John McCullagh June 25, 2005

Shortly we will feature a review of Francis Gallagher’s short biography of Thomas Russell. First a note on how Newry featured in his life.

Originally from Cork (son of a Church of Ireland decorated British army officer and a Catholic mother from Tipperary) Russell, who served with distinction himself in the Army before taking up a career as a librarian, was a phenomenon in many ways. 

Most unusual about him were the radical views he held, inspired by the French revolutionaries of the time and his sensitivity to the plight of the poor and of Ireland‘s Roman Catholics. He was very handsome and with his generosity of spirit and sensitive nature was a welcome guest in the homes of the wealthy and influential citizens of Belfast in the early years of the last decade of the century.

In the home of one such Belfast lady, Mrs Martha McTier, Russell was introduced to a beautiful young girl from Newry, Eliza Goddard. An unusual and passionate romance developed. However Eliza’s father, a customs official considered Russell – because of his involvement with the United Irishmen, would be unable to provide for his daughter. He did all in his power to discourage the relationship, going so far as to send to Dublin Castle a radical pamphlet that Russell had written. Her father had his way. Eventually, to Russell’s great sorrow, Eliza was married to an army officer, Captain Kingston.

But Russell felt a pure love for Eliza that endured right up to his early and untimely death. He placed her apart from other women.  Her angelic qualities and sweet countenance made her hard to forget. The loss of her love haunted him. Visiting Newry with Jeremy Hope to drum up support for Robert Emmett’s Dublin Insurrection of 1803, his friend enquired why Thomas was suddenly very quiet: because we approach the home of Eliza, he was told. These feelings were with Russell at all times of trial in his life. For example, when, later in the same year he moved on to organise Loughinisland, her image again haunted him: there was a kindness and intimacy about her that was not easily forgotten: he never recovered from the withdrawal of her sweet and shy love.

 Even after the failure of the insurrection, Russell’s capture and trial, these thoughts were on his mind. The night before his trial he dreamed of her.

‘Recollections of her sweet and pure beauty no doubt comforted him’, writes Francis Gallagher in his biography. Russell could not bear to leave this life without being with her again. Yet he did.

It is perhaps ironical that Russell was opposed to the marriage of his niece to his friend, fellow revolutionary and lieutenant William Henry Hamilton on the grounds that a stable marriage and the life of a revolutionary didn’t fit well together. There is perhaps further irony in the fact that the marriage survived, as did Hamilton – unlike Russell. Imprisoned for three years in Kilmainham for his part, Hamilton, on his release emigrated to Latin America where he fought in the revolutionary army of Simon Bolivar.

Francis Gallagher on Thomas Russell …

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