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


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Birth of George Arthur French, Army Officer

george-arthur-frenchMajor General Sir George Arthur French, KCMG, British Army officer, is born in Roscommon, County Roscommon on June 19, 1841. He serves as the first Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police, predecessor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, from October 1873 to July 1876, and as Commandant of the colonial military forces in Queensland (1883–91) and New South Wales (1896–1902). He is also a relative of songwriter Percy French.

French is educated at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and commissioned in the Royal Artillery in 1860.

In 1871, at the request of the Canadian government, French is sent to Canada as a military inspector, eventually becoming head of the School of Gunnery at Kingston, Ontario.

French is appointed to organise the North-West Mounted Police on its creation in 1873, and the next year he leads the force on its famous march to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

French resigns in 1876 and returns to duty in the British Army, eventually attaining the rank of major general. The organizational skills developed in Canada are used to establish local defence forces in India and Australia. In September 1883 he is appointed Commandant of the Queensland Local Forces with the local rank of colonel, and arrives in the colony on January 4, 1884. In 1862, he marries Janet Clarke, daughter of the late Robert Long Innes, formerly of the 37th Regiment. French retires in 1891 and returns to England.

French retires from the army on September 3, 1902 and is knighted as Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) in the November 1902 Birthday Honours. For the next 19 years much of his time is spent guarding the crown jewels in London, where he dies on July 7, 1921. He is buried in Brompton Cemetery in London.

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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 Patrick McGilligan, Fine Gael Politician

patrick-mcgilliganPatrick Joseph McGilligan, lawyer and Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael politician, is born in Hanover Place, Coleraine, County Londonderry on April 12, 1889. He serves as the 14th Attorney General of Ireland from 1954 to 1957, Minister for Finance from 1948 to 1951, Minister for External Affairs from 1927 to 1932 and Minister for Industry and Commerce from 1924 to 1932. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1923 to 1965.

McGilligan is the son of Patrick McGilligan, a draper, who serves as Member of Parliament (MP) for South Fermanagh from 1892 to 1895 for the Irish Parliamentary Party, and Catherine O’Farrell. He is educated at St. Columb’s College in Derry, Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare and University College Dublin. He joins Sinn Féin but is unsuccessful in his attempt to be elected as a MP at the 1918 general election. He is called to the bar in 1921.

McGilligan is elected as a Cumann na nGaedheal TD for the National University of Ireland at a by-election held on November 3, 1923. Between 1924 and 1932 he serves as Minister for Industry and Commerce, notably pushing through the Shannon hydroelectric scheme, then the largest hydroelectricity project in the world. In 1927 he sets up the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), and also the Agricultural Credit Corporation.

Also in 1927 McGilligan takes over the External Affairs portfolio following the assassination of Kevin O’Higgins by the anti-Treaty elements of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), in revenge for O’Higgins’ support for the execution of Republican prisoners during the Irish Civil War. In this position he is hugely influential at the Committee on the Operation of Dominion Legislation and at the Imperial Conference in 1930 jointly with representatives of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom. The Statute of Westminster that emerges from these meetings gives greater power to dominions in the Commonwealth like the Irish Free State.

During McGilligan’s period in opposition from 1932 to 1948 he builds up a law practice and becomes professor of constitutional and international law at University College, Dublin. When the National University of Ireland representation is transferred to Seanad Éireann in 1937, he is elected as TD for the Dublin North-West constituency.

In 1948 McGilligan is appointed Minister for Finance in the first Inter-Party Government. As Minister he undertakes some major reforms. He instigates a new approach where Government invests radically in capital projects. Colleagues however complain of his frequent absence from the Cabinet table and the difficulty of contacting him at the Department of Finance. Between 1954 and 1957 he serves as Attorney General. He retires from Dáil Éireann at the 1965 general election, having served for over 40 years.

Patrick McGilligan dies in Dublin on November 15, 1979. Despite his well-known fondness for predicting that he would die young, he reaches the age of ninety. A later Attorney General, John M. Kelly, in the preface to his definitive text, The Irish Constitution (1980), notes the remarkable number of senior judges who are former students of McGilligan and suggests that, given his own firm belief in the value of judicial review, he deserves much of the credit for the remarkable development of Irish law in this field since the early 1960s.


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Birth of Civil War Officer John O’Neill

john-oneillJohn Charles O’Neill, Irish-born officer in the American Civil War and member of the Fenian Brotherhood, is born on March 9, 1834 in Drumgallon, Clontibret, County Monaghan. He is best known for his activities leading the Fenian raids on Canada in 1866 and 1871.

O’Neill receives some schooling in Drumgallon. He emigrates to New Jersey in 1848 at the height of the Great Famine in Ireland. He receives an additional year of education there and works in a number of jobs. In 1857 he enlists in the 2nd United States Dragoons and serves in the Utah War (May 1857 – July 1858), apparently deserting afterwards to California.

In California, he joins the 1st Cavalry and serves as a sergeant in the American Civil War with this regiment until December 1862, at which time he is commissioned as an officer in the 5th Indiana Cavalry. He is credited as being a daring fighting officer, but believes he has not received due promotion, which leads to a transfer to the 17th United States Colored Infantry as captain. He leaves the Union Army prior to the end of the conflict, marrying Mary Crow, with whom he has several children.

While in Tennessee, O’Neill joins the militant Irish American movement, the Fenian Brotherhood, which eschews politics in favor of militant action to expel the British presence in Ireland. He attaches himself to the group led by William Randall Roberts, who wishes to attack Canada.

O’Neill, ranked as colonel, travels to the Canada–US border with a group from Nashville to participate in the Fenian raids. The assigned commander of the expedition does not appear, so O’Neill takes command. On June 1, 1866, he leads a group of six hundred men across the Niagara River and occupies Fort Erie.

The following day, north of Ridgeway, Ontario, O’Neill’s group encounters a detached column of Canadian volunteers, commanded by Lt-Col. Alfred Booker. The inexperienced Canadians are routed by the Civil War veterans. O’Neill withdraws back to Fort Erie and fights a battle against a detachment led by John Stoughton Dennis. With overwhelming numbers of Canadian forces closing in, O’Neill oversees a successful evacuation on the night of June 2-3 back to United States territory. He is later charged with violating the neutrality laws of the United States but the charges are later dropped.

The penetration of O’Neill’s organisation by British and Canadian spies ensures that his next venture into Canada, the Battle of Eccles Hill, in 1870 is known in advance, and Canada is accordingly prepared. After the Battle of Trout River ends in a disorganized rout, O’Neill is arrested by United States Marshal George P. Foster and charged with violating neutrality laws. He is sentenced to two years in prison in July 1870 but he and other Fenians are pardoned by President Ulysses S. Grant that October.

Though he renounces the idea of further attacks on Canada, he changes his mind at the urging of an associate of Louis Riel, William Bernard O’Donoghue. With the latter, and without the backing of the bulk of the Fenians, he leads an attack on the Hudson’s Bay Company‘s post at Pembina, Manitoba, on October 5, 1871. The area is then disputed between America and Canada. He is arrested by American troops.

In 1874 O’Neill embarks on a lecture tour along the east coast, encouraging the poor Irish that they would have a better standard of living if they would resettle with him in Nebraska. The first Irish colony in Nebraska is set up in Holt County in the town that bears his name today – O’Neill, Nebraska. His legacy is in the communities that exist in Nebraska today. These settlements are thriving and successful farming communities. John O’Neill can claim credit for the spirit of generosity that is still part of these communities today.

In 1877, while on a speaking tour in Little Rock, Arkansas, O’Neill becomes ill and returns to his home in Nebraska. His condition continues to deteriorate and, after been admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital Omaha in November 1877, suffers a paralytic stroke and dies on January 8, 1878.


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Birth of Singer Delia Murphy Kiernan

delia-murphyDelia Murphy Kiernan, singer and collector of Irish ballads, is born on February 16, 1902 in Ardroe, Roundfort, County Mayo. She records several 78 rpm records in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. In 1962 she records her only LP, The Queen of Connemara, for Irish Prestige Records, New York, on the cover of which her name appears alongside the LP title.

Delia’s father, John Murphy, from nearby Hollymount, makes his fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. While in America, he marries Ann Fanning from Roscrea, County Tipperary. They return to Ireland in 1901 and purchase the large Mount Jennings Estate in Hollymount. John encouraged Delia’s interest in singing ballads from a young age. He also allows Irish travellers to camp on the estate. According to her own account, she learns her first ballads at their campfires.

Delia is educated at Presentation Convent in Tuam, Dominican College in Dublin and University College Galway (UCG), where she graduates with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. In UCG she meets Dr. Thomas J. Kiernan, and they marry in 1924, on her 22nd birthday. Kiernan then joins the Irish diplomatic service, where his first posting is to London. While there Delia sings at many venues including many gatherings of Irish emigrants and becomes quite well-known. In 1939 she records The Blackbird, The Spinning Wheel and Three Lovely Lassies for HMV.

In 1941 Kiernan is appointed Irish Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See in Rome. The Irish legation is the only English-speaking legation to remain open after the United States enters World War II. Delia becomes one of those who assist Hugh O’Flaherty in hiding Jews and escapes allied soldiers from the Nazis. In 1943, when Italy changes sides, many escaped POWs are helped by the legation to leave Italy. In 1946 she is awarded to Dame Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Kiernan later serves as Irish High Commissioner and later first Ambassador in Australia, and later to West Germany, Canada, and the United States. In 1961, while she is living in Ottawa, Delia makes the recording of The Queen of Connemara produced by Ken Goldstein. The Kiernans purchase a farmhouse in Jasper, Ontario, near the Rideau Canal where she spends most of her time, even after Kiernan is posted to Washington, D.C. Tom Kiernan dies in December 1967.

By 1969 Delia’s health is in decline. In November of that year she sells her farmhouse in Canada and returns to Ireland. She lives in a cottage in Strawberry Beds, Chapelizod, County Dublin. She dies of a massive heart attack on February 11, 1971, five days before her 69th birthday. She records upwards of 100 songs during her lifetime.


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Death of Writer Robert Tressell

robert-tressellRobert Noonan, Irish writer born Robert Croker and best known by the pen name Robert Tressell, dies in Liverpool, England on February 3, 1911. He is best known for his novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists.

Noonan is born in Dublin on April 18, 1870, the illegitimate son of Samuel Croker, a senior member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. He is baptised and raised a Roman Catholic by his mother Mary Noonan. His father, who is not Catholic, has his own family, but attempts to provide for Robert until his death in 1875.

By 1875 Noonan is living in London. When he is sixteen, he shows signs of a radical political consciousness. He leaves his family declaring he “would not live on the family income derived largely from absentee landlordism.” It is around this time he changes his surname to his mother’s maiden name.

In 1890, Noonan is a sign writer living in Queen’s Road, Everton, Liverpool. On June 10, 1890 he appears at Liverpool County Intermediate Sessions court at Sessions House, Islington, Liverpool on charges of housebreaking and larceny. He is found guilty and given a six-month prison sentence.

By 1891, Noonan has moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where he is a painter and decorator. He marries in 1891, but the marriage is an unhappy one, with his wife having numerous affairs after the birth of their daughter, Kathleen. They divorce in 1895 and Noonan acquires all the property, including their house in an affluent suburb of Cape Town.

Noonan and his daughter move to Johannesburg, where he secures a well-paying job with a construction company. It is here that he learns the ways of the industry he would later write about in his novel, although Noonan’s actual circumstances vary greatly from the proletarian characters of the book. After becoming Secretary of the Transvaal Federated Building Trades Council, he is able to send his daughter to an exclusive convent school and also to employ a black manservant called Sixpence.

In 1897, Noonan leads a successful protest against the employment of black skilled labour. During 1898, he becomes a member of the Transvaal Executive Committee of the Centennial of 1798 Association, which commemorates the revolutionary nationalist Society of United Irishmen. As a 1798 Association member, he helps form the Irish Brigades, an anti-British force that fights alongside the Boers in the Second Boer War. At this point, accounts of his life differ. Some assert he takes up arms and is interned by the British until the end of the war, when he returns to Britain. Others say he leaves South Africa just before hostilities began in October 1899.

In any event, around the turn of the century, Noonan ends up in Hastings, Sussex. Here, he finds work as a sign writer, but at much lower wages and in far poorer conditions than he had experienced in South Africa. He has to take part-time jobs in addition to his full-time position.

Influenced by the Marxist-influenced ideas of designer and socialist William Morris, he joins the Social Democratic Federation in 1906. The next year, after a dispute with his employer, he loses his job. Despite the demand for his skills, his health begins to deteriorate and he eventually develops tuberculosis. Unemployed and unable to remain politically active, he starts writing, something he hopes will earn enough money to keep him from the workhouse.

He writes under the pen name Robert Tressell as he fears the socialist views expressed in the book will have him blacklisted. He completes The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in 1910, but the 1,600-page hand-written manuscript is rejected by three publishing houses. The rejections severely depress him, and his daughter has to save the manuscript from being burned.

Unhappy with his life in Britain, Noonan decides that he and Kathleen should emigrate to Canada. However, he only reaches Liverpool when he is admitted to the Royal Liverpool Infirmary, where he dies of pulmonary tuberculosis on February 3, 1911, at the age of 40. He is buried in a pauper’s grave at Liverpool Parochial Cemetery, later known as Walton Park Cemetery. The location of the grave is not rediscovered until 1970. Twelve other people are buried in the same plot. The plot is now marked although the land is no longer used as a cemetery and is now used by Rice Lane City Farm.

Kathleen mentions her father’s novel to a friend, writer Jessie Pope, who recommends it to her publisher. In April 1914, the publisher purchases the rights to the book for £25, and it appears in Britain, Canada and the United States later that year, in the Soviet Union in 1920, and in Germany in 1925. The version as originally published is heavily abridged by Pope, with much of the socialist ideology removed.

The original manuscript is subsequently located by F. C. Ball and, after he raises funds to acquire and reassemble the original version, an unabridged edition is published in 1955.


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Parnell Addresses U.S. House of Representatives

parnell-speaking-in-house-of-representativesIrish Parliament member Charles Stewart Parnell addresses the United States House of Representatives during his North American tour on February 2, 1880 concerning the plight of Ireland, then in the midst of its second major potato famine of the century.

Despite the absence of a quorum, Speaker of the House Samuel J. Randall of Pennsylvania gavels the House into the evening session nearly 30 minutes late. The Chicago Daily Tribune reports that the House Floor is a mix of ladies and non-Members.

Only the fourth international leader to be invited to address the House, Parnell reports on the conditions of the Irish potato famine and its causes. “The present famine, as all other famines in Ireland, has been the direct result of the system of land tenure which is maintained there,” Parnell said, “And while we have been compelled by the frightful condition of our people . . . I feel it to be equally my duty to point out to you the cause which keeps Ireland in a condition of chronic poverty.”

After his 32-minute speech, the House adjourns for the evening. The Tribune judges Parnell’s address to be lackluster stating “the whole affair was tame and spiritless.” One Representative tells the Tribune reporter that the address failed because it lacked substance by “not going [even] skin deep into the subject of the Irish question.”

During Parnell’s highly successful tour, in addition to speaking before the House of Representatives, he has an audience with American President Rutherford B. Hayes and speaks in 62 cities in the United States and Canada, where he is so well received in Toronto that Timothy Healy dubs him “the uncrowned king of Ireland.”

House Receptions are not associated with other informal, social receptions and lunches provided for foreign leaders on behalf of congressional leadership or individual committees. In the post-World War II era, the practice of using one-chamber receptions is eventually discontinued. The last House Reception of a foreign leader is held for Mexican President José López Portillo in 1977.