NY Obits - New York Daily Tribune - March 30, 1901 - James Stephens

James Stephens is Dead

He led the Fenians Who Attempted to Invade Canada in 1866 - His Escape from Prison in Dublin

Dublin, March 29 - James Stephens, the well-known Fenian and leader of the 1866 movement, died here this morning.

James Stephens was the principal organizer of the series of attempts made by the Fenians between 1865 and 1867 to secure the independence of Ireland by open rebellion. he was known as the Central Organizer of the Irish Republic - more popularly as "Head Centre."

Stephens was born in Kilkenny in 1823, and after taking part in the agitation of 1848 came to this country. In 1863, at a convention held in this city, the fenian Association was organized with Stephens as its head. Plans were begun to raise an army in Ireland for the recovery of that country's independence. Stephens went home for this purpose but on his arrival in Ireland, in 1865, he was arrested by the British authorities. He was imprisoned at Dublin but on Nov 24 of the same year he made an extremely clever escape from Richmond Jail. The fact that two of the employees of the prison were Fenians enabled him to gain his freedom.

Stephens remained in hiding in Dublin for some time, but through the ingenuity of Thomas Kelly and John Flood all three boarded a sailing vessel in the Ringsend Basin and made good their escape from Dublin Bay. They landed at Kilmarnock, Scotland, disguised as fisherman, and, having changed their seafaring clothes for ordinary street attire, took a train for London, and then went to Paris by way of Dover. The boldness of this plan insured their safety, and moreover it was generally understood that Stephens had made his way to America at least six weeks previously.

Stephens did not stay long in Paris. While he was in that city he and his associates determined to take advantage of the intense feeling against Great Britain that existed in this country in consequence of the Alabama depredations, and Stephens landed in New York on May 10, 1866. He secretly completed his plans to invade Canada here, and on May 15, addressed a great meeting of Fenians in this city. The real purpose of his visit was not known publicly till a fortnight later when the whole country was excited by the news that came from the Canada border.

The "war" was a short and inglorious one. Perhaps its end can be told by the headlines in the New York Times on June 4, 1866, as well as in another way. They were as follows:

"The Fenian Folly. End of the invasion of the Niagara Frontier. he who fights and runs away, may live to fight another day. Irish army take to heels in the dark. Most of them get back to the United States. About ?400? of them captured by gunboat. The Canadians secure a few irish pickets."

After the failure of the attempt to invade Canada, Stephens returned to New York and started a plan to invade Ireland from this country. Although a few Irish-Americans actually went across the Atlantic, the scheme was a fiasco, and Stephens dropped gradually out of notice. In recent years he had been living on a fund which was collected for him in this country by Patrick Ford of The Irish World and Michael Davitt. The British Government evidently thought that his career as a leader was ended by the two fiascos which he organized, as it allowed him to return to Ireland.

 

Source: New York Times, March 30, 1901

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