IRISH REBEL: JOHN DEVOY AND AMERICA’S FIGHT FOR IRELAND’S FREEDOM relates the life of John Devoy, whose personal experiences spanned the course of modern Irish history. His grandfathers fought in the 1798 rebellion against England and he was a Fenian rebel during the risings of the 1860’s. After incarceration in English jails, he migrated to the United States, where he became a leader of the Clan na Gael, the most important American organization in providing money and arms to the underground Irish Republican Brotherhood. He lived to see Ireland independent before his death in 1928.
An inflammatory journalist and orator in his advocacy of an Irish Republic, Devoy was also a pragmatic realist. He compromised with republicanism in supporting Charles Stewart Parnell’s home rule movement. In 1916 he supported the Republican Easter Rising, but in 1922 he accepted the Irish Free State and the partition of the island as all that could be obtained at the time. He concluded that Irish unification could not be achieved by force, but only with the eventual support of Northern Ireland’s protestant majority.
Because Devoy never doubted that he knew what was best for the cause of Irish freedom, he made numerous enemies, even among those sympathetic to the cause. He met his match in 1919 when Eamon De Valera, putative head of the newly proclaimed Irish Republic, came to America seeking United States recognition and funds. De Valera’s ignorance and hubris created disastrous rifts in the Irish community, both in America and when he returned to Ireland, and Devoy, a good hater, never forgave him.
In this first major study of Devoy, Terry Golway’s well written IRISH REBEL is a valuable addition to the Irish story, both in portraying Devoy’s life as well as illuminating the American dimension to the struggle for an independent Ireland.