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


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Assassination of RIC Inspector Percival Lea-Wilson

percival-lea-wilsonPercival Lea-Wilson, a District Inspector in the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) who is stationed at Gorey, County Wexford, is shot dead on June 15, 1920 by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) outside his Gorey home on the orders of Michael Collins.

Lea-Wilson is born in Kensington, London and is educated at the University of Oxford but his route into the British Army begins with a stint as a RIC constable in Charleville, County Cork in the early 20th century.

When World War I breaks out in 1914 Lea-Wilson joins the British army where he reaches the rank of captain in the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. An injury during the war forces him back to Ireland where he is stationed in Dublin, just in time for the Easter Rising in 1916.

When the week long rising ends, the rebels who had fought in the Four Courts and the GPO are marched to the Rotunda Hospital where they are kept overnight under the glare of British troops. Among those detained are leaders of the rebellion such as Sean Mac Diarmada and Tom Clarke. Clarke is singled out and subjected to public humiliation by 28-year-old British army Captain Percival Lea-Wilson.

Lea-Wilson and his soldiers walk among the captured rebels and he picks the 58-year-old Clarke out of the group. He marches Clarke to the steps of the hospital where he orders soldiers to strip him bare as nurses look on in horror from the windows above. Clarke is beaten and left there overnight in his tattered clothes. One of the prisoners, Michael Collins, who witnesses Clarke’s mistreatment at the hands of the British captain vows vengeance.

In the years following the Easter Rising, Lea-Wilson settles in Wexford where he attains the role of RIC district inspector.

On the morning of June 15, 1920, Lea-Wilson is walking back home after paying a visit to the RIC barracks in Gorey. Dressed in his civilian clothes, he stops at the local railway station where he purchases a newspaper and meets Constable Alexander O’Donnell, who accompanies him on part of his walk home.

O’Donnell and Lea-Wilson part company at the railway bridge on Ballycanew Road while further up that very same stretch of road there is a number of men standing around a parked car with its hood raised. Michael Collins had sent Liam Tobin and Frank Thornton from Dublin to meet with Joe McMahon, Michael McGrath and Michael Sinnott in Enniscorthy. They were then driven by Jack Whelan to Ballycanew Road to carry out the assassination of Lea-Wilson.

Unaware of his assassins lying in wait , Lea-Wilson is reading his paper while strolling along the road. The men by the parked car pull out revolvers when their target comes into range and two bullets strike him down. He manages to quickly get back on his feet and attempts to make an escape but his six assassins run after him and finally bring him down in a hail of bullets. A coroner’s report later states that Lea-Wilson had been shot seven times.

When the shooting ends, one of Lea-Wilson’s executioners calmly walks up to the body to make sure he is dead. He then picks up the newspaper from the ground and takes it with him. Later that evening Michael Collins is in the Wicklow Hotel in Dublin when word reaches him from Wexford of the shooting death of Lea-Wilson. Collins greets the news with glee and mentions to one of his comrades, “Well we finally got him!”

Percival Lea-Wilson is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in southwest London. His grave is marked by a plaque which mentions his assassination in Gorey in 1920, a death which has its roots in the Easter Rising four years previously.

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The Battle of Oulart Hill

battle-of-oulart-hillThe Battle of Oulart Hill takes place on May 27, 1798 when a rebel gathering of between 4,000 and 5,000 massacre a detachment of 110 militia sent from Wexford town to stamp out the spreading rebellion in County Wexford.

When news of the long expected rising on May 23 of the Society of United Irishmen in the midlands reaches County Wexford, it is already in an unsettled condition due to fears brought by the recently instituted anti-insurgent disarmament campaign in the county. The measures used included pitchcapping, half-hanging, and house burnings to uncover rebel conspirators. The recent arrival in Wexford of the North Cork Militia, who are notorious for their brutality in the “pacification” of Ulster, terror raids by local yeomen and finally news of the massacres at Dunlavin Green, Carlow and Carnew, have the effect of drawing people together in large groups for security, especially at night.

One such group of one hundred or so gather on the evening of May 26 at The Harrow, near the parish of Boolavogue under the tutelage of Fr. John Murphy, when they encounter a patrol of about 20 yeomen on their way to the house of a suspected rebel. They burn the suspect’s dwelling but, returning empty-handed, they encounter Fr. Murphy’s band again. The patrol are pushing their way through when a skirmish begins in which they lose two of their number, the rest fleeing with news of the killings.

The reaction on both sides is rapid. Vengeful yeomanry patrols roam, burning and killing indiscriminately, while the rebels rouse the countryside and make several raids on manors and other houses holding arms, killing more loyalists and yeomen. News of the skirmish and raids has by now reached Wexford town and, on the morning of May 27, the bulk of its garrison, 110 of the North Cork militia under Colonel Foote, are ordered north to crush the nascent rebellion. They are joined en route by some 16 yeomen cavalry under Colonel Le Hunt. However, these yeomanry are of doubtful loyalty, many (including their sergeant) having joined the rebels that morning.

The militia reaches the village of Oulart at 2:00 PM on May 27. Finding a mass of “from four to five thousand combatants” occupying the high ground of Oulart hill, they rashly advance and pursue the rebels to the summit. The rebel leaders mistakenly believe a large body of yeoman cavalry is waiting to intercept their flight, so their forces desperately turn to face their enemy and kill the whole detachment in an instant, leaving only the commanding officer, Colonel Foote, and four other survivors to escape to their base at Wexford.

Foote reports that, contrary to his orders, the militia had advanced incautiously and were surrounded and overpowered by the overwhelming rebel numbers, mostly armed with pikes, and that “great numbers” of the rebels were killed.

Following the rebel victory, almost all of North Wexford joins the rebellion. Crown forces and loyalist civilians cede control of the countryside, withdrawing to towns such as Enniscorthy, Gorey and Wexford.

(Pictured: The Battle of Oulart Hill by Fr. Edward Foran OSA (1861-1938) who also designed the 1898 Monument in Oulart Village)


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Death of Joseph Holt, United Irish General

joseph-holtJoseph Holt, United Irish general and leader of a large guerrilla force which fights against British troops in County Wicklow from June–October 1798, dies at Kingstown, now Dún Laoghaire, near Dublin on May 16, 1826.

Holt is one of six sons of John Holt, a farmer in County Wicklow. He joins the Irish Volunteers in the 1780s and holds a number of minor public offices but becomes involved in law enforcement as a sub-constable, billet master for the militia and a bounty hunter. He is involved in the Battle of Vinegar Hill which is an engagement during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 on June 21, 1798 when over 15,000 British soldiers launch an attack on Vinegar Hill outside Enniscorthy, County Wexford.

Despite Holt’s apparent loyalism, he becomes a member of the Society of United Irishmen in 1797 and gradually begins to attract suspicion until finally in May 1798, his house is burned down by the militia of Fermanagh. He then takes to the Wicklow mountains, gradually assuming a position of prominence with the United Irish rebels. The defeat of the County Wexford rebels at Vinegar Hill on June 21 sees surviving rebel factions heading towards the Wicklow Mountains to link up with Holt’s forces.

Emerging to meet them, Holt is given much of the credit for the planning of the ambush and defeat of a pursuing force of 200 British cavalry in the Battle of Ballyellis on June 30, 1798. However, the subsequent Midlands campaign to revive the rebellion is a disaster, and he is lucky to escape with his life back to the safety of the Wicklow Mountains.

Holt largely holds out in expectation of the arrival of French aid but news of the defeat of the French in the Battle of Ballinamuck together with his ill-health brought about by the hardships of his fugitive life, age and family considerations prompt him to initiate contact with the Dublin Castle authorities with a view to a negotiated surrender. Dublin Castle is eager to end the rebellion in Wicklow and allows him exile after incarceration in the Bermingham Tower without trial in New South Wales.

Holt goes out on the Minerva and meets Captain William Cox who has been appointed paymaster of the New South Wales Corps. The ship arrives at Sydney on January 11, 1800, and shortly afterwards Holt agrees to manage Captain Cox’s farm. He always claims in Australia that he is a political exile and not a convict. In 1804 when the Castle Hill uprising occurs Holt, who is not involved, has been warned that evening that it is about to happen. During the night he sets up a defense of Captain Cox’s house. He is nonetheless afterwards hounded by Governor Philip Gidley King and many false witnesses are brought against him. Although there is no plausible evidence at all against him, he is exiled by King to Norfolk Island in April 1804, and there put to hard labour.

Holt is officially pardoned on January 1, 1811 and in December 1812, with his wife and younger son, takes passage to Europe on the Isabella. The ship is wrecked by a reef so the passengers and crew are landed at Eagle Island, one of the Falkland Islands. He shows great resolution and ingenuity in making the best of the conditions on the island. He is rescued on April 4, 1813 but does not reach England until February 22, 1814 as he travels via the United States. He retires to Ireland where he lives for the rest of his life, but regrets he had left Australia.

Joseph Holt dies at Kingstown, now Dún Laoghaire, near Dublin on May 16, 1826 and is buried in Carrickbrennan Churchyard at Monkstown.


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Birth of William Frederick Archdall Ellison, Clergyman & Astronomer

Reverend William Frederick Archdall Ellison FRAS, Irish clergyman, Hebrew scholar, organist, avid amateur telescope maker, and, from 1918 to 1936, director of Armagh Observatory in Armagh, Northern Ireland, is born on April 28, 1864. He is the father of Mervyn A. Ellison, the senior professor of the School of Cosmic Physics at Dunsink Observatory from 1958 to 1963.

Ellison comes from a clerical family, his father Humphrey Eakins Ellison having been Dean of Ferns, County Wexford. He gains a sizarship of classics at Trinity College, Dublin in 1883, becomes a Scholar of the House in 1886 and graduates in 1887 with junior moderatorships in classics and experimental science. In 1890 he takes Holy Orders and moves to England, where he becomes the Curate of Tudhoe and Monkwearmouth. In 1894 he takes his MA and BD degrees and in the following year wins the Elrington Theological Prize.

In 1899 he returns to Ireland to become secretary of the Sunday School Society, a post which he holds for three years before accepting the incumbency of Monart, Enniscorthy, moving in 1908 to become Rector of Fethard-on-Sea with Tintern in Wexford. Ellison develops an interest in astronomy, having been introduced to practical optics by Dr. N. Alcock of Dublin and sets up his first observatory at Wexford. He becomes highly adept at making lenses and mirrors and writes several books and articles on the subject, including major contributions to the Amateur Telescope Making series, the Journal of the British Astronomical Association, and the weekly newspaper The English Mechanic. His book The Amateur’s Telescope (1920) is still considered a standard for telescope-makers and a forerunner of the more extensive series on the same topic by Albert Graham Ingalls.

On September 2, 1918 Ellison is appointed Director of the Armagh Observatory. He finds the Observatory in a state of disrepair and sets about repairing the instruments and the observatory dome. On January 3, 1919 he deeds a telescope of his own to the observatory, an 18-inch reflecting telescope, which is still there.

Ellison is a highly regarded planetary and binary star observer. Working with his son Mervyn, he makes many measurements of binary stars using the observatory’s 10-inch Grubb refracting telescope and even discovers a new one close to Beta Lyrae, and according to Patrick Moore, is one of the few people to have observed an eclipse of Saturn’s moon Iapetus by Saturn’s outermost ring on February 28, 1919.

In 1934 Ellison becomes Canon and Prebendary of Ballymore, Armagh Cathedral. He dies on December 31, 1936, having held the office of Director of the observatory for nearly twenty years.


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The Beginning of the 1916 Easter Rising

proclamation-of-independenceThe Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, begins in Dublin 100 years ago today and lasts for six days. The Rising, organised by seven members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, is launched to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom is heavily engaged in World War I. It is the most significant uprising in Ireland since the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the first armed action of the Irish revolutionary period.

Shortly before midday, members of the Irish Volunteers, led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse and joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly and 200 women of Cumann na mBan, seize key locations in Dublin and proclaim an Irish Republic. The rebels’ plan is to hold Dublin city centre, a large, oval-shaped area bounded by the Grand Canal to the south and the Royal Canal to the north, with the River Liffey running through the middle.

The rebels march to the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare, and occupy the building and hoist two republican flags. Pearse stands outside and reads the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Elsewhere in Dublin, some of the headquarters battalion under Michael Mallin occupy St. Stephen’s Green, where they dig trenches and barricade the surrounding roads. The 1st battalion, under Edward “Ned” Daly, occupy the Four Courts and surrounding buildings, while a company under Seán Heuston occupies the Mendicity Institution across the River Liffey from the Four Courts. The 2nd battalion, under Thomas MacDonagh, occupies Jacob’s Biscuit Factory. The 3rd battalion, under Éamon de Valera, occupy Boland’s Mill and surrounding buildings. The 4th battalion, under Éamonn Ceannt, occupy the South Dublin Union and the distillery on Marrowbone Lane. From each of these garrisons, small units of rebels establish outposts in the surrounding area.

There are isolated actions in other parts of Ireland, with attacks on the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks at Ashbourne, County Meath and in County Galway, and the seizure of the town of Enniscorthy, County Wexford. Due to a last-minute countermand issued on Saturday, April 22, by Volunteer leader Eoin MacNeill, the number of rebels who mobilise is much lower than expected.

The British Army brings in thousands of reinforcements as well as artillery and a gunboat. There is fierce street fighting on the routes into the city centre, where the rebels put up stiff resistance, slowing the British advance and inflicting heavy casualties. Elsewhere in Dublin, the fighting mainly consists of sniping and long-range gun battles. The main rebel positions are gradually surrounded and bombarded with artillery.

With much greater numbers and heavier weapons, the British Army suppresses the Rising, and Pearse agrees to an unconditional surrender on Saturday, April 29. Almost 500 people are killed during Easter Week. About 54% are civilians, 30% are British military and police, and 16% are Irish rebels. More than 2,600 are wounded. Many of the civilians are killed as a result of the British using artillery and heavy machine guns, or mistaking civilians for rebels. Others are caught in the crossfire in a crowded city. The shelling and the fires leave parts of inner city Dublin in ruins.

After the surrender the country remains under martial law. About 3,500 people are taken prisoner by the British, many of whom have played no part in the Rising, with 1,800 of them being sent to internment camps or prisons in Britain. Most of the leaders of the Rising are executed following courts-martial. The Rising brings physical force republicanism back to the forefront of Irish politics, which for nearly 50 years has been dominated by constitutional nationalism. It, and the British reaction to it, leads to increased popular support for Irish independence. In December 1918, republicans, represented by the reconstituted Sinn Féin party, win a landslide victory in the general election to the British Parliament. They do not take their seats, but instead convene the First Dáil and declare the independence of the Irish Republic, which ultimately leads to the Irish War of Independence.


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Birth of 4th Archbishop of Sydney Michael Kelly

archbishop-michael-kellyMichael Kelly, Australian Roman Catholic clergyman and the fourth Archbishop of Sydney, is born on February 13, 1850.

Born in Waterford, to master mariner James Kelly and the former Mary Grant, Kelly is educated at Christian Brothers in Enniscorthy and the Classical Academy in New Ross.

Kelly receives his seminary formation at St. Peter’s College in Wexford and the Irish College in Rome. He is ordained at Enniscorthy on November 1, 1872 by Bishop Thomas Furlong.

Kelly serves on the staff of the House of Missions in Wexford and is made vice-Rector of the Irish College in Rome in 1891. In 1894, he is made head of Irish College. Kelly also becomes a leader in the temperance movement.

Elected Archbishop of Achrida In Partibus Infidelium and coadjutor cum jure successionis of Sydney on July 20, 1901, Kelly is Consecrated Coadjutor Archbishop on August 15, 1901 at St. Joachim’s Church, Rome, by Cardinal Francesco Satolli.archbishop-kelly-statue

Kelly succeeds to the See of Sydney on August 16, 1911 upon the death of Cardinal Patrick Francis Moran. Kelly continues his crusade for temperance in Australia. Fund-raising for schools is undertaken by Kelly, and it is estimated £12,000,000 is spent on scholastic and church properties from the time of Kelly’s arrival in Sydney until his death. St. Mary’s Cathedral is completed in 1928 and statues of Kelly and Moran stand in the main portal.

Kelly is named Bishop Assistant at the Papal Throne and Count of the Holy Roman Empire on June 25, 1926. Kelly dies in Sydney on March 8, 1940 at the age of 90. He is buried in the Kelly Memorial Chapel in the crypt of St. Mary’s Cathedral.