ONE OF THE AUTHORS OF THE FOLLOWING STORY OF JEROME COLLINS, AMY NESSUM (JOHNSON), THE GREAT GREAT GRAND NIECE OF JEROME ARRIVED IN IRELAND ON THE 24TH JUNE 2015 AND ARRIVED IN CORK ON 27TH JUNE 2015 UNTIL JULY 1ST 2015.
ON THE 27TH JUNE 2015 SHE PLACED A WREATH ON JEROME’S GRAVE AT CURRAGHKIPPANE, AT 2PM THAT DAY.
Jerome’s prayer book was brought by Curator Dan Breen from the Cork Public Museum for the ceremony. It was an emotional day for Amy, who has been researching Jerome for many years. It also was her first visit to the grave as well as meeting the people whom she had been in with whom she had been in correspondence. Also at the ceremony was Mairead and Margaret Garvey, Jerry Aherne, Tom McSweeney, Catherine Ketch, John Mulcahy, Catryn Power and Amy and her partner Chris.
Following the ceremony the group travelled to the Regional Park in Ballincollig, to see the poor condition of the weir, and the renovations of the park for the better good of the people of Ballincollig. Thanks and praise to Vincent Florich and Noelle Desmond for the organisation and planning of these facilities over the past number of years. Thanks also to Margaret Long whose wonderful Cafe Chico provided us with amazing coffee and cake.
Catryn Power and Amy Nessum Johnson at the grave of Jerome Collins at Curraghkippane.
AMY JOHNSON NESSUM LAYING A WREATH AT JEROME COLLIN’S GRAVE.
JOHN MULCAHY, AMY JOHNSON NESSUM AND RONNIE HERLIHY AT THE GRAVESIDE OF JEREMIAH COLLINS
.CURATOR DAN BREEN HOLDING THE PRAYER BOOK WITH AMY AT THE GRAVE OF JEROME COLLINS
CURATOR DAN BREEN GIVES THE PRAYER BOOK TO AMY AT THE GRAVE OF JEROME COLLINS
THE JEROME COLLINS STORY By AMY JOHNSON & ROGER HERLIHY
In the old graveyard of Curraghkippane, a few miles north-west of Cork City, a tall Celtic Cross stands over the final resting place of a Corkman named Jerome J. Collins. In his day he was a highly regarded figure, particularly amongst his peers in New York and the Irish population there. His death in 1881 while on an ill-fated Polar Expedition, at the relatively young age of 40, brought a tragic end to what was a remarkable life
Educated in Cork by the Presentation Brothers and Vincentian fathers, he finished school in 1857 and went to work as an apprentice engineer for Cork City Council under Sir John Benson. At the age of 21, he was made Clerk of Works on the construction of the Benson designed cast-iron North gate Bridge. It was opened by the Mayor on March 17th 1864, by which time he was assistant engineer to Benson.
He then went to England and ended up working on an extension to Pentonville Prison. At the same time many of the recently arrested Fenians, including O’Donovan Rossa, Charles Kickham and John O’Leary were being held there. Collins decided to try and organize a break-out from the prison and he set about planning the escape, however the authorities discovered his plan and he left England and head for America. He arrived in New York sometime in mid 1866, quickly finding work and soon spreading his own Fenian wings amongst the Irish there.
Collins carried on his engineering work in America and through this he brought together Irishmen who were working with him, from both sides of what was then a very divided Fenian movement. In June 1867 he became the founder of Clan-na-Gael, the most important Irish-American organization of its day. Collins stayed in the background of the organization, particularly after the arrival of John Devoy in 1871 and Devoy’s elevation to Clan Chairman in 1874. Devoy and Collins became good friends and they both ended up working for the same newspaper. Devoy sought his advice and support on issues like the Clan’s decision to rescue Fenian prisoners from Australia on the whaler Catalpa, the decision to finance the building of a torpedo boat by the Irishman John Holland, of which the “Fenian Ram” was the best known of the three Holland submarines funded by the Clan and the so-called “New Departure” in 1878, the radical decision to alter the Clan’s purely “physical force” doctrine by backing the constitutional attempts of Charles Stewart Parnell to gain Home Rule for Ireland.
By the mid 1870s he had become increasing knowledgeable in the study of storms and their behaviour as they travelled across the Atlantic, submitting articles to the New York Herald newspaper. He began to work for the Herald, becoming Chief of their Weather Bureau and by 1877 he was sending storm warnings across the Atlantic to the Western European seaboard with increasing levels of success, where it became an important service particularly to both shipping and agriculture. Unfortunately however, it was his studies in meteorology that were to lead him to a tragic end. The Herald’s owner, James Gordon Bennett, financed an Arctic Expedition on the steam barque Jeannette, which was placed under US Naval discipline and commanded by Lt. George W. DeLong. He hoped to be able to gain glory for his newspaper and in order to help achieve this he had his meteorologist, Jerome Collins appointed to the crew but the only way Collins could go was by enlisting as a seaman. A conflict with DeLong even before the voyage began was only a portent of what lay ahead for him.
The Jeannette set sail in July 1879 but expedition turned into a disaster, the ship was stuck in the ice for almost two years from September 1879 until it was crushed, and sank in June 1881 off Northern Siberia. The 33 man crew began the journey south to try and reach civilization but only 13 of them would survive. Collins was one of the unlucky ones, suffering a hard lonely death in the wastes of Northern Siberia on October 30th 1881. Eventually, in February 1884, the bodies of some of the crew were brought back to New York and a massive outpouring of grief took place. Collins was given a herioc funeral, where it seemed as if all the Irish in the city came out to pay their respects to their fellow countryman. Following requiem mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral his body was placed on board the “City of Chicago”, to be returned to Cork for burial. Alongside him was the body of his mother, who had died shortly after the expedition began and both bodies were accompanied on the journey home by Collins’ brother, Bernard.
The ship arrived in Cork on March 6th and following requiem mass on March 9th in St. Colman’s Cathedral, Queenstown (Cobh), the bodies were brought upriver and landed on the city quays near the City Hall. There a huge crowd awaited, consisting of various bands, societies, schools, clubs, members of the Councils, Nationalist politicians, such as John Redmond and Michael Davitt and the general Cork public. The funeral cortege alone was one mile long and a terrible gale and lashing rain accompanied it as it made its way solemnly through the streets on the four mile journey to the graveyard, all along the way many thousands of people lined the route, heads bowed and praying silently for the much respected son of Cork. Jerome Collins’ burial in the family grave at Curraghkippane ended the “longest funeral in the world”, the remarkable 14,700 mile journey from the banks of the Lena River in Siberia, over to New York and back to Cork, to the spot under the tall, north facing Celtic Cross overlooking the beautiful Lee Valley.
Amy Johnson is the Great-Great Grandniece of Jerome J. Collins and lives in Aurora, Minnesota USA. Her email address is johnson.amy@mchsi. com and welcomes comments and feedback. You can also visit her blog at http://www.anirisharctichero.blogspot.com. Roger Herlihy is a member of the Cork South Parish Historical Society.
THE RESTORED MONUMENT TO JEROME COLLINS AT CURRAGHKIPPANE, following conservation work, see below.
THE ERODING SLOPE IN THE GRAVEYARD OF ST MARY’S AT CURRAGHKIPPANE, ABOVE THE LEE VALLEY, WHERE THE CELTIC CROSS ON JEROME COLLIN’S GRAVE COULD EASILY SLIP DOWN, BRINGING WITH IT MUCH SOIL AND GRAVES, AND FURTHER DESTABILISATION.
A NEW FOUNDATION OF REINFORCED CONCRETE IS LAID UNDER THE CELTIC CROSS, TO PREVENT IT FROM SLIPPING DOWN THE ERODING SLOPE. THIS WILL STABILISE THE GROUND AND NEARBY GRAVES.
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