ROSSA IRISH REBEL

O'Donovan RossaThis letter was received by the O’Donovan Rossa Centenary Commemoration Committee from William Cole Rossa (great-grandson of Rossa), for use at yesterdays ANTI-EVICTION, POVERTY AND FORCED-EMIGRATION march and rally in Cork.

The committee will continue to organise events (on a non-Party political basis) around the Centenary of the 1916 Rising.  Interested groups or individuals are invited to co-operate, to ensure that what these Irishmen and Irishwomen stood for is respected – by our dealing with the crisis in Ireland today and asserting the rights of the people. Contact: 021-2428310

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Growing up in New York City there was always a formal portrait of O’Donovan Rossa on the wall of our apartment.  In this photo, Rossa looked dignified, his clear eyes giving the impression of strength, clarity and determination.  There was also an illustration on the wall from the cover of the 19th Century American satirical magazine Puck, one of many depicting Rossa in an unflattering light, as an angry old man on the fringes.  These images together, though so different, always conveyed to us the fact that this great grandfather of ours did something.

Our father, William Rossa Cole, was born on Staten Island where the O’Donovan Rossa’s chose to settle after his forced exile in 1871.  He loved Ireland.  He loved the song, the writing and the craic and when he would hear a brogue or visit Eire, which we did a number of times, his face would light up.  He had the “clear blue eyes” of Rossa but he was not a political man and, while Rossa was kept on in our names and honored, we didn’t get lectures on Irish history and politics.  Besides knowledge of his brutal time in prison and the famous oration over his grave we didn’t know too much about the life of Rossa.

In this last year leading up to the centenary, though, we have learned a great deal.  And while Rossa is known largely through Pearse’s famous oration, it has been great to see the renewed interest in Rossa’s colorful, controversial and consistent life.  Above all, he loved Ireland and strove for something that should be a basic human right: freedom and justice for all people no matter race, creed, religion or nationality.

Being a relative is simply something you are born into.  But it is what you do with that role that is important; how you carry the stories and the name onto future generations.  Our grandmother wrote about her father and our father wrote about his grandfather.  Both had strong connections to Ireland.  Now we are doing the same only in a different medium.  We are excited about participating in events related to commemorating Rossa and we are also producing a feature documentary film about Rossa’s life (that will include his wife Mary Jane, an equally ardent patriot) and what he means now.  It is called Rossa Irish Rebel.

Both the formal portrait and the Puck cover will remain on our walls.  And we think our children will put them on theirs as well.

–Williams Rossa Cole