Terence Bellew MacManus

By D. B. Sullivan, from `Speeches from the Dock', 1886.

THE excitement caused by the startling events of which this country was the scene in the summer of 1848 extended far beyond the shores of Ireland. Away beyond the Atlantic the news from Ireland was watched for with glistening eyes, by the exiles who dwelt by the shores of Manhattan, or in the backwoods of Canada. Amongst the Irish colony in England the agitation was still greater. Dwelling in the hearts of the monster town of England the glow of the furnace lighting up their swarthy faces; toiling on the canals, on the railways, in the steamboats; filling the factories, plying their brawny hands where the hardest work was to be done; hewers of wood, and drawers of water; living in the midst of the English, yet separated from them by all the marks of a distinctive nationality, by antagonistic feelings, by clashing interests, by jarring creeds, such was the position of the men who carried the faith, the traditions, the politics, and the purpose of Ireland into the heart of the enemy's country. With their countrymen at home they were united by the warmest ties of sympathy and affection. In London, in Manchester, in Birmingham, in Leeds, Confederate Clubs were established, and active measures taken for co-operating with the Young Ireland leaders in whatever course they might think proper to adopt. In Liverpool those clubs were organized on the most extensive scale, thousands of Irishmen attended their weekly meetings, and speeches rivalling those delivered at the Rotundo and at the Music Hall in fervor and earnestness were spoken from their platforms. Amongst the Irishmen who figured prominently at these gatherings there was one to whom the Irish in Liverpool looked up with peculiar confidence and pride. He was young, he was accomplished, he was wealthy, he filled a highly respectable position in society: his name was connected by every one with probity and honor; and, above all, he was a nationalist, unselfish, enthusiastic, and ardent. The Irishmen of Liverpool will not need to be told that we speak of Terence Bellew MacManus.

The agitation of 1848 found MacManus in good business as a shipping agent, his income being estimated by his Liverpool friends at ten or twelve hundred a year. His patriotism was of too genuine a nature to be merged in his commercial success, and MacManus readily abandoned his prospects and his position when his country seemed to require the sacrifice. Instantly on discovering that the government was about to suspend the habeas corpus act in Ireland, he took the steamer for Dublin, bringing with him the green and gold uniform which he owned in virtue of being a general of the '82 Club. In the same steamer came two detectives, sent specially to secure his arrest in Dublin. MacManus drove from the quay, where he landed, to the Felon office. He discovered that all the Confederate leaders out of prison had gone southwards on hostile thoughts intent; and MacManus resolved on joining them without a moment's hesitation. Having managed to give the detectives the slip, he journeyed southwards to Tipperary, and joined O'Brien's party at Killenaule. He shared the fortunes of the insurgent leaders until the dispersion at Ballingarry, where he fought with conspicuous bravery and determination. He was the first to arrive before the house in which the police took refuge, and the last to leave it. The Rev. Mr. Fitzgerald, P.P., an eye-witness, gives an interesting account of MacManus' conduct during the attack on the Widow M'Cormick's house. He says:--

"With about a dozen men more determined than the rest was MacManus, who indeed throughout the whole day showed more courage and resolution than any one else. With a musket in his hand, and in the face of the enemy, he reconnoitered the place, and observed every accessible approach to the house, and with a few colliers, under cover of a cart-load of hay, which they pushed on before them, came up to the postern-door of the kitchen. Here with his own hand he fired several pistol-shots, to make it ignite, but from the state of the weather, which was damp and heavy, and from the constant down-pour of rain on the previous day, this attempt proved quite unsuccessful. With men so expert at the use of the pickaxe, and so large a supply of blasting-powder at the collieries, he could have quickly undermined the house, or blown it up; but the circumstance of so many children being shut in with the police, and the certainty that, if they persevered, all would be involved in the same ruin, compelled him and his associates to desist from their purpose."

When it became useless to offer further resistance, MacManus retired with the peasantry to the hills, and dwelt with them for several days. Having shaved off his whiskers, and made some other changes in his appearance, he succeeded in running the gauntlet through the host of spies and detectives on his trail, and he was actually on board a large vessel on the point of sailing for America from Cork harbor when arrested by the police. His discovery was purely accidental; the police boarded the vessel in chase of an absconding defaulter, but while prosecuting the search one of the constables who had seen MacManus occasionally in Liverpool recognized him. At first he gave his name as O'Donnell, said he was an Irish-American returning westward, after visiting his friends in the old land. His answers, however, were not sufficiently consistent to dissipate the constable's suspicion. He was brought ashore and taken handcuffed before a magistrate, whereupon he avowed his name, and boldly added that he did not regret any act he had done, and would cheerfully go through it again. On the 10th of October, 1848, he was brought to trial for high treason in Clonmel. He viewed the whole proceedings with calm indifference, and when the verdict of guilty was brought in he heard the announcement with unaltered mien. A fortnight later he was brought up to receive sentence; Meagher and O'Donoghue had been convicted in the interim, and the three confederates stood side by side in the dock to hear the doom of the traitor pronounced against them. MacManus was the first to speak in reply to the usual formality, and his address was as follows:--

"MY LORDS,--I trust I am enough of a Christian, and enough of a man, to understand the awful responsibility of the question which has been put to me. Standing upon my native soil--standing in an Irish court of justice, and before the Irish nation--I have much to say why the sentence of death, or the sentence of the law, should not be passed upon me, But upon entering into this court I placed my life--and what is of more importance to me, my honor--in the hands of two advocates, and if I had ten thousand lives and ten thousand honors, I should be content to place them all in the watchful and glorious genius of the one, and the patient zeal and talent of the other. I am, therefore, content, and with regard to that I have nothing to say. But I have a word to say, which no advocate, however anxious and devoted he may be, can utter for me. I say, whatever part I may have taken in the struggle for my country's independence, whatever part I may have acted in my short career, I stand before you, my lords, with a free heart and a light conscience, to abide the issue of your sentence. And now, my lords, this is, perhaps, the fittest time to put a sentence upon record, which is this--that standing in this dock, and called to ascend the scaffold--it may be to-morrow--it may be now--it may be never--whatever the result may be, I wish to put this on record, that in the part I have taken I was not actuated by enmity towards Englishmen--for among them I have passed some of the happiest days of my life, and the most prosperous; and in no part which I have taken was I actuated by enmity towards Englishmen individually, whatever I may have felt of the injustice of English rule in this island; I therefore say, that it is not because I loved England less, but because I loved Ireland more, that I know stand before you."

In 1851, MacManus escaped from captivity in Van Diemen's Land, and he soon after settled in California, where he died. His funeral was the greatest ever witnessed upon earth. From the shores of the Pacific, thousands of miles away, across continents and oceans they brought him, and laid his ashes to rest in the land of his birth. On the 10th day of November, 1861, that wonderful funeral passed through the streets of Dublin to Glasnevin, and those who saw the gathering that followed his coffin to the grave, the thousands of stalwart men that marched in solemn order behind his bier, will never forget the sight. A silent slab, unlettered and unmarked, shows the spot where his remains were interred; no storied urn or animated bust, no marble column or commemorative tablet has been consecrated to his memory, but the history of his life is graven in the hearts of his countrymen, and he enjoys in their affectionate remembrance, a monument more enduring than human hands could build him.