Some died by the glenside, some died ‘mid the stranger,
The wise men have told us their cause was a failure;
But they stood by old Ireland an’ never feared danger,
Glory O! glory O to the Bold Fenian Men”
Peadar O’ Cearnaigh
Ferbane is a little place of about three hundred inhabitants. They often been wonder why the Shannon Scheme went out of its way to come to them. It’s queer to see it all lit up at night, because I think the whole three hundred go to bed at nine. There is bog all around it- miles and miles of good, hard bog, and a clean cold wind that makes fine men. Johnny Gorman is one of them.
Johnny is a brisk and blue-eyed little fellow – a tailor by trade with a halo of glory by way of his having been once upon a time a bold Fenian man. I went to see him early on a Monday morning, and wondered if he could spare me a few minutes. That made Johnny laugh;
“Musha, it’s not in New York ye are now, my son, and even so, sure Monday’s tailor’s holiday and I can stay talking to you all day if you wish.”
“I was born the 7th April, 1848, in Moyclare, on the road to the Seven Churches (i. e Clonmacnoise). I was working my way at eleven years of age, and I’m at it still, thanks be to God. There’s seventy five years working for you now. Are there many can beat that?”
Johnny got his first lessons from a hedge-school teacher, named Peter O’ Dwyer, who taught in a little house on the bank of the Brosna River just below Kilcolgan Court, and when the first National School opened in Ferbane, Johnny was among the pupils.
The teacher was a man called ???? from County Meath, man and a fine scholar. He gave up the teaching after two years because the pupils weren’t coming to him.
“The master emigrated then and became a great man in the Parliament of New Zealand. He never forgot Ferbane and used to write to my father regularly. Before he went, he said he’d leave me in a way. He did too. I could have got a job in the Customs only my father wouldn’t let me touch it. Maybe it was as well. Sure, if I got it, I’d have been dead since!
“Whipping the Cat.”
“I learned the tailoring trade from my father, and went round ‘whipping the cat’ when I was eleven. You don’t understand, is it? Well, you see in those time you wouldn’t get the people bolting and barring the doors the way they do now, and when the tailor would arrive early in morning, all he’d have to do is to raise the latch and walk right into the kitchen. There’d be no one up, and the old cat would be sitting on the hearth. The tailor would hunt him away, and that’s what was called, ‘whipping the cat.
“I was in Dublin town on Ash Wednesday, the 5th March, 1867. Word came that we weren’t to go in groups but singly, and appear in Tallaght. I walked from Ferbane to Prospect Station, and was late for the train. It was the mercy of God that there wasn’t much fighting. Sure, we were betrayed right, left and centre, and the next day was the worst that ever came out of the heavens.
“I spoke with O’Donovan Rossa-a grand man. Six feet high he was, and proportionately built. I noticed the lithe, small feet of him, and the spring in his walk. He stopped at Egan’s, over there in Ballydaly. Egan was the head centre in these parts. There were about Thirty Fenians’ here, and all the canal men were Fenians, too.
‘I saw O’Donovan Rossa again at the unveiling in the town of Birr. Walking down the town with poor Larkin’s mother he was when I saw him. Every St Patrick’s Day the men of the parish would get up a subscription for Mrs Larkin, and that kept the poor woman going.
“Larkin was born outside Banagher, in the parish of Lusmagh. He afterwards went to England plying his trade as a tailor.
“O’Donovan Rossa was a good man with the pen also. The grandest poem he ever wrote was in Millbank Prison, when Lynch whispered through the grating to him that Ned Duffey was dead. I suppose you know it;
The world is growing darker to me – darker day by day,
The stars that shine upon life’s path are vanishing away,
Some setting and some shifting, only one that changes never,
‘This the guiding star of liberty that blazes bright as ever.
That whisper through, the grating has thrilled through all my veins,
“Duffey is dead! “ A noble soul has slipped the tyrant’s chains,
And whenever wounds they gave him, their lying books will show,
How they very kindly treated him, more like a friend than foe.
Dublin and John Mitchel
“I didn’t go home after the Rising. A Corkman got me a job in a big tailoring place called J.B. Johnson’s in Dawson Street. There are great men in Cork but they’re no great cracks. You remember what T.D. Sullivan said about them in “68;-
“Oh the gallant Cork men,
Mixed with New York men,
I’m sure their equals they can’t be found,
In deeds of daring,
They set men staring the world around,
No spies can match them,
No sentries watch them, or mar their play,
While the clever Cork men
And cute New York men
Work new surprises by night and day.
“I wouldn’t put a lot of trust in that, though. Sure, wasn’t the great T.D. one of them himself?
The Fenians’ Task
“I stopped in Dublin for Four Years and didn’t like a bit of it. If Dublin was any good they’d never have let John Mitchel be taken away in ’48. I was at the O’Connell Centenary in 1875, but the great Dan wasn’t as big as his name. John Mitchel was the grandest man of them all. He was a physical force man and a straight man, and when he raised his hand to Heaven and said Surely to God there is no other way,’ he was speaking the plain truth. England never listened to anything else. Our own time proved Mitchel right, and when P. H. Pearse spoke the words over O’Donovan Rossa, he accepted the Fenians’ task. Sinn Fein was the continuation of Fenianism.
“I always thought Parnell a great and good man. He kept the country on the right track. I saw him once at an election meeting in Clara. There was a crowd of little boys trying to get on to the platform and the Committee men were preventing them. Parnell came over then and said;
“Let them up. They are the men who’ll finish the work,” and they did too, thank God. I knew some of them myself and they were the men who bet the Black and Tans.
“Parnell was what you would call a handsome kind of man – about five feet ten in height. Some of the English tried to make a lot of him. I saw him in a fashion plate of a trade journal called The Tailor and Cutter. Mrs Langtry was in the same number, but for all that England could never touch our Parnell.
“I once had a great honour of shaking hands with Leo [John S. Casey]. What I remember best about him was his jet black hair. He was a regurlar god among the Fenians and he kept the fire alive within us all;-
“Oh! Then tell me, Shawn O’Farrell,
Tell me why you hurry so?
“Hush ma bouchal, hush and listen, “
And his cheeks were all aglow.
“I bear orders from the captain,
Get you ready quick and soon,
For the pikes must be together,
At the risin’ of the moon.”
“When Leo died young up there in Dublin, a great light went out. There were men who tramped all through the night from these parts to be at his funeral. Fifty thousand marched behind him to Glasnevin and there was two as many looking on. That’ll tell you what Leo meant to Ireland.”
Johnny Gorman has two dominant characteristics which make him one with other Fenians I have known- a firm belief in physical force and an ability to quote national literature ad lib. I was wishing I could enjoy much more of his tailors holiday when a distant whistle reminded me of time and an alien Dublin. I had to go, but my step was lighter. Somehow, Jimmy’s infectious enthusiasm had caught me and I found myself humming;
“There beside the singing river
That dark mass of men was seen,
Far above the shining weapons
Hung their own beloved green.
Death to every foe and traitor!
Forward! Strike the marching’ tune,
And hurrah, my boys, for freedom!
‘Tis the risin’ of the moon.”
This interview was published in the Irish Press Christmas number of 1934. The subject of the article is Mr Johnny Gorman, of Ferbane, whom the learned professor came to know while in Ferbane last autumn engaged in the archaeological investigations at Gallen Priory. Mr Gorman is the last link with the Fenian movement in this part of Offaly. He is a versatile personality, and he carries the weight of his 86 years with the elasticity of a trained athlete. He knew personally, and was known by, many of the Irish celebrities of the last century. Professor O Cleirigh regards him as a man of rare and remarkable intellectual calibre, a man who would, in any country, where native talent was recognised, have attained to the highest rung of the ladder of fame. Not only is Mr Gorman a great student of history, but he is an authority on the history and politics of Ireland, especially during the nineteenth century and down to the present time. His many friends in the Midlands will be pleased to read what an eminent scholar like Professor O Cleirigh has to say about him.
AN OLD FENIAN
INTERVIEW WITH MR J. GORMAN OF FIVEALLEY, BIRR
‘Only once in a lifetime’
Midland Tribune 27/11/1937
At present, being neither a shóneen nor a ‘twister’ he is not wallowing in wealth. But he is happy in the fact that one day he did his part for Ireland; he is well pleased at how we are going on at present, and he has great hopes for a brilliant future for his beloved country.
Genial November sunshine flooded slantingly the valleys and hills of Offaly, when I cycled over to interview Mr. “Johnny” Gorman, one of the last of our Fenian soldiers, now dwelling near Birr, in Fivealley. He took an honourable part in the Rising of 1867, and he now remains with us as one of the very last links with that eventful period. The men of 1798 handed on the sword to the Irish Republican Brotherhood of ’67, of which “Johnny” was a member. This gallant effort was the beginning of Sinn Féin and the foundation of the revival of Irish militant patriotism, which culminated in the Volunteer movement and the events of Easter Week, 1916, followed by the glorious campaign of the I.R.A. in 1920.
Born in 1847, the Famine year, the abortive Rising of 1848 passed over Mr Gorman’s head, but he was ready for the fray in 1867. Drilling was carried on in lonely fields, at night, and in cellars and back rooms, where the tramping of feet was deadened by sawdust, for the spy, the hired informer was ever abroad. His companions operated principally around Tallaght. He knew John S. Casey (“Leo”), the poet, who was the author of “The Risin of the Moon” and other ballads. He knew Allen, Larkin, and O’Brien, and he also knew Carey the informer and the man that shot him. He was present in the court when Carey turned informer and sold his companions. [The Invincibles trial following on the Phoenix Park murders].
“Johnny” came of good stock for his people fought in Wicklow in ’98. After the ’67 Rising he, along with his companions, remained in Dublin, awaiting the second attempt. Drilling was kept on, as it was even for years afterwards in many parts of Ireland. Only lately I viewed the old Fenian drill hall in Eyrecourt. He then returned to Ferbane and settled down, but never lost hope, as he knew the young blood of Ireland would again fire the torch of Freedom. The Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army of Dublin in 1916 and the Irish Republican Army of 1920 delighted him and fulfilled all his hopes. He has seen in his time Empires rising, and Empires crashing, and he prophecies more to fall. He has seen the beginning of all our modern inventions, railways, cycles, motors, flying, wireless, etc: he remembers some of the boneshakers and the ‘invention’ of old high velocipede! He, while in Ferbane, was a euphonium player in the local band, and he has the instrument still. Our Birr band had the loan of it for several years, and my uncle, Michael Vaughan, played on it and he may have employed it when solo playing during the band contest of 1880 and 1882, when he won first prize. Our Birr band in those years took first place in all Ireland, and “Johnny” was there in the Rotunda, naturally, to cheer them and he travelled back to welcome them in Birr, where they were met by a huge crowd with torchlight’s. At the unveiling of the Manchester Martyrs Monument he was beside O’Donovan Rossa on the platform, along with Mrs Larkin, mother of one of the martyred three.
Mr Gorman is soon going to dwell in Dublin with a married daughter, where he will be well appreciated. At present, being neither a shóneen nor a ‘twister’ he is not wallowing in wealth. But he is happy in the fact that one day he did his part for Ireland; he is well pleased at how we are going on at present, and he has great hopes for a brilliant future for his beloved country.
M. CARROLL (Birr).
Johnny Gorman died in June 1943 at the age of 96 (Midland Tribune, 19 June 1943).