Cabbage patches come up more than once in the history of Irish rebellion. James Fintan Lalor, James Stephens and a few others provided the continuity between the Young Irelanders and the IRB, which was founded a decade after the somewhat bumbling revolt of 1848, derisively dubbed the “rebellion of the Widow McCormac’s Cabbage Patch”.
Lalor himself led a marginally more successful attempt in 1849. His lodgings were at 39 Parnell St, where he died in the same year. His small group, which included John O’Leary – later second in command to James Stephens ‑ and Thomas Clarke Luby, continued meeting and went on to form the nucleus of the new organisation. PJ Stephenson, writing in 1938, tells us that Michael Moore, the Fenian pike-maker, had a depot for the distribution of the weapons across the road from the building in which Lalor had lodged. The informer Pierce Nagle, whose testimony undid so many in 1865, lived nearby in lodgings off Sheriff Street.
There were also a number of drilling halls in the area. The staff at Todd Burns and Co on Mary St were apparently heavily involved in recruiting, as were those of Messrs Crannock, White and Co, a drapery and house furnishing company based on Henry Street which was subsequently taken over by Messrs Arnott and Co.
James Stephens’s brother-in-law, Charles Hopper, kept a cigar shop in Henry Street where the Fenian leaders used to meet. According to Stephenson, the IRB, before the mass arrests of 1865, had a strong representation of drapers’ assistants, tailors, shoemakers and building trade employees in Dublin. The drapers, he says, were mainly responsible for spreading Fenianism throughout Leinster and Connacht.
One of the many figures involved in recruiting was “Pagan” O’Leary ‑ Patrick O’Leary, who originally came from Macroom but left for America, where he studied for the priesthood. He did not complete his studies, scaling the college walls and enlisting when the Mexian war broke out. When the war ended he became a carpenter and travelled widely in Mexico and America. He finally settled in New York, where he became a Fenian.
He came to Dublin in 1863 and was given the job of recruiting among British forces. He had unusual religious views which some attributed to his having been struck in the head by a bullet during the Mexican war. In particular he had a very strong objection to St Patrick and, as a result, was known by his comrades as “The Pagan”. In any event “The Pagan” did not last long as a recruiter. He was arrested in 1864 in Athlone while trying to recruit a soldier. He was replaced as army recruiter by John Devoy.
Finding recruits, it seems, was relatively easy. However, by the time of the insurrection, the infiltrated regiments had all been transferred abroad in order to impose the Empire’s will in distant parts of the globe. The Fenians had learned a lot about conspiracy but it transpired that keeping their business secret from the Castle was not their strong suit. The police seemed to know exactly what was going on. John O’Leary, editor of the Fenian newspaper The People, rented rooms on Palmerston Place, also in the general Parnell Street area.
When the week’s labours were complete the staff of The People and other members of the movement used to meet at his home for purposes of conviviality. Opposite was a vegetable garden where policemen crouched amongst the cabbage plants until the small hours in the hope of gaining information. While it is possible that assorted nocturnal slugs may have penetrated the uniforms of the police, as the purpose of these gatherings was to relax it might be suspected that the intelligence dividend was modest.