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Wednesday, 29 March 2017

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29‭ ‬March‭ ‬1901:‭ ‬The death of James Stephens,‭ ‬founder of the Irish Republican Brotherhood,‭ ‬on this day.‭ ‬He was born in‭ ‬1825‭ ‬at Blackmill Street,‭ ‬Kilkenny,‭ ‬the son of John Stephens,‭ ‬an auctioneer’s clerk.‭ ‬He supported the Young Ireland movement and the Irish Confederation,‭ ‬and he served as‭ ‬aide-de-camp to William Smith O’Brien in the‭ ‬1848‭ ‬Rising at Ballingarry,‭ ‬Co.‭ ‬Tipperary in which he was wounded.‭ ‬In the wake of this abortive affair he escaped to Paris.‭ ‬In the French Capital he met the Young Irelanders,‭ ‬John O’Mahony and Michael Doheny.‭ ‬He was deeply influenced by the French radicals and the underground figures that he encountered.‭ ‬He earned his living by teaching English.‭

In‭ ‬1856‭ ‬he returned to Ireland disguised as a beggar.‭ ‬His purpose was to establish a new secret revolutionary society that would achieve Irish independence from British rule by the use of military force.‭ ‬He travelled the Country incognito establishing networks and organising cells.‭ ‬On St Patrick’s Day‭ ‬1858‭ ‬he founded in Dublin the‭ ‘‬Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood‭’‬,‭ ‬which became known later as the‭ ‘‬Irish Republican Brotherhood‭’ (‬aka IRB‭)‬.‭ ‬It was secret and oath-bound Society.‭ ‬Stephens structured it on military principles with himself as the‭ ‘‬Head Centre‭’‬.‭

In‭ ‬1858‭ ‬Stephens went to America to raise funds for the IRB.‭ ‬When he returned to Ireland in‭ ‬1859‭ ‬the British knew well who he was and what he was doing,‭ ‬and so he returned to America.‭ ‬He seized nominal headship of the sister movement in the USA,‭ ‘‬the Fenians‭’ ‬in early‭ ‬1859.‭ ‬From‭ ‬1861‭ ‬to‭ ‬1866‭ ‬Stephens’s influence was at its height.‭ ‬The IRB flourished in Ireland,‭ ‬Britain and the USA.‭ ‬He had returned to Ireland in‭ ‬1861‭ ‬and renewed his activities,‭ ‬building up a numerous but very lightly armed Revolutionary structure.‭ ‬Gaining the support of Irish soldiers in the British army and importing arms shipments were meant to overcome the lack of weaponry.‭ ‬However in‭ ‬1865‭ ‬Stephens suddenly suspended a planned Rising after calling all the leaders together in Dublin and after‭  ‬interviewing them one by one he succeeded in getting them all to agree that the time was not ripe to overthrow British rule.‭

But by now the British were alert to what was afoot and the scale of the preparations‭ – ‬they decided to strike and break up the IRB.‭ ‬During the same year they raided IRB headquarters in Dublin,‭ ‬situated at the newspaper office of the‭ ‬Irish People‭ ‬where many of the IRB worked as journalists and used as a base.‭ ‬Most of the leaders were arrested and were convicted of‭ ‘‬treason and felony‭’ ‬and sentenced to penal servitude.‭ ‬Stephens,‭ ‬having avoided immediate arrest,‭ ‬was picked up with Charles J.‭ ‬Kickham for conspiracy and was imprisoned in Richmond Gaol,‭ ‬Dublin.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬in a brilliant but relatively straightforward rescue he was sprung from captivity by Breslin and John Devoy and spirited out of the Country to Freedom.‭

But his star was waning,‭ ‬more especially so as he attempted once again to convince supporters in the USA‭ (‬where he was in exile‭) ‬that a Rising was out of the question in‭ ‬1866‭ ‬too.‭ ‬Col Kelly replaced him as Head Centre.‭ ‬The American Fenians denounced him as a‭ ‘‬rogue,‭ ‬impostor,‭ ‬and traitor‭’‬.‭ ‬Stephens went to France where he worked as a journalist and an English teacher.‭ ‬He spent the years thereafter in France,‭ ‬Belgium and the USA.‭ ‬In‭ ‬1890‭ ‬Charles Stewart-Parnell worked his influence to allow the British to permit his return home.‭ ‬A public subscription was raised by friends in Ireland to facilitate this.‭ ‬Thus Stephens returned home to Ireland in‭ ‬1891.‭ ‬He spent the remainder of his life in seclusion in Blackrock,‭ ‬Co.‭ ‬Dublin,‭ ‬avoiding anymore political intrigue.