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


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Battle at Marye’s Heights

battle-of-fredericksburgIrish fight Irish in one of the bloodiest days in Irish military history at Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg, Virginia on December 13, 1862 during the American Civil War. The Union Army’s Irish Brigade, the Fighting 69th, is decimated by the Confederate States Army during multiple efforts to take Marye’s Heights. In his official report Thomas Francis Meagher writes, “of the one thousand and two hundred I led into action, only two hundred and eighty appeared on parade next morning.”

The Battle of Fredericksburg, fought December 11-15, 1862, is one of the largest and deadliest of the war. It features the first major opposed river crossing in American military history. Union and Confederate troops fight in the streets of Fredericksburg, the war’s first urban combat. And with nearly 200,000 combatants, no other Civil War battle features a larger concentration of soldiers.

Major General Ambrose Burnside’s plan at Fredericksburg is to use the nearly 60,000 men in Major General William B. Franklin’s Left Grand Division to crush General Robert E. Lee’s southern flank on Prospect Hill while the rest of his army holds Lt. Gen. James Longstreet and the Confederate First Corps in position at Marye’s Heights.

The Union army’s main assault against Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson produces initial success and holds the promise of destroying the Confederate right, but lack of reinforcements and Jackson’s powerful counterattack stymies the effort. Both sides suffer heavy losses (totaling 9,000 in killed, wounded and missing) with no real change in the strategic situation.

In the meantime, Burnside’s “diversion” against veteran Confederate soldiers behind a stone wall produces a similar number of casualties but most of these are suffered by the Union troops. Wave after wave of Federal soldiers march forth to take the heights, but each is met with devastating rifle and artillery fire from the nearly impregnable Confederate positions.

As darkness falls on a battlefield strewn with dead and wounded, it is abundantly clear that a signal Confederate victory is at hand. The Army of the Potomac has suffered nearly 12,600 casualties, nearly two-thirds of them in front of Marye’s Heights. By comparison, Lee’s army has suffered some 5,300 losses. Lee, watching the great Confederate victory unfolding from his hilltop command post exclaims, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”

Roughly six weeks after the Battle of Fredericksburg, President Abraham Lincoln removes Burnside from command of the Army of the Potomac.

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Birth of Father Leonard Eugene Boyle

leonard-eugene-boyleLeonard Eugene Boyle, Irish and Canadian scholar in medieval studies and palaeography, is born in Ballintra, County Donegal on November 13, 1923. He is the first Irish and North American Prefect of the Vatican Library in Rome from 1984 to 1997.

Boyle spends some years in Tralee, County Kerry, following the July 1940 death of his older brother John, who is a member of Garda Síochána and drowns while on holiday in Ballybunion, County Kerry. He is educated in the Irish language and enters the Dominican Order in 1943. He is ordained a priest in 1949 having received his doctorate in Oxford.

Boyle frequently visits Tralee, where a number of his family still reside, and is involved in many projects in the town. His immense knowledge and expertise in historical and archaeological issues is freely given in order to enhance the town. Of particular concern is his hope that the site of the original Dominican Priory at the centre of the town be conserved for future archaeological excavation.

After moving to Toronto, Boyle teaches at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies and at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto from 1961 to 1984. He also serves as Professor of Latin Palaeography and History of Medieval Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome from 1956 to 1961.

In 1984 Boyle is appointed Prefect of the Vatican Library by Pope John Paul II. This appointment takes him by surprise but appears to be a recognition of his immense scholarship, expertise in antiquity and renowned interest in learning as a whole. In an effort to modernise the Vatican Library, he sets about the digitisation of the library’s many thousands of manuscripts that date from hundreds of years BC, which leads to their greater availability to scholars around the world. He also extends the opening hours of the library and employs women for the first time as part of the library’s staff. In 1987, he is made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 1997, he is ousted as Prefect after his dealings with some American fund-raising associates result in lawsuits involving the Vatican.

Known for his wit and independence of mind and spirit, Boyle is once asked of his interest in being a Cardinal given the fact that all of his predecessors have gone on to be Cardinals. His reply is in the negative saying “nothing but the papacy” would do him.

Father Boyle dies on October 25, 1999. He is buried in his beloved Basilica di San Clemente, in 2000, a year after his death, following official desire to give him the honour of interment in the vaults of San Clemente — one of Rome’s holiest and most historical shrines.


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The Execution of Edward “Ned” Kelly

ned-kellyEdward “Ned” Kelly, Australian bushranger, outlaw, gang leader and convicted police murderer, is hanged at Old Melbourne Jail in Australia on November 11, 1880. One of the last bushrangers, and by far the most famous, he is best known for wearing a suit of bulletproof armour during his final shootout with the police.

Kelly is born in the British colony of Victoria as the third of eight children to John “Red” Kelly (born 1820 in County Tipperary), and Ellen (née Quinn). The exact date of his birth is not known, but a number of lines of evidence, including a 1963 interview with family descendants Paddy and Charles Griffiths, a record from his mother, and a note from a school inspector, all suggest his birth was in December 1854. He is baptised by an Augustinian priest, Charles O’Hea, who also administers last rites to Kelly before his execution. His father, a transported convict, dies shortly after serving a six-month prison sentence, leaving Kelly, then aged 12, as the eldest male of the household. The Kellys are a poor selector family who see themselves as downtrodden by the Squattocracy and as victims of police persecution.

While a teenager, Kelly is arrested for associating with bushranger Harry Power, and serves two prison terms for a variety of offences, the longest stretch being from 1871 to 1874 on a conviction of receiving a stolen horse. He later joins the “Greta mob”, a group of bush larrikins known for stock theft. A violent confrontation with a policeman occurs at the Kelly family’s home in 1878, and he is indicted of attempted murder. Fleeing to the bush, he vows to avenge his mother, who is imprisoned for her role in the incident. After he, his brother Dan, and two associates, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, fatally shoot three policemen, the Government of Victoria proclaims them outlaws.

Kelly and his gang elude the police for two years, thanks in part to the support of an extensive network of sympathisers. The gang’s crime spree includes armed bank robberies at Euroa and Jerilderie, and the killing of Aaron Sherritt, a sympathiser turned police informer. In a manifesto letter, Kelly, denouncing the police, the Victorian government and the British Empire, sets down his own account of the events leading up to his outlawry. Demanding justice for his family and the rural poor, he threatens dire consequences against those who defy him.

In 1880, when Kelly’s attempt to derail and ambush a police train fails, he and his gang, dressed in armour fashioned from stolen plough mouldboards, engage in a final gun battle with the police at Glenrowan. Kelly, the only survivor, is severely wounded by police fire and is captured. Despite thousands of supporters attending rallies and signing a petition for his reprieve, he stands trial on October 19, 1880 in Melbourne before Sir Redmond Barry. The trial is adjourned to October 28, when Kelly is presented on the charge of the murder of the three policemen, the various bank robberies, the murder of Sherritt, resisting arrest at Glenrowan and a long list of minor charges. He is convicted of the willful murder of one of the officers and sentenced to death by hanging. After handing down the sentence, Barry concludes with the customary words, “May God have mercy on your soul,” to which Kelly replies, “I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there where I go.”

On November 3, the Executive Council of Victoria decides that Kelly is to be hanged eight days later, November 11, at the Melbourne Gaol. In the week leading up to the execution, thousands turn out at street rallies across Melbourne demanding a reprieve for Kelly. On November 8, a petition for clemency with over 32,000 signatures is presented to the governor’s private secretary. The Executive Council announces soon after that the hanging would proceed as scheduled.

The day before his execution, Kelly has his photographic portrait taken as a keepsake for his family and is granted farewell interviews with relatives. The following morning, John Castieau, the Governor of the Gaol, informs him that the hour of execution has been fixed at 10:00 AM. His leg irons are removed and, after a short time, he is marched out. He is submissive on the way, and when passing the gaol’s flower beds, remarks, “What a nice little garden,” but says nothing further until reaching the Press room, where he remains until the arrival of chaplain Dean Donaghy. His last words are famously reported to have been, “Such is life.”

Historian Geoffrey Serle calls Kelly and his gang “the last expression of the lawless frontier in what was becoming a highly organised and educated society, the last protest of the mighty bush now tethered with iron rails to Melbourne and the world.” In the century after his death, Kelly becomes a cultural icon, inspiring countless works in the arts, and is the subject of more biographies than any other Australian. He continues to cause division in his homeland as some celebrate him as Australia’s equivalent of Robin Hood while others regard him as a murderous villain undeserving of his folk hero status. Journalist Martin Flanagan writes, “What makes Ned a legend is not that everyone sees him the same—it’s that everyone sees him. Like a bushfire on the horizon casting its red glow into the night.”


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Birth of Siobhán McCarthy, Television & Stage Actress

siobhan-mccarthySiobhán Mary Ann McCarthy, television and stage actress, is born in Dublin on November 6, 1957. She is perhaps best known for her role as Roisin Connor in ITV1‘s prison drama Bad Girls. Her television credits include Lovejoy, The Big Battalions and Holby City.

McCarthy originates the roles of the Mistress in Evita in 1978 in London‘s West End, before later returning to the show to play the title role. In between, she joins the vocal harmony group Wall Street Crash (1980 – 1983) where she performs several times at London’s Talk of the Town, at the Casino in Monte Carlo, and in two episodes of Royal Variety Performance (1980 and 1982). She is also the first to play Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia! in 1999, for which she is nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

McCarthy’s other roles include leads as Mrs. Johnstone in Blood Brothers, Svetlana in the original London production of Chess, Fantine in Les Misérables, Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar and Deborah Warner’s Medea.

More recently McCarthy plays the roles of Velma Von Tussle in the London production of Hairspray (February 2010 – March 2010) and Joanne in the Southwark Playhouse revival of Stephen Sondheim‘s Company.

McCarthy is married to theatrical sound designer Andrew Bruce, and resides in London with her husband and two children, Kieran and Juliet.


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Birth of James Butler, 2nd Earl of Ormond

james-butler-2nd-earl-of-ormondJames Butler, 2nd Earl of Ormond, a noble in the Peerage of Ireland, is born in Kilkenny CastleKilkenny on October 4, 1331. He is Lord Justice of Ireland in 1359, 1364, and 1376, and a dominant political leader in Ireland in the 1360s and 1370s. He is usually called The Noble Earl, being a great-grandson, through his mother, of King Edward I of England.

Butler is the son of James Butler, 1st Earl of Ormond and Lady Eleanor de Bohun. He is given in ward on September 1, 1344 to Maurice FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond for the fine of 2306 marks and afterward to John Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy de Knayth.

On May 15, 1346, Butler marries Elizabeth Darcy, daughter of Sir John Darcy and Joan de Burgh. They have five children: James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond (1362-1405), Thomas Butler (1359-1396), Justice of Cork, Eleanor Butler (1350-1392), Joan Butler (1360-1393), and Ralph Butler (1356-1367).

In 1362, Butler slays six hundred of Art Óg Mac Murchadha Caomhánach‘s followers at Tiscoffin in what is now County Kilkenny. On April 22, 1364, he is appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland to Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence. Clarence, from his first arrival in Ireland, places great trust in him, and for a few years it seems that as Deputy he is almost all-powerful.

In the 1360s Butler clashes with Maurice FitzGerald, 4th Earl of Kildare. In 1364 the Irish House of Commons sends a delegation to England, headed by Kildare, to complain of misgovernment, and to ask for the removal of “corrupt” officials, some of whom have links to Butler. A number of these officials are removed, but Butler’s position is not seriously threatened.

Butler is Lord Justice by July 24, 1376, with a salary of £500 per year, in which office he is continued by King Richard II of England. On April 2, 1372, he is made constable of Dublin Castle, with the fee of £18 5s per year. He is summoned to the Parliaments held by Richard II.

James Butler dies October 18, 1382 at Knocktopher Castle in Kilkenny, Leinster, near which he had founded a priory for Carmelite friars in 1356. He is buried in St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny.


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Birth of Thomas Burke, Irish Dominican Preacher

thomas-nicholas-burke-statueThomas Nicholas Burke, Irish Dominican preacher, is born in Galway, County Galway on September 8, 1830.

Burke’s parents, though in moderate circumstances, gave him a good education. He studies at first under the care of the Patrician Brothers, and is afterwards sent to a private school. An attack of typhoid fever when he is fourteen years old and the famine year of 1847 have a sobering effect. Toward the end of that year he asks to be received into the Order of Preachers, and is sent to Perugia in Italy to make his novitiate. On December 29, he is clothed there in the habit of St. Dominic and receives the name of Thomas.

Shortly afterward Burke is sent to Rome to begin his studies at the College of St. Thomas, the future Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, where he is a student of philosophy and theology. He passes thence to the Roman convent of Santa Sabina. His superiors send him, while yet a student, as novice-master to Woodchester, the novitiate of the resuscitated English Province. He is ordained into the priesthood on March 26, 1853. On August 3, 1854, he defends publicly the theses in universâ theologiâ. He is made lector at the College of St. Thomas in 1854.

Early in the following year Burke is recalled to Ireland to found the novitiate of the Irish Province at Tallaght, near Dublin. In 1859 he preaches his first notable sermon on “Church Music.” It immediately lifts him into fame.

Elected Prior of Tallaght in 1863, Burke goes to Rome the following year as Rector of the Dominican Convent of San Clemente and attracts great attention by his preaching. He returns to Ireland in 1867 and delivers his oration on Daniel O’Connell at Glasnevin before fifty thousand people.

Bishop Leahy takes him as his theologian to the First Vatican Council in 1870, and the following year he is sent as Visitor to the Dominican convents in America. He is besieged with invitations to preach and lecture. The seats are filled hours before he appears and his audiences overflow the churches and halls in which he lectures. In New York City he delivers the discourses in refutation of the English historian James Anthony Froude.

In an eighteen month period Burke gives four hundred lectures, exclusive of sermons, with the proceeds amounting to nearly $400,000. His mission is a triumph, but the triumph is dearly won. When he arrives in Ireland on March 7, 1873, he is spent and broken.

During the next decade Burke preaches in Ireland, England, and Scotland. He begins the erection of the church in Tallaght in 1883, and the following May preaches a series of sermons in the new Dominican church, London. In June he returns to Tallaght in a dying condition and preaches his last sermon in the Jesuit church, Dublin, in aid of the starving children of Donegal. A few days afterwards, on July 2, 1882, he dies. He is buried in the church of Tallaght, now a memorial to him.

(Pictured: Statue of Thomas Nicholas Burke by John Francis Kavanagh by Nimmo’s Pier in Galway)


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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden Arrives in Ireland

joe-biden-michael-higginsVice President of the United States Joe Biden arrives in Ireland on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 for a six-day visit. He arrives with his brother and sister, his daughter and five grandchildren and is welcomed to Ireland by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charles Flanagan.

Biden then travels to Government Buildings where he is formally welcomed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Kenny says he hopes Biden enjoyed his visit and Biden says that he himself has visited Ireland several times privately, but never as vice president. He adds that he had promised his late son Beau that he would make a family trip to Ireland, “Unfortunately Beau didn’t make it, but we decided that we would bring the whole family.”

Biden, an Irish American, speaks of his great-grandfather who emigrated from Ireland, and he also speaks of the pride his family feels in their Irish heritage.

Kenny presents Biden with a hurley and a sliotar, to which the Vice President responds, “I have witnessed one game and I have one regret, that they don’t have this in the United States. I played American football and American baseball in high school and college, but this would have been … this is a dangerous game.”

Biden holds a bilateral meeting with Kenny in the evening and meets with the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, the following day at his official residence, Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin‘s Phoenix Park. As he signs the visitors’ book, he paraphrases another famous Irish American, former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who had visited the Republic of Ireland 53 years earlier. His written entry makes reference to a speech made to Dáil Éireann in June 1963, when Kennedy said “our two nations, divided by distance, have been united by history.”

During his visit Biden visits County Mayo and County Louth, where his ancestors originated, in addition to several engagements in Dublin and a stop at Newgrange. He also arranges to fit in a round of golf with Kenny.

Biden speaks at an event at Trinity College, Dublin on the morning of Friday, June 24 and delivers a keynote address to an American Ireland Fund event in Dublin Castle in the evening. He addresses the Irish American experience, the shared heritage of the two nations, and the values of tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness.

On Saturday, June 25, Biden visits various locations in County Louth including the Kilwirra Cemetery and Newgrange in County Meath.

Biden returns to the United States following a lunch with Kenny on Sunday, June 26.

(Pictured: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden signing the visitor’s book as Irish President Michael D. Higgins look on at his official residence, Áras an Uachtaráin)