seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Siege of Smerwick

smerwick-massacre-memorialFollowing a three-day siege, the English Army beheads over 600 Papal soldiers and civilians at Dún an Óir, County Kerry on November 10, 1580.

On November 5, a naval force led by Admiral Sir William Wynter arrives at Smerwick Harbour, replenishing the supplies of Arthur Grey, 14th Baron Grey de Wilton, who is camped at Dingle, and landing eight artillery pieces. On November 7, Lord Grey de Wilton lays siege to the Smerwick garrison. The invading forces are geographically isolated on the tip of the narrow Dingle Peninsula, cut off by Mount Brandon, one of the highest mountains in Ireland, on one side and the much larger English force on the other. The English forces begin the artillery barrage on Dún an Óir on the morning of the November 8, which rapidly breaks down the improvised defences of the fort.

After a three-day siege, the commander Sebastiano di San Giuseppe surrenders on November 10. Accounts vary on whether they had been granted quarter. Grey de Wilton orders the summary executions, sparing only the commanders. Grey has also heard that the main Irish rebel army of 4,000 are somewhere in the hills to his east, looking to be rearmed and supplied by Di San Giuseppe, and they might in turn surround his army but this army never appears.

According to Grey de Wilton’s account, contained in a despatch to Queen Elizabeth I dated November 11, 1580, he rejects an approach made by the besieged Spanish and Italian forces to agree to terms of a conditional surrender in which they would cede the fort and leave. Lord Grey de Wilton claims that he insisted that they surrender without preconditions and put themselves at his mercy, and that he subsequently rejects a request for a ceasefire. An agreement is finally made for an unconditional surrender the next morning, with hostages being taken by English forces to ensure compliance. The following morning, an English force enters the fort to secure and guard armaments and supplies.

Local historian Margaret Anna Cusack notes in 1871 that there is a degree of controversy about Lord Grey de Wilton’s version of events to Elizabeth, and identifies three other contemporary accounts, by O’Daly, O’Sullivan Beare and Russell, which contradict it. According to these versions, Grey de Wilton promises the garrison their lives in return for their surrender, a promise which he breaks. Like Grey himself, none of these commentators can be described as neutral, as they are all either serving the state or opposed to it. Cusack’s interpretation of the events cannot be described as unbiased, given her position as a Catholic nun and fervent Irish nationalist at the time.

According to Cusack, the few that are spared suffer a worse fate. They are offered life if they renounce their Catholic faith. On refusal, their arms and legs are broken in three places by an ironsmith. They are left in agony for a day and night and then hanged.

According to the folklore of the area, the execution of the captives takes two days, with many of the captives being beheaded in a field known locally in Irish as Gort a Ghearradh (the Field of the Cutting). Their bodies are later thrown into the sea. Archaeologists have not yet discovered human remains at the site, although a nearby field is known as Gort na gCeann (the Field of the Heads) and local folklore recalls the massacre.

(Pictured: A memorial to the victims of the massacre at Dún an Óir)


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The Grange Ambush

grange-ambush-memorialAn Irish Republican Army (IRA) column mounts an ambush at Grange, County Limerick on November 8, 1920.

Approximately fifty men of 3rd Battalion East Limerick IRA parade at 5:00 AM on the cold bleak morning of November 8. They are armed with 21 rifles and 21 shotguns, plus a small quantity of explosives. It has been decided to ambush a convoy at Grange Bridge, a point about eight miles from Limerick and about four miles from Bruff. They set out and occupy positions around John O’Neill’s house. The ambush site is about four miles from the big British garrison at Bruff to the south. The IRA expects two British lorries around 9:00 AM, however, in the end eight lorries and two armoured cars arrive at noon.

It is a joint action involving the flying columns of both the 3rd Battalion East Limerick Brigade and the 4th Battalion Mid Limerick Brigade, supported by men from the local companies of Bruff, Grange and Holy Cross in the East Limerick Brigade and from the Fedamore and Ballybricken Companies of the Mid Limerick Brigade. Donnchadha O’Hannigan has overall command of the combined columns and most of the ambushers are placed in houses and behind walls on both sides of the road. Among the IRA men who take part in the action is their chaplain, the Curate at Fedamore, Fr. William Joseph Carroll, who had been awarded the Military Cross for bravery in 1918 by the British Army. Also among the attackers is Maurice Meade, who had been a member of Roger Casement‘s Irish Brigade in Germany.

Something makes the British suspicious and they send one lorry ahead as a decoy. It is bombed by the IRA and raked with small arms fire. At this point, a British armoured car appears, with an officer mounted on the running board firing a revolver and its machine gun firing at the IRA at close range. The IRA account names the officer on the running board as Lt. Watling and they believe that they wounded him and he died in the hospital at Bruff that night.

More British reinforcements appear and the IRA realises that they are up against a vastly larger force than they had anticipated, so they retreat. Apart from one minor wounded man, they have no casualties.

The Royal Fusiliers‘ account says while escorting a Royal Air Force convoy from Fermoy to Oranmore, Lieutenant Allan and thirty other ranks are ambushed at Grange, near Bruff. The rebels, however, are speedily dealt with, and a quantity of arms, ammunition and two prisoners are taken. Unfortunately, Flying Officer Watling and Bandsman Bailey are wounded, the latter seriously. The only other casualty is Private French, who is shot at when a sentry at Galbally, and has the back luck of losing his arm.


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Death of Colonel James Hagan

james-haganJames Hagan, Irish American captain in the United States Army during the Mexican–American War and a Confederate States Army colonel during the American Civil War, dies in Mobile, Alabama on November 6, 1901.

Hagan is born in County Tyrone on June 17, 1822. His family moves to a farm near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when he is still at an early age and he is educated at Clermont Academy. He moves to Alabama in 1837. His prosperous uncle, John Hagen of New Orleans, Louisiana, takes him into the family business and sets him up in Mobile to manage the Hagan business there.

Hagan serves in John Coffee Hays‘s Texas Rangers, a cavalry unit in Major General Zachary Taylor‘s army during the Mexican–American War. He is recognized for his gallantry at the Battle of Monterrey. He is commissioned a captain in the 3rd U.S. Dragoons in 1848 and is discharged on July 31, 1848. After the war, he returns to Mobile where he purchases and subsequently manages a plantation rather than remaining in the family mercantile business. In 1854, he marries Bettie Oliver, daughter of Alabama’s attorney general.

At the beginning of the American Civil War, Hagan organizes and is elected captain of a cavalry company for the Alabama Militia, the “Mobile Dragoons,” which serves on guard duty along the Gulf Coast. At the rank of major he transfers to the 1st Mississippi Cavalry Regiment on October 26, 1861. The regiment fights at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6–7, 1862. He leads his men in a mounted charge at the Battle of Perryville which is highly commended by his brigade commander, Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler.

Hagan is promoted to colonel of a new regiment, the 3rd Alabama Cavalry Regiment, on July 1, 1862. The regiment fights in all of the campaigns of the Army of Tennessee. In July 1863, He is assigned to command Brigade 1 of Brigadier General William T. Martin‘s Division of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Tennessee, which is Major General Joseph Wheeler’s old brigade. During the spring and summer of 1863, the brigade screens the left front of General Braxton Bragg‘s army. Wheeler recommends that Hagan be promoted to brigadier general but Bragg blocks the promotion because he says Hagan is in a state of “dissipation”, a reference to drunkenness or alcoholism. Hagan is wounded near Franklin, Tennessee in the winter of 1862 and again near Kingston, Tennessee in November 1863. In November 1863, he resigns and returns to Mobile to recover from his wounds and his disappointment from not being promoted.

After he had recuperates, Hagan asks that his resignation be revoked. The resignation is revoked and he returns to his regiment for the Atlanta campaign, where the regiment fights as infantry in the trenches. When Brigadier General William Wirt Adams is promoted to command of the Division, Hagan is assigned to permanent command of the brigade, consisting of five regiments and one battalion of Alabama cavalry. His brigade is part of Wheeler’s force which opposes Major General William Tecumseh Sherman‘s March to the Sea and Campaign of the Carolinas. He is wounded again at the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads, near Kinston, North Carolina on March 10, 1865, and again at Fayetteville, North Carolina the next day.

Although Hagan is assigned as acting brigadier general in early 1865, he never receives an official appointment from Jefferson Davis or confirmation by the Confederate States Senate of an appointment as a general officer. Major General Wheeler later writes that he had been told unofficially by Confederate States War Department officials that brigadier general commissions had been issued for Hagan, Henry Marshall Ashby and Moses Wright Hannon near the end of the war, but no such commissions ever were delivered.

Hagan returns to Mobile after the war but is penniless since his fortune had been converted to Confederate money. He works as manager of a plantation on the Alabama River in the 1870s and early 1880s. President Grover Cleveland appoints him crier of the United States District Court in Alabama in 1885.

James Hagan dies on November 6, 1901 at Mobile, Alabama. He is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Mobile.


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The End of the Siege of Limerick

king-johns-castle-limerickAn alliance of Irish Confederate Catholics and English Royalists led by Hugh Dubh O’Neill surrender to Henry Ireton on October 27, 1651 after a protracted and bitter siege of Limerick during the Irish Confederate Wars.

By 1650, The Irish Confederates and their English Royalist allies have been driven out of eastern Ireland by the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. They occupy a defensive position behind the River Shannon, of which Limerick is the southern stronghold. Oliver Cromwell himself had left Ireland in May 1650, delegating his command of the English Parliamentarian forces to Henry Ireton. Ireton moves his forces north from Munster to besiege Limerick in October 1650. The weather, however, is increasingly wet and cold and Ireton is forced to abandon the siege before the onset of winter.

Ireton returns the following June with 8,000 men, 28 siege artillery pieces and four mortars. He then summons Hugh Dubh O’Neill, the Irish commander of Limerick, to surrender but is refused. The siege is on.

Limerick in 1651 is split into two sections, English town and Irish town, which are separated by the Abbey River. English town, which contained the citadel of King John’s Castle, is encircled by water and known as King’s Island. Thomond bridge is the only entrance onto the island and is fortified with bastioned earthworks. Irish town is more vulnerable, but is also more heavily fortified. Its medieval walls have been buttressed by 20 feet of earth. In addition, Irish town has a series of bastions along its walls, mounted with cannon covering its approaches. The biggest of these bastions are at St. John’s Gate and Mungret gate.

Due to Limerick’s fortification, Ireton does not risk an assault on its walls. Instead he secures the approaches to the city, cuts off its supplies and builds artillery earthworks to bombard the defenders. His troops take the fort at Thomond bridge, but the Irish destroy the bridge itself, denying the Parliamentarians land access to English town. Ireton then tries an amphibious attack on the city, which is initially successful, but O’Neill’s men counterattack and beat them off. After this failed attack, Ireton resolves to starve the city into submission and builds two forts on nearby Singland Hill. An Irish attempt to relieve the city from the south is routed at the battle of Knocknaclashy. O’Neill’s only hope is to hold out until bad weather and hunger force Ireton to lift the siege. O’Neill tries to send the town’s old men, women and children out of the city so that his supplies will last a little longer. However, Ireton’s men kill 40 of these civilians and send the rest back into Limerick.

O’Neill comes under pressure from the town’s mayor and civilian population to surrender. The town’s garrison and civilians suffer terribly from hunger and disease. Ireton finds a weak point in the defenses of Irish town and knocks a breach in them, opening the prospect of an all out assault. Eventually, in October 1651, six months after the siege had started, part of Limerick’s garrison mutiny and turn some cannon inwards, threatening to fire on O’Neill’s men unless they surrender. Hugh Dubh O’Neill surrenders Limerick on October 27. The inhabitants lives and property are respected, but they are warned that they could be evicted in the future.

The garrison is allowed to march to Galway, which is still holding out, but has to leave their weapons behind. However, the lives of the civilian and military leaders of Limerick are excepted from the terms of surrender. Catholic Bishop Terence Albert O’Brien, an Alderman and the English Royalist officer Colonel Fennell are hanged. O’Neill is also sentenced to death, but is reprieved by the Parliamentarian commander Edmund Ludlow and imprisoned instead in London. Former mayor Dominic Fanning is drawn, quartered, and decapitated, with his head mounted over St. John’s Gate.

(Pictured: King John’s Castle on King John’s Island, Limerick)


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The Battle of Friedlingen

battle-of-friedlingenThe Irish Brigade of France fights in the Battle of Friedlingen on October 14, 1702.

The battle is fought between France and the Holy Roman Empire. The Imperial forces are led by Louis William, Margrave of Baden-Baden, while the French are led by Claude Louis Hector de Villars. The French are victorious.

The French are seeking to expand their influence on the eastern bank of the river Rhine. In the autumn of 1702, Villars receives orders from Louis XIV to attack Swabia. The French forces need to join their Bavarian allies and defeat the Imperial troops that stand between them.

The French cross the Rhine at Weil am Rhein, just north of Basel on October 14. Villars attacks the Imperial army at Friedlingen. The future field marshal Louis William entrenches his army and manages to hold the French for some time. He then retreats in good order to the North.

It is a Pyrrhic victory for Villars with losses of 1,703 dead and 2,601 wounded. The Imperial forces loses are 3,000 dead and 742 wounded. Villars is also prevented from joining the Bavarians.

The villages on the eastern bank of the Rhine suffer much damage, especially Weil am Rhein.

(Pictured: The Battle of Friedlingen, oil on canvas, Franz Paul Findenigg)


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Death of Dick Dowling, Confederate Commander

Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer LibraryRichard William “Dick” Dowling, the victorious confederate commander at the Second Battle of Sabine Pass in the American Civil War, dies of yellow fever in Houston, Texas on September 23, 1867.

Dowling is born in the townland of Knockballyvishteal, Milltown, County Galway on January 14, 1837, the second of eight children, born to tenant farmer Patrick and Bridget Dowling (née Qualter). Following the eviction of his family from their home in 1845, the first year of the Great Famine, nine-year-old Dowling leaves Ireland in 1846 with his older sister Honora, bound for New Orleans in the United States.

As a teenager, Dowling displays his entrepreneurial skills by successfully running the Continental Coffeehouse, a saloon in the fashionable French Quarter. His parents and siblings follow from Ireland in 1851, but the joy of reunion is short-lived. In 1853, a yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans takes the lives of his parents and one of his younger brothers. With rising anti-Irish feeling growing in New Orleans, following local elections which see a landslide victory for the “Know Nothing” party, Dowling moves to Houston in 1857.

In 1857 Dowling marries Elizabeth Ann Odlum, daughter of Benjamin Digby Odlum, a Kildare-born Irishman, who had fought in the Texas Revolution, being captured at the Battle of Refugio in 1836.

By 1860, Dowling owns a number of saloons. His most successful is named the Bank of Bacchus, located on Courthouse Square in downtown Houston. “The Bank” as it is known locally becomes Houston’s most popular social gathering place in the 1860s and is renowned for its hospitality. He is also involved in setting up Houston’s first gaslight company, and is first to have it installed in his home and “The Bank.” He is a founding member of Houston’s Hook and Ladder Company Number One fire department and is also involved in running the city’s first streetcar company.

Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, Dowling makes a name for himself as an able and successful entrepreneur. Among other things, he is involved with a predominantly Irish militia company which serves a more social than military role in Houston society. Upon Secession, this militia company is mustered straight into the Confederate States Army, with Dowling being elected First Lieutenant. The unit names themselves the “Jefferson Davis Guards” in honor of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Davis Guards are initially part of a Texas State Troops/Confederate expedition sent to take over Union Army forts and arsenals along the border with Mexico. The expedition is successfully completed without a shot being fired. They participate in the Battle of Galveston on New Year’s Day 1863, following which they are assigned to a newly constructed artillery post near the mouth of the Sabine River called Fort Sabine.

Sabine Pass was important as a point of arrival and departure for blockade runners. It is suspected that the Union Army will attempt an invasion of Texas via Sabine Pass because of its value as a harbor for blockade runners and its proximity 18 miles southeast of Beaumont, which lies on the railroad between Houston and the eastern part of the Confederacy.

To negotiate Sabine Pass all vessels except small boats take one of the two river channels. No seagoing ship can traverse the Pass without great risk of running aground should it stray from one of the channels. The inevitable course of any steam-powered warship, including shallow-draft gunboats then common to the U.S. Navy, would use one of the channels, both of which are within fair range of the fort’s six smoothbores.

Dowling spends the summer of 1863 at the earthen fort instructing his men in gunnery. On September 8, 1863 a Union Navy flotilla of some 22 gunboats and transports with 5,000 men accompanied by cavalry and artillery arrive off the mouth of Sabine Pass. The plan of invasion is sound, but monumentally mismanaged. Four of the flanking gunboats are to steam up the pass at speed and draw the fire of the fort, two in each channel, a tactic which had been used successfully in subduing the defensive fortifications of Mobile and New Orleans prior to this. This time, however, Dowling’s artillery drills pay off as the Confederates pour a rapid and withering fire onto the incoming gunboats, disabling and capturing two, while the others retreat in disarray. The rest of the flotilla retreats from the mouth of the pass and returns ignominiously to New Orleans, leaving the disabled ships with no option but to surrender to Dowling. With a command of just 47 men, Dowling had thwarted an attempted invasion of Texas, in the process capturing two gunboats, some 350 prisoners and a large quantity of supplies and munitions.

The Confederate government offers its gratitude and admiration to Dowling, now promoted to Major, and his unit, as a result of their battlefield prowess. In gratitude, the ladies of Houston present the unit with specially struck medals, which are actually Mexican eight reale coins with both faces sanded down and inscribed “Sabine Pass, 1864” on one side and a Maltese cross with the letters D and G on the other. Because of the official recognition given to the action, it is now accepted that these Davis Guard Medals are the only medals of honor issued by the Confederate government, and consequently are collector’s items today.

After the battle of Sabine Pass Dowling is elevated to hero status in his hometown of Houston. He subsequently serves as a recruiter for the Confederacy and is personally commended for his action at the battle by Jefferson Davis. After the war he returns to his saloon business and quickly becomes one of the city’s leading businessmen.

Dowling’s promising future is cut short by another yellow fever epidemic which devastates Houston in the late summer of 1867, and he dies on September 23, 1867. He is buried at St. Vincent’s Catholic Cemetery, the oldest Catholic cemetery in Houston.


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The Rineen Ambush

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rineen_Monument.JPGThe Rineen ambush is carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on September 22, 1920, during the Irish War of Independence. It takes place at Drummin Hill in the townland of Drummin, near the hamlet of Rineen, County Clare.

The Volunteers in County Clare have been active since 1917 and by late 1920 have forced the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) to abandon most of its small rural barracks in the county. This gives the IRA greater freedom to move in the countryside. In August 1920, the RIC are reinforced by the British deployment of Black and Tans and Auxiliaries to the county. Five RIC men, eleven IRA volunteers and four civilians have been killed in County Clare during the two years before the ambush.

The Rineen Ambush is ordered by the leadership of the IRA’s Mid-Clare Brigade, who had noticed that a RIC lorry travels every week on the Ennistymon to Milltown Malbay road. John Joe Neylon, leader of the local IRA battalion, is put in charge, although the actual attack is led by Ignatius O’Neill, the Officer Commanding. He is a veteran of World War I who had formerly fought with the Irish Guards. The ambush party has only nine rifles and some grenades, the remainder being armed with shotguns or handguns. They prepare to attack the lorry from a railway bridge that overlooks the road at Rineen.

As the IRA party is lying in wait, Alan Lendrum, the local resident magistrate, drives unwittingly into a roadblock of the IRA’s West Clare Brigade, in an unrelated action. He is stopped at a railway crossing at Caherfeenick near Doonbeg. When the IRA demand he surrender his car, he draws an automatic pistol and the IRA men shoot him twice in the head, fatally wounding him. The IRA weights his body with stones and dumps it in a nearby lake. Even though the British Military inquest establishes that Lendrum had died of gunshot wounds, members of the RIC in Clare spread a false version of events and claim that Lendrum had died of drowning.

Although in strict military sense not related to the ambush, it has serious consequences for the ambush. It is quite quickly noticed that the magistrate is missing and the military in Ennistymon decide to send out a search party of ten lorries of soldiers.

The RIC lorry passes safely through the ambush position, travelling from Ennistymon to Milltown Malbay, due to some confusion among the IRA over the numbers they face. However when they learn that there is only one lorry, it is attacked on its return journey from Milltown Malbay. The lorry is hit by a grenade and blasted at close range by rifle and shotgun fire. The shooting is over in seconds, with five out of the six RIC men being killed outright. The sixth man manages to run about 300 yards before being shot dead. Five of the dead are Irish RIC officers and one is an English Black and Tan. The IRA take their weapons and burn the lorry.

Not long after the lorry has been set ablaze, the ten-lorry search party arrives on the scene. A running fight develops, as four IRA riflemen keep the troops at bay while the other volunteers make their escape. Two IRA volunteers and several British soldiers are wounded in the firing. Padraic O’Farrell lists the casualties as three British soldiers killed, but this is not confirmed by the other sources.

The British forces, enraged by the ambush and the escape of the IRA force, take out reprisals on civilians in the surrounding area. Immediately after the action ends, they burn the house and farm of the O’Gorman family and shoot a local farmer, Sean Keane, who later dies of his wounds.

That night, a mixed force of police and soldiers raid the Lahinch home of Dan Lehane, whose two sons had taken part in the ambush. They shoot him dead and burn his house. Patrick Lehane, who is hiding in the attic, perishes in the blaze. Several other houses are burned in Lahinch and a further eight are razed in Milltown Malbay. A separate RIC raid takes place in Ennistymon, in which several homes and businesses are burned.

In what may have been a belated reprisal for the ambush, four IRA men are arrested by the Auxiliaries at Killaloe on November 16, beaten, interrogated and then shot dead. Another two are summarily executed in the same manner on December 22 at Kilkee.

The reprisals are condemned in the British, Irish and international press. In the House of Commons, the British Labour Party tables a resolution condemning the reprisals and calling for an investigation. This is defeated by 346 votes to 79. Hamar Greenwood, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, defends the State Forces’ actions, saying that the houses destroyed were those of “notorious Sinn Féiners…I am convinced that the people of those two villages knew of this ambush.”

In Clare itself, according to IRA man Anthony Malone, the ambush has two effects. One is that the RIC becomes careful to travel in convoys of no less than three lorries. The other is that, as a result of the reprisals, the civilian population becomes embittered against the British and adopt a more defiant attitude to the British military and Black and Tans.

The death of Resident Magistrate Alan Lendrum, however, according to pro-republican Catholic priest Sean Gaynor, “was not to our credit.” On October 1, the local IRA remove Lendrum’s body from the lake, put it in a roughly constructed coffin and leave it on the railway tracks at Craggaknock railway station for British forces to find.

(Pictured: Monument for the attack at Rineen during the Irish War of Independence, designed by Walter Kiernan)