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Looking anew at Devoy and O’Donovan Rossa

By Ray O’Hanlon

John Devoy and Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa have been gone from us a long time, but they continue to fascinate historians and make headlines.

This will be even more the case next year as the 1916 Rising is commemorated throughout the Irish world, and indeed beyond it.

In the meantime, both men are in the spotlight this week with the arrival of two books, one on Devoy by Terry Golway, the other on O’Donovan Rossa by Shane Kenna.

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The authors will be speaking about their respective subjects at the launch of both books this coming Thursday, October 15.

The dual roll-out is being held at the American Historical Society in Manhattan and in conjunction with Glucksman Ireland House at New York University.

There will be a separate launch for the O’Donovan Rossa book in Fairfield, Connecticut, on the 16th.

“Irish Rebel, John Devoy and America’s Fight for Ireland’s Freedom,” is a revised edition of the acclaimed Golway book which was first published in 1998.

Terry Golway needs no introduction to Irish Echo readers but his writing, both as a columnist and author, has long been popular in the broader American market, this as a result of Golway writing books that, as the late Frank McCourt put it specifically for the Devoy biography: “Reads like a won’t be able to put it down.”

Described by Padraig Pearse as the “greatest of the Fenians,” John Devoy was born before the Famine and lived to see the Irish tricolour flying from Dublin Castle. The descendent of a rebel family, he was an avowed Fenian who went into exile in New York in 1871.

Over the next half-century he was the most prominent leader of the Irish-American nationalist movement. Every Irish leader from Parnell to Pearse sought his counsel.

He organized the dramatic rescue of Fenian prisoners, the “Fremantle Six,” from Australia, rallied Irish America behind the Land War, served as a middle man between the Easter rebels and the German government, and helped move Irish-American opinion in favor of the Treaty. When he died in 1928 (just days before the Irish Echo was born) Devoy was accorded a state funeral and a hero’s burial in Ireland.

Golway, in addition to be being a longtime Echo columnist, is a journalist who has worked for the New York Observer, the editorial board of the New York Times, and is currently a senior editor at Politico New York.

He holds a Ph.D. in U.S. History from Rutgers University and is a member of the 2016 Commemoration Committee at New York University's Glucksman Ireland House. As well as being a frequent guest on American radio and television, he has written over a dozen books.

The second book being launched at the AIHS is “Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Unrepentant Fenian,” by Shane Kenna.

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O’Donovan Rossa’s name has been much in the news of late given that this year marks the one hundredth anniversary of his death, and of course his funeral - an event that delivered to history Patrick Pearse’s immortal graveside oration.

Kenna’s book, according to a release, is the first ever full biography of O’Donovan Rossa and is published to coincide with the centenary commemorations.

The O’Donovan Rossa biography, as is Golway’s Devoy tome, is available from Irish publisher Merrion Press,

As it happens, Merrion Press is based in Kildare, Devoy’s native county.

Author Shane Kenna holds a PhD in Modern Irish History from Trinity College, Dublin.

His research interests include Irish nationalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in addition to the political involvement of Irish America in the struggle for Irish freedom.

He is the author of “War in the Shadows: The Irish-American Fenians Who Bombed Victorian Britain” (Merrion, 2014).

Both books are available online at amazon, and elsewhere.