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Newry launch of new book on John Mitchel

June 15, 2015

It sounds and reads like an epic movie: starry-eyed lovers whose fledgling relationship is blocked by their parents, so they elope and marry – beginning a life journey that would take them from Ulster, to the 1848 rebellion, to Van Diemen’s Land and all the way to Paris, San Francisco and the American Civil War. Yet such was the remarkable marriage between nationalist, lawyer and journalist John Mitchel and his wife Jenny Verner – herself equally committed to physical force Republicanism.

Their loving and, at times, turbulent relationship spanned continents and decades of unprecedented national and international upheaval which they often influenced or closely observed. Yet it is also a story tinged with the awful sadness of their children’s untimely deaths, and the dark shadow of their seemingly paradoxical support of slavery. Verner and his heroic relationship is sympathetically documented and analysed in this engaging and captivating story skillfully gathered by Anthony Russell.

The Newry launch of ‘Between Two Flags’ will take place this Thursday 18th June in the Presbyterian Church, John Mitchel Place, commencing at 7.00pm.  Guest speaker at the event is James Quinn, Managing Editor of the Dictionary of Irish Biography.

The book features more than 40 pictures and illustrations and is available in bookshops and online from www.merrionpress.ie €19.99 (£16.99)

About the book: In this year, the 200th anniversary of John Mitchel’s birth, Between Two Flags is a particularly timely re-examination of the life of John Mitchel and that of his lifelong companion and partner Jenny Verner – who was as central and committed to Mitchel’s causes and progress.

Having married despite their parents objections in the parish church of Drumcree, the family would move several years later to Dublin where Mitchel took up a role at The Nation newspaper which he had contributed to frequently. Ultimately Mitchel’s political views (radicalised by his youthful experiences in and around Newry and the awfulness of the Famine) would see him set up The United Irishman newspaper which would openly preach sedition. This lead to his arrest for treason felony and transportation to Tasmania for a 14 year sentence. But he escaped in 1853 and was given a hero’s welcome in San Francisco when he arrived. He published his famous Jail Journal which was hugely popular. In one entry, he welcomes the Crimean War believing an Irish rebellion can succeed only if England is preoccupied elsewhere. The sentiment influenced Patrick Pearse in 1916.

Mitchel launched several newspapers in America, and as editor of the Richmond Examiner championed slavery; their enthusiastic support of the institution of slavery is a subject Anthony Russell meets head on in his evocation of the period and its context.

In 1867, he founded the Irish Citizen in New York, but angered Fenians by suggesting they should give allegiance to their new country. In 1875, he was returned unopposed as MP for Tipperary, but was disqualified as a convicted felon. Returning to Ireland, he was again elected, but died at Dromalane, Newry, on 20 March 1875 before he could be unseated. Destined to be separated by death in different continents, Mitchel and Verner’s unbreakable relationship withstood the upheaval, heartbreak and separation that marked their remarkable progress through the most interesting of times.

About the author: Anthony Russell is a recently retired academic and programme leader from Anglia Ruskin University. As an historical geographer, he was academic consultant to Ulster University and Dundalk Institute of Technology’s (DkIT) ‘Borderlands’ degree. He has written and produced multi-media exhibitions on the Great Famine in south Ulster and north Leinster, and the 1798 Rebellion, for Newry and Mourne District Council (NMDC). Along with Professor David A. Wilson, University of Toronto, he is an academic advisor to the D’Arcy McGee summer school.

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