Organising History: Part Two


Glasnevin Cemetery Museum

Glasnevin Cemetery Museum
Dublin, Ireland

It was over a year later when Rossa did pass away and no time was wasted in putting plans into place for the funeral. Devoy quickly relayed the news to his old friend Tom Clarke in Dublin. Clarke had worked alongside Devoy in Clan na Gael, the American sister organisation of the IRB. He previously spent fifteen years in prison for his part in the dynamite campaign advocated by Rossa and was now a prominent figure in the IRB in Ireland. His wife Kathleen later recalled that on hearing the news of Rossa’s passing he stated that “if Rossa had planned to die at the most opportune time for serving his country he could not have done better”

It was with good reason that Clarke made these comments. Since shortly after the outbreak of the First World War plans were being formulated for an armed insurrection against British rule in Ireland. The funeral of such a well-known Fenian figure as Rossa presented a unique opportunity to organise a large-scale public act of defiance and open the pathway to what would become the 1916 Rising. It was a chance to heighten expectations of action and to make the statement that although Rossa and many of his generation had passed on his ideals lived on.

In America Devoy made the arrangements for the return of Rossa’s remains and sent money to support the event. In Ireland Tom Clarke set up an organising committee to deal with the arrangements for the funeral and took command of it.

By early July over sixty men and women had joined the funeral organising committee. It was broken down into sub-committees dealing with every aspect of the event including publicity, finance, trains and transport, receptions and obsequies. Each sub-committee elected a Chairman and Secretary who in turn reported to the general committee.

The committee included the names of many who were destined to become some of the most well known figures in Irish history, including; James Connolly, Arthur Griffith, Eoin MacNeill, Countess Markievicz, Joseph Plunkett and many others.

No element of the funeral was left to chance and Tom Clarke worked tirelessly on the project. He picked Glasnevin Cemetery as the place to bury Rossa and in particular a part of the cemetery that had a significant history. In 1867 John Martin, a well known Young Irelander, purchased a plot in the South section of the cemetery. To this empty plot he organised a symbolic funeral march on 8 December 1867 honouring three men known as the Manchester Martyrs who had been executed in Salford Gaol. A memorial was placed above the unused grave and in the following years it became a focal point of commemoration and political demonstration. When James Stephens died in 1901 and John O’Leary in 1907 they were both buried alongside the memorial to the Manchester Martyrs. The result was that this particular area of Glasnevin Cemetery, which eventually became known as the Republican Plot, had begun to be imbedded as a place of importance in the conscience of those seeking an independent republic in Ireland. What happened at the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa only acted to reinforce this.


  • Title: Organising History: Part Two
  • Date: 1831/1915
  • Location: Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

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