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


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Death of Colonel Dennis O’Kane

dennis-o-kaneColonel Dennis O’Kane, officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War, dies on July 4, 1863 of wounds sustained the previous day when fighting with the 69th Pennsylvania Irish Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Born in Coleraine, County Londonderry, O’Kane is a tavern owner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a member of the 2nd Pennsylvania Militia regiment prior to the Civil War. When the conflict starts, he helps recruit the 24th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a unit that has the 2nd Pennsylvania Militia as its nucleus. Commissioned Major, Field and Staff, on May 1, 1861, he is with his regiment as it serves first in Maryland and then Virginia before their enlistment expires in July 1861.

In August 1861 O’Kane joins with many of the men from the 24th Pennsylvania in re-enlisting to continue the war effort, and they form the basis of what becomes the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. Commissioned Lieutenant Colonel, Field and Staff on August 19, 1861, his new regiment is composed largely of Irish immigrants like himself, and they emblazon the Irish harp on their flag. The unit eventually is joined with the 71st, 72nd and 106th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiments to form the famous Philadelphia Brigade.

O’ Kane serves as second-in-command through 1862, participating in the Peninsular Campaign of May and June, the Second Battle of Bull Run in August, and the September 1862 Battle of Antietam, where his brigade is caught in the West Woods area and takes heavy losses. In November 1862, the 69th Pennsylvania’s commander, Colonel Joshua T. Owen, is promoted to Brigadier General, US Volunteers. O’Kane is advanced to Colonel on December 1, 1862 to fill the vacancy.

At the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 14, 1862, O’Kane leads his men in the third of four waves of futile Union charges on strong Confederate positions at Marye’s Heights south of the town, and sees his regiment sustain fifty-one casualties. In May 1863 during the Battle of Chancellorsville, his brigade is held in reserve and sees limited action.

During the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, O’Kane finds the 69th Pennsylvania positioned along a rock fencing in the middle of the Union lines that becomes famous as “The Angle.” That position becomes the epicenter of Pickett’s Charge on July 3, the third day of the battle, as the remnants of the Confederate forces, having been much devastated from Union artillery fire, crash over the rock walls and engage the Philadelphia Brigade in brutal hand-to-hand fighting.

O’Kane is shot in the head at the wall and dies the following day. His regiment again takes high casualties but succeeds in helping to repulse the rebels and defeat the charge. The monument for the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry in Gettysburg National Military Park stands on the spot where O’Kane was mortally wounded.

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Murder of Shane “the Proud” O’Neill

shane-o-neillShane O’Neill, Irish patriot known by the nickname “Shane the Proud,” is murdered in what is now Cushendum, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on June 2, 1567. He is among the most famous of all the O’Neills.

O’Neill, the eldest legitimate son of Conn O’Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone, is a chieftain whose support the English consider worth gaining. However, he rejects overtures from Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, and refuses to help the English against the Scottish settlers on the coast of Antrim. He allies himself instead with the MacDonnells, the most powerful of these immigrants. Nevertheless, Queen Elizabeth I of England is disposed to come to terms with O’Neill who, after his father’s death, is de facto chief of the O’Neill clan. She recognizes his claims to the chieftainship, thus throwing over a kinsman, Brian O’Neill. O’Neill, however, refuses to put himself in the power of Sussex without a guarantee for his safety and his claims are so exacting that Elizabeth determines to restore Brian. An attempt to incite the O’Donnells against him, however, is frustrated.

Elizabeth, who is not prepared to undertake the subjugation of the Irish chieftain, urgently desires peace with O’Neill, especially when the devastation of his territory by Sussex brings him no nearer to submission. Sussex is not supported by the queen, who sends Gerald FitzGerald,  11th Earl of Kildare to arrange terms with O’Neill. The latter agrees to present himself before Elizabeth. Accompanied by Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde and Kildare, he reaches London on January 4, 1562. Elizabeth temporizes but, finding that O’Neill is in danger of becoming a tool in the hands of Spanish intriguers, permits him to return to Ireland, recognizing him as “the O’Neill,” and chieftain of Tyrone.

There are at this time three powerful contemporary members of the O’Neill family in Ireland — O’Neill, Turlough Luineach O’Neill, and Matthew Ó Néill, 1st Baron Dungannon. Turlough had schemed to supplant O’Neill during his absence in London. The feud does not long survive O’Neill’s return to Ireland, where he reestablishes his authority and renews his turbulent tribal warfare. Elizabeth at last authorizes Sussex to take the field against O’Neill, but two expeditions fail. O’Neill then lays the entire blame for his lawless conduct on the lord deputy’s repeated alleged attempts on his life. Elizabeth consents to negotiate, and practically all of O’Neill’s demands are conceded.

O’Neill then turns his hand against the MacDonnells, claiming that he is serving the Queen of England in harrying the Scots. He fights an indecisive battle with Sorley Boy MacDonnell near Coleraine in 1564, and in 1565 he routs the MacDonnells and takes Sorley Boy prisoner near Ballycastle. This victory strengthens O’Neill’s position, but the English make preparations for his subjugation.

Failing in an attempt to arrange terms, and also in obtaining the help which he solicited from France, O’Neill is utterly routed by the O’Donnells at the Battle of Farsetmore near Letterkenny and, seeking safety in flight, throws himself on the mercy of his enemies, the MacDonnells. Attended by a small body of gallowglass, and taking his prisoner Sorley Boy with him, he presents himself among the MacDonnells near Cushendun, on the Antrim coast, hoping to propose an alliance. Here, on June 2, 1567, he is killed by the MacDonnells and his headless body is buried at Crosskern Church at Ballyterrim above Cushendun. His body is possibly later moved to Glenarm Abbey. Unbeknownst to O’Neill, The Scots had already come to an agreement with Henry Sidney and William Piers, Seneschal of Clandeboye, commander of the English garrison at Carrickfergus. The English Government tries to pass this off as a “drunken brawl” turned savage. Piers travels to Cushendun to take O’Neill’s head and send it to Dublin Castle.


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The Battle of Connor

grave-of-king-edward-de-bruceThe Battle of Connor is fought on September 10, 1315, in the townland of Tannybrake just over a mile north of what is now the modern village of Connor, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is part of the Bruce campaign in Ireland.

Edward Bruce lands in Larne, in modern-day County Antrim, on May 26, 1315. In early June, Donall Ó Néill of Tyrone and some twelve fellow northern Kings and lords meet Bruce at Carrickfergus and swear fealty to him as King of Ireland. Bruce holds the town of Carrickfergus but is unable to take Carrickfergus Castle. His army continues to spread south, through the Moyry Pass to take Dundalk.

Outside the town of Dundalk, Bruce encounters an army led by John FitzThomas FitzGerald, 4th Lord of Offaly, his son-in-law Edmund Butler, Earl of Carrick and Maurice FitzGerald, 4th Baron Desmond. The Scottish push them back towards Dundalk and on June 29 lay waste to the town and its inhabitants.

By July 22 Edmund Butler, the Justiciar in Dublin, assembles an army from Munster and Leinster to join Richard Óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, to fight Bruce. De Burgh refuses to let the government troops into Ulster, fearing widespread damage to his land. Bruce is able to exploit their dispute and defeat them separately.

Bruce slowly retreats north, drawing de Burgh in pursuit. Bruce and his O’Neill allies sack Coleraine, destroying the bridge over the River Bann to delay pursuit. Edward sends word to Fedlim Ó Conchobair that he will support his position as king in Connacht if he withdraws. He sends the same message to rival claimant Ruaidri mac Cathal Ua Conchobair. Cathal immediately returns home, raises a rebellion and declares himself king. De Burgh’s Connacht allies under Felim then follow as Felim leaves to defend his throne. Bruce’s force then crosses the River Bann in boats and attacks. The Earl of Ulster withdraws to Connor.

The armies meet in Connor on September 10, 1315. The superior force of Bruce and his Irish allies defeat the depleted Ulster forces. The capture of Connor permits Bruce to re-supply his army for the coming winter from the stores the Earl of Ulster had assembled at Connor. Earl’s cousin, William de Burgh, is captured, as well as, other lords and their heirs. Most of his army retreats to Carrickfergus Castle, which the pursuing Scots put under siege. The Earl of Ulster manages to return to Connacht.

The government forces under Butler do not engage Bruce, allowing him to consolidate his hold in Ulster. His occupation of Ulster encourages risings in Meath and Connacht, further weakening de Burgh. Despite this, and another Scottish/Irish victory at the Battle of Skerries, the campaign is to be defeated at the Battle of Faughart.

(Pictured: Grave of King Edward Bruce, Faughart, County Louth)


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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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The Omagh Car Bombing

The Omagh bombing, a car bombing in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, takes place on August 15, 1998. It is carried out by a group calling themselves the Real Irish Republican Army, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) splinter group who opposes the IRA’s ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement.

On the day of the bombing, the bombers drive a car, loaded with 230 kilograms (510 lb) of fertiliser-based explosives, across the Irish border. At approximately 2:19 PM they park the vehicle outside S.D. Kells’ clothes shop in Omagh’s Lower Market Street, on the southern side of the town centre, near the crossroads with Dublin Road. They are unable to find a parking space near the intended target, the Omagh courthouse. The two male occupants arm the bomb and, upon exiting the car, walk east down Market Street towards Campsie Road.

Three telephone calls are made warning of a bomb in Omagh, using the same codeword that had been used in the Real IRA’s bomb attack in Banbridge two weeks earlier. At 2:32 PM, a warning is telephoned to Ulster Television saying, “There’s a bomb, courthouse, Omagh, Main Street, 500 lb., explosion 30 minutes.” One minute later, the office receives a second warning saying, “Martha Pope (which is the RIRA’s code word), bomb, Omagh town, 15 minutes.” The caller claims the warning on behalf of “Óglaigh na hÉireann.” One minute later, the Coleraine office of the Samaritans receives a call stating that a bomb will go off on “Main Street” about 200 yards (180 m) from the courthouse. The recipients pass the information on to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), but are claimed to be inaccurate and police inadvertently move people towards the bomb.

The car bomb detonates at 3:10 PM in the crowded shopping area. The bombing kills 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and injures some 220 others. Twenty-one people who are in the vicinity of the vehicle die at the scene. Eight more people die on the way to or in the hospital. The death toll is higher than that of any single incident during what are considered “the Troubles.”

The bombing causes outrage both locally and internationally, spurs on the Northern Ireland peace process, and deals a severe blow to the Dissident republican campaign. The Real IRA apologises and declares a ceasefire shortly afterwards. The victims include people from many backgrounds: Protestants, Catholics, a Mormon teenager, five other teenagers, six children, a mother pregnant with twins, two Spanish tourists, and others on a day trip from the Republic of Ireland. Both unionists and Irish nationalists are killed and injured.

It is alleged that the British, Irish and U.S. intelligence agencies have information which could have prevented the bombing, most of which comes from double agents inside the Real IRA. This information is not given to the local police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). In 2008 it is revealed that British intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters, was monitoring conversations between the bombers as the bomb was being driven into Omagh.

A 2001 report by the Police Ombudsman says that the RUC Special Branch failed to act on prior warnings and slammed the RUC’s investigation of the bombing. The RUC has obtained circumstantial and coincidental evidence against some suspects, but it has not come up with anything to convict anyone of the bombing. Colm Murphy is tried, convicted, and then released after it is revealed that Garda Síochána forged interview notes used in the case. Murphy’s nephew, Sean Hoey, is also tried and found not guilty.

In June 2009, the victims’ families win a GB£1.6 million civil action against four defendants. In April 2014, Seamus Daly is charged with the murders of those killed, however, the case against him is withdrawn in February 2016.


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Birth of Illustrator Hugh Thomson

Hugh Thomson, illustrator, is born on Kingsgate Street, Coleraine, County Londonderry on June 1, 1860. He is best known for his pen-and-ink illustrations of works by authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and J. M. Barrie.

Thomson is born to tea merchant John Thomson (1822–1894) and shopkeeper Catherine (née Andrews). He is the eldest of their three surviving children. Although he has no formal artistic training, as a young boy he often fills his schoolbooks with drawings of horses, dogs, and ships. He attends Coleraine Model School, but leaves at the age of fourteen to work as a clerk at E. Gribbon & Sons, Linen Manufacturers. Several years later his artistic talents are discovered, and in 1877 he is hired by printing and publishing company Marcus Ward & Co.

On December 29, 1884 Thomson marries Jessie Naismith Miller in Belfast. Soon afterwards they move back to London for Thomson’s career. They have one son together, John, born in 1886.

In 1911, he and his family move to Sidcup, hoping to improve their “ever delicate health.” Thomson’s correspondence reflects the fact that he misses being close to the National Gallery and the museums where he usually compiles research for his illustrations. During World War I, demand for Thomson’s work decreases to a few propaganda pamphlets and some commissions from friends. By 1917, Thomson has fallen on financial hardship and he has to take a job with the Board of Trade, where he works until 1919.

Hugh Thomson dies of heart disease at his home at 8 Patten Road in Wandsworth Common, London, on May 7, 1920.


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Kidnapping of Writer Brian Keenan

Irish writer Brian Keenan is taken hostage in Beirut, Lebanon, on April 11, 1986.

Keenan is born into a working-class family in East Belfast on September 28, 1950. He leaves Orangefield High School early and begins work as a heating engineer. However, he continues an interest in literature by attending night classes and in 1970 gains a place at the University of Ulster in Coleraine. Other writers there at the time include Gerald Dawe and Brendan Hamill. In the mid-1980s Keenan returns to the Magee College campus of the university for postgraduate study. Afterwards he accepts a teaching position at the American University of Beirut, where he works for about four months.

On the morning of April 11, 1986 Keenan is kidnapped by Islamic Jihad. After spending two months in isolation, he is moved to a cell shared with the British journalist John McCarthy. He is kept blindfolded throughout most of his ordeal, and is chained by his hands and feet when taken out of solitary.

The British and American governments at the time have a policy that they will not negotiate with terrorists and Keenan is considered by some to have been ignored. Because he is travelling on both British and Irish passports, the Irish government makes numerous diplomatic representations for his release, working closely with the Iranian government. Throughout the kidnap the government also provides support to Keenan’s two sisters, Elaine Spence and Brenda Gillham, who are spearheading the campaign for his release.

Keenan is released from captivity to Syrian military forces on August 24, 1990 and is driven to Damascus. There he is handed over by the Syrian Foreign Ministry to the care of Irish Ambassador, Declan Connolly. His sisters are flown by Irish Government executive jet to Damascus to meet him and bring him home to Northern Ireland.

An Evil Cradling is an autobiographical book by Keenan about his four years as a hostage in Beirut. The book revolves heavily around the great friendship he experiences with fellow hostage John McCarthy, and the brutality that is inflicted upon them by their captors. It is the 1991 winner of The Irish Times Literature Prize for Non-fiction and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.

Keenan returns to Beirut in 2007 for the first time since being released 17 years earlier, and describes “falling in love” with the city. He now lives in Dublin.

(Pictured: Brian Keenan arrives at Dublin Airport after his release from captivity in Beirut in August 1990)