to John Devoy. But he was ill, and could not stand the strain of speech. But he had prepared an oration, which began by addressing “Captain Anthony, old friend and comrade,” and that spirited and eloquent address was read to a delighted and enthusiastic assemblage by Mr. Michael J. Ryan. Whenever the heroic tale of the Catalpa is told the imperishable name of John Devoy must be coupled with it.

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Wishing everyone a Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year from all the staff at Kildare Collections and Research Services.  Thank you for your interest and continued support. 

To mark the 500th article being added to Kildare Library and Arts Services on the EHistory portion of the library website, we have chosen an article from the Kildare Observer which reports on John Devoy’s return visit to Naas and Kill in 1924.  Seamus Curran has been campaigning for many a year for a memorial to John Devoy in Naas, and this Christmas a commemorative booklet will be published to help raise awareness and much needed funds.  It will be available from Seamus Curran, ‘Profile Hair Studios’ Naas – 086 8244778. Compiled by James Durney, Mario Corrigan, and Seamus Curran A Forgotten Hero’ – John Devoy is essentially a reprint of a commemorative booklet on John Devoy from 1964.  It also includes a new article on Devoy by Seamus Curran and other material from the local newspapers.

All proceeds from the sale of this publication (€5) will go directly towards the erection of a memorial to John Devoy at Naas.  The booklet would not have been possible without the aid of Tony, Mark and Philip of Naas Printing, Ltd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 500th article on Ehistory and indeed the publication of the booklet will add to the material on Devoy already on this site -

THE NATIONALIST AND LEINSTER LEADER OF 6TH OCTOBER 1928 REPORTS ON THE DEATH OF MR. JOHN DEVOY, THE GREAT FENIAN LEADER OF 1867.

The Nationalist and Leinster Leader 6th October 1928

 also

 

 

 NAAS - 17/05/1958 Portrait of Fenian Unveiled at Devoy Barracks

17/05/1958 Leinster Leader

also

IRISH CIVIL WAR -THE KILL CONNECTION  by JAMES DURNEY

  The 500th article on EHistory is a newspaper report from 1924 dealing with John Devoy's return to Naas and Kill in County Kildare.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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