From the age of 10, John Boyle O’Reilly wrote poetry about nature. However, the need to free Ireland from English rule led him to join the Military and recruit others for a Fenian Rising. This podcast tells how his creative spirit was challenged and drove him to attempt to escape from the worst of England’s prisons. Transported to Western Australia he worked in the bush near Bunbury where he begged authorities to save a majestic Tuart tree and fell in love with a warder’s daughter. With the help of a priest, local Irish settlers and a willing American whaling captain O’Reilly escaped to Boston where he became a successful writer. He never forgot the plight of the oppressed and he never forgot his military companions in Fremantle Prison.
On 10th January 1868, the Irish Fenian political prisoners, are put ashore, and marched to the infamous Imperial Convict Establishment - Fremantle Prison. Some stay inside the walls to work as clerks but most are sent in work parties to quarry for building materials or construct new roads in the torturous Australian sun. They remain united as they protest the draconian conditions, endure solitary confinement for refusing to be separated, and smuggle letters to the growing Amnesty movement in Europe. When the civilian Fenians are pardoned, many leave Western Australia to return to Ireland or move to the USA. They receive a heroes’ welcome from the Irish communities in Adelaide and Sydney, but they don’t forget their companions, the military Fenians, who continue to languish in Fremantle Prison.
The last convict ship to Australia is about to depart. The British Home office need to move quickly to rid Ireland of ‘the Fenian problem.’ Sixty-two of the Fenian political prisoners are moved onto the Hougoumont and sent on an 89 day voyage to the Swan River Colony in Western Australia. After nine months in solitary confinement, these Irish political activists are together again. There’s an unbelievable outburst of creativity with nightly concerts, journals and diaries, seven editions of a newspaper and even a plot to hijack the ship. The voyage is full of surprises.
Who were the Fenians and how did this all start? Listen to the story of the appalling conditions in Ireland in the 1860’s and how they influenced those who had grown up during the Great Hunger to seek justice. Hear the heart wrenching story of Kate Cashman as she searches for her arrested husband Denis. There are tales of betrayal by informers, of hastily organised sham trials of former military men and imprisonment in the worst of England’s jails. Yet, despite their brutal treatment, what drives these men to remain true to their vision?