Joseph Brenan, Young Irelander

The Young Ireland movement was started by young Irish revolutionaries who believed Daniel O’Connell was not doing enough. The Young Irelanders advocated the use of force if necessary, a step Daniel O’Connell long resisted. In 1846, the Young Irelanders seceded from O’Connell’s Repeal Association. Among those early rebels were William Smith O’Brien, Thomas Francis Meagher, future commander of the New York 69th Irish Brigade and John Mitchel, future Confederate States of America supporter. I have previously written about Mitchel here.

Joseph Brenan, born in Cork city in 1828, also supported the Young Ireland movement. Brenan found inspiration in John Mitchel’s writings. The Young Irelanders organized a brief uprising in 1848. It was short-lived, but it scared the British authorities immeasurably. The firefight at Widow McCormack’s house occurred on July 29, 1848. Michael Nolan, an Irish native who had emigrated to New Orleans, then returned to his former home County Tipperary in August, 1848. 118 Young Irelanders were arrested in the days after the fight at McCormack’s house. Joseph Brenan was one of those arrested. Upon his release in 1849, he returned to his work for the Dublin Irishman, a militant nationalist newspaper. It was the Irishman that later published a lengthy obituary for Michael Nolan when he was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. See my prior post on Michael Nolan here.

Cappoquin

In September, 1848, some of the Young Irelanders, including Brenan, made plans to launch an uprising in Cappoquin, County Waterford. Brenan and Michal Cavanaugh, launched an attack with pikes and firearms on the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks. One of the rebels was killed and one of the constables was piked to death. The rebels were repulsed, after which they retreated. The band then proceeded to Dungarvan, where the constables were cooperative. The British then sent the 7th Fusiliers Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers to Cappoquin. The rebels remained active for another two weeks, at which time they abandoned their efforts. The leaders were not arrested. The British only managed to arrest some of the participants. Brenan and Cavanaugh and others fled to America. [1]

An Exile’s

Brenan first came to New York and worked for Horace Greeley on the Tribune. In October, 1851, now married, he moved to New Orleans to work on the New Orleans Daily/Weekly Delta, published by Denis Corcoran. He published one of his poems titled “An Exile’s Dream.” That poem ends with this stanza:

I will seize my pilgrim staff and cheerily wander forth

From the smiling face of the South to the black frown of the North;

And in some hour of twilight, I will mount the tall Slievebloom,

And weave me a picture-vision in the evening’s pleasant gloom;

I will call up the buried leaders of the ancient Celtic race,

And gaze with a filial fondness on each sternly noble face –

The masters of the mind, and the chieftains of the steel,

Young Carolan and Grattan, the McCaura and O’Neill;

I will learn from their voices, with a student’s love and pride,

To live as they lived, and to die as they died.

Oh, I’ll sail from the West, and never more will part

From the ancient home of my people – the land of the loving heart.

The Slieve Bloom mountains are in central Ireland.

Escape from Van Dieman’s Land

Brenan became one of the leading Irishmen in New Orleans. He was President of a Committee that organized a welcome reception for John Mitchel after he escaped the penal colony in Australia. Mitchel came to New Orleans in 1853. Brenan helped organize a similar reception for Thomas Francis Meagher when he also escaped the same penal colony. Meagher came to New Orleans in 1852. Meagher was received by the leading persons in New Orleans at the time: W.C.C. Claiborne, Barnard Marigny, Judah Benjamin, and by the leading Irishmen of the day: Maunsel White, J.C. Prendergast, and others.[3]

An Ardent Secessionist

In 1853, Brenan contracted the yellow fever in one of the worst epidemics to hit the Crescent City. The treatment for the illness left him partially blind. Brenan loved the South. In March, 1857, he stated a new newspaper, to be known as the Daily Times. The journal would focus on Southern interests, literature, and criticisms. Walter Hopkins, another former editor for the Delta assisted him. Brenan by this time had become an ardent secessionist. [4]

Brenan published a poem titled “A Ballad for the Young South.” The first stanzas went as follows:

Men of the South! Our foes are up

In fierce and grim array;

Their sable banner laps the air

An insult to the day!

The saints of Cromwell rise again,

In sanctimonious hordes,

Hiding behind the garb of peace

A million ruthless swords

[5]

In early May, 1857, he became ill. The treating physician reported that he would not recover. On May 28, 1857, the eloquent Irish patriot died of “consumption.” Joseph Brenan was described as an “esteemed friend” by the redoubtable J.C. Prendergast, Irish editor of the Daily Orleanian. Prendergast remarked that those best loved by God often die young. Prendergast lamented the loss of one so intelligent and so skilled with words. The young Brenan was buried in the old cemetery known as St. Louis. [6]

Brenan appears to have had some connection to the Crescent Dramatic Association. That amateur theater group put on a performance to raise money for Brenan’s widow and four children. The performance was held in a large venue, the Gaiety Theater. [7]

See Brenan’s entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography here.

Notes:

[1] Anthony M. Breen, “Cappoquin and the 1849 Movement, History Ireland Issue 2 (Summer, 1999), vol. 7

[2] New Orleans Weekly Delta, Dec. 28, 1851, p. 6, col. 4; Dictionary of Irish Biography, entry regarding Joseph Brenan

[3] New Orleans Daily Picayune, Dec. 11, 1853, p. 4, col. 3; New Orleans Weekly Delta, July 4, 1852, p. 7, col. 1

[4] Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, March 19, 1857, p. 2, col. 3

[5] Bryan McGovern, “Young Ireland and Southern Nationalism” Irish Studies Issue 2, Article 5 (Celtic Studies, Kennesaw State Univ. 2016)

[6] Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, May 11, 1857, p. 2, col. 3; New Orleans Daily True Delta, May 29, 1957, p. 1, col. 2; New Orleans Daily Orleanian, May 29, 1857, p. 1, col. 1

[7] New Orleans Sunday Delta, June 14, 1857, p. 4, col. 1

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