Eugene Davis (Clonakilty, Co. Cork, 1867 – New York, 1897) was a not-entirely-reliable journalist and part-time revolutionary who did, however, leave an interesting overview of the Irish community in Paris in the late 19th century in his book Irish footsteps over Europe, published in 1889.
Davis was sent to study at the Irish Colleges in Louvain and Paris in 1878-1880, but did not take his ecclesiastic studies very seriously and instead set up shop as a freelance journalist at the Hôtel Bacqué situated at 338, rue Saint Honoré (1st arrondissement). In 1882, Davis was persuaded by Patrick Egan, then exiled in Paris as treasurer of the Irish Land League, to become acting editor for the United Ireland. As the newspaper had been proscribed in the UK, it was decided to publish in Paris, with the Schiller printing press at 10, rue du Faubourg Montmartre (9th arrondissement) given the task of printing each issue. The Paris version of United Ireland only lasted for six weeks but this was long enough for Davis to attract the interest of British intelligence, which appears to have engaged in some classic ‘dirty tricks’ against him and his cohorts, culminating in the expulsion of himself and James Stephens from France in 1885.
Davis was still living at the Hôtel Bacqué in February 1883 when Frank Byrne and John Walsh turned up there. Both of these two men were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood implicated in the Phoenix Park assassinations the previous year. Davis, the Caseys, Egan, Stephens, John O'Leary and John O'Connor formed the nucleus of the IRB's Paris outpost towards the end of 1882. But Paris's claim to be a hotbed of Irish revolutionary scheming quickly came to an end when Egan, Walsh and Byrne all decided to make their way to the U.S.
An intriguingly twist to Davis’ expulsion comes from a police report dated Feb. 21, 1885. On that date, after having hung around various bars around the Place Vendôme with the rest of his Fenian chums, the report says that Davis dined with a freelance journalist at a restaurant at 330, rue Saint Honoré, 1st arrondissement). The police report concludes that Davis used this occasion to hand over an incendiary letter that was printed in the New York newspapers a day later.
The freelance journalist Davis met that day was one John Lipton Knubley, who purportedly wrote for the New York Herald. A visit to Knubley’s apartment after he had gotten into an argument with a French journalist turned up a fantastical report of a meeting between the Davis group and every living anarchist under the sun and also implicated Charles Stewart Parnell in a terrorist plot against Great Britain. Not surprisingly, Knubley was fingered by the police as “an agent of the international police”. And yet the likelihood that Stephens and Davis had been set up by the British did not save them from expulsion.
John Devoy, in his memoirs, paints an unflattering picture of Davis and his activities, and especially of his role in Stephens' expulsion:
In crystalline prose, Devoy also details the distress that Davis caused the widow of William Mackey Lomasney, who had blown himself up in an attempt to bomb London Bridge. Davis managed to sell an interview he purported to have had with Lomasney to the New York Herald, thus persuading his widow that he was still alive. In a damning assessment of Davis, Devoy writes that "The Irish movement has been always cursed by fellows like Davis hanging on the skirts of it who humbug the newspapers with stories that have no foundation at all– to make a little money."
Ironically, the Casey brothers escaped expulsion with Davis and Stephens in 1885 although they were probably more earnest revolutionaries than Davis. Why this leniency? Because they had been naturalised at this stage? Because the Casey brothers had served in the Franco-Prussiana War? Because they had been longer in France and had a profession? Who knows. The Caseys were certainly well established in Paris at this stage. (They perhaps lived in Saint Ouen, although the Dictionary of Irish Biography mentions the family initially lived on the Place de l’Etoile). Patrick and Joseph Casey worked as typesetters for Galignani’s Messenger on the rue de Rivoli (1st arrondissement). Four Casey brothers had served during the Franco-Prussian war. One of the four, Andrew, was awarded the Legion d’Honneur for his bravery, and their mother is mentioned in Father Francis Bamber’s account of the Prussian siege of the city.
Patrick Casey (Kilkenny, 1843 – Dublin, 1908) had participated in the unsuccessful attempt to spring his younger brother Joseph from the Clerkenwell prison in 1867 (setting off an explosion that caused 12 deaths). Like Joseph, Patrick worked as a typesetter for English-language newspapers in Paris, supported Irish nationalist causes, and is mentioned as secretary to James MacAdaras. At one stage, Patrick was suspected of being in the pay of the British secret service.
Eugene Davis returned to Paris in 1887, when he attempted to set up a bilingual Irish nationalist newspaper with the help of the unreliable James MacAdaras, but when this project fell through Davis moved back to Dublin. Davis was back in Paris again briefly in 1890 after having been let go from the Nation newspaper but then quickly left for the U.S. where he died in 1897, aged 40.
Archives de la Préfecture de Police de Paris dossiers BA 921 and 926, Eugene Davis
Souvenirs of Irish Footprints Over Europe (1889)
Recollections of an Irish Rebel (1929)
“Les représentations de la France dans L’Irlande nationaliste de l’avènement de Parnell à la création de l’Etat libre”,
Pierre Ranger, doctoral thesis presented at the Université de Paris-Est, Dec. 3, 2009
“The Irish Colony in Paris”, The Brisbane Courier, June 11, 1884
“L’Affaire de la Convention irlandaise”, Le Télégraphe, Feb. 26, 1885
“Mon Anglais”, Le Télégraphe, Feb. 27, 1885
“Irish Agitators in Paris “, The New York Times, April 22, 1884