Campaign to erect headstones for NY Fenians

By Katie O’Keeffe

An Irish-American group has launched a fundraising campaign to erect headstones for two Fenian convicts who escaped imprisonment in Australia and are buried in unmarked graves in New York.

The Fenian Memorial Committee of America is a group focused on remembering the Fenians and other Irish revolutionaries who are buried in the USA. They have launched a campaign to raise funds for headstones for two Cork men, Thomas Hassett and Michael Harrington.

They are two of the six Fenian escapees on the vessel Catalpa which sailed from Western Australia to New York in 1876.

“Their story is only believable if you are Irish,” according to George McLaughlin, one of the members of the memorial committee. He explained: “In the late 1860s, the Irish Republican Brotherhood was planning a revolution against British rule in Ireland. Many of them were sent off to Australia as convicted criminals, thousands of miles from Irish shores. In 1873, John Devoy, in the United States, received a letter from Fenian James Wilson asking for help.”

Devoy hired the Catalpa ship, funded from secret donations made by Irish independence organisations across the US. The Catalpa left from New Bedford in the state of Massachusetts on 29 April 1875 and arrived in the Australia destination on 28 March 1876. The six remaining imprisoned Irish Fenians managed to escape. These men were: Thomas Darragh, Martin Hogan, Robert Cranston, James McNally Wilson for Michael Harrington and Thomas Hassett.

George explained: “They arrived into New York in late 1876 and thousands were there to greet them on the streets. They were then dispersed across the United States and lived the rest of their lives in exile.”

McLaughlin has been on a mission for some years working to memorialize Fenians who are buried around the United States.

The Memorial Committee has placed gravestones for all of the escapee's bar two.

Thomas Hassett who was a native of Doneraile and had served in the Papal Brigade in Rome and Michael Harrington from Macroom, who had been decorated for bravery in the British Army.

“Remembering them, and memorializing them is our duty. This work helps us remember where we Irish Americans have come from and where Ireland is headed in its continuing journey towards reunification and independence.”

The Fenian Memorial Committee of America are asking the people of Cork to help honour the two Cork Fenians, Michael Harrington and Thomas Hassett. More information can be found by emailing