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Birth of Gearóid O’Sullivan, Soldier & Politician

Gearóid O’Sullivan, soldier and politician, is born on January 28, 1891 at Coolnagrane, near Skibbereen, County Cork, fourth son among six sons and three daughters of Michael O’Sullivan, farmer, of Loughine, and Margaret Sullivan (née McCarthy) of Coolnagrane.

Christened Jeremiah but known in later life as Gearóid, O’Sullivan is an outstanding pupil at national school and secondary school in Skibbereen. Encouraged by his teachers, he acquires a love of the Irish language. Not yet ten, he joins the Gaelic League in Skibbereen in October 1900. He takes part in the Oireachtas debates of 1909. In 1911 he qualifies at St. Patrick’s College, Dublin, as a national school teacher and teaches at Kildorrery, County Cork, but returns to Dublin in 1912 to take up a post at St. Peter’s National School, Phibsborough. He takes an honours degree in Celtic studies at University College Dublin (UCD) (1913), an H.Dip.Ed. (1914), and an M.Ed. (1915). At the same time, he is an organiser and teacher with the Gaelic League, a member of its Keating branch at Parnell Square, Dublin, and a founder of the League’s “fáinne” proficiency badge.

O’Sullivan joins the F Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers at their foundation in November 1913, is aide-de-camp to Seán Mac Diarmada during the 1916 Easter Rising, and is ordered by Patrick Pearse to raise the flag of rebellion over the General Post Office (GPO) stronghold in Dublin. Interned at Frongoch internment camp in Wales after the rising, he belongs to the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) group of prisoners closely linked with Michael Collins, a proximity that continues throughout the crisis years to follow. Released in the amnesty of December 1916, he intensifies his Volunteer activity, playing a prominent role in Carlow Brigade, for which he is briefly detained while working as a teacher at St. Mary’s Knockbeg College, County Carlow. When the Irish Volunteers become the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1919, he is arrested again and goes on hunger strike at Mountjoy Prison, which leads to his release. Active throughout the Irish War of Independence (1919–21) and narrowly avoiding recapture during meetings with Collins, he joins the supreme council of the IRB in November 1921, remaining there for the remainder of his military career.

From February 1920, O’Sullivan replaces Collins as adjutant general of the IRA, a position he retains until the Anglo–Irish Treaty of December 1921 (which he supports), resuming it a month later as a lieutenant general of the new National Army, responsible for personnel and promotions. He is also elected to Dáil Éireann for Carlow–Kilkenny in 1921 and again in 1922, retiring in 1923. His intellectual and organisational abilities guarantee that his position within the army is safe after the death in August 1922 of Collins, to whom he owes much for his initial rise to prominence. On August 28 he is appointed to the newly created army council, whose most draconian prerogative becomes the military execution of republican prisoners.

After the Irish Civil War (1922–23), wholesale demobilisation of officers and other ranks takes place, but O’Sullivan and his council colleagues Richard Mulcahy, Seán Mac Mahon, and Seán Ó Murthuile survive the fiscal axe. Their privileged position angers some officers, led by Major General Liam Tobin, alarmed at the rate of demobilisation and the state’s apparent abandonment of Collins’s republican ideals. Through the Irish Republican Army Organisation, they deplore the devaluation of their pre-treaty IRA service and the retention of certain former British Army officers and instructors. O’Sullivan’s brief time as adjutant general places him in the role of personnel manager. As the Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923, transforms the National Army into the defence forces of an Irish dominion, he is clearly in the sights of those who disagree with how these forces took shape.

As demobilisation continues and former British personnel become more evident, O’Sullivan and his colleagues become targets of suspicion that a hostile IRB clique had controlled the army council since its formation after the death of Collins. Exaggerated or not, such claims precipitate the army crisis of March 1924, in which O’Sullivan personally orders a raiding party under Colonel Hugo MacNeill to arrest its leaders. To defuse the crisis, he and his army council colleagues are forced to stand down, while the arrested dissidents are summarily retired. The subsequent army inquiry (April–June 1924) absolves him and his colleagues of any wrongdoing, but their active military careers are over. O’Sullivan, however, is for some time secretary of the military service pensions board.

Civilian life treats O’Sullivan well, as he enters a legal career and in 1926 is called to the bar. In 1927 he is appointed Judge Advocate General and remains so until 1932. After the assassination of Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins in July 1927, he fills the vacated Dublin County seat in a by-election in August, retaining it at subsequent elections until 1937. In August 1928 he is a Free State delegate to the Empire Parliamentary Association conference in Canada. Openly supporting Gen. Eoin O’Duffy and the short-lived ‘Blueshirts’ vanguard of the fledgling Fine Gael party during 1933–34, he pointedly refuses to surrender his legally held revolver when gardaí demand it as a precaution against a feared Blueshirt coup d’étât. In 1937 he becomes a barrister on the western circuit, and in 1940 commissioner for special purposes of the income tax acts, a post he holds for life.

O’Sullivan lives at St. Kevin’s Park, Dartry, Dublin, where he dies at the age of 57 on March 26, 1948. His military funeral to Glasnevin Cemetery, with his coffin draped in the same flag that had covered the coffin of Michael Collins, reflects his high national profile.

In 1922, O’Sullivan marries Maude Kiernan, sister of Kitty Kiernan and daughter of Peter and Bridget Kiernan, whose family is closely involved with the Irish political leadership, notably Michael Collins and Harry Boland. After Maude’s death he marries Mary Brennan of Belfast. They have three daughters and a son, all of whom survive him. O’Sullivan is commemorated in County Cork by a plaque at Skibbereen town hall.

(From: “O’Sullivan, Gearóid” contributed by Patrick Long, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, shared in line with Creative Commons ‘Attribution’ (CC BY) licencing)


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Birth of Edward Hand, Soldier, Physician & Politician

Edward Hand, Irish soldier, physician, and politician who serves in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, is born in Clyduff, King’s County (now County Offaly) on December 31, 1744. He rises to the rank of general and later is a member of several Pennsylvania governmental bodies.

Hand, the son of John Hand, is baptised in Shinrone. Among his immediate neighbours are the Kearney family, ancestors of United States President Barack Obama. He is a descendant of either the families of Mag Fhlaithimh (of south Ulaidh and Mide) or Ó Flaithimhín (of the Síol Muireadaigh) who, through mistranslation became Lavin or Hand.

Hand earns a medical certificate from Trinity College, Dublin. In 1767, he enlists as a Surgeon’s Mate in the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot. On May 20, 1767, he sails with the regiment from Cobh, County Cork, arriving at Philadelphia on July 11, 1767. In 1772, he is commissioned an ensign. He marches with the regiment to Fort Pitt, on the forks of the Ohio River, returning to Philadelphia in 1774, where he resigns his commission.

In 1774, Hand moves to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he practices medicine. On March 13, 1775, he marries Catherine Ewing. Lancaster is the region of some of the earliest Irish and Scotch-Irish settlements in Pennsylvania. As a people, they are well known for their anti-English and revolutionary convictions. He is active in forming the Lancaster County Associators, a colonial militia. He is a 32nd degree Freemason, belonging to the Montgomery Military Lodge number 14.

Hand enters the Continental Army in 1775 as a lieutenant colonel in the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment under Colonel William Thompson. He is promoted to colonel in 1776 and placed in command of the 1st Continental, then designated the 1st Pennsylvania. Promoted to brigadier general in March 1777, he serves as the commander of Fort Pitt, fighting British loyalists and their Indian allies. He is recalled, after over two years at Fort Pitt, to serve as a brigade commander in Major General La Fayette‘s division.

In 1778, Hand attacks the Lenape, killing Captain Pipe‘s mother, brother, and a few of his children during a military campaign. Failing to distinguish among the Native American groups, he had attacked the neutral Lenape while trying to reduce the Indian threat to settlers in the Ohio Country, because other tribes, such as the Shawnee, had allied with the British.

After a few months, he is appointed Adjutant General of the Continental Army and serves during the Siege of Yorktown in that capacity. In recognition of his long and distinguished service, he is promoted by brevet to major general in September 1783. He resigns from the Army in November 1783.

Hand returns to Lancaster and resumes the practice of medicine. A Federalist, he is also active in civil affairs. Beginning in 1785, he owns and operates Rock Ford plantation, a 177-acre farm on the banks of the Conestoga River, one mile south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Georgian brick mansion remains today and the farm is a historic site open to the public.

Hand dies from typhoid fever, dysentery or pneumonia at Rock Ford on September 3, 1802, although medical records are unclear with some sources stating he died of cholera. There is no evidence Lancaster County suffered from a cholera epidemic in 1802. He is buried in St. James’s Episcopal Cemetery in Lancaster, the same church where he had served as a deacon.


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The Trial & Conviction of Theobald Wolfe Tone

Theobald Wolfe Tone, a leading Irish revolutionary figure and one of the founding members of the Society of United Irishmen, is tried and convicted of treason by a court-martial in Dublin on November 10, 1798 and sentenced to be hanged.

When the Irish Rebellion of 1798 breaks out in Ireland, Wolfe Tone urges the French Directory to send effective assistance to the Irish rebels. All that can be promised is a number of raids to descend simultaneously around the Irish coast. One of these raids under General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert succeeds in landing a force near Killala, County Mayo, and gains some success in Connacht (particularly at Castlebar) before it is subdued by General Gerard Lake and Charles Cornwallis. Wolfe Tone’s brother Matthew is captured, tried by court-martial and hanged. A second raid, accompanied by James Napper Tandy, comes to a disastrous end on the coast of County Donegal.

Wolfe Tone takes part in a third raid, under Admiral Jean-Baptiste-François Bompart, with General Jean Hardy in command of a force of 2,800 men. He certainly knows before departing that the odds against them are incredibly long. Most of the United Irish organization has already spent itself in Wexford, Ulster, and other places. There is one slim reed of hope for success – the news from Hubert, who is sweeping the British before him in Mayo with his 1,000 Frenchmen and Irish rebel allies. Wolfe Tone once said he would accompany any French force to Ireland even if it were only a corporal’s guard, so he sails off with Hardy’s Frenchmen aboard the Hoche.

They are intercepted by a large British fleet at Buncrana on Lough Swilly on October 12, 1798. Escape aboard one of the small, fast ships is Wolfe Tone’s only hope to avoid a hangman’s noose but he refuses to transfer from the large, slow Hoche, which has little choice but certain sinking or capture. He refuses offers by Napoleon Bonaparte and other French officers of escape in a frigate before the Battle of Tory Island. “Shall it be said,” he asks them, “that I fled while the French were fighting the battle of my country?”

The Hoche withstands an attack by five British ships for several hours, with Wolfe Tone commanding one of her batteries. Inevitably the masts and rigging of the Hoche are shot away and she strikes her colors. Wolfe Tone is dressed in a French adjutant general‘s uniform, but there is little chance of him avoiding detection with so many former acquaintances among the British. He is thrown into chains taken prisoner when the Hoche surrenders.

When the prisoners are landed at Letterkenny Port a fortnight later, Sir George Hill recognises Wolfe Tone in the French adjutant general’s uniform in Lord Cavan’s privy-quarters at Letterkenny. At his trial by court-martial in Dublin on November 8, 1798, Wolfe Tone makes a speech avowing his determined hostility to England and his intention “by frank and open war to procure the separation of the countries.” Recognising that the court is certain to convict him, he asks that “the court should adjudge me to die the death of a soldier, and that I may be shot.” His request to be shot is denied.

On November 10, 1798, Wolfe Tone is found guilty and sentenced to be hanged on November 12. Before this sentence is carried out, either he attempts suicide by slitting his throat or British soldiers torture and mortally wound him. Military surgeon Benjamin Lentaigne treats him just hours before he is due to be hanged. The story goes that he is initially saved when the wound is sealed with a bandage, and he is told if he tries to talk the wound will open and he will bleed to death.

A pamphlet published in Latin by Dr. Lentaigne some years after Wolfe Tone’s official “suicide” refers to an unusual neck wound suffered by an unnamed patient which indicates that “a bullet passed through his throat.” This leads to speculation that Wolfe Tone may have been shot.

Theobald Wolfe Tone dies on November 19, 1798 at the age of 35 in Provost’s Prison, Dublin, not far from where he was born. He is buried in Bodenstown Graveyard in County Kildare, near his birthplace at Sallins, and his grave is in the care of the National Graves Association.

(Pictured: “Capture Of Wolfe Tone Date 1798,” a drawing by Mary Evans Picture Library, the UK’s leading source for historical images)