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
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.
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
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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