seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Battle of Ridgeway

battle-of-ridgewayThe Battle of Ridgeway, sometimes called the Battle of Lime Ridge or Limestone Ridge, is fought on June 2, 1866 in the vicinity of the town of Fort Erie across the Niagara River from Buffalo, New York between Canadian troops and an irregular army of Irish American invaders, the Fenians.

The Fenian insurgents, led by Brigadier General John O’Neill, a former Union cavalry commander who had specialized in anti-guerrilla warfare in Ohio, secures boats and transfers some 800 men across the Niagara River, landing above Fort Erie, before dawn on June 1, 1866. An additional 200–400 Fenians and supplies cross later in the morning and early afternoon until the U.S. Navy gunboat, the USS Michigan, begins intercepting Fenian barges at 2:20 PM.

O’Neill spends the first day trying to rally the local citizenry to the Fenian cause and to commandeer supplies for his mission, but his force is plagued by desertions almost from the outset. An additional column of 200 Fenians join his group, bringing his total strength at Ridgeway to at least 650 men.

Meanwhile, the British are mobilizing both local Canadian militia and British garrison troops to defend against the impending invasion of Canada. The Fenians night-march north across Black Creek through a cedar swamp, then turn inland on Ridge Road on the morning of June 2, taking up a defensive position on Limestone Ridge near the present Canadian town of Ridgeway. There, they clash with 850 advancing Canadian militia commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Booker of the 13th Battalion.

In the first hour of the battle, the Canadians appear to prevail, driving Fenian skirmishers back across Bertie Road. Then the tide turns and, to this day, it is not clear what causes the impending chaos. O’Neill, observing the chaos breaking out in the Canadian ranks, quickly orders a bayonet charge that completely routs the inexperienced Canadians. The Fenians take and briefly hold the town of Ridgeway. Then, expecting to be overwhelmed by British reinforcements, they quickly turn back to Fort Erie where they fight a second battle, the Battle of Fort Erie, against a small but determined detachment of Canadians holding the town.

The Canadian loss is nine killed on the field, four dying of wounds in the immediate days following the battle, 22 dying of wounds or disease later and 37 are wounded, some severely enough to require amputation of their limbs. O’Neill says that four or five of his men are killed, but Canadians claim to have found six Fenian bodies on the field. The relatively low casualty figures make this an interesting battle for proponents of theories about soldiers’ reluctance to shoot to kill, but might also be accounted for by the fact that the Fenians had deployed only their skirmishers in an attempt to lure the Canadians towards their main force which did not advance until the last minutes of the battle when they launched a bayonet attack that broke Canadian lines.

The battlefield is designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1921 and is the last battle fought in the province of Ontario against a foreign invasion. The action at Ridgeway has the distinction of being the only armed victory for the cause of Irish independence between the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and the Irish War of Independence (1919).

(Pictured: An 1869 illustration of the battle: Charge of General O’Neill’s Fenians upon the Canadian troops, causing their rout.)

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Birth of Poet John Montague

john-montagueIrish poet John Montague is born on Bushwick Avenue at St. Catherine’s Hospital in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, on February 28, 1929. His father, James Montague, an Ulster Catholic, from County Tyrone, had come to the United States in 1925.

Life in New York is difficult during the Great Depression, so John and his two brothers are shipped back to Ireland in 1933. The two eldest are sent to their maternal grandmother’s house in Fintona, County Tyrone, but John is sent to his father’s ancestral home at Garvaghey, then maintained by two spinster aunts.

John studied at University College Dublin in 1946. Stirred by the example of other student poets he begins to publish his first poems in The Dublin Magazine, Envoy, and The Bell, edited by Peadar O’Donnell. But the atmosphere in Dublin is constrained and he leaves for Yale University on a Fulbright Fellowship in 1953.

A year of graduate school at University of California, Berkeley convinces Montague that he should return to Ireland. He settles in Dublin working at the Irish Tourist Office. In 1961 he moves to Bray, County Wicklow. A regular rhythm of publication sees his first book of stories, Death of a Chieftain (1964) after which the musical group The Chieftains is named, his second book of poems, A Chosen Light (1967), Tides (1970).

All during the 1960s, Montague continues to work on his long poem, The Rough Field, a task that coincides with the outbreak of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement. A Patriotic Suite appears in 1966, Hymn to the New Omagh Road and The Bread God in 1968, and A New Siege, dedicated to Bernadette Devlin which he reads outside Armagh Jail in 1970.

In 1972, Montague takes a teaching job at University College Cork, at the request of his friend, the composer Seán Ó Riada, where he inspires an impressive field of young writers including Gregory O’Donoghue, Seán Dunne, Thomas McCarthy, William Wall, Maurice Riordan, Gerry Murphy, Greg Delanty and Theo Dorgan.

Montague settles in Cork in 1974 and publishes an anthology, the Faber Book of Irish Verse (1974) with a book of lyrics, A Slow Dance (1975). Recognition is now beginning to come, with the award of the Irish American Cultural Institute in 1976, the first Marten Toonder Award in 1977, and the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award for The Great Cloak in 1978.

In 1987, Montague is awarded an honorary doctor of letters by the State University of New York at Buffalo. He serves as distinguished writer-in-residence for the New York State Writers Institute during each spring semester, teaching workshops in fiction and poetry and a class in the English Department of the University at Albany. In 1998, he is named the first Irish professor of poetry, a three-year appointment to be divided among Queen’s University Belfast, Trinity College Dublin, and University College Dublin. In 2008, he publishes A Ball of Fire, a collection of all his fiction including the short novella The Lost Notebook.

John Montague dies at the age of 87 in Nice, France on December 10, 2016 after complications from a recent surgery.


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Commissioning of the USS The Sullivans

The United States Navy commissions the Fletcher-class destroyer USS The Sullivans (DD-537), on September 30, 1943. The ship commemorates the tragedy of the five Sullivan brothers (George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert), descendants of an Irish immigrant, who are killed November 13, 1942 after their ship, USS Juneau (CL-52), is hit by a Japanese torpedo at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Only ten of the almost 700 crew survive. This is the greatest military loss by any one American family during World War II. The ship is also the first ship commissioned in the Navy that honors more than one person.

The Sullivans is originally laid down as Putnam on October 10, 1942 at San Francisco by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation. She is initially renamed Sullivan until President Franklin D. Roosevelt changes the name to The Sullivans to clarify that the name honors all five Sullivan brothers. The name is made official on February 6, 1943 and launches on April 4, 1943. The ship is sponsored by Mrs. Thomas F. Sullivan, the mother of the five Sullivan brothers. The Sullivans is commissioned on September 30, 1943 with Commander Kenneth M. Gentry in command.

Following a shakedown cruise, The Sullivans gets underway with USS Dortch (DD-670) and USS Gatling (DD-671) on December 23, 1943, arriving at Pearl Harbor five days later. After service in both World War II and the Korean War, USS The Sullivans is assigned to the United States 6th Fleet and is a training ship until she is decommissioned in 1965.

The Sullivans receives nine service stars for World War II service and two for Korean service. On January 7, 1965, The Sullivans is decommissioned at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and she remains in reserve into the 1970s. In 1977, she and cruiser USS Little Rock (CL-92) are processed for donation to the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park in Buffalo, New York. The ship now serves as a memorial and is open for public tours. The ship is declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.


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Death of James O’Neill, Irish American Theatre Actor

James O’Neill, Irish American theatre actor and the father of American playwright Eugene O’Neill, dies in New London, Connecticut, on August 11, 1920.

O’Neill is born on November 15, 1847 in County Kilkenny. The family emigrates to the United States and settles in Buffalo, New York. In 1857 they move to Cincinnati, Ohio where James is apprenticed to a machinist.

At the age of 21, he makes his stage debut in a Cincinnati production of Dion Boucicault‘s The Colleen Bawn (1867). Also in 1867, he has a minor part in Edwin Forrest‘s production of Virginius, and then joins a travelling repertory company. By the age of 24 he has already established a reputation among theater managers as a box-office draw, particularly with the ladies. But he is also working doggedly at his craft, ridding himself of all vestiges of brogue and learning to pitch his voice resonantly. He is considered a promising actor, quickly working his way up the ranks to become a matinée idol.

In 1874 O’Neill joins Richard M. Hooley‘s company, and the following year tours San Francisco, Virginia City and Sacramento. He then heads back east to join the Union Square Company.

On June 14, 1877, while in New York City, O’Neill marries Mary Ellen Quinlan, daughter of Thomas and Bridget Quinlan. In the fall of 1877, three months after his marriage, a woman by the name of Nettie Walsh sues O’Neill, claiming that he had married her five years earlier, when she was only 15, and that he is the father of her three-year-old son. Nettie Walsh loses her case and the publicity, although it wounds his bride, enhances his reputation as a romantic leading man.

As early as 1875, while a stock star at Hooley’s Theatre in Chicago, O’Neill plays the title role in a stage adaptation of Alexandre DumasThe Count of Monte Cristo. In early 1883 he takes over the lead role in Monte Cristo at Booth’s Theater in New York, after Charles R. Towne dies suddenly in the wings after his first performance. O’Neill’s interpretation of the part caused a sensation with the theater-going public.

O’Neill soon tires of the Count and his lines come out by rote and his performances become lackadaisical. Monte Cristo remains a popular favorite so he continues the role on tour as regular as clockwork. He goes on to play this role over 6,000 times.

In the middle of 1920 O’Neill is struck by an automobile in New York City and taken to Lawrence+Memorial Hospital in New London, Connecticut. He dies, at the age of 72, on August 11, 1920 of colorectal cancer at the family summer home, the Monte Cristo Cottage, in Connecticut. His funeral at St. Joseph’s Church is attended by, among others, O’Neill’s sister, Mrs. M. Platt of St. Louis and Edward Douglass White, Sr., Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. O’Neill is buried in St. Mary’s cemetery.