Kilglass Graveyard, Longwood, is the burial site of Philip Gray, whose funeral was one of the launching points for the foundations of the Fenians and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Gray, a Young Irelander, had taken part in the 1848 and 1849 rebellions. Dying in 1857 his burial in Kilglass was where Thomas Clarke Luby made his first public speech when delivering the oration at the grave-side. Luby went on to become the deputy leader of the Fenians, James Stephens who was also at the funeral became the movement’s leader.
Philip Gray was born in Dublin in 1821. His family were from Meath, his mother was O’Carroll. Gray was involved in the major political movements of the day. Daniel O’Connell led a campaign for the repeal of the Union and for an independent Irish parliament. In November 1841 Philip Gray was inducted as a member of the Loyal National Repeal Association. Gray walked to Tara to hear Daniel O’Connell speak in 1843. Gray along with a number of nationalists became disillusioned with constitutional methods. The Young Irelanders broke away from the O’Connell’s Repeal movement. Their goal was independence of the Irish nation and they held to any means to achieve that which were consistent with honour, morality and reason. At the beginning of 1847 they formed an organisation known as The Irish Confederation.
Gray joined the Swift Confederate Club in 1847 and became its secretary. His branch was one of the most active and militant in Dublin. Gray studied military texts, and used this information in drilling bodies of men every evening in the Club premises in Queen’s Street. Gray believed in action not words.
In 1848 Gray was working in the railway office in Drogheda. Rebellions broke out across Europe. In 1848 Gray attempted to instigate a rebellion in Meath and when he failed he headed south to Tipperary. After the failure at Ballingarry in July 1848 he joined up with the Waterford rebels. John O’Mahony entrusted the command of the Waterford insurgents to Gray and John Savage. An attack was made on Portlaw police station. Gray was forced to undergo many hardships while eluding capture by both the police and military in County Waterford for four months in the autumn and early winter of 1848. He was poorly fed and exposed to all sorts of weather.
Philip’s brother, John, was involved in attempting to link the Navan and Dublin Confederate Clubs to organise a rising in Meath. Like Philip Gray, Thomas Clarke Luby supported O’Connell and his repeal movement before becoming involved in the Young Ireland movement. During the 1848 rebellion Luby was involved in the unsuccessful raids on the Dunshaughlin constabulary barracks and on the town of Navan.
Philip Gray returned briefly to Dublin where he established a provisional directory of a new secret society. He was forced to flee to Paris, where he consulted with rebel leaders; John O’Mahony and James Stephens.
Gray returned to Ireland in 1849 and again began to plan another out-break in the autumn of that year in the company of James Fintan Lalor. Gray travelled the country promoting the new organisation. They were then joined by Luby, Joseph Brennan and a dozen other members who had been active in the Swift Confederate Club. The group attempted to organise a protest for the visit of Queen Victoria in August 1849. A plan was hatched to kidnap the Queen and hold her captive in county Wicklow.
In September 1849 an attack on the police barracks at Cappoquin took place and this was the final act of that movement. The loss of the element of surprise doomed the assault to failure. This movement petered out in 1850. Gray returned to Dublin, and secured a clerkship at an office in Smithfield Market. The long hours of work indoors affected his health.
In 1856, Stephens returned to Ireland with the purpose of establishing a new secret revolutionary society determined to secure independence for Ireland. Gray proposed the establishment of a memorial fund to finance Stephen’s attempts at organising a militant national movement. Stephens was annoyed at this as he thought the time had not yet come for such a move. Stephens met Gray at Peter Langan’s Timber Yard in Lombard Street, Dublin. Gray introduced Stephens to Thomas Clarke Luby.
Gray’s health was undermined by the hardships he suffered on the run in Tipperary and Waterford. On the morning of St. Patrick’s day 1855 Gray burst a blood vessel and lost an immense amount of blood. As soon as he was sufficiently recovered he went to spend the summer with his relatives in Meath. and afterwards held a position in the office of newspaper The Tribune, which campaigned for tenant rights. The newspaper ceased publication in 1856. Gray commenced attending lectures on Chemistry at the Museum of Industry in Stephen’s Green.
In January 1857 he fell ill at his home in Lombard Street, Dublin and received the sacrament of Extreme Unction on the eighteenth. He suffered great agony for the last week of his life dying on 25 January 1857, in his thirty sixth year. His brother, John, who had also fought in ’48, had his remains conveyed to Enfield by railway where it was met by friends and relatives. The crowds grew larger as they approached Kilglass where his remains were interred beside those of his father under a spreading tree. It was said that the grave also contained his grandfather or uncle who had fought in 1798 and been hung by the Yeos. Today Gray’s grave is unknown and unmarked.
James Stephens and Thomas Clarke Luby attended the service, at which Luby spoke. At the service, Stephen’s insisted that Luby give the oration, which later Luby regarded as a poor and halting attempt. Thomas Clarke Luby wrote an account of Gray’s life for the Irish-American newspaper, The Irish News, in March 1857.
Stephens was concerned at the lack of recognition of the cause with the Irish press entirely ignoring Gray’s passing and mention of the rebellions. An attempt was made to raise money for a monument to Gray to promote the cause, but without press coverage, this was unlikely to be a successful endeavour. In March 1857 Stephens wrote to his fellow Paris exile, O’Mahony, in the United States broaching the idea of launching a Gray monument fund there. O’Mahony wrote that Gray “could never be made to understand that we were beaten. It was he who worked hardest of all to retrieve the lost cause.” The Gray Fund went nowhere but Stephens and O’Mahony established an operative link. This twinning of the IRB and the Fenians was triggered by the funeral of Philip Gray and this led on to 1916 and our move towards nationhood.