Casey was still only 20 when he published a collection of poems called A Wreath of Shamrocks in 1866. It contained a poem called The Rising of the Moon. Casey had written it a few years earlier, possibly when he was only 15.
The poem was picked up immediately by publishers of ballad sheets and it soon became a popular song, particularly when sung to the tune of The Wearing of the Green, although other melodies were used as well.
The success of A Wreath of Shamrocks and The Rising of the Moon helped to make Casey’s name.
He became popular as a speaker at nationalist meetings organised by the Fenians, whose influence was growing rapidly at that time.
He joined the Fenians and spoke at several of their rallies, including events attended by thousands of people throughout Ireland, and major English cities such as London and Liverpool.
It’s not clear what, if any, part Casey played in the The Fenian Rising of 1867 but whether he played an active part or not, he was treated with great suspicion by the British because of his writing and speeches.
After the Rising was put down, Casey was arrested and held at Mountjoy Jail without trial for eight months. He was eventually released without any charges being brought.
One of the conditions of his release was that he should emigrate to Australia. However, Casey ignored this and continued to live in Dublin. It’s thought the harsh treatment he received in jail affected his health and he never fully recovered his strength.
Following his release from prison Casey resumed his work and married Mary Briscoe.
His life was cut tragically short, however, when he fell from a cab on or near O’Connell Bridge in the centre of Dublin in 1870. He died on March 17 – St Patrick’s Day – as a result of his injuries.
Casey’s name is now most closely associated with The Rising of the Moon but he is also remembered for writing several other notable poems on nationalist themes, as well as love poems such as Maire My Dear.
It was reported that more than 50,000 people followed his funeral procession. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.