Voyage of Erin's Hope

After the failed Young Ireland Uprising of 1848, many of its leaders were captured, sentenced and transported to penal colonies in Australia. Those who evaded capture ended up in France on in the United States. Two of the leaders, James Stephens and John O’Mahony, who had escaped to France, spent the ensuing five years discussing and planning for another uprising in Ireland.

In 1853, O’Mahony, an Irish language scholar and linguist, left Paris for New York where he met other fellow Young Irelanders including John Mitchel, who had escaped from a penal colony in Tasmania. After taking up residence there he completed and published several literary works and joined several Irish organizations, including the Emmet Monument Association. On 28 February 1858, he, together with Michael Doheny, James Roche, Thomas J. Kelly, Oliver Byrne, Patrick O’Rourke, and Captain Michael Corcoran founded the Fenian Brotherhood.

In the meantime, Stephen’s bided his time in Paris until it was safe for him to return to Ireland. After eight years in exile, he believed the time had come when he could return safely. He arrived back in Dublin in February of 1856.

Having lost contact with his 1848 compatriots during his prolonged exile, Stephens reasoned that his first move should be a trip around Ireland to reacquaint with old comrades and start the process of organizing for the next uprising. After completing that odyssey, he, together with Peter Langan, Thomas Clarke Luby, Charles Kickham, Joseph Denieffe and Garrett O'Shaughnessy founded the Irish Republican Brotherhood on St. Patrick’s Day in 1858. The aim of the organization was “the establishment of an independent Irish Republic by force of arms”.

Because of the close ties and interdependencies of the IRB and the Fenian Brotherhood, any possibility of launching an uprising in Ireland took a backseat to the   American Civil War that lasted from 1861 through 1865.

After the Civil War ended in 1865, the Fenians(1) began preparing for the uprising.  The IRB in Ireland was well along in its recruitment campaign that included a covert effort to recruit Irish soldiers serving in the British army. In the United States, the Fenian leadership increased its fundraising effort and started planning to send an expeditionary force to Ireland to support the uprising. They collected about 6,000 firearms and had as many as 50,000 men willing to fight.

Unfortunately for the Fenians, the British became aware of their plans when a Fenian emissary lost them at Dun Laoghaire railway station.  Aware of the planned uprising and ongoing updates from their informer, Pierce Nagle, who worked in the IRB’s newspaper office, the British, at the opportune time, raided the newspaper office and arrested several of the IRB leaders including John O’Leary, Thomas Clarke Luby and O’Donovan Rossa.  Shortly afterwards, Stephens and several other leaders were also arrested. Within two weeks of his arrest. Stephens was sprung from Richmond prison in Dublin by prison wardens J. J. Breslin and Daniel Byrne, both of whom were Fenians.

After his escape, Stephens hid out in Ireland for several months before making his way to France. After a stay of six weeks in France he set sail for New York. On arriving there he found himself in the middle of a Fenian power struggle between two factions, one headed by John O’Mahony and the other by William R. Roberts. His efforts to reunite the faction failed.  In a last-ditch effort to force the factions to resolve their differences, he announced that he was returning to Ireland, in short order, "to unfurl the flag of rebellion".

Having failed to follow through after an interval of several weeks, he was accused of having lost his nerve and deposed as head of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He was replaced by Colonel Thomas J. Kelly who immediately began to prepare for an uprising.

On March 5, 1867 the uprising started in Dublin, Drogheda and Cork. From the onset, nothing went right for the Fenians. Unbeknownst to the men in the field, General Massey, who was in command of the uprising was betrayed by the traitor J. J. Croydon, arrested and imprisoned. Without a central command the uprising failed to spread as anticipated.

 Kelly, who was stationed in London, sent word to America for more arms and expertise. In answer to his call, Erin’s Hope sailed from Sandyhook the following month carrying three cannon and 5,000 modern rifles with a million and a half rounds of ammunition.
The last battle of the uprising was fought in Kilclooney Wood in Co. Cork on March 31, 1867, where Peter O'Neill Crowley, a local Fenian, lost his life.

The Voyage
On April 12, 1867, 50 Fenians, many of whom were Civil War veterans, boarded the ‘Jacknell’ a 200-ton brigantine type vessel docked at Sandyhook in New Jersey.   The commander of the expedition was a former U.S army officer who assumed the name ‘John F. Cavanagh’ to hide his identity and further allay any suspicion as to the true nature of the Jacknell’s voyage.  E. Kerrigan was in command of the Fenians - William J. Nagle and John Warren were his assistants.
The consignment paperwork in possession of the captain indicated that the vessel was preparing to sail to the Caribbean with merchandize for a merchant firm in Cuba. The purpose of the subterfuge was to hide from the authorities, that the intended destination of the Jacknell was Ireland and that the men and cargo aboard was to support a Rising by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a sister organization of the U.S. based Fenians. The arms and ammunition was concealed in piano cases, sewing machine cases and wine barrels.
After a day’s sailing southwards, out of Sandyhook, the Jacknell changed course for Ireland.  After nine days sailing the men aboard hoisted a Fenian flag and renamed the vessel” Erin’s Hope’. After that Captain Cavanagh opened his sealed orders that directed him to sail to Sligo Bay where he was to land his men and arms. If he could not land there he was to find sail to another location. On May 10th, they arrived in Sligo Bay and for the following six days sailed from Sligo Bay to Donegal Bay sending unanswered signals to the shore. When questioned by Captain Cavanagh, local fishermen were not aware of a Fenian Rising.
While traversing the Sligo coastline between Sligo and Donegal bays a suspect crew member “accidentally” discharged a weapon injuring several men. They were put ashore at Streedagh were they were arrested by a Coastguard patrol and imprisoned. After two weeks of sailing off the Sligo coastline, Captain Cavanagh received word from Richard O'Sullivan Burke that the insurrection was in disarray and ordered him to proceed to Skibbereen in Co. Cork where Captain Lomasney was still active.  His overdue departure from Sligo Bay narrowly avoiding a confrontation with an English gunboat sent there to investigate the “on and off presence’ of Erin’s Hope in Sligo Bay.
Erin’s Hope arrived offshore near Skibbereen on May 27th.  For the following three days, it cruised between Toe Head Bay and the Galley Head near Rosscarbery in Co. Cork in hopes of contacting Captain Lomasney and effecting a landing there. Unable to contact onshore Fenians Captain Cavanagh decided to send John Warren ashore to ascertain the situation and to replenish provisions that were running low. Before he could act two coastguard vessels appeared on the scene forcing him to hold off. The following day he tried again but was forced to sail eastwards due to heavy winds.
Early on Saturday, June 1st, Erin’s Hope arrived off Helvic at the mouth of Dungarvan bay where they sighted a fishing boat. Captain Cavanagh asked the skipper, Paud O'Faolain, to take some men ashore, which he agreed to do. However, when he pulled alongside Erin’s Hope, 30 men climbed aboard the fishing boat, dangerously overloaded the small boat. Afraid to wait for evening to drop them as directed by Cavanagh, Paud proceeded to shore and dropped them on the beach near Ballinagoul pier where they were spotted by the coastguard who alerted the police. Poorly armed and unfamiliar with their surroundings, they were easy prey for the pursuing British army units.
Following their arrest, twenty-seven Fenians were charged with having come into the country under suspicious circumstances. On November 28, the three leaders of the group were charged in Dublin with having formed part of an armed expedition destined to aid a rebellion. 
John Warren and William Halpin were each sentenced to 15 years’ penal servitude.
Augustine E Costello, 12 years’ penal servitude. They were released within a few years as part of the Fenian amnesty of 1869/71. The other captured Fenians were sent home after a short detention.
After having put the Fenians ashore Captain Cavanagh sailed off into the Bristol Channel, with the remaining Fenians including the leader, Kerrigan. They cruised off Land's End for a few' days and returned to Minehead on June 6th where they seem to have expected instructions on what to do with the arms on board. After waiting several days without any communication with the men put ashore some days earlier, Cavanagh concluded that were either in hiding or captured leaving him with no option other than to abandon the mission and set sail for New York.
The Erin’s Hope may not have rendezvoused with the onshore Fenians but her Captain had outmaneuvered the English navy in Ireland for over three weeks, landed men, exchanged communications and, after a voyage of over 9,000 miles, returned safely with his ship and cargo. The craft made three landings in Ireland and one in England, during which time they came close to capture several times. At no time were they over twelve miles from a British man-of-war, a frigate, ram, or gunboat, and were continually harassed by pilots. They were at sea 107 days in which they sailed a grand total of 9,265 miles.
In the wake of the Erin’s Hope three gunboats which had attempted to capture her were sunk: the gunboat ‘Lapwing lost in Killala Bay, the ‘Revenge wrecked on Daunte’s Rock and another gunboat which foundered in a gale off Cape Clear.
The name “Fenians” was an umbrella term used to describe the transatlantic partnership of the Fenian Brotherhood in America and the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Ireland. A member of either organization was generally referred to as a “Fenian”.  



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