O'Donovan Rossa, Mary Jane (née Irwin) (1845–1916), poet, was born in 1844/5 (baptised 26 January 1845) in Clonakilty, Co. Cork, the daughter of Maxwell Irwin, a farmer and member of Young Ireland. She was educated in the Sacred Heart Convent, Roscrea and started writing poetry at an early age. On 22 August 1864 she married Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa (qv), who subsequently swore her brothers into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). They were married for fifty-two years and had thirteen children, some of whom died young.
Mary Jane held nationalist sympathies and contributed poems and fiction to the Irish People (1863–5) under the pseudonyms ‘Cliodhna’ and ‘M. J. I.’ In October 1865, after the imprisonment of her husband, she became the secretary of a ‘ladies’ committee’ which collected money for the families of the imprisoned Fenians. The police suspected that she was using the money to finance IRB activity, and she resigned from the committee in March 1867. She wrote to the British prime minister, W. E. Gladstone, appealing for the release of her husband but received no reply. On the advice of her husband she emigrated to New York, her fare having been paid by Richard Pigott (qv). In America she supported herself by writing, public speaking, and giving elocution classes. Her only volume of poetry, Irish lyrical poems, was published in New York in 1868. Occasionally she contributed poetry to Irish-American newspapers in New York.
In January 1871 her husband was released from prison and joined her in New York. For most of the next twenty years they lived at 1009 Hancock Street, Brooklyn. Following the death of their son Maxwell (1893), the family moved to Staten Island, where they switched residence twice. Mary Jane was a passive supporter of Clan na Gael and advocated the right of women to vote, but she believed that political organisations run by women, such as Cumann na mBan, ought to take a subservient role in political life. In November 1905 she left for Cork city with her husband, who had been offered a position with Cork county council. However, ill health forced her to return to the USA in February 1906 and her husband quit his job so that he could return with her. From 1910 until his death (29 June 1915) he was hospitalised owing to failing health. In August 1915 Mary Jane accompanied the remains of her husband to Ireland for burial in Glasnevin cemetery. While in Ireland she published several poems and articles in the press. On her return to America she wrote about events in Ireland for the Gaelic American. Her last poem, ‘In memory of Padraig Pearse’, was written a few days before her death. She died 18 August 1916 in New York.