A small clan gathered at Forest Park’s Brian Boru Irish Pub on Sept. 12 to honor and commemorate famed Irish hero, Martin Hogan.
Hogan, while serving in the British army, was one of six men discontented about being treated like English property. Together, they developed a plan to end British domination of their homeland. Their dream of an independent Ireland was dashed, however, when one of their group leaked the plan of the uprising. Hogan was arrested and sentenced to death, which was commuted to life imprisonment. He was then shipped to Australia where he served nine years for his crime of seeking independence for his native land.
Thanks to the “Catalpa rescue” in 1876, Hogan was among six “Fenian prisoners,” able to escape from the British penal colony in Western Australia and, after many remarkable adventures, he made his way to Chicago.
Today Niall Fennessy, of the Fenian Memorial Committee of Chicago, is advocating for a commemorative gravestone for their forebear.
“For some reason he couldn’t get started, he couldn’t get his life going [after settling in Chicago]. He ended up being sick all the time, probably because of the incarceration. He was whipped. He had a big ‘D’ branded on his chest for ‘Deserter’ by the British. So when he finally passed in 1901, they announced a committee would be set up to give him a monument,” explained Fennessy.
“He was buried [in Mount Olivet Cemetery] on Thanksgiving Day,” he said, “but no stone ever appeared. So his grave was an empty nothing, unmarked. Further up the hill is a big Irish monument for the Irish nationals, from the same years, 1886 or so. Why wasn’t he put in that plot? Instead, he was put down the hill, away from them, almost like a punishment. That was not right. So that’s the gist of this project — to get him a stone. And we’ve got one. We’re going to unveil it on Oct. 10.”
Richard Elmer Willix, Martin Hogan’s great-great grandson and living descendent, is central to the event. Hogan had six daughters, and one of them, Ellen (affectionately referred to as ‘Nellie’), married Oscar Willix. This union then produced Elmer Willix, Richard’s father, who married Grace, Richards’ mother. Elmer and Grace had three children and adopted two other Hogan descendents, Richard’s cousins. Unable to afford raising them, Elmer moved in with Grace’s mother, and was then, as Richard puts it, “absorbed by the Kenny family.”
Decades later, Willix received a strange phone call out of the blue.
“[Niall] calls me up and says, I know all about your great-grandfather. First I thought, who the hell is this guy? Grandfather, great-grandfather? I had no idea who the heck they were.”
Surrounded by enlarged photographs of Hogan himself, the prison where he served, his booking and sentencing photographs, and other memorabilia, Willix has filled in this missing piece of his personal identity.
“This is unbelievable,” he said. “I feel like an adopted child who is looking for their real parents, and he’s given me my real parents. Now I know where Elmer came from. And Nellie was a Hogan; she was the daughter of Mary Hogan and married Oscar Willix. That’s where the Willix name came from. Then they had Elmer. I’m Elmer’s son.”
Discovering his ancestral connections and the personal stories of his forefathers led to this special moment at Brian Boru Irish Pub, strengthening Irish-ancestral identity and supporting the memory of a hero.
“I felt that Marty Hogan was a hero,” Willix said. “He would’ve fought for and died for his country. I feel better about that. My great-great grandfather was a hero to Ireland. So faithful to his country of origin, so loyal.”