Documentary focuses on pivotal role of O’Donovan Rossa’s wife

Mary Jane O’Donovan Rossa was involved in Fenian movement and husband’s release

Williams Rossa Cole and Rossa Williams Cole  at the gravestone of their great grandmother in Staten Island.

Williams Rossa Cole and Rossa Williams Cole at the gravestone of their great grandmother in Staten Island.


An upcoming documentary about Mary Jane O’Donovan Rossa, the wife of Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, will show she had much more to do with the revolutionary Fenian movement than her husband, her great grandchildren have said.

Williams Rossa Cole and Rossa Williams Cole have previously directed a film about their great grandfather entitled Rebel Rossa, and are currently completing a similar documentary on their great grandmother.

The Fenian leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa was buried at Glasnevin cemetery on August 1st, 1915, where the most famous graveside oration in Irish history took place.

Easter Rising leader Pádraig Pearse told mourners: “They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! – they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”

Mary Jane O’Donovan Rossa was a nationalist activist and poet from Clonakilty, west Cork.

“Mary Jane had more to do with the revolutionary Fenian movement, Rossa’s release from prison, and making the historic funeral a reality than has ever been acknowledged,” her great grandson Williams Rossa Cole said.

“While Rossa’s funeral was a huge and widely reported event, Mary Jane’s death in the summer of 1916 was hardly noticed. While Rossa is buried in the Republican plot at Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin, Mary Jane’s grave in Staten Island, New York, is largely forgotten.”


Mr Rossa Cole said a rough cut of the documentary is almost completed but fundraising is needed to pay for additional shooting and to later promote the work.

“The freedom of Ireland was just as important to Mary Jane as it was to Rossa. Women didn’t really start to get recognition as historical figures until the 20th century,” he added.

“I would say that if you went back in history there would be millions of women who still aren’t acknowledged and their histories will of course be different than the typical male history.

“This is just one of those but I hope it will inspire more.”

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa was charged with high treason for his role in the unsuccessful Fenian rising of 1865. He was elected as an MP for Tipperary in 1869 while in prison, and later agreed to be exiled to America, where he died aged 83. He was married three times and had 18 children with Mary Jane.