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


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Birth of John MacKenna, Chilean Military Officer

Brigadier John (Juan) Mackenna, Chilean military officer and hero of the Chilean War of Independence, is born in Monaghan, County Monaghan on October 26, 1771. He is considered to be the creator of the Corps of Military Engineers of the Chilean Army.

He is born John MacKenna, the son of William MacKenna of Willville House near Monaghan and Eleanora O’Reilly and, on his mother’s side, a nephew to Count Alejandro O’Reilly. Count O’Reilly takes an interest in the young Mackenna and takes him to Spain where he studies at the Royal School of Mathematics in Barcelona. He also trains in the Royal Military Academy as a Military Engineer between 1785 and 1791.

In 1787 Mackenna is accepted into the Irish Brigade of the Spanish Army, and joins the army fighting in Ceuta in northern Africa, under Lieutenant Colonel Luis Urbina, and is promoted to Second Lieutenant. In 1791 he resumes his studies in Barcelona and acts as liaison with mercenaries recruited in Europe. The following year he is promoted to Lieutenant in the Royal Regiment of Engineers. In the War of the Pyrenees against the French, he fights in Rosselló under General Ricardos and there meets the future liberator of Argentina, José de San Martín. For his exploits in defence of the Plaza de Rozas, he is promoted to captain in 1795.

For the purpose of a new assignment, in October 1796, Mackenna leaves Spain for South America. He arrives in Buenos Aires and then travels to Mendoza and to Chile across the Andes and then to Peru. Once in Lima, he contacts Ambrosio O’Higgins, another Irishman, at that time Viceroy of Perú, who names him Governor of Osorno and puts him in charge of the reconstruction works for the southern Chilean town.

In this capacity, Mackenna convinces the families of Castro, on Chiloé Island, to move to Osorno to found a colony there. He builds the storehouse and two mills, as well as the road between Osorno and present-day Puerto Montt. His successful administration provokes jealousy from Chile’s captain-general Gabriel de Avilés, who fears that Mackenna and Ambrosio O’Higgins will create an Irish colony in Osorno. Both Irishmen are loyal to the Spanish crown, though Mackenna has good relations with O’Higgins’ son Bernardo, the future emancipator of Chile, and is also connected with the Venezuelan Francisco de Miranda and his group of supporters of South American independence. When Ambrosio O’Higgins dies in 1801, Avilés is appointed viceroy of Peru. It takes him eight years to remove Mackenna, O’Higgins’s protégé, from Osorno.

In 1809 Mackenna marries Josefina Vicuña y Larraín, an eighteen-year-old Chilean woman from a family with revolutionary connections, with whom he has three children. After the Declaration of Chilean Independence in 1810, he adheres to the Patriot side and is commissioned by the first Chilean government to prepare a plan for the defense of the country and oversees the equipment of the new Chilean Army. At this juncture he trains the first military engineers for the new army.

The following year Mackenna is called to the defence committee of the new Republic of Chile, and in 1811 is appointed governor of Valparaíso. Owing to political feuds with José Miguel Carrera and his brothers, he is dismissed from the post and taken prisoner. He is a firm ally of Bernardo O’Higgins, who appoints him as one of the key officers to fight the Spanish army of General José Antonio Pareja. His major military honour is attained in 1814 at the Battle of Membrillar, in which the general assures a temporary collapse of the royal forces.

As a reward for his victory, Mackenna is appointed commandant-general by Bernardo O’Higgins, but after a coup d’état led by Luis Carrera he is exiled to Argentina in 1814, when Carrera comes to power. Mackenna dies in Buenos Aires on November 21, 1814, following a duel with Carrera.

A bust of General Mackenna is publicly presented to Monaghan County Museum on August 5, 2004 by his direct descendant, Luis Valentín Ferrada. At the presentation ceremony, MacKenna, the man “unreservedly regarded as the greatest of County Monaghan’s exiles” is commemorated in speeches by Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Duffy, Bishop of Clogher and by his descendant Senor Ferrada who declares, “In this city of Monaghan, very near to Willville House, the tombs of my ancestors are in the old cemetery. There, my own blood is interred in the sacred earth.”


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Death of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert

jean-joseph-amable-humbertGeneral Jean Joseph Amable Humbert, French soldier and French Revolution participant who leads a failed invasion of Ireland to assist Irish rebels in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, dies on January 3, 1823 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Born in the townland of La Coâre Saint-Nabord, outside Remiremont Vosges, Humbert is a sergeant in the National Guard of Lyon. He rapidly advances through the ranks to become brigadier general on April 9, 1794 and fights in the Western campaigns before being allocated to the Army of the Rhine.

In 1794, after serving in the Army of the Coasts of Brest, Humbert serves under Louis Lazare Hoche in the Army of the Rhin-et-Moselle. Charged to prepare for an expedition against Ireland, he takes command of the Légion des Francs under Hoche, sailing in the ill-fated Expédition d’Irlande against Bantry Bay in 1796, and is engaged in actions at sea against the Royal Navy. Contrary weather and enemy action force this expedition to withdraw. The trip home ends in a naval battle, the Action of 13 January 1797, during which Humbert, on the French ship Droits de l’Homme (1794), narrowly escapes death. As the ship is destroyed and sinks, hundreds of men perish, but Humbert is among the last to escape.

On his return to France, Humbert serves in the Army of the Sambre-et-Meuse, before being appointed to command the troops in another attempt to support a rising in Ireland in 1798. His command chiefly consists of infantry of the 70th demi-brigade with a few artillerymen and some cavalry of the 3rd Hussars, however by the time he arrives off the Irish coast the United Irish rising has already suffered defeat. The expedition is able to land in Ireland at Killala on Thursday August 23, 1798, meeting with initial success in the Battle of Castlebar where he routs the Irish Militia. Humbert subsequently declares a Republic of Connacht, with hopes of taking Dublin. However, Humbert’s small force is defeated at the Battle of Ballinamuck by the Irish Royal Army and he is taken as a prisoner of war by the authorities. The British send the French officers home in two frigates and then massacre their Irish supporters. Humbert makes no attempt to save the Irish who bravely supported him.

Humbert is shortly repatriated in a prisoner exchange and appointed in succession to the Armies of Mayence, Danube and Helvetia, with which he serves at the Second Battle of Zurich. He then embarks for Santo Domingo and participates in several Caribbean campaigns for Napoleon Bonaparte before being accused of plundering by General Brunet. It is also rumored that he engages in an affair with Pauline Bonaparte, the wife of his commanding officer Charles Leclerc. He is returned to France by order of General Leclerc in October 1802, for “prevarications, and liaison relationships with organisers of the inhabitants and with leaders of brigands.” A committed Republican, his displeasure at Napoleon’s Imperial pretensions lead to him being dismissed in 1803 and he retires to Morbihan in Brittany.

In 1810, after brief service in the Army of the North, Humbert emigrates to New Orleans, where he makes his acquaintance with French pirate Jean Lafitte. In 1813, Humbert joins the revolutionary Juan Bautista Mariano Picornell y Gomila in an unsuccessful attempt to foment rebellion in Spanish Mexico, but the effort fails. In 1814, Humbert again leaves New Orleans and joins the rebelling forces of Buenos Aires, briefly commanding a corps, before returning home. Humbert last fights the British at the Battle of New Orleans, as a volunteer private soldier in U.S. ranks, in the War of 1812, wearing his Napoleonic uniform. General Andrew Jackson thanks him for his assistance there after the American victory in January 1815. Thereafter Humbert lives peacefully as a schoolteacher until his death on January 3, 1823.

A monument to General Humbert depicting Mother Ireland stands on Humbert Street, Ballina, County Mayo. In 1989, sculptor Carmel Gallagher unveils a bust of General Humbert in Killala, Ireland, to mark the upcoming bicentennial of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.


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Birth of Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander, Cryptanalyst & Chess Player

Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander, Irish-born British cryptanalyst, chess player, and chess writer, is born in Cork, County Cork, on April 19, 1909. He works on the German Enigma machine at Bletchley Park during World War II, and is later the head of the cryptanalysis division at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) for over 20 years. In chess, he twice wins the British Chess Championship and earns the title of International Master. He is usually referred to as C.H.O’D. Alexander in print and Hugh in person.

Alexander is born into an Anglo-Irish family, the eldest child of Conel William Long Alexander, an engineering professor at University College Cork (UCC), and Hilda Barbara Bennett. His father dies during the Irish War of Independence in 1920, and the family moves to Birmingham in England where he attends King Edward’s School. He wins a scholarship to study mathematics at King’s College, Cambridge, in 1928, graduating with a first in 1931. He represents the University of Cambridge in the Varsity chess matches of 1929, 1930, 1931 and 1932.

From 1932, Alexander teaches mathematics in Winchester and marries Enid Constance Crichton Neate on December 22, 1934. In 1938 he leaves teaching and becomes head of research at the John Lewis Partnership.

In February 1940 Alexander arrives at Bletchley Park, the British codebreaking centre during the World War II. He joins Hut 6, the section tasked with breaking German Army and Air Force Enigma messages. In 1941, he transfers to Hut 8, the corresponding hut working on Naval Enigma. He becomes deputy head of Hut 8 under Alan Turing and formally becomes the head of Hut 8 in November 1942. In October 1944, Alexander is transferred to work on the Japanese JN-25 code.

In mid-1946, Alexander joins GCHQ, which is the post-war successor organisation to the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park. By 1949, he has been promoted to the head of “Section H” (cryptanalysis), a post he retains until his retirement in 1971.

Alexander is twice a winner of the British Chess Championship, in 1938 and 1956. He represents England in the Chess Olympiad six times, in 1933, 1935, 1937, 1939, 1954 and 1958. At the 1939 Olympiad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Alexander has to leave part-way through the event, along with the rest of the English team, due to the declaration of World War II, as he is required at home for codebreaking duties. He is also the non-playing captain of England from 1964 to 1970. He is awarded the International Master title in 1950 and the International Master for Correspondence Chess title in 1970. He wins the Hastings International Chess Congress 1946/47 with the score 7½/9, a point ahead of Savielly Tartakower. His best tournament result may have been first equal Hastings 1953/54, where he goes undefeated and beats Soviet grandmasters David Bronstein and Alexander Tolush in individual games. He is also the chess columnist of The Sunday Times in the 1960s and 1970s.

Many knowledgeable chess people believe that Alexander had Grandmaster potential, had he been able to develop his chess abilities further. Many top players peak in their late twenties and early thirties, but for Alexander this stretch coincided with World War II, when high-level competitive opportunities were unavailable. After this, his professional responsibilities as a senior cryptanalyst limited his top-class appearances. He defeats Mikhail Botvinnik in one game of a team radio match against the Soviet Union in 1946, at a time when Botvinnik is probably the world’s top player. Alexander makes important theoretical contributions to the Dutch Defence and Petrov’s Defence.

Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander dies on February 15, 1974, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England.