A remarkable photo of Patrick Pearse and Na Fianna Scouts at the Wolfe Tone pilgrimage to Bodenstown in June 1913.
According to an edition of ‘An Phoblacht’, published in the 1930’s, “the pilgrimage to Bodenstown in 1913 was, it is generally held, the most historic one.”
M. J. Kelly in his book “The Fenian Ideal and Irish Nationalism’ described how:
“2,000 communicants gathered at Bodenstown (in 1913). Twenty-five Fianna stood guard at the graveside armed with guns and bayonets. Pearse made a speech that celebrated Tone’s ardour, valour, purity, tenderness and gaiety, and repudiated the divisions within Irish nationalism. Sinn Fein distributed anti-enlistment pamphlets. J. T. Jameson made a film of the proceedings, which was later shown at the Rotunda and at Rathmines. Tom Clarke was greatly enthused. ‘At last we see tangible results from the patient, plodding work of sowing the seed’, he told Devoy. ‘The tide is turning strongly in our direction. We have the Rising generation”
The Leinster Leader published an article on 28th June 1913 with an account of the day.
“On Sunday last the annual pilgrimage to the grave of Theobald Wolfe Tone took place Bodenstown churchyard. This year the numbers who attended exceeded those of last year, about a thousand coming from Dublin and another contingent from Tullamore, Clara, and Athlone. The procession formed outside Sallins station was a most imposing one, being made up of St. James’ Band and the Lorcan O’ Toole Pipers’ Band and the Athlone Pipers’ Band, The National Boy Scouts [Fianna], the Daughters of Erin and members of the Wolfe Tone Memorial Club.
At the graveside demonstration Mr. Thomas, J. Clarke presided and said it was a gratifying thing that numbers of their fellow countrymen were swinging back to the old fighting line and taking pride in the old Fenian principles. He introduced Mr. P. H. Pearse, B. A.
Mr. Pearse then came forward and delivered an eloquent and impressive oration, first speaking in Irish.
Speaking in English, he said they had come to the holiest place in Ireland, holier to them than the sacred spot where Patrick sleeps in Down. Patrick brought them life, but Wolfe Tone died for them. Though many had testified in death to the truth of Ireland’s claim to Nationhood; Wolfe Tone was the greatest of all that had made that testimony; he was the greatest of Ireland’s dead. They stood in the holiest place in Ireland, for what spot of the Nation’s soil could be holier than the spot in which the greatest of her dead lay buried. He found it difficult to speak in that place: and he knew they all partook of his emotion. There were no strangers there for they were all in a sense own brothers to Tone (hear, hear).
They shared his faith, his hope still unrealised and his great love. They had come there that day not merely to salute this noble dust and to pay their homage to the noble spirit of Tone, but to renew their adhesion to the faith of Tone, and to express their full acceptance of the gospel of which Tone had given such a clear definition. That gospel had been taught before him by English-speaking men, uttered half articulately by Shane O’ Neill, expressed in some passionate metaphor by Geoffrey Keating and hinted at by Swift, in some better jibe, but it was stated definitely empathically by Wolfe Tone and it did not need to be over again, stated anew for any new generation. Tone was great in mind, but, he was still greener in spirit. He had the clear vision of the prophet; he saw things as they were and saw things as they should be. They owed more to this dead man than they should he ever able to repay him by ‘making pilgrimages to his grave or building the stateliest monument in the streets of his city. They owed it to Eire that there was such a thing as Irish Nationalism; to his memory and the memory of ’98 they owed it that there was any man-hood left in Ireland (hear, hear).
The soul of Wolfe Tone was like a burning flame, a flame so pure, so ardent, so generous that to come into communion with it was as a new optimism and regeneration. Let them try in some way to get into contact with the spirit of Tone and possess themselves of its ardour. If they could do that it would be a good thing for them and their country, because, they would carry away with them a new life from that place of death and there would be a new resurrection of patriotic grace in their souls (hear, hear). Let them think of Tone: think of his boyhood and young manhood in Dublin and in Kildare; think of his adventurous spirit and plans, think of his glorious father at the bar, and his healthy contempt for what he called a foolish wig and gown, think how the call of Ireland came to him, think how he obeyed that call; think how he put virility into the Catholic movement; think how this heretic toiled to make freemen of the Catholic helots (applause).
Think how he grew to love the real and historic Irish Nation and then there came to him that clear perception that there must be in Ireland not three nations but one; that Protestant and Dissenter must close in amity with Catholic and Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter must unite to achieve freedom for all (applause).
Let them consider the sacrifices Tone had made; he had to leave so much. Never was there a man who was so clearly endowed as he was, he had so much love in his warm heart. He (speaker) would rather have known Tone than any other man of whom he ever read or heard. He never read of any one man who had more in him of the heroic stuff than Tone had; how gaily and gallantly he had set about the doing of a mighty thing. He (speaker) had always loved the very name Thomas Russell because Tone so loved him. To be Tone’s friend, what a privilege; for Tone had for his friends an immense love, an immense clarity. He had such love for his wife and children. But such was the destiny of the heroes of their nation; they had to stifle in their hearts all that love and that sweet music and to follow only the far faint voice that called them to the battlefield or to the harder death at the foot of the gibbet. Tone heard that voice and obeyed in and from his grave today he was calling on them and they were there to answer his voice; and they pledged themselves to carry out his programme to abolish the connection with ‘England’, the never-failing source of political evils and to establish the independence of their country, to abolish the memory of past dissensions and to replace for the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter; the common name of Irishman (applause).
In that programme was to be found the whole philosophy of Irish Nationality; that programme included the philosophy of the Gaelic League and of later prophets, and it was for that programme they pledged it now at the grave-side of Tone; they pledged themselves to follow in the steps of Tone; never to rest by day or night until this be accomplished, until Ireland be free (applause); fighting on; not independency, but in great joy as Tone fought; prizing it above all privileges, and hoping for the victory in their own day. And if it should be granted to them in this generation to complete the work that Tone’s generation left unaccomplished. But if that was not their destiny, they should fight on still, hoping still, self-sacrificing still, knowing as they must know that causes like this did not lose for ever and that men like Tone did not die in vain (applause).
The address having concluded wreathes were placed on the grave by the National Boy Scout’s [Fianna] and the Inghinidhe na hÉireann.
During the afternoon an Aeridheacht was held in an adjoining field which music, songs and recitations were contributed, and a thoroughly enjoyable Irish-Ireland evening was spent.”
Many thanks to Jill O’Connell of Kildare County Libraries, for transcribing the Leinster Leader article. Thanks also to Mark Dawson of ‘An Phoblacht’ for providing the amazing photograph.