seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Death of Michael Flannery, Irish Republican Founder of NORAID

Michael Flannery, Irish republican who fought in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, dies in New York City on September 30, 1994. He supports the Provisional Irish Republican Army during The Troubles and is a founder of NORAID.

Flannery is born in Cangort, near Brosna, on the border of County Offaly and County Tipperary, on January 7, 1903.

In 1916 Flannery joins the Irish Volunteers alongside his brother Peter, although he does not take part in the Easter Rising. However, he does participate in the Irish War of Independence. Following the outbreak of the Irish Civil War, he fights as part of the Anti-Treaty IRA until his capture by the National Army on November 11, 1922 in Roscrea, County Tipperary. He is imprisoned for nearly a year and a half in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison (C Wing). While there he witnesses the execution of Anti-Treaty IRA leaders Richard Barrett, Joe McKelvey, Liam Mellows and Rory O’Connor from his cell window. Following a 28-day hunger strike, he is placed in the Curragh Camp until May 1, 1924 when he is finally released, a full year after the end of the civil war.

In February 1927 Flannery immigrates to the United States, settling in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City. In 1928 he marries Margaret Mary Egan, a Tipperary-born research chemist, who had been educated at University College Dublin and University of Geneva.

Following the creation of Fianna Fáil and their entry into the Irish Parliament Dáil Éireann, Flannery becomes affiliated with Sinn Féin, who had voted to retain their abstentionist policy towards the Dáil and their refusal to acknowledge it as the legitimate government of Ireland. Sinn Féin tasks him with drumming up support for the party in New York. However, following the start of the Great Depression he finds it difficult to focus on politics in the face of mounting poverty. By 1933 finding support for Sinn Féin and the IRA becomes particularly tough when Fianna Fáil expands greatly the range of people eligible for military pensions, which under the previous government had been biased against members of the Anti-Treaty IRA. For the next 40 years Flannery works for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

Upon the onset of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, Flannery is once again drawn into the world of Irish Republicanism. In a response to the mounting violence, he sets up the Irish Northern Aid Committee, or as it became better known as, NORAID. The official purpose of NORAID is to provide funds to the families of imprisoned Irish Republicans and victims of violence. However, opponents level the accusation against the organisation that it is also providing funding directly to the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and perhaps even also supplying firearms.

In 1970 Flannery travels around America and sets up 62 chapters of NORAID. In 1971 he says, “The more coffins sent back to Britain, the sooner this will be all over,” referring to British soldiers.

In 1982 Flannery is indicted, with four other members of NORAID, for arms smuggling, but all defendants are acquitted after their legal defence is able to successfully argue their actions had been sanctioned the CIA.

Four months after the verdict of the arms trial, Flannery is named as Grand Marshal of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City. His appointment causes considerable controversy within the Irish American community and several high profile figures boycott the parade that year, including the Archbishop of New York Terence Cooke.

In 1986 Flannery quietly resigns from NORAID following the decision by Sinn Féin to drop its abstentionist policy in the Republic of Ireland and to recognise Dáil Éireann as the legitimate governing body of Ireland.

Flannery opposes the Northern Ireland peace process, believing that Sinn Féin and the Provisionals have “sold out,” and believes the removal of British troops from Northern Ireland is the only starting point upon which negotiations can begin.

Flannery dies at the age of 92 in New York City on September 30, 1994. He is buried in Mount Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Flushing, Queens, New York.


Leave a comment

Birth of Musicologist Francis Llewellyn Harrison

Francis Llewellyn Harrison, better known as “Frank Harrison” or “Frank Ll. Harrison” and one of the leading musicologists of his time and a pioneering ethnomusicologist, is born in Dublin on September 29, 1905. Initially trained as an organist and composer, he turns to musicology in the early 1950s, first specialising in English and Irish music of the Middle Ages and increasingly turning to ethnomusicological subjects in the course of his career. His Music in Medieval Britain (1958) is still a standard work on the subject, and Time, Place and Music (1973) is a key textbook on ethnomusicology.

Harrison is the second son of Alfred Francis Harrison and Florence May (née Nash). He becomes a chorister at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin in 1912 and is educated at the cathedral grammar school and Mountjoy School. A competent organist, he is deputy organist at St. Patrick’s from 1925 to 1928. In 1920, he also begins musical studies at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, where he studies with John Francis Larchet (composition), George Hewson (organ) and Michele Esposito (piano). In 1926, he graduates Bachelor of Music at Trinity College Dublin and is awarded a doctorate (MusD) in 1929 for a musical setting of Psalm 19. He then works in Kilkenny for one year, serving as organist at St. Canice’s Cathedral and music teacher at Kilkenny College.

In 1930, Harrison emigrates to Canada to become organist at Westminster Presbyterian Church in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. In 1933, he studies briefly with Marcel Dupré in France, but returns to Canada in 1934 to become organist at Knox Presbyterian Church in Ottawa. In 1935, he takes a position as organist and choirmaster at St. George’s Cathedral in Kingston, Ontario, as well as taking up the newly created post of “resident musician” at Queen’s University at Kingston. His duties include giving lectures, running a choir and an orchestra, and conducting concerts himself. His course in the history and appreciation of music is the first music course to be given for full credit at Queen’s. He resigns from St. George’s in 1941 to become assistant professor of music at Queen’s in 1942. During his years in Canada he still pursues the idea of remaining a performing musician and composer, winning three national composition competitions: for Winter’s Poem (1931), Baroque Suite (1943) and Night Hymns on Lake Nipigon (1945).

On a year’s leave of absence from Queen’s, Harrison studies composition with Paul Hindemith at Yale University, also taking courses in musicology with Leo Schrade. In 1946, he takes up a position at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, and then moves on to Washington University in St. Louis as head of the new Department of Music (1947–1950).

In 1951, Harrison takes the degrees of Master of Arts (M.A.) and Doctor of Music (DMus) at Jesus College, Oxford, and becomes lecturer (1952), senior lecturer (1956), and reader in the history of music (1962–1970) there. In 1965, he is elected Fellow the British Academy and Senior Research Fellow at Oxford. From 1970 to 1980, he is Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, retiring to part-time teaching in 1976.

Harrison also holds Visiting Professorships in musicology at Yale University (1958–1959), Princeton University (spring 1961 and 1968–1969), and Dartmouth College (winter 1968 and spring 1972). He also briefly returns to Queen’s University at Kingston as Queen’s Quest Visiting Professor in the fall of 1980 and is Visiting Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh for the calendar year 1981.

Harrison’s honorary titles also include Doctor of Laws at Queen’s University, Kingston (1974), Corresponding Member of the American Musicological Society (1981), and Vice President and Chairman of the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society (1985). At Queen’s also, the new Harrison-LeCaine Hall (1974) is partly named in his honour.

Harrison dies in Canterbury, England on December 29, 1987.

In 1989, Harry White appreciates Harrison as “an Irish musicologist of international standing and of seminal influence, whose scholarly achievement, astonishingly, encompassed virtually the complete scope of the discipline which he espoused.” David F. L. Chadd writes of him “He was above all things an explorer, tirelessly curious and boyishly delighted in the pursuit of knowledge, experience and ideas, and totally heedless of artificially imposed constraints and boundaries.”

Since 2004, the Society for Musicology in Ireland (SMI) awards a bi-annual Irish Research Council Harrison Medal in his honour to distinguished international musicologists.


Leave a comment

The Tricolour Riots

On the evening of the September 28, 1964, a detachment of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), acting on the direct instruction of Brian McConnell, the Minister of Home Affairs, attacks the Divis Street headquarters of the Republican Party (Sinn Féin had been outlawed earlier in the year) in West Belfast. Their perilous mission is to remove an Irish Tricolour.

This takes place during a general election for Westminster. Republicans have nominated Liam McMillan to contest in West Belfast. McConnell, under pressure from Ian Paisley and other unionists, holds a conference of his senior RUC officers on the morning of September 28 and orders that the tricolour flown at Liam McMillan’s headquarters be removed. Under the Flags and Emblems Display Act of 1954, it is an offence to display the tricolour anywhere in the six counties of Northern Ireland.

That evening, when it becomes known that the RUC are coming to seize the flag, more than 2,000 republican supporters block the roadway. Scores of RUC are rushed to the scene in armoured cars. The RUC, though heavily armed with sten guns, rifles, revolvers and riot batons, are made to look ridiculous by groups of children, who run about with miniature tricolour stickers which they stick on walls and police cars.

The RUC, using pickaxes, smashes down the doors of the Republican headquarters and takes the flag. They carry it away through a hail of stones and to the prolonged jeers of the people.

The following day the RUC clears Divis Street to make way for an armoured car. Their new perilous mission is to seize a new replacement tricolour. The armoured car stops outside the Republican headquarters, eight policemen emerge and begin another attack with crowbars and pickaxes. They fail to break down the door but one of them smashes the window, reaches in and pulls out the second tricolour.

By September 30, news of the events in Divis Street have spread throughout the media. Belfast begins attracting television reporters and newspaper men from all around the world. That night, thousands of republicans, armed with petrol bombs, sticks, stones and rotten vegetables, gather outside their headquarters to defend their identity and their flag. A battle begins at 11:00 PM when the RUC tries to disperse them. The television cameras are there to record all that happens. For the first time ever, people in many parts of the world are able to watch a sectarian police force in action.

When the republicans indicate that they will stand their ground, fifty RUC men, who had been held in reserve in the small streets between Falls Road and Shankill Road, are deployed but the republicans, in accordance with a pre-arranged strategy, drive them back. By midnight, the police have succeeded in sealing off Divis Street and dispersing the crowd but thirty people, including at least eighteen members of the RUC, have been injured.

One week later, on October 5, republicans carry the tricolour at the head of a parade of 5,000 people who march from Beechmount on Falls Road, through Divis Street, to an election rally near Smithfield. RUC men line the entire route but make no attempt to seize the flag.

(From: “The Tricolour Riots,” An Phoblacht (www.anphoblacht.com), September 23, 2004 edition)


Leave a comment

Founding of The Royal Showband

The Royal Showband, the most popular Irish showband of the 1960s, forms on September 27, 1957 and turns fully professional two years later, with a line-up comprising Michael Coppinger (saxophone, accordion), Brendan Bowyer (vocals, trombone), Gerry Cullen (piano), Jim Conlan (guitar), Eddie Sullivan (saxophone), Charlie Matthews (drums) and Tom Dunphy (bass).

After coming under the management of the astute T.J. Byrne, the Royal Showband is poised to emerge as the biggest act in Ireland, playing almost every night to audiences of 2,000 or more. Ballroom gods, they usher in the era of the showband and in Brendan Bowyer boast the genre’s most potent sex symbol.

In 1961, they tour the UK, are supported by the Beatles in Liverpool and receive the Carl Alan Award for their prodigious box-office success. At some halls firemen are called upon to hose unruly crowds as their popularity reaches unforeseen proportions.

Back in Ireland, they are the first showband to record a single, with Tom Dunphy singing lead on the infectious, quasi-traditional “Come Down The Mountain Katie Daly.” That is just the start. The Royal soon notches up four successive number 1 hit singles: “Kiss Me Quick,” “No More,” “Bless You” and “The Hucklebuck.” The latter becomes one of the bestselling dance records in Irish chart history. Dunphy and Bowyer continue the chart-topping spree with “If I Didn’t Have A Dime” and the cash-in “Don’t Lose Your Hucklebuck Shoes,” respectively.

Having conquered Ireland, the band switches their attention to Las Vegas where they become a regular attraction from the late 1960s onwards. In 1971, Bowyer and Dunphy rock the Irish music world by leaving Ireland’s most famous septet to form the showband supergroup, The Big 8. Although the star duo are briefly replaced by vocalists Lee Lynch and Billy Hopkins, the Royal Showband collapses within a year. The abrupt dissolution of the Royal Showband at the beginning of the 1970s symbolically ends the showband domination of the previous era, to which they had made an incalculable contribution.

Founding member Tom Dunphy dies in a car accident on July 29, 1975, just two days after three members of The Miami Showband are murdered near Newry. Brendan Bowyer dies in Las Vega on May 28, 2020.


Leave a comment

The Founding of Saor Éire

Saor Éire, a left-wing political organisation, is established on September 26, 1931 by communist-leaning members of the Irish Republican Army, with the backing of the IRA leadership. Notable among its founders is Peadar O’Donnell, former editor of An Phoblacht and a leading left-wing figure in the IRA. Saor Éire describes itself as “an organization of workers and working farmers.”

It is believed that the support of the then IRA chief of staff Moss (Maurice) Twomey is instrumental in the organisation’s establishment. However, Tim Pat Coogan claims that Twomey is doubtful about the organisation, worrying about involvement in electoral politics and possible communist influence.

During its short existence Saor Éire uses the republican publication An Phoblacht, under the editorship of Frank Ryan, to report on its progress and to promote its radical, left-wing republican views.

On the weekend of September 26-27, 1931, Saor Éire holds its first conference in Dublin at Iona Hall. One hundred and fifty delegates from both the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland attend the conference against a background of police raids on the houses and offices connected with Saor Éire and An Phoblacht. Seán Hayes is chairman, while David Fitzgerald acts as secretary.

The conference elects an executive of Hayes, Fitzgerald, Sean McGuinness, May Laverty, Helena Molony, Sheila Dowling, Sheila Humphreys, D. McGinley, Mick Fitzpatrick, Seán MacBride, Michael Price, Peadar O’Donnell, Mick Hallissey, M. O’Donnell, Patrick McCormack, Tom Kenny, L. Brady, Nicholas Boran, John Mulgrew and Tom Maguire. George Gilmore and Frank Ryan are also involved.

The constitution elaborates upon the aims by describing a two-phase programme. The first phase is described as being one of organisation and propagandising in order to organise a solid front for mass resistance to the oppressors. This is to build upon the day-to-day resistance and activity towards “rents, annuities, evictions, seizures, bank sales, lock-outs, strikes and wage-cuts.” This challenge, it is believed, would lead to power passing from the hands of the imperialists to the masses. The second phase is one of consolidation of power through the organisation of the economy and a workers’ and working farmers’ republic.

Ideologically Saor Éire adheres to the Irish socialist republicanism developed by James Connolly and Peadar O’Donnell. As a consequence of the heavy influence of O’Donnell, Saor Éire strongly advocates the revival of Gaelic culture and the involvement of the poorer rural working communities in any rise against the Irish capitalist institutions and British imperialism.

The organisation is attacked by the centre-right press and the Catholic Church as a dangerous communist group, and is quickly banned by the Free State government. The strength of reaction against it prevents it from becoming an effective political organisation. O’Donnell and his supporters attempt a similar initiative two years later with the establishment of the Republican Congress in 1933.


Leave a comment

Birth of George Salmon, Mathematician & Theologian

Rev. Prof. George Salmon, distinguished and influential Irish mathematician and Anglican theologian, is born in Dublin on September 25, 1819. After working in algebraic geometry for two decades, he devotes the last forty years of his life to theology. His entire career is spent at Trinity College Dublin.

Salmon, the son of Michael Salmon and Helen Weekes, spends his boyhood in Cork, where his father is a linen merchant. There he attends Hamblin and Porter’s Grammar School before attending Trinity College in 1833, graduating with First Class Honours in mathematics in 1839. In 1841 he attains a paid fellowship and teaching position in mathematics at Trinity. In 1845 Salmon is additionally appointed to a position in theology at the university, after having been ordained a deacon in 1844 and a priest in the Church of Ireland in 1845.

In the late 1840s and the 1850s Salmon is in regular and frequent communication with Arthur Cayley and J. J. Sylvester. The three of them together with a small number of other mathematicians develop a system for dealing with n-dimensional algebra and geometry. During this period he publishes about 36 papers in journals.

In 1844 Salmon marries Frances Anne Salvador, daughter of Rev. J. L. Salvador of Staunton-upon-Wye in Herefordshire, with whom he has six children, of which only two survive him.

In 1848 Salmon publishes an undergraduate textbook entitled A Treatise on Conic Sections. This text remains in print for over fifty years, going through five updated editions in English, and is translated into German, French and Italian. From 1858 to 1867 he is the Donegall Lecturer in Mathematics at Trinity.

In 1859 Salmon publishes the book Lessons Introductory to the Modern Higher Algebra. This is for a while simultaneously the state-of-the-art and the standard presentation of the subject, and goes through updated and expanded editions in 1866, 1876 and 1885, and is translated into German and French. He also publishes two other mathematics texts, A Treatise on Higher Plane Curves (1852) and A Treatise on the Analytic Geometry of Three Dimensions (1862).

In 1858 Salmon is presented with the Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy. In June 1863 he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society followed in 1868 by the award of their Royal Medal. In 1889 he receives the Copley Medal of the society, the highest honorary award in British science, but by then he has long since lost his interest in mathematics and science.

From the early 1860s onward Salmon is primarily occupied with theology. In 1866 he is appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Trinity College, at which point he resigns from his position in the mathematics department. In 1871 he accepts an additional post of chancellor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Salmon is Provost of Trinty College from 1888 until his death in 1904. The highlight of his career is likely when in 1892 he presides over the great celebrations marking the tercentenary of the College, which had been founded by Queen Elizabeth I. His deep conservatism leads him to strongly oppose women receiving degrees from the University.

Salmon dies at the Provost’s House on January 22, 1904 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin. An avid reader throughout his life, his obituary refers to him as “specially devoted to the novels of Jane Austen.”

Salmon’s theorem [ru] is named in honor of George Salmon.


Leave a comment

Death of John Alexander, Victoria Cross Recipient

John Alexander VC, British Army soldier and an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to a member of the British and Commonwealth forces, is killed during the Siege of Lucknow in India on September 24, 1857.

Born in Mullingar, County Westmeath, Alexander is a private in the 90th Perthshire Light Infantry, later known as the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), during the Crimean War. He is awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery during the war. His citation reads:

“On 18 June 1855 after the attack on the Redan at Sevastopol, Crimea, Alexander went out from the trenches under very heavy fire and brought in several wounded men. On 6 September, when he was with a working party in the most advanced trench, he went out under heavy fire and helped to bring in a captain who was severely wounded.”

Alexander is later killed in action during the Siege of Lucknow during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 in British India on September 24, 1857.

Private Alexander’s Victoria Cross is displayed at the National War Museum at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.

(Pictured: “The Battle of Sebastopol,” after 1856, Jean-Charles Langlois)


Leave a comment

Northern Ireland Forensic Science Laboratory Bombing

A Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) van bomb explodes outside the Northern Ireland Forensic Science Laboratory (NIFSL) on the Newtownbreda Road on the outskirts of Belfast late in the evening of September 23, 1992. It is one of the biggest bombs detonated in a residential area of Northern Ireland. The blast comes after a temporary lull in an IRA bombing campaign.

The 2,000 lb. (900kg) bomb goes off outside the laboratory at Newtownbreda while Army bomb disposal experts are moving in to investigate a large, abandoned van. The alarm is raised when the IRA makes a telephone warning saying that it has planted a “massive van bomb.”

The device reduces every room to rubble. It also causes damage, in some cases severe, to more than 700 homes and other premises. One estimate puts repair costs after the blast at about £20 million.

The wrecking of the laboratory is a blow to the authorities, because the blast destroys valuable forensic evidence for use in the prosecution of terrorist suspects. But on a personal level it is a traumatic night for hundreds of families who live through the explosion and face the task of repairing their homes.

The blast is unusually loud and destructive. It shakes Belfast and is heard for miles around. Many people living some distance away are convinced the explosion had been outside their door. One man who lives 10 miles away believes his home is under attack and goes outside with a golf club to investigate.

Emergency staff say the area affected is one of the largest they had ever known, with damage reported up to a radius of a mile and a half. But the brunt of the damage is suffered by Belvoir Park, a model and almost incident-free largely Protestant housing estate built by a public authority but now largely privately owned, which is separated from the laboratory by a dual carriageway.

Up to 50 homes are demolished. In one experience which is typical of many, a 65-year-old widow who lives alone is watching television when the bomb goes off. Much of the plaster ceiling collapses while the window shatters into fragments and showers the room. An immediate power cut plunges the house into darkness. She escapes with only a slight cut to the head.

After the explosion people roam the darkened estate in cars and on foot, checking for relatives and friends while police officers help tend those suffering from shock and injuries. No one is seriously hurt. A number of pet cats and dogs panic and run off into the night.

In the early hours of September 24, rain pours through damaged roofs, making life even more difficult for families involved in immediate repair work. At 5:00 AM, almost eight hours after the blast, workmen are still engaged in boarding up broken windows.

(From: “Damage in huge blast put at 20m pounds: A Belfast housing estate counts the cost of an IRA bomb which may have destroyed vital criminal evidence” by David McKittrick, Ireland Correspondent, The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk)


Leave a comment

The Long Count Fight

In a battle of Irish Americans, the Long Count Fight, or the Battle of the Long Count, a ten-round professional boxing rematch between world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and former champion Jack Dempsey takes place at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois on September 22, 1927.

“Long Count” is applied to the fight because when Tunney is knocked down in the seventh round the count is delayed due to Dempsey’s failure to go to and remain in a neutral corner. Whether this “long count” actually affects the outcome remains a subject of debate. Tunney ultimately wins the bout in a unanimous decision.

Just 364 days earlier, on September 23, 1926 at Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tunney beats Dempsey in a ten-round unanimous decision to claim the world heavyweight title. This first fight between Tunney and Dempsey is moved out of Chicago because Dempsey learned that Al Capone is a big fan of his, and he does not want Capone to be involved in the fight. Capone reportedly bets $50,000 on Dempsey for the rematch, which fuels false rumors of a fix. Dempsey is favored by odds makers in both fights, largely because of public betting which heavily tilts towards Dempsey.

The rematch held at Chicago’s Soldier Field draws a gate of $2,658,660 (approximately $22 million in today’s dollars). It is the first $2 million gate in entertainment history.

Despite the fact that Tunney had won the first fight by a wide margin on the scorecards, the prospect of a second bout creates tremendous public interest. Dempsey is one of the so-called “big five” sports legends of the 1920s and it is widely rumored that he had refused to participate in the military during World War I. He actually had attempted to enlist in the Army, but had been turned down. A jury later exonerates Dempsey of draft evasion. Tunney, who enjoys literature and the arts, is a former member of the United States Marine Corps. His nickname is The Fighting Marine.

The fight takes place under new rules regarding knockdowns: the fallen fighter has ten seconds to rise to his feet under his own power, after his opponent moves to a neutral corner (i.e., one with no trainers). The new rule, which is not yet universal, is asked to be put into use during the fight by the Dempsey camp, who had requested it during negotiations. Dempsey, in the final days of training prior to the rematch, apparently ignores the setting of these new rules. Also, the fight is staged inside a 20-foot ring, which favors the boxer with superior footwork, in this case Tunney. Dempsey likes to crowd his opponents, and normally fights in a 16-foot ring that offers less space to maneuver.

To this day boxing fans argue over whether Dempsey could or should have won the fight. What is not in dispute is that the public’s affection for Dempsey grew in the wake of his two losses to Tunney. “In defeat, he gained more stature,” wrote The Washington Post‘s Shirley Povich. “He was the loser in the battle of the long count, yet the hero.”

Tunney said that he had picked up the referee’s count at “two,” and could have gotten up at any point after that, preferring to wait until “nine” for obvious tactical reasons. Dempsey said, “I have no reason not to believe him. Gene’s a great guy.”

Dempsey later joins the United States Coast Guard, and he and Tunney become good friends who visit each other frequently. Tunney and Dempsey are both members of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

In March 2011, the family of Gene Tunney donates the gloves he wore in the fight to the Smithsonian Institution‘s National Museum of American History.


Leave a comment

Birth of Michael Corcoran, Union Army General

Michael Corcoran, Irish American general in the Union Army during the American Civil War and a close confidant of President Abraham Lincoln, is born in Carrowkeel, near Ballymote, County Sligo, on September 21, 1827. As its colonel, he leads the 69th Infantry Regiment (New York) to Washington, D.C. and is one of the first to serve in the defense of Washington by building Fort Corcoran. He then leads the 69th into action at the First Battle of Bull Run. After promotion to brigadier general, he leaves the 69th and forms the Corcoran Legion, consisting of at least five other New York regiments.

Corcoran is the only child of Thomas Corcoran, an officer in the British Army, and Mary McDonagh. Through his mother, he claims descent from Patrick Sarsfield, hero of the Williamite War in Ireland and leader of the Wild Geese. In 1846 he takes an appointment to the Revenue Police, enforcing the laws and searching for illicit stills and distilling activities in Creeslough, County Donegal. He also joins a guerrilla group called the Ribbonmen.

On August 30, 1849, Corcoran emigrates from Sligo to the United States and settles in New York City where he finds work as a clerk in the tavern owned by John Heaney, whose niece, Elizabeth, he marries in 1854.

Corcoran enlists as a Private in the 69th New York Militia. By 1859 he is appointed colonel of the regiment. The regiment is a state militia unit at the time composed of citizens, not soldiers, and is involved in the maintenance of public order. On October 11, 1860, he refuses to march the regiment on parade for the 19-year-old Prince of Wales, who is visiting New York City at the time, protesting the British imposition of the Irish Famine. He is removed from command and a court martial is pending over that matter when the Civil War begins.

Corcoran also becomes involved in Democratic politics at Tammany Hall. He becomes district leader, a member of the judicial nominations committee, an elected school inspector for his ward, and a member of the Fourteenth Ward General Committee. He is one of the founders of the Fenian Brotherhood in America.

With the outbreak of war, the court martial is dropped and Corcoran is restored to his command because he had been instrumental in bringing other Irish immigrants to the Union cause. He leads the 69th to Washington, D.C. and serves for a while in the Washington defenses building, Fort Corcoran. In July 1861 he leads the regiment into action at the First Battle of Bull Run and is taken prisoner.

While Corcoran is imprisoned, the United States makes threats to execute captured Confederate privateers. Corcoran and several other Union prisoners are selected by lot for execution if the United States carries out its threats against the privateers. This event is known as the Enchantress Affair, but no executions are ever carried out by either side. Corcoran is then offered a parole under the conditions that he not take up arms against the Confederacy. Intending to resume his place in the Union army upon his release he refuses the offer of parole. He is appointed Brigadier General of volunteers in July and exchanged in August 1862. His role in the Enchantress Affair and his refusal for parole gains him some attention and upon his release he is invited to dinner with President Abraham Lincoln.

In April 1863 Corcoran is involved in an incident that ends with Corcoran shooting and killing Edgar A. Kimball, commander of the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Corcoran attempts to pass through the 9th New York’s area without giving the required password after receiving the challenge from a sentry. When Kimball intervenes on the side of the sentry, Corcoran shoots him. Corcoran is not charged with a crime or reprimanded, and continues to serve.

Corcoran returns to the army and sets about recruiting more Irish volunteers. He raises and takes command of what becomes known as the Corcoran Legion. Placed in command of the 1st Division, VII Corps he is engaged in the Battle of Deserted House and takes part in the Battle of Suffolk. In late 1863 he is placed in command of a division in the XXII Corps and returns to serve in the Washington defenses. While riding alone in Fairfax, Virginia he is thrown from a runaway horse and suffers a fractured skull. He dies at the age of 36 at the William Gunnell House on December 22, 1863.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveils Ireland’s national monument to the Fighting 69th in Ballymote on August 22, 2006. The monument is sculpted by Philip Flanagan. The inscription around the top of the monument reads “Michael Corcoran 1827–1863” Around the base is inscribed “New York Ballymote Creeslough Bull Run.” Underneath the monument is a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, donated by the family of Michael Lynch, who died in the tower on September 11, 2001. Lynch’s family are also from County Sligo.