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O’Donovan Rossa’s Funeral, 1915

Robert Ballagh painted the scene of O’Donovan Rossa’s graveside oration in Glasnevin for the late Shane Kenna’s book, ‘Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa: Unrepentant Fenian‘ (Irish Academic Press, 2015). The painting is based on an epic photograph of mourners gathered including Patrick Pearse, uniformed, who stands towards the right of frame, head bowed and holding his hat, with Major John MacBride behind him. Among others identified are Tom MacDonagh, Seán McGarry, Darrell Figgis, Seán T. O’Kelly, Michael O’Hanrahan, Tom Clarke, Cathal Brugha, Arthur Griffith, Count Plunkett and Fathers Albert Bibby and Aloysius Travers. With thanks to Conor Graham and the Irish Academic Press.


Arguably the most important event for Irish republicanism before the 1916 Rising took place in August 1915, with the funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, of the ‘unrepentant Fenian’ Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, a veteran of the 1867 Rising who had died in a hospital on Staten Island, New York. Planned by Tom Clarke, choreographed by Thomas MacDonagh and defined by Patrick Pearse’s epic graveside oration, the funeral brilliantly encapsulated the zeitgeist of a country on the cusp of revolution. It was a spectacle that lived forever in the memory of any who participated on that summers’ day.

All the main bodies from the nationalist and socialist cause were represented at the funeral which took place after Tom Clarke and John Devoy successfully shipped O’Donovan Rossa’s body back to Dublin.  Those who marched behind his hearse included the soldiers and pipe bands of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army and Fianna Éireann, as well as manifold members of Redmond’s National Volunteers, Sinn Féin, the GAA and, perhaps most notably, Cumann na mBan. Under the command of The O’Rahilly for the duration of the funeral, the Hibernian Rifles led the divisions who lowered the American flag.

Dubliners were duly treated to a magnificent procession as these assorted groups marched on a circuitous route through the main streets of the capital from City Hall, where O’Donovan Rossa lay in state for three days, to Glasnevin Cemetery.

Addressing the mourners at O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral, Pearse told them that he spoke ‘on behalf of a new generation that has been re-baptised in the Fenian faith and that has accepted the responsibility of carrying out the Fenian programme’. His final words were a powerful indication of the growing republican fervour in Ireland, and concluded with an implicit threat against the island’s ruling elite.

‘The Defenders of this Realm have worked well in secret and in the open. 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.’ [1]


[1] Speech at the Grave of O’Donovan Rossa (1915) by Patrick Pearse. Published by the Office of Public Works, Dublin. Available online at’Donovan_Rossa (accessed 18 February 2015).