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Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa commemoration kicks off Easter Rising centenary season

Published 01/08/2015

Fenian leader Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin
Fenian leader Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin

The first of more than 40 events to mark the Easter Rising has taken place with the commemoration 100 years to the day of the funeral of revolutionary Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa.

Best known for the graveside oration by Padraig Pearse, 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.

At Glasnevin Cemetery President Michael D Higgins joined Taoiseach Enda Kenny, 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".

Some of the descendants of O'Donovan Rossa's family were also there.

The Taoiseach described O'Donovan Rossa, nicknamed Dynamite for orchestrating the first-ever republican bombings in British cities, as a figure in Irish history.

"Even 100 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," he said.

Mr Higgins led the commemorations by laying a wreath while a volley of shots rang out and the Tricolour was raised and Amhran na bhFiann played.

The event included prayer by Defence Forces chaplain Fr Robert McCabe, a minute's silence, a piper's lament and an actor reciting Pearse's oration.

Ms Humphreys, whose office is overseeing the 40 plus events marking the Easter Rising, said the re-enactment was the official start of the centenary celebrations which she said will be "appropriate and respectful".

"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 Padraig Pearse, left a lasting impact and travelled far beyond the confines of this cemetery," she said.

"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."

O'Donovan Rossa died in New York on June 29 1915 aged 83.

Among the first wave of activists to join the ranks of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in 1858, the Skibbereen shopkeeper was jailed for life for high treason after plotting a Fenian rising in 1865.

Four years later he was elected a British MP in a by-election in Tipperary while incarcerated although the result was declared invalid.

His release was only secured in the so-called Fenian amnesty after he agreed to live in exile in New York from where he espoused the theory of terrorism and launched the dynamite bombing campaign to attack strategic and economic targets in Britain.

Following his death on Staten Island the IRB set about stage managing his repatriation and burial for maximum effect and publicity.

"Send his body home at once," Tom Clarke, one of the masterminds of the 1916 Rising, cabled to John Devoy who had been exiled with O'Donovan Rossa.

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.

John Green, chair of Glasnevin Trust, said O'Donovan Rossa's funeral was the most significant of all those of Irish republicans.

"The selection of Padraig 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," he said.

The centenary has also been marked with a commemorative stamp of a picture of the burial in Glasnevin and events in Cork including a torch-lit parade in Skibbereen.

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