6 Reasons why you should know who Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa was

Over 100 years later, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa is still a household name and for good reason.

By Nicola Stathers

1. “Dynamite” was a legendary Fenian

“Jerry O’Dynamite” earned his nickname Dynamite for orchestrating the first-ever republican bombings in British cities during the 1880’s.

2. His life mirrored that of many Nationalists

Imprisoned and exiled, he resorted to the pen rather than the sword to inspire fellow Irishmen.

His life story incorporates many of the dominant motifs of nineteenth and twentieth century Irish history – Famine, death, language loss and cultural transition, forced emigration, the land struggle, and physical force republicanism to name but a few.

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, through his political and cultural activities, on account of his combative manner while in prison, and by means of his numerous writings, was a major figure in the history of Irish republicanism, and of Cork and Ireland.

3. His passing became a political moment for the IRB

The Fenian’s burial on August 1, 1915, is widely regarded as a rallying cry for republicanism and an armed struggle against British rule in Ireland. His funeral, at which Pádraig Pearse delivered one of the great graveside orations, was one of the landmark events leading to the 1916 Easter Rising.

The centenary last year became the first State Ceremonial event of the 1916 commemorations. At Glasnevin Cemetery President Michael D Higgins joined Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys for a wreath laying ceremony and to hear the re-enactment of Pearse’s immortal words: “The fools, the fools, they have left us our Fenian dead and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace”.

There may be many martyrs for the cause, but that’s exactly why we should remember individuals like Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa.

4. Also, he’s from Cork, like

Born in Cork, in 1831, to an Irish speaking family in Rosscarbery Parish, he is arguably one of the best-known Fenians of all time. He has won the imagination of republicans and the hearts of locals.

5. International Solidarity

Like many Fenians, Rossa’s republican beliefs had an international dimension. In 1863, O’Donovan Rossa held a torchlit parade in solidarity with a Polish uprising against their Russian occupiers known as the January Rebellion.

This protest was re-enacted in Skibbereen last summer to honour O’Donovan Rossa’s gesture and the symbolic and long-standing ties between Ireland and Poland.

6. It was huge in Ireland at the time

The funeral was a huge occasion in Dublin with an estimated 5,000 people following a guard of honour made up of veterans of the Fenian movement and the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army and Fianna Eireann.

Reports say it took just under an hour for the cortege to pass a fixed point as it wound its way from Stephen’s Green to Parnell Square and out to Glasnevin past 50,000 people who had lined the streets.

Pearse’s oration was deliberately provocative and the silence which followed it was only broken by the baying crowds and the defiant firing of three volleys of shots over the grave which some historians describe as the first shots of the 1916 Rising.


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