1889 HISTORY OF LINCOLN, NEBRASKA
THE IRISH NATIONAL
LEAGUE -- LINCOLN AS THE HEAD-QUARTERS OF THIS POWERFUL ORGANIZATION --
SKETCH OF THE LIVES OF THE LINCOLN MEN
(299) Lincoln having been for five years past the headquarters for the Irish National League of America, a brief sketch of that powerful organization will not be out of place.
Since the first attempt of the English to subjugate the Irish people, hardly a generation of Irishmen has passed without protest against the usurpation of Ireland's national rights by an alien government. Through many centuries the story of this national resistance drags its bloody trail, down to the last great rising of 1798, when Antrim, Presbyterian, and Wexford, Roman Catholic, made a daring attempt to establish an Irish republic on Irish soil. They failed; but the memory of their heroism lived on to inspire the patriots of later years.
The agitation of O'Connell had sunk into lethargy; the brave spirits of '98 had gone to other lands, with all their energy and all their genius; famine and pestilence had made Ireland a grave yard; and the world witnessed the greatest exodus of a people since the national migrations of antiquity. Gavan Duffy, sailing for Australia, said he left Ireland a corpse on the dissecting table; but the indomitable heart of the gallant little nation was still beating, though feebly. Then it was that James Stephens sewed the seed, that grew into the formidable Fenian Brotherhood. Alas! the curse of dissension made its appearance; the powerful conspiracy was forced into precipitate action, and failure was again written on Ireland's struggles for freedom. Among the gallant spirits sent to penal servitude for Fenianism was a dark-faced, thoughtful young man, who, though deprived of his right arm, was destined to work great things for Ireland. Michael Davitt, the one-armed young patriot, was sentenced to seven years incarceration in a British dungeon. Better for the enemies of Ireland if they had hanged him. During the lonely hours he thought out the Irish (300) question, and he studied the causes of Ireland's constant failures. He became convinced that it was only madness to dream of encountering England's armies in the field. But he was familiar with the social miseries and inequalities of privilege that formed the common inheritage of the British and Irish masses, and he believed that an agitation in Ireland, going as far as but not beyond the limit of revolution, for the destruction of the Irish land system, combined with a demand for the establishment of a parliament in Ireland to legislate for local needs, would touch a sympathetic chord in the hearts of the British masses and prove much stronger than merely argumentative pleadings in parliament, and more likely to succeed than armed insurrection. He would agitate without, and proper representatives should voice the people's cry within the walls of the British parliament. When the prison doors were opened, Davitt went to word; to put his ideas into practical shape, and the result was the establishment of the Irish Land League in 1879. Davitt and Thomas Brennan, now of Omaha, were its evangelists. Patrick Egan became Treasurer, and Charles Stuart Parnell, the parliamentary and de facto leader of the Irish people, at once espoused the new organization. Soon thereafter branches of the league were formed in America, and the Irish Land League of America became a strong organization. Though Irishmen were not numerous in Lincoln at that period, they made up in energy what they lacked in numbers, and a branch of the Land League was formed here with the following officers: President, Hon. John Fitzgerald; Vice President, Rev. M. A. Kennedy; 2d Vice President, General Victor Vifquain; Secretary, Thomas Carr; Treasurer, E. P. Cagney. It may be remarked, incidentally, that in 1867, the gallant General Vifquain went to Ireland to give the Irish cause the service of his well-tried military experience.
In 1882 the Land League was suppressed in Ireland, and Parnell organized the existing Irish National League. Early in 1883 a great convention of Irishmen and descendants of Irishmen was held in Philadelphia, and the American Land League was merged into a new organization known as the Irish National League of America, the objects of which are simply to sustain in every necessary way, the constitutional policy of Parnell in his efforts to secure Home Rule for Ireland. Alexander Sullivan, Rev. Mr. O'Reilly, of Detroit, and Roger Walsh, as President, Treasurer and Secretary respectively, (301) constituted the first executive officers of the league. At a convention held in Boston in 1881, Patrick Egan, then a resident of Lincoln -- where he settled after escapng, the clutches of Dublin Castle officials, who on any pretext would have hanged him as a recompense for his patriotic devotion -- was elected President, and with Mr. Egan the headquarters of the league cause to Lincoln, where it has since remained. In January, '86, Secretary Walsh leaving resigned, Jno. P. Sutton succeeded him and became a citizen of Lincoln. The third convention of the Irish National League of America took place in Chicago in August, 1886, and our fellow townsman, Hon. John Fitzgerald, was elected to the Presidency by an overwhelming vote, Treasurer O'Reilly and Secretary Sutton being reelected to their respective offices without opposition. The Irishmen of Lincoln have done good service to the Irish cause. In December, 1887, Lincoln contributed S2,400, and in 1888 $1,171, besides nearly $600 for the sufferers in the blizzard of January, 1888. The meetings of the League are features of Lincoln life, and are largely attended. The present local officers are P. O. Cassidy, President; E. P. Cagney, Treasurer, and John P. Sutton, Secretary. The local ex-Presidents are John Fitzgerald, Patrick Egan, and J. J. Butler.
As the names of Fitzgerald, Egan, and Sutton, have been so prominently connected with the League for years, and all being residents of Lincoln, it is eminently proper that this work should give some extended personal notice of these men.
Hon. John Fitzgerald was born over fifty years ago, in Limerick, county, Ireland. His father was a tenant farmer holding at the same time a small piece of free-hold property, the remnant of a more ample estate that had once been in the possession of his ancestors, but which had been reduced to a few acres by the operation of laws that had proved only too successful in bringing the old landed proprietors to beggary and ruin. Edward Fitzgerald, the father of the subject of our sketch, was evicted from his farm, anal seeing the poverty and decay that surrounded him on all sides, leased his little fine-hold, and with his sons sailed for the United States, back in the "forties."
At that time there was considerable prejudice against Irish immigration to America, and if the immigrant from the Green Isle found a fair field, he could also say that he found no favor. Americans of that day are not to be lightly blamed. American literature was in its
(303) infancy. The mental food of the people was mainly derived from English sources, and the character of the Irish people was delineated by men imbued with racial hatreds. Reared in this atmosphere of distorted teachings, and fed upon unrefuted calumnies, it is no wonder that the mass of Americans felt prejudiced toward the Irish race, whose most numerous representatives were the unlettered and poverty stricken victims of a tyranny described by Edmund Burke as the most perfect system ever devised by the perverted ingenuity of man to drive a nation mad. The immigrants, too, had their serious faults, which, though doubtless the engendered results of a century of oppression, helped to increase the aversion prejudice had already excited against them. Intemperance was painfully prevalent, and faction fighting was a vice that long baffled the efforts of the priest and patriot to destroy it. Americans are a just people, and are quick to fling away their prejudices when convinced that they are in error, and few are more ready to recognize and reward true merit.
The Fitzgerald family, after arriving in New York, pushed westward, to find employment in the great public works which eventually made New York and Pennsylvania the leading States of the Union. They quickly developed qualities of mind and heart which won the confidence and respect of the leading contractors of that day. John Fitzgerald was then a youth of seventeen summers, with a strong, muscular frame, and a vigorous constitution. He was then, and always has been, a strict disciple of Father Mathew, from whom he had received the pledge while yet almost an infant. A salient feature of his character is his incontrollable desire to be doing something.
In those early days, after the close of the open season, it was usual for the great armies of canal builders to withdraw for the winter to the neighboring towns, waiting for the spring to resume work. Only too many frittered away in these idle days, all the money they had accumulated by hard labor in the burning heat of summer. The Fitzgeralds were men of a different stamp, and did not believe in making their summers pay for their winter. They sought such work as could be found, even if the remuneration hardly paid their living expenses. It was on one of these occasions that John Fitzgerald accepted work from a farmer for his board and seven dollars per month. At another time he was working for a farmer, digging ditches, when his quick perception showed him how he could do the work by (304) conract, make money for himself, secure better wages for his companions, and give greater satisfaction to the farmer. He made his proposition to the latter, and it was accepted.
In twenty-four hours John Fitzgerald was a contractor, his fellow workmen became his employees, and he stood on equal ground with his former employer. The job was finished much quicker than the farmer had calculated, and the work was done to his complete satisfaction. The laborers received higher wages than their agreement with the farmer had called for, and John Fitzgerald had a good round sum of' money to the credit of his profit and loss account. That was Mr. Fitzgerald's first contract, and to-day he speaks of it with greater pride than of all the enterprises of magnitude he has since completed.
The reputation achieved by Edward Fitzgerald and his sons did much in the districts wherein they labored, to raise the character of the Irish in American opinion, and contractors were glad not only to employ them, but to sublet to them large portions of their work.
After the death of their father, in New York State, the brothers, Edward and John, turned their attention to the construction of' railroads. After satisfactorily completing important contracts in New England during the war, they gradually worked westward until they reached Wisconsin, where they built several hundred miles of railroad. Following the star of empire, the brothers penetrated through Iowa with their iron highways. After the death of his brother Edward, John assumed control of what had become a vast business, and after building the greater part of the C. B. & Q. in Iowa, crossed the Missouri and took up work for the B. & M. and Union Pacific roads, until his name became inseparably bound up with the history of' railroading from the Atlantic to the Rocky mountains.
Mr. Fitzgerald made his first home in Nebraska at Plattsmouth, where he owns a very large amount of property. Since becoming a resident of this State, Mr. Fitzgerald, besides his work in Nebraska, was associated with S. Mallory esq., C. E., of Chariton, Iowa, and Martin Flynn esq., of Des Moines, Iowa, in the construction of the Cincinnati Southern road through Tennessee; also in building the Denver, Memphis & Atlantic railway, in association with the Fitzgerald & Mallory Construction Company. The latest enterprise of our active townsman is the construction of the St. Louis & Canada railroad in Michigan and Indiana.
(305) Mr. Fitzgerald has very extensive landed property in Nebraska. The man who as a boy looked with tear-filled eyes upon the few fields from which he and his father were evicted, is to-day the owner of two of the largest and best managed farms in America, embracing 8,000 acres of unsurpassed fertility at Greenwood, and 6,000 equally as good in Gage county, in this State. In addition, he has several farms in Wisconsin and other states.
His investments in commercial lines are many and extensive. He owns the large West Lincoln Brick and Tile Works, and also has a controlling interest in the Rapid Transit company, of which he is President. He is also President of the First National Banks of Plattsmouth and Greenwood, and of the Nebraska Stock Yards Company, and a Director of the First National and Union Savings Banks of Lincoln. Mr. Fitzgerald is also largely interested in mercantile investments, and has stores in different parts of the State.
His first experience with Lincoln was Colonel Tom Hyde's invitation to the hospitality of a shanty, and his first bed in the same same shanty was a buffalo robe on the ground, damp with recent rains. To-day his magnificent residence and beautifully laid out grounds crown Mount Emerald, the finest elevation in the city, and here he loves to extend the genuine hospitality typical of the Geraldine.
His splendid wholesale business block at the corner of Seventh and P is rapidly approaching completion, and it is but the precursor of other stately edifices with which Mr. Fitzgerald's enterprise will embellish the city he has chosen for his home, and which owes so much to his untiring energy.
Although the most liberal and tolerant of men, Mr. Fitzgerald is a strict Roman Catholic, and a munificent contributor to his church. The Convent of the Holy Child Jesus is the gift of Mr. Fitzgerald to the nuns of that order, and his subscriptions in aid of the Catholic Church of Lincoln have been generous and constant. Some three years ago he gave a large sum to help in the construction of St. Patrick's Church in Rome, and Pope Leo XIII, in recognition of his generosity, sent him a valuable gold medal.
The Geraldine race, kin with the Gherardini of Florence, and boasting its descent from Eneas, the Trojan Hero, has been conspicuous for its heroic fidelity to the fate and fortunes of the Irish nation. Its blood has poured out on every battlefield for Irish liberty, its sons
(307) have perished with stoicism in the dungeon, and looked scorn from the scaffold. The castles of the Geraldines stud the river banks and mountain glens of Munster, and few are the tales of fairy lore and weird romance in which some Fitzgerald does not play a conspicuous rule. With the blood of this fiery clan in his veins, it is but natural that Mr. Fitzgerald should be ardently attached to the cause of Ireland. From boyhood to the present moment he has supported every movement consecrated to Irish liberty, and there has hardly been an Irish convention which he has not attended. Unambitious for office, with no personal views, but influenced by an earnest desire to see his country enjoy the liberty so many of his race had died for, his time, and his purse, and his quiet word of sound advice, were ever at the service of Ireland. The qualities of the man could hardly escape recognition, and in 1886 he was chosen President of the Irish National League of America. His period of office has been a troubled one, great events having transpired during his administration; but he has filled the position with honor to himself and to the Irish cause. His cool, conservative policy, his strong determination to keep the league free from political entanglements and from alliances that could in any way compromise the action of Parnell and his colleagues, has merited and received the warm approbation not only of the Irish leaders, but of the best friends of Ireland in America. To everything that can add to the welfare of the Irish cause, and to the benefit of his race, John Fitzgerald has been conspicuously generous.
Mr. Fitzgerald is, in American politics, a strong Democrat, and a warm supporter of his party, but has invariably refused to accept any political honors. From men of all shades of religious and political belief Mr. Fitzgerald receives the respect due to his strict integrity and his boundless energy.
Fortunate in his business,
he is equally blessed in his domestic life. Mrs. Fitzgerald is a most estimable lady, and as remarkable for her kind, unostentatious benevolence, as her husband is for his more active qualities. Their family consists of four children, and since their marriage no cloud has darkened the summer of their lives.
John P. Sutton was born in Ireland in 1845, and came to this. country in 1865. Mr. Sutton entered the army and was Post Sergeant Major of Fort Bridger, Wyoming, in 1866, and subsequently of Fort (308) Sedgwick, Colorado, in 1868. When discharged he was First Sergeant of H Company, Eighteenth Infantry. Mr. Sutton was recommended by his superior officers to apply for a commission, but the great reduction of the army at that time, and the prospect of continued peace, gave small encouragement to a young officer's hopes of advancement; so Sergeant Sutton abandoned his military career after receiving the highest commendations from Col. Carrington, Lieut. Col. Drills, Major A. S. Burt, and other officers. His family had emigrated from Ireland to Canada in 1864, and his father filled a responsible position in the Union Rank of Lower Canada,
in Quebec. Mr. Sutton rejoined his family with the intention of remaining only a short time, but smitten by the charms of a young Irish-Canadian lady,
he married and settled down in Canada. He always considered himself an American citizen, and carefully eschewed all participation in Canadian politics. He
was for several years accountant for Ross & Co., one of the greatest mercantile Houses in Canada.
Owing to his independence of all political parties, and his advocacy of the Irish cause,
he was very popular with his countrymen in Quebec, and was President of the Quebec branch
(309) of the league while
he remained in that city. In 1885 he moved to Chicago, and while there was asked to return to Canada and stir up
the Irishmen of the Dominion to active support of the cause. His efforts were rewarded with
a large measure of success. In January, 1886, he accepted the Secretaryship of the Irish National League during Mr. Egan's administration, but resigned in May of the same year to assume the position of Assistant Treasurer of the Fitzgerald & Mallory Construction Co., offered him by John Fitzgerald, who was General Manager and Treasurer of the company. At the Irish League convention of 1886, Mr. Sutton was unanimously reelected Secretary of the league, and returned to Lincoln in October of the same year, and has since resided here. Mr. and Mrs. Sutton have a family of four children.
Hon. Patrick Egan, now Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States to the Republic of Chili, South America, was born at Ballymahon county, Longford, Ireland, August 31, 1841. At the age of fourteen he entered the office of an extensive grain and milling firm in Dublin, and before he was twenty had been promoted to the post of chief bookkeeper and confidential man. Later he was elected managing director of this, as a stock company, it being the most extensive one in Ireland. He was, at the same time senior partner in the most extensive bakery establishment in the county. He had been an industrious learner before going into business, and all this time took evening lessons of various instructors, and particularly of a brilliant young Episcopal minister of Dublin named Porte.
His extensive and close connection with the business interests of the country brought him face to face with the terrible system of landlord oppression and tyranny which was impoverishing the country and decimating the people, and as far back as 1863 he became an active worker in the ranks of the advanced national party, taking his full share of all the labors and risks of the movement which brought about the attempted insurrection of 1867. In 1871, with Isaac Butt and others, Mr. Egan took an active part in founding the Home Rule League, and as one of the council of that body helped to spread the good work throughout the country.
For ten years prior to the formation of the Land League, in 1879, Patrick Egan was regarded as if not the ablest at least one of the most important factors in the national movement in Ireland.
(310) All this time he was the close friend and confidant of the brilliant Isaac Butt, founder of the Home Rule movement; of John Martin, Professor Galbraith, Charles Stuart Parnell, and men of equal eminence.
When the Land League was formed, in October, 1879, Patrick Egan was unanimously chosen one of its three trustees and its acting Treasurer, and in December of that year he relinquished the management of his large business entirely to his partners and threw himself into the work of the Land League relief fund, in which he labored almost night and day for months, distributing relief to the victims of landlord extortion, besides performing much labor for the general amelioration of the agricultural, financial, and commercial, condition of the Irish people. Near the close of 1880, he, with twelve others, including Parnell, Dillon, Bigger, Sexton, Sullivan, Sheridan, and Harris, were singled out by the government for prosecution for alleged conspiracy. After a costly trial of sixteen days the jury stood ten for acquittal and two for conviction. The government did not dare arraign them again, but brought in a bill to suspend the habeas corpus act, and to permit the arrest of any one obnoxious to the government, intending to proscribe all members of the league.
Messrs. Parnell, Dillon, Davitt, and other patriotic leaders, persuaded Mr. Egan to go to Paris to prevent the government from confiscating the league fends. He took up his residence in Paris in February, 1881, and remained until the close of 1882. Much of this time the entire management and responsibility for the policy and acts of the league fell upon him, because the other members of the executive committee were in English prisons. But he performed the work to the satisfaction of his colleagues, handling large sums of money and accounting for every cent, and so profitably investing it as to turn over to the league $26,000 in returns. For these three years he gave his time to the league without a cent of compensation.
During the struggle from 1880 to 1882 Mr. Egan was frequently pressed to stand for parliament, in fact, was twice unanimously nominated, once for Queen's county and again for county Meath, but he declined because he could not take the oath of allegiance to England required by the government.
Learning that the English government was conspiring to arrest himself and colleague, and make him the victim of a pretended trial, (311) he quietly removed to Holland, and then came to the United States and became a citizen of Lincoln, Neb. Here he settled down to his accustomed grain business, but never lagged for a moment in his activity in defense of the cause of Ireland.
He was one of three upon whose call was held the great Irish convention of April, 1883, at Philadelphia, at which the Land League was dissolved and the present Irish National League of America was founded, and at the next convention of the league, held in Boston, in
1884, he was elected President, which office he held for two years. During his term of office the league in America was eminently successful. It sent to Ireland about $350,000, besides doing much to solidify the Irish element in this country. Under the rules of the league the President is entitled to a salary of $3,000 per year, but Mr. Egan returned, as a donation to the league fund, his two years' salary of $6,000.
He was, all this time, an active and useful citizen of city, State, and nation. He espoused the principles of the Republican party, (311) especially with reference to the revenue policy of this country, regarding the free-trade theories as certain to produce the same calamities to the people of this nation as British free trade has brought upon Ireland. In May, 1888, he was elected delegate-at-large to the National Republican Convention by a vote of 594 to 67, and was a conspicuous figure in that convention, declining the chairmanship in favor of Hon. John M. Thurston.
But, perhaps, Mr. Egan's most brilliant achievement remains to be told. The English Government and London Times had entered into a conspiracy to destroy Charles Stuart Parnell, and through him the cause of Ireland, by arraigning him before a prejudiced court on a false charge, based on letters forged by a man named Piggott, who had sold the forgeries to the Times for money. By a systematic comparison of Piggott's known writing and language with the forgeries, as well as by means of facts already known in part to Mr. Egan, he was enabled to weave such a demonstration of the forgeries that, at a critical moment in the trial, when the Tories almost felt sure of victory, Piggott was suddenly confronted with Mr. Egan's overwhelming proofs of his villainy. He confessed his iniquity, fled to Europe, and destroyed himself. Of course the case against Mr. Parnell fell to the ground, amid the derision of the world. This culmination came about the first of the present year.
He is the father of fourteen children, nine of whom are living, one daughter being married and a resident of Dublin. One of his children was born in France, one in America, and the others in Ireland. His residence in Lincoln has been at 1447 Q street.
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