Born in Ballyfallon just outside of Athboy in 1863 Fr. Eoghan O’Growney (born Eugene Growney) would, during his short life, become an important figure in Gaelic Revival. Ordained in 1863 he would become Professor of Irish at Maynooth and Vice-President of the Gaelic League.
While his life story and impact on Irish culture is interesting in itself, here we’re going to look at the amazing post-mortem journey that Fr. O’Growney took from his grave in Los Angeles across the United States back to his alma-mater in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.
In 1893 failing health saw him move to San Francisco, then to Phoenix, Arizona and then back to Los Angeles, California, where he died in 1899. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery on a sloping hillside overlooking the ocean. Debate began in the period following his death as to whether he should have been brought home to Ireland. Not long before his passing he had been asked this question by his friend and former student, Lawrence Brannick.
According to Brannick, O’Growney had wished in his later days that he had the strength to return to Ireland but his “humility” led him to never openly state a desire to be buried in his homeland. When asked about it Fr. O’Growney simply replied “I will be buried here [Los Angeles].” Although he had also confided in Brannick his desire to return to Ireland if he were healthy enough to do so. “I feel sure, however” wrote Brannick “that his wish was that he be buried in Ireland, and that his reason for saying this was that he had no means left to provide for the sending of his body to Ireland.”
At the Gaelic League Convention in Chicago a fund was started to raise money to transport O’Growney’s remains back to Ireland and it raised $1,500 before a split in the Gaelic League of America saw the plan postponed. Eventually the arrangements were made by the Gaelic League in Ireland for a Funeral to be held in Dublin followed by burial in Maynooth in September 1903.
In September 1903, in the presence of Brannick and a few of his friends the grave of Fr. O’Growney was opened. His remains, apparently in a good state of preservation, were placed in a new casket and “we never disturbed a hair on his head, or broke his rest” remarked Brannick. Safely sealed inside a new casket the remains of Fr. Eoghan O’Growney lay in state in Los Angeles before the start of a seven thousand mile journey back to Maynooth.
The first stop was San Francisco, which had been Fr. O’Growney’s first port of call upon leaving Ireland several years prior in the hopes that the warmer climate might be good for his tuberculosis. Here, his casket, draped in an American flag, lay in state for a week in the Hall of the Red Branch Knights. Irish Volunteers provided a guard of honor. From here the body was removed to St. Mary’s Cathedral for a Funeral mass which was conducted by his friend Fr. Peter Yorke.
The next leg of the journey was Chicago where, accompanied by his chief pallbearer Lawrence Brannick the remains of Fr. O’Growney were brought to The Cathedral of the Holy Name. On the 17th September 1903 the long procession arrived in New York where the late priest’s brother Christopher Growney was part of the pallbearers in the procession which brought Fr. O’Growney to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Here again there was held a pubic memorial service before the casket was brought aboard the Cunard Line’s ship the Campania.
It was not customary for the Cunard Line to transport corpses and they did not allow any public procession. Despite an offer from the White Star Line to take the casket aboard one of their ships with no reservations, the Gaelic League lodged no protest, as this was the only way they could get Fr. O’Growney’s remains to Queenstown before 29th September. The casket was removed from the Cathedral at 5pm to the Campania accompanied by a small group of Irish Volunteers and the men who would be traveling with Fr. O’Growney’s remains to Ireland, among whom were Lawrence Brannick himself as well as President of the Gaelic League in America Major C.P.B. O’Donovan and the League’s chaplain Rev. Fielding.
Despite the Cunard Line’s desire to keep the fact they were ferrying O’Growney’s remains as quiet as they could (hence the dusk removal and the refusal to allow a procession) the passengers on board the Campania did learn about the presence of the men and their mission, which seemed almost an inevitability. Still, the ship completed it’s 6 day journey and, when they were nearing Ireland, the delegation messaged to Dublin saying
“O’Growney is nearing the land of his love.
The Campania arrived in Cork and was greeted by, among others, Fr. O’Growney’s brother Patrick and co-founder of the Gaelic League Eoin McNeil. O’Growney was finally back on Irish soil and was brought to St. Coleman’s Cathedral where Robert Browne, Bishop of Cloyne, presided over a special service. The procession then made it’s way by train to Dublin where they arrived on Saturday 28th November 1903.
Special trains brought people from all over to the funeral that morning including 500 people who came via the Athboy train, according to the Anglo-Celt. (The entire population of Athboy in 1901 was 610 people, so, this may or may not mean that the majority of the town went to join the funeral procession). The procession included members of GAA clubs, Meath branches of the Gaelic League (led by the Athboy branch, Dublin traders, Fr. O’Growney’s former classmates from Maynooth and the future President of Ireland and co-founder of the Gaelic League Dr. Douglas Hyde. After the Funeral mass at the Pro-Cathredral, O’Growney was taken via Broadstone station to Maynooth.
At Maynooth he was brought to the college chapel where college professors and some two hundred priests held a Requiem Mass in his honor. Fr. O’Growney was not immediately buried but rather his remains kept in the church tower before he was interred in a small mausoleum in the College Cemetery.
In 1956, a statue of Fr. O’Growney was unveiled in front of St. James’ Roman Catholic Church in Athboy. The unveiling was attended by Sean T. O’Ceallaigh and Eamon de Valera. A film of which can be viewed below:
The O’Growney Memorial Volume which was published in 1904 goes into greater detail on the entire last journey of Fr. O’Growney as well as providing a biography. It is in the public domain and available full at the Internet Archive.