seamus dubhghaill

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

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The Selton Hill Ambush

selton-hill-ambush-memorialThe Selton Hill Ambush takes place on March 11, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. An Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column is ambushed by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Auxiliary Division at Selton Hill, County Leitrim. Six IRA officers of the Leitrim Brigade are killed.

Seán Connolly is an IRA activist from County Longford, but he is also used by IRA GHQ to organise the surrounding areas of County Roscommon and County Leitrim. When Michael Collins orders Connolly into the county, he warns that it is “the most treacherous county in Ireland.” As Connolly is running a training camp at Selton Hill in early 1921, his position is given to the RIC. The RIC District Inspector, Thomas Gore-Hickman, has been alerted to Connolly’s position by a local doctor who had served in the British Army. The doctor had reportedly been told of the training camp by a local member of the Orange Order.

The events at Selton Hill take place one week after the Sheemore ambush, in which British troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, based in Boyle suffer several casualties and at least one fatality. On March 11, at Selton Hill, a large force of RIC and Auxiliaires, based in Mohill and troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment surround and then attack the IRA camp. Six IRA volunteers are killed. The RIC suffers no losses. The IRA dead are Sean Connolly, Seamus Wrynne, Joseph O’Beirne, John Reilly, Joseph Reilly, and Capt. M.E. Baxter.

Ernie O’Malley later claims the volunteers’ bodies are “taken to Mohill by soldiers who shouted ‘fresh meat!’ as they were driving through the town.” He is also quoted as saying, “Men from the Bedfordshire Regiment were seen by a badly wounded IRA officer, Bernie Sweeney who survived, to use rifle butts on the skulls of two wounded men.” He also states that the location of the column was given to the local District Inspector of the RIC by a doctor who had been in the British Army, who received the information by a local Orangeman. The IRA officer who survives is Bernie Sweeney, from Ballinamore, who survives by hiding in a drain, where the cold water prevents him from bleeding to death. He is rescued and hidden from the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries by locals.

The IRA learn their position had been given away by the doctor and the Orangeman. The latter is later killed by the IRA. The doctor escapes to England and later dies in an accident.

The border country of the north midlands often proves to be a treacherous place for IRA training camps. On May 8, 1921 a camp of Belfast IRA volunteers based in the Lappanduff hills in neighbouring County Cavan, is also surprised. One volunteer is killed, thirteen captured, and arms and ammunition are seized by the British forces.

(Pictured: Selton Hill Ambush Memorial, south of the village of Fenagh, County Leitrim)


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The Cavan Orphanage Fire

cavan-orphanage-fireThe Cavan Orphanage fire occurs on the night of February 23, 1943 at St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Cavan, County Cavan. Thirty-five children and one adult employee die as a result. Much of the attention after the fire surrounds the role of the Poor Clares, the order of nuns who run the orphanage and the local fire service.

The Poor Clares, an enclosed contemplative order, found a convent in Cavan in 1861 in a large premises on Main Street. In 1868, they open an orphanage. At the time young petty criminals could be educated and learn a trade in a reformatory, however, orphaned and abandoned children are not accorded the same opportunity. The Industrial Schools Act 1868 seeks to address this by the establishment of the Industrial school system. In 1869, a school, attached to the convent, is established and becomes known as the St. Joseph’s Orphanage & Industrial School.

Fire breaks out in the early morning hours of February 23, 1943, in the basement laundry and is not noticed until about 2 AM. The subsequent investigation attributes the fire to a faulty flue. The sight of smoke coming out of the building alerts people on Main Street. They go to the front entrance and attempt to gain entry. Eventually they are let in by one of the girls but, not knowing the layout of the convent, they are unable to find the girls.

By this time all of the girls have been moved into one Dormitory. At this point it would have been possible to evacuate all of the children but instead the nuns persuade the local people to attempt to extinguish the fire. Two men, John Kennedy and John McNally, go down to the laundry to try to put the fire out. The flames are now too intense for this to be possible and McNally only survives by being carried out by Kennedy.

By now it is no longer possible for the girls to get out through the main entrance or the fire escape. The local fire brigade arrives but their equipment is not sufficient for the fire. Wooden ladders are not long enough to reach the dormitory windows. In the absence of any other solution, girls are encouraged to jump. Three do so, though with injuries, however most are too frightened to attempt it. A local electricity worker, Mattie Hand, arrives with a long ladder and a local man, Louis Blessing, brings five girls down. One child leaves by way of the interior staircase while it is still accessible. One child makes it down the exterior fire escape. One child escapes by way of a small ladder held on the roof of the shed. The fire completely engulfs the dormitory and the remaining girls perish.

cavan-orphanage-graveOver concerns about the causes of the fire and the standard of care, a Public Inquiry is set up. The report’s findings state that the loss of life occurs due to faulty directions being given, lack of fire-fighting training, and an inadequate rescue and fire-fighting service. It also notes inadequate training of staff in fire safety and evacuation, both at the orphanage and local fire service. This finding has been disputed by many. It is alleged that the nuns prevent firefighters from entering the building for fear that they might see the girls in a state of undress.

Due to the nature of the fire, the remains of the dead girls are placed in eight coffins and buried in Cullies cemetery in Cavan. A memorial plaque is erected in 2010 just inside the convent gates at Main Street, Cavan. The plaque is anonymously donated to the Friends of the Cavan Orphanage Victims group.

(Pictured lower right: The grave containing the remains of the 36 victims)

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Birth of Irish Author Mary Anne Sadlier

mary-anne-sadlierMary Anne Sadlier, Irish author, is born Mary Anne Madden in Cootehill, County Cavan, on December 30, 1820.

Sadlier publishes roughly sixty novels and numerous stories in her lifetime. She writes for Irish immigrants in both the United States and Canada, encouraging them to attend mass and retain the Catholic faith. In so doing, Sadlier also addresses the related themes of anti-Catholicism, the Great Famine, emigration, and domestic work. Her writings are often found under the name Mrs. J. Sadlier.

Upon the death of her father, Francis, a merchant, Mary Madden emigrates to Sainte-Marthe, Quebec in 1844, where she marries publisher James Sadlier, also from Ireland, on November 24, 1846. Sadlier publishes much of her work in the family’s Catholic magazine, The Tablet. Sadlier experiences her most productive literary period after her marriage and is most creative after the time all of her children are born. While living in Canada, Sadlier publishes eighteen books — five novels, one collection of short stories, a religious catechism, and nine translations from the French — in addition to assorted magazine articles she contributes to the Pilot and American Celt free of charge. In New Lights (1853), Sadlier deals with the Great Famine for the first time. The book proves one of her most popular, going through at least eight editions in fifty years. In this novel, Sadlier focuses a polemical attack on the Protestant practice of converting Irish peasants by promising them soup, but condemns peasant retaliation and violence.

In the early 1860s, the couple moves to New York City. The Sadlier’s New York home becomes the hub of literary activity in the Catholic community, and Sadlier also enjoys the company of the brightest Irish writers in the United States and Canada, including New York Archbishop John Hughes, editor Orestes Brownson, and Thomas D’Arcy McGee. She holds weekly salons in her Manhattan home, as well as her summer home on Far Rockaway on Long Island. Her closest friend is D’Arcy McGee, a poet, Irish nationalist exile and Canadian statesman known as one of the founding “Fathers of Confederation” who helps bring about Canada’s independence. McGee and Sadlier share an interest in a “national poetry” that does not only capture the spirit of a people, but inspires them to political and national independence. While McGee, as a man, can take part in political rallies and organize Irish American support for Home Rule, Sadlier, as a woman, directs her support for Irish independence into literature. McGee’s biographer notes that Sadlier’s success inspires him to write emigrant novels, and is planning a novel on this subject at the time of his assassination by an Irish American radical in 1868. His death is a crushing blow to Sadlier and her husband. Sadlier edits a collection of McGee’s poetry in 1869 in tribute to his memory.

Sadlier remains in New York for nine years before returning to Canada, where she dies in Montreal on April 5, 1903. In later years she loses the copyright to all her earlier works, many of which remain in print. One of Mary Anne’s daughters, Anna Theresa Sadlier, also becomes a writer.

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Execution of IRA Officer Joe McKelvey

joe-mckelveyJoe McKelvey, Irish Republican Army (IRA) officer, is executed by firing squad along with three other Anti-Treaty militants, on December 8, 1922, during the Irish Civil War.

McKelvey is born into a nationalist family in Stewartstown, County Tyrone. He has a keen interest in the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Irish language. He studies as an accountant and gains some of the qualifications necessary for this profession, but never fully qualifies. He works for a time at the Income Tax Office on Queen’s Square in Belfast and later finds work in Belfast’s engineering industry with Mackies on Springfield Road. He joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers, which after 1919, become known as the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He is a founding member of the O’Donovan Rossa Club, Belfast, founded in 1916 on the Falls Road. Each year the club honours him with a juvenile hurling blitz, an invitational competition which is participated in by clubs throughout Ireland.

McKelvey participates in the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) against the British, in which he commands the IRA’s Belfast Brigade. On August 22, 1920, he helps to organise the killing of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Detective Oswald Swanzy in Lisburn. The killing itself is carried out by IRA men from Cork, but McKelvey arranges a taxi to carry the assassins to and from the scene and disposes of their weapons. In reprisal for this shooting, 300 Catholic homes in Lisburn are burned out. McKelvey is forced to lie low in Dublin for some time after these events.

In March 1921, the IRA is re-organised by its leadership in Dublin into Divisions and McKelvey is appointed commander of the Third Northern Division, responsible for Belfast and the surrounding area. In May 1921, McKelvey’s command suffers a severe setback, when fifty of his best men are sent to County Cavan to train and link up with the IRA units there, only to be surrounded and captured by the British Army on Lappanduff hill on May 9. In most of Ireland, hostilities are ended with a truce declared on July 11, 1921.

McKelvey is alone among the leadership of the Belfast IRA in going against the acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Most of his comrades support Michael Collins‘ assurances that, although the Treaty accepts the partition of Northern Ireland from the rest of the country, this is only a temporary concession which will be dealt with later. McKelvey does not accept this. As a result, he leaves his command as head of the IRA Third Northern Division and joins the Anti-Treaty IRA in Dublin.

In March 1922, McKelvey participates in the anti-Treaty IRA‘s repudiation of the authority of the Dáil, the civil government of the Irish Republic declared in 1919, and is elected to the IRA Army Executive. In April 1922 he helps command the occupation of the Four Courts in defiance of the new Irish Free State. This action helps to spark the civil war between pro- and anti-Treaty factions. McKelvey is among the most hardline of the anti-Treaty republicans and briefly, in June 1922, becomes IRA Chief of Staff, replacing Liam Lynch.

On June 28, 1922, the new Irish Free State government shells the Four Courts to assert its authority over the militants defending it. The Republicans in the Four Courts surrender after two days of fighting and McKelvey is captured. He is held for the following five months in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.

On December 8, 1922, Joe McKelvey is executed by firing squad along with three other Anti-Treaty militants, Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, and Richard Barrett. The executions are ordered in reprisal for the Anti-Treaty IRA’s murder of Sean Hales, a Pro-Treaty member of the Third Dáil.

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Birth of Marcus Daly, “Copper King” of Butte, MT

marcus-dalyMarcus Daly, Irish-born American businessman known as one of the three “Copper Kings” of Butte, Montana, is born in Ballyjamesduff, County Cavan, on December 5, 1841.

Daly emigrates from Ireland to the United States as a young boy, arriving in New York City. He sells newspapers and works his way to California in time to join the gold rush in what is to become Virginia City, Nevada, and the fabulously rich silver diggings now known as the Comstock Lode, in 1860.

Daly gains experience in the mines of the Comstock under the direction of John William Mackay and James Graham Fair. While working in the mines of Virginia City, Daly meets and befriends George Hearst, father of William Randolph Hearst, and Lloyd Tevis, co-owners of the Ophir Mining Company. In 1872, Daly recommends purchase by the Hearst group of the Ontario silver mine, near Park City, Utah. In ten years, the Ontario produces $17 million and pays $6,250,000 in dividends.

Their business friendship extends for many years and helps establish the Anaconda Copper Mine in Butte, Montana. Daly originally comes to Butte in August 1876 to look at a mine, the Alice, as an agent for the Walker Bros. of Salt Lake City. The Walkers purchase the mine, install Daly as superintendent, and award him a fractional share of the mine.

Daly notices, while working underground in the Alice, that there are significant deposits of copper ore. He gains access into several other mines in the area and concludes that the hill is full of copper ore. He envisions an ore body several thousand feet deep, some veins of almost pure copper, and hundreds of millions of dollars. He urges his employers, the Walker Bros., to purchase the Anaconda and when they refrain, Daly purchases it himself. Daly finds his fortune on the Anaconda Copper Mine in Butte, after selling his small share of the Alice Mine for $30,000.

The Anaconda began as a silver mine, but Daly’s purchase is for the copper, found to be one of the largest deposits known at the time. However, he lacks the money to develop it, so he turned to Hearst, Haggin and Tevis. The first couple hundred feet within the mine are rich in silver, and took a few years to exhaust. By that time, Butte’s other silver mines are also playing out, so Daly closes the Anaconda, St. Lawrence, and Neversweat. Prices on surrounding properties drop and Daly purchases them. Then he re-opens the Anaconda. Due to Thomas Edison‘s development of the light bulb the world would need copper which is a very excellent conductor of electricity. Butte has copper, hundreds of thousands of tons of it, waiting to be taken from the ground.

He builds a smelter to handle the ore, and by the late 1880s, has become a millionaire several times over, and owner of the Anaconda Mining and Reduction Company. Daly owns a railroad, the Butte, Anaconda and Pacific Railroad, to haul ore from his mines to his smelter in Anaconda, a city he founds. He owns lumber interests in the Bitterroot Valley and a mansion and prized stables in the same valley, south of Missoula.

In 1894, Daly spearheads an energetic but unsuccessful campaign to have Anaconda designated as Montana’s state capital, but loses out to Helena. Daly is active in Montana politics throughout the 1890s, because of his opposition and intense rivalry with fellow copper king, and future U.S. Senator, William A. Clark. He attempts to keep Clark out of office by lavishly supporting his opponents.

Daly invests some of his money in horse breeding at his Bitterroot Stock Farm located near Hamilton, and is the owner/breeder of Scottish Chieftain, the only horse bred in Montana to ever win the Belmont Stakes.

In 1891, Daly becomes the owner of Tammany, said to be one of the world’s fastest racehorses in 1893. He also arranges the breeding of the great Sysonby, ranked number 30 in the top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century by The Blood-Horse magazine. However, Daly dies in New York City on November 12, 1900, before the horse is born.

Following his death, New York’s Madison Square Garden hosts a dispersal sale for the Bitterroot thoroughbred studs on January 31, 1901. One hundred eighty-five horses are sold for $405,525.

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Death of General Philip Henry Sheridan

philip-sheridanIrish American General Philip Henry Sheridan, career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War, dies of heart disease in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, on August 5, 1888.

Sheridan is born in Albany, New York, the third child of six by John and Mary Meenagh Sheridan, immigrants from the parish of Killinkere, County Cavan. Fully grown, he reaches only 5 feet 5 inches in height, a stature that leads to the nickname “Little Phil.” Abraham Lincoln describes his appearance in a famous anecdote, “A brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping.”

Sheridan’s career is noted for his rapid rise to major general and his close association with General-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant, who transfers Sheridan from command of an infantry division in the Western Theater to lead the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac in the East. In 1864, he defeats Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley and his destruction of the economic infrastructure of the Valley, called “The Burning” by residents, is one of the first uses of scorched earth tactics in the war. In 1865, his cavalry pursues General Robert E. Lee and is instrumental in forcing his surrender at Appomattox Court House.

In later years, Sheridan fights in the Indian Wars of the Great Plains. Comanche Chief Tosahwi reputedly tells Sheridan in 1869, “Me, Tosahwi; me good Injun,” to which Sheridan supposedly replies, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” Sheridan denies he had ever made the statement. Biographer Roy Morris Jr. states that, nevertheless, popular history credits Sheridan with saying “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” This variation “has been used by friends and enemies ever since to characterize and castigate his Indian-fighting career.” In Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown attributes the quote to Sheridan but does not provide documentation to support his contention, so the quote may be more apocryphal than real.

Both as a soldier and private citizen, Sheridan is instrumental in the development and protection of Yellowstone National Park. The protection of the Yellowstone area is Sheridan’s personal crusade. He authorizes Lieutenant Gustavus Doane to escort the Washburn Expedition in 1870 and for Captain John W. Barlow to escort the Hayden Expedition in 1871. Barlow names Mount Sheridan, a peak overlooking Heart Lake in Yellowstone, for the general in 1871. As early as 1875, Sheridan promotes military control of the area to prevent the destruction of natural formations and wildlife.

In 1883, Sheridan is appointed general-in-chief of the U.S. Army, and in 1888 he is promoted to the rank of General of the Army during the term of President Grover Cleveland. Sheridan serves as the ninth president of the National Rifle Association.

Sheridan suffers a series of massive heart attacks two months after sending his memoirs to the publisher. After his first heart attack, the U.S. Congress quickly passes legislation to promote him to general and he receives the news from a congressional delegation with joy, despite his pain. His family moves him from the heat of Washington, D.C. and he dies of heart failure in his summer cottage in the Nonquitt section of Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

His body is returned to Washington and he is buried on a hillside facing the capital city near Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery. The burial helps elevate Arlington to national prominence.