Memorable Manitobans: William Bernard O’Donoghue (1843-1878)
Born in Sligo, Ireland, he went to the United States as a boy. He was always an Irish patriot and hostile to Great Britain. In 1868 he volunteered for mission service in Red River, becoming a teacher of mathematics at the Saint Boniface College. In 1869, he became involved in the Red River Rebellion, and was chosen to represent St. Boniface at the first council of residents in November of that year. His relationship with Louis Riel and the Métis was always a bit mysterious; it was apparently in his honour that the flag of the provisional government carried a shamrock. O’Donoghue did not always agree with Riel, but he helped Riel seize the Hudson’s Bay Company treasury in December 1869, and he became treasurer of the provisional government. He helped Ambroise Lépine capture “the Portage boys” (a pro-Canadian force organized at Portage la Prairie which marched on the settlement) in February, and refused to intervene to save the life of Thomas Scott.
O’Donoghue accompanied Riel when the Métis leader fled in the face of the Wolseley Expedition. O’Donoghue subsequently broke with Riel, regarding the Métis as having sold out to the British. He petitioned the United States President U. S. Grant for intervention in Red River, and then turned to the Fenians for assistance in liberating the “Republic of Rupert’s Land,” of which he claimed to be President. The Fenian “invasion” of October 1871 was a disaster, thanks partly to opposition from Louis Riel, and O’Donoghue remained in Minnesota, where he sought employment as a teacher. He was exempted by name from the amnesty to Riel and Ambroise Lépine in 1875, although finally granted clemency in 1877.
Despite rumours of his assassination on the streets of St. Paul, Minnesota, he died of tuberculosis in that city, on 26 March 1878. He is buried in Highland Cemetery at Rosemount, Minnesota.
Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
We thank Rev. Paul Jarvis for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 5 March 2016