2000-05-06 / Columnists


Commentary By James Conway Sullivan

"Some men for adventure, had planned for the stars and had hoped to see Venus or Mars. He worked and he labored to build his wild dream. That he’d be the first man to voyage 'neath the sea..."

The above prose is about a Liscannor, County Clare man, John Holland, who had invented the submarine. There were many attempts and more deaths in the attempts to invent a working and safe submarine. John Holland attempted this deed; a technical wonder of its day.

A Catholic seminarian from Clare, Holland was enticed by Fenian Brotherhood to invent the submarine. He left the seminary, ventured to New Jersey, and tested his dream. His invention, named the great Fenian ram, was meant to attack the British fleet from under the sea. The Fenian Brotherhood was most active in the 1800s, the forefathers of the Irish Republicans of our present day. The Fenians were a secret oath-bound society dedicated to the securing of Irish freedom and independence. In the United States, newspaper editors, governors, and even seven senators were members, and membership in the organization spanned the world from the corners of South America to Australia.

The Fenians, in bringing the scientist Holland to America, where they financed the building of the "great ram" submarine, secured its passage on the Passaic River. Holland, along with most Irishmen, was distraught over British occupation and oppression in Ireland. A religious man and former seminarian, Holland remembered the infamous Penal Laws used by Britain to rule Ireland. Amongst other things, the Penal Laws prohibited Roman Catholics, then 90 percent of the population, from voting, holding public office, or being educated, outlawed the speaking of the Irish language, and prohibited the inheritance of land from one generation to the next unless they became Protestants. These laws also obliterated much of Irish culture, the Catholic religion, its practice of saying mass, it closed church properties and seized its assets. It also placed a price on the head of virtually every Irish priest. It was redeemed by simply bringing the severed head into the British barracks to receive the
cash prize.

Edmund Burke, noted statesman of the era, stated, "Never in the history
of mankind were so deviously written laws enacted to make a race simply
servers of blood and water." Priests were hunted full-time by bounty hunters from England, as well as from the British police and army forces. During the over 800 years of British occupation, the actual number of Irish people killed by famine (there were three major famines during the 1800s alone), wars, punishments, crushed insurrections, etc., according to some historians may number as high as eight million souls.

"His name it is written on tunnels and on ships, on the streets of New York and the New Jersey slips...
May the Statue of Liberty, her beacon shine free…for John Holland, the first man to voyage 'neath the sea…"

Shortly thereafter, the U.S. government hired Holland to start and
perfect the submarine and our fleet. The U.S. christened the first sub,
"The Holland".

Imagine my personal delight, on visiting Florida's Walt Disney World and seeing photographs and a historical shrine to John Holland! Could there be any relation to the Hollands of Rockaway?

On the economic front, Ireland's current economy, per capita, has surpassed the per capita income of England. How's that for irony!

On the cultural front, the gross income from the various Riverdance troupes, television, ads, and licensing worldwide are approaching a billion dollars in revenue. The U2 Band's new album is being well received although there are some who feel it doesn't reach their Joshua Tree high water mark. Groups like the Cranberries, Van Morrison, and other Irish rockers continue to plug along; and Irish filmmakers, playwrights, and actors continue to dazzle us
with their brilliance. I'm sure Mr. John Holland would be so proud!


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