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Fariola the Fenian

The prisoners who came through the doors of Kilmainham Jail on the 15th July 1867 didn’t seem all that noteworthy at first glance, apart perhaps from their youth. There was Martha Kearns, from Howth , aged 10, who was booked for larceny. Henry Cooper, of Mount Anville, aged 15, had stolen a shirt and so had Michael Byrne, from Rathfarnham, aged 14. Arriving to jail at the same time as these children was Octave Fariola, aged 29. His prison register recorded several aliases: Eugene Libert, General O’Fariola. It said he was born in Louisiana and his  occupation was planter. The charge against him was treason.

 

Who was this unlikely prisoner with his unusual origins and how did he come to wind up in this iconic Irish jail ? Could the strange particulars of his life really be true?

Octave Fariola after his arrest in July 1867. From the Larcom Papers, courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

Fenian Rising

Further reading revealed that Fariola was taken into custody in the wake of the doomed Fenian Rising of March 1867. Perhaps modern genealogical resources would reveal more of the true background and motivation of this character, whom historian Robert Kee described as one of the “shadowy figures whose lives flicker momentarily across the brief scene of the Fenian Rising”.

 

Springing from the United Irish movement of the 1840s, the Fenian Brotherhood sought to exploit the military skills of Irish Americans in the wake of the American Civil War to ignite armed rebellion in Ireland. They found a willing recruit in Octave Fariola - one of three French-speaking soldiers of fortune who were based in America. The others were Gustav Cluseret and Victor Vifquain. Vifquain is perhaps best known for his role in an unsuccessful plot to kidnap the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, in 1862.

 

After months of preparation from his base in Paris, Octave Fariola travelled to Ireland in March 1867 to co-ordinate what he thought would be a guerilla-type military assault. A combination of informers, the worst Irish weather in living memory and serious tactical disagreements forced plans to be called off. Fariola fled to London but Scotland Yard arrested him on Oxford Street four months later and he was conveyed to Ireland and then to Kilmainham Jail.

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