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


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Birth of Mike Quill, Irish-American Trade Unionist

Michael Joseph “Red Mike” Quill, one of the founders of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), a union founded by subway workers in New York City that expands to represent employees in other forms of transit, is born on September 18, 1905, in Gortloughera, near Kilgarvan, County Kerry.

Quill is the seventh among five sons and three daughters of John Daniel Quill, farmer, of Gortloughera, and Margaret Quill (née Lynch), of Ballyvourney, County Cork. He attends Kilgarvan national school until early adolescence. The family has strong republican sympathies and he serves with an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column during the Irish Civil War.

In 1926, Quill emigrates to New York City. After a series of brief jobs, in 1929 he secures employment with the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) as a subway station change-maker. Attracted to socialism and militant industrial unionism by his reading of James Connolly, in 1933 he is one of a small group of workers seeking to initiate a trade union independent of the IRT’s complacent company union. Comprised largely of ex-IRA men linked by membership of Clan na Gael and the leftist Irish Workers’ Clubs, his group soon joins forces with a New York transit-industry organising effort by the Communist Party, resulting in the launch in April 1934 of the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

With a convivial personality and a flair for oratory, Quill quickly emerges as one of the union’s most effective organisers. During 1935 he leaves his IRT job to work full-time as union organiser. In December 1935 he is elected TWU president, a position he holds until his death. By autumn 1936 the TWU has established a solid base on the IRT, and intensifies organisation on New York’s other transit lines: subways, buses, elevated trains, and trolleys. In May 1937 the TWU affiliates with the incipient Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). After winning, mostly by large majorities, a series of union representation elections in May–June 1937, the TWU negotiates closed-shop contracts with various New York transit companies, obtaining for its 30,000 members substantial wage increases and benefits and a work-week reduction to forty-eight hours. The ethnic profile of the TWU, which is colloquially nicknamed “the Irish union,” reflects that of New York’s transit workforce, about half of which is Irish-born.

First elected to the New York City Council in November 1937 as candidate of the American Labor Party, Quill serves on the body intermittently until 1949. After 1940 he leads the TWU into expansion outside New York, organising in mass transit in other cities, in airlines, and in railroads. Despite modest membership numbers (135,000 by the mid-1960s), the TWU is the United States‘ largest transit union, and Quill maintains a high public profile, owing to his union’s situation in a key economic sector, its base in the country’s largest city, and the colourful and the controversial features of his personality and politics. The 1940 municipal buy-out of New York’s private subway companies and subsequent evolution of a unified civically operated transport system precipitates a lengthy TWU struggle to establish collective bargaining rights and procedures for the transport workforce as public employees. This campaign, by setting precedents for public-sector union organisation nation-wide, marks Quill’s most enduring legacy to the American labour movement.

Quill denies repeated charges that he is a Communist, while retorting that he would “rather be called a Red by the rats than a rat by the Reds.” Communists hold influential positions at all levels in the TWU until the union’s December 1948 convention, when, after months of rancorous conflict over policy, he secures the expulsion from union office of all Communist Party members. His own politics, nevertheless, remain conspicuously leftist in the America of the 1950s and 1960s, as he condemns both the McCarthyite anti-Red witch-hunt and the Vietnam War. Elected a CIO vice-president in 1950, he eschews redefinition as “a labour statesman,” and advocates a national labour party and nationalisation of major industries. A strenuous opponent of racial discrimination by employers and within trade-union structures, he actively supports the black civil rights movement. He is the only top CIO official to oppose its 1955 merger with the conservative, craft-dominated American Federation of Labor (AFL), which he accuses of “the three Rs” of raiding, racketeering, and racism.

Quill’s final battle is his most dramatic. On January 1, 1966 he defies public-sector anti-strike legislation and a court injunction and leads TWU Local 100 into the first total subway-and-bus strike in New York City history, paralysing traffic for twelve days. Arrested on January 4, Quill, who has a history of serious heart disease, collapses during admission to prison and is transferred to hospital under police custody. On January 13 the strike is settled with a 15 percent wage increase, the highest of Quill’s TWU presidency. On January 28, several days after discharge from hospital, he dies of heart failure in his home. He is interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York, after a funeral Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, his casket draped by the Irish tricolor.

Speaking after his death, Martin Luther King Jr. eulogises Quill with the following: “Mike Quill was a fighter for decent things all his life—Irish independence, labor organization, and racial equality. He spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow-man. When the totality of a man’s life is consumed with enriching the lives of others, this is a man the ages will remember—this is a man who has passed on but who has not died. Negroes had desperately needed men like Mike Quill who fearlessly said what was true even when it offended. That is why Negroes shall miss Mike Quill.”

Quill marries Maria Theresa O’Neill of Cahersiveen, County Kerry, in 1937. They have one son. Maria dies in 1959. He then marries Shirley Garry (née Uzin) of Brooklyn, New York, his long-serving administrative assistant, in 1961. They have no children. The Michael J. Quill Centre at Ardtully, Kilgarvan, County Kerry, houses a commemorative museum.

(From: “Quill, Michael Joseph” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie | Pictured: Irish-American Trade Unionist Mike Quill during a visit to the White House in 1938)


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Baptism of Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, Union Organizer & Activist

Mary G. Harris Jones, known as Mother Jones, an Irish-born American schoolteacher and dressmaker who becomes a prominent union organiser, community organiser, and activist, is baptised on August 1, 1837, in Cork, County Cork. Her exact date of birth is uncertain. She is once deemed “the most dangerous woman in America” because of her union activities.

Jones is the daughter of Richard Harris, a Roman Catholic tenant farmer and railway labourer, and Ellen (née Cotter) Harris. She and her family are victims of the Great Famine, as are many other Irish families of the time. The famine forces more than a million families, including the Harrises, to immigrate to North America when she is ten years old. She lives in the United States and Canada, where she attends and later teaches in a Roman Catholic normal school in Toronto. In the United States she teaches in a convent school in Monroe, Michigan and works as a seamstress. In 1861 she marries George Jones, an iron-moulder and labour union member in Memphis, Tennessee. After the death of her husband and their four children in a yellow fever epidemic in 1867, she relocates to Chicago, Illinois, where she becomes involved with an early industrial union, the Knights of Labor. Her seamstress shop is destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

In the 1890s Jones becomes known as ‘Mother’ Jones and begins a long association with socialist causes and the United Mine Workers of America. She attends the founding convention of Social Democracy of America, later known as the Cooperative Brotherhood, in 1897 and in the same year organises support and publicity for striking bituminous coal miners in West Virginia, including a children’s march and parades of farmers delivering food to the miners’ camp. These types of defiant mass action become her trademark. Notable activities include organising women in support of an 1899 anthracite coal strike in eastern Pennsylvania, directing strikes of young women working in textile mills, a 1903 ‘children’s crusade’ against child labour which includes a ninety-mile march from Philadelphia to New York City, participating in 1905 in the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical labour union committed to the organisation of unskilled workers, campaigning for the release of Mexican revolutionaries imprisoned in American jails, and testifying in 1915 in congressional hearings against the abuse of corporate power by Rockefeller interests.

Jones reportedly meets with James Connolly, Irish socialist and labour organiser, in New York City in 1910. She is arrested for the first time for violating a federal injunction during a miners’ strike in West Virginia in 1902. In 1904, during a Colorado miners’ campaign, she has to avoid the authorities to escape possible deportation. During a 1914 strike in Ludlow, Colorado, she is imprisoned without trial for nine weeks. In 1919 she is arrested in Pennsylvania during a steelworkers’ strike for defending freedom of speech and the right of workers to organise unions. She remains active in the labour movement and radical causes into her nineties.

During her later years, Jones lives with her friends Walter and Lillie May Burgess on their farm in what is now Adelphi, Maryland. She celebrates her self-proclaimed 100th birthday there on May 1, 1930 and is filmed making a statement for a newsreel.

Jones dies on November 30, 1930 at the Burgess farm then in Silver Spring, Maryland, though now part of Adelphi. There is a funeral Mass at St. Gabriel’s in Washington, D.C. She is buried in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois, alongside miners who died in the 1898 Battle of Virden.

In 1932, about 15,000 Illinois mine workers gather in Mount Olive to protest against the United Mine Workers, which soon becomes the Progressive Mine Workers of America. Convinced that they have acted in the spirit of Mother Jones, the miners decide to place a proper headstone on her grave. By 1936, the miners have saved up more than $16,000 and are able to purchase “eighty tons of Minnesota pink granite, with bronze statues of two miners flanking a twenty-foot shaft featuring a bas-relief of Mother Jones at its center.” On October 11, 1936, also known as Miners’ Day, an estimated 50,000 people arrive at Mother Jones’s grave to see the new gravestone and memorial. Since then, October 11 is not only known as Miners’ Day but is also referred to and celebrated in Mount Olive as “Mother Jones’s Day.”

The farm where she died begins to advertise itself as the “Mother Jones Rest Home” in 1932, before being sold to a Baptist church in 1956. The site is now marked with a Maryland Historical Trust marker, and a nearby elementary school is named in her honor.


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Éamon de Valera Visits Butte, Montana During His American Tour

President Éamon de Valera visits Butte, Montana, on July 25, 1919, during his American Tour of 1919-20. Montana Lieutenant Governor W. W. McDowell meets his train and rides with de Valera through the streets to where de Valera then addresses over 10,000 people who have come out to hear him. The next day, de Valera addresses a joint session of the Montana State Legislature.

De Valera’s eventful 1919 begins in Lincoln Jail and ends in New York City’s Waldorf Astoria, the largest and most luxurious hotel in the world. Smuggled aboard the SS Lapland in Liverpool in June, he sails for the United States during the closing stages of the Paris Peace Conference. As London’s Sunday Express complains in August 1919, “there is more Irish blood in America than in Ireland,” making the United States the obvious destination for a sustained propaganda and fundraising mission.

After his highly-publicised American debut at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, the self-styled “President of the Irish Republic” embarks on the first leg of what is to be an eighteen month tour of the United States. The purpose of his mission is twofold: to gain formal recognition of the Irish Republic and to raise funds via a bond issue to support the independence movement and the newly established Dáil Éireann.

Between July and August 1919, de Valera and his entourage travel over 6,000 miles from New York to San Francisco, addressing enormous crowds at dozens of venues. He fills Madison Square Garden to capacity and receives a thirty-minute standing ovation from 25,000 people in Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Twice as many people fill Boston’s Fenway Park on June 29, cheering the arrival of the “Irish Lincoln.” The Sinn Féin envoys also visit less obvious Irish communities of the period, such as Scranton, Savannah, New Orleans and Kansas City. For de Valera’s personal secretary, Seán Nunan, the public meeting in Butte, Montana is like “an election meeting at home – there were so many first-generation Irishmen working on the mines – mainly from around Allihies in West Cork.” In San Francisco de Valera dedicates a statue of Robert Emmet by Irish-born sculptor Jerome Connor in Golden Gate Park, a replica of which stands sentinel in St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. This is one of many symbolic gestures linking the American and Irish struggles for independence played out before the flashing bulbs of the ubiquitous press photographers. On August 15 The Cork Examiner notes that the enthusiastic American exchanges “indicate that few public missionaries from other lands – possibly only Mr. Parnell – have ever had such receptions as were accorded to the Sinn Féin leader.”

De Valera’s team deserves credit for the incredible logistical triumph that is the U.S. tour. As chief organiser, Liam Mellows travels ahead to each city, ensuring a suitable reception is prepared and a venue secured for a mass meeting. Seán Nunan is de Valera’s fastidious personal secretary and Harry Boland, Sinn Féin TD for South Roscommon and Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) envoy, is at his side troubleshooting, speechmaking and shaking hands. As the tour progresses, de Valera’s supporting cast expands to include, Kerry-born Kathleen O’Connell who becomes de Valera’s full-time personal secretary from 1919.

The next stage of de Valera’s American odyssey begins on October 1, 1919 in Philadelphia, a city with a rich Irish heritage and rife with symbolism of America’s struggle for independence. Over the next three weeks, de Valera and his team travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific seaboard and back again, delivering seventeen major public speeches and a host of smaller ones to aggregate crowds of over half a million.

The pace is relentless as the Irish team makes its way through middle America. De Valera is received as a visiting dignitary at multiple state legislatures and presented with honorary degrees from six American universities. In line with his secondary objective to foster the interest of “wealthy men of the race in the industrial development of Ireland,” he addresses the Chambers of Commerce in a number of cities and arranges a personal meeting with Henry Ford, the son of an Irish emigrant, during his visit to Detroit in October. In the same month in Wisconsin, he is made a Chief of the Chippewa Nation, an honour he later says meant more to him than all the freedoms of all the cites he was ever given. It is not surprising that by the time they reach Denver on October 30, The Irish World reports that “the President looked tired.” Still, he musters the energy to make high profile visits to Portland, Los Angeles and San Diego before beginning the return journey to New York at the end of November.

After a short break for Christmas, the Irish team prepares for the launch of the Bond Certificate Drive. A week-long frenzy of publicity kicks off on January 17 at New York City Hall where Mayor John F. Hylan presents de Valera with the Freedom of the City. During the spring of 1920, de Valera addresses the Maryland General Assembly at Annapolis before making the swing through the southern states of America.

It is not all plain sailing for the Sinn Féin representatives in America. The tour of the west coast in late 1919 sees increasing tensions with American patriotic bodies who are critical of de Valera’s perceived pro-German stance during World War I. He is heckled during a speech in Seattle and a tricolour is ripped from his car in Portland by members of the American Legion. The trip through the southern states in the spring of 1920 coincides with rising American anti-immigration and anti-Catholic nativism. A small number of counter demonstrations are organised by right-wing Americans. Most notably, members of the Ku Klux Klan make unwelcome appearances at several rallies in the American south, making clear their opposition to de Valera’s presence.

The Irish envoys also contend with antagonism from the leaders of Friends of Irish Freedom (FOIF), the broad-based popular front of Clan na Gael headed by veteran Fenian John Devoy and Judge Daniel Cohalan. The FOIF uses its significant resources to finance de Valera’s tour and facilitate the Bond Certificate Drive, but behind the scenes there are significant personality clashes and tensions over tactics.

The increasingly public dispute comes to a head in a row over strategies at the Republican National Convention in Chicago in June 1920. Drawing on his influential political contacts, Cohalan persuades the Republican Party to include Irish self-determination in their election platform. However, much to Cohalan’s fury, de Valera leads a separate delegation to the Convention and insists on a resolution calling for recognition of the Irish Republic. The result is that two resolutions are submitted to the Platform Committee, which indicates dissension in the Irish ranks and gives the Committee the excuse to include neither in the final platform. After de Valera also fails to secure the endorsement of the Democratic convention in San Francisco in June, it is clear that the Irish question will not be a significant factor in the ensuing presidential election. Relations between the FOIF and de Valera reach a new low. In November 1920, de Valera makes the final break with the FOIF and sets up a new organisation, the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic.

De Valera is in Washington, D.C. on October 25 when Terence MacSwiney dies after 74 days on hunger strike. Six days later, at the last great meeting of the American tour, 40,000 people fill New York’s Polo Grounds to commemorate MacSwiney’s death. By late November, de Valera knows that it is time to return to Ireland. Smuggled aboard SS Celtic in New York harbour on December 10, he prepares for the nine-day journey home. He had failed to obtain the recognition of the United States Government for the Republic, but his cross-continental tour and associated press coverage raised international awareness and over $5 million for the Irish cause.

(From: An article by Helene O’Keeffe that was first published in the Irish Examiner on March 24, 2020 | Photo: Eamon de Valera, center, president of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, in Butte, Montana, in 1919 to encourage support for Ireland’s fight for independence. Courtesy of Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives)


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Birth of John Purroy Mitchel, the 95th Mayor of New York City

John Purroy Mitchel, the 95th mayor of New York City (1914-17), is born on July 19, 1879 at Fordham, Bronx, New York City. He is remembered for his short career as leader of reform politics in New York as well as for his early death as a U.S. Army Air Service officer in the last months of World War I.

Mitchel is born to James Mitchel, a New York City fire marshal, and Mary Purroy who works as a schoolteacher until her marriage. His father is Irish, and Presbyterian in faith, the son of the famous Irish nationalist John Mitchel, and a veteran of the Confederate States Army. Two of his uncles were killed fighting for the Confederacy. His maternal grandfather, Venezuelan-born Juan Bautista Purroy, was that country’s consul in New York, which makes Mitchel the first Mayor of New York City of Latino descent. His great-grandfather, José Joaquin de Purroy, was a lawyer from Spain who settled in Venezuela. He graduates from a Catholic secondary school at Fordham Preparatory School in the late 1890s. He obtains his bachelor’s degree from Columbia College in 1899 and graduates from New York Law School in 1902 with honors. He then pursues a career as a private attorney.

In December 1906, Mitchel’s career takes flight when he is hired by family friend and New York City corporation counsel William B. Ellison to investigate the office of John F. Ahearn, borough president of Manhattan, for incompetence, waste and inefficiency. As a result, Ahearn is dismissed as borough president of Manhattan. He begins his career as assistant corporation counsel and then becomes a member of the Commissioners of Accounts, from which he investigates city departments. He gains results and recognition for his thorough and professional investigations into various city departments and high-ranking officials. Along with the help of Henry Bruère and other staff members of the Bureau of Municipal Research, he turns the insignificant Commissioners of Accounts into an administration of importance.

The young Mitchel’s reputation as a reformer garners him the support of the anti-Tammany forces. In 1909, he is elected president of the New York City Board of Aldermen, an organization similar to the current New York City Council. As president of the Board of Aldermen, he is able to enact fiscal reforms. He cuts waste and improves accounting practices. Also, he unsuccessfully fights for a municipal-owned transit system and the city sees him vote against allowing the Interborough Rapid Transit and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit companies permission to extend their existing subway and elevated lines. For a six-week period in 1910 after current Mayor William J. Gaynor is injured by a bullet wound, he serves as acting mayor. His biggest accomplishment during his short tenure is the act of neutrality during a garment industry strike.

As the mayoral election approaches in 1913, the Citizens Municipal Committee of 107 sets out to find a candidate that will give New York “a non-partisan, efficient and progressive government.” They are assisted in this endeavor by the Fusion Executive Committee, led by Joseph M. Price of the City Club of New York. After nine ballots, Mitchel is nominated as a candidate for mayor. During his campaign, he focuses on making City Hall a place of decency and honesty. He also focuses on business as he promises New Yorkers that he will modernize the administrative and financial machinery and the processes of city government.

At the age of 34, Mitchel is elected mayor on the Republican Party slate as he wins an overwhelming victory, defeating Democratic candidate Edward E. McCall by 121,000 votes, thus becoming the second youngest mayor of New York City. He is often referred to as “The Boy Mayor of New York.”

Mitchel’s administration introduces widespread reforms, particularly in the Police Department, which has long been highly corrupt and which is cleaned up by Mitchel’s Police Commissioner Arthur H. Woods. Woods is able to break up gangs and in his first year in office and he arrests more than 200 criminals. Woods also launches an attack on robbery, prostitution, pickpocketing and gambling. Woods ultimately transforms the police department into a crime-fighting machine. Mitchel aims to get rid of corruption wherever he sees it. His administration sets out to restructure and modernize New York City and its government. He is able to expand the city’s regulatory activities, runs the police department more honestly and efficiently and, much like in 1910, he maintains impartiality during garment and transportation workers strikes in 1916.

At 1:30 p.m. on April 17, 1914, Michael P. Mahoney fires a gun at the mayor as Mitchel is getting in his car to go to lunch. The bullet ricochets off a pedestrian and hits Frank Lyon Polk, New York City’s corporation counsel, in the chin.

Mitchel’s early popularity is soon diminished due to his fiscal policies and vision of education. He is heavily criticized for combining vocational and academic courses. He begins to trim the size of the Board of Education and attempts to control teachers’ salaries.

Mitchel advocates universal military training to prepare for war. In a speech at Princeton University on March 1, 1917, he describes universal military training as “the [only] truly democratic solution to the problem of preparedness on land.” His universal military training alienates New Yorkers and is not popular. Many feel he focuses too much on military patriotism and is indifferent to politics. This soon leads to a loss of support for his re-election bid in 1917.

Mitchel runs again for mayor in the highly charged wartime election of 1917. His re-election bid takes a hit as many New Yorkers feel he is socializing with the social elite, focuses too much on the economy and efficiency and his concern on military preparedness. He narrowly loses the Republican primary to William M. Bennett after a contentious recount but then runs for re-election as a pro-war Fusion candidate.

Mitchel’s main campaign theme is patriotism, with a media campaign that denounces Germans, Irish, and Jews as unpatriotic sympathizers with the enemy cause. He runs against Republican Bennett, antiwar Socialist Morris Hillquit, and the Tammany Hall Democrat John F. Hylan. Hylan ridicules and denounces Mitchel’s upper-class reform as an affront to democracy and to the voters. He wins by a landslide without taking a clear position on the war. Mitchel barely beats Hillquit for second place.

After failing to get re-elected, Mitchel joins the Air Service as a flying cadet, completing training in San Diego and obtaining the rank of major. On the morning of July 6, 1918, when returning from a short military training flight to Gerstner Field, near Lake Charles, Louisiana, his plane suddenly goes into a nose dive, causing him to fall from his plane due to an unfastened seatbelt. He plummets 500 feet to his death, his body landing in a marsh about a half mile south of the field.

Mitchel’s body is returned to Manhattan, New York City. His funeral is held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and he is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City on July 11, 1918.

Mitchel Field on Long Island is named for him in 1918. A bronze memorial plaque with his likeness is also affixed between the two stone pylons at the western end of Hamilton Hall, the main college building at Columbia University. A plaque of his likeness is on the entrance to the base of the Central Park Reservoir elevated cinder jogging track at 90th Street and Fifth Avenue entrance to Central Park. The New York City Fire Department operates a fireboat named John Purroy Mitchel from 1921 to 1966.


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The Irish 9th Massachusetts at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill

The Irish 9th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment, part of the Army of the Potomac of the Union Army, is heavily engaged at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, sometimes known as the Battle of Chickahominy River, in Hanover County, Virginia, on June 27, 1862. It is the third of the Seven Days Battles (Peninsula campaign) of the American Civil War.

Following the inconclusive Battle of Beaver Dam Creek (Mechanicsville) the previous day, Confederate General Robert E. Lee renews his attacks against the right flank of the Union Army, relatively isolated on the northern side of the Chickahominy River. There, Brigadier General Fitz John Porter‘s V Corps establishes a strong defensive line behind Boatswain’s Swamp. Lee’s force is destined to launch the largest Confederate attack of the war, about 57,000 men in six divisions.

Porter’s reinforced V Corps holds fast for the afternoon as the Confederates attack in a disjointed manner, first with the division of Major General A. P. Hill, then Major General Richard S. Ewell, suffering heavy casualties. Put into an exposed, forward position near the bridge over Powhite Creek, the 9th Massachusetts sustains heavy casualties while delaying the advance of A.P. Hill’s division, allowing other Federal forces to improve their defenses. Among the Confederates attacking the 9th’s position are the Irishmen of Company K, 1st South Carolina Rifle Regiment.

After pulling back to the main Federal line, the 9th Massachusetts regiment is hotly engaged again later in the day. Numerous attacks by Hill’s Confederates are repulsed through the day, and the 9th also helps cover the retreat of their brigade. The 9th Massachusetts is one of the last regiments of the V Corps remaining on the field as General Thomas Francis Meagher and his Irish Brigade rush into line to relieve the beleaguered remnant of the brave Massachusetts regiment. The arrival of Major General Stonewall Jackson‘s command is delayed, preventing the full concentration of Confederate force before Porter receives some reinforcements from the VI Corps.

Seeing the green flags of the Irish Brigade coming to the aid of the 9th Massachusetts, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Guiney, who had been watching his regiment shrink in number all day, shakes the hand of Meagher and exclaims, “Thank God, we are saved.”

At dusk, the Confederates finally mount a coordinated assault that breaks Porter’s line and drives his men back toward the Chickahominy River. The Federals retreat across the river during the night. The Confederates are too disorganized to pursue the main Union force. Gaines’ Mill saves Richmond for the Confederacy in 1862. The tactical defeat there convinces Army of the Potomac commander Major General George B. McClellan to abandon his advance on Richmond and begin a retreat to the James River. The 9th Massachusetts’ loses for the day are 82 killed and 167 wounded.

The battle occurs in almost the same location as the Battle of Cold Harbor nearly two years later.


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The Fenian Invasion of Canada

On June 1, 1866, a group of Fenian soldiers cross the border from the United States into Canadian territory. The events of the so-called Fenian invasion of Canada leave the organisation utterly discredited and cause much dismay among Irish American communities.

The roots of the invasion go back to 1865 when the Fenians in the United States break into two factions, one headed by William Roberts and the other by John O’Mahony, a founding member of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States. It is the Roberts wing which proposes a Fenian invasion of Canada. A number of facts are put forward by Roberts and others in support of this plan. In 1865 there are tens of thousands of battle-hardened Irish veterans of the American Civil War, as well as many officers from both the Union and Confederate armies. It is initially proposed to utilise these soldiers for an incursion into Canada that would be timed to coincide with a revolution in Ireland, thus causing Great Britain to be engaged in two widely separated theatres of war.

When it becomes apparent that the hoped-for rising in Ireland is not going to take place, the goal of the invasion is changed. The Fenians now hope that they can engineer a border incident that will entangle British forces in a war with the United States.

At the time the U.S. Government has a fractious relationship with their British counterparts, a remnant of the British Empire‘s partiality towards the Confederacy during the American Civil War. During the war the British Government comes close to granting diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy and British shipyards provide raiding vessels such as the notorious USS Alabama to the South. While this ill-feeling is unlikely to lead to full-scale conflict, the U.S. Government is in no mood to provide any aid to the British in Canada. President Andrew Johnson is aware of the Fenian’s plans but does little to hinder them.

The two competing Fenian factions launch separate operations. In April 1866, the O’Mahony wing attempts to seize Campobello Island near New Brunswick but the Fenian attackers are easily dispersed by U.S. naval forces. The Roberts wing launches its attack on Canada under the command of a civil war veteran, General John Charles O’Neill, on June 1, 1866.

General O’Neill leads a force of over one thousand men into Canadian territory near Fort Erie, Ontario. His invading army has some initial success, winning two engagements including the so-called Battle of Ridgeway with around ten fatalities (with a similar number on the Canadian side). O’Neill’s troops keep their discipline and local civilians are respected, as are Canadian prisoners of war. One soldier, Lance Corporal William Ellis, later writes, “the Fenians treatment of myself and the other prisoners was kind and considerate in the extreme.”

Yet, O’Neill is aware that far larger Canadian forces are approaching and on June 3 feels it prudent to take his army back to American territory, while they await reinforcements. However, the U.S. government is now fearful that events are spiralling out of control. Once back across the border, O’Neill’s army is met by American troops who intervene to prevent the Fenians from making any further attacks. Over the following days the Fenian army is broken up by American forces. O’Neill is arrested by U.S. Marshals and temporarily incarcerated. A second, smaller, incursion into Canada follows on June 6 but this, too, makes little headway. This second Fenian army is also broken up by U.S. forces when back on American soil. By June 8 the Fenian invasion of Canada is over.

The whole invasion demonstrates the futility of the Fenian strategy. It proves that the Canadians would fight to preserve their territory and that they could mobilise thousands of their population to do so. There is little hope that the Fenians could muster the required number of troops necessary to seize and then to hold Canadian territory. Most importantly, there could be no doubt now that the U.S. Government would not, despite its tempestuous relationship with the British Empire, offer any support to a Fenian invasion. Nor would the U.S. Government allow itself to be embroiled in a border war with British or Canadian forces. Nevertheless, these lessons are ignored by some Fenians for whom the idea of attacking Canada is a worthwhile objective over the following few years.

In 1870 another convention takes place amid more internal wrangling within the Brotherhood. There, a decision is made to launch a new attack on Canada. Once again John O’Neill commands the Fenians, among whose army is John Boyle O’Reilly, a young journalist. O’Reilly makes detailed reports on the invasion, an event that proves disastrous for Fenianism in the United States.

(From: “The Fenian Invasion Of Canada, 1866” by Ian Kenneally, The Irish Story, http://www.theirishstory.com)


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Brig. Gen. Thomas Smyth Mortally Wounded in the American Civil War

Thomas Alfred Smyth, a brigadier general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, is mortally wounded in a battle near Farmville, Virginia, on April 7, 1865. He dies two days later. He is the last Union general killed in the war.

Smyth is born on December 25, 1832 in Ballyhooly, Cork County, and works on his father’s farm as a youth. He emigrates to the United States in 1854, settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He participates in William Walker‘s expedition to Nicaragua. He is employed as a wood carver and coach and carriage maker. In 1858, he moves to Wilmington, Delaware.

Smyth is a Freemason. He is raised on March 6, 1865 in Washington Lodge No. 1 in Wilmington, Delaware.

Smyth enlists in 1861 in the Union Army in an Irish American three-months regiment, the 24th Pennsylvania, and quickly makes the rank of captain. He is later commissioned as major of the 1st Delaware Infantry, a three-years regiment. He serves at the battles of Fredericksburg (following which he is promoted to lieutenant colonel and then to colonel) and Chancellorsville. During the Gettysburg campaign, he commands the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division of the II Corps. During the Battle of Gettysburg, his men help defend Cemetery Ridge and advance to the area of the Bliss farm to oust enemy sharpshooters. He is wounded on the third day of the battle and relinquishes command briefly.

Smyth retains brigade command during the reorganization of II Corps before General Ulysses S. Grant‘s Overland Campaign. He leads the second brigade of the first division from March 25 to May 17, 1864. When Col. Samuel S. Carroll is wounded, Smyth is transferred to his command, the third brigade of second division, the Gibraltar Brigade. In October 1864, he is promoted to brigadier general during the Siege of Petersburg. He retains command of his brigade throughout the siege.

Between July 31, 1864 and August 22, 1864 and between December 23, 1864 and February 25, 1865, Smyth commands the 2nd division of the corps. On April 7, 1865 near Farmville, Virginia, he is shot through the mouth by a Confederate sniper, with the bullet shattering his cervical vertebrae and paralyzing him. He dies two days later at Burke’s Tavern, the same day Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his army surrender at Appomattox Court House.

On March 18, 1867, President of the United States Andrew Johnson nominates Smyth for posthumous appointment to the grade of brevet major general of volunteers to rank from April 7, 1865, the date he was mortally wounded, and the United States Senate confirms the appointment on March 26, 1867. Smyth is the last Union general killed or mortally wounded during the war, and is buried in Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware.


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Birth of Irish American Novelist Thomas Mayne Reid

Thomas Mayne Reid, Irish American novelist, who fought in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), is born on April 4, 1818 in Ballyroney, a hamlet near Katesbridge, County Down, in present day Northern Ireland.

Reid is the son of the Rev. Thomas Mayne Reid, a Presbyterian minister and later a senior clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and his wife, a daughter of the Rev. Samuel Rutherford. Educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, he rebels against his father’s plans for him and decides not to pursue a career in the church. He briefly runs a school at Ballyroney before emigrating to the United States in 1839. Arriving in New Orleans, Louisiana, he finds a job as a corn factor’s clerk in the corn market. After six months he leaves because he refuses to whip slaves. Travelling across America, he works as a teacher, a clerk and an Indian-fighter, and anonymously publishes his first poem in August 1843. Later that year he meets Edgar Allan Poe in Philadelphia and the two become close friends. Poe later admits that Reid was ‘a colossal but most picturesque liar,’ but was impressed by his brilliant story-telling abilities.

With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846 Reid enlists in the 1st New York Infantry Regiment and is commissioned second lieutenant. Contributing a series of reports from the front under the pseudonym ‘Ecolier,’ he performs with great bravery in the Battle of Chapultepac on September 13, 1847. Wounded during the battle, he is promoted to first lieutenant three days later. Following his discharge from the army in 1848 he claims to have reached the rank of captain, but this is another of his inventions.

Reid’s first play, Love’s Martyr, is staged at the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, for five nights in October 1848, and the following year he publishes an embellished account of his experiences in Mexico entitled War Life. All of his works are published under the name ‘Captain Mayne Reid.’ In July 1849 he sails to England with a group of Hungarian radicals, but decides against accompanying them to the Continent. Returning briefly to Ireland, he settles in London in 1850 and writes a novel, The Rifle Rangers. It is an immediate success and is followed quickly by The Scalp Hunters (1851), The Desert Home (1852), and The Boy Hunters (1853). While in England in 1851 he meets and falls in love with a 13-year old girl, Elizabeth Hyde, daughter of his publisher, G. W. Hyde, an English aristocrat. When he discovers her age he tells her that she is ‘getting old enough to have a lover, and you must have me.’ Two years later he continues with his suit, and this time is successful as they marry in 1853. He is immensely proud of his young bride, and later writes a semi-autobiographical novel The Child Wife (1868), based on their relationship.

Establishing a reputation as one of the most popular novelists of his generation, Reid does much to enhance the romantic image of the American West. His internationally successful books include The White Chief (1855), Bush Boys (1856), Oceola (1859), and The Headless Horseman (1865), and his novel about miscegenation, The Quadroon (1856), is later plagiarised by Dion Boucicault for The Octoroon (1859). A champion croquet player, he writes a treatise on the subject in 1863.

Disaster strikes in November 1866 when Reid is declared bankrupt. He had squandered all his money on the construction of ‘The Ranche,’ a Mexican-style hacienda in England. To raise money he returns to the United States and embarks on a successful lecturing tour. Settling at Newport, Rhode Island, he writes another novel, The Helpless Hand (1868), which is a huge success and alleviates some of his difficulties. His wife hates America, however, and after he is briefly hospitalised in 1870 they decide to return to England.

Ill health, artistic doubts, and financial insecurity plagued Reid’s final years. Diagnosed with acute depression, he is unable to recapture his earlier audience and, despite a pension from the U.S. government, he struggles for money. He dies at Ross in Herefordshire on October 22, 1883 and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

Although not regarded as an important novelist, Reid none the less has a significant influence on subsequent writers. The young Vladimir Nabokov is deeply impressed by his adventure stories, and one of his own first works is a poetic recreation of The Headless Horseman in French alexandrine. Both Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle are admirers, and politicians as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt and Leon Trotsky also make reference to his varied output. In total, Reid publishes over sixty novels, which are printed in ten languages.


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Birth of Emmet Dalton, Soldier & Film Producer

James Emmet Dalton MC, Irish soldier and film producer, is born in Fall River, Massachusetts, on March 4, 1898. He serves in the British Army in World War I, reaching the rank of captain. However, on his return to Ireland he becomes one of the senior figures in the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) which fights against British rule in Ireland.

Dalton is born to Irish American parents James F. and Katharine L. Dalton. The family moves back to Ireland when he is two years old. He grows up in a middle-class Catholic background in Drumcondra in North Dublin and lives at No. 8 Upper St. Columba’s Road. He is educated by the Christian Brothers at O’Connell School in North Richmond Street. He joins the nationalist militia, the Irish Volunteers, in 1913 and the following year, though only fifteen, is involved in the smuggling of arms into Ireland.

Dalton joins the British Army in 1915 for the duration of the Great War. His decision is not that unusual among Irish Volunteers, as over 20,000 of the National Volunteers join the British New Army on the urgings of Nationalist leader John Redmond. His father, however, disagrees with his son’s decision. He initially joins the 7th battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers (RDF) as a temporary 2nd Lieutenant. By 1916 he is attached to the 9th Battalion, RDF, 16th (Irish) Division under Major-General William Hickie, which contains many Irish nationalist recruits.

During the Battle of the Somme in September 1916, Dalton is involved in bloody fighting during the Battle of Ginchy, in which over 4,000 Irishmen are killed or wounded. He is awarded the Military Cross for his conduct in the battle. Afterwards he is transferred to the 6th Battalion, Leinster Regiment, and sent to Thessaloniki then Palestine, where he commands a company and then supervises a sniper school in el-ʻArīsh. In 1918 he is re-deployed again to France, and in July promoted to captain, serving as an instructor.

On demobilisation in April 1919, Dalton returns to Ireland. There, finding that his younger brother Charlie had joined the IRA, he himself follows suit. He later comments on the apparent contradiction of fighting both with and against the British Army by saying that he had fought for Ireland with the British and fought for Ireland against them.

Dalton becomes close to Michael Collins and rises swiftly to become IRA Director of Intelligence and is involved in The Squad, the Dublin-based assassination unit. On May 14, 1921, he leads an operation with Paddy Daly that he and Collins had devised. It is designed to rescue Gen. Seán Mac Eoin from Mountjoy Prison using a hijacked British armoured car and two of Dalton’s old British Army uniforms.

Dalton follows Collins in accepting the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922 and is one of the first officers, a Major General, in the new National Army established by the Irish Provisional Government of the Irish Free State. The Treaty is opposed by much of the IRA and Civil War between pro and anti-treaty factions eventually results.

Dalton is in command of troops assaulting the Four Courts in the Battle of Dublin which marks the start of the war in June 1922. At Collins’ instigation he, as Military liaison officer with the British during the truce, takes control of the two 18 pounder guns from the British that are trained on the buildings. He becomes commander of the Free State Army under Richard Mulcahy‘s direction. He is behind the Irish Free State offensive of July–August 1922 that dislodges the Anti-Treaty fighters from the towns of Munster. He proposes seaborne landings to take the Anti-Treaty positions from the rear and he commands one such naval landing that takes Cork in early August. In spite of firm loyalty to the National Army, he is critical of the Free State’s failure to follow up its victory, allowing the Anti-Treaty IRA to regroup resuming the guerrilla warfare started in 1919.

On August 22, 1922, he accompanies Collins in convoy, touring rural west Cork. The convoy is ambushed near Béal na Bláth and Collins is killed in the firefight. He had advised Collins to drive on, but Collins, who is not an experienced combat veteran, insists on stopping to fight.

Dalton is married shortly afterwards, on October 9, 1922, to Alice Shannon in Cork’s Imperial Hotel. By December 1922 he has resigned his command in the Army. He does not agree with the execution of republican prisoners that mark the latter stages of the Civil War. After briefly working as clerk of the Irish Senate, Seanad Éireann, he leaves the job to work in the movie industry.

Over the following forty years, Dalton works in Ireland and the United States in film production. In 1958 he founds Irish Ardmore Studios in Bray, County Wicklow. His company helps produce films such as The Blue Max, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and The Lion in Winter, all of which are filmed in Ireland. His daughter is Irish actress Audrey Dalton.

Dalton dies in his daughter Nuala’s house in Dublin on March 4, 1978, his 80th birthday, never having seen the film that Cathal O’Shannon of RTÉ had made on his life. During the making of the film they visit the battlefields in France, Kilworth Camp in Cork, Béal Na Bláth, and other places that Dalton had not visited since his earlier years. He wishes to be buried as near as possible to his friend Michael Collins in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin and is buried there in March 1978 after a military funeral. None of the ruling Fianna Fáil government ministers or TDs attend.

(Pictured: Dalton photographed in lieutenant’s uniform, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, taken circa. 1914-1918)


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Birth of John Morrissey, Irish American Politician & Boxing Champion

John Morrissey, Irish American politician, bare-knuckle boxing champion and criminal also known as ‘Old Smoke,’ is born on February 12, 1831 at Templemore, County Tipperary.

Morrissey is the only son among eight children of Timothy Morrissey, factory worker, and Julia (or Mary) Morrissey. In 1834 the family emigrates to Canada and then the United States, settling at Troy, New York. From the age of ten he works, first in a mill, and then as an iron worker due to his size and strength. He becomes involved in various street gangs, developing a reputation as a pugilist of great strength and resolve. As leader of the Down-Town gang, he defeats six members of the rival Up-Town gang in a single afternoon in 1848. He takes work on a Hudson River steamer and marries Sarah Smith, daughter of the ship’s captain, around 1849. They have one child who dies before reaching adulthood.

In a New York saloon Morrissey challenges Charley ‘Dutch’ Duane to a prize fight and, when he is not to be found, with typical bravado he extends the challenge to everyone present. This impresses the owner, Isaiah Rynders, the Tammany Hall politician, and he employs Morrissey to help the Democratic Party, which involves intimidating voters at election time. A fistfight with gang rival Tom McCann earns him the nickname ‘Old Smoke.’ Mid-fight he is forced onto a bed of coals, but despite having his flesh burned, refuses to concede defeat. He fights his way back and beats McCann into unconsciousness. Stowing away to California to challenge other fighters, he begins a gambling house to raise money, and embarks on a privateering expedition to the Queen Charlotte Islands in a quixotic attempt to make his fortune.

In his first professional prize fight on August 21, 1852, Morrissey defeats George Thompson at Mare Island, California, in dubious circumstances, and begins calling himself the ‘champion of America.’ However, it is only on October 12, 1853 that he officially earns this title, when he wins the heavyweight championship of America in a bout at Boston Corner, New York, against Yankee Sullivan. The fight lasts thirty-seven rounds, and Morrissey has the worst of most of them, but he is awarded the contest after a free-for-all in the ring.

Increasingly involved in New York politics, Morrissey and his supporters fight street battles against the rival gang of William Poole, known as ‘Bill the Butcher,’ a Know Nothing politician later fictionalised in the film Gangs of New York (2002). On July 26, 1854 the two men fight on the docks, but Morrissey is beaten badly and forced to surrender. This marks the beginning of a bitter feud between the two parties, with heavy casualties on both sides, which climaxes on March 8, 1855 when Poole is murdered. Morrissey is indicted as a conspirator in the crime, but is soon released because of his political connections.

On October 20, 1858 Morrissey fights John C. Heenan (1835–73) in another heavyweight championship bout. Heenan breaks his hand early in the fight and is always at a disadvantage. After taking much punishment Morrissey finally makes his dominance count. There is a rematch on April 4, 1859, which Morrissey again wins, and after this he retires from the ring. Investing his prize money, he runs two saloons and a gambling house in New York. With the huge profits from his gambling empire he invests in real estate in Saratoga Springs, New York, opening the Saratoga Race Course there in 1863 which has endured to become America’s oldest major sports venue.

A political career beckons as a reward for Morrissey’s consistent support for the Democratic Party. He is elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1866 representing New York’s fifth district, is re-elected the following year, and serves until March 3, 1871. He supports President Andrew Johnson against demands for his impeachment and is skeptical about the Radicals’ plans for reconstruction in the south. In his final years he serves in the New York State Senate (1875–78).

After contracting pneumonia, Morrissey dies at the Adelphi Hotel, Saratoga Springs, on May 1, 1878, and is buried at Saint Peter’s Cemetery, Troy. On the day of his funeral, flags at New York City Hall are lowered to half-mast, while the National Police Gazette declares on May 4, 1878 that “few men of our day have arisen from beginnings so discouraging to a place so high in the general esteem of the community.” His name is included in the list of ‘pioneer’ inductees in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, and each year the John Morrissey Stakes are held at Saratoga Race Course in honour of its founder.

(Pictured: John Morrissey, U.S. Representative from New York, circa 1870s, source Library of Congress)