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Kelly Burke and Shea

The Fighting Irish – Kelly, Burke and Shea

Theobald Wolfe Tone, of Church of Ireland / Protestant extraction, founder of ‘The Society of United Irishmen’ and generally regarded as ‘Father of Irish Republicanism’ was born on 20th June 1763 at 44 Stafford Street, Dublin – present day ‘Wolfe Tone Street’. Captured by British Forces at Lough Swilly, Co. Donegal and found guilty of treason for his part in the failed 1798 rebellion, he died that same year at age 35.

A century later, in 1898 – a significant time for Irish Nationalism, the then newly established ‘1798 Centenary Committee’, amongst whose organisers were ‘Maud Gonne’, ‘James Connolly’, ‘W.B Yeats’ and many others, were anxious to commemorate Wolfe Tone and other Irish patriots from that time – and decided to erect a plaque on Tone’s birthplace. Accordingly, on 15th August 1898 and beginning its journey in Belfast (in many ways the ideological birthplace of Irish Republicanism – where the United Irishmen were formed), the foundation stone was seen by an estimated 100,000 people who lined the streets of Belfast, Newry, Dundalk, Drogheda, Dublin and other towns – on its way to its erection at his Dublin city birthplace.

Two days before the above event James Connolly had published his very first Republican/Socialist newsletter ‘The Workers Republic’. Page one of this publication, one of its first articles written, was an account headed ‘The Fighting Irish’ – which was a trenchant criticism by Connolly … of Irishmen all over the world for fighting in various countries “under any flag, in anybody’s quarrel, in any cause – – – except their own”. Connolly had penned this article after reading a poem published earlier that (1898) year in a New York newspaper by an Irish-American author, poet and newspaperman Joseph I.C. Clarke…titled ‘The Fighting Race’.

Joseph I. (Ignatius) C. (Constantine) Clarke was born on 31st July 1846 in Kingstown, Co. Dublin – present-day ‘Dun Laoghaire’. At age 12 he and his family moved to London and at age 18 he was working as a clerk in the Board of Trade, London. At age 21 (in 1867 – and probably for patriotic reasons) he resigned his position and went to Paris – and after a few months emigrated to New York, USA. There he quickly established himself and soon became a noted journalist and playwright.

Also, within months of arriving in New York he was sworn in as a member of the ‘Fenian Brotherhood’ (later ‘Clan na Gael’) – the sister US-based organisation of its then Irish-based (oat-bound / secret) organisation ‘Irish Republican Brotherhood’ (IRB – dedicated to the establishment of an “independent democratic Irish Republic”).

Within a year he was assistant editor of the New York ‘Irish Times’ and in 1870 he joined the ‘New York Herald’ – eventually serving as its chief editor. In 1883 he became managing editor of the ‘New York Morning Journal’, a position he held until 1895. During this time he wrote his book ‘Robert Emmet: A Tragedy of Irish History’ – published in 1888, it told of Emmet’s life. In 1895 he became editor of the ‘Criterion’, a position he held until 1900. Taking time out to write some books, poems and plays (including ‘Malmorda’ and ‘Lady Godiva’) he then became managing editor of the ‘New York Herald’ (Sunday Edition) in 1903 – a position he held until 1906. After this Clarke spent most of his time writing – his publication ‘Songs of the Celt / The Fighting Race and Other Poems and Ballads’ was first published by American News Co., New York in 1911. However, a note in it states his poem ‘The Fighting Race’ was completed on 16th March 1898 – which months later became the source of James Connolly’s above article!

Note 1: Written about a month after the sinking of the US battleship ‘The Maine’ (named after the N.E. US State of the same name) in Havana Harbour, Cuba and less than four weeks before USA’s declaration of war with Spain (on 11th April 1898 – supporting Cuba’s fight for Independence from Spain!) Clarke’s poem featured three Irishmen ‘Kelly, Burke and Shea’ that lost their lives when ‘The Maine’ sank – Irishmen who had been fighting on the US side in support of the small Cuban island’s fight for Independence against its then existing ‘Spanish master’.

Note 2: Invited by the then 26th President of United States Theodore T.R. Roosevelt (Born 1858, US President 1901 – 1909, Died 1919) to do some readings in the White House on St. Patrick’s Day 1905 Joseph I.C. Clarke duly attended and did so. On completion and after President Roosevelt was seen whispering to a colleague the President requested Clarke to give a rendition of his poem ‘Kelly, Burke and Shea’. Obliging with a rousing rendition clearly President Roosevelt enjoyed it – leading the subsequent applause.

Continuing his writings well into his retirement, including books on Japanese history and a biography of his own life ‘My Life and Memories’ (published 1925) Irish-American Joseph I.C. Clarke, journalist, newspaperman, author, poet, playwright and Irish Nationalist, died in New York City on 27th Feb. 1927 age 80.

Born in his Woodfield, west Cork home in October 1890 Michael Collins was subjected to much Irish Patriotic influences as a child, boy and youth – both at home, at school and in his immediate west Cork neighbourhood. However, of high intellect and an avid reader of books on Irish history, poetry and culture from an early age, a love which he took with him after finishing school and leaving home, he was also much influenced by the many books, novels, poems, newspapers etc. he read – including writings by patriots like Davis, O’Donovan Rossa, Kickham, Banim, Oscar Wilde, Canon Sheehan, James Connolly, Arthur Griffith and countless others.

Not blessed with a singing voice Collins, also a lover of dancing ‘half-sets’ and other such Irish dances at house céilidhs and at other such social occasions, often ‘rose to the occasion’ when challenged to do ‘his party-piece’ at such events – and invariably ‘stole the show’ with a rendition of a poem … one of his favourites being Clarke’s ‘The Fighting Race / Kelly, Burke and Shea’ – – – always performed with tremendous ability and gusto. The following are its words:

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Note: No doubt one of his many, many books in his native Woodfield family home Michael Collins copy of ‘The Fighting Race’ is believed, like most of his other ‘library’, to have been lost when the British ‘Essex Regiment’ burnt down his family’s Woodfield home  April 1920 during the ‘War of Independence’ – Later standing at the ruins of his native family home, a home he was always so attached to (at age 10 he had helped build it!) Collins was very distraught at this occurrence and stated “They knew how to hurt me most”.

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