By: Maureen Jolliffe
There were brave men in their keeping after the abortive July Rising of 1848, and in the song “The Felons”, Dr. John Thomas Campion (who wrote as “The Kilkenny Man”) paid tribute to the loyalty of the people of the Premier County, who refused to betray the Young Ireland leaders for reward. On the head of William Smith O’Brien, there was a reward of £500, and for Michael Doheny, John Blake Dillon, Thomas Francis Meagher, £300 each was the prize. (It was an English Railway guard, Billy Hulme, and a policeman who shared the reward for Smith O’ Brien, after he was arrested at Thurles Railway Station on August 5th 1848). At a conference of the leaders at Boulagh, The Commons, on Friday July 28th 1848, they decided to separate and try and rouse different parts of the country. It was for this reason that Doheny, Blake Dillon, “Meagher of the Sword”, and Thomas Devin Reilly were not present for the disaster at the Widow McCormack’s farmhouse the following day. Terence Bellew McManus and James Stephens remained with Smith O’ Brien.
Thomas Francis Meagher, his friend Patrick O’ Donoghue and Maurice Leyne were heading for the Comeraghs, where Meagher hoped to organise a rallying force. From the windswept village of Ballingarry, high on the southern slopes of the Slieveardagh Hills, the three men made their way towards Carrick-on-Suir, staying on Friday night-in the company of John O’ Mahony-at the house of Hanrahan, near Ninemilehouse, a small village on the high road between Kilkenny and Cork. Dr. Campion’s ballad “The Felons” is intended to describe an incident where Meagher, Leyne (who was Daniel O’ Connell’s grandson) and O’ Donoghue sought shelter. Pat O’ Donoghue was a Dublin law clerk from County Carlow, very active in the Confederate Clubs. Leyne joined Young Ireland at the time of John Mitchell’s trial in late May 1848. Meagher, Leyne and O’ Donoghue remained until the late evening of Saturday July 29th, on Mockler’s Rock, near Carrick, waiting for the return of a messenger they’d sent to Ballingarry, but when he came he misled them with a false report. Saturday night and Sunday were spent on Slievenamon, and there they were joined by Terence Bellew McManus with a true report. Safely conducted over the hills, they found sanctuary for one night at Peafield.
Desperately, they sought to raise the people in different localities. Charles Gavan Duffy would write that Meagher, Leyne and O’ Donoghue “suffered bitter privations” during this time, “sometimes sleeping in old hay-lofts on bundles of straw, and at other times in miserable cabins and once or twice by the ditch-side.” On Sunday, August 6th they were concealed in a house near Cloneyharp where a warning came that two troops of dragoons were conducting a search. The three fugitives hastily retreated into the fields, and it was there that Father O’ Carroll of Clonoulty found them, drenched to the skin and starving. Neighbours took turns in providing accommodation-all knowing the tremendous risk they ran. The three men left Clonoulty late on Saturday August 12th, determined to make one more effort to rally the people. They were arrested in the early hours of Sunday morning near Rathgannon on the road between Clonoulty and Holycross, five miles from Thurles. For Meagher and Pat O’ Donoghue it was the last moment of freedom in Ireland. In October at Clonmel Courthouse, both were sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to transportation for life, but both escaped from Van Dieman’s Land to the United States.
Leyne was never brought to trial, although he remained in prison a long time. He did not live to see the sixth anniversary of the Rising. It was said that whilst he was on his keeping in Co. Tipperary, Thomas Francis Meagher was offered an opportunity to escape, which he refused. His father, Thomas Meagher, M.P., one time Mayor of Waterford, had a yacht off the South-West coast to take the young orator from the Irish shore!