Edited By Larry Scallan
John Haltigan was a prominent figure in the Irish nationalist revolutionary movement in the two decades following the collapse of the “Young Irelander” 1848-49 revolution and the ending of the famine in Ireland. He was one of the founding members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and devoted his entire life to the struggle for Irish independence, including internment in English prisons for three and one half years. The IRB was the Irish counterpart to the US based Fenian Brotherhood, a secret oath based organization, created to fight for Ireland’s independence from British rule. John O’Mahony the founder of the Fenian Brotherhood in the U.S. was a Gaelic scholar and he took the name after the “Fianna,” mythical warriors in ancient Ireland who lived apart from society and could be called upon in time of war. Soon both wings were to be characterized as the “Fenian” Movement, and members “Fenians.”
John was born on April 23, 1819 in the city of Kilkenny, County Kilkenny, Ireland. Family records show his father James was an Irish born soldier serving in the English army, and his mother Margaret Haltigan (nee Jackman), a native of Manchester, England. Baptismal records from St. Mary’s parish church in Kilkenny show that during the 1820’s and 1830’s John lived with his family of five brothers and four sisters on a small farm type of residence on Upper Patrick Street in Kilkenny.
Little information is known concerning John’s formative and teen age years growing up in the “marble city”. At some point, he was apprenticed to the printing trade and learned the craft that his sons and grandsons in America were also to follow in. In 1845 at the age of 26, he married Catherine Keating, a Kilkenny native also 26 years old. A son James was born in 1847 and another son John in 1849. Throughout his life John was to maintain a very close connection to his eldest son James, who also followed in his father’s footsteps, learning the printing trade. As will be seen, James although from the shores of America, made many significant contributions of his own to the cause of Irish independence and Irish-American history.
At the 1850 mid-century point, John was 30 years old and married with two children. Dark days were upon Ireland with the terrible famine at its height and the “Young Irelander” 1848/49 revolutionary movement to free Ireland from British rule having been a dismal failure. There is some evidence such as census reports and ship manifests that suggest that his brothers Thomas and James and/or their young sons may have immigrated to America around this time. John himself however maintained a stable life with his family, having risen through the ranks and was employed as a foreman printer for the Kilkenny Journal newspaper. Denieffe, in his book Recollections of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, states that in his visit to Kilkenny in 1855, he found John “in good circumstances owning a nice little farm on the borders of the town. His wife, like himself was a good sincere nationalist, whose counsel infused prudence and courage into many. He had two fine greyhounds and we went hunting every Sunday to the Tullaburn mountains where he knew a great many men of the right stamp, all of whom he initiated into our movement.”
Although the Young Irelander movement and the revolutionary activity of 1848-49 to rid Ireland of English rule did not achieve its goal of an Irish Republic, there is no question that John as a young man in his late twenties was well aware of and absorbed the revolutionary, nationalist writings and speeches of legendary Irish leaders of the era, Francis Meagher, Devin Reilly, John Mitchel, Smith O’Brien and others in The Nation newspaper and elsewhere. Dr. Robert Cane as well as James Stephens, both Kilkenny natives were associates of his and had played minor roles in the 1848 uprising. Young Irelander veteran and fellow Fenian, John Savage in his 1868 book, Fenian Heroes and Martyrs states that “Haltigan identified himself with Irish nationality from youth.”
Of upmost significance for the future however, a New York City based tailor named Joseph Denieffe, a strong Irish Nationalist was also a native of Kilkenny. In the summer of 1855 journeyed to Ireland as a representative of the Emmet Monument Association (EMA). The EMA was an American organization of mostly Irish immigrants sworn to fight for Ireland’s independence. Michael Doheny, John O’Mahony, and Michael Corcoran were the principle organizers. The EMA would evolve several years later into the Fenian Brotherhood.
Denieffe’s mission on behalf of the EMA was to establish contacts in Ireland, build up nationalist sentiment and prepare and lay the groundwork for what was expected to be an early movement by the EMA to invade and liberate Ireland from the British. No such movement took place, but Denieffe’s trip was the real beginning of an organized effort to revitalize and spread the revolutionary movement in Ireland. Denieffe first visited his hometown city and then met with John Haltigan, who in turn introduced him to Dr. Cane and many other nationalists in Kilkenny and nearby Callan. He later made arrangements and provided information for Denieffe to establish contacts and meet with many nationalists in Dublin. This early groundwork provided by Haltigan and others would result in the founding on St. Patrick’s day in 1858 of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) under the leadership of James Stephens, a native of Kilkenny who had returned from Europe.
Following the founding of the IRB the recruitment of members began in earnest and the oath bound secret brotherhood of individual cells was built up throughout Ireland. John Haltigan, now approaching forty years of age, was appointed “Head Centre” for Kilkenny and was very active in recruiting members, working for the Kilkenny Journal and responsible for a household that as of January 1859 now included five children. A daughter Elizabeth (Bessie) had been born in July of 1853, a third son Thomas in July of 1856 and a forth son Andrew was born in January of 1859. It is noted that at the baptism of his daughter Elizabeth in July of 1853 the sponsors were John’s sister in-law Mary Keating and Patrick Nowlan. Patrick Nowlan, a cooper, was a very active IRB member from Kilkenny. A son, James Nowlan later was for over twenty years president of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and today the GAA stadium in Kilkenny, Nowlan Park is named for him.
In his role as the Head Centre for the Kilkenny region and as a close associate of IRB leader James Stephens, John Haltigan was actively involved in an event in November 1861 that was to be a major factor in the growth of the IRB and that galvanized nationalist revolutionary sentiment throughout Ireland. The event was the funeral of Terence Bellew MacManus, one of the 1848 leaders whose body had been shipped home for burial from California. Stephens organized a funeral procession, despite the opposition of disapproving British officials as well as high clergy of the Catholic church, drew a crowd of over 25,000 people in a rainstorm who followed the coffin through the streets of Dublin to Glasnevin cemetery. John Haltigan served as one of the four honorary pallbearers.
In the fall of 1863 James Stephens made the crucial decision to go public and he established in Dublin the weekly nationalist newspaper The Irish People, hoping it would serve a role much as The Nation newspaper had done in the mid 1840’s in promoting the nationalist cause. Legendary names in Irish history became associated with the newspaper. Thomas Luby was listed as the registered proprietor. Luby, John O’Leary and Charles Kickham served as joint editors. Jeremiah O’Donavan Rossa was listed as publisher and business manager and James O’Connor as bookkeeper. John Haltigan was the foreman printer for The Irish People. John moved to a boarding house in Dublin, and brought his son James just 16 years old to work also as a printer on the paper as well as several other members of the IRB cell from Kilkenny. He was in receipt of a yearly salary for his work as a printer as well as IRB work entailing travel outside of Dublin. The American civil war was in its third year and just days after President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, the first edition of the weekly Irish People was issued on November 28, 1863.
Along with his job at the newspaper, Haltigan took on the secondary role of organizing and overseeing the drilling and training of IRB recruits from the Dublin area. John Rutherford in his 1877 book The Secret History of the Fenian Conspiracy states “Haltigan superintended the drilling of the brotherhood in Dublin and used to beard the police in the observance of these doings with consummate audacity and insolence.” In November of 1864 a report from the Dublin Metropolitan Police office based on testimony from an informant reported “Haltigan, one of the staff of The Irish People reported to Stephens that there was a policeman watching their drill room at Halston Street and consequently they deemed it advisable to change and they took another place in Island Street where he observed the same policemen watching them there also. Stephens appeared much annoyed about this and ordered Haltigan to have the knife used upon the policeman but not to attempt using it himself as they could not afford to lose such a man.”
As the months rolled by the articles in The Irish People became more strident and provocative. The British authorities in Dublin Castle became more and more concerned and finally with information provided by informers raided the office of the newspaper on the night of September 14, 1865 and arrested all the leaders they could including Haltigan, on charges of treason-felony. In the weeks and months that followed many other Fenian activists were arrested including famed journalist and poet John Boyle O’Reilly, and a young John Devoy, who in later years from his base in America, would prove to be one of the most prominent as well as the most effective of the exiled rebel leaders. On November 27, 1865 in Dublin a British Special Commission was established for the trial of Thomas Clarke Luby, John O’Leary, Michael Moore, O’Donavan Rossa and John Haltigan for Treason-Felony, “The Fenian Conspiracy”. Chief counsel for the defense was the noted Irish barrister Isaac Butt.
The verdict reached in Dublin on December 8, 1865 in the Queen vs John Haltigan was announced as follows:
Clerk of the Crown – “John Haltigan, you have been tried for feloniously compassing to depose the Queen, and to compel her majesty to change her measures, and also to move and stir up foreigners and strangers to invade Ireland. What have you to say why judgment should not be pronounced on you by the Court?”
Prisoner Haltigan – “I have nothing to say my lords”.
Mr. Justice Fitzgerald – “The jury has now found you guilty, and I am bound to say that in that verdict of guilty I concur. It now becomes my painful duty to announce to you the sentence of the law, and it is especially painful in your case, because in the course of it, we have learned that you have a wife and seven children; and it is much to be lamented that, when engaging in this criminal and wicked conspiracy, you did not reflect that in case of your being brought to punishment for it, the real suffers would be your wife and children. —— We recollect too, that you were one of those who were constantly attending the drillings that were going on; and taking all of the circumstances into account, we do not think, wishing as we do to be light upon you, that we should be doing our duty toward the country in imposing a less sentence than that you be kept in penal servitude for a term of seven years.”
Fellow Fenian John Savage in his book Fenian Heroes and Martyrs states that when the verdict was announced “ Haltigan turned around, leaned over the edge of the dock and kissed his son who stood near him – a lad of about sixteen years of age,(18) the eldest of a family of nine – and then he left the dock.
John Haltigan was to be confined under harsh conditions in British prisons at Portland and Pentonville, England. While he was at Pentonville, an Irish nationalist from Cork Jerome Collins was working as a civil engineer for a construction firm doing work at the prison. Collins soon learned of the location of the Fenian cells and was plotting an escape attempt but the plot was discovered and Collins was forced to flee to America. Collins later became the founder in the summer of 1867 of the Clan na Gael (Band of the Irish) the successor organization to the Fenians in America, and like them committed to the forceful overthrow of British rule in Ireland. John’s son James would play a prominent role in the Clan na Gael in America, including serving as its president in 1870.
Following the raid on The Irish People, IRB leader Stephens after a brief arrest escaped and soon fled Ireland. The suspension of habeas corpus, the arrest of numerous leaders, poor planning and the infiltration of numerous informers sent the IRB into decline. In February and March of 1867, armed revolts by IRB members in several cities including Cork, Limerick and Dublin were quickly put down. When Thomas J. Kelly who had replaced Stephens was arrested in Manchester, England an effort to rescue him was successful but in the escape a British police officer was killed. As a result three IRB members, William Allen, Michael Larkin and Michael O’Brien were convicted for the crime and publicly hanged in Manchester on November 23, 1867.
Partly as a result of the wide negative backlash surrounding the “Manchester Martyrs” and also the pleas of the Amnesty Association under Issac Butt, the British began early release of many of the convicted IRB members. On March 4, 1869 John Haltigan, Kickham, O’Connor and several others were given early release. Haltigan, who was now 50 years old, had spent almost exactly three and one half years in confinement. Marcus Burke relates that following the release “In Ireland tumultuous welcomes, marked by defiant and unrepentant speeches particularly by Kickham were the order of the day. On March 15, (1869) Kickham and Haltigan arrived in Kilkenny to find thousands packing the streets of the city which was the birthplace of the founder of the IRB.” Following his release, John now 50 years old, returned to his home and wife Catherine and seven children in Kilkenny. Support for many of the families of imprisoned Fenians came from family and friends, and Catherine was very probably helped in the 1865-69 years in this way, while her husband was confined. Conditions in British prisons, especially for the Fenians, could be extremely harsh, and there is some indications, even referenced on the epitaph on his tombstone, that John was suffering from health issues brought on or acerbated by the conditions he was forced to endure in prison.
John’ son James who was with him as a printer on for the Irish People and was with him in the court room when he was sentenced had fled to America. John Savage in his book Finian Heroes and Martyrs states the following: “The son true to the principles for which his father was exiled – true to the promise made to him in the dock – was indefatigable in his exertions to extend the organization. He traveled throughout the country with messages from the Chief, and in turn was subjected to the vigilance of the police. On the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act he had to secrete himself, and came to America in the winter of 1866-67.”
James would have been 19 years old when he fled to America, settling in New York City, seeking work as a printer in the newspaper business for which he was trained. He was accepted by Typographical Union #6, the forerunner of what became known in the printing union as “The Big Six”. It should be noted that the younger brothers of James, Thomas and Andrew both also later came to America and worked for the Big 6 union. Another brother John worked for the union in Dublin and youngest brother Patrick Haltigan also held a printers union card in Washington, DC. James first worked for the New York Evening Globe where he became active in union affairs and was elected president of the Chapel (union local) before transferring to the Daily News. He continued to be deeply involved in Irish and Irish-American affairs and according to William D’Arcy in his The Fenian Movement in the United States 1858-1886 was President of the secret Clan na Gael organization in 1871. It is around the 1872 time frame that John Haltigan left Kilkenny and came to New York to be with his son. James as the editor and publisher, started his own weekly Irish-American newspaper The Sunday Citizen with his father helping as chief printer and advisor. In 1877, after close to five years in America, John Haltigan returned to Ireland. James next turned his attention to what was to become one of his most enduring legacies, as the editor and publisher of the first Irish-American literary magazine. The Illustrated Celtic Monthly, An Irish American Magazine Devoted to Literature, Music, the Drama and the Arts and Current Affairs was launched in 1879 and was to last until 1884 when because of lack of funding it ceased publication. It was a publication both designed to promote Ireland’s rich literary heritage and also to promote the cause of Irish independence. The writings and poetry of many Irish-American literary figures of the time to include John Boyle O’Reilly, John Locke, John Savage and Patrick Cassidy were published in the magazine.
When the Illustrated Celtic Monthly folded, James returned to the printing trade and in 1890 took a job with the New York World newspaper. He worked at the World for over twenty years, being very active in union affairs, serving as the Chairman of the Chapel for fifteen years, while at the same time remaining very active in Irish and Irish-American political affairs. Perhaps the greatest legacy of James Haltigan was his writing of the book, The Irish in the American Revolution and Their Early Influence in the Colonies The book of over 600 pages was illustrated and was published in 1907. Although sometimes labeled as an example of Hibernocentrism, the book was extensively researched and did counter some of the anti-Irish sentiment that was prevalent at the turn of the century. It is still available and referenced today. Several years after retiring from The World, James died on October 23, 1917 leaving his wife, the former Maria Kitson, sons John and Robert and a daughter Bessie. He is buried in St, Joseph’s cemetery in Yonkers, New York.
John Haltigan in 1877 upon returning to Ireland worked for several years as a printer for the Cork Examiner newspaper. He died in Cork City on July 10, 1884 at the age of 66. The Irish Canadian Newspaper reported that his body was escorted back by train by the Nationalists of Cork and members of the Typographical Society to his native city to be buried in St. Patrick’s cemetery. St. Patrick’s Brass Band of Kilkenny proceeded the cortege through the principal streets and at the conclusion of the funeral ceremonies assembled at the grave and played “God Save Ireland.” The chief mourners who followed the remains were his sons John, Andrew, Patrick and son in law Timothy Lalor.
On July 12, 1884 the Kilkenny Journal reported the following:
Death of Mr. John Haltigan
“Many of the old citizens will hear with regret of the death of Mr. John Haltigan, which occurred on the 10th instant in Cork, where he had been for many years connected with the Cork Examiner. Mr. Haltigan who for a long period was foreman in the Journal Office, took a prominent part in the “67 Movement, and at the celebrated state trials, was with James Stephens, Charles Kickham and the other leaders, sentenced to penal servitude. He was released on the first amnesty, and proceeded to America, where his son occupies a highly respectable position on the American Press, being editor and proprietor of one of the leading journals. Mr. Haltigan was deservedly esteemed by the leaders of 67 for his thorough honesty of purpose and fidelity to the cause. May he rest in peace.”
On July 19, 1884 the Journal reported that “On Thursday evening last a circular-convened meeting of the trades of this city was held in the Athenaeum for the purpose of furthering the very laudable object of the erection of a monument over the grave of the late Mr. Haltigan, whose unflinching and uncompromising conduct in connection with the 67 movement secured for him a place in the hearts of the people, which none other than a self-sacrificing love of country could have won for him.”
A large Celtic cross was erected at the grave of John Haltigan and the inscription on the large base reads as follows:
Erected to the memory of John Haltigan by the Nationalists of Kilkenny who have known him to make a lifelong struggle for Ireland’s freedom for which crime British law, aided by the informer Nagle, consigned him to a living tomb where the fiendish torture of years shattered his vigorous form but failed to subdue his noble spirit. May his unselfish patriotism be imitated until Ireland is once again a Nation.
John’s wife Catherine, who died in January of 1899, is buried with him. In Kilkenny city there is a street that is named in honor of John, called Haltigan Terrace.
John Haltigan’s youngest son Patrick, was twenty when in 1880 he immigrated to America working first also as a printer for seven years in New York City before moving to Washington to work in the Government Printing Office. He obtained a law degree from Georgetown University and in 1911 was appointed by Democratic Speaker of the House Champ Clark as Reading Clerk of the House of Representatives, a post he held until 1936. On April 6, 1917, he called the roll of members on the resolution declaring war on Germany. He also served as the reading clerk calling the roll of the states at four separate Democratic National Conventions. Patrick was also very active in Irish-American affairs and from 1901 until 1915 he served as the editor and publisher of the Hibernian Digest, the journal of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, (AOH) the largest Catholic Irish fraternal organization. In his national role as an official with the AOH, he was instrumental in helping to erect the statute to Revolutionary Naval Officer Commodore John Barry in Washington, D.C. On behalf of his achievements and those of his father, Patrick was presented with the “freedom” (key) to the city of Kilkenny by the city council when he visited his native city in August of 1925. Patrick J. Haltigan died on July 8, 1937 and was buried in Mt. Olivet cemetery in Washington, D C under a large Celtic Cross tombstone similar to his father.