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Fenian Headstones Unveiled

On Sunday the 16th of October the National Graves Association (N.G.A.) marked its 85th anniversary by unveiling three new headstones to Fenians, Edward Russell (died 1931), Matthew O’Neill (died 1904) and John Roche (died 1894).  A large crowd followed a lone piper to the graves of the three men. Edward Russell’s headstone was unveiled by his great grandson Gerry McNamara, Matthew O’Neill’s was unveiled by his great grandson David Whelan and John Roche’s was unveiled by Aidan Lambert of the N.G.A. The main oration was given by Michael Kenny of the National Museum of Ireland. Michael gave details of the three men’s involvement in the Fenian movement. Matthew O’Neill had taken an active part in one of the most successful operations the Fenians had undertaken and that was the rescue of James Stephens, “The Fenian Chief” from Richmond Prison in November 1865. Matthew was one of a chosen group of armed Fenians who kept watch outside the prison on the night of Stephen’s escape. Edward Russell and John Roche both played their part in the Battle of Tallaght in March 1867. Roche received a gunshot wound to his right leg and was brought to the Meath Hospital where his injuries were so severe that his leg had to be amputated. All three men remained committed to their Fenian ideals until their deaths and they were the type of men referred to in Padraig Pearse’s speech at the grave of another Fenian buried in Glasnevin, O’Donovan Rossa.

…. “Our foes are strong and wise and wary; but, strong and wise and wary as they are, they cannot undo the miracles of God who ripens in the hearts of young men the seeds sown by the young men of a former generation. And the seed sown by the young men of ‘65 and ‘67 are coming to their miraculous ripening today.

Rulers and Defenders of Realms had need to be wary if they would guard against such processes. Life springs from death: and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations. The Defenders of this Realm have worked well in secret and in the open. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! — they have left us our Fenian dead, and, while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”

Our Association would like to thank all those who attended on the day and we would also like to give a special mention to George McCullough of Glasnevin Cemetery and Robbie McGowan of Glasnevin Monument Works for their co-operation and help in making this event possible.