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The Fenian Landing At Helvic - 6. Sequels
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The trials and subsequent publicity brought about some strange alignments making and marring assorted reputations. In Helvic, the two fishermen - who simulated obtuseness in giving State evidence, are still remembered with pride. Paid Mor pretended that he was deaf and couldn’t understand English. He “identified” Judge Keogh as being one of those he had landed at Helvic, calling him “fear an da ribe”. His colleague Brown, developed a complete loss of memory, and declared he had never seen any of the Fenians before. The third fisherman, Collins, was more cooperative and though he had little English, his evidence was helpful to the prosecution. He lives on in local memory in the lines : —
“ A Dhonaill Ui Choileain na feiceidh tu Dia,
is a Dhonaill Ui Choileain na feicidh tu an ghrian”.
Another local man Andrew Roche, had escorted Warren and Nagle to Youghal. He was a small farmer in Ring. It was said that he did not have enough money to pay his rent and on being offered £10 he agreed to be a Crown witness : —
“Dhein se mar phlean e chum teacht ar an gcios
Na deich bpuint a ghlacadh is na fearaibh a dhial”.
Other groups and individuals emerged more unequivocably in favour of the Fenians. Early in 1868 for instance, George Francis Train, the eccentric American public works contractor arrived in Ireland to speak on behalf of the prisoners. He was arrested for debts in March and placed in the Marshalsea. The Dublin Authorities referred to him as a “noisy demagogue”.
More useful perhaps was the campaign waged in the “Irishman” by the journalist Pigott, 40 later to earn notoriety as the writer of the forgeries linking Parnell with the Invincibles. Early in 1868 himself and R.M.O’Sullivan were sentenced to twelve months for seditious libel — i.e. publishing accounts of Fenian affairs in America. 41 The campaign nevertheless continued and in the following February Pigott reminds his readers of Costello’s idealism, calling him “every inch a king”. 42
Presumably this type of rhetoric was a powerful force in moulding public opinion into demanding the release of Costello the sole remaining prisoner. There was also considerable pressure from the American based Amnesty Association and from both Houses of Congress which passed a Bill setting out the rights of naturalized Americans on 27th July 1868. 43 That month the Chief Secretary asked for the file on Costello but nothing further was done until February 1869 when he was transferred from Portland to Mountjoy and then released.
Costello went home to Galway and got a hero’s welcome. After 21 months in custody he remained unbowed. “As long as I have breath I will conspire and plot to 0verthrow the British Government”, he told a large crowd in Ballinasloe. 44 Both Warren and himself, however, decided to return to America. On the eve of their departure, April 30th 1869, they were guests of honour at a banquet in the Imperial Hotel given by the Mayor of Cork. 45 Once they had gone, the episode closed.
However, it is still recounted in history books dealing with the Fenians and the monument at Helvic perhaps enhances the myth. From the evidence available it would now appear that the original concept of the Jacmel — Erin’s Hope expedition was based on misinformation; that selection of Helvic as a landing spot was pure chance; that no threat was posed to the authorities by the arrival of thirty two unarmed men, and that not all of the participants (protagonists or antagonists) acquitted themselves with honour. Of such is history made.
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