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Author: Alfred Isacsson, O.Carm

Publication Year: 2008

Journal Volume: 22

Article Reference: NYIHR-V22-06

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Research Notes -Dennis A. Spellissy in New York

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At a stamp show in the 1970s I was searching through box and came across a group of English stamps used in Ireland. I bought four or five of these and placed them inmy collection. These were from the correspondence of onemind, and I decided to research this man. What I found was an immigrant whose apparent success suggested what aWilliam Harris, press agent for a Brooklyn roller-skating rink.The sport had became a popular pastime by the late 1800sperson could become in the United States in the lateCourtesy of Library of Congress.1800s, particularly an immigrant from Ireland with someEarly Cases and Clientseducation who decided to work in New York. DenisAlthough the evidence is just suggestive, records of several ofCounty Clare, Ireland. He attended Queens College, Galway.For example, in an early case he handled, a Mr. and Mrs.A Fenian, he came to the United States after the 1876Rising and worked as a bank clerk while he studied law.Hetherton charged each other with infidelity, In the stateAdmitted to the New York bar, he established a law officewhich grew into an extensive practice. A member of theNational Guard, he rose to the rank of captain. At one pointexpenses and stated that he had a detective watching hisin his life, he was Third Deputy Inspector of Insurance forthe State of New York and became a candidate for Attorney wife, causing her reputation among her friends to be dam-General in the State. What follows are "research notes"that sketch in some of his legal cases and political activi-ties during the late 1800s and early 1900s. These indicate.contributor to this journal. His latest book, Always Faithful: TheNew York Carmelites, the Irish People and Their Freedomnected with the Irish American leaders and who acted inMovement, was published in 2004. He is also the author of Thesuch a way that he never forgot where he had come frombooks on the Carmelites and Trish History. He lives in Middletown,and, in his own way, tried to help his native land.N.Y, where he continues his research and writing. ©2009.Vol. 22, 2008Spellissy in New Yorkby Alfred Isacsson, 0. Carm.New York Irish History Roundtable.Denis Aloysius Spellissy. This incident kept his name in myIn an early case, Spellissy's argumentation won the decision forAloysius Spellissy was born December l 1846 in Ennis,his cases indicate Spellisy's respectability and legal acumen.Supreme Court, October, 1877, Denis Spellissy asked for anattachment against Mr. Hetherton for failure to pay $248 ali-mony. In support of this, Spellissy read a list of Hetherton'saged. Hetherton's lawyer admitted this, but countered bysaying Mrs. Hetherton was living with one Edward Barnes forFather Alfred Isacsson is a retired Carmelite priest and frequentSpellissy became a respected attorey who was well-con-Travels, Arrest and Trial of Jolm H. Surrat (2003), as well as otherPublished with permission of Alfred Isacsson, O. Carm: Research Notes:who dutifully did the appraisal and signed the report. ThisBarnes had in fact been residing in St. Louis for over a year, awas a case of the " wrong Harvey.!" The surrogate acceptedmove that was effective and won the case for him.!this explanation of the error and no fraud was chargedIn another case around the same time, one WilliamHarris had the employ of Denis Spellissy when he suedIn the same year, John J. Rogers put his 6 Park PlaceMessrs. Taylor and Wood of the Brooklyn Roller Skatingrestaurant into the hands of an assignee who was to try andRink in 1878 for payment for his services as a press agent.He had been paid only $15 a week but claimed to haveas were many prominent politicians (including Chester A.Arthur) and many Irish Nationalists. ' What brought Rogersterms had been agreed upon and that he was simply try-this trouble was his United States Hotel in Far to recover what Harris' services were worth. The juryWith that financial loss closed there was hope of reopeningHarris favor, giving him $130 plus costs.?lawyer selected by Rogers to help him. He stated Rogers'When the Carmelites came to New York from Irelandliabilities were $15,000 and his assets a bout $3, 1889, they were given by Archbishop Michael A.In a case involving the United States Supreme Court,Corrigan the East Side Manhattan parish of Our Lady ofDr. Robert Buchanan was tried in the court of general ses-the Scapular, which had been cut off from the larger par-sions, New York City, for the murder of his wife by poison-ish of Saint Stephan's. They purchased seven lots, four onon April 22, 1892. Guilty by trial, Buchanan was denied aEast 28th Street and three on East 29th Street. The law-new rial, and the court of appeals affirmed the originalyer the Carmelites selected to handle legal issues for theverdict. The lawyer trio of J. J. Noah, G. W. Gibbons andSome years later, in another case, William J. Harveybasis of the appeal was that at the original Buchanan trialand John J. Cullen had been appointed in September, 1890,one of the jurors, a man named Paradise, because of ill-as appraisers of the estate of one Patrick Bergen. A reportness, did not participate in the jury decision. Paradise'ssigned by William Harvey and John. .Cullen was filed withaffliction seemed to be epileptic in character and made.the court and approved. In the following June, William J.him mentally incapacitated and incapable of judgment.Harvey asked Surrogate Judge Ransom to set aside theThe judgment by only 1 jurors was the basis of the appealreport on the grounds of fraud. Harvey attested that he hadas well as the illegal separation of jurors. John Lindsaynot done the appraisal, did not sign the report, and did notcountered the appeal with the statement that no federalfile it. Harvey went to the office of Denis Spellissy to learnquestion was involved in the case and that Buchanan hadwhen the appraisal would take place but did not learn.due process. The court denied the application for appeal.6When Harvey saw John Cullen, Cullen told him the matterHis Political Activitieshad been disposed of. To clear up this problem Spellissy'soffice explained to the surrogate that they had learnedIn addition to his legal involvements, Denis Spellissyfrom his office that Harvey was William Harvey. They thenseems to have become quite active in New York politics,sent a postal card to a William Harvey of East 115 Streettaking on several positions of responsibility, some ofwhich were related to the goal of independence for Ireland.Vol. 22, 2008PAGE 58NEW YORK 1RISH HISTORYsome months. Spellissy answered by showing that thisagainst either Cullen or Spellissy.settle outstanding bills. Spellissy was, of course, a customersigned for $50 a week. Spellissy had argued that specialfound Spellissy argument convincing and decided inthe 6 Park Place establishment. Denis Spellissy was thepurchases was Denis A. Spellissy.3Denis Spellissy appeal to the nation's Supreme Court. The PAGE 59Research Notes:skill, and proved a success, although not all the time. In 1890,was claiming the same rights for Jews, Catholics, and othershe was named to the executive committee of the Nineteenthas the Protestant majority had. Though the Walsh planAssembly District's County Democratic club. The meetingmight bring more benefits to Catholics than to others, thisformed a party named National Democracy. They endorsedbe taught only after other education was completed.reform in the state, supported civil service reform, and prom-Spellissy assured people that this aid would not result in thepromotion of prejudice. He also stated that there was noThe 1890 celebration of Saint Patrick's Day was wide-endorsement of the ecclesiastical administration. They weretoast" Ireland" at the celebration of the Sixty Friends ofwere in favor of the plan and that it would pass. PriestsIreland held at the Roger's Hall - although he did notwere steering clear of the matter so they would not beattend the celebration at Hoffman House graced by theaccused of being involved in politics. Michael Walsh addedpresence of exmayor Grace nor that of the Friendly Sons ofhis confidence that the bill would not die in committee. HeSaint Patrick honored by the presence of Mayor Grant.'mentioned the earnestness of Catholics about the matterThree years later, Michael Walsh proposed a plan forand added the approval of Rome as well as support fromthe support of parochial schools by granting them a por-bishops throughout the world.'tion of the general tax funds. A number of non-CatholicA letter on December 9, 1893, compared the Walshministers were cited as against the plan. Also against theplan with the Irish educational system. The writer point-plan was the fact that in Italy, Spain and South Americaed out that any national or religious group of people withtheir public schools where the populations were totally50 pupils could establish a school. This is different fromCatholic, the education level was low. At that timeIreland where all are of the same race and religion. In(September, 1893) the administration of the ArchdioceseWalsh's schools, teachers could not but be influenced byof New York were all out of town and unavailable.their beliefs and thus would contribute to diversity. HeMichael Walsh saw his plan as solving the problem fac-cited the futility of agitating impractical things and stat-ing parochial education, but could not see it not receiv-ed that Catholics were in favor of the present system. loDecember 8 as having foes among Catholics but the arti-ken supporter of the Walsh plan. Despite the denial ofcle cited none against the plan until its end where ex-Monsignor John Farley of the Chancery Office, a bill preparedJudge Charles Daly is cited as being against anyencroachment of the present system.!" The next day, Johnsented to the State Assembly in the forthcoming session.A. McCall, president of New York Life Insurance, consid-The bill provided that any schools in existence for a year andered the proposal ridiculous but wanted it voted on so itwith an enrollment of at least 50 pupils would be providedmight be so buried and never resurrect again. He alsofunds from tax revenues. These schools had to meet thecited the many Catholics educated in public schools whostandards set by the state and would be regularly inspectedloved and valued this institution.12Vol. 22, 2008NEW YORK 1RISH HISTORYIn the political arena, Spellisy displayed concern andto ensure this. Spellissy called the present system unfair andwas no concem to Spellissy. He assured that religion wouldthe tariff reforms of Grover Cleveland, called for a ballotised not to promote for office any unfit candidates'spread throughout New York City. Denis Spellissy gave theleaving this matter to the laity. Spellisy believed the support of Protestants.The Walsh-Spellissy plan was headlined onBy December, Denis Spellissy had become an outspo-by Denis Spellissy embodying the Walsh plan would be pre-PAGE 60Research Notes:mittee appointed to bring before the people the candi-was the editor and owner of The Catholic Herald whichregularly published articles submitted by Archbishopthat September. He saw the fusion ticket as being aRepublican one which was governed by interests adversedelegate, Catholic education and other issues of the day.appointed to work on organizing the group. 16"I am a Tammany Hall Democrat and I am going to votepublicity given him. Walsh also wrote a book chroniclingHall and insisted that the Fusion Ticket was Republican andvent its publication, Walsh told him it would cost $9000.governed by interests adverse to the people. The meetingThere is no record of either sum being paid but the bookwas held at the suggestion of the Civic Council. The politicalwas not published and the publicity expense was a genu-condition of the city was called chaotic and foresaw theine one. At the time Walsh was proposing his educationmove corporation rule which would deprive the people oftheir rights. A permanent organization was to be formedthere was another plan for Catholic education that wasand a committee was appointed to do this."national in scope and occupied their attention. The Walsh-Liberal Democratic Party for Attorney General. He did notwin but spent $468.50 on his campaign.16figure in the United Irish League. On June 17, 1900, overOn December 3, 1907 there was a meeting to form200 people gathered to form Branch 1 of New York Citythe basics for the Lawyers Association of New YorkCounty. The aim of this group was not to be as exclusive asthe County Bar Association and accented the eliminationThe position of the group was that England would notgive any self government to Ireland so any rightsof this organization committee.° Several years later, theobtained must be wrought by force. Resolutions passedleadership of the Association dropped 680 members fromincluded statements supporting the independence oftheir rolls for the nonpayment of $10 a year dues (somepoint was a director of the organization.20the meeting of the Franchise Tax and MunicipalWhen Shane Leslie's ship arrived in New YorkOwnership League. Because Governor Odell was for thisOctober 25, 1911, he was met by a large delegation at-tax which was harmful to the city, Controller Edwardthe pier. He had come to meet with members of theGrout spoke against it at this meeting.5When the Franchise Tax and Municipal andGaelic League and to give lectures on Irish literature.From the pier, he was led to the residence ofMunicipal Ownership League met in August, 1900, theyendorsed Bird S. Coler for governor on the Democraticgreeting committee which consisted of distinguishedticket. If this failed, the group suggested placing Coler onNew Yorkers?.Vol. 22, 2008NEW YORK 1RISH HISTORYDenis Spellissy probably did not realize that his alli-an independent ticket. Denis Spellissy was on the cOm-ance with Michael Walsh was not a fortuitous one. Walshdacy of Coler. Spellissy chaired a meeting of fifty men ofMichael Corrigan to support his views on the apostolicWhen there was a falling out between Corrigan andto the people. A committee including Spellissy wasWalsh, the latter asked Corrigan for $6750 to cover thethe Tammany Hall ticket." So spoke Denis Spellissy at Civic-these dealings with Corrigan. When Corrigan tried to pre-plan, Corrigan and other dergy were not involved becauseIn 1902, Denis Spellissy was the candidate of theSpellissy plan died mostly of neglect.BSeveral years later, Spellissy became an importantof the League. Denis Spellissy was elected vice president,and Daniel Cohalan chosen for the executive committee.of blackballing oflawyers. Denis Spellissy was a member.Ireland and rule by Irishmen.4were experiencing hard times.) Denis Spellissy at thisEarlier in the same year, Spellissy had presided atArchbishop Farley. Denis Spellissy was a member of the.

PAGE 61Research Notes:"A defenseless Ireland has always been a defraudedTwo or three signatures were required before DenisIreland," the Irish Volunteer Fund Committee cabled tothe Irish National Volunteers in Ireland in July, 1914. Athe dispersal of funds, Jeremiah Lynch on October 30, 1914resolution of support was sent to the group's secretarywas issued a check for 500 Pounds which he was to bring togroup. The group also cabled a message to Ireland thatsame process was followed for $15,000 for MacNeil as wellthe funds they were raising were to be used only for thepurchase of arms. Another resolution stated that Homeauthorized to give these funds to John Kenny who was theRule had to apply to all Ireland, that is a united andcourier. Kenny received $300 for expenses. Kenny andsignatures of this resolution.7there was trouble, the telegram would simply be "arrived."ous documents relating to the sending of money toIreland to assist in the fighting for freedom. The IrishThe "arrived well" message was sent November 28, 1914.%Other disbursements that we have records of are:Volunteer Fund was the instrument. Each disbursementfrom this fund required a number of signatures beforeAnother $1,000 were given to a John Kelly who could very.$100,000. Care was taken that the bond coverage con-well have been a courier. Two audits exist among the paperswe have been citing. One with no date totaled $39,720while a report of February 24, 1916, lists $48,000.3Volunteer Fund are among his papers.chairman of the Provisional Committee of the IrishVolunteers, acknowledged the receipt of the 1,000College Dublin gave the rationale for the Irish VolunteerPounds from the American committee. At MacNeil'sFund with the statement, "If Ulster can arm and organizerequest, those funds and all others to be raised would beto defeat Home Rule, can we not arm to defend it?" Theused to place rifles in the hands of the volunteers. TheIrish Volunteers were organized November 2, 1913, inDublin, "to secure and maintain rights and libertiescould collect $100,000 before the end of the year.75common to all the people of Ireland."In September, 1915, a New York Times article notedThere was no fund raising for the Irish Volunteerthat the Geraldines, an Irish Nationalist organization,Fund such as dances, raffles and card games. $5,000were circulating an appeal for "Defense of Ireland Fund"to be used to fight English conscription in Ireland. In theIrish Republican Brotherhood brought this sum tolated the neutrality of the United States by sending large$100,000. All of these funds seem to have been indi-quantities of arms to Ireland. He also criticized Englishconscription and said that soon there would be armedVol. 22, 2008NEW YORK 1RISH HISTORYSpellissy could issue funds. Through this formal system forEoin MacNeil. Denis Spellissy was the treasurer of theIreland and give to Eoin MacNeill. On November 12, 1914, theas remittances for 1000 and 50 Pounds. Denis Spellissy wasundivided island. Spellissy as treasurer was one of theSpellissy had a simple code. A safe arrival and delivery inPresent in the papers of Daniel Cohalan are numer-Ireland would be indicated by a telegram,"arrived well." IFAugust 1,1915, $10,000 for MacNeil, $5,000 for JohnDevoy, and with no date $1,000 to Mary 'Donovan Rossa.Denis Spellissy, the treasurer, could write a chec...Spellissy also had a surety bond which was as high astinued. Though Daniel Cohalan was not one of the offi-cers charged with disbursement, receipts for the IrishIn that same month of July, 1914, Eoin MacNeil,Eoin MacNeil, a history professor at Universitycommittee with Denis Spellissy as treasurer believed itwas raised by the Irish World and John Devoy's remit-tances came to $50,000. Remittances of the Clan to thearticle, Denis Spellissy was quoted as saying he had vio-vidual donations.3 PAGE 62Research Notes:Irishmen to resist this. He said he had a secret manner ofthe act illegal because Casement was convicted under angetting the arms into Ireland, and told of two ladies andobsolete law for acts done beyond the territory of thea gentleman bringing arms on their yacht. He claimed tohave sent more than $40,000 over in the past fewBritish Empire. It was another example of the British keep-ing the Irish down by force. Later that same year, 1916,predicting an Irish victory over their forces. He went soactivities of Roger Casement in Brazil and the Congo-far as to forecast the landing of a German army in Irelandto help in its liberation; though hehad not seen Roger Casement in over ayear, he had heard from him theARE BREATHING WARpledge of German support. Whenquestioned as a lawyer about the vio-Quite Sure an Army Will Arise inFor the purpose of supplying them.Ireland and Resist Con-HER. Inscribe your name on the 1"This is our business, the business ofthe Irish in America, who have beenAPPEALING HERE FOR FUNDSdriven here by British oppression."Assert Germans Will Help Them,Patrick J. Griffin, a clerk in the Firebut Not Clear asHow TheyDepartment, is President of the Ger-aldine Club, but he said yesterday thatwill Avoid the British Fleet.he knew nothing about the above vard.forefront of Irish activists.?He also said that he wAs good Irish-man and would fight the English Ethey triedLoIreland.that anything was known about thePresident Wilson to resign inAt the Geraldine Club, It was deniedThis article indicated the significant role played by Spellissy in supporting and raising funds forSeptember, 1915 as the Consul General at Irish independence from Great Britain. Courtesy of the New York TimesMunich because of his expression of per-World War I. Gaffney elicited sentiments of German sup -than use State Department channels, he drew attention toApril 30, 1916, saw the meeting of the United Irishserved him without " making such a stipulation."S)Societies of America at which the Star Spangled Banner"freedom of Ireland. When he died in 1925, he left manyOnce Again." " The Irish Republic is won" was thefriends.32were a good number of speakers including Catholic priestsNotesand Germans there.® Meetings of Irishmen denounced the1 New York Times, Oct. 30, 1877.2 New York Times, Jan. 12, 1878.Vol. 22, 2008NEW YORK 1RISH HISTORYmonths to buy arms. Spellissy then tore into the EnglishDenis Spellissy spoke out in favor of the humanitarianThe charity that Denis Spellissy considered himselfIRISH FIRE EATERSHot arbrapel 1tever3 trUly2000 A mother rise1k to dranch Ireland nbindiandOuTo Trish-Amerienna perm 1L3Mindina con will be on their own the blood of their slaughteren hen.IA. Themien or Ireland have SoME (big, blacktype] arms and will sell their livra dearis.they have not enoden. This fund iaErery Irishman worthy of the name wIlLlation of neutrality, he answered,ranbeeripersh, SIm Hem MAde Ootscription by England.Honor, DO IT NOW. [a130 In heavy. harktype. lSeptember 1st, 1016.Dir. Michael I. Sinnott is duly authorizedtione for by the Geruldine Club to, cottent Sutserit the Defense of Irelaml,, GRIFFIN, President.Instate Guns Are Reat,This article propelled Spellissy to theforce conseription onT. St. John Gaffney was forced byThousands of cards are being elrou-lated among the Irish in this country,wards, although It was admitted thatsonal statements on Woodrow Wilson's policy duringto have disbursed to Thomas Costigan was brought intoport. When Denis Spellissy sent a letter to Gaffneyquestion by Costigan. He issued a public statement con-through the Austro -Hungarian Consul in New York, ratherdemning Spellissy that Spellissy considered unfair. nresponse, Spellissy shared an office with Costigan andGaffney.%8paid the expenses. Costigan neglected planned work.Spellissy paid his debts and felt Costigan should havewas sung as well as "Deutschland uber Alles" and "A NationDenis Spellissy was devoted to principles and to theannouncement of Denis Spellissy, the temporary chair.Spellissy also spoke favorably of Roger Casement. ThereBritish hanging of Roger Casement. Denis Spellissy called PAGE 63Research Notes:ORDERED TO RESIGNAdministration Indignant at thePro-German Attitude of Rep-20 Ibid., April 5, 1911.Entertained Casement, Anti-British,and Got Letters from Spellissy23 Tansill, Charles C. America and the Fight for TrishThrough Austrian Consul.Volunteers, Kildare Street, Dublin, for John Kanny.resign as Consul General atThis action, the result of26 New York Times, July 13, 1914.The numerous deeds are in the Chancery Office of the28 Ibid., Sept. 29, 1915.Archdiocese of New York. They are listed in Carmel inNew York, The Province of St. Elias 1889-1906,29 Ibid., May 1, 1916,30 Ibid., Aug. 4, 1916.4 New York Times, June 24, 1891.5Ibid., June 21, 1900.32 Biographical Directory of the State of New York, NY,6 New York Times, April 17, 1895; U.S. Supreme CourtPapers, American Irish Historical Society, 1 ,7.8New York Times, Mar. 18, 1890.9Ibid., Dec. 6, 1893. 6,10 Ibid., Dec. 9, 1893.12 Ibid., Dec. 9, 1893.13 Curran, R. Emmet. Michael Augustine Corrigan andthe Shaping of Conservative Catholicism in Americaresign his post in 1915 as U.S. Consul General in Munich be-Sept. 20, 1893.part Four days later, Gaffney would reply that the British presshad attacked him because he WaS an Irishman. Courtesy of14 Ibid., June 19, 1900.the New York Times:15 New York Times, Jan. 31, 1900.Vol. 22, 2008NEW YORK 1R1SH HISTORYCONSUL GAFFNEY16 Ibid., Aug. 20, 1900.17 Ibid., Sept. 29, 1901.18 Ibid., Nov. 8, 1902.19 Ibid., Dec. 14, 1907.resentative at Munich.21 Ibid., Oct. 26, 1911.EVEN CRITICISED PRESIDENT22 Ibid., July 6, 1914.Freedom, 1866-1922 (N.Y., 1937), fn 46 on p. 159.24 Cohalan Papers, 9,14; 1, 7; receipt from IrishSuccial to The New York Timcs.WASHINGTON. Sept. 28.-By direc-25 Ibid.tion of President Wilson, the State De-partment has asked T. St. John Gaff-neyMunich.complintu that MILI Gattney had dis-27 Ibid., Sept. 12, 1915.Chapter 3, fn 2.31 Cohalan Papers, 1: 7.1900, 49; eulogy by Daniel Cohalan, [1925], Cohalanin Re: Buchanan, US 31(1895).7 Ibid., Jan. 30, 1890.11 Ibid., Dec. 8, 1893.Above Left: Woodrow Wilson forced T. St. John Gaffney to1878-1902 ( N.Y., 1978) 402, 440-6; New York Times,cause of complaints of pro-German partisanship on Gaffney's