Joseph Denieffe (1833 - 1910)
member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood
Denieffe was born to Michael and Kathleen Denieffe in Kilkenny City, Co.
Kilkenny, Ireland in 1833. Other than a brief reference to a brother and
two sisters in his memoir titled "A personal narrative of the Irish
revolutionary brotherhood, giving a faithful report of the principal
events from 1885 to 1867" there is sparse information
available regarding other siblings, or for that matter, his early
childhood, his family or his schooling.
Regarding his schooling it would be reasonable to assume that he attended one of the
local primary schools that
comprised the Irish
National School System set-up in 1831 as a
result of the passage of
Catholic Relief Act of 1829'(1)
generally referred to as 'Catholic Emancipation'
completing his formal education he started an apprenticeship
in the tailoring trade.
During his childhood years the fervor surrounding the repeal of the Act
of Union of 1801 and the associated monster gathering that he attended
with his father was a learning experience as well as a realization that
all was not well with Ireland's forced union with Britain, a union
wherein Ireland was the much-maligned junior partner, controlled and
governed by the dictates of a London based parliament with little or no
representation or regard for Ireland's working class.
realizations and experiences set the stage for his life's journey.
Denieffe came of age in the 1840's, a tumultuous and tragic period in
Irish history. Bedeviled by the lack of progress by Daniel O'Connell's
Repeal Association dissention and discord took root within its
ranks. Its younger and brightest members, (referred to by O'Connell in
derogatory terms as "Young Ireland") who were associated with The
Nation newspaper seceded from the association after
O'Connell introduced his "Peace Resolutions" declaring that physical
force was immoral under any circumstances to obtain national rights. The
"Peace Resolution" was a ploy by O'Connell to discredit the so-called
"Young Irelanders" who at that time were not advocating militancy as a
means of obtaining national rights. In January of 1847, the seceders,
led by John Shine Lawlor, John Blake Dillon and Charles Gavan Duffy and
Thomas Francis Meagher formed the Irish Confederation.
In 1845, when Denieffe was 12 years old the onset of the Great Hunger(2)
added to the unease and sense of foreboding prevalent throughout the
country. What would be under normal circumstances, a serious but a
manageable development, became a disaster of unimaginable proportion due
to the willful negligence, indifference and callousness of the British
authorities towards the starving millions. By the time the 'Great
Hunger' ended in 1851 over a million men, women and children had died in
a plentiful land and millions of others had taken to the coffin ships to
escape certain death.
Inspired by patriotic articles and poetry appearing in The Nation
newspaper as well as fiery speeches by Meagher and other "Young Ireland"
leaders, Denieffe was amongst the tens of thousands of young Irishmen
who joined the Young Ireland movement at its formation in 1847.
In 1848 a series of revolutions swept the continent of Europe. The first
of these occurred in February in France where people power ended the
reign of Louis Philippe. The news from France gave hope to the Young
Irelanders who had given up on peaceful
means as a way of achieving Repeal of the Union or relief for the
starving people. They set about planning for insurrection.
In March, at a meeting of the Irish Confederation, Meagher championed
the adoption of a message of congratulations to the French people.
Afterwards he read a prepared speech that ended as follows; "If the
government of Ireland insists on being a government of dragoons and
bombardiers, of detectives and light infantry - then up with the
barricades and invoke the God of Battles".
Alarmed by unfolding events in Europe and Ireland the British
government's passed the "Treason Felony Act" to forestall
insurrection in Ireland. Under the new law sedition (treason) would be
punishable by death.
From the onset the planned insurrection was doomed to failure owing to a
number of factors including the arrest of its leaders, the lack of
military expertise, betrayals and, not least, the devastation wrought by
the ongoing Great Hunger.
John Mitchel, was one of the first "Young
Ireland" leaders to be arrested and charged under the Treason Felony
Act. With news of Mitchel’s arrest, William Smith O'Brien and other
Young Ireland leaders took to the hills to avoid capture.
they launched a
series of attacks that eventually petered out in 1849. John O'Mahony
and his band of volunteers were one of the last to cease activities.
Other leaders including William Smith O'Brien, Thomas Francis Meagher,
James Stephens and Terence Bellew MacManus were eventually captured.
After sham trials they were either a sentence of death, tortured in
English prisons or exiled to the infamous prison colony in Van Dieman's
There is no evidence to indicate that Denieffe was involved militarily
in the failed Rising. However, by 1851, dispirited and wary of the
ongoing repressive political situation in Ireland coupled with the
stagnant economy he reluctantly joined the exodus out of Ireland; an
unrelenting exodus of 2.5 million people that continued from the onset
of the Great Hunger in 1845 through the 1850's. The vast majority of
those brave individuals, including Denieffe, came to the United States.
After arriving in the United States he settled in New York City where he
found employment in the tailoring business. In the summer of 1855 he
joined the Emmet Monument Association (EMA) a military styled
organization, ostensibly, organized to erect a monument to Robert Emmet.
The real purpose of the EMA was to organize and train young Irishmen for
a rebellion in Ireland when the opportunity presented itself. The
EMA’s organizers, John O’Mahony and Michael Doheny (former Young
Irelander’s) believed that opportunity would present itself during the
Crimean War (1853 – 1856); a conflict that pitted an alliance of the
British, French and Ottoman Empires against the Russian Empire,
prevent it from taking control of areas of the Caucasus abandoned by the shrinking
Sensing an opportunity to take advantage of Britain’s perceived
vulnerability the EMA held secret meetings with Russians government
representatives, in Washington D.C. to discuss an arrangement wherein
Russian would provide logistical support for an Irish-American led
rising in Ireland. The reasoning was that a rising in
Ireland would stress the British military supply chain by having to
divert men and materials from the Crimean theatre of operations to
Ireland, a development that would help the Russians. However, despite
some early victories, Russia was not able to able to overcome the allied
forces, consequently the tentative arrangement with the EMA did not
Shortly after joining the EMA in June of 1855 Denieffe returned to
Ireland to visit with his father who was gravely ill. Before leaving
the Unites States he met with Doheny, O’Mahony and James Roche who
directed him to organize and recruit foot soldiers as best he could for
a rising in September. After arriving there he met with John Haltigan
who introduced him to other nationalists in Kilkenny town.
Haltigan also arranged meetings for Denieffe with other nationalists in
As a result of these meetings an EMA branch was
organized in Co. Kilkenny whose members included, in addition to
Haltigan and Denieffe, Thomas Clark Luby, Peter Langan and Philip Grey.
Although Denieffe and his fellow members prepared as best they
could for the promised September landing of men, supplies and military
expertise from America they were not at all surprised it did not
materialize knowing that such a grand plan was so dependent on the
conduct and outcome of the Crimean War. In 1856 the EMA was dissolved
and its members released from their pledges.
In the meantime James Stephens who had fled to France to avoid capture
after the failed Young Ireland Rising of 1848 had returned to Ireland
where he undertook a prolonged trek through Ireland meeting with fellow
revolutionaries who were active in the Young Ireland movement. In the
fall of 1857 a messenger arrived from O’Mahony in New York asking
Stephens to setup a sister organization in Ireland to the Fenian
Brotherhood (FB)(3) founded by O’Mahony and Doheny in New York.
In late December of 1857 Denieffe returned to the United States with a
letter from Stephens stating that such an organization would be setup if bankrolled by the FB in the United States. Denieffe returned
to Ireland in March of 1858 with sufficient funds to seed the
organization. On St. Patrick Day in 1858 the Irish Revolutionary
Brotherhood was founded in Dublin by Stephens, Luby
Denieffe, Langan, Charles Kickham, and Garrett O'Shaughnessy.
For the next year Denieffe spent much of his time
recruiting and organizing for the nascent IRB. In March of 1859 he was
summoned to Paris by Stephens with other leaders to bone up on military
affairs. After a four month stay in Paris he returned to Dublin.
After his return to Dublin in the fall of 1959 he set up
a tailoring business that afforded him a good living. Around the same
time he met his future wife, Mary Ann Doyle, whom he later married.
For the following eight years until his final hurried
departure for the United States in 1867 he was a leading figure in
recruiting and organizing for the IRB. A modest and unassuming
individual he managed to remain above suspicion by avoiding the
limelight and by the makeup of his clients he served, which he himself
described as “some of Her Majesty’s most devoted servants”. His
premises in South Ann Street was a safe meeting place for the leadership
of the IRB.
Following the seizure of The Irish People
newspaper by the British authorities in September of 1865 a series of
arrest of IRB leaders, including Denieffe, took place on charges of high
treason. After a few months in jail Denieffe was released on bail
awaiting trial. Due to the sheer number of Fenians awaiting trial
he remained free on bond for up to two years.
During the period he very much involved in the
day-to-day affairs of the IRB and participated in the planning for the
Rising scheduled for the early months of 1867. He was also one of the
trusted leaders made aware of
Stephens planned extraction from the Richmond Bridewell prison in Dublin in
1865 as well as the rescue of Col. Kelly and Deasy from a prison van in
Manchester in September of 1867.
After the military tribunals that tried Irish-born soldiers in the
British army who had taken the Fenian oath ended, and the Special
Commission set up to try IRB leaders, many of whom were Irish-Americans,
completed its task the time had come for the remaining Fenians to face a
hostile Judge and a packed jury. For men such as Denieffe, whose
name had surfaced on numerous occasions during the trials of other
Fenians, it was decision time. Denieffe choose to leave the country
rather than face a predictable guilty verdict and a long prison
sentence. His wife and child whom he left behind joined him later in
the Unites States.
For the rest of his life he lived in The United States. He established a
successful tailoring business in Chicago. He diligently worked for the rest of his life
with John Devoy and others within Clan na Gael to advance the cause of
In the early 1900’s he wrote a series of articles for the New York
newspaper ‘The Gael’ relating to his involvement with the IRB The
articles were later published as a book entitled ‘A Personal Narrative
of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood’, giving a faithful report
of the principal events from 1885 to 1867". ,
Joseph Denieffe died in Chicago, on 20th April, 1910. For all the years
he worked for Irish freedom he did so, for the most part, behind the
scene, never seeking the limelight or claiming credit for his service.
Tomás Ó Coısdealha
Catholic Relief Act of 1829 (Catholic Emancipation) removed many of the
draconian restrictions placed on Catholics by earlier Acts of British
parliaments including the Act of Uniformity, the Test Acts
and the Penal Laws.
Those who benefited mostly from Emancipation
were the Catholic middle classes who were allowed to take seats in the
British parliament, work for the civil service or the judiciary, organs
of the British Administration in Ireland. A case in point was Daniel
O'Connell, who led the Emancipation Campaign, became a member of the
Although the working classes did not fare as well as the middle
classes after emancipation they were able, for the first time in
centuries, to practice their faith and provide their children with a
basic education. However, under regulations set forth by the British
controlled governing body teaching of the Irish language and Irish
history was forbidden. Despite such restriction and other poverty based
obstacles, their children, nonetheless, ranked higher in literacy than
their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales.
In 1861 Mitchel wrote The Last
Conquest of Ireland in which he accused England
of "deliberate murder" for their actions during the 1845
Irish famine. An excerpt from the book reads as follows;
million and a half of men, women and children, were
carefully, prudently, and peacefully slain by the English
government. They died of hunger in the midst of abundance,
which their own hands created; and it is quite immaterial to
distinguish those who perish in the agonies of famine itself
from those who died of typhus fever, which in Ireland is
always caused by famine.
I have called it an artificial famine: that is to say, it
was a famine which desolated a rich and fertile island, that
produced every year abundance and superabundance to sustain
all her people and many more. The English, indeed, call that
famine a ‘dispensation of Providence;’ and ascribe it
entirely to the blight of the potatoes. But potatoes failed
in like manner all over Europe; yet there was no famine save
in Ireland. The British account of the matter, then, is
first, a fraud - second, a blasphemy. The Almighty, indeed,
sent the potato blight, but the English created the
3. The United States based Fenian Brotherhood was a direct successor to the
EMA as was Clan na Gael to the Fenian Brotherhood.
cemetery AND grave location
NAME: Calvary Cemetery
Plot: Section S, Block 43, Lot S5
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