John O'Leary

By T. D. Sullivan, from `Speeches from the Dock', 1886

WHILE the jury in the case of Thomas Clarke Luby were absent from the court deliberating on and framing their verdict, John O'Leary was put forward to the bar.

He stepped boldly to the front, with a flash of fire in his dark eyes, and a scowl on his features, looking hatred and defiance on judges, lawyers, jurymen, and all the rest of them. All eyes were fixed on him, for he was one of those persons whose exterior attracts attention, and indicates a character above the common. He was tall, slightly built, and of gentlemanly deportment; every feature of his thin, angular face gave token of great intellectual energy and determination, and its pallid hue was rendered almost death-like by constrast with his long, black hair and flowing moustache and beard. Easy it was to see that when the government placed John O'Leary in the dock they had caged a proud spirit, and an able and resolute enemy. He had come of a patriot stock, and from a part of Ireland where rebels to English rule were never either few or faint-hearted. He was born in the town of Tipperary, of parents whose circumstances were comfortable, and who, at the time of their decease, left him in possession of property worth a couple of hundred pounds per annum. He was educated for the medical profession in the Queen's College, Cork, spent some time in France, and subsequently visited America, where he made the acquaintance of the chief organizers of the Fenian movement, by whom he was regarded as a most valuable acquisition to the ranks of the Brotherhood. After his return to Ireland he continued to render the Fenian cause such services as lay in his power, and when James Stephens, who knew his courage and ability, invited him to take the post of chief-editor of the Fenian organ which he was about to establish in Dublin, O'Leary readily obeyed the call, and accepted the dangerous position. In the columns of the Irish People he labored hard to defend and extend the principles of the Fenian organization until the date of his arrest and the suppression of the paper.

The trial lasted from Friday, the 1st, up to Wednesday, the 6th of December, when it was closed, with a verdict of guilty, and a sentence of twenty years' penal servitude--Mr. Justice Fitzgerald remarking that no distinction in the degree of criminality could be discovered between the case of the prisoner and that of the previous convict. The following is the address delivered by O'Leary, who appeared to labor under much excitement, when asked in the usual terms if he had any reason to show why sentence should not be passed upon him:--

"I was not wholly unprepared for this verdict, because I felt that the government which could so safely pack the bench could not fail to make sure of its verdict."

Mr. Justice FITZGERALD--"We are willing to hear anything in reason from you, but we cannot allow language of that kind to be used."

Mr. O'LEARY--"My friend Mr. Luby did not wish to touch on this matter from a natural fear, lest he should do any harm to the other political prisoners; but there can be but little fear of that now, for a jury has been found to convict me of this conspiracy upon the evidence. Mr. Luby admitted that he was technically guilty according to British law; but I say that it is only by the most torturing interpretation that these men could make out their case against me. With reference to this conspiracy there has been much misapprehension in Ireland, and serious misapprehension. Mr. Justice Keogh said in his charge against Mr. Luby that men would be always found ready, for money, or for some other motive, to place themselves at the disposal of the government; but I think the men who have been generally bought in this way, and who certainly made the best of the bargain, were agitators, and not rebels. I have to say one word in reference to the foul charge upon which that miserable man, Barry, has made me responsible."

Mr. Justice FITZGERALD--"We cannot allow that tone of observation."

Mr. O'LEARY continued--"That man has charged me--I need not defend myself or my friends from the charge. I shall merely denounce the moral assassin. Mr. Justice Keogh, the other day, spoke of revolutions, and administered a lecture to Mr. Luby. He spoke of cattle being driven away, and of houses being burned down, that men would be killed, and so on. I would like to know if all that does not apply to war, as well as to revolution ? One word more, and I shall have done. I have been found guilty of treason, or of treason-felony. Treason is a foul crime. The poet Dante consigned traitors to, I believe, the ninth circle of hell; but what kind of traitors? Traitors against king, against country, against friends and benefactors. England is not my country; I have betrayed no friend, no benefactor. Sidney and Emmet were legal traitors, Jeffreys was a loyal man, and so was Norbury. I leave the matter there."

One hour after the utterance of these words John O'Leary, dressed in convict garb, his hair clipped, and his beard shaved off, was the occupant of a cell in Mountjoy prison, commencing his long term of suffering in expiation of the crime of having sought to obtain self-government for his native land.