The History of Strandhouse (An Súgán Guesthouse)
Mary Jane Irwin, poetess and wife of the great Fenian patriot Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, was born in this house. The Irwin’s were successful merchants. The marriage of Rossa to Mary Jane Irwin took place at the Parochial House, Clonakilty on October the 22nd 1864. Mary Jane 18 and Rossa, who was twice widowed and the father of 5 small sons, was 34. Within a year of their marriage, Rossa was sentenced to life imprisonment for the crime of treason and sent to Portland prison in England.
Soon after his imprisonment a son was born to Mary Jane and named James Maxwell. A few months after the child’s birth, Mary Jane sailed for America leaving the child at home in Clonakilty. She took up the plight of Irish political prisoners in English goals and toured the length and breadth of America giving lectures and readings, calling for their release. She studied elocution and public speaking earning the money for her tuition by selling poems and stories to the “Irish People” newspaper and other periodicals.
After four years, Rossa’s life sentence was commuted and he and other prisoners were banished to America for twenty years. There he started up a passage ticket agency, then onto the editorship of a newspaper called the “Era” and after this into the hotel business. Finally, he started a one-man newspaper called the “United Irishman”. His outspokenness and Irish revolutionary ideals caused him to be the target for the assassin’s bullets, a number of which he carried to the grave.
James Maxwell died as a result of an accident while serving in the U.S. navy. On November 11th 1905 Mary Jane and O’Donovan Rossa returned to Ireland, Rossa having been elected to the post of secretary to the Cork County Council. In six months, they returned to the USA as Mary Jane began to pine for her children and James Maxwells grave.
Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa died on June 29th 1915. His body was returned to Ireland for burial at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. Mary Jane conducted the funeral arrangements from the Gresham Hotel with the future leaders of the 1916 rising. His funeral was a huge nationalist one and was the beginning of a new fight for freedom.
On August 18th, 1916 Mary Jane died suddenly.
The Irwin’s always extended a welcome to nationalists and in March 1880 Charles Stewart Parnell spoke to an election crowd from the window of Strand House.