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


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Death of Michael Corcoran, General in the Union Army

Michael Corcoran, Irish American general in the Union Army during the American Civil War and a close confidant of President Abraham Lincoln, dies on December 22, 1863, of a fractured skull after being thrown from a runaway horse.

Corcoran is born in Carrowkeel, near Ballymote, County Sligo, on September 21, 1827. As its colonel, he leads the 69th Infantry Regiment (New York) to Washington, D.C. and is one of the first to serve in the defense of Washington by building Fort Corcoran. He then leads the 69th into action at the First Battle of Bull Run. After promotion to brigadier general, he leaves the 69th and forms the Corcoran Legion, consisting of at least five other New York regiments.

Corcoran is the only child of Thomas Corcoran, an officer in the British Army, and Mary McDonagh. Through his mother, he claims descent from Patrick Sarsfield, hero of the Williamite War in Ireland and leader of the Wild Geese. In 1846 he takes an appointment to the Revenue Police, enforcing the laws and searching for illicit stills and distilling activities in Creeslough, County Donegal. He also joins a guerrilla group called the Ribbonmen.

On August 30, 1849, Corcoran emigrates from Sligo to the United States and settles in New York City where he finds work as a clerk in the tavern owned by John Heaney, whose niece, Elizabeth, he marries in 1854.

Corcoran enlists as a Private in the 69th New York Militia. By 1859 he is appointed colonel of the regiment. The regiment is a state militia unit at the time composed of citizens, not soldiers, and is involved in the maintenance of public order. On October 11, 1860, he refuses to march the regiment on parade for the 19-year-old Prince of Wales, who is visiting New York City at the time, protesting the British imposition of the Irish Famine. He is removed from command and a court martial is pending over that matter when the Civil War begins.

Corcoran also becomes involved in Democratic politics at Tammany Hall. He becomes district leader, a member of the judicial nominations committee, an elected school inspector for his ward, and a member of the Fourteenth Ward General Committee. He is one of the founders of the Fenian Brotherhood in America.

With the outbreak of war, the court martial is dropped and Corcoran is restored to his command because he had been instrumental in bringing other Irish immigrants to the Union cause. He leads the 69th to Washington, D.C. and serves for a while in the Washington defenses building, Fort Corcoran. In July 1861 he leads the regiment into action at the First Battle of Bull Run and is taken prisoner.

While Corcoran is imprisoned, the United States makes threats to execute captured Confederate privateers. Corcoran and several other Union prisoners are selected by lot for execution if the United States carries out its threats against the privateers. This event is known as the Enchantress Affair, but no executions are ever carried out by either side. Corcoran is then offered a parole under the conditions that he does not take up arms against the Confederacy. Intending to resume his place in the Union army upon his release he refuses the offer of parole. He is appointed Brigadier General of volunteers in July and exchanged in August 1862. His role in the Enchantress Affair and his refusal for parole gains him some attention and upon his release he is invited to dinner with President Abraham Lincoln.

In April 1863 Corcoran is involved in an incident that ends with Corcoran shooting and killing Edgar A. Kimball, commander of the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Corcoran attempts to pass through the 9th New York’s area without giving the required password after receiving the challenge from a sentry. When Kimball intervenes on the side of the sentry, Corcoran shoots him. Corcoran is not charged with a crime or reprimanded and continues to serve.

Corcoran returns to the army and sets about recruiting more Irish volunteers. He raises and takes command of what becomes known as the Corcoran Legion. Placed in command of the 1st Division, VII Corps he is engaged in the Battle of Deserted House and takes part in the Battle of Suffolk. In late 1863 he is placed in command of a division in the XXII Corps and returns to serve in the Washington defenses. While riding alone in Fairfax, Virginia he is thrown from a runaway horse and suffers a fractured skull. He dies at the age of 36 at the William Gunnell House on December 22, 1863.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveils Ireland’s national monument to the Fighting 69th in Ballymote on August 22, 2006. The monument is sculpted by Philip Flanagan. The inscription around the top of the monument reads “Michael Corcoran 1827–1863” Around the base is inscribed “New York Ballymote Creeslough Bull Run.” Underneath the monument is a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, donated by the family of Michael Lynch, who died in the tower on September 11, 2001. Lynch’s family are also from County Sligo.


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Birth of Lady Louisa Conolly

Lady Louisa Conolly, an English-born Irish noblewoman, is born on December 5, 1743, perhaps at Goodwood House in Westhampnett, Chichester, West Sussex, England. She is the third of the famous Lennox sisters and is notable among them for leading a wholly uncontroversial life filled with good works.

Born Lady Louisa Augusta Lennox, she and her sisters are portrayed in Stella Tillyard‘s book Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox and in the BBC television series based on it. The Lennox sisters are the daughters of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, and Lady Sarah Cadogan. The 2nd Duke’s father, Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond, is an illegitimate son of King Charles II of England.

Conolly is still a child when her parents die within a year of each other in 1750 and 1751. After this, she is brought up by her much older sister Emily FitzGerald, Duchess of Leinster, in Kildare. In 1758, at age 15, she marries Thomas Conolly (1738–1803), grand-nephew of William Conolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. Her husband, a wealthy landowner and keen horseman, is also a successful politician who is elected to Parliament as early as 1759. The couple lives in the Palladian mansion Castletown House in County Kildare, the decoration of which she directs throughout the 1760s and 1770s. The Conolly summer residence, Cliff House, on the banks of the River Erne between Belleek, County Fermanagh, and Ballyshannon, County Donegal, is demolished as part of the Erne Hydroelectric scheme, which constructs the Cliff and Cathaleen’s Fall hydroelectric power stations. Cliff hydroelectric power station is constructed on the site of Cliff House and is commissioned in 1950.

The Conollys, themselves unhappily childless, at that point take up the welfare of young children from disadvantaged backgrounds as a lifelong project, contributing both money and effort towards initiatives which enable foundlings and vagabonds to acquire productive skills and support themselves. They develop one of the first Industrial Schools where boys learn trades, and she takes active personal interest in mentoring the students. In middle age, she also virtually adopts her niece Emily Napier (1783–1863), the daughter of her sister Lady Sarah Lennox. Emily, who spends long months with her aunt in Kildare, marries Sir Henry Bunbury, 7th Baronet, and moves to Suffolk, although she remains close to her aunt until her death.

Thomas Conolly dies on April 27, 1803. Upon his death, a major part of his estates, which includes Wentworth Castle, passes to a distant relative, Frederick Vernon. Conolly receives the Castletown House and estate, as also certain liquid investments and valuable urban properties, which enable her to live in comfort and continue her activities until her own death on August 6, 1821, of an abscess on her hip. She wills these substantial properties to a great-nephew, Edward Michael Pakenham, grandson of Thomas’ sister Harriet, later the MP for Donegal.

In 1999, a 6-part miniseries called Aristocrats, based on the lives of Conolly and her sisters, airs in the UK.

(Pictured: “Lady Louisa Conolly” by George Romney, 1776)


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William Conolly Resigns as Speaker of the Irish House of Commons

William Conolly, Irish politician, Commissioner of Revenue, lawyer and landowner also known as Speaker Conolly, resigns as Speaker of the Irish House of Commons on October 13, 1729, on grounds of ill health. Sir Ralph Gore is elected unanimously in his place. His name is spelled Conolly rather than the more familiar Connolly, derived ultimately from the Gaelic surname “Ó Conghalaigh.”

Conolly is born on April 9, 1662, in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, the son of an inn-keeper, Patrick Conolly. His father is a native of County Monaghan, and a descendant of the Ó Conghalaigh clan of Airgíalla, who settles in County Donegal, embraces the Anglican Church, and has children William, Patrick, Hugh, Phelim and Thady. His father sets aside enough money that he is able to send Conolly to Dublin to study law. He qualifies as an attorney in 1685, aged twenty-three.

Conolly practises as a lawyer in Dublin and in 1694 he marries Katherine Conyngham, daughter of General Sir Albert Conyngham. The Conynghams are an Ulster Scots family who are originally from Mountcharles in County Donegal. The family later settles at Slane Castle in County Meath in the 1780s, where the Conynghams still reside. They have no children, and on Katherine’s death in 1752 the estates are inherited by William James Conolly, his nephew by his brother Patrick.

Conolly makes his fortune from land transfers, following the confiscations by the Crown of lands belonging to supporters of King James II, in the wake of the Glorious Revolution and the accession of William III and Mary II in 1688–91, known as the “Williamite War in Ireland.” About 600,000 Irish acres are confiscated to be sold to pay for the costs of the war, nearly 5% of the land area of Ireland. Conolly is the largest individual buyer, in particular buying 3,300 acres in County Meath that had been assigned to the Earl of Albemarle.

Conolly builds the first winged Palladian house in Ireland, Castletown House in Celbridge, County Kildare, starting in 1722, and specifies that every part of it has to be made from Irish materials. His Dublin townhouse is on Capel Street, then the most fashionable part of the city. He also commissions the former Customs House (now the site of the Clarence Hotel) and the Irish Houses of Parliament, the world’s first building specifically designed as a bicameral parliament.

Conolly is the most important of the “Undertakers,” the managers of Government business in the Irish House of Commons, in the early 18th century. He is associated with the moderate faction of Whigs and is opposed by the Brodrick faction from Cork. He is a Member of Parliament for Donegal Borough from 1692 to 1703 and subsequently for Londonderry County until his death in 1729. In 1703 and 1713, he is also elected for Newtown Limavady and in 1727 for Ballyshannon, but chooses each time not to sit.

Conolly is Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and a Commissioner of the Revenue from 1715 to his death in 1729. He is re-elected as Speaker of the House of Commons in the first session of George II‘s parliament and continues to serve until he collapses in the Commons on September 26, 1729. He is eventually persuaded to resign the Speaker’s chair on October 13, and he dies at his house in Capel Street, Dublin, on October 30. He is buried in Celbridge following a spectacular public funeral, which sees the beginnings of the custom of mourners wearing linen scarves to promote the Irish linen industry.

On his death, the Archbishop of Armagh, Hugh Boulter, estimates Conolly’s income in 1729 at £17,000 p.a. His widow Katherine continues to live in style at Castletown until her death in 1752. She builds the Wonderful Barn and the Conolly Folly in the 1740s. Then their estates pass briefly to William’s nephew William junior, and then on to his great-nephew Thomas Conolly M.P., known as “Squire Tom,” who is married to Lady Louisa Conolly.

A pub in Celbridge, The Speaker’s Bar, is named in his memory. There is also a pub in Firhouse, Dublin, called The Speaker Conolly named after him.


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Birth of Emer Colleran, Microbiologist & Environmental Advocate

Emer Colleran, Irish microbiologist, academic and an environmental advocate, is born in Ballinrobe, County Mayo, on October 12, 1945. She is professor of microbiology at the National University of Ireland, Galway, a member of the Royal Irish Academy, one of Mary Robinson‘s nominees on the Council of State, and chairwoman of An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland.

Colleran, and her twin Noreen, are born to John and Josie Colleran. One of a family of five children, her father is a school principal and her mother, also a primary school teacher, dies when she is just 11 years old. She completes her secondary education at St. Louis secondary school in Kiltimagh. She spends a lot of time outdoors as a child, particularly fishing, which sparks her interest in the environment.

On entering higher education, Colleran has a grant from the Department of Education, which requires that she do her studies through the Irish language. Her first choice, Medicine, is not available in Irish so she chooses Science. She graduates with a first class primary degree in Science at University College Galway (now National University of Ireland, Galway) in 1967.

Colleran specialises in anaerobic digestion as a postgraduate and in 1971 becomes a postdoctoral fellow for two years at the University of Bristol in the UK.

Colleran lectures in biology at Athlone Regional Technical College (now Athlone Institute of Technology) and Galway Regional Technical College (now Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology) before her appointment as a lecturer in microbiology at NUI Galway in 1976. She is appointed Associate Professor of Microbiology by the Senate of the National University of Ireland in 1990. She is a member of the university’s governing authority for a number of years, but steps down in May 2000 in connection with the selection procedure for the new university president. In October of that year she is appointed professor of microbiology and chair of the department at NUI Galway.

Colleran is the first director of the Environment Change Institute at NUI Galway set up under the Higher Education Authority‘s Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions in 2000. In 2010, the Environmental Change Institute and the Martin Ryan Marine Research Institute are merged to form the current day Ryan Institute at NUI Galway.

In 1973 Colleran is elected to the committee of the Galway Association of An Taisce, part of a national voluntary organisation the aims of which are to conservation in Ireland through education, publicity and positive action. She serves as membership secretary and then treasurer to the Galway branch before becoming chairman. In 1981, as chairman of the Galway branch, she hits back at claims from Galway County Council that An Taisce are “an anonymous group, wielding power unfairly.” She is involved in the compilation of a controversial planning report, published by An Taisce in 1983, which highlights abuse of planning laws by city and county councillors across Ireland, and in particular in counties Galway, Mayo, Donegal, Kerry and Louth.

Colleran serves as Environmental Officer for An Taisce before being elected National Chairman in 1987, the first time a chairman has come from one of the western county associations. She continues to use her position to campaign against misuse of planning laws, for a clamp down on pollution of rivers and lakes, and against a move to scrap An Foras Forbartha, a body that provides independent monitoring of pollution. During her three years as chairman, until May 1990, she is particularly involved in debates over local environmental and planning issues, in particular over gold mining in the west of Ireland, a proposed airport for Clifden, and the planned sewage treatment plant at Mutton Island, County Galway.

In 1991 plans are announced for a new visitor centre, to be located at Mullaghmore in The Burren. Colleran is among those who are part of an appeal, saying that while the plan for the national park is welcomed by An Taisce, they want the visitor centre to be located three or four miles from Mullaghmore.

President Mary Robinson appoints seven new members to her Council of State in February 1991, including Colleran. Other new members appointed at the time are Monica Barnes, Patricia O’Donovan, Quintan Oliver, Rosemarie Smith, Dónal Toolan and D. Kenneth Whitaker. The new Council of State represents a wide spectrum of Irish life and is widely welcomed, although Fine Gael is disappointed that its leader John Bruton is not included.

In 1991, Colleran is one of 15 people appointed to Taoiseach Charles Haughey‘s Green 2000 Advisory Group, to determine which problems will face the environment in the next century. The group is led by Dr. David Cabot, special advisor on environmental affairs.

Colleran is appointed a member of the National Heritage Council in 1995 by the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Michael D. Higgins. In the same year the Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, Eamon Gilmore, appoints her to the chair of the Sea Trout working group to oversee the implementation of recommendations to tackle a decline in sea trout stocks, particularly in the west of Ireland.

In 2003 Colleran is elected as a member of the Royal Irish Academy.

Colleran is recognised at the annual NUI Galway Alumni Awards in 2004 when she receives the award for Natural Science, sponsored by Seavite Bodycare Ltd., which acknowledges a graduate who has made an outstanding contribution in the field of natural science.

Colleran dies on June 30, 2018, at University Hospital Galway.


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The Great Portlaoise Escape

Nineteen republican prisoners blast their way out of Portlaoise Prison in County Laois on August 18, 1974.

The escape is a timely reminder of the determination, tenacity and ingenuity with which Irish Republican Army (IRA) Volunteers throughout the country fight against British rule in Ireland. It is also a reminder to the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government in Leinster House that their collaboration with the British and their attempts to defeat republicanism will not be an easy task.

The determination of republicans to escape from Portlaoise is demonstrated by the escape. In May 1974, an underground escape was planned but the 80-foot tunnel was uncovered and the prisoners’ hopes were dashed. However, almost immediately plans swung into place for a more daring escape operation.

A member of the Escape Committee spots a weakness in the jail security in the area of the prison where the laundry house is situated. The laundry leads to an outside stairway and down into the courtyard, where the Governor’s House and Warders’ Mess are located.

The prisoners discover that they can gain access to the laundry area quite easily. It is a doorway at the top of the courtyard which leads out onto the streets of Portlaoise town itself that give the prisoners hope that their plan will work. However, the Escape Committee decides that they need explosives to get through this gate and send word outside to this effect. The IRA on the outside, agreeing that the plan is “viable,” send in the materials and the plan is on.

The date for the escape is set for August 18, 1974 and planning proceeds inside the prison. The prisoners set themselves to work making prison guard uniforms. The idea is that when the escapees are running through the courtyard, the troops on the roof of the jail will not be able to distinguish between the escapees and the real guards and so will not open fire. This pre-planning proves to be a brilliant ploy as it gives those escaping vital seconds to clear the courtyard and make good their escape.

On the Friday before the plan is to proceed, a number of republicans are arrested in Portlaoise. This seems a bad omen and raises questions as to whether the authorities are suspicious that an escape is planned. However, the Escape Committee and those involved in the operation decide to press ahead with the plan anyway.

Sunday, August 18 duly arrives. According to prisoners who are in Portlaoise Prison at the time, no one can eat anything that day as the tension is unbearable. At 12:30 p.m., the designated time to put the plan into action, arrives and Liam Brown approaches the guard at the gate of the lower landing and asks to be let in. This is the signal for the first team of escapees to rush forward and get the key to the laundry. The guard is quickly overpowered and gives up the key with little resistance.

With this first stage of the plan successfully completed, the escapees open the door to the stairwell and rush through to the courtyard, followed by up to 25 other prisoners. As the prisoners race to the top of the yard to place the bomb at the outside gate, the soldiers on the roof are confused by the uniforms and cannot open fire.

The bomb then explodes, blasting the door to pieces. As the prisoners make the final dash for freedom, the soldiers fire warning shots over the heads of the fleeing republicans. Some of the prisoners drop to the ground fearing the worst but as the guards race from their mess they call on the soldiers to stop firing.

Those who are captured are brought into the Wing again and the governor demands a head count. The prisoners, however, refuse to comply, adding to the confusion and thwarting the prison authorities’ attempts to identify the escapees. It is only after the guards threaten to send in the riot squad several hours later that the prisoners allow a head count to be taken. When they realise that 19 men had escaped, the joy the prisoner experience is immense as they thought only 14 had got away.

In an attempt to capture the escapees, the Dublin Government launches a statewide search operation. Every outhouse in County Wexford is searched. The Irish Naval Service is even called in and put on the alert. The searches go on for over a week but to no avail. The nineteen men had gotten clean away.

Those who escape are Liam Brown, Paddy Devenny and Micky Nolan from Belfast; Tom McFeely and Ian Milne from County Derry; Thomas McGinty and Eddie Gallagher from County Donegal; Patrick Thornberry, Kevin McAllister and Martin McAllister from County Armagh; Francis Hughes and Kevin Mallon from County Tyrone; Oliver McKiernan from County Fermanagh; Bernard Hegarty and Sam O’Hare from County Louth; Michael Kinsella and Seán Kinsella from County Monaghan; Seán Morris from County Meath; and Tony Weldon from Dublin.

(From: “30 years on: The Great Portlaoise Escape,” An Phoblacht, http://www.anphoblacht.com, August 26, 2004)


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Bridie Gallagher’s “The Boys From The County Armagh” Tops the Irish Charts

Bridget “Bridie” Gallagher, Irish singer affectionately known as “The Girl from Donegal,” reaches No. 1 in the Irish Singles Chart with “The Boys From The County Armagh” on July 2, 1957. She is widely regarded as “Ireland’s first international pop star.”

Gallagher is born on September 7, 1924 in Creeslough, County Donegal. She starts her singing in the Creeslough Hall with a local Céilí band started by Bill Gallagher. The Creeslough Hall is owned by Jim McCaffrey and Bridie makes many more visits to the Creeslough Hall in her home town throughout her long and successful career. Her talent is soon spotted in the 1950s by Billy Livingstone who is a talent scout for Decca Records. She goes to Belfast, which becomes her base, where she marries Robert (Bob) Livingstone (no relation to Billy Livingstone) and has two boys, Jim and Peter. Peter dies in a motor accident in 1976 and Jim later goes on to tour with her.

Gallagher shoots to fame in 1956 with her recording of “A Mother’s Love’s A Blessing” and achieves international acclaim with her legendary rendition of “The Boys From County Armagh.” During her career, which spans over six decades, she appears in many leading venues across the globe. She also makes songs such as “The Homes of Donegal” famous.

Gallagher holds the record for the largest number of people in attendance in the Royal Albert Hall in London, with over 7,500 people, a record that is never equaled as it goes on to become an all-seater venue. She becomes world-famous and travels all over the world, United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and is known as “The Girl from Donegal.” She plays in many of the world’s best known theatres, including London’s Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House and Carnegie Hall in New York City. She sings mainly ballads or as they later became known as Country and Irish. One of her best known songs is “The Boys From The County Armagh,” which sells over 250,000 copies, the biggest-selling Irish single at that time.

Bridie also records “Cottage by the Lee,” written by Irish songwriter, Dick Farrelly. Farrelly achieved worldwide fame with his classic song “The Isle of Innisfree“, which is originally a worldwide hit for Bing Crosby and is chosen by movie director John Ford as the main theme music for his film The Quiet Man.

Gallagher lives in Belfast for most of her life. She is honoured by the people of Creeslough on July 10, 2000 with an event to celebrate her career. Members of her family from Creeslough and Donegal attend the event along with her two sisters and their families who travel from Glasgow to be there along with an estimated crowd of 2,500 fans. A plaque paying tribute to her is unveiled. The following day she is honoured by Donegal County Council when they hold a Civic Reception for her. “Bridie blazed the trail for many artists who followed after her and I’m sure that many of them looked upon her as a role model as they started their careers in the music world,” council chairman Charlie Bennett says at the ceremony.

Gallagher dies at her home in Belfast on January 9, 2012 at the age of 87. Her burial takes place in her native Creeslough.


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Birth of Agnes O’Farrelly, Academic & Professor of Irish at UCD

Agnes Winifred O’Farrelly (Irish: Úna Ní Fhaircheallaigh), academic and Professor of Irish at University College Dublin (UCD), is born Agnes Farrelly on June 24, 1874, in Raffony House, Virginia, County Cavan.

O’Farrelly is one of five daughters and three sons of Peter Dominic Farrelly and Ann Farrelly (née Sheridan), a family with a traditional interest in the Irish language. After her articles Glimpses of Breffni and Meath are published in The Anglo-Celt in 1895, the editor, E. T. O’Hanlon, encourages her to study literature. Graduating from the Royal University of Ireland (BA 1899, MA 1900), she is appointed a lecturer in Irish at Alexandra College and Loreto College. A founder member in 1902, along with Mary Hayden, of the Irish Association of Women Graduates and Candidate Graduates, to promote equal opportunity in university education, she gives evidence to the Robertson (1902) and Fry (1906) commissions on Irish university education, arguing successfully for full co-education at UCD. Appointed lecturer in modern Irish at UCD in 1909, she is also a member of the first UCD governing body and the National University of Ireland (NUI) senate (1914–49). In 1932, on the retirement of Douglas Hyde, she is appointed professor of modern Irish at UCD, holding the position until her retirement in 1947. She is also president of the Irish Federation of University Women (1937–39) and of the National University Women Graduates’ Association (NUWGA) (1943–47).

One of the most prominent women in the Gaelic League, a member of its coiste gnótha (executive committee) and a director of the Gaelic press An Cló-Chumann Ltd, O’Farrelly is a close friend of most of its leading figures, especially Douglas Hyde, Kuno Meyer, and Eoin MacNeill. One of Hyde’s allies in his battle to avoid politicising the league, she is so close to him that students at UCD enjoy speculating about the nature of their friendship. She advocates pan-Celticism, but does not get involved in disputes on the matter within the league. A founder member, and subsequently principal for many years, of the Ulster College of Irish, Cloghaneely, County Donegal, she is also associated with the Leinster and Connacht colleges and serves as chairperson of the Federation of Irish Language Summer Schools.

Having presided at the inaugural meeting of Cumann na mBan in 1914, espousing its subordinate role in relation to the Irish Volunteers, O’Farrelly leaves the organisation soon afterwards because of her support for recruitment to the British Army during World War I. A close friend of Roger Casement, in 1916, along with Col. Maurice Moore she gathers a petition that seeks a reprieve of his death sentence. She is a member of a committee of women which negotiate unsuccessfully with Irish Republican Army (IRA) leaders to avoid civil war in 1922, and is heavily defeated as an independent candidate for the NUI constituency in the general elections of 1923 and June 1927. In 1937 she is actively involved in the National University Women Graduates’ Association’s campaign against the constitution, seeking deletion of articles perceived as discriminating against women.

Popular among students at UCD, O’Farrelly has a reputation as a social figure and entertains frequently at her homes in Dublin and the Donegal Gaeltacht. A founder member (1914) and president (1914–51) of the UCD camogie club, she persuades William Gibson, 2nd Baron Ashbourne, to donate the Ashbourne Cup for the camogie intervarsities. She is also president of the Camogie Association of Ireland in 1941–42. A supporter of native Irish industry, she is president of the Irish Industrial Development Association and the Homespun Society, and administrator of the John Connor Magee Trust for the development of Gaeltacht industry. A poet and writer in both Irish and English, often using the pseudonym ‘Uan Uladh’, her principal publications in prose are The reign of humbug (1900), Leabhar an Athar Eoghan (1903), Filidheacht Segháin Uí Neachtáin (1911), and her novel Grádh agus crádh (1901); and in poetry Out of the depths (1921) and Áille an domhain (1927).

O’Farrelly retires from UCD in 1947, and lives at 38 Brighton Road, Rathgar. An oil portrait by Seán Keating, RHA, is presented to her by the NUWGA on her retirement. She dies on November 5, 1951 in Dublin. Taoiseach Éamon de Valera and President Seán T. O’Kelly attend her funeral to Deans Grange Cemetery. She never marries, and leaves an estate valued at £3,109.


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The Battle of Scarrifholis

The Battle of Scarrifholis takes place on June 21, 1650, near Letterkenny, County Donegal, during the Irish Confederate Wars. A force loyal to the Commonwealth of England commanded by Charles Coote defeats the Catholic Ulster Army, commanded by Heber MacMahon, Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher.

Although slightly smaller than their opponents, Coote’s troops consist largely of veterans from the New Model Army and have three times the number of cavalry. After an hour of fighting, the Ulster army collapses and flees, losing most of its men, officers, weapons, and supplies. The battle secures the north of Ireland for the Commonwealth and clears the way to complete the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.

The Irish Confederate Wars, sparked by the Irish Rebellion of 1641, are initially fought between the predominantly Catholic Confederation, and a largely Protestant Irish Royal Army, led by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond. Both claim to be loyal to Charles I, while there is a three sided war in Ulster. The latter involves Royalists, Gaelic Catholic leader Eoghan Ruadh Ó Néill, and Presbyterian militia, known as the Laggan Army, supported by Scots Covenanters under Robert Munro.

In September 1643, Ormond agrees a truce, or ‘Cessation’, with the Confederation, freeing his troops for use in England against Parliament in the First English Civil War. Some Irish Protestants object, and switch sides, including Sir Charles Coote, who becomes Parliamentarian commander in Connacht. Charles surrenders in 1646, while a Covenanter/Royalist uprising is quickly suppressed in the 1648 Second English Civil War. On January 17, 1649, the Confederation allies with Ormond’s Royalists. Following the execution of Charles on January 30, they are joined by the Laggan Army, and remaining Scots troops in Ulster.

There are various reasons for this. The Covenanter government, who provide support for Scottish settlers in Ulster, consider Oliver Cromwell and other leaders of the new Commonwealth of England dangerous political and religious radicals. As Scots, they object to the execution of their king by the English. As Presbyterians, they view monarchy as divinely ordained, making regicide also sacrilegious, and they transfer their allegiance to his son, Charles II of England.

However, this is offset by a split within the Confederation, between Catholic landowners who want to preserve the position prevailing in 1641, and those like Ó Néill, whose estates had been confiscated in 1607. As a result, he agrees a truce with Coote, and refuses to join the Alliance, depriving them of their most effective fighting force in the north. Despite this, by late July, Ormond’s combined Royalist/Confederate army control most of Ireland.

Ormond’s defeat at the Battle of Rathmines on August 2 allows Cromwell and an army of 12,000 to land in Dublin unopposed. After capturing Drogheda on September 11, his main force heads south towards Wexford. Colonel Robert Venables is sent north with three regiments, or around 2,500 men, to take control of Ulster. Munro’s garrisons surrender with minimal resistance, and by the end of September, Venables has occupied Dundalk, Carlingford, Newry, and Belfast. These are accompanied by the mass expulsion of Scots settlers, as punishment for their defection. When Coote captures Coleraine on September 15, he massacres the largely Scottish garrison.

Ó Néill’s death in November 1649 and Coote’s defeat of a combined Royalist/Covenanter force at Lisnagarvey in December leaves the Catholic Ulster army as the only remaining opposition to the Commonwealth in the north. At a meeting at Belturbet on March 18, 1650, Heber MacMahon, Catholic Bishop of Clogher, is appointed in his place. Although a leading figure in the Confederation, MacMahon has no military experience and opposes the alliance with Ormond’s Royalists. His election is essentially a compromise between supporters of Henry, Ó Néill’s son, and his cousin, Felim Ó Néill.

By May 20, MacMahon and his deputy Richard O’Farrell have assembled an army near Loughgall, with 5,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry. They lack both arms and artillery but after Ormond promises to send these from Connacht, they march north, intending to divide Coote’s troops at Derry from those commanded by Venables at Carrickfergus in the east. To do this, MacMahon establishes a line of garrisons with its northern end at Ballycastle, then moves south, intending to cross the River Foyle just below Lifford and maintain contact with Ormond through Ballyshannon.

At this point, Coote has only 1,400 men and seems vulnerable. The Irish cross the river on June 2, beating off an attack by the Commonwealth cavalry and occupy Lifford, where they spend the next two weeks and Coote withdraws to Derry. However, the supplies promised by Ormond fail to arrive, leaving MacMahon short of provisions, while on June 18 Coote is joined by an additional 1,000 infantry under Colonel Roger Fenwick sent from Belfast. At the same time, detaching men for the new garrisons leave MacMahon with around 4,000 infantry and 400 cavalry.

MacMahon now relocates to the Doonglebe/Tullygay Hill overlooking the pass at Scariffhollis, a strong defensive position two miles west of Letterkenny on the River Swilly. When Myles MacSweeney takes his regiment off to recapture his ancestral home at Doe Castle, it leaves the two armies roughly equal in number. However, Coote’s men are well equipped veterans and he has three times the number of cavalry. When he appears at Scariffhollis on June 21, MacMahon’s subordinates advise him not to risk battle. They argue Coote will soon be forced to retreat due to lack of provisions, allowing the Irish to withdraw into Connaught in good order.

For reasons that are still debated, MacMahon ignores this advice and on the morning of June 21, 1650 orders his troops down from their mountain camp to give battle. Coote later reports that although the ground is still “excessive bad,” it allows him to use his cavalry, although the initial fighting is conducted by the opposing infantry.

The Irish army is drawn up in a large mass formation with 200–300 musketeers in front, which may have been due to their shortage of ammunition. The battle begins when Colonel Fenwick leads a detachment of 150 men against the advance guard. After an exchange of fire, during which Fenwick is mortally wounded, it turns into a hand-to-hand struggle. As Coote feeds in reinforcements, the Irish musketeers fall back on their main force, which has no room to manoeuvre and is now subjected to devastating volleys at close range. After an hour of bitter conflict, the Irish are out of ammunition and at this point the Parliamentarian cavalry charges their flank. Thrown into disarray, the Irish break and run.

In most battles, flight is the point at which the defeated suffer the heaviest casualties, exacerbated by the lack of Irish cavalry and the brutal nature of the war. Most of the infantry dies on the battlefield or in the pursuit that follows, including Henry Ó Néill and many officers, some of whom are killed after surrendering. Estimates of the Irish dead range from 2,000 – 3,000, while Coote loses around 100 killed or wounded.

MacMahon escapes with 200 horse but is captured a week later and executed. Phelim Ó Néill and O’Farrell make it to Charlemont, which is besieged by Coote and surrenders on August 14. With the exception of a few scattered garrisons, this ends fighting in the north. Limerick is taken by Hardress Waller in October 1651 and the war ends when Galway surrenders to Coote in May 1652.

(Pictured: A view of the mouth of River Swilly at Lough Swilly, Letterkenny, County Donegal)


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The Battle of Benburb

The Battle of Benburb takes place on June 5, 1646 during the Irish Confederate Wars, the Irish theatre of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It is fought between the Irish Confederation under Owen Roe O’Neill, and a Scottish Covenanter and Anglo-Irish army under Robert Monro. The battle ends in a decisive victory for the Irish Confederates and ends Scottish hopes of conquering Ireland and imposing their own religious settlement there.

The Scots Covenanters land an army in Ulster in 1642 to protect the Scottish settlers there from the massacres that follow the Irish Rebellion of 1641. They land at Carrickfergus and link up with Sir Robert Stewart and the Laggan Army of Protestant settlers from County Donegal in northwest Ulster. The Covenanters clear northeastern Ulster of Irish rebels by 1643 but are unable to advance south of mid-Ulster, which is held by Owen Roe O’Neill, the general of the Irish Confederate Ulster army.

In 1646, Monro leads a force composed of Scottish Covenanter regiments and Ulster settlers armies into Confederate-held territory. According to some accounts, this is the first step in a drive to take the Confederates’ capital at Kilkenny. Other sources say it is only a major raid. The combined force is about 6,000 strong. Monro has ten regiments of infantry, of whom six are Scottish and four are English or Anglo-Irish, and 600 Ulster Protestant cavalry. Stewart and the Laggan Army are slated to join Monro’s force in the attack, however, on the day of the battle the Laggan Army is in Clogher, nearly 30 kilometres away. O’Neill, who is a very cautious general, had previously avoided fighting pitched battles. However, he has just been supplied by the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, with muskets, ammunition and money with which to pay his soldiers’ wages. This allows him to put over 5,000 men into the field, an army slightly smaller than his enemy’s. The Covenanters have six cannon, whereas the Confederates have none.

Monro assumes that O’Neill will try to avoid his army and has his soldiers march 24 kilometres to intercept the Irish force at Benburb, in modern south County Tyrone. Gerard Hayes-McCoy writes, “many of them must have been close to exhaustion before the battle began.” Monro’s men draw up with their backs to the River Blackwater, facing O’Neill’s troops who are positioned on a rise.

The battle begins with Monro’s artillery firing on the Irish position, but without causing many casualties. Monro’s cavalry then charges the Irish infantry, but are unable to break the Confederates’ pike and musket formation. When this attack fails, O’Neill orders his infantry to advance, pushing the Monro’s forces back into a loop of the river by the push of pike. It is noted that the Irish pikes have longer shafts and narrower heads than those of their opponents, meaning that they outreach them and are “better to pierce.” At this point, the fatigue of Monro’s troops is apparent as they are gradually pushed back until their formation collapses in on itself. The Confederate infantry then breaks Monro’s disordered formation with a musket volley at point-blank range and falls in amongst them with swords and scians (Irish long knives). Monro and his cavalry flee the scene, as, shortly after, does his infantry. A great many of them are cut down or drowned in the ensuing pursuit. Monro’s losses are estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 men, killed or wounded. The Irish casualties are estimated to be 300.

O’Neill’s victory means that the Covenanters are no longer a threat to the Confederates, but they remain encamped around Carrickfergus for the rest of the war. O’Neill does not follow up his victory but takes his army south to intervene in the politics of the Irish Confederation. In particular, he wants to make sure that the treaty the Supreme Council of the Confederates has signed with the English Royalists will not be ratified.

The battle is commemorated in the ballad “The Battle of Benburb.”


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The McMahon Murders

The McMahon murders occur on March 24, 1922 when six Catholic civilians are shot dead at the home of the McMahon family in Belfast. Police officers break into their house at night and shoot all eight males inside, in an apparent sectarian attack. The victims are businessman Owen McMahon, four of his sons, and one of his employees. Two others are shot but survive, and a female family member is assaulted. The survivors say that most of the gunmen wore police uniforms and it is suspected that they were members of the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC). It is believed to be a reprisal for the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) killing of two policemen the previous day.

Following the end of the Irish War of Independence in July 1921 and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, the new unionist Government of Northern Ireland establishes the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), a quasi-military reserve police force to the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), to counter the IRA.

The McMahon killings are believed to be a reprisal for the IRA’s killing of two USC policemen in Belfast. On March 23, 1922, USC officers Thomas Cunningham and William Cairnside are patrolling Great Victoria Street in the city centre when they are approached by a group of IRA members and shot dead. Two Catholics, Peter Murphy (61) and Sarah McShane (15), are shot dead in a suspected reprisal attack several hours later in the Catholic Short Strand area by unidentified gunmen. The McMahon family has no connection to any paramilitary violence.

At about 1:00 a.m. on March 24, 1922, two men wearing police uniforms seize a sledgehammer from a Belfast Corporation workman, who is guarding a building site at Carlisle Circus. A curfew is in place at the time, due to the daily violence in the city. At nearby Clifton Avenue they meet three other men and the party of five proceed to the home of Owen McMahon. Eight males and three females are in the house that night. The males are Owen, his six sons, and Edward McKinney, a parish just north of Buncrana in Inishowen, County Donegal. He works for the McMahons as a barman. The women are Owen’s wife Eliza, her daughter and her niece. At about 1:20 a.m., the gang uses the sledgehammer to break down the door of the McMahon residence.

Owen’s wife, Eliza, says that four of the men wore police caps and carried revolvers while another wore civilian clothes. John McMahon, one of Owen’s sons, says, “Four of the five men were dressed in the uniform of the RIC but, from their appearance, I know they are Specials, not regular RIC.” All of the men hide their faces. The four men in police uniform rush up the stairs and herd the males into the dining room. The women are taken into another room. When Owen asks why his family is being singled-out, one of the gunmen says it is because he is “a respected papist.” The gunmen say “you boys say your prayers,” before opening fire. The shooting continues for five minutes. Five of the men are killed outright and two are wounded, one fatally.

Owen McMahon (50), Gerard McMahon (15), Frank McMahon (24), Patrick McMahon (22) and Edward McKinney (25) are killed outright while Bernard McMahon (26) dies later. The youngest McMahon son, 12-year-old Michael, survives the attack by hiding behind furniture and pretending to be hit. John McMahon (30) survives despite serious gunshot wounds. Eliza McMahon raises the alarm by opening the drawing room window and shouting “Murder! Murder!” A matron at an adjoining nursing home is alerted and phones the police and an ambulance.

It is alleged that a group of policemen operating out of Brown Square Barracks in the Shankill Road area are behind the killings. This has never been proved, but historian Eamon Phoenix, of Stranmillis University College in Belfast, has said there is “strong circumstantial evidence” that District Inspector John Nixon was responsible. Historian Tim Pat Coogan believes the police were responsible. An inquiry is carried out by the Department of Defence of the Irish Free State, but not by the Northern Irish authorities. A 1924 Free State report alleges that twelve policemen, whom the report identifies by name, had carried out the McMahon murders, as well as several other attacks on Catholics.

The killings cause outrage among Belfast’s Catholic population and over 10,000 people attend the funerals of those killed.

David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, worried that the violence could collapse the new Northern Ireland administration, organise a meeting in London between Irish republican leader Michael Collins and Sir James Craig, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, both to try to stop the IRA violence which Collins has been tacitly encouraging and supporting, and to pressure Craig to provide more protection for Catholics. Craig denies the nationalist assertion that the McMahon killings were part of an anti-Catholic pogrom on behalf of state forces.

No one is ever prosecuted for the killings but District Inspector John Nixon of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) is strongly suspected of being responsible. Nixon is later forced to step down from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the force that succeeds the RIC in June 1922, albeit on full pension, in 1924 after being heard giving (in breach of police regulations) a political speech to an Orange Order meeting saying that, “not an inch of Ulster should be yielded” to the Free State.