Saturday 16 February 2013

Thomas Francis Bourke

Thomas Francis Bourke was one of the outstanding orators of the Fenian movement in America. In an accent which remained distinctively Irish—though he had left his native Fethard, Co.Tipperary at the age of seven—he could speak at length at a moment's notice without preparation or notes.

He was a skillful debater too and, without taking notes, could quote statements of opponents and demolish their arguments with considerable skill.

Unlike many of the American Fenians who enlisted on the Northern side, he fought on the Southern side in the Civil War. He was working in New Orleans when hostilities broke out and, though his family lived in New York, he felt that his duty lay with the state where he was working. He was only twenty at the time and he admitted afterwards that he was not entirely capable of thinking for himself on the matter—and anyway, he explained, he did not think the war would last very long.

He came to Ireland to take command of the Tipperary Fenians in 1867 but, it seems, he had little hope of success though he felt honour-bound to fight. He was captured and, having been sentenced to death, delivered a speech from the dock which was stirring in it's spirit and eloquence.

Released after four years, he was deported to the United States where he was welcomed by President Grant—a factor which was widely noted and resented in the British press. He was born on December 10th, 1840. S.J.L.

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