1866 - Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, photographed in Mountjoy Gaol

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa was arrested in September 1865 during the suppression of the Fenian newspaper the Irish People. He was held in Mountjoy Prison until his trial in December.  He wrote about this portrait being taken in Mountjoy, describing how he was positioned in front of the camera with a pasteboard with his name printed across it pinned to his chest, and jocularly added of the photographer: “he never had the manners to tell – what artists never failed to tell me – that I made an exceedingly good picture.”

After his conviction, O’Donovan Rossa was transferred to Pentonville Prison, and his resistance to British prison discipline over the following three years saw multiple transfers to other jails at Portland, Millbank and Chatham. His harsh treatment during his separate incarcerations was recorded by a British government inquiry and recounted in his own book Six Years in English Prisons. The narratives contributed to Irish and British prison histories, but also to the development of demands for political status for Irish nationalists – a development that continues to reverberate today.

Image (taken 1865, collated into the 1866 ‘Larcom Collection’) is courtesy New York Public Library.

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