seamus dubhghaill

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


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Execution of the Sheares Brothers

Brothers John and Henry Sheares, both Irish lawyers and members of the Society of United Irishmen, are executed in Dublin on July 14, 1798 during the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

The Sheares brothers are the sons of Henry Sheares, a liberal banker from County Cork who also sits in the Irish Parliament for the Borough of Clonakilty. Henry attends Trinity College, Dublin, buys an officer’s commission and then studies as a lawyer, being called to the bar as a barrister in 1790. John qualifies as a barrister in 1788.

In 1792 the brothers go to Paris and are swept away by the popular enthusiasms of the French Revolution. They meet leaders such as Jacques Pierre Brissot and Jean-Marie Roland, both of whom are to be executed in 1793. In particular they witness the introduction of the guillotine, on which 1,400 are to die in 1792. On the boat from France to England they meet Daniel O’Connell, then a student, who is disgusted by the increasingly bloodthirsty nature of the revolution. O’Connell remains an advocate of non-violence thereafter.

The brothers join the United Irish movement upon their return to Dublin in January 1793, when it is still legal, and John begins to write articles for the Press, a nationalist paper. However, France declares war on Britain, and by extension on Ireland, in February 1793. The Society’s initial aims of securing Catholic emancipation and universal suffrage are unsuccessful, amounting to the administration’s 1793 Relief Act. Its stance becomes more radical, and in turn the Irish administration fears a group inspired by France, banning it in 1794.

The Sheares brothers principally organise the movement in Cork, while continuing with their legal careers. A Mr. Conway, one of their keenest members in Cork, informs the administration of their activities. During 1793 the brothers also join the Dublin Society of the United Irishmen, where another spy, Thomas Collins, passes on their names. Their other two less famous brothers enlist in the British army and are killed in action. On the arrest of most of the United Irish “Directory” members in March 1798, John is chosen as a replacement on the approach to the outbreak of rebellion. His main act at this point is to decide on the date – May 23.

The Directory fatally stays in Dublin, where the United Irish have less support. Already quietly betrayed by Conway and Collins, John also befriends Captain Warnesford Armstrong from County Down, who claims to be a busy member of the party there. John never verifies this, and Armstrong informs the authorities of the brothers’ whereabouts, also appearing as a witness in the ensuing trial. They are arrested on May 21 and indicted on June 26.

Inevitably the brothers are tried on July 12, as the rebellion is at its height, and are hanged, drawn and quartered two days later outside Newgate Prison. Their lawyer is John Philpot Curran who, with Sir Jonah Barrington, obtain a stay of execution in the hope that Henry will recant, but the brothers are already dead. They are buried at Dublin’s St. Michan’s Church. Visitors are brought to their coffins on a tour of St. Michan’s vaults.

(Pictured: The coffins of the Sheares brothers in the crypt of St. Michan’s Church)


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Death of Barry Edward O’Meara, Physician to Napoleon

Barry Edward O’Meara, Irish surgeon and founding member of the Reform Club, dies in London on June 3, 1836.

Born in Ireland, O’Meara joins the British navy in 1808, after he has been dismissed from the army for assisting in a duel. In July 1815 he is serving on the HMS Bellerophon when Napoleon surrenders on board.

His knowledge of Italian impresses Napoleon and he requests O’Meara’s services on St. Helena. O’Meara remains on St. Helena as Napoleon’s personal physician until 1818, when his refusal to spy on the Emperor for the British governor of the island causes him to be dismissed from that post.

On his return to London, O’Meara publishes Napoleon in Exile, or A Voice From St. Helena (1822) a book which charges Sir Hudson Lowe with mistreating the former emperor and created no small sensation on its appearance. Less known are his secret letters he sends clandestinely from St. Helena to a clerk at the Admiralty in London. These letters shed a unique light on Napoleon’s state of mind as a captive and the causes of his complaints against Sir Hudson Lowe and the British government.

O’Meara is also the physician who performs the very first medical operation on Napoleon by extracting a wisdom tooth in the autumn of 1817.

O’Meara also becomes involved in politics, helping to found the Reform Club. O’Meara dies on June 3, 1836, from complications after catching a cold while attending one of Daniel O’Connell‘s political rallies.


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Death of Street Rhymer Michael J. Moran

Michael J. Moran, an Irish street rhymer popularly known as Zozimus, dies in Dublin on April 3, 1846. He is a resident of Dublin and also known as the “Blind Bard of the Liberties” and the “Last of the Gleemen.”

Moran is born around 1794 in Faddle Alley off the Blackpitts in Dublin’s Liberties and lives in Dublin all his life. At two weeks old he is blinded by illness. He develops an astounding memory for verse and makes his living reciting poems, many of which he has composed himself, in his own lively style. He is described by songwriter Patrick Joseph McCall as the last gleeman of the Pale.

Many of his rhymes have religious themes while others are political or recount current events. He is said to have worn “a long, coarse, dark, frieze coat with a cape, the lower parts of the skirts being scalloped, an old soft, greasy, brown beaver hat, corduroy trousers and Francis Street brogues, and he carried a long blackthorn stick secured to his wrist with a strap.”

Moran performs all over Dublin including at Essex Bridge, Wood Quay, Church Street, Dame Street, Capel Street, Sackville Street, Grafton Street, Henry Street, and Conciliation Hall.

In his last few years, Moran’s voice grows weak, costing him his means of livelihood. He ends up feeble and bedridden and he dies on April 3, 1846 at his lodgings in 15 Patrick Street. He is buried two days later on Palm Sunday in Glasnevin’s Prospect Cemetery, which is guarded day and night, as he had feared grave robbers, who are busy in Dublin at the time.

His grave remains unmarked until the late 1960s, when the band Dublin City Ramblers erect a tombstone in his memory. His grave is in the “Poor Ground” of the cemetery, not far from Daniel O’Connell‘s monument.

Moran’s nickname is derived from a poem written by Anthony Coyle, Bishop of Raphoe about Saint Mary of Egypt. According to legend, she had followed pilgrims to Jerusalem with the intent of seducing them, then, turning penitent on finding herself prevented from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by a supernatural force, she flees to the desert and spends the remainder of her life in solitary penance. When she is at the point of death, God sends Zosimas of Palestine to hear her confession and give her Holy Communion, and a lion to dig her grave. The poem has the intolerable cadence of the eighteenth century, but is so popular, and so often called for, that Moran is soon nicknamed “Zozimus,” and by that name is remembered.


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Birth of William Edward Hartpole Lecky, Historian & Theorist

William Edward Hartpole Lecky, Irish historian and political theorist, is born at Newtown Park, near Dublin, on March 26, 1838. His major work is an eight-volume History of England during the Eighteenth Century.

Lecky is educated at Kingstown, Armagh, at Cheltenham College, and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduates BA in 1859 and MA in 1863, and where he studies divinity with a view of becoming a priest in the Church of Ireland.

In 1860, Lecky publishes anonymously a small book entitled The Religious Tendencies of the Age, but upon leaving college he turns to historiography. In 1861 he publishes Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland, containing brief sketches of Jonathan Swift, Henry Flood, Henry Grattan, and Daniel O’Connell, originally anonymous and republished in 1871. The essay on Swift, rewritten and amplified, appears again in 1897 as an introduction to an edition of Swift’s works. Two surveys follow: A History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe (2 vols., 1865), and A History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne (2 vols., 1869). The latter arouses criticism, with its opening dissertation on “the natural history of morals.”

Lecky then concentrates on his major work, A History of England during the Eighteenth Century, Vols. i. and ii. which appear in 1878, and Vols. vii. and viii., which complete the work, in 1890. In the “cabinet” edition of 1892, in twelve volumes, A History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century is separated out.

A volume of Poems (1891) is less successful. In 1896, he publishes two volumes entitled Democracy and Liberty, in which he considers modern democracy. The pessimistic conclusions at which he arrives provoked criticism both in the UK and the United States, which is renewed when he publishes in a new edition (1899) his low estimate of William Ewart Gladstone, then recently dead.

In The Map of Life (1899) Lecky discusses in a popular style ethical problems of everyday life. In 1903 he publishes a revised and enlarged edition of Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland, in two volumes, with the essay on Swift omitted and that on O’Connell expanded into a complete biography. A critic of the methods by which the Act of Union is passed, Lecky, who grew up as a moderate Liberal, is opposed to Gladstone’s policy of Home Rule and, in 1895, he is returned to parliament as Unionist member for University of Dublin constituency in a by-election. In 1897, he is made a privy councillor, and among the coronation honours in 1902, he is nominated an original member of the new Order of Merit.

William Edward Hartpole Lecky dies in London on October 22, 1903.


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Birth of Revolutionary James Fintan Lalor

james-fintan-lalorJames Fintan Lalor, Irish revolutionary, journalist, and one of the most powerful writers of his day, is born on March 10, 1807, in Tinnakill House, Raheen, County Laois. A leading member of the Irish Confederation (Young Ireland), he plays an active part in both the Rebellion in July 1848 and the attempted Rising in September of that same year.

His father Patrick is an extensive farmer and is the first Catholic MP for Laois from 1832–1835. The household is a very political one where active discussion on national issues is encouraged.

Because of an accident when he is young, James is semi-crippled all his life. He is not a very healthy young man and consequently is educated at home. He spends some time attending college in Carlow but is forced to return home because of his health.

His father is passionately opposed to the payment of tithes and urges Catholics not to pay. James supports this stand but it is the land question and the power of the landlords to evict tenants that exercises James in particular. His father is also a great supporter of Daniel O’Connell and the Repeal movement. However, James does not support the Repeal movement as he considers it to be flawed. As a result, a rift occurs between James and his father on this question. Such is the rift that James leaves home and spends time in Belfast and Dublin. He finally returns home due to ill health and heals his differences with his father.

It is while writing from home that James achieves national prominence. His writings have a profound effect on such figures as Michael Davitt, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, and Arthur Griffith. He contributes articles to The Nation and The Felon. He advocates rent strikes and active resistance to any wrongdoings. His central theme is the rights of the tenant farmer to his own land. In his opinion, land reform is the biggest issue of the time. He writes articles such as “What must be done,” “The Faith of a felon,” “Resistance,” and “Clearing Decks.” It is he who says it is time for revolution and active resistance. This is especially evident during famine years when tenants are being evicted for nonpayment of rent. As a result, he is arrested and imprisoned. Upon his release he continues to write. He is now a nationally acclaimed writer, revolutionary, and reformer.

Ill health once again curtails his efforts. An attack of bronchitis eventually brings about his early death on December 27, 1849, at the age of 43. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetary in Dublin.


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William Smith O’Brien Pardoned from Deportation

william-smith-obrienWilliam Smith O’Brien, leader of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, is pardoned from his deportation to Van Diemen’s Land on February 26, 1854, on the condition of exile from Ireland.

From April 1828 to 1831 O’Brien serves as Conservative MP for Ennis. He becomes MP for Limerick County in 1835, holding his seat in the House of Commons until 1849.

Although a Protestant country-gentleman, O’Brien supports Catholic Emancipation while remaining a supporter of British-Irish union. In 1843, in protest against the imprisonment of Daniel O’Connell, he joins O’Connell’s anti-union Repeal Association.

Three years later, O’Brien withdraws the Young Irelanders from the association. In January 1847, along with Thomas Francis Meagher, he founds the Irish Confederation, although he continues to preach reconciliation until O’Connell’s death in May 1847. He is active in seeking relief from the hardships of the famine. In March 1848, he speaks out in favour of a National Guard and tries to incite a national rebellion. He is tried for sedition on May 15, 1848 but is not convicted.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien and other Young Irelanders lead landlords and tenants in a rising in three counties, with an almost bloodless battle against police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary. In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England.

In Dublin on June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land, which is Tasmania in present-day Australia.

O’Brien attempts to escape from Maria Island off Tasmania, but is betrayed by Captain Ellis of the schooner hired for the escape. He is sent to Port Arthur where he meets up with John Mitchel, who had been transported prior to the rebellion. The cottages which O’Brien lives in on Maria Island and Port Arthur have been preserved in their 19th century state as memorials.

Having emigrated to the United States, Ellis is tried by another Young Irelanders leader, Terence MacManus, at a lynch court in San Francisco for the betrayal of O’Brien. He is freed for lack of evidence.

In 1854, after five years in Tasmania, O’Brien is released on the condition he never return to Ireland. He settles in Brussels. In May 1856, he is granted an unconditional pardon and returns to Ireland that July. He contributes to The Nation newspaper, but plays no further part in politics.

In 1864 he visits England and Wales, with the view of rallying his failing health, but no improvement takes place and he dies at Bangor, Wales on June, 16, 1864.


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Death of John O’Mahony, Founder of the Fenian Brotherhood

john-omahonyJohn Francis O’Mahony, Gaelic scholar and the founding member of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States, sister organisation to the Irish Republican Brotherhood, dies in New York City on February 7, 1877.

O’Mahony is born in 1816 in Kilbeheny, County Limerick. His father and uncle were members of the Society of United Irishmen, and took part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. On the death of an elder brother, he inherits a property which yields £300 per annum. He enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he studies Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Irish. He becomes an accomplished Gaelic scholar, and later teaches Greek and Latin, and contributes articles to Irish and French journals. He leaves Trinity without getting a degree.

In 1843, O’Mahony joins Daniel O’Connell‘s movement for the Repeal of the Acts of Union 1800, but quickly becomes dissatisfied with the lack of progress and joins the Young Ireland movement which William Smith O’Brien leads and takes part in the failed Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. His participation in the rebellion obligates him to leave Ireland, and he settles for a time in Paris, where he lives in great poverty. In 1854, he joins John Mitchel in New York City, and takes part in the Emigrant Aid Association, the Emmet Monument Association, and other Irish organisations.

In 1857, O’Mahony publishes History of Ireland, by Geoffrey Keating, D. D., translated from the Original Gaelic, and Copiously Annotated (New York, 1857). O’Mahony’s notes are copied from John O’Donovan‘s translations of Annals of the Four Masters, and it is on this ground that Hodges & Smith procures an injunction against the sale of the book in the United Kingdom. The mental strain to which O’Mahony is subjected in the preparation of this work, which brings him no pecuniary gain, affects his reasoning and he is removed by his friends for a short time to a lunatic asylum.

In 1860, O’Mahony organises the Fenian Brotherhood, also known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The object of the association is to secure the freedom of Ireland. The name is probably derived from O’Mahony’s Gaelic studies, the Fenians having been a military body in pagan Ireland, celebrated in the songs of Ossian. The organisation of the new society is completed at conventions that are held in Chicago in 1864 and in Cincinnati in January 1865.

At the time of the Cincinnati convention, O’Mahony holds the rank of colonel of the 69th Regiment of New York State Militia, recruited mainly from the ranks of the Brotherhood, which has also furnished a large proportion of Thomas Francis Meagher‘s Irish Brigade, Michael Corcoran‘s legion, and Irish regiments engaged in the American Civil War. The rapid growth in membership of the Fenian Brotherhood renders it impossible for O’Mahony to retain the colonelcy of the 69th regiment, which he has held for some time. He resigns in order to give all his attention to the spread of Fenianism.

The close of the civil war in the spring of 1865 gives a great impetus to the Fenians, owing to the number of Irish American soldiers that are disbanded and anxious to see service elsewhere. Money pours into the Fenian exchequer. Many differences occur between O’Mahony and James Stephens and the Central Council relative to the policy to be pursued for the attainment of their object, but O’Mahony remains president of the organisation for several years. He does not take any part personally in the attempted insurrection in Ireland or in the raids on Canada, although his advice counts for much in these enterprises.

He devotes the last years of his life to literary pursuits, but suffers from ill health, and he has a hard struggle to secure the bare means for subsistence. However visionary may have been his objectives, he is honest, and although thousands have passed through his hands, he is often at a loss for a dollar. When his poverty is discovered, he declines to receive assistance in any form. He dies in New York City on February 7, 1877 and soon after his death his remains are returned to Ireland and interred with the honors of a public funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.