State marks centenary of O’Donovan Rossa funeral
First State commemoration held as part of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme
President Michael D. Higgins today (Saturday 1st August) led the official State commemoration of the centenary of the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
The event, hosted by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, is the first formal State commemoration being held as part of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme.
An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny T.D. who also attended, said, “Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa was an iconic figure in Irish history. Even one hundred years after his death his name is synonymous with the Fenians and with Irish Nationalism. The liberation of his country became his life’s ambition. His funeral remains one of the pivotal moments in Irish history and was an occasion that would be hugely instrumental in shaping the future of our nation.”
Minister Humphreys added:
“Today marks the official start of the ceremonial calendar in our Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme, which is leading up to the commemoration of the 1916 Rising in Easter of next year. The funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, which took place here in Glasnevin Cemetery 100 years ago today, acted as a catalyst in the lead up to the Rising. The now famous graveside oration, given by Pádraig Pearse, left a lasting impact and travelled far beyond the confines of this cemetery.
“Over the coming year, we will hold more than 40 State events as we commemorate the events of 1916, consider our achievements over the last 100 years, and look ambitiously to the future. The funeral of O’Donovan Rossa was a milestone in Irish history and its impact on the mood and motivations of those in attendance cannot be underestimated. Ireland 2016 is a wide programme of events which will be underpinned by appropriate and respectful commemorations to reflect on the events 100 years ago which led to the foundation of this State.”
Mr. John Green, Chair of Glasnevin Trust, said
“Glasnevin Trust is honoured to be part of this State ceremonial marking the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and the first State Ceremonial event in the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme.
Glasnevin Cemetery was the site of many funerals of critical importance to our nationhood in the 20th Century, Griffith, Collins, de Valera to name three; however, the most significant funeral of them all was that of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. The funeral was overseen by John Devoy on behalf of the family and organised to the minutest detail by Tom Clarke. Nearly 100 people served on the organising committee, with 13 sub-committees. The Irish Volunteers, The Irish Citizen Army, Na Fianna Éireann, Cumann na mBan, Wolfe Tone Association, Irish Transport and General Workers Union, Dublin Trades Council, Irish Foresters Association were all represented. The individuals involved included all those who had a significant role in the “Rising” but most notably the seven signatories to the “Proclamation” were all on the committee.
The selection of Pádraig Mac Piarais (Patrick Pearse) was Clarke’s, having groomed him for the task at Bodenstown in 1913. His oration at the graveside was a masterpiece which invoked the passions of the past and laid bare the task ahead.”
Full details of the State Ceremonial Programme can be found on www.ireland.ie/state/
Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa was born in Rosscarbery, County Cork in 1831. In 1858, when James Stephens founded the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, Rossa was amongst the first to join.
From 1853 to 1865 he was the business manager of the newspaper The Irish People.
Rossa was arrested in November 1865 and put on trial for high treason. He was found guilty and sentenced to penal servitude for the term of his natural life. After six years of imprisonment, Rossa was released under the understanding that he would leave Ireland. He left for the United States with John Devoy and three other exiles.
While in America he edited the United Irishman and published O’Donovan Rossa’s Prison Life: Six Years in English Prisons (1874); it was republished in 1882 as Irish Rebels in English Prisons. Rossa’s Collections: 1838 to 1898 were published in 1898.
Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa died in Staten Island, New York on June 29th 1915. His funeral at Glasnevin Cemetery on the 1st August 1915 was stage managed for maximum effect and Pádraig Pearse’s oration at the graveside was considered deliberately provocative. It included the lines: "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."
Background to the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa
At 2.25pm on Sunday 1st August 1915 the coffin of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa was placed on a hearse led by four horses and departed for Glasnevin Cemetery. The St. James’s Band, followed by Dublin members of the Irish Volunteers and their mounted section led. The hearse followed, flanked by a guard of honour comprising of veterans of the Fenian movement and members of the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army and Fianna Éireann. Rossa’s widow and daughter came next in a carriage accompanied by Father Michael O’Flanagan who was to conduct the service.
The funeral procession turned onto George’s Street and made their way to St. Stephen’s Green, down Dawson Street to College Green and across the Liffey, making their way to Parnell Square. From here the cortege cut across to the Phibsborough Road and continued on towards Glasnevin Cemetery.
The crowd following the hearse was estimated at 5,000 and it took just under one hour for the cortege to march past a fixed point. It was also estimated that about ten times that figure lined the streets on the way to the cemetery.
Given the scale of the procession and the distance it covered it was understandable that it took over three hours to reach the gates of the cemetery arriving at 6pm. Thousands of people gathered at the entrance but admittance was regulated and ticketed by the organisers. The remains of Rossa were brought into the mortuary chapel under the shadow of the O’Connell tower and prayers were recited. The coffin was then carried the short distance to the grave. Those admitted to the graveside formed a square and Father O’Flanagan recited the burial service and prayers in Irish. When he was finished Pádraig Pearse stepped forward to deliver the funeral oration, a speech that would leave its mark on Irish history (See attached).
As Pearse finished the crowd stood in silence for some moments before breaking into applause and cheers. Then, in a further act of defiance, the firing party stood forward and fired three volleys over the grave, followed by the Last Post.
Many would later see those volleys as the first shots of the 1916 Rising and as Pearse dictated a new generation had at this moment stepped forward, aware of their predecessors but determined to shape their own destiny.