Rev. Edward Spring and his Mission

St Kieran’s Church, South Harbour, Cape Clear

When the Rev. Edward Spring died in 1880 a brief obituary in the Skibbereen Eagle newspaper stated that ‘he held strong and decided episcoparian opinions’ and at one time his name became ‘famous in a religious controversy’. To understand this controversy we must go back 40 years before his death, to the 1840s, to the time of the Great Famine when Protestant missionaries, such as Edward Spring, were accused of trading food for conversions – an activity that became known as ‘Souperism’.
Edward Spring was born in 1808 to Francis Spring of Castlemaine, Co. Kerry and his wife Catherine Fitzgerald. Educated in Trinity College, Dublin, he was ordained as a priest of the Church of Ireland in 1835. At the time, the evangelical wing of the Church of Ireland was in the ascendancy and many believed that a ‘Second Reformation’ was required in Ireland, one that would convert the mass of the Irish people to Protestantism. After ordination, Spring served as a curate in a number of parishes in counties Cork, Kerry and Limerick. This included a spell as curate at Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsula, where his vicar was the Rev. Charles Gayer who had started a Protestant mission in that area.
In 1842 Edward Spring was appointed curate at Baltimore in west Cork, where his salary was paid for by a missionary society called the Island and Coast Society. He immediately commenced missionary activity around Baltimore and in the islands of Roaring Water Bay, particularly Cape Clear Island. His activities did not go unnoticed and very quickly a number of letters appeared in the Cork Examiner newspaper attacking both his mission and him personally. Another form of attack were local ballads which, among other accusations, suggested sexual misconduct. Spring robustly defended himself against such attacks, however in the years before the Great Famine his mission made little progress, with only a small number of people converting.
From the onset of the famine, Edward Spring was very active in local relief efforts. He and the local relief committee raised large sums of money to purchase supplies and set up soup kitchens. At the same time the number of individuals converting increased, and, as before, there were numerous attacks made on Spring’s integrity. Now he was accused of using ‘Indian meal and packages of old clothes’ to obtain converts. He dismissed all such suggestions and in 1849 he was appointed curate to Cape Clear. Here he set about consolidating his congregation by renting a row of houses for converts, by building a new church, St Kieran’s, and by converting the old coastguard station into a parsonage. A pre-existing Protestant school was rehoused in a building close to the church and parsonage. When the new church was consecrated in October 1849 the Cork Constitution newspaper stated that about 150 attended the service and the sermon was delivered ‘first in Irish and afterwards in English’.
In the years after the Great Famine, emigration, falling donations, reconversions and pressure from the Catholic Church all impacted on Edward Spring’s mission. In 1861 the Protestant community on Cape Clear numbered 47, by 1891 is was just 13. The last Church of Ireland curate left the island in 1871. St Kieran’s church slowly fell into disrepair and it was demolished in the 1920s. While the physical remains of Edward Spring’s mission passed away, the period was often remembered with some bitterness locally due to the divisions it caused within the community and for the attacks Spring and his successors made on the traditional religious beliefs of the islanders.

The South Harbour, Cape Clear Island as it appears today. A, is the site of the former Church of Ireland church. B, is the location of the former parsonage and C is the building once used as the mission schoolhouse.

Thankfully today such controversies are a thing of the past, however the activities and impact of Protestant missionaries of the period remain a topic that is still much debated. In 1859, when commenting on the logic behind the decisions that the famine population of Cape Clear Island were forced to make, a Cork Examiner correspondent stated ‘hunger is not calculating, and cannot wait for better times’. Perhaps that simple statement of the pressing needs of the period explains more than those involved in past controversies would ever have cared to admit.

The above blog is a brief synopsise of the life and work of the Rev. Edward Spring. For a fuller account see my article ‘The Rev. Edward Spring and the Protestant Mission to the Islands of Roaring Water Bay’ which was published in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, Vol 128, 2023. For more information on that society visit

Harold Frederic: An American Journalist in west Cork.

Harold Frederic (1856-1898)

Harold Frederic was born in Utica in New York State in 1856. In the 1880s, when he was the New York Times correspondent in London, he started visiting west Cork, particularly the Mizen and Sheep’s Head peninsulas. In the following years he wrote articles about this area and he also penned a book and a series of short stories set in west Cork. His death in 1898 led to a sensational trial. This tarnished his reputation, and until recent years his work was often overlooked. The following is a short examination of his life and his connection to west Cork.
Frederic was born on the 19 August 1856 in Utica in New York State. His family were German and when he was just 18 months old his father died. Though his mother remarried, she remained the dominant figure of his early life. Two other events of his youth would also influence him throughout his life, these were the American Civil War and the influx of Irish emigrants into the Utica region. Though he had no Irish ancestry, he developed a strong interest in and love of Ireland. He later told Horace Plunkett that “the ‘Irish Question’ possessed for him a fascination for which he could give no rational explanation.”
As a young man Frederic developed a interest in photography and he found employment in the newspaper industry, taking and touching up photographic images. He quickly migrated to journalism and in time he became editor of the Utica Daily Observer and then the Albany Evening Journal. Politically, Harold Frederic was a Democrat and a strong supporter of Grover Cleveland, who he helped become governor of New York. His views were out of step with the majority in upper New York State, which at that time was solidly Republican. This conflict led to Fredric leaving the Albany Evening Journal. However, his reputation as a journalist and his connection to senior Democrats led to his appointment, in April 1884, as the London correspondent of the New York Times, a position he would hold for the rest of his life.
Once in Europe, Frederic travelled to France, which was then experiencing a major Cholera outbreak. His reporting from the ground won him many admirers. In London he became a man about town, joining many clubs and societies. Chief among them were Irish institutions such as the London Irish Literary Society. It members included William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Bram Stoker and Douglas Hyde, and of these he was particularly close to Shaw. One of his great interests was Irish politics and he befriended many members of the Irish Parliamentary Party including Charles Stewart Parnell. He became a close friend of Tim Healy, who was originally from Bantry, and it is through this friendship that Frederic was introduced to west Cork. In the late 1880s he frequently reported on Irish affairs, with a strong pro-Irish stance. This was not always popular with his editor in New York, but Frederic’s reputation as a journalist and his connections to senior members of the Democratic party, including now President Cleveland, meant that his position was secure.
In the early 1890s circumstances changed for Frederic. In his personal life, his marriage to Grace Williams broke down. By 1891 he was living with another woman, Kate Lyon, and they had three children together. Divorce, while technically possible, was not a option for someone of his standing in the late Victorian era. As well as giving him a new life his relationship with Kate also deepened his connections with west Cork as her mother was an O’Mahony. Frederic became fascinated with the history of the O’Mahony sept and the couple became regular visitors to the Mizen and Sheep’s Head (Muintir Mháire) peninsulas. Professionally things also changed. After the Parnellite split, Frederic was in a difficult position. He knew that Parnell was still very popular with Irish-Americans, but he was a close friend of Tim Healy, who was a leader of the anti-Parnellite faction. Eventually he came out on the anti-Parnell side and this damaged his standing among Irish-Americans.
Afterwards Frederic, like many in Ireland, spent less time following politics and more on cultural issues. Also at this stage Frederic was supporting two households and this meant that he was in financial difficulties. He turned to writing fiction, which was something he always wanted to do, and it was also a way to earn extra, much-needed cash. His first novel, Seth’s Brother Wife, was published in 1887, but it was from 1890 that he became a prolific writer. His output at times contained factual pieces, such as his 1891 study of the new German emperor Wilhelm II. However, most of his writings were fiction, including his 1892 novel The Return of the O’Mahony. Set mainly in the Mizen Peninsula, this is the story of a American Civil War soldier who impersonates the heir to the O’Mahony chieftainship, who had died in exile. The story is full of melodrama and coincidences, that was standard fare for novels of the time and it was described by Frederic’s biographer Stanton Garner as ‘an inferior novel’. However, one thing that did shine through was Frederic’s knowledge and love of the west Cork landscape. This is especially true of the chapters entitled ‘The Lady of Muirisc’ and ‘Near the Summit of Mt. Gabriel’.
Throughout the 1890s Frederic continued to write novels. The most critically acclaimed was The Damnation of Theron Ware, which was published in 1896. He also wrote a number of short stories and in 1895 he approached the editor of the British magazine, Black and White, to suggest a series of seven or eight stories about the O’Mahony sept ranging in time from the 1100s to 1602. As it happened only four of these stories were ever published and the date range covered was much shorter. The first story ‘In the Shadow of Gabriel’, was set circa 1550 and it tells of the coming-of-age of Turlogh, the young chieftain of Dunbeacon. The final story, ‘The Truce of the Bishop’, also dealt with Turlogh. It was set in the early 1600s, in the time after the English had taken control of much of west Cork, including Rosscarbery, where Turlogh journeyed to bury his kinsman, Bishop Laurence Malmoon. The other stories were ‘The Path of Murtogh’ set in Dunlough in 1579 and ‘The Wooing of Teige’ set in Ballydevlin in the 1580s. These stories relied heavily on the myths and stories of the O’Mahony family that Frederic had learnt. While they may not always be to the taste of a modern reader they are still a fascinating read and once again demonstrated Frederic’s love of this part of west Cork.
As well as writing fiction about his beloved west Cork, Frederic also penned at least two factual pieces about the area. These include an article that appeared in the New York Times Sunday Supplement of 1 November 1896 and was called ‘The Coast of White Foam’. It contained a description of many sites in the Mizen Peninsula, but concentrated on Dunlough (Three-Castles) Head and it contained Frederic’s own photographs of the rugged coast and of Dunlough Castle. The second article called ‘A National School on the Irish Coast’ appeared in the Sketch magazine of July 1896. It was a general description of what a tourist to west Cork might expect to encounter, with an account of the author’s visit to Dunmanus National School. This article contained just one image, that of the pupils at that school. In this article Frederic stated that West Carbery was where ‘I best love to spend my vacations’ and that he had ‘made many hundreds of photographs’ of the area. One can only wonder if any of the original images survive somewhere today?

Pupils at Dunmanus School

In 1897 Harold and Kate were accompanied on their trip to west Cork by the American writer Stephen Crane and his wife Cora. In 1898 Frederic suggested that both couples should vacation there again. However the Spanish-American War broke out and Stephen Crane went instead to Cuba, so Harold, Kate and Cora travelled without him and spend some time in a house at Ahakista. It was Frederic’s last trip to Ireland as in the late summer of 1898 he suffered a stroke and he died on 19 October of that year.
Initially the reaction to his death is one of shock at the early death of a respected journalist and author. In little time the story of his double life and second household emerged, which in the late Victorian age was deemed quite shocking. The story was further complicated by the circumstances of Frederic’s death. Kate was a Christian Scientist and when Harold fell ill no medical assistance was called for, instead Kate summoned a healer named Athalie Mills. Eventually Kate Lyon and Athalie Mills were both charged with and tried for manslaughter. Their trial was a sensation, though both were found innocent. There is an old saying that there is ‘no such thing as bad publicity’, however in Harold Frederic’s case this was not true. The circumstances of his death and the subsequent trial of Kate Lyon damaged his reputation and for decades afterwards he was largely forgotten. In more recent times his work has been rediscovered, however his west Cork connection is something that still needs further examination.

Sources and Further Reading
Bennett, Bridget, The Damnation of Harold Frederic: his lives and works, (1997).
Frederic, Harold and Jack Morgan, The Martyrdom of Maev and other Irish stories, (2015). This was the first publication to bring all of Frederic’s Irish short stories together into one volume.
Frederic, Harold, ‘A National School on the Irish Coast’ first published in 1896 was republished in Skibbereen Historical Journal Vol. 7 (2011).
Garner, Stanton, Harold Frederic, (1969).

Naomh Ciarán of Cape Clear

St Ciarán of Saigir, stained glass by Harry Clarke in Ballinrobe Church, Co Mayo.

March 5th is the feast day of Naomh Ciarán of Cape Clear, who is said to be one of the four pre-Patrician saints of Ireland and is considered by some as the first native born Irish saint. Like most early Irish saints what we know of the life of Naomh Ciarán is largely legend, and it is difficult to know how much of it is based on fact.

According to folklore Ciarán was born on Cape Clear, sometime in the latter half of the fourth century, at a site on the steep hill overlooking the North Harbour. As a young man he travelled to Rome to become a bishop and then returned to Ireland to convert his native land to Christianity. He started his mission on Cape Clear where he built a church at the North Harbour and spend many years converting the people of the southwest coast of Ireland. Having family links to the rulers of Ossory he later moved his missionary work to that part of Ireland, founding the monastery at Seir-Kieran in Co. Offaly. For this reason, he became the patron saint of the Diocese of Ossory, where he is known as Ciarán of Saigir.

Around this time it is said that St Patrick’s had begun his mission in Ireland. In some of the stories of Ciarán life it appears that he was not too pleased with the arrival of Patrick, fearing that the newcomer would try to assert authority over him. To prevent this, Ciarán closed the gates of his monastery to St Patrick and in turn Patrick cursed Ciarán. In another story, in later life Ciarán was condemned to death by a king. The method of execution was that Ciarán was tied to a mill-stone and he was then cast off a cliff into the sea. However, divine forces intervened, the sea was calmed, the stone landed on the water with Ciarán sitting on top of it. He then floated to Cornwall, where he continued his missionary work and he also revived the local tin industry. He is now the patron saint of Cornwall, where he is known as St Piran. He is also venerated in Brittany, where he is known as St Sezin. Naomh Ciarán was also associated with animals and it is claimed that a fox, a badger and other animals worked with him.

While it is difficult to know how much, if any, of the life of Naomh Ciarán is based on an historical individual the legends about him do give us an indication of work of early Christian missionaries in Ireland, and to the cultural and economic ties that once existed between the southwest of Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany. While the truth of Ciarán’s life maybe lost to us what is more tangible are structures dedicated to him that survive. These include a church, a holy well and a pillar stone at the North Harbour on Cape Clear Island.

The surviving church ruin is the remains of medieval church, probably dating from the 1400s when Cape Clear was ruled by the O’Driscolls and when their fortress of Dun an Óir was built on the island. The church site, which is sometimes referred to as Temple Kieran, was one of the first in Ireland to be brought under the control of the Board of Works. In his 1913 work, A List of Ancient and National Monuments in the County of Cork, Robert Cochrane recorded that the ruin measures 40ft. by 14ft. 6 in. and the structure included a narrow window and amburies in the east wall, with the door and another window on the south side. He also stated that: ‘About 70 yards due south of the church there are a holy well called Toberkeiran and a cross-inscribed pillar stone known as Gallaunkeiran. This stone has a cross inscribed on its two opposite sides, and a slightly raised cross on the top, as shown in the illustration. The stone stands at present 4 ft. 3 in. above the level of the ground and is of oval form in section, slightly tapering to the top. This pillar stone and the other memorials of the saint are held in veneration by the islanders, particularly on the eve of the saint’s day, 4th March.’

Illustrations of St Kieran’s, Cape Clear by Robert Cochrane

Another description of the church was recorded by the Rev. Charles Webster in his 1932 article ‘The Diocese of Ross and Its Ancient Churches’. In this Webster paid much attention to the east window stating: ‘The single-light window in the East Window, Temple Kieran, Clear Island, east gable is peculiar; on the outside it measures 9 inches, and is splayed to over 5 feet inside. The head of this window is of one stone, and has an unusual drop in the centre, as if it were intended to divide the window in two by the insertion of a mullion.’

Naomh Ciarán’s church, North Harbour, Cape Clear

As a place of active worship the church at the North Harbour fell out of use in the 1600s. However, there were some attempts to reuse the site. In 1826 the Rev. Caesar Otway visited the island. He recalled that the vicar for the island told him that on his introduction to the island he conducted a prayer service in English at the old ruined church. The people thought he had come to change their religion and as a result ‘old women surrounded the walls chattering Irish, and groaning, the boys howled, the men scowled, and looked gruff and angry.’ Fortunately a member of the vicar’s party could speak Irish and explained that he had ‘no intention of doing them harm, or changing their religion’.

Pillar dedicated to Naomh Ciarán, North Harbour, Cape Clear

In the 1840s Cape Clear became the focus of the Protestant missionary the Rev. Edward Spring, who was resident on the island from 1849. He wished to take control of the Glebe lands surrounding the church and build a new church there. However, he was thwarted in his efforts and instead he built his new church, which was named St Kieran’s, at the South Harbour.

As earlier mentioned the holy well and pillar stone at the North Harbour continued to be a site of pilgrimage with locals doing ’rounds’ at this site on the eve of the saint’s feast day. This practice was frequently condemned by the Rev. Spring and other Protestant missionaries on the island. In 1853 Rev. Lanphier, the then Church of Ireland curate on the island, accused the Catholic population who performed the annual devotions at the stone pillar of ‘stone worship’. In 1859 a correspondent of the Cork Examiner defended the islanders against such attacks with the words: ‘They who think it meet and just to pray within the walls of a consecrated cathedral, can see nothing laudable in the desire to pray by a stone set up by saintly hands’.

Today Cape Clear has a vibrant population and the graveyard surrounding the church at the North Harbour is still occasionally used. The island is a popular destination for visitors. Most pass by the ruins of the church and the nearby holy well and pillar without a second though to the saint they are dedicated to and with no knowledge of the controversy once caused by worship there. Thankfully such controversies are very much in our past.

Sources and further reading
More information on Naomh Ciarán and Cape Clear can be found in Naomh Ciarán Pilgrim Islander (2000) and Cape Clear Island: Its People and Landscape (1999) both by Éamon Lankford.
The quotes by the Rev. Otway were taken Sketches in Ireland (1827) and the quote by Rev Lanphier was taken from Yearly Statement Missionary Progress of the Island and Coast Society, 1853. Both are freely available online. Charles Webster’s article ‘The Diocese of Ross and Its Ancient Churches’ appeared in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol 40 (1931-32) and is available on JSTOR.
A List of Ancient and National Monuments in the County of Cork, by Robert Cochrane was recently republished by Coolim Books. See details below.

Originally printed in 1913, A List of Ancient and National Monuments in the County of Cork  by Robert Cochrane was the first attempt to publish a county wide list of archaeological sites in Ireland. It was recently republished by Coolim Books and is available in bookshops throughout Cork.

To purchase online click here (Bilbio Books)
or here (

Mortimer Moynahan: A forgotten Fenian leader

Mortimer Moynahan was a leading figure in both the IRB and the Fenian Brotherhood. He was a founder of the Phoenix National and Literary Society and was influential in the early expansion of Fenianism. A confidant of the Fenian leader James Stephens, he rose to become, for a brief period, the leader of the Fenian Brotherhood in America. However, by the time of his death in 1881 he was largely overlooked and forgotten.

Moynahan was born in Carriganima, north of Macroom, Co. Cork, in the early 1830s. Like others of his generation, Moynahan witnessed first-hand the devastation of the Great Famine of 1845-52. On a more positive note, he benefited from an education at a local national school and afterwards he became a schoolteacher. In April 1856 he was dismissed from his teaching position, and this prompted him to change careers. So, in 1856 he found employment as a legal clerk in Skibbereen. After moving to Skibbereen he quickly became friends with Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and Daniel McCartie Jnr. In late 1856 discussions between Mortimer Moynahan, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and others led to the formation of the Phoenix National and Literary Society in Skibbereen.
The Phoenix Society was an open organisation dedicated to the revival of the Irish national spirit. Writing about this organisation, Mortimer Moynahan stated that its aspiration was that similar organisations would be set up in every town and village in Ireland and that these societies might ‘as does our own body consist of Irishmen, professing Young Ireland politics.’ During 1857 the society adopted increasingly radical views and by the spring of 1858 it was near collapse.
In May 1858 James Stephens, leader of a new organisation the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), arrived in Skibbereen. The IRB was a secret, oath-bound organisation, whose objective was to overthrow British rule in Ireland through military insurrection. Once in Skibbereen, Stephens swore Daniel McCartie into the new organisation. McCartie then swore in Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa who, in turn, swore in Mortimer Moynahan. In a short time, the majority of the members of the Phoenix Society became sworn members of the IRB and the old format of the Phoenix Society ceased to exist.
The new organisation with Moynahan, O’Donovan Rossa and McCartie acting as the local leaders, quickly gained new members and spread to other areas, particularly Bantry and Kenmare. This expansion was aided by the fact that Moynahan was a senior clerk in the prominent legal firm of Timothy McCarthy-Downing and as a result he traveled widely in west Cork and south Kerry. The expansion of the IRB in this area made Moynahan, McCartie and O’Donovan Rossa well known figures within the organisation. While O’Donovan Rossa is the one remembered by history, in these early years there is evidence to indicate that it was Moynahan who was the most respected. For example, in his later memoirs John O’Leary stated that: ‘I am again reminded by [Thomas Clarke] Luby that, of those three, Moynahan was then and always, while the least noisy, much the most active.’
The activities of the IRB did not go unnoticed and throughout the autumn of 1858, the constabulary gathered evidence against the new movement. They also recruited the infamous informer O’Sullivan Goula to infiltrate the movement in Skibbereen. As a result, on 8 December 1858 twelve men were arrested in the town, including Moynahan, O’Donovan Rossa and McCartie. While most of those arrested were quickly released on bail, Moynahan and O’Donovan Rossa spent seven months in jail awaiting trial. In July 1859, a compromise was reached and in return for pleading guilty the remaining prisoners were immediately released on an understanding of future good behavior.

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

As Moynahan and O’Donovan Rossa rebuilt their lives in Skibbereen, it appeared that the IRB as a movement was dead and constitutional nationalists, such as Bantry-born A.M. Sullivan, took the initiative. In April 1860, he suggested a national petition to seek a plebiscite on legislative independence for Ireland. Though they were initially skeptical of this initiative, eventually both Moynahan and O’Donovan Rossa became heavily involved in local efforts to gather signatures and collected 4,785 signatures.
Despite some setbacks the IRB continued to exist and in January 1861, John O’Mahony the leader of its sister organisation, the Fenian Brotherhood in America, visited Ireland. While here O’Mahony undertook a tour of IRB strongholds, including west Cork. Here he was met by O’Donovan Rossa, McCartie and Moynahan and he spent several days in Skibbereen. Later James Stephens undertook his own tour of IRB units. This included a visit to Skibbereen where John O’Leary later commented that he encountered ‘the inevitable Rossa, Dan McCartie and Morty Moynahan’. A rejuvenated IRB, combined with a series of poor harvests, meant that from 1861 onwards the IRB’s membership expanded nationwide. In the Skibbereen area Moynahan, O’Donovan Rossa and McCartie remained at the helm, though by now O’Donovan Rossa was the best known of the three. To foster the continued growth of the local movement the three leaders organised a series of public demonstrations which were unique within the IRB. The largest of these demonstrations was a rally in support of a Polish rebellion against the Russian Empire, which was organised for March 1863. However, in May 1863 O’Donovan Rossa left Skibbereen for good. First he went to America and later in 1863 he returned to Ireland to become the manager of the IRB’s newspaper, the Irish People. Mortimer Moynahan remained in Skibbereen where he continued as a local IRB leader and he also helped fund, distribute and contribute to the Irish People.

James Stephens

Mortimer Moynahan was arrested for a second time in September 1865 when he was visiting Dublin. On this occasion he was detained in a case of mistaken identity for his brother Michael, who was a clerk in the Irish People newspaper. After two months in jail, Moynahan was released on bail and his case was never brought to trial. After his release, in the absence of many imprisoned IRB leaders, he was appointed interim leader of the IRB in Cork city and county. In his new role he was present at the meeting of IRB leaders in February 1866 where the decision to postpone a planned rebellion was made. Following the postponement of the rising, James Stephens departed Ireland for America. Before leaving he appointed Mortimer Moynahan as his liaison with the movement in Britain. To fulfill these duties Moynahan took up residence in London, though after a short period he moved to Paris to fulfill a similar role there. After spending three months in Paris, Moynahan followed Stephens to America.
While in America Mortimer Moynahan was active in the Fenian Brotherhood and on 6 January 1867 after the removal of Stephens as leader of the movement, he was appointed interim leader of the Fenian Brotherhood in America. He maintained that position until elections were held on 27 February 1867 and Anthony A. Griffin was elected as the new leader of the American organisation. During his brief period as leader, Moynahan attempted unsuccessfully to persuade John Mitchel to lend his name to the continuing efforts of the Fenian Brotherhood to raise funds for a rebellion in Ireland. Moynahan’s failure to persuade Mitchel does not appear to have diminished his standing within the Fenian Brotherhood and after his time as leader he was appointed financial secretary of the movement. In this role, his main task was to raise funds through the continued sale of ‘bonds of the Irish Republic’. In January 1871, when O’Donovan Rossa arrived in America, Moynahan wrote to his old friend warning him to steer clear of local American politics. By then it appears Moynahan had no official position in the Fenian Brotherhood.
The following years where difficult ones for Mortimer Moynahan. In 1861 he had married Mary Cunningham of Skibbereen and the couple had four children, three daughters and a son, while still in Ireland. In America, the family settled in Cherry Street on lower Manhattan, where it grew further with the arrival of another son in 1868. After his time at the helm of the Fenian Brotherhood, Moynahan worked as a journalist, but he was unable to find regular employment. On 13 July 1874 newspapers reported that Moynahan’s wife had been discovered dead in their apartment and he was also close to death. The story that emerged was a tragic one. It appears that, with Mortimer unable to find employment, the Moynahans had sent their three daughters to a convent, keeping their two sons with them. Afterwards, the newspapers reported that the Moynahan boys were being cared for by friends, that Moynahan himself had been committed to Bellevue Hospital for the insane, where O’Donovan Rossa was among the first to visit him. Despite the initial reports that claimed Moynahan was close to death, he survived and appears to have made a good recovery. By late 1875 he was once more involved in Irish-American politics, when he was made secretary of an organisation that campaigned for the release of Edward O’Meagher-Condon, who had been sentenced to death with the Manchester Martyrs, but had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment as he was an American citizen. He was also involved in helping his old friend O’Donovan Rossa organise the day-to-day affairs of the Fenian Brotherhood. A letter, dated 12 April 1876, to Mortimer from his brother Michael, indicates that by then he was reunited with his children as Michael stated that ‘I am very glad to hear the children are getting on so well’.
In 1876 following the success of the Catalpa rescue of Fenian prisoners in Australia, plans were considered to free other Fenian prisoners including Edward O’Meagher-Condon, who at the time was imprisoned on Spike Island. Part of the preparations was to send Mortimer Moynahan to Ireland to organise the rescue efforts there, so sometime in 1876 Moynahan returned home. However, the rescue plans came to nothing and life for Moynahan did not improve after his return to Ireland. In June 1879, a letter in the Irishman newspaper from a doctor at the Cork District Lunatic Asylum stated that he had been a patient in that institution for the previous two years. Mortimer Moynahan died in Cork District Lunatic Asylum on 10 May 1881. His death was not recorded in any of the local or national newspapers.

The above is a condensed version of an article that I wrote for the Skibbereen Historical Journal Vol 13 (2017). You can download the full article here or if you wish to buy that journal click here

The story of Mortimer Moynahan is part of the larger story of Fenianism in Skibbereen, that is detailed on my book The Cradle of Fenianism. This can be purchased in bookshops throughout Cork or online here