Holland, Denis (1826–72), nationalist and journalist, was born in Cork city; details of his parents are not known. He had at least one brother, John Callanan Holland, a journalist; the family were related to J. J. Callanan (qv). As a boy he lived in the ‘Marsh’ area of the central city and attended the Capuchin chapel in Blackamoor Lane (near Sullivan's Quay on the south side of the River Lee) where Fr Theobald Mathew (qv) was superior, and he always retained fond memories of the future temperance reformer; Holland was a member of the ‘Temperance Institute’ debating society founded by Mathew during his great temperance campaign, and his associates included such figures as Justin McCarthy (qv), Thomas Crosbie (qv), the Young Irelander Joseph Brenan (qv), and the Varian brothers. He was probably the ‘D. H.’ of Cork who contributed to the Dublin Journal of Temperance, Science, and Literature in 1843.
Journalism and Young Ireland
Holland was educated at a local school and matriculated at QCC, but abandoned his third-level studies to pursue a career as a journalist on the Cork Examiner and the Cork Southern Reporter. He reported on several of the monster meetings of Daniel O'Connell (qv), the proceedings of local famine relief committees, and also covered debates at Westminster.
The collapse of the O'Connellite movement and the progress of the famine led Holland to adopt Young Ireland views, and for the rest of his life he was essentially a follower of John Mitchel (qv). By 1847 he had left Cork to work on a Limerick local newspaper; in 1849 he took part in the abortive revolutionary conspiracy led by James Fintan Lalor (qv), and in 1852 moved to Belfast as editor of the daily Northern Whig. The Whig was regarded as the principal voice of Ulster presbyterian liberalism, and one of the foremost daily papers in Ireland; its editorship was a considerable prize for a young man with Holland's religious and political antecedents. As editor of the Northern Whig Holland supported the Tenant League movement, working with Sharman Crawford (qv) (whom he defended against charges of exploiting his own tenants) and Frederick Lucas (qv) (who became a personal friend); he also made the acquaintance of survivors of the United Irish movement of the 1790s, including Mary Anne McCracken (qv) and James Hope (qv). He was also founder and first secretary of the Belfast Catholic Institute, a working-men's club.
In 1857, taking advantage of the boom in newspaper circulation caused by the reduction and eventual removal of newspaper and paper duties, Holland left the Whig to establish a tri-weekly paper, the Ulsterman, the first specifically nationalist paper to appear in Belfast since the demise of the Belfast Vindicator in the late 1840s. He was assisted in this venture by his father-in-law, Belfast merchant William Watson, and by his ideological mentor, the former Young Irelander John Edward Pigot (qv). The veteran Liverpool-Irish littérateur Michael James Whitty (qv) also wrote for the paper. During the Orange riots of summer 1857 Holland protested against what he saw as the inaction of the authorities and helped to organise a Catholic Gun Club for communal self-defence. Holland's parting with the Whig appears to have been acrimonious; his friend and occasional journalistic collaborator Charles Russell (qv) thought some of the Ulsterman's exchanges with the Whig focused too much on the social question and were insufficiently national. However, Holland retained enough sense of common purpose with the Northern Liberals to campaign unsuccessfully for the Liberal candidate for Co. Antrim in the 1857 general election.
The landlord in Donegal
In December 1857 Holland visited the northern and western coastal districts of Donegal to report on the conditions of the tenantry, which had become a matter of public controversy as a result of the ‘Gweedore sheep war’ (the confiscation by Donegal landlords of mountain grazing hitherto held in common by the tenants, the attempt to import Scotch sheep-farmers to work this land, the prosecution of some tenants for stealing or destroying the sheep, and the levying of punitive rates on the whole district). In a series of letters published in the Ulsterman, Holland gave a searing account of the poverty of the tenants (whom he glorified as a patient, courteous, and religious people, ‘the old Celtic race of Ireland’), and accused the landlords of combining ruthless rent-maximisation with traditional sources of power such as the magistracy. Holland's targets included Lord Leitrim (qv) (‘improving’ his tenants off the land ‘as the Yankees improve the red men’) and Lord George Hill (qv) (‘this pretentious philanthrope’) accused of making his ‘improvements’ only in places where tourists could see them, and at the tenants’ expense.
The letters were widely reproduced in the Irish and American press, helped to raise relief funds for the tenants, and were reprinted in a pamphlet (The landlord in Donegal: pictures from the wilds (Belfast, ) which went into two editions. They attracted some criticism, not only from pro-landlord newspapers but also from the pro-tenant presbyterian editor of the Londonderry Standard, James MacKnight (qv), who accused Holland of promoting a sectarian version of Irishness linked to catholicism. Holland's belief in alleged racial differences between Celt and Saxon (in his case emphasising Celtic moral superiority but also making reference to such physical traits as the shape of the skull), though fairly widespread in the cultural discourse of the time, must also have contributed to this tension. Holland's Donegal experiences may also have influenced the searing descriptions of poverty among Mourne Mountain smallholders in the opening chapters of his otherwise anodyne ‘rags to riches’ novel Ulic O'Donnell: an Irish peasant's progress (1860).
On 2 June 1858 he married Ellen Agnes Watson. They had two sons; the younger Gerald Edward Holland (1860–1917) had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy. On 17 July 1858 the Ulsterman was replaced by the weekly Irishman, and early in 1859 the paper relocated to Dublin. It became the principal platform for supporters of the nascent Irish Republican Brotherhood. (Holland himself was not an IRB member, although in 1860 he was a founding member of the National Brotherhood of St Patrick, an IRB front organisation that was eventually absorbed by the clandestine organisation. As a Mitchelite he was ambivalent about conspiratorial tactics.) Holland's political commentary (of which an editorial during the Anglo–American crisis over the forcible removal of confederate envoys from a British vessel, stating that if war came Irish sympathies would go with the northern states and against Britain, attracted particular attention) was published over the pseudonyms ‘Allua’ or ‘Lamhdearg’; his undistinguished verse was signed ‘Otho’, ‘Le Reveur’, or ‘H’, and his stories appeared as the work of ‘Abhonmor’.
Holland displayed a stronger interest in the revival of the Irish language and in Gaelic games than most other nationalists of his generation; the Irishman included articles and verse in Irish. He also regularly reported on Gaelic games, and on 2 October 1858 called for a parish-based sports organisation, which Marcus de Burca has highlighted as anticipating the later structures of the GAA.
Holland was now part of a milieu of journalists and political activists loosely committed to the outlook of John Mitchel; however, he was never admitted to the inner leadership of this tendency, for a variety of reasons. The most notable of these appears to have been that his literary abilities were not matched by his business capacities. According to traditions surviving in the Irishman office decades later and recorded by James O'Connor (qv) (who joined the paper some time after Holland's departure) Holland was utterly incapable in business matters, had no sense of the value of money, and (trusting others to be as honest as himself) left the cash accounts entirely in the hands of his business manager, Richard Pigott (qv). In 1861 Holland was successfully sued for libel by a Co. Armagh landlord and magistrate, William Jones Armstrong, after the Irishman reprinted an article from the Dundalk Democrat accusing Armstrong of mistreating his tenants. After paying £50 damages and all costs, Holland was obliged to borrow a large sum of money from his father-in-law, offering the Irishman as security. Either then or earlier, William Watson intervened in the running of the paper to safeguard his daughter's financial interests; Pigott (who fell under suspicion of misappropriating funds but could not be convicted because financial records were so sketchy) was demoted and replaced by an appointee of Watson.
Conflict with the Nation; London
Holland's Mitchelite denunciations of parliamentary nationalism in all its forms brought the Irishman into collision with the Nation (run by A. M. Sullivan (qv), principal heir of the more conservative Young Irelandism of Charles Gavan Duffy (qv)); this conflict was intensified by a rapidly developing personal hostility between Holland and Sullivan from 1860. In April 1862 Holland published a letter from Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa (qv) accusing Sullivan of deliberately bringing about the arrest of the members of the Phoenix Society (including Rossa himself) by his articles warning young men against involvement in the nascent group. Sullivan sued Holland for libel. Holland's defence (which focused on forcing Sullivan to explain some of the highly martial rhetoric which he himself had used in the past) caused the Nation editor some embarrassment, and he was only awarded sixpence damages; but this fresh infliction of legal costs (again paid by Watson) spelt the end for Holland's editorship of the Irishman. Soon afterwards Holland sold the paper to P. J. Smyth (qv).
In 1863 Holland moved to London, where he was correspondent for a number of Irish papers including the Irishman and the IRB paper the Irish People. He was the founding editor of the London-based Irish Liberator, but soon left after its principal fund-raiser (the Fenian activist Thomas Hayes) accused him of political unreliability and excessive drinking. Hayes's suspicions appear to have reflected a culture clash between the polished man of words and the political conspirator acutely aware of the risks and sacrifices he was undertaking. There is some evidence, however, that even London Fenians who did not share Hayes's suspicions of Holland as a literary adventurer regarded him as a lightweight, charming but lacking in depth.
The United States; final years
In 1867 Holland emigrated to America, where he made a meagre living in the world of Irish-American journalism, supplemented with poorly paid hackwork. He wrote historical articles for the Irish People (the organ of the John O'Mahony (qv) wing of the Fenian Brotherhood) and contributed to John Locke's Celtic Weekly and a weekly called the Sunburst; he also wrote serials for the Dublin Shamrock (a literary weekly affiliated to the Irishman). Although Holland produced many serials (with titles such as ‘Allan Durrow’ ‘Evil days and future joys’, and ‘Harry Doherty's invention’), only two appeared as books: Ulic O'Donnell and Donal Dun O'Byrne (first published in book form 1869). The latter, which enjoyed some popularity and occasional reprints, is a melodramatic story of the 1798 rising, drawing heavily on the Memoirs of Myles Byrne (qv). It is less significant for literary merit than as a bitter response to the defeat of Fenianism; in Mitchelite terms Holland laments the role of clerical denunciations in stifling the revolutionary movement and the weakness of nationalists for ‘genteel respectability’ (represented in the novel by the displacement of Fr John Murphy (qv) by the incapable protestant Bagenal Harvey (qv)). It also combines fierce accounts of the horrors perpetrated by crown forces in 1798 and a furious revenge fantasy (the hero is driven by desire to wipe out the regiment whose soldiers killed his child) with a sanitised view of the Wexford rebels, insisting that they committed no atrocities.
Between 1868 and 1870 Holland edited a New York-based literary review, the Emerald, to which he contributed verse, serialised stories, and, most notably, a series of articles on ‘Men whom I have known’, which appeared from 21 August 1869 to 12 March 1870. Despite nineteenth-century emotionalism and overwriting, these show Holland as a talented observer and are surprisingly genial towards their subjects, who include some of O'Connell's more disreputable hangers-on. Even Lord Palmerston is hailed as an ‘intensely Irish and Celtic’ genius who succeeded in delaying what Holland still proclaimed to be the inevitable downfall of the British empire when the British themselves were no longer equal to the task. Holland was sinking into destitution, depression, and possibly alcoholism. Old acquaintances who saw Holland in his last years were shocked at the contrast between the handsome, vivacious, well groomed proprietor of the Irishman and the stooped, dazed, hungry-looking exile journalist who could occasionally be roused to his old fluency by conversational stimulus. After a short illness, he died at his lodgings in 18 High St., Brooklyn, on 13 December 1872, and was buried in Flatbush cemetery, Brooklyn; his mourners included John Devoy (qv), John Locke (1847–99), and Red Jim McDermott (qv). His obituaries reveal that his wife was not with him when he died; it is not clear whether their marriage ended by her death or by separation.
Holland was one of many journalistic and political adventurers produced by nineteenth-century Ireland who sought to carve out a place in the world for themselves, and to a significant extent he was the author of his own misfortunes. But he also serves as a reminder that Mitchelite belligerence could be fuelled by anger and concern at the plight of the less fortunate in the hard world of mid-Victorian Ireland, that the cultural yearnings which produced the fin de siècle Irish-Ireland movement were already present in the post-famine generation, and that some of those dismissed as ‘Micks on the make’ were driven to loneliness, poverty, and exile by genuine political commitment.