By Dymphna Lonergan
Part I of this feature was published in Tinteán in April 2018
The Irish Exile and Freedom’s Advocate was a brief but potent manifestation in print in early colonial Australia of the fight for Irish freedom. The first edition carried its manifesto:
The Irish Exile and Freedom’s Advocate will contain original and select Poetry,– Literary Reviews – Copious extracts from English and Irish History – Local Police Intelligence – The earliest Irish News – answers to Correspondents, etc.
That first edition included the poem ‘The Exile of Erin’, an appropriate title, which began
There came to the beach a poor Exile of Erin;
The dew on his thin robe was heavy and chill;
For his country he sigh’d, when at twilight repairing,
To wander alone by the wind-beaten hill.
But the day-star attracted his eyes sad devotion;
For it rose o’er his own native isle of the ocean,
Where once in the fire of his youthful emotion,
He sung the bold anthem of Erin-go-Bragh.
The words ‘Erin-go-Bragh’ occur in the last line of each verse as a refrain. The phrase is glossed as ‘Ireland forever’. In the final line of the poem the Irish language words, Erin Mavournin, Erin-go-bragh, are italicised as well as glossed. The phrase Erin Mavournin is glossed as ‘Ireland my darling’. When the phrase mo mhúirnín is anglicized, it is written as mavourneen; the suffix een representing the Irish language suffix of diminution, ín. It is interesting that the word in ‘The Exile of Erin’ is given the Irish language ending in and not the anglicized een .We could assume therefore, that the average reader of The Irish Exile would have been familiar with the pronunciation of this word and its general appearance in print in Irish orthography. The poem ‘The Irish Exile’ is accredited to ‘Campbell’. It was repeated in the following edition of the newspaper.
Thomas Davis, the founder of the Nation, was a prolific poet, producing vigorous and well-crafted ballads at the rate of one a week. Davis saw in the popular ballad the power to raise political awareness. His ‘The Flower of Finae’ appeared in the Irish Exile on 8 June 1850. Sub-titled ‘A Brigade Ballad’, a lament by a young girl for her lover away fighting with the Irish Brigade. It reads in part:
He fought at Cremona – she hears of his story;
He fought at Cassano –she’s proud of his glory,
Yet sadly she sings “Shule Aroon” all the the day,
“Oh, come, come, my darling, come home to Finae”.
Lord Clare on the field of Ramilles is charging–
Before him, the Sassanach squadrons enlarging–
Behind him the Cravats their sections display;
Beside him rides Fergus and shouts of Finae
The phrase ‘shule aroon’ (IG siúl a rún, ‘walk my love’) is a well-known ballad refrain. It is not glossed here, nor is the word Sassanach, ‘English’, which has been used extensively in the English of Ireland and Scotland as a derogatory term for England, the conquering nation.
The June 8, 1850 edition of the Irish Exile also contains a piece of ‘Original Poetry’ ‘sent to us for insertion by one of the staunchest Irishmen on this soil’. This person is only identified as ‘T.O’C.’. The poem is untitled and is another poem of exile, exemplified in these verses:
When I sailed from the land that was dear to my youth,
I might ask of my heart how it fares;
I could question my soul if its pillow was smooth,
Or its mind were unraised with cares.
But my heart’s hopeless care, and my sad soul could say,
That their inward affections were sore.
Ah, but wild was my grief, when I hastened away,
and banished from Erin ma Store.
The term Erin ma Store (Ir. Éirinn mo stór) is asterixed and is glossed ‘Ireland my dear’.
The poem ‘Fag a Bealac’ from the 7 December edition of that year is another nationalist one urging the Irish to rise up against England, as evidenced in the following verse
Know, ye suffering brethren ours,
Might is strong, but right is stronger;
Saxon wiles or Saxon powers
Can enslave our land no longer,
Than your own dissensions wrong her:
Be ye one in might and mind –
Quit the mire where Cravens wallow –
And your foes shall flee like wind
From your fearless FAG A BEALAC!
The poem is preceded by an explanation:
Fag a Bealac, “Clear the road!” commonly but erroneously spelt Faugh a Belagh, was the cry with which the clans of Connaught and Munster used in faction fights to come through a fair with high hearts and smashing shillelahs. The regiments in the South and West took their old shout with them to the Continent.
This paragraph appears to have been adapted slightly in Australia from the footnote that appeared under the poem ‘Fag a Beallach’ as it appeared in the collection The Spirit of the Nation. The Irish footnote began:
Fag an Bealach, “Clear the road”, or, as it is vulgarly spelt, Faugh a Ballagh…
These nationalist poems appeared first in the Nation newspaper and were then collected and issued in two parts in 1843 and 1845. These were then reprinted in a single edition in 1882. The calling to attention of the anglicisation of this Irish phrase may be seen as a political statement. The author is clearly taking exception to the downgrading of this Irish language phrase.
In November 1850, the comic poem ‘Devil May Care’ was printed. It is a satirical poem on how the English might view the Irish peasant as someone not to be taken seriously. The implication in the poem is that this approach to the Irish has led to an underestimating of the extent of suffering the Irish experienced in the Great Famine of the 1840s:
Musha, “Queen of the Sea” is it true what they say
All about the grand “speeching” you had t’other day,
About Ireland, and Dan, and Repeal? – I declare
I think you were bullied; but devil may care,
They shan’t bully Paddy – so devil may care.
But Paddy a “case” of his own has just now,
So off goes my “Caubeen,” and here’s my best bow;
My belly is empty, my back is all bare
I’m hungry and naked; but devil may care.
GOOD TIMES are approaching – so devil may care
“Acushla Machree” we are wounded and sore
So bad that we cannot endure it much more,
A cure we must have though the Saxons may stare
And “curse like a trooper,” but devil may care,
“Sinn Fein” is our watch–word – so devil may care
The refrain ‘devil may care’ is Irish English, aligned with the Irish language phrase ní miste liom sa diabhal, ‘I don’t give a damn’, but which means literally, ‘I don’t care in the devil’. Anglicized Irish words in the verses above include musha (Ir. muise), caubeen (Ir. caibín), and acushla machree (Ir. a cuisle mo chroí). These are stock words and phrases associated with the peasantry. The words are not glossed in this poem because this would be counterproductive, elevating the language when the purpose is to debase. Significantly the words Sinn Fein are glossed (‘ourselves alone’) because these words serve as the rebuttal for the satirical self-deprecation in the poem. The simple and lowly Irish peasantry are playing the sycophant and will rise up some day. The words sinn féin in a political sense refer to an approach to revolution that eschews cooperation with those in power in Britain. In 1907 Sinn Féin became the name of a political party, which was defeated by the new Fianna Fáil party in 1927 and re-emerged in the 1970s as the name for the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.
Most of the ‘literature’ occurring in the Irish Exile is extracts from William Carleton’s short stories. William Carleton was an Irish-speaking peasant who exemplified ‘the transition from an oral culture into a print-based literary one’. This extract from the Irish Exile of August 3 1850 ‘is an example of Carleton’s style
‘Musha, Tim’ said Barney…bud I dunna what to think ov the masther to-night at all…He niver was so long athout movin’ or stirrin’ wid restlessness like…don’t you remimber…when we wor walkin’ quickly up the boreen to the big house…my life wouldn’t be worth a du dhogue
The Irish language words are glossed as ‘avenue’ and ‘pinch of snuff’. The translation of ‘avenue’ for boreen is interesting because the word bóthairín literally means ‘a small road’. The Irish language does not have a specific word for the ‘avenue’ that would have led up to a Big House in nineteenth century Ireland.
We can speculate on what effect the Irish Exile newspaper would have had on its readers. Certainly the poetry in the form of ballads of exile and lament would have mirrored the feelings of some Irish emigrants, and no doubt also of the Irish convict population. The newspaper’s intent, however, was not simply to tap into the sentiments of Irish exiles in Australia. This is evidenced in the 26 October 1850 edition, which reprinted an article from Dublin’s the Nation on how to conduct guerrilla warfare. This information included how to make lead bullets, how to break down and rebuild bridges, how to make a window grenade (using a kitchen pastry roller), how to preserve polished arms in a damp or underground position and how to make a pike auxiliary, after the fashion of the old Celtic skene. Reprinted in a newspaper edited by a convict in Van Diemen’s Land, this represented, at the least, misplaced nationalism, and must have caused a great deal of alarm among the authorities, presuming that the paper was read by them. Perhaps it is no coincidence that following this article on guerrilla warfare O’Donohue’s editorship of the Irish Exile lasted only two more months. Although the newspaper continued under a temporary editor until April 1851 while O’Donohue was in prison, Governor Denison ‘forced the paper out of existence’ by ordering O’Donohue to reside at Oatlands.
For Patrick O’Donohue the Irish Exile served the purpose of allowing him to fulfil his ticket-of-leave condition of supporting himself. Through the Irish Exile he also maintained the link with Ireland and the struggle for independence. The Irish Exile was also a vehicle in providing support for fellow Young Irelanders. For example, as well as strongly condemning the prison conditions affecting William Smith O’Brien when he was incarcerated on Maria island, it reported the punishment allotted to Young Irelander John O’Doherty, blaming Governor Denison for O’Doherty being ‘treated with the utmost cruelty, being classed in a punishment, or hard labour gang, among the very flower of convict society on Tasman’s Peninsula’. The Irish Exile: Freedom’s Advocate’s first editor, Patrick O’Donohue, served three months in Port Arthur, was released and reimprisoned, having resigned his ticket-of-leave. He finally succeeded in escaping to America in 1852, where he died two years later.