seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Broad Street Riot

The Broad Street Riot, a massive brawl between Irish Americans and Yankee firefighters, occurs in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 11, 1837. At the time of this particular riot, nearly all of Boston’s firefighters are volunteers.

Boston is a major center for immigration in the 19th century due to its large seaport. Nativist and anti-Catholic sentiment is strong, especially among working-class men whose jobs and wages are threatened by an influx of poor Irish immigrants. On Broad Street, it is common for groups of nativist Yankees to vandalize Irish homes and attack lone Irishmen.

At about 3:00 PM on Sunday, June 11, 1837, Fire Engine Company 20 returns to their station on East Street from a fire at the Boston Neck. Some of the men go straight home from there, however most stop at a nearby pub for drinks. The pub is apparently operating illegally as it is a Sunday and, in Massachusetts, blue laws are then in effect.

The men have just emerged from the pub “in a more or less bellicose mood,” when they collide with a crowd of about a hundred Irishmen who are on their way to join a large funeral procession on Sea Street. Nearly all of the firefighters pass through the crowd without incident, however, when 19-year-old George Fay, who has reportedly had too much to drink, insults or shoves several of the Irishmen, and a fight breaks out. Fay’s friends rush to his aid, but the firemen are outnumbered and are badly beaten. Their foreman, W.W. Miller, orders them back into the firehouse.

By some accounts, the Irishmen then take over the firehouse. According to others, the crowd had begun to disperse, and the matter might have ended there had the foreman not “lost his head completely.” In any case, Miller orders his men to sound the emergency alarm. First they roll their wagon into the street, ringing the fire alarm bell. Then Miller sends men to ring the church bells, summoning all the fire engines in Boston. According to the Boston Transcript, Miller then runs to another firehouse, shouting, “The Irish have risen upon us, and are going to kill us!”

Company 9, responding to what they think is a legitimate fire alarm, arrives just as the funeral procession is turning onto New Broad Street. Their horse-drawn wagon veers into the crowd, scattering and knocking down the mourners. The Irish assume the assault is deliberate, and another brawl erupts. As more fire companies arrive, and Irishmen pour out of nearby houses into the street to help their friends and relatives, the fight escalates into a full-blown riot. Before long, an estimated 800 men are doing battle with sticks, stones, bricks, and cudgels while at least 10,000 more urged them on. Protestant workmen come running to the aid of the firefighters, while underfoot, injured and unconscious men lay sprawled on the pavement.

Outnumbered, the Irish are defeated and driven back to their homes. That is when the home invasions begin. A “gang of stout boys and loafers” raid nearby houses, breaking doors and windows, and in some cases beating the occupants. Furniture and other possessions are destroyed and thrown into the street. Some Irish families lose their homes altogether.

After raging for about three hours, the riot is quelled when Mayor Samuel Atkins Eliot calls in the National Lancers, a newly formed cavalry company, and some 800 other members of the state militia with fixed bayonets. Among them are the Montgomery Guards, a short-lived Irish American infantry company which is forced to disband the following year due to the extreme nativist and anti-Catholic sentiment in Boston.

No immediate deaths result from the violence. Many people suffer serious wounds, however, and there is no nearby hospital to care for them. Given the lack of hospital and police records, the number of people who eventually die of their injuries cannot be determined. Thousands of dollars in damage is done to property belonging to some of the city’s poorest inhabitants.

The militia, being composed nearly entirely of Yankees, arrest 34 Irishmen and 4 Yankees. A grand jury indicts 14 of the Irishmen and all four of the Yankees. At the municipal court trial, a Yankee jury acquits the four Yankees and convicts four Irishmen, three of whom are sentenced to several months of hard labor.

Three months later, in September, Mayor Eliot establishes a professional, paid fire department, with all new hires requiring the approval of the mayor and aldermen. The Boston Police Department is established the following year.


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Death of Irish American Mobster Mickey Spillane

Michael J. Spillane, Irish American mobster much better known as Mickey Spillane from Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, is killed outside his apartment in Queens on May 13, 1977. Spillane, who is called the “last of the gentleman gangsters,” is a marked contrast to the violent Westies mob members who succeed him in Hell’s Kitchen.

As a young boy in Hell’s Kitchen, Spillane starts as a numbers runner for various organized crime figures in his neighborhood. In 1960, he takes over the rackets left to him by his predecessor Hughie Mulligan. He marries Maureen McManus, the daughter of the Democratic district leader Eugene McManus.

Though Italian mobsters dominate organized crime in the city, the Italian mob stays out of Hell’s Kitchen while Spillane is the boss. Often, Spillane kidnaps members of the Italian Mafia and holds them for ransom to raise money for his operations. Although he runs the rackets such as gambling and loansharking, he never allows the sale of drugs.

It is Spillane’s refusal to allow the Italian mobsters to participate in the Hell’s Kitchen rackets that leads to his downfall. The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is being built on Spillane’s westside at the time. The amount of money the new convention center, Madison Square Garden, the waterfront and the unions are generating for Spillane is enormous, and the Italians are desperate for a piece of the action. Spillane refuses to allow the Italian mob to participate, and the New York Irish-Italian Mob War begins.

In the 1970s the Irish mob sees an increased threat from the Italian Mafia as the Genovese crime family seeks control over the soon to be built Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Since the convention center is located in Spillane’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, Spillane refuses to allow any involvement by the Italians. Although the Italian gangsters greatly outnumber the members of the Irish mob, Spillane is successful in keeping control of the convention center and Hell’s Kitchen. The Italians, frustrated and embarrassed by their defeat to Spillane and the Irish gangsters, respond by hiring a rogue Irish American hitman named Joseph “Mad Dog” Sullivan to assassinate Tom Devaney, Eddie “the Butcher” Cummiskey, and Tom “the Greek” Kapatos, three of Spillane’s chief lieutenants. By the mid-1970s, Spillane has moved his family out of Hell’s Kitchen to Woodside, Queens, because of threats of violence against his children.

In 1966, a young upstart named Jimmy Coonan attempts to take the neighborhood from Spillane, muscling in on his territory and murdering a Spillane underling. Ultimately, Coonan is sent to prison in 1967. When he is released from prison, Coonan seeks to align himself with the Gambino crime family through an up-and-coming mobster from Brooklyn, named Roy DeMeo. This marks the beginning of the end for the Irish mob, as Coonan eventually goes to work for the Gambinos.

On May 13, 1977, Spillane is killed outside his apartment in Queens. It has long been rumored that DeMeo murdered Spillane as a favor to Coonan, who subsequently takes over as the boss of the Hell’s Kitchen Irish Mob. Spillane is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York.


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Founding of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America

The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) is founded in the United States on May 4, 1836, at St. James’ Roman Catholic Church in New York City, near the old Five Points neighbourhood. A branch is formed the same year at Pottsville, Pennsylvania. The existence and activities of the Order are concealed for some years.

During the late 1860s and early 1870s many of the lodges of the order in Pennsylvania are infiltrated by the Molly Maguires. However the Molly Maguires and their criminal activities are condemned at the 1876 national convention of the AOH and the Order is reorganised in the Pennsylvania coal areas.

In 1884 there is a split in the organisation. The Order has previously been governed by the Board of Erin, which has governed the order in Ireland, Great Britain and the United States, but is composed of officers selected exclusively by the organisations in Ireland and Great Britain. The majority leave in 1884 and become the Ancient Order of Hibernians of America, while the small group calls itself Ancient Order of Hibernians, Board of Erin. In 1897 the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Board of Erin, has approximately 40,000 members concentrated in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan, while the Ancient Order of Hibernians of America has nearly 125,000 members scattered throughout nearly every state in the union. The two groups reunite in 1898.

A female auxiliary, the Daughters of Erin, is formed in 1894, and has 20,000 members in 1897. It is attached to the larger, “American” version of the order. The AOH has 181,000 members in 1965 and 171,000 in 736 local units of “Divisions” in 1979. John F. Kennedy joins the AOH in 1947.

The Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians (LAOH) raises $50,000 to build the Nuns of the Battlefield sculpture in Washington, D.C., which the United States Congress authorises in 1918. The Irish American sculptor, Jerome Connor, ends up suing the Order for non-payment.

In 1982, in a revival of Hibernianism, the Thomas Francis Meagher Division No. 1 forms in Helena, Montana, dedicated to the principles of the Order and to restoring a historically accurate record of Brigadier General Meagher’s contributions to Montana. Soon after, six additional divisions form in Montana.

The Order organises the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade for 150 years, emphasising a conservative Catholic interpretation of the Irish holiday. In 1993 control is transferred to an independent committee amid controversy over the exclusion of Irish-American gay and lesbian groups.

The Brothers of St. Patrick Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America is established at Brother’s of St. Patrick in Midway City, California, in 1995.

In 2013, The Ancient Order of Hibernians raises and distributes over $200,000 to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy.

In 2014, the AOH calls for a boycott of Spencer’s Gifts, for selling products the AOH says promote anti-Irish stereotypes and irresponsible drinking.

On May 10, 2014 a memorial to Commodore John Barry, an immigrant from Wexford who is a naval hero of the American Revolution and who holds commission number one in the subsequent United States Navy, is dedicated on the grounds of the United States Naval Academy. The memorial and associated “Barry Gate” is presented to the Academy by the members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Several buildings of the Ancient Order of Hibernians are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places or are otherwise notable.


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Birth of John Fitzpatrick, Trade Union Leader

John Fitzpatrick, Irish-born American trade union leader, is born in Athlone, County Westmeath, on April 21, 1871. He is best remembered as the longtime head of the powerful Chicago Federation of Labor, from 1906 until his death in 1946.

Fitzpatrick attends grammar school in Ireland before coming to the United States in 1882, at the age of eleven, settling in Chicago. Following completion of his formal education, he goes to work as a horseshoer, becoming involved in the International Journeyman Horseshoers’ Union (IJHU), with which he remains affiliated for the next three decades.

Fitzpatrick serves variously as the President, Treasurer, and business agent for the Chicago local of the IJHU, being selected as a delegate to conventions of the union as well as its representative to the American Federation of Labor (AFL). This connection is instrumental in his appointment as the organizer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, city affiliate of the AFL, in 1902. Additionally, he is elected President of that organization in 1906 and remains in the capacity of President and Organizer throughout the ensuing half century.

Fitzpatrick is widely regarded as a progressive voice in the trade union movement, active in political fights beyond the ordinary hours-and-wages concerns which have traditionally dominated the union movement. He is active in the defense campaign on behalf of accused bomber Thomas Mooney, and is active in helping to organize packing house workers and steel workers in 1919.

During these campaigns, Fitzpatrick comes into close contact with radical trade union organizer William Z. Foster, founder of the Trade Union Educational League and outspoken advocate of the amalgamation of the hodge-podge of existing craft unions into unified, and thus more effective, industrial unions.

Fitzpatrick is also an advocate of independent labor politics and is one of the organizers of the Illinois Labor Party as well as its local affiliate, the Cook County Labor party. In November 1919, he runs for mayor of Chicago on the ticket of the Cook County Labor Party and receives a substantial vote of 60,000 of the 580,000 ballots cast. Bolstered by the degree of support which the new organization receives from voters, Fitzpatrick calls a national convention of local Labor Party movements, which is held in Chicago on November 22, 1919.

Fitzpatrick remains as President of the Chicago Federation of Labor until his death in 1946, with the exception of a single year, 1908, when Charles M. Dold serves as head of the organization.


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The American Civil War Begins

The American Civil War begins on April 12, 1861. There is perhaps no other ethnic group so closely identified with the Civil War years and the immediate aftermath of the war as Irish Americans.

Of those Irish who come over much later than the founding generations, fully 150,000 of them join the Union army. Unfortunately, statistics for the Confederacy are sketchy at best. Still, one has but to listen to the Southern accent and listen to the sorts of tunes Southern soldiers love to sing to realize that a great deal of the South is settled by Irish immigrants. But because the white population of the Confederate states is more native-born than immigrant during the Civil War years, there does not seem as much of a drive in the Southern army to recognize heritage in the names and uniforms of regiments as there is in the Union forces.

In the Union army there is the fabled Irish Brigade, likely the best known of any brigade organization, organized in 1861 and led by the flamboyant General Thomas Francis Meagher. They go into battle with an emerald green flag with a large golden harp in its center, celebrating their heritage even in the midst of death. The Irish Brigade makes an unusual reputation for dash and gallantry. It belongs to the First Division of the Second Corps, and is numbered as the Second Brigade. The Irish Brigade loses over 4,000 men in killed and wounded during the war, more men than ever belong to the brigade at any given time. The Irish Brigade is commanded, in turn, by General Thomas Francis Meagher, Colonel Patrick Kelly (killed), General Thomas A. Smyth (killed), Colonel Richard Byrnes (killed), and General Robert Nugent.

In the North, centers of Irish settlement are Boston and New York, both of which have sizeable Irish neighborhoods. There are major immigration periods in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s. The numbers steadily increase until, according to the 1860 census, well over one and a half million Americans claimed to have been born in Ireland. The majority of these live in the North. There are periods of severe economic difficulties both before and after the war when the immigrant Irish are singled out for the distrust and hatred of their fellow Americans. “No Irish Need Apply” is a frequently seen placard sign above the doors of factories, shops, warehouses, and farms.

The Irish are chiefly distrusted because they are Catholic, and there is much opposition in the United States to the Church of Rome. The frustration this prejudice causes leads indirectly to the boil-over of tempers in July 1863, when the first official draft is held. A mob of mostly immigrant laborers gather at the site of the draft lottery, and as names are called and those not wealthy enough to purchase a substitute are required to join up, the mob’s temper flares.

The situation escalates into full-scale rioting. For three days, cities like New York and Boston are caught up in a rampage of looting, burning, and destruction. Many of the rioters are frustrated Irish laborers who cannot get jobs, and their targets are draft officials, as well as free blacks living in the North, who seem able to get jobs that the Irish are denied. It takes the return of armed troops from the fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg to bring the cities back to peace and quiet.

Such events do little to help the image of the Irish in America, until many years after the war. Despite their wartime heroics, many Irish veterans come home to find the same ugly bias they faced before going off to fight for the Union. Many of them choose to go into the post war army.

Still others follow Thomas Meagher into Canada, where they join up in an attempt to free Canada from British domination. Many simply choose to remain in the Eastern cities, hoping matters will improve as time goes by. Eventually things do get better for the Irish, but it is many long years before ugly anti-Irish prejudice fades.


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Birth of Myles Walter Keogh, Last Man Killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn

Myles Walter Keogh, soldier in the United States Army, is born in Orchard House in Leighlinbridge, County Carlow, on March 25, 1840. It is said by the Sioux that he is the last man killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn, where his horse is the only U.S. survivor.

Keogh attends the National School in Leighlinbridge and is long thought to have attended St. Patrick’s College in Carlow but that college has no record of his attendance. It is possible that he attends St. Mary’s Knockbeg College.

By 1860, a twenty-year-old Keogh volunteers, along with over one thousand of his countrymen, to rally to the defence of Pope Pius IX following a call to arms by the Catholic clergy in Ireland. By August 1860, Keogh is appointed second lieutenant of his unit in the Battalion of St. Patrick, Papal Army under the command of General Christophe Léon Louis Juchault de Lamoricière. Once the fighting is over and duties of the Pontifical Swiss Guard become more mundane, Keogh sees little purpose in remaining in Rome. In March 1862, with civil war raging in America, he resigns his commission in the Company of St. Patrick and sets out for New York City, arriving on April 2.

Keogh actively participates in several prominent American Civil War battles including the Shenandoah Valley, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Fredericksburg, and the Battle of Gettysburg.

Perhaps the strongest testimony to Keogh’s bravery and leadership ability comes at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, on June 25, 1876. The senior captain among the five companies wiped out with General George Armstrong Custer that day, and commanding one of two squadrons within the Custer detachment, Keogh dies in a “last stand” of his own, surrounded by the men of Company I. When the sun-blackened and dismembered dead are buried three days later, Keogh’s body is found at the center of a group of troopers. The slain officer is stripped but not mutilated, perhaps because of the “medicine” the Indians see in the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) he wears on a chain about his neck or because many of Sitting Bull‘s warriors are believed to be Catholic. Keogh’s left knee has been shattered by a bullet that corresponds to a wound through the chest and flank of his horse, indicating that horse and rider may have fallen together prior to the last rally.

The badly injured animal is found on the fatal battlefield, and nursed back to health as the 7th Cavalry’s regimental mascot, which he remains until his death in 1890. This horse, Comanche, is considered the only U.S. military survivor of the battle, though several other badly wounded horses are found and destroyed at the scene. Keogh’s bloody gauntlet and the guidon of his Company I are recovered by the army three months after Little Bighorn at the Battle of Slim Buttes.

Originally buried on the battlefield, Keogh’s remains are disinterred and taken to Auburn, as he had requested in his will. He is buried at Fort Hill Cemetery on October 26, 1877, an occasion marked by citywide official mourning and an impressive military procession to the cemetery.

Tongue River Cantonment in southeastern Montana is renamed after him to be Fort Keogh. The fort is first commanded by Nelson A. Miles. The 55,000-acre fort is today an agricultural experiment station. Miles City, Montana is located two miles from the old fort.


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Birth of Merchant & Politician John Thomas Browne

John Thomas Browne, Irish-born merchant and politician, is born in Ballylanders, County Limerick, on March 23, 1845. He serves on the Houston City Council, serves two terms as Mayor of Houston, and serves three terms in the Texas House of Representatives.

Browne’s family emigrates to the United States in October 1851. His father dies not long after they arrive in New Orleans. In 1852, his mother relocates with her five children to Houston, Texas, to be closer to the family of her mother. Browne spends much of the 1850s on Spann Plantation in Washington County, Texas, at the behest of Father Gunnard, where he also receives an education. At age fourteen in 1859, he leaves the plantation and finds work hauling bricks in Madison County, Texas. He returns to Houston to first work as a baggage hauler, then performs messenger duties for Commercial and Southwestern Express Company before settling in at the Houston and Texas Central Railroad.

Browne joins the Confederacy, officially serving in Company A, 36 Texas Cavalry. He serves in Houston, detached from his unit, maintaining employment with the Houston and Texas Central Railroad, but in a new capacity as a fireman. He is briefly dispatched to the defense of Galveston, Texas. He is officially released from military duty in Houston on June 27, 1865.

Browne returns to messenger service in Houston after the Civil War. He works for Adams Express Company, then for Southern Express Company. He transitions into the grocery business first as a bookkeeper and clerk for H.P. Levy. Browne marries Mary Jane “Mollie” Bergin on September 13, 1871. They are the first marriage to be recorded at Annunciation Catholic Church. In 1872, Browne and Charles Bollfrass start a business as wholesale and retail grocers with $500 in capital. By the early 1890s, this grocery is amassing about $340,000 in annual sales. He is also a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Knights of Columbus.

Browne is elected to the Houston City Council, representing the Fifth Ward while chairing the Finance Committee in 1887. He runs for Mayor of Houston in 1892 and wins in a landslide. Browne’s first term as Mayor of Houston begins the same year as the Panic of 1893. He has campaigned on a platform of balancing the budget. The City of Houston runs budget deficits during Browne’s first term, but these deficits are proportionately lower than those in previous years. Browne had been an advocate for lowering municipal utility bills through municipal ownership of the utilities, however estimates for the City of Houston to build its own waterworks and electrical power plant go up to a range $500,000 to $900,000. Browne abandons this option while favoring a policy of dedicating all capital spending on street paving and sewerage. The Browne administration also hires a city planning expert to study demands based hypothetically on a population of 75,000.

Mayor Browne proposes converting the Houston Volunteer Firefighters to a professional department under municipal management. The City of Houston would have to buy existing equipment and horses from the volunteer department, but could lease firehouses and not be required to buy them. Houston City Council drafts an ordinance and passes it.

In April 1895, the Texas Supreme Court ruling in Higgins v. Bordages, “held that special assessment tax liens were unenforceable against urban homesteads.” The City of Houston imposes special tax levies for road and sewerage projects on owners of property abutting the sections of street being improved. The ruling effectively removes the only tool the city has for enforcing payment of the special assessments by homeowners. Road construction contractors stop all work because they fear the city will not pay them. Many homeowners stop paying their assessment bills.

To meet this immediate revenue crisis, the Browne administration devises a plan to issue $500,000 in municipal bonds to be sold over a three to four year period. The Labor Council opposes the bonding measure and organizes to defeat the measure when the referendum makes it to the ballot. The City of Houston has to find another way to compensate for $300,000 in uncollected taxes.

Browne represents Houston in the Texas House of Representatives from 1897 to 1899, and again in 1907.

John Thomas Browne dies August 19, 1941 died of pneumonia in Houston and is buried at Glenwood Cemetery.