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


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Capture of Gustavus Conyngham, the Dunkirk Pirate

gustavus-conynghamIrish-born United States Navy Captain Gustavus Conyngham, “The Dunkirk Pirate,” is captured by the British Royal Navy in the waters off New York on April 27, 1779.

Conyngham is born in County Donegal in 1747 and emigrated to British America in 1763 in search of a better life. He settles in Philadelphia in order to work for his cousin Redmond Conyngham in the shipping industry. When the American Revolutionary War begins in 1775 he immediately sailed to France to try to procure supplies needed for the war effort.

The British become aware of Conyngham’s plans and manage to maneuver him out of his ship with the help of the Dutch. After the loss of his ship, he heads back to France, hoping to connect with an ally to the United States. It is there he meets Benjamin Franklin, who helps him in his adventures many times in the future. They form a lasting relationship, and Conyngham eventually awards Franklin the nickname “the Philosopher” for his intellectual fortitude and resourcefulness. Franklin is entrusted with several commissions of the Continental Navy, and on March 1, 1777 Conyngham is appointed Captain of the lugger Surprise.

Conyngham scores a first victory that would warm the heart of any Irishmen, capturing the British merchant ship Prince of Orange on May 3, 1777. Later that year he is commissioned a captain in the Continental Navy and given command of the USS Revenge. He begins a series of highly successful raids into British waters from the port of Dunkirk, thus earning his sobriquet “The Dunkirk Pirate.”

In 1778 Conyngham sets sail for the West Indies and terrorizes British vessels there before finally returning to Philadelphia on February 21, 1779. He and his men had claimed 60 prize vessels in just 18 months. When he sets sail again his luck runs out and his ship is captured by the British vessel HMS Galatea on April 27, 1779. Conyngham was taken to prison in England and treated harshly by his British captors.

After two failed escape attempts, Conyngham tunnels his way out of Mill Prison in Plymouth and manages to make his way to the continent. He joins John Paul Jones on a cruise on the Alliance before returning to the United States. He is captured by the British again in March 1780 and spends another year in Mill Prison.

After the war Conyngham fails in his efforts to continue his naval career or to gain recognition from the United States Congress for his service during the war. He had lost the commission papers given to him by colonial representatives in Paris in 1777. It is said that he assists in the defense of Philadelphia against his old British foes during the War of 1812.

Gustavus Conyngham dies in Philadelphia seven years later on November 27, 1819. Nearly a century later, John Sanford Barnes, a retired navy captain and naval historian, acquires a cache of autographs and documents from a sale by Charavay of Paris. In the collection is Conyngham’s commission from Benjamin Franklin. Barnes publishes his discovery in September 1902, proving that the “Dunkirk Pirate” had never been a pirate at all, but one of the first heroes of the United States Navy.

(Pictured: Captain Gustavus Conyngham, Continental Navy. Painting by V. Zveg, 1976, based on a miniature by Louis Marie Sicardi. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.)

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Birth of Kenneth Branagh, Actor, Director & Producer

kenneth-branaghSir Kenneth Charles Branagh, British actor, director, producer, and screenwriter, is born in Belfast on December 10, 1960.

Branagh is the middle of three children of working-class Protestant parents Frances (née Harper) and William Branagh, a plumber and joiner who runs a company that specialises in fitting partitions and suspended ceilings. He lives in the Tiger’s Bay area of the city and is educated at Grove Primary School.

At the age of nine, Branagh moves with his family to Reading, Berkshire, England, to escape the Troubles. He is educated at Whiteknights Primary School, then Meadway School, Tilehurst, where he appears in school productions such as Toad of Toad Hall and Oh, What a Lovely War!. He attends the amateur Reading Cine & Video Society (now called Reading Film & Video Makers) as a member and is a keen member of Progress Theatre for whom he is now the patron. He goes on to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and in 2015 succeeds Richard Attenborough as its president.

Branagh has both directed and starred in several film adaptations of William Shakespeare‘s plays, including Henry V (1989) (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and Academy Award for Best Director), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Othello (1995), Hamlet (1996) (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay), Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000), and As You Like It (2006).

Branagh stars in numerous other films and television series including Fortunes of War (1987), Woody Allen‘s Celebrity (1998), Wild Wild West (1999), The Road to El Dorado (2000), Conspiracy (2001), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Warm Springs (2005), as Major General Henning von Tresckow in Valkyrie (2008), The Boat That Rocked (2009), Wallander (2008–2016), My Week with Marilyn (2011) as Sir Laurence Olivier (nominated for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), and as Royal Navy Commander Bolton in the action-thriller Dunkirk (2017). He directs such films as Dead Again (1991), in which he also stars, Swan Song (1992) (nominated for Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) in which he also stars, The Magic Flute (2006), Sleuth (2007), the blockbuster superhero film Thor (2011), the action thriller Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) in which he also co-stars, the live-action film Cinderella (2015), and the mystery drama adaptation of Agatha Christie‘s Murder on the Orient Express (2017), in which he also stars as Hercule Poirot.

Branagh narrates the series Cold War (1998), the BBC documentary miniseries Walking with Dinosaurs (1999), Walking with Beasts (2001) and Walking with Monsters (2005). He has been nominated for five Academy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, and has won three BAFTAs, and an Emmy Award. He is appointed a Knight Bachelor in the 2012 Birthday Honours and is knighted on November 9, 2012. He is awarded the Freedom of the City of his native city of Belfast in January 2018.


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Death of James Napper Tandy, Irish Revolutionary

James Napper Tandy, Irish revolutionary and member of the Society of United Irishmen, dies in Bordeaux, France on August 24, 1803.

A Dublin Protestant and the son of an ironmonger, Tandy is baptised in St. Audoen’s Church on February 16, 1739. He attends the Quaker boarding school in Ballitore, County Kildare. He starts life as a small tradesman. Turning to politics, he becomes a member of Dublin Corporation and is popular for his denunciation of municipal corruption and his proposal of a boycott of English goods in Ireland in retaliation for the restrictions imposed by the government on Irish commerce.

Tandy and John Binns persuade Dublin Corporation to condemn by resolution William Pitt the Younger‘s amended commercial resolutions in 1785. He becomes a member of the Whig club founded by Henry Grattan, and he actively co-operates with Theobald Wolfe Tone in founding the Society of United Irishmen in 1791, of which he becomes the first secretary.

Sympathy with the French Revolution is rapidly spreading in Ireland. A meeting of some 6,000 people in Belfast vote a congratulatory address to the French nation in July 1791. In the following year, Tandy takes a leading part in organising a new military association in Ireland modelled after the French National Guard. Tandy also, with the purpose of bringing about a fusion between the Defenders and the United Irishmen, took the oath of the Defenders, a Roman Catholic society whose agrarian and political violence had been increasing for several years.

Tandy is about to be tried in 1793 for distributing a seditious pamphlet in County Louth when the government discovers he has taken the oath of the Defenders. Being threatened with prosecution for this step, and also for libel, he takes refuge by changing his Dublin address often until he flees to the United States in 1795, where he remains until 1798. In February 1798 he goes to Paris, where a number of Irish refugees are assembled and planning rebellion in Ireland to be supported by a French invasion, but quarrelling among themselves over tactics.

Tandy accepts the offer of a corvette, the HMS Anacreon, from the French government and sails from Dunkirk accompanied by a few United Irishmen, a small force of men and a considerable quantity of arms and ammunition for distribution in Ireland. He arrives at the isle of Arranmore, off the coast of County Donegal, on September 16, 1798.

Tandy takes possession of the village of Rutland, where he hoists an Irish flag and issues a proclamation. He soon discovers that the French expedition of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert to aid the Irish rebellion has failed. He sails his vessel around the north of Scotland to avoid the British fleet. He reaches Bergen in safety having brought with him a British ship captured along the way. Tandy then made his way with three or four companions to the free port of Hamburg but a peremptory demand from the British government to detain the fugitives was acceded to despite a counter-threat from the French Directory. In 1799 HMS Xenophon, under Commander George Sayer, brings Tandy and some of his associates back to England as state prisoners.

On February 12, 1800, Tandy is put on trial at Dublin and is acquitted. He remains in prison in Lifford Gaol in County Donegal until April 1801, when he is tried for the treasonable landing on Rutland Island. He pleads guilty and is sentenced to death although he is reprieved and allowed to go to France.

In France, where his release is regarded as a French diplomatic victory, he is received, in March 1802, as a person of distinction. When he dies on August 24, 1803 in Bordeaux, his funeral is attended by the military and an immense number of civilians. James Napper Tandy is buried in his family’s burial crypt, St. Mary’s churchyard, Julianstown, County Meath. His fame is perpetuated in the Irish ballad The Wearing of the Green.