Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/O'Leary, John

O'LEARY, JOHN (1830–1907), Fenian journalist and leader, born in Tipperary on 23 July 1830, was eldest son of John O'Leary, a shopkeeper of that city, by his wife Margaret Ryan. His sister Ellen is separately noticed. He inherited small house property in Tipperary. After education at the Erasmus Smith School in his native town, he proceeded to Carlow school. At seventeen he entered Trinity College, Dublin, intending to join the legal profession. While he was an undergraduate he was deeply influenced by the nationalist writings of Thomas Davis [q. v.], and he frequently attended the meetings of the Irish Confederation. He became acquainted with James Finton Lalor [q. v.] and the Rev. John Kenyon, two powerful advocates of the nationalist movement. He threw himself with ardour into the agitation of 1848, and taking part in an attack on the police known as the 'Wilderness affair,' near Clonmel, spent two or three weeks in Clonmel gaol. On discovering that he could not become a barrister without taking an oath of allegiance to the British crown, he turned to medicine, and entered Queen's College, Cork, in January 1850, as a medical student. In 1851 he left Cork and went to Queen's College, Galway, where he obtained a medical scholarship and distinguished himself in examinations. While he was in Galway he contributed occasionally to the 'Nation,' but he left the city in 1853 without passing his final examination. He spent the greater part of the following two years in Dublin, and was then in Paris for a year (1855-6).

Meanwhile O'Leary had fully identified himself with the advanced Irish section under John Mitchel [q. v.]. In Paris he made the acquaintance of John Martin [q. v.], Kevin Izod O'Doherty [q. v. Suppl. II], and other Irishmen of similar views. Returning to Dublin, he came to know the Fenian leaders James Stephens [q. v. Suppl. II] and Thomas Clarke Luby [q. V. Suppl. II], who formed the Fenian organisation called the Irish Republican Brotherhood on St. Patrick's Day, 17 March 1858 (Recollections, i. 82).

O'Leary was still irregularly studying medicine, and although he aided in the development of the Fenian movement, and was in sympathy with its aims, he was never a sworn member of the brotherhood. His younger brother Arthur, who died on 6 June 1861, however, took the oath. John frequently visited Stephens in France, and with some hesitation he went to America in 1859 on business of the organisation. In New York in April 1859 he met John O'Mahony [q. v.] and Colonel Michael Corcoran [q. v.], as well as John Mitchel and Thomas Francis Meagher [q. v.]. He contributed occasional articles to the 'Phoenix,' a small weekly paper published in New York, the first avowedly Fenian organ.

In 1860 O'Leary returned to London. The Fenian movement rapidly grew, although its receipts were, according to O'Leary, wildly exaggerated (Recollections, p. 135). During its first six years of existence (1858–64) only 1500l. was received; from 1864 to 1866, 31,000l.; and from first to last, a sum well under 100,000l. O'Leary watched the growth of the movement in London between 1861 and 1863.

In 1863 he was summoned to Dublin to become editor of the 'Irish People,' the newly founded weekly journal of Fenianism, which first appeared on 28 Nov. 1863. O'Leary's incisive style gave the paper its chief character. The other chief contributors were Thomas Clarke Luby and Charles Joseph Kickham [q. v.]. Cardinal Cullen [q. v.] and the catholic bishops warmly denounced the Fenian movement and its organ, and O'Leary and his colleagues replied to the prelates defiantly. Bishop Moriarty declared that 'Hell was not hot enough nor eternity long enough' to punish those who led the youth of the country astray by such teaching. After nearly two years the paper was seized on 14 Sept. 1865 by the government. O'Leary, Kickham, Luby, O'Donovan Rossa (the manager), and other leading Fenians were arrested. An informer named Pierce Nagle, who had been employed in the office of the paper, gave damaging evidence, and O'Leary and others were sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment. He was released after nine years, chiefly spent in Portland. A condition of the release was banishment from Ireland, and he retired to Paris. There he cultivated his literary tastes, and became acquainted with Whistler and other artists and literary men. In 1885 the Amnesty Act enabled him to settle again in Dublin, where his sister Ellen kept house for him till her death in 1889 and where his fine presence was very familiar. Mainly encouraged by his friends, he devoted himself to writing his reminiscences. The book was published in 1896 under the title of 'Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism.' The work proved unduly long and was a disappointment to his admirers. His critical treatment of his associates seemed to belittle the Fenian movement. To the end of his life he pungently criticised modern leaders, and especially various manifestations of the agrarian movement, while retaining his revolutionary sympathies. In the Irish literary societies of Dublin and London he played a prominent part, but chiefly occupied himself till his death in reading and book collecting.

He died at Dublin unmarried on 16 March 1907, and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery, where a Celtic cross has been placed over his grave. His books, papers, and pictures were bequeathed by him to the National Literary Society of Dublin, which transferred the first portrait of him by John B. Yeats, R.H.A., to the National Gallery of that city. He published, besides his 'Recollections,' the following pamphlets : 'Young Ireland, the Old and the New' (Dublin, 1886), and 'What Irishmen should Read, What Irishmen should Feel' (Dublin, 1886); and he also published a short introduction to 'The Writings of James Finton Lalor,' edited by the present writer in 1895. The article on John O'Mahony in this Dictionary was written by him.

[Recollections of O'Leary, 1896; Ireland under Coercion, by Hurlbert, 2 vols. 1888; O. Elton, Life of F. York Powell, 1906; Sullivan's New Ireland; Richard Pigott's Recollections of an Irish Journalist, 1882; Irish press and London Daily Telegraph, 18 March 1907; personal knowledge and private correspondence of O'Leary in present writer's possession;]

D. J. O'D.