Patrick O’Donoghue, a Carlow man (born in Clonegall), who was employed as a Law Clerk in Dublin and who was one of the most active members of the Irish Confederation in the City, had the distinction of editing a paper, the ‘Irish Exile’, while undergoing a sentence of transportation in Van Dieman’s Land with Smith O’Brien, Mitchel, Meagher, Martin and McManus. He succeeded in escaping to the United States in 1852.
Michael Doheny in his ‘Felon’s Track’, explains how O’Donoghue became involved in the insurrectionary activities in Co. Tipperary in July 1848. “He was much relied on,” he states, “by his friends in the Confederation, and was entrusted with the dispatches to Mr. O’Brien. He proceeded on his mission to Kilkenny, and there applied to one of the clubs. He was known to none of the members, and became at once the object of suspicion. It was accordingly, determined to send him for the rest of the journey under arrest, and Stephens and another member were appointed to that duty. They proceeded in execution of their duty to Cashel, where O’Donoghue was warmly welcomed by Mr. O’Brien, whose fate he thenceforth determined to share. Mr. Stephens came to the same resolution.
With Mssrs. Stephens and O’Donoghue, their very desperation acted as the most ennobling and irresistible inducement. They clung to him to the last with a fidelity the more untiring in proportion as his circumstances portended imminent disaster and ruin.”
O’Donoghue was present at the meeting in Ballingarry on the 28th July with O’Brien, Dillon, Stephens, James Cantwell, Meagher, Leyne, Devin, Reilly, John O’Mahony, Doheny, MacManus, John Cavanagh J.D. Wright and D.P. Cunningham.
At his trial before the Special Commission at Clonmel in October 1848, he was defended by Butt and F. Maher. Evidence was given for the crown that he was associated with Smith O’Brien in the Co. Tipperary in the activities of July, and was present at Mullinahone, armed with a gun, when O’Brien vainly called on the police to give up their arms. It was also stated that he was at Killenaule where barricades were erected to prevent the march of a troop of dragoons, which were permitted to proceed only when the officer in charge gave his word that he was not about to arrest Smith O’Brien.
The Attorney General contended that having joined the ranks of the ‘rebel’ army, O’Donoghue was equally guilty with the leaders, and must be supposed to have the same objects in view and to have adopted their plans.
O’Donoghue, interrupting, exclaimed : “’Tis right for me to say that I don’t wish to escape upon the poor miserable pretexts which the Attorney General put into my mouth there”
Having been found guilty, O’Donoghue complained that a jury of political opponents had been empanelled to try him, and that the Judge when addressing the jury had enunciated the startling doctrine that if he assisted Smith O’Brien while the latter was engaged in a treasonable design, he was also guilty of treason, although he might not know of Mr. O’Brien’s intent. “It is not fit at this solemn moment,” he added, “to defend my opinions and conduct. I will, therefore, only say that these opinions have always been tolerant, sincere and consistent.”
O’Donoghue was sentenced to death like O’Brien, Meagher and MacManus. The sentence as in their case was commuted to transport for life.
On board the ‘Swift’ which carried him into exile, he kept a record of the chief incidents in the lives of his comrades and himself. “In these interesting notes,” Father Cullen wrote “we get glimpses of the exiles while studying the Greek and Latin classics, reading the masterpieces of English literature, at their devotions, or conversing about their beloved country. The writer himself loved the Sermon on the Mount and the Epistle of St. James; he read the Book of Maccabees to O’Meagher and MacManus; the times they were free every day for religious exercises they gave up to prayer and meditation. At less serious moments the had Irish reels and Scotch jigs.”
O’Donoghue endured more hardships that any of the political prisoners in Van Diemen’s Land. In Hobart Town, where he was permitted to reside, he tried to secure employment in a solicitor’s office, but failed to secure a position. He was in very poor circumstances, and offers of a home were made to him by Fathers Therry and Dunne and by John Regan. Bishop Willson gave orders that his house was to be open to him at all times and in a letter almost begged him to accept his hospitality for a few months. O’Donoghue “could not be the recipient of other men’s bounty,” and refused all offers of assistance. He started a weekly paper called ‘The Irish Exile’ in Hobart Town. Mitchel strongly disapproved of the project and Meagher and Martin tried to dissuade O’Donoghue from starting it. O’Donoghue said that this was the only channel open to him for the realisation of an honourable livelihood, and that he was bound to avail himself of it, regardless of all other considerations.
The first number of ‘The Irish Exile’ appeared on the 26th January 1850, and the paper for a time appears to have been successful. It contained articles of Irish history, several patriotic poem, and a series of papers on the Repeal movement contributed by John Martin. The tone of the paper, which was aggressively Irish, aroused the wrath of Sir William Denison, the anti-Irish Governor; and certain place-hunters, circulated statements that the Editor’s patriotism had not been put to the test in Ireland, that the other exiles would not associate with him, and that his conduct was calculated to make them blush with shame. These statements elicited strong testimonies to O’Donoghue’s patriotism from three of his colleagues.
“I know not one amongst us,” Mitchel wrote, “who engaged in our felony with a truer and more disinterested devotion that you, or more gallantly periled and lost his all.”
Martin wrote: “Among the many Irish patriots proscribed within the last two years, I know none more entirely devoted to out holy cause than yourself. You have sacrificed your property and family affections, and you offered your life in that cause.” Meagher also paid an eloquent tribute to O’Donoghue’s patriotism.
With O’Doherty and MacManus, O’Donoghue was sent to a convict station, compelled to wear convict dress and to work with chain gangs for going outside the district assigned to him. After the expiration of his sentence at the end of March 1851, he was returned to Hobart Town, where on renewing his parole for six months, he was ordered to leave the city within a week and reside in the interior. He decided to go to Richmond as the guest of Father Dunne, but Denison commanded that the prisoner go to Oatlands, where as O’Donoghue stated he “could starve at leisure” ‘The Irish Exile’ then ceased publication. There is a copy of the paper in the National Library in Dublin.
In September O’Donoghue withdrew his parole and made an unsuccessful attempt to escape. He afterwards, on renewing his parole a, became the guest of Father Butler at Launcestown, and for a time was comparatively happy. He got into trouble again when he threatened to publish certain information about an official who had made an uncomplimentary reference to Charles Gavan Duffy. Denison sent O’Donoghue to the Cascades Penal station, once more to wear prison garb, to herd within criminals and work in the chain gangs for three months. On the 1st November 1852, he was ordered to return to Launceston. He disappeared on the way. His friends had determined that the unfortunate prisoner would be free from the malignity of the Governor.
For six weeks O’Donoghue remained in concealment, and on the 19th December, 1852, he was stowed away on the Yarra Yarra. Three days later he reached Melbourne, and after a time reached San Francisco. He died on the 22nd of January 1854. These passages are from the obituary notice written by John Mitchel in his paper, the ‘Citizen’, on the 28th January 11854.
“One victim of English ‘justice’ has found rest in the grave. Patrick O’Donoghue died in Brooklyn after five days illness, on Sunday morning last (22nd January); and it is sad to relate that on that very evening his wife and daughter arrived in New York too late to see him alive. Every since his removal from his home and family, under a fraudulent pretence of trial and conviction, nearly six years ago, his life has been a wild and varied one – now editing a newspaper in Hobart town, now cutting timber with the convict gangs in Port Arthur, now living penniless in Launcestown, and goaded almost to madness by the mean persecution of English officials.
He was of an ardent and excitable temperament originally, and that was what drove him to the hills of Tipperary, pike in his hand, in the train of O’Brien. The same warm temperament made him affectionate to his friends, bitter against those whom he believed his enemies; and if that excitable disposition, stung by insolent injustice, ever hurried him into error, we lay his errors, and we lay his blood at the door of the Liberal and ameliorative statesmen of England. If the day of retribution come in our time, and we believe it will, the name of O’Donoghue shall be heard of in England yet. His wife, we have reason to know, is in very poor circumstances, and the raising of a fund for her support will be the first thought of his fellow-countrymen in America.”
A fund was raised for the widow and daughter, with John Kavanagh as Chairman of the organising committee, and Michael Doheny was one of the secretaries.
In the appeal issued for subscriptions it was stated:
“He was improvident, reckless, perhaps, of his means; reckless assuredly of his life. He was not one of those the world calls great and gifted, but his courage and devotion to a desperate cause at a desperate crisis were undoubted, were unsurpassed ; no one questions them.
……….If he had faults let them lie with him. He was lowered into a deep, deep grave in a strange land. He had few mourners; the prosperous and the proud are seldom seen in the funeral cortege of the poor.”