John Devoy – A Forgotten Hero 2017-04-01T07:46:58+00:00

John Devoy
A Forgotten Hero

Roger Casement and John Devoy

Roger Casement and John Devoy

Born on 3 September 1842 in the townland of Greenhills, situated between the villages of Johnstown and Kill, John Devoy as a young man took an early interest in politics. At age nineteen he was sworn into the Fenian movement and later signed the National Petition, a plebiscite for self-determination for the Irish people. During the same year of 1861 Devoy served with the French Foreign Legion in Algeria. On his return to Ireland he was appointed by the Fenian leader, James Stephens, to the position of Fenian organiser in the Naas area and later as chief organiser of Irishmen serving in the British Army in Ireland.

As a committed Fenian Devoy endured many obstacles, including the British authorities, the bishops and informers. While attending mass in Naas he was castigated from the pulpit by the then parish priest Father Hughes, although Fenians like Devoy had the support of other priests who sympathised with Ireland’s struggle for independence. During 1865 following a raid on The Irish People (a Fenian paper), incriminating evidence was discovered, including a letter from John Devoy to the editor. Devoy had previously submitted a number of articles to the paper under the pseudonym of “Allen Turfaitter.” A warrant issued at a sitting of the Naas assizes for the arrest of Devoy forced him into hiding in a number of houses in Dublin. Following some close encounters with the authorities he was eventually arrested at a Fenian gathering in the Pilsworth pub in James’ Street, Dublin.

John Devoy - 1865 Arrest Mugshot

John Devoy – 1865 Arrest Mugshot

Found guilty at his trial Devoy was sentenced to 15 years penal servitude which was partly served in Irish and English jails. During 1871, having served part of his sentence, Devoy, with a number of Fenian prisoners, was granted amnesty on a condition that they remain outside Ireland. Devoy chose America as his destination and shortly after arrived in New York with four fellow political prisoners aboard the steamship The Cuba. Having secured employment as a journalist with the New York Herald he set about achieving, along with fellow Fenians, the liberation of the country he had left behind. While living in flophouses in Lower Manhattan he spread the Fenian message, recruiting and organising a movement among the slums of the Lower East Side. He would become the eventual head of all Clan na Gael branches across America.

Some of the political plots Devoy was involved in included – the rescue of six Fenian prisoners from Freemantle prison in Western Australia aboard the Catalpa whaling ship; the financing and building of the first submarine invented by John Philip Holland, an emigrant from Liscannor, Co. Clare; he also helped to set up the Land League in Ireland with Michael Davitt. The relationship he developed with the German Consul General in New York, Count Von Bernstorff, would result in securing arms for the planned 1916 Rising. Devoy also supported and lent his backing to Michael Collins in the quest for the formation of the Irish Free State.

During 1897 Devoy, along with a number of American Irishmen, including Theodore Roosevelt, founded the American Irish Historical Society. Situated on Fifth Avenue along New York’s museum mile the society has always taken an interest in Irish cultural affairs in the form of lectures, musical recitals and art exhibitions.

John Devoy died on 29 September 1928. Following a funeral mass in Manhattan’s Church of the Ascension, where the number of mourners forced the police to close the adjacent street, he made one final journey to Ireland on the President Harding. His remains arrived in Dublin where he lay in state in City Hall before he was accorded a state funeral to Glasnevin Cemetery where he was laid to rest among his fellow Fenian comrades. John Devoy was considered by many, including Padraic Pearse, to be the greatest of the Fenians. Towards the end of his life he had lived to see the formation of the Free State he had so unselfishly dedicated his whole life to achieving.

Extracted from A Forgotten Hero – John Devoy compiled and edited by James Durney, Mario Corrigan and Seamus Curran. 2008

Being largely a re-print of the booklet The Greatest of the Fenians – John Devoy, issued by the John Devoy Memorial Committee in 1964.

Every county has story. From #Kildare, a community remembering a forgotten hero #rte1916

Posted by RTÉ on Monday, March 21, 2016

John Devoy – A Forgotten Hero

Download a pdf of the booklet below (836kb)

John Devoy - A Forgotten Hero PDF(836kb)