Fenianism grew out of the failed attempts of Young Ireland 1848 rising. Founded simultaneously in Ireland and the US. by James Stephens and John O’Mahony in March 1858, its primary goal was to foment rebellion in Ireland
John McCormack was born in Castlebar in 1850 the son of Samuel McCormack from Thomas Street., he had two brothers, Patrick and Samuel. John McCormack was a Fenian or the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) as it was also known, in the movement with him were his brothers Patrick and Samuel. Samuel was father of John P McCormack.
When John McCormack walked home from drilling exercises in Castlebar on a winters night in 1866 little did he realise that the “Fenian” who accompanied him was about to betray him.
John McCormack in 1868 after a lengthy trial under Judge Keogh was sentenced to deportation for life and never saw his home town again. A brief account of the Trial is as follows. The full account can be seen on the Connacht Telegraph dated the 16th March 1963 under the heading of the Kilmainham Jail Renovation Project.
Wednesday, January 17th, 1866. John McCormack a respectably dressed young man was taken into custody and charged at the Constabulary head office with being a member of the Fenian Brotherhood. True bills were found against him by the grand jury and a warrant for his transmission from Castlebar where he resided was issued by the Lord Justices. He was taken into custody at Castlebar Gaol and later transferred to Dublin by rail and lodged in Chancery-Lane Station House. He was brought up before the presiding Magistrate (Mr McDermott) and having been identified as the person mentioned in the warrant, he was committed for trial at the Special Commission on a charge of Treason-Felony and was removed to Kilmainham Prison.
At Green Street:
Wednesday, February 7th, 1866. John McCormack was put forward on a charge of Treason-Felony and pleaded not guilty before Judge Fitzgerald. Mr Isaac Butt Q.C. was leading counsel for the accused. The Solicitor-General opened the case for the Crown. It would be proved by a private of the 9th Regiment named Prendergast that the prisoner was on several occasions at drill meetings of the Fenians and he told him that he was authorised to swear men into that body. On searching him on one occasion he found on him a most extraordinary collection of papers and all the apparatus for making cartridges. Due to lack of evidence the Jury acquitted John McCormack. However the Judge warned him that if he was not prepared to live peaceably in the country, the sooner he quitted it the better.
Soon after John McCormack was again re-arrested and lodged in Kilmainham Jail. Below we reproduce a copy of a facsimile of a reply received by his father Samuel McCormack to a petition for the release of his son.
Samuel however, was never to see his son again. John was once again arraigned on a charge of Treason-Felony this time in 1868 before Judge Keogh who sentenced him to deportation for life. Some time later the informer, Luke Prendergast was found bayoneted to death in Dublin.