One of Louth's greatest patriots

Monknewtown churchyard, not far from Rossin flower mill, is the final resting place of one of County Louth's greatest patriots, Colonel Patrick Leonard. A Celtic cross is all that is left to remind us of this remarkable man.

More than 150 years ago Patrick Leonard, who hailed from Tullyallen was a character of note on either side of the Atlantic. Born in 1821 Leonard grew up in an Ireland under the rule of the British Empire, where but for a minor uprising in 1848 by the Young Irelanders, there wasn't much activity to trouble the forces of the Crown.

Like many of his peers he emigrated to America (in 1852) in search of fame and fortune and worked in numerous jobs before finally joining the 99th New York National Guard in August 1864 to fight on the side of the Union in the Civil war. Reports of this period are limited, but by all accounts Leonard gained respectability as a successful American citizen.

He enlisted as a major and spent 100 days serving in Elmira prison, New York, guarding Confederate prisoners. In May of that year the US War Department learned there were vacant barracks in Elmira, that had been used as a rendezvous point by Confederate soldiers earlier in the war. Union soldiers were dispatched to encircle the camp with a stockade fence and turn it into a prison.

By the time Leonard had reported for duty some 10,000 Confederate prisoners were being held at the camp. Because of a lack of vegetables and fresh water at the camp scurvy was rife amongst the inmates.

Living conditions at the camp were intolerable for both guards and prisoners alike. With insufficient shelter the barracks held only half the prisoners; the others were crowded into tents - even in the depths of winter.

The camp was officially closed on July 1 1865. Of the 12,122 soldiers imprisoned there, 2,963 died of sickness and exposure. All that remains of Elmira prison today is a well kept cemetery along the banks of the Chemung river near New York.

When Leonard retired from active duty he received the commission of a Lieutenant Colonel. Ironically another Irish patriot who joined the regiment on the same day was John O'Mahony, founder of the American branch of the Fenian Brotherhood.

As a young man growing up it was Leonard’s deepest desire to see an Ireland free from British rule. His military experience was vital and he returned to Ireland later that year at a time when the Fenians were getting ready for action. The collapse of the Young Ireland movement following the abortive rising of 1848 led to a marked decline in interest in national politics.

However two of the Young Irelanders, the aforementioned John O'Mahony and James Stephens escaped to Paris after the 1848 Rising. There they became associated with various secret organisations and became imbued with the idea of forming an Irish organisation to fight for Irish freedom. The organisation would become known as the Fenians.

The movement grew quickly throughout the country and by late 1862 it was established in Drogheda where it was inaugurated by Thomas Clark Luby who swore in six members who took part in propagating the organisation throughout the town and surrounding district.

The movement had its headquarters in the Weaver's Hall in Magdalene Street where during and under the cover of the weaver's strike, secret drilling took place. Thomas Flynn a millwright and James Hart a miller in Mortans Mill on the quays were leading lights in the organisation at the time.

Patrick Leonard became immediately involved and was regarded by many to be the Fenian leader in the area.

Not long after his return he was arrested in Begrath by the Collon and Tullyallen Constabulary, on suspicion of being involved in the Fenian movement. He was brought to Mell barracks at the corner of Barrack Lane at Cloughpatrick. The magistrates remanded him in custody for eight days, as the prosecuting constable expected to find sufficient evidence to bring him to trial.

However, he was released on his own recognisances after nothing was found to incriminate him. His solicitor Mr Rowland, pleaded that he had returned from America in ill health to recuperate in a change of climate and nothing more.

At the same time the "Irish People" the Fenian paper was seized and suppressed in Dublin. During the raid many documents were discovered, which led to the arrest and imprisonment of many members of the Drogheda movement. The Constabulary searched for arms, forcing the Fenians to seek out safer hiding places.

A Franciscan lay brother, Bro Furlong concealed arms in the roof of the friary in Laurence Street. These arms were subsequently discovered when the roof sprang a leak in 1994 and are now on display in the Millmount Museum.

A countrywide insurrection had been planned for March 5, 1867. In truth it was an utter shambles that ended up in chaos. Lack of public support, bad organisation and informers meant the ill fated rebellion was doomed from the start.

The Drogheda insurrection failed because the guns and ammunition didn't arrive until after a division of the Fenians had been routed at the Potato Market. Leonard was the leader (or Centre) of another division and was waiting at the White Gates for firearms. He knew the authorities were on his tail, and with little or no arms available, decided against a confrontation.

In the aftermath, the Constabulary, arrested everybody they suspected of having Fenian links in the town. Leonard went on the run and evaded capture by hiding in a doctor's surgery and later at a Protestant clergyman's house.

He returned to America as resistance in Ireland faded away. In the summer of 1873 Leonard returned to Ireland again - ironically this time again in ill health and stayed in his sister's house at the Black Bull. However, this time matters were real and he died there on September 19 from consumption at the age of 52.

His death led to a demonstration of Fenian support and it was reported that 9,000 people attended his funeral. For many years, massive crowds accompanied by several bands marched from Drogheda to Monknewtown to commemorate his anniversary.

After a revival in 1941 the remembrance ceremony died out after a few years. Now a Celtic cross is all that remains to remind us of one of Louth's greatest patriots.

Taken from Wee County 2003