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Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa
Born September 1831 (1831-09)
Died 29 June 1915 (1915-06-30) (aged 83)
Place of birth Rosscarbery, County Cork
Place of death Staten Island, New York, United States
Years of service 1858–1915

Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa (September 1831[1] – 29 June 1915), was an Irish Fenian leader and prominent member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. His life as an Irish Fenian is well documented but he is perhaps known best in death for the graveside oration given at his funeral by Pádraig Pearse.

Life in Ireland[]

He was born at Rosscarbery, County Cork, to Denis O'Donovan and Nellie O'Driscoll,[2] a family of tenant farmers, but in correspondence with the eminent scholar John O'Donovan the two arrived at the conclusion that Rossa's ancestors belonged to the admittedly long obscure but ancient sliocht of the MacEnesles or Clan Aneslis O'Donovans.[3] His ancestors had held letters patent in Kilmeen parish in the 17th century before the confiscations, with his agnomen "Rossa" coming from the townland of Rossmore in Kilmeen.[4] He became a shopkeeper in Skibbereen, where, in 1856, he established the Phoenix National and Literary Society, the aim of which was "the liberation of Ireland by force of arms",[5] This organisation would later merge with the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), founded two years later in Dublin.

In December 1858, he was arrested and jailed without trial until July 1859. In 1865, he was charged with plotting a Fenian rising in 1865, put on trial for high treason and sentenced to penal servitude for life due to his previous convictions. He served his time in Pentonville, Portland and Chatham prisons in England.[5]

In an 1869 by-election, he was returned to the British House of Commons for the Tipperary constituency, in which he defeated the Liberal Catholic Denis Caulfield Heron by 1054 to 898 votes.[6] The election was declared invalid because he was an imprisoned felon.

Life in the United States[]

After giving an understanding that he would not return to Ireland, in effect his exile, O'Donovan Rossa was released as part of the Fenian Amnesty of 1870. Boarding the S.S. Cuba, he left for the United States with his friend John Devoy and three other exiles. Together they were dubbed "The Cuba Five".

O'Donovan Rossa took up residence in New York City, where he joined Clan na Gael and the Fenian Brotherhood.

Rossa organised the first ever bombings by Irish republicans of English cities in what was called the "dynamite campaign". The campaign lasted through the 1880s and made him infamous in Britain. The British government demanded his extradition, but without success.

In 1885, Rossa was shot outside his office near Broadway by an Englishwoman, Yseult Dudley, but his wounds were not life-threatening. The British government claimed she was mentally unstable, and not acting on its behalf, although Rossa's supporters and even many of his detractors found this hard to believe. More likely, she was incensed at the fund he organised (the so-called "Skirmishing Fund") which was intended to support the arming of those who would fight the British.[5]

"The Cuba Five"
From left to right: John Devoy, Charles Underwood O'Connell, Henry (Harry) Mulleda, Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, and John McClure.

Rossa was allowed to visit Ireland in 1894, and again in 1904. On the latter visit, he was made a "Freeman of the City of Cork".

Death and funeral[]

His funeral procession August 1, 1915

Rossa was seriously ill in his later years, and was finally confined to a hospital bed in St. Vincent's Hospital, Staten Island, where he died at the age of 83.

The new republican movement in Ireland was quick to realise the propaganda value of the old Fenian's death, and Tom Clarke cabled to John Devoy the message: "Send his body home at once".

His body was returned to Ireland for burial and a hero's welcome. The funeral at Glasnevin Cemetery on 1 August 1915 was a huge affair, garnering substantial publicity for the Irish Volunteers and the IRB at the time when a rebellion (later to emerge as the Easter Rising) was being planned. The graveside oration, given by Pádraig Pearse, remains one of the most famous speeches of the Irish independence movement. It ended with the lines: "They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but, the fools, the fools, the fools! — They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace." His grave was renovated in 1990 by the National Graves Association.

Monument to Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, in Dublin's St Stephen's Green


A memorial to O'Donovan Rossa stands in St. Stephen's Green, and a bridge over the River Liffey was renamed in his honour. A street in Cork City bears his name, as does a street in Thurles, Co. Tipperary – the constituency where he was elected. A park in Skibbereen is also named after him as is the local gaelic football team.

A memorial to O'Donovan Rossa stands in the village of Re-enascreena, Rosscarbery Co Cork where his descendants run the local village pub.

Other GAA teams throughout Ireland have also been named after him including Ard Bó Uí Dhonnabhain Rossa in the Tyrone GAA, O'Donovan Rossa GAC in Belfast, Ó Donnabháin Rosa Machaire Fíolta in the Derry GAA and Uí Donnabháin Rosa Mullach Breac in Armagh GAA


O'Donovan Rossa was married three times and had eighteen children. On 6 June 1853, he married Nora (Nanno) Eager of Skibbereen, who bore him four sons.[1] She died in 1860. In 1861 he married Ellen Buckley of Castlehaven. They had one son (Timothy Francis). She died in July 1863. In November 1864 he married, for the third time, to Mary Jane (Molly) Irwin of Clonakilty. They had thirteen children.[2]

His descendants made their homes in Staten Island; they include writer William Rossa Cole[7] and New York City Councillor Jerome X. O'Donovan.

See also[]

O'Donovan Rossa renovated 1990


  • Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa. Rossa's Recollections 1838 to 1898: Memoirs of an Irish Revolutionary. Published by Globe Pequot, 2004. ISBN 1-59228-362-4
  • Sean Ó Lúing. Ó Donnabháin Rosa 2 Vols (Dublin, 1969).
  • Niall Whelehan. The Dynamiters: Political Violence and Irish Nationalism in the Wider World 1867–1900 (Cambridge, 2012).
  • Papers relating to O'Donovan Rossa and the Fenians are housed in the Archives of The Catholic University of America, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, Washington, D. C.


  1. 1.0 1.1 He was baptised on 10 September. See Con O'Callaghan, The Story of O'Donovan Rossa, Reenascreena Community Online, accessed 4 January 2008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Tom McGinn, O'Donovan Rossa Family, RootsWeb, accessed 4 January 2008.
  3. Rossa's Recollections, pp. 339 ff
  4. Diarmuid Ó Murchadha, Family Names of County Cork. Cork: The Collins Press. 2nd edition, 1996. pp. 128–9.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Shane Mac Thomáis, "Remembering the Past: Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa", in An Phoblacht/Republican News, 4 August 2005.
  6. A. M. Sullivan, New Ireland, London, n.d. [c. 1877], pp. 329–330
  7. Heaney, Seamus (October–November 2001). "In Memory of Bill Cole". Retrieved January 1, 2014. 

External links[]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Charles William White
Charles Moore
Member of Parliament for Tipperary
With: Charles William White
Succeeded by
Charles William White
Denis Caulfield Heron

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