Amongst the Fenians by Octave L Fariola.
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“I am Irish neither by birth nor stock, although a learned Queens Counsel , on the trial of Captain Condon in Cork, condescended to honour me with an Irish origin, assuming that my name was an Itallianized form of O’Farrell, the initial of my christian name doing duty with him for the O, by which the Latin stanza assures us we shall always know true Irishmen. I was born a Swiss citizen, there was no man to call me his subject. If i have a tinge of Celtic blood in me it comes only from my mothers side, she being of a Celto-Belgic family (partly settled in texas) , by whom i was brought up in belgium after the death of my parents. There i received a thorough military education, and, having passed by all the inferior grades, i emerged with the first rank from the military acedemy of brussles and was commisioned lieutenant nearly twelve years ago. I completed by military training by some years practice, availing of leave of absence to assist at the Italian Campaigns of ’59-’60”
The Fenian Movement both in Ireland and America attracted some very colourful figures to its ranks, one such unusual recruit was Octave Fariola. Fariola’s acount of his time with the Fenians was first serialised in a newspaper called The Irishman in Australia in 1868. Although Octave Louis Fariola claims in the introduction to his story that he was born a Swiss citizen, he was, as shown by Denise Dowdall’s work to be born in Liege, Belgium of Belgian/Swiss Parents in 1839, his mother coming from Belgium and his Father coming from an Italian speaking region of Switzerland. He attended a military academy from a young age and gained experience in War in Italy and America.
Fariola begins his account by charting his introduction to the Fenian Enterprise, to meeting James Stephens for the first time. Almost out of the blue Fariola recieves a letter from his old friend and comrade from the American Civil War, General Gustave Paul Cluseret , inviting him to take part in a certain project, that project was none other than the Fenian Rising in Ireland. General Cluseret, a French man who also with Fariola had served under Garibaldi in Italy were being hired by James Stephens to act as Regular officers and to lead the Fenian Rising in Ireland, it appears Stephens wanted well respected and well known Military men to give a certain credibility to his plans. according to Fariola himself :
” Today i have come to the conclusion on that point, very little flattering to my own vanity, but which i must confess in penitence for my previous want of modesty in believing that i was wanted by the Fenian leader for my abilities. I cannot have been wanted for them, nor was Cluseret, I apprehend. No ; but Mr. James Stephens Knew that his Irish followers, and still more his Irish-American supporters, were less satisfied than he himself was of his military proficiency, and he wanted Cluseret’s acquiescece, not advice, to give his own plans the sanction of a recognised military authority.”
Fariola seems quite internationalist and politically radical, quick to abandon his peaceful farm to assist his old Comrade Cluseret on what must have seemed a fantastic idea, he specified his involvement in the Fenian Rising would be as long as the project was “thoroughly Republian and Democratic” , his discussion with Stephens shows he seems content with the Fenian Movements expressed desire to see a complete separation between Church and State!
“The Republican Brotherhood alone could procure her that independence, and it would establish a Republic which would be in accordance with the views of the advanced Revolutionists, of which views it appeared to be well informed; and Mr. Stephens thought that public opinion in Ireland was such that no such Government would be possible, but a democracy, with a complete separation of Church and State, universal sufferage, and a reasonable allotments of the lands, that the Irish may live on the soil on which they were born”
Not lacking in military knowledge and an understanding of tactics Fariola is critical of Stephens’s strategy, outlining the two distinct stages in a War of Independence.
“In the beginning the popular feeling is manifested by meetings, riots, outbreaks, during which the national party feels its own strenght; a district after another rises, bands of armed patriots overrun their own neighbourhoods, and yet, little by little, confidence in themselves, and the habit of meeting the enemy, and if, after some time the government has not succeeded in putting down them down, there is soon some kind of organisation and government for the insurgents ……….. The operations in the second period may be those of regular war; but during the first stage sometimes, as in Greece and Belgium, of long duration, the war must be most irregular. It was Mr. Stephens’s plan to pass over the first stage of the insurrection. The Irish Republic was not to have an infancy and a growth during which it would get beak and talons; it was to be born full-grown and fully armed”
It would be unfair to simply dismiss Fariola as having being foolish not to trust his own judgement regarding the plans for the Rising, he proclaims a commitment to the cause of Republicanism throughout, critical of James Stephens’s plans but willing to step into the breach anyway, perhaps General Cluseret’s presence was enough to give him confidence that some success could be achieved.
Fariola assumed his position was to begin when the masses had supported the insurrection, as had been planned by Stephens, and was not due to go to Ireland until the Republic and been declared, and the Fenians established as Belligerents, the rising was set for March 5th, but in February of ’67 Fariola was in London with Cluseret, Stephens having been deposed, he was convinced to go by Colonel Kelly “to ascertain how far Massey had really prepaired things“. Unfortunetly for Fariola and the Fenian Rising, Massey was an Informer. He set off for Ireland to carry out his task but circumstances beyond his control were stacked against him, the rising having failed, Fariola fled to London.
On the word of an another informer Fariola was arrested in London and sent back to Ireland to Kilmainham Gaol, Peter Nolan writes in article in the Cork Archeaological and Historical Society 1970 Fariola, Massey and the Fenian Rising that;
“On the word of General Halpin, also a prisoner, Fariola pleaded guilty before the November special commission in Dublin. Being given the choice of going to one of the British Colonies, he selected Australia. On the journey to Australia, he wrote the account of his association with Fenianism for the Irishman”
There in Australia began another chapter in the adventerous life of Octave Fariola, thankfully he wrote the above account of his brief time with the Fenians, some of which may read as quite far fetched to the general reader, it does however offer a unique perspective into that international band of revolutionaries who toiled and suffered so much for Ireland.