By Kieran O’Mahony
IT was a chance encounter in the early 1960s that unearthed the steel casket that transported the remains of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa back to Ireland from New York in 1915.
Michael O’Sullivan, who was a serving member of An Garda Siochána at the time, met a farmer in Cobh during the course of his duties, and was told that the casket was in a shed on his farm for over 50 years.
‘When he realised I was from Reenascreena and that there were still relations of O’Donovan Rossa in the parish, he told me that I could have the casket. We brought it back to the O’Driscolls – who are relations of O’Donovan Rossa – and it remained there for another 50 years,’ said Michael.
The casket remained in a shed in Reenascreena until this year when the Reenascreena O’Donovan Ross Centenary Committee was formed to commemorate 100 years since the patriot’s death.
‘Earlier this year we decided to get the ball rolling on restoring the casket, as it’s been 100 years since he died. It coincides with celebrations that are taking place in Reenascreena, Rosscarbery and Skibbereen throughout July,’ noted Michael.
‘We got in touch with Clonakilty Engineering about restoring the casket, and they’ve been working on it since mid-April. It’s made from light steel and isn’t in too bad a condition after 100 years. It was an unusual request to undertake, but they were able to do the work. Fundraising is ongoing to cover the cost of the restoration and people can contribute to the restoration fund,’ Michael pointed out.
The restored casket measures 88 inches long, 34 inches wide and 27 inches deep. Along with its original side ornaments, it will be unveiled in a special museum next to O’Driscolls’s Bar on Friday July 3rd, marking the beginning of a series of events to commemorate O’Donovan Rossa in the village.
On the same night, there will also be a re-dedication of the O’Donovan Rossa monumet in Reenascreena which was originally erected in 1969.
‘We got the monument sandblasted recently for the re-dedication which will be performed by Paddy O’Driscoll, the oldest and nearest relative to O’Donovan Rossa,’ explained Michael. ‘The casket will then be put on public display in a special museum next to the monument and O’Driscolls Bar.’
As well as the unveiling of the casket, and the re-dedication of the monument, there will also be the launch of two books written by Shane Kenna.
He will be there on the night with his new biography of O’Donovan Rossa, as well as An Illustrated History of the Fenians.
‘We are honouring O’Donovan Rossa for the sacrifices he made as a Fenian leader and the fact that he lived in Reenascreena for three of four years of his younger life where he learned the Irish language and where his relations still live,’ added Michael.