Monday 4 February 2013

John Joseph Corridan - The Fenian Informer

The agent who had most impact in Kerry was J.J. Corydon.  Corydon’s real name was John Joseph Corridan, and he was a native of Ballyheigue.  His family had emigrated to  America when he was 12 years old. He joined the 63rd New York Regiment of the Union army on 19th October 1861. In the summer of 1862 Corydon became a sworn  Fenian,  and he returned to Ireland at the close of the Civil War. He began giving information to the Authorities in September 1866. In March 1867 Corydon was ordered by Colonel Massey to go to Millstreet and put himself under the orders of Colonel John James O Connor in Kerry. Despite being instructed by O’Connor, to take command in North Kerry with Captain O’ Brien, blow up bridges, tear up railway tracks and cut wires in that area and as far east as Rathkeale , if possible .  Instead Corydon returned to Dublin and began to provide information to break up the Fenian movement.  He too, echoed Daniel O’ Connell’s sentiments, saying that freedom was not worth the shedding of one drop of blood. On 10 July 1867 Corydon visited Naas gaol, where he identified Mortimer Moriarty, J.D. Sheehan and  James O’ Reilly, three of the Kerry prisoners. Corydon gave evidence at their trial in Tralee.

One of his former comrades complained ;
That scoundrel Corydon drew a Captain’s pay-that being supposed to be his rank in the Union army,while he was only a Surgeon’s assistant in a military Hospital. A few nights before the arrests this Rascal vwa playing cards with some of our fellows in Carey’s Hotel. He was demure and plausible; you’d thin butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

The  London magazine, The Spectator, did not think much of the informers;
“We suppose it necessary in the national Interest to employ scoundrels of this kind, but if they could be used and then hung,  the world would be a cleaner and none the less safer place.”

In the same vein the Tralee Chronicle remarked sarcastically;

“ Everyone engaged with John Joseph Corridan in saving the state has found the undertaking delightfully graceful and remunerative.”

In June 1867 Erins Hope sailed into Helvick Head harbour. Twenty nine Fenians were sent ashore under the command of Colonel   Nagle. The landing was observed by the local Coastguards. The local Magistrate and his men set off after and captured 27 of the 29 fine , able and intelligent men who were sent to Gaol in Waterford. When Talbot and J.J. Corydon came to Waterford to identify the Prisoners, The Waterford News of 1867 described what happened.
“The science of Physiognomy appears to have been unknown to the Fenian  Chiefs , for the very sight of the two wretches should be enough to excite the feeling of loathing in the breast of any intelligent person.  When the engine reached the Platform, Corydon jumped off and with a face of brass walked through the crowd of Fenians who were waiting.  One man by way of a joke came up and said “Morrow Corydon”.    Much to his surprise Corydon put up his hand ( to his hat )and replied, ”it is a fine day” to which he got the reply ” yes, for your business”.  Talbot, big and burly with his hands grasping the revolvers in his coat pockets jumped out and getting on a sidecar they cut over the bridge and saved themselves from the Ferrybank mob.”

At the Gaol, Corydon identified ten or twelve of the Americans as members of the Fenian Brotherhood, many having held high rank in the North American Army. However he told the Governor of the Gaol ;
 “He was disappointed at the class of men he saw, as the officers he had expected from America were of superior intelligence- he could not understand how Warren and Nagle could be mixed up with these men.”

Nagle was transferred to Kilmainham and wrote from his cell to Mr Collins, South mall, Cork ;
"The breed of the Corydons is not extinct in the words of the poet                                                                          

May the Grass wither from his feet
May the woods deny him shelter, earth a home.

The ashes a grave, the sun his light
And heaven his God”