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


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Birth of Sir Aubrey (Hunt) de Vere

aubrey-hunt-de-vereSir Aubrey (Hunt) de Vere, 2nd Baronet, Anglo-Irish poet and landowner, is born on August 28, 1788.

De Vere is the son of Sir Vere Hunt, 1st Baronet and Eleanor Pery, daughter of William Pery, 1st Baron Glentworth. He is educated at Harrow School, where he is a childhood friend of Lord Byron, and Trinity College, Dublin. He marries Mary Spring Rice, the daughter of Stephen Edward Rice and Catherine Spring, and sister of Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon, in 1807. He succeeds to his father’s title in 1818.

The Hunt/de Vere family estate of 300 years (1657–1957), including the period of the de Vere Baronetcy of Curragh, is the present day Curraghchase Forest Park, in County Limerick. De Vere spends most of his life on the estate and is closely involved in its management. He suffers much trouble from his ownership of the island of Lundy, which his father, who was not much of a businessman, had unwisely purchased in 1802, and which becomes a heavy drain on the family’s finances. Sir Vere is never able to find a purchaser for Lundy, and it takes his son until 1834 to dispose of it.

De Vere stands for election in the 1820 General Election and comes in third with 2,921 votes.

De Vere changes his surname from Hunt to de Vere in 1832, in reference to his Earl of Oxford ancestors, dating back to Aubrey de Vere I, a tenant-in-chief in England of William the Conqueror in 1086. He serves as High Sheriff of County Limerick in 1811.

De Vere is a poet. William Wordsworth calls his sonnets the most perfect of the age. These and his drama, Mary Tudor: An Historical Drama, are published by his son, the poet Aubrey Thomas de Vere, in 1875 and 1884.

De Vere produces numerous works over his lifetime. The most notable are Ode to the Duchess of Angouleme (1815), Julian the Apostate: A Dramatic Poem (1822), The Duke of Mercia: An Historical Drama [with] The Lamentation of Ireland, and Other Poems (1823), A Song of Faith: Devout Exercises and Sonnets and his most famous work, Mary Tudor: An Historical Drama.

Sir Aubrey de Vere dies on July 5, 1846.

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Birth of Dan Breen, IRA Volunteer & Fianna Fáil Politician

Irish republican Dan Breen (1967)Daniel “Dan” Breen, volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, is born in Grange, Donohill parish, County Tipperary, on August 11, 1894. In later years, he is a Fianna Fáil politician.

Breen’s father dies when he is six, leaving the family very poor. He is educated locally before becoming a plasterer and later a linesman on the Great Southern Railways.

Breen is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912 and the Irish Volunteers in 1914. On January 21, 1919, the day the First Dáil meets in Dublin, Breen takes part in the Soloheadbeg Ambush. The ambush party of eight men, led by Seán Treacy, attacks two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men who are escorting explosives to a quarry. The two policemen, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, are fatally shot during the incident. The ambush is considered to be the first incident of the Irish War of Independence.

During the conflict, the British put a £1,000 price on Breen’s head, which is later increased to £10,000. He quickly establishes himself as a leader within the Irish Republican Army. He is known for his courage. On May 13, 1919 he helps rescue his comrade Seán Hogan at gunpoint from a heavily guarded train at Knocklong station in County Limerick. Breen, who is wounded, remembers how the battalion is “vehemently denounced as a cold-blooded assassins” and roundly condemned by the Catholic Church. After the fight, Treacy, Séumas Robinson, and Breen meet Michael Collins in Dublin, where they are told to make themselves scarce although they do not necessarily agree.

Breen and Sean Treacy shoot their way out through a British military cordon in the northern suburb of Drumcondra (Fernside). They escape, only for Treacy to be killed the next day. Breen is shot at least four times, twice in the lung.

The British reaction is to make Tipperary a “Special Military Area,” with curfews and travel permits. Volunteer GHQ authorises entrerprising attacks on barracks. The British policy forces Breen and Treacy to retreat to Dublin. They join Michael Collins’ Squad of assassins, later known as the Dublin Guard, and Dublin becomes the centre of the war.

Breen is present in December 1919 at the ambush in Ashtown beside Phoenix Park in Dublin where Martin Savage is killed while trying to assassinate the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Viscount John French. The IRA hides behind hedges and a dungheap as the convoy of vehicles drives past. They have been instructed to ignore the first car but this contains their target, Lord French. Their roadblock fails as a policeman removes the horse and cart intended to stop the car.

Breen utterly rejects the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which makes him, like many others, angry and embittered. In the June 1922 elections Breen is nominated as a candidate by both the pro- and anti-Treaty sides, but is not elected.

Breen is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election as a Republican anti-Treaty Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary constituency. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Breen joins the Anti-Treaty IRA in the civil war, fighting against those of his former comrades in arms who support the Treaty. He is arrested by the National Army of the Irish Free State and interned at Limerick Prison. He spends two months there before going on hunger strike for six days followed by a thirst strike of six days, prompting his release.

Breen writes a best-selling account of his guerrilla days, My Fight for Irish Freedom, in 1924. He represents Tipperary from the fourth Dáil in 1923 as a Republican with Éamon de Valera and Frank Aiken. He is defeated in the June 1927 general election and travels to the United States where he opens a prohibition speakeasy. In 1932 he returns to Ireland and regains his seat as a member of Fianna Fáil in the Dáil at that year’s general election. During World War II he is said to hold largely pro-Axis views. He represents his Tipperary constituency without a break until his retirement at the 1965 election.

Breen dies in Dublin on December 27, 1969 and is buried in Donohill, near his birthplace. His funeral is the largest seen in west Tipperary since that of his close friend and comrade-in-arms Seán Treacy at Kilfeacle in October 1920. An estimated attendance of 10,000 mourners assemble in the tiny hamlet, giving ample testimony to the esteem in which he was held.

Breen is the subject of a 2007 biography Dan Breen and the IRA by Joe Ambrose.


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Birth of Sir Thomas Myles, Home Ruler & Surgeon

thomas-mylesSir Thomas Myles, a prominent Irish Home Ruler and surgeon, is born in Limerick, County Limerick on April 20, 1857. He is involved in the importation of arms for the Irish Volunteers in 1914.

Myles is the third of eleven children born to John Myles (1807-1871), a wealthy corn merchant, and his second wife Prudence, daughter of William Bradshaw of Kylebeg, County Tipperary. The Myles family has been prominent merchants in and around Limerick city since Oliver Cromwell‘s time.

A prominent sportsman from an early age, Myles graduates in medicine at Trinity College Dublin in 1881. One of his duties in his first job as resident surgeon at Dr. Steevens’s Hospital is to render medical assistance to the victims of the Phoenix Park murders on May 6, 1882.

From 1900 until 1902, Myles is President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. After stepping down, he is appointed a Knight Bachelor in the 1902 Coronation Honours list published on June 26, 1902, and knighted by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, George Cadogan, 5th Earl Cadogan, at Dublin Castle on August 11, 1902. He also receives the honorary freedom of his native city.

Myles is also an active Home Ruler. He owns a yacht, the Chotah. In 1914, he is recruited by James Creed Meredith to help in the importation of guns for the Irish Volunteers with Erskine Childers, Edward Conor Marshall O’Brien and others. Childers lands his part of the consignment from the Asgard at Howth on July 26, 1914. Myles’s cargo is landed by the Chotah at Kilcoole, County Wicklow a week later. Meredith himself helps out aboard the Chotah during the operation. On August 1, 1914, 600 Mauser rifles and 20,000 rounds of ammunition are landed at the beach in Kilcoole. Once the arms are landed they are taken away by Volunteers on bicycles and in vehicles. The arms are taken to Patrick Pearse‘s St. Enda’s School, in Rathfarnham, County Dublin.

Myles is appointed temporary Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Army Medical Corps on November 21, 1914 and also becomes Honorary Surgeon in Ireland to the King. He is appointed to be an Additional Member of the Military Division of the Third Class, or Companion, of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, for services rendered in connection with the war, the appointment to date from January 1, 1917.

Sir Thomas Myles dies at the St. Lawrence’s Hospital in Dublin on July 14, 1937 and is buried at Deansgrange Cemetery in Dublin. Every year at the University of Limerick, the Sir Thomas Myles lecture is delivered as part of the Sylvester O’Halloran Surgical Meeting in honour of this remarkable surgeon and son of Limerick.


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Birth of Aubrey Thomas de Vere, Critic & Poet

aubrey-de-vereAubrey Thomas de Vere, a critic and poet who adapts early Gaelic tales, is born on January 10, 1814 at Curraghchase House, now in ruins at Curraghchase Forest ParkCurraghchase Forest Park, Kilcornan, County Limerick.

Hunt de Vere is the third son of Sir Aubrey de Vere, 2nd Baronet and his wife Mary Spring Rice, daughter of Stephen Edward Rice and Catherine Spring, of Mount Trenchard, County Limerick. He is a nephew of Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon and a younger brother of Sir Stephen de Vere, 4th Baronet. His sister Ellen marries Robert O’Brien, the brother of William Smith O’Brien. In 1832, his father drops the original surname “Hunt” by royal licence, assuming the surname “de Vere.”

de Vere is strongly influenced by his friendship with the astronomer Sir William Rowan Hamilton through whom he comes to a knowledge and reverent admiration for William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He is educated privately at home and in 1832 enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he reads Immanuel Kant and Coleridge. Later he visits Oxford, Cambridge, and Rome, and comes under the potent influence of John Henry Newman. He is also a close friend of Henry Taylor.

The characteristics of de Vere’s poetry are high seriousness and a fine religious enthusiasm. His research in questions of faith leads him to the Roman Catholic Church where in 1851 he is received into the Church by Cardinal Henry Edward Manning in Avignon. In many of his poems, notably in the volume of sonnets called St. Peters Chains (1888), he makes rich additions to devotional verse. For a few years he holds a professorship, under Newman, in the Catholic University in Dublin.

In A Book of Irish VerseW. B. Yeats describes de Vere’s poetry as having “less architecture than the poetry of Ferguson and Allingham, and more meditation. Indeed, his few but ever memorable successes are enchanted islands in gray seas of stately impersonal reverie and description, which drift by and leave no definite recollection. One needs, perhaps, to perfectly enjoy him, a Dominican habit, a cloister, and a breviary.”

de Vere also visits the Lake Country of England, and stays under Wordsworth’s roof, which he calls the greatest honour of his life. His veneration for Wordsworth is singularly shown in later life, when he never omits a yearly pilgrimage to the grave of the poet until advanced age makes the journey impossible.

de Vere is of tall and slender physique, thoughtful and grave in character, of exceeding dignity and grace of manner, and retains his vigorous mental powers to a great age. According to Helen Grace Smith, he is one of the most profoundly intellectual poets of his time. His census return for 1901 lists his profession as “Author.”

Aubrey de Vere dies at Curraghchase on January 20, 1902, at the age of eighty-eight. As he never married, the name of de Vere at his death becomes extinct for the second time, and is assumed by his nephew.


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The Flight of the Wild Geese

flight-of-the-wild-geesePatrick Sarsfield sails to France on December 22, 1691, leading 19,000 of his countrymen to enter the French service in the first phase of the military denuding of Ireland known as the Flight of the Wild Geese, as agreed in the Treaty of Limerick on October 3, 1691, following the end of the Williamite War in Ireland.

More broadly, the term “Wild Geese” is used in Irish history to refer to Irish soldiers who leave to serve in continental European armies in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, or even, poetically, Irish soldiers in British armies as late as World War I.

Irish recruitment for continental armies dries up after it is made illegal in 1745. In 1732 Sir Charles Wogan indicates in a letter to Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, that 120,000 Irishmen have been killed and wounded in foreign service “within these forty years.” Swift later replies, “I cannot but highly esteem those gentlemen of Ireland who, with all the disadvantages of being exiles and strangers, have been able to distinguish themselves by their valour and conduct in so many parts of Europe, I think, above all other nations.”

It was some time before the British armed forces begin to tap into Irish Catholic manpower. In the late eighteenth century, the Penal Laws are gradually relaxed and in the 1790s the laws prohibiting Catholics bearing arms are abolished.

Thereafter, the British begin recruiting Irish regiments for the Crown Forces – including such famous units as the Connaught Rangers. Several more Irish units are created in the 19th century. By 1914 specifically Irish infantry regiments in the British Army comprise the Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Irish Guards, the Royal Irish Regiment, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Rifles, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Connaught Rangers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers. With the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 five of the above regiments are disbanded, with most of the remainder undergoing a series of amalgamations between 1968 and 2006. The United Kingdom still retains three Irish regiments: the Irish Guards, the Royal Irish Regiment, and the London Irish Rifles.

Sarsfield is honored to this day in the crest of County Limerick. The Flight of the Wild Geese is remembered in the poetic words…“War-battered dogs are we, Fighters in every clime, Fillers of trench and of grave, Mockers, bemocked by time. War-dogs, hungry and grey, Gnawing a naked bone, Fighters in every clime, Every cause but our own.”

(Pictured: ‘Irish Troops Leaving Limerick’, 1692, (Cassell Petter & Galpin, London, Paris & New York, c1880), Artist Unknown)


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The Kilmichael Ambush

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThe Kilmichael Ambush is carried out near the village of Kilmichael in County Cork on November 28, 1920 by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence. Thirty-six local IRA volunteers commanded by Tom Barry kill seventeen members of the Royal Irish Constabulary‘s Auxiliary Division. The Kilmichael ambush is politically as well as militarily significant. It occurs one week after Bloody Sunday, marking an escalation in the IRA’s campaign.

As dusk falls the ambush takes place on a road at Dus a’ Bharraigh in the townland of Shanacashel, Kilmichael Parish, near Macroom.

Just before the Auxiliaries in two lorries come into view, two armed IRA volunteers, responding late to Barry’s mobilisation order, drive unwittingly into the ambush position in a horse and side-car, almost shielding the British forces behind them. Barry manages to avert disaster by directing the car up a side road and out of the way. The Auxiliaries’ first lorry is persuaded to slow down by the sight of Barry placing himself on the road in front of a concealed Command Post, wearing an IRA officer’s tunic given to him by Paddy O’Brien. Concealed on the south side of the road are six riflemen, whose instructions are to prevent the enemy taking up positions on that side. Another six riflemen are positioned some way off as an insurance group, should a third Auxiliary lorry appear.

The first lorry, containing nine Auxiliaries, slows almost to a halt close to their intended ambush position, at which point Barry gives the order to fire. He throws a Mills bomb that explodes in the open cab of the first lorry. A savage close-quarter fight ensues. According to Barry’s account, some of the British are killed using rifle butts and bayonets in a brutal and bloody encounter. This part of the engagement is over relatively quickly with all nine Auxiliaries dead or dying.

While this part of the fight is going on, a second lorry also containing nine Auxiliaries has driven into the ambush position. This lorry’s occupants, at a more advantageous position than Auxiliaries in the first lorry because of their distance from the ambushing group, dismount to the road and exchange fire with the IRA, killing Michael McCarthy. Barry then brings the Command Post soldiers who had completed the attack on the first lorry to bear on this group. Barry claimed these Auxiliaries called out a surrender and that some dropped their rifles, but opened fire again with revolvers when three IRA men emerged from cover, killing volunteer Jim O’Sullivan instantly and mortally wounding Pat Deasy. Barry then orders his men to open fire and not stop until told to do so. Barry ignores a subsequent attempt by remaining Auxiliaries to surrender, and keeps his men firing until he believes all the Auxiliaries are dead.

At the conclusion of the fight it is observed that two IRA volunteers, Michael McCarthy and Jim O’Sullivan, are dead and that Pat Deasy, brother of Liam Deasy, is mortally wounded. Although the IRA fighters think they had killed all of the Auxiliaries, two actually survive, one very badly injured and another who escapes and is later captured and shot dead. Among the 16 British dead on the road at Kilmichael is Francis Crake, commander of the Auxiliaries in Macroom, probably killed at the start of the action by Barry’s Mills bomb.

Many IRA volunteers are deeply shaken by the severity of the action, referred to by Barry as “the bloodiest in Ireland,” and some are physically sick. Barry attempts to restore discipline by making them form-up and perform drill, before marching away. Barry himself collapses with severe chest pains on December 3 and is secretly hospitalized in Cork. It is possible that the ongoing stress of being on the run and commander of the flying column, along with a poor diet as well as the intense combat at Kilmichael contribute to his illness, diagnosed as heart displacement.

The political fallout from the Kilmichael ambush outweighs its military significance. While the British forces in Ireland can easily absorb 18 casualties, the fact that the IRA had been able to wipe out a whole patrol of elite Auxiliaries is for them deeply shocking. The British forces in the West Cork area take their revenge on the local population by burning several houses, shops and barns in Kilmichael, Johnstown and Inchigeelagh, including all of the houses around the ambush site. On December 3, three IRA volunteers are arrested by the British Essex Regiment in Bandon, beaten and killed, and their bodies dumped on the roadside.

For the British government, the action at Kilmichael is an indication that the violence in Ireland is escalating. Shortly after the ambush, barriers are placed on either end of Downing Street to protect the Prime Minister‘s office from IRA attacks. On December 10, as a result of Kilmichael, martial law is declared for the counties of Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary.

The British military now has the power to execute anyone found carrying arms and ammunition, to search houses, impose curfews, try suspects in military rather than civilian courts and to intern suspects without trial. On December 11, in reprisal for Kilmichael and other IRA actions, the centre of Cork city is burned by Auxiliaries, British soldiers and Black and Tans, and two IRA men are assassinated in their beds. In separate proclamations shortly afterwards, the authorities sanction “official reprisals” against suspected Sinn Féin sympathisers and the use of hostages in military convoys to deter ambushes.

(Pictured: The Kilmichael Ambush Monument at the ambush site)


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Birth of Charlotte Grace O’Brien

charlotte-grace-obrienCharlotte Grace O’Brien, author, philanthropist, plant collector, and activist in nationalist causes and the protection of female emigrants, is born on November 23, 1845 at Cahirmoyle, County Limerick.

O’Brien is the younger daughter in a family of five sons and two daughters of William Smith O’Brien, Irish nationalist, and his wife Lucy Caroline, eldest daughter of Joseph Gabbett, of High Park, County Limerick. Upon her father’s return in 1854 from the penal colony in Tasmania, she rejoins him in Brussels and stays there until his removal to Cahirmoyle in 1856. Upon her mother’s death in 1861 she moves with her father to Killiney, near Dublin, and is his constant companion until his death at Bangor, Gwynedd in 1864.

From 1864 O’Brien lives at Cahirmoyle with her brother Edward, tending his motherless children, until his remarriage in 1880. She then goes to live at Foynes on the River Shannon and there devotes herself to literary pursuits. She has already published in 1878 her first novel, Light and Shade, a tale of the Fenian rising of 1867, the material for which had been gathered from Fenian leaders. A Tale of Venice, a drama, and Lyrics appear in 1880.

By 1881 her interests and pen are absorbed in Irish political affairs, in which she shares her father’s opinions. She contributes articles to the Nineteenth Century on The Irish Poor Man (December 1880) and Eighty Years (March 1881). In the spring of 1881 the attitude of the liberal government towards Ireland leads her to address many fiery letters to The Pall Mall Gazette, then edited by John Morley.

Another interest, however, soon absorbs O’Brien’s activities. The disastrous harvest in Ireland in 1879, combined with Irish political turmoil, leads to much emigration to the United States. At Queenstown, the port of embarkation, female emigrants suffer much from overcrowded lodgings and robbery. She not only induces the board of trade to exercise greater vigilance but also founds in 1881 a large boarding-house at Queenstown for the reception and protection of girls on the point of emigrating.

In order to improve the steamship accommodations for female emigrants, and to study their prospects in America, O’Brien makes several steerage passages to America. She also establishes in New York a similar institution to that in Queenstown for the protection of girls. Many experiences during this period find expression in her Lyrics (Dublin, 1886), a small volume of poems, which gives simple pictures of the emigrants and contains some stirring nationalist ballads.

On her retirement from active public work in 1886, O’Brien returns to Ardanoir, Foynes, on the bank of the Shannon, devoting her leisure to writing and to study of plant life. She contributes much on the flora of the Shannon district to the Irish Naturalist and joins the Roman communion in 1887.

Charlotte Grace O’Brien dies on June 3, 1909 at Foynes, and is buried at Knockpatrick. Selections from her Writings and Correspondence is published at Dublin in 1909. Her verses have dignity and grace, her polemical essays are vigorous and direct, and her essays on nature charm by their simple style.