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


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Birth of Civil War Officer John O’Neill

john-oneillJohn Charles O’Neill, Irish-born officer in the American Civil War and member of the Fenian Brotherhood, is born on March 9, 1834 in Drumgallon, Clontibret, County Monaghan. He is best known for his activities leading the Fenian raids on Canada in 1866 and 1871.

O’Neill receives some schooling in Drumgallon. He emigrates to New Jersey in 1848 at the height of the Great Famine in Ireland. He receives an additional year of education there and works in a number of jobs. In 1857 he enlists in the 2nd United States Dragoons and serves in the Utah War (May 1857 – July 1858), apparently deserting afterwards to California.

In California, he joins the 1st Cavalry and serves as a sergeant in the American Civil War with this regiment until December 1862, at which time he is commissioned as an officer in the 5th Indiana Cavalry. He is credited as being a daring fighting officer, but believes he has not received due promotion, which leads to a transfer to the 17th United States Colored Infantry as captain. He leaves the Union Army prior to the end of the conflict, marrying Mary Crow, with whom he has several children.

While in Tennessee, O’Neill joins the militant Irish American movement, the Fenian Brotherhood, which eschews politics in favor of militant action to expel the British presence in Ireland. He attaches himself to the group led by William Randall Roberts, who wishes to attack Canada.

O’Neill, ranked as colonel, travels to the Canada–US border with a group from Nashville to participate in the Fenian raids. The assigned commander of the expedition does not appear, so O’Neill takes command. On June 1, 1866, he leads a group of six hundred men across the Niagara River and occupies Fort Erie.

The following day, north of Ridgeway, Ontario, O’Neill’s group encounters a detached column of Canadian volunteers, commanded by Lt-Col. Alfred Booker. The inexperienced Canadians are routed by the Civil War veterans. O’Neill withdraws back to Fort Erie and fights a battle against a detachment led by John Stoughton Dennis. With overwhelming numbers of Canadian forces closing in, O’Neill oversees a successful evacuation on the night of June 2-3 back to United States territory. He is later charged with violating the neutrality laws of the United States but the charges are later dropped.

The penetration of O’Neill’s organisation by British and Canadian spies ensures that his next venture into Canada, the Battle of Eccles Hill, in 1870 is known in advance, and Canada is accordingly prepared. After the Battle of Trout River ends in a disorganized rout, O’Neill is arrested by United States Marshal George P. Foster and charged with violating neutrality laws. He is sentenced to two years in prison in July 1870 but he and other Fenians are pardoned by President Ulysses S. Grant that October.

Though he renounces the idea of further attacks on Canada, he changes his mind at the urging of an associate of Louis Riel, William Bernard O’Donoghue. With the latter, and without the backing of the bulk of the Fenians, he leads an attack on the Hudson’s Bay Company‘s post at Pembina, Manitoba, on October 5, 1871. The area is then disputed between America and Canada. He is arrested by American troops.

In 1874 O’Neill embarks on a lecture tour along the east coast, encouraging the poor Irish that they would have a better standard of living if they would resettle with him in Nebraska. The first Irish colony in Nebraska is set up in Holt County in the town that bears his name today – O’Neill, Nebraska. His legacy is in the communities that exist in Nebraska today. These settlements are thriving and successful farming communities. John O’Neill can claim credit for the spirit of generosity that is still part of these communities today.

In 1877, while on a speaking tour in Little Rock, Arkansas, O’Neill becomes ill and returns to his home in Nebraska. His condition continues to deteriorate and, after been admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital Omaha in November 1877, suffers a paralytic stroke and dies on January 8, 1878.

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Death of General John Charles O’Neill

general-john-oneillJohn Charles O’Neill, Irish-born officer in the American Civil War and member of the Fenian Brotherhood, dies on January 7, 1878. He is best known for his activities leading the Fenian raids on Canada in 1866 and 1871.

O’Neill is born on March 9, 1834, in Drumgallon, Clontibret, County Monaghan, where he receives some schooling. He emigrates to New Jersey in 1848 at the height of the Great Famine. He receives an additional year of education there and works various jobs. In 1857 he enlists in the 2nd United States Dragoons and serves in the Utah War (May 1857 – July 1858), apparently deserting afterwards to California.

In California, O’Neill joins the 1st Cavalry, and serves as a sergeant in the American Civil War with this regiment until December 1862, at which time he is commissioned as an officer in the 5th Indiana Cavalry. He is credited as being a daring fighting officer but believes he has not received due promotion, which leads to a transfer to the 17th United States Colored Infantry as captain. He leaves the Union Army prior to the end of the conflict, marrying Mary Crow, with whom he has several children.

While in Tennessee, O’Neill joins the militant Irish-American movement, the Fenian Brotherhood, which eschews politics in favor of militant action to expel the British presence in Ireland. He attaches himself to the group led by William Randall Roberts, who wishes to attack Canada.

O’Neill, ranked as colonel, travels to the Canada–US border with a group from Nashville to participate in the Fenian raids. The assigned commander of the expedition does not appear, so O’Neill takes command. On June 1, 1866, he leads a group of six hundred men across the Niagara River and occupies Fort Erie.

The following day, north of Ridgeway, Ontario, O’Neill’s group encounters a detached column of Canadian volunteers, commanded by Lt-Col. Alfred Booker. The inexperienced Canadians are routed by the Civil War veterans. O’Neill withdraws back to Fort Erie and fights a battle against a detachment led by John Stoughton Dennis. With overwhelming numbers of Canadian forces closing in, O’Neill oversees a successful evacuation on the night of June 2-3 back to United States territory. He is later charged with violating the neutrality laws of the United States, but the charge is dropped.

The split between two factions of the Fenians remain, and penetration of O’Neill’s organisation by British and Canadian spies ensures that his next venture into Canada in 1870 is known in advance, and Canada is accordingly prepared. After the Battle of Trout River ends in a disorganized rout, O’Neill is arrested by United States Marshal George P. Foster and charged with violating neutrality laws. That leads to O’Neill’s imprisonment in July 1870 with a sentence of two years, but he and other Fenians are pardoned by President Ulysses S. Grant that October.

Though O’Neill renounces the idea of further attacks on Canada, he changes his mind at the urging of an associate of Louis Riel, William Bernard O’Donoghue. With the latter, and without the backing of the bulk of the Fenians, he leads an attack on the Hudson’s Bay Company‘s post at Pembina, Manitoba, on October 5, 1871. The area is then disputed between America and Canada. He is arrested by American troops.

Following his military career, O’Neill works for a firm of land speculators in Holt County, Nebraska. He dies of a paralytic stroke on January 7, 1878, and is buried in Omaha, Nebraska.


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Police Raid & Shut Down “The Irish People”

Police raid and close the offices of the Fenian newspaper The Irish People on September 15, 1865. Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Thomas Clarke Luby, and John O’Leary are arrested.

In mid-1863, James Stephens informs his colleagues he wishes to start a newspaper, with financial aid from John O’Mahony and the Fenian Brotherhood in America. The offices are established at 12 Parliament Street, almost at the gates of Dublin Castle. The first edition of The Irish People appears on November 28, 1863. The staff of the paper along with Charles Kickham are Thomas Clarke Luby and Denis Dowling Mulcahy as the editorial staff. Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and James O’Connor are in charge of the business office, with John Haltigan being the printer. John O’Leary is brought from London to take charge in the role of Editor. Shortly after the establishment of the paper, James Stephens departs on an American tour, and to attend to organisational matters.

American Fenians make plans for a rising in Ireland, but the plans are discovered on July 15, 1865 when an emissary loses them at Kingstown railway station. They find their way to Dublin Castle and to Superintendent Daniel Ryan head of G Division. Ryan has an informer within the offices of The Irish People named Pierce Nagle, who supplies Ryan with an “action this year” message on its way to the Irish Republican Brotherhood unit in Tipperary. With this information, Ryan raids the offices of The Irish People on September 15, followed by the arrests of John O’Leary, Thomas Clarke Luby and Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. The last edition of the paper is dated September 16, 1865.

Before leaving for America, Stephens entrusts to Luby a document containing secret resolutions on the Committee of Organization or Executive of the IRB. Though Luby intimates its existence to O’Leary, he does not inform Kickham as there seems no necessity. This document later forms the basis of the prosecution against the staff of The Irish People. The document reads:

EXECUTIVE

I hereby appoint Thomas Clarke Luby, John O’Leary and Charles J. Kickham, a Committee of Organisation or Executive, with the same supreme control over the Home Organisation (Ireland, England, Scotland, etc.) I have exercised myself. I further empower them to appoint a Committee of Military Inspection, and a Committee of Appeal and Judgment, the functions of which Committee will be made known to each member of them by the Executive. Trusting to the patriotism and ability of the Executive, I fully endorse their action beforehand, and call on every man in our ranks to support and be guided by them in all that concerns our military brotherhood.

9 March 1864, Dublin
J. STEPHENS

Charles Kickham is caught after a month on the run and James Stephens is also eventually caught but with the support of Fenian prison warders John J. Breslin and Daniel Byrne is less than a fortnight in Richmond Bridewell Prison when he vanishes and escapes to France.

(From Stair na hÉireann, https://stairnaheireann.net/2015/09/15/1865-police-raid-and-close-the-irish-people-offices-odonovan-rossa-luby-and-oleary-are-arrested/)


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Birth of Fanny Parnell, Poet & Nationalist

Fanny Parnell, Irish poet and Nationalist, is born Frances Isabelle Parnell in Avondale, County Wicklow on September 4, 1848. She is the sister of Charles Stewart Parnell, an important figure in nineteenth century Ireland.

Parnell is the eighth child out of eleven and fourth daughter born to John Henry Parnell, a landowner and the grandson of the last Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland, and Delia Tudor Stewart Parnell, an Irish American and the daughter of Admiral Charles Stewart (1778–1869) of the United States Navy. Her mother hates British rule in Ireland, a view presented through her children’s works. She is an intelligent girl and before she is through her teen years she has studied mathematics, chemistry, and astronomy, and she can speak and write fluently in almost all the major European languages. She also has talents in music and painting and drawing in oil and water colours. Her parents separate when she is young. Soon afterwards, in July 1859, her father dies at the age of forty eight and she and her mother move to Dalkey. A year later they move to Dublin, and in 1865 they move to Paris where Fanny studies art and writes poetry. In 1874 they move to Bordentown, New Jersey in the United States.

Parnell is known as the Patriot Poet. She shows interest in Irish politics and much of her poetry is about Irish nationalism. While she is living in Dublin in 1864, she begins publishing her poetry under the pseudonym “Aleria” in The Irish People, the newspaper of the Fenian Brotherhood. Most of her later work is published in The Pilot in Boston, the best known Irish newspaper in America during the nineteenth century. Two of her most widely published works are The Hovels of Ireland, a pamphlet, and Land League Songs, a collection of poems. Her best known poem is “Hold the Harvest,” which Michael Davitt refers to as the “Marseillaise of the Irish peasant.”

Parnell’s brother, Charles, becomes active in the Irish National Land League, an organisation that fights for poor tenant farmers, in 1879 and she strongly supports him. She and her younger sister, Anna Parnell (1852–1911), co-found the Ladies’ Land League in 1880 to raise money in America for the Land League. In 1881 the Ladies’ Land League continues the work of the men in the Land League while they are being imprisoned by the British government. In Ireland Anna becomes the president of the Ladies’ Land League, and the women hold many protests and quickly become more radical than the men, to the resentment of the male leaders. Fanny stays in America and works to raise money for the organisation. Most of the Land League’s financial support comes from America because of the campaigning done by Fanny Parnell.

Fanny Parnell dies on July 20, 1882, at the young age of 33, of a heart attack at the family mansion in Bordentown, New Jersey. She is buried at the Tudor family plot at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


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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.


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Death of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

jeremiah-odonovan-rossaJeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Irish Fenian leader and prominent member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, dies suddenly in Staten Island, New York, on June 29, 1915.

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa is born Jeremiah O’Donovan at Reenascreena, Rosscarbery, County Cork, on September 10, 1831. Rossa becomes a shopkeeper in Skibbereen where, in 1856, he establishes the Phoenix National and Literary Society, the aim of which is “the liberation of Ireland by force of arms.” This organisation later merges with the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), founded two years later in Dublin.

In December 1858, Roosa is arrested and jailed without trial until July 1859. He is charged with plotting a Fenian rising in 1865, put on trial for high treason, and sentenced to penal servitude for life due to previous convictions. He serves his time in Pentonville, Portland, and Chatham prisons in England.

In an 1869 by-election, Roosa is returned to the British House of Commons for the Tipperary constituency, defeating the Liberal Catholic Denis Caulfield Heron by 1054 to 898 votes. The election is declared invalid because Rossa is an imprisoned felon.

After giving an understanding that he will not return to Ireland, Rossa is released as part of the Fenian Amnesty of 1870. Boarding the S.S. Cuba, he leaves for the United States with his friend John Devoy and three other exiles. Together they were dubbed “The Cuba Five.”

Rossa takes up residence in New York City, where he joins Clan na Gael and the Fenian Brotherhood. He organises the first ever bombings by Irish republicans of English cities in what is called the “dynamite campaign.” The campaign lasts through the 1880s and makes him infamous in Britain. The British government demands his extradition from America but without success.

In 1885, Rossa is shot outside his office near Broadway by an Englishwoman, Yseult Dudley, but his wounds are not life-threatening. He is allowed to visit Ireland in 1894, and again in 1904. On the latter visit, he is made a “Freeman of the City of Cork.”

Rossa is seriously ill in his later years, and is finally confined to a hospital bed in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Staten Island, where he dies at the age of 83 on June 29, 1915. His body is returned to Ireland for burial and a hero’s welcome. The funeral at Glasnevin Cemetery on August 1, 1915 is a huge affair, garnering substantial publicity for the Irish Volunteers and the IRB at time when a rebellion, later to emerge as the Easter Rising, is being actively planned. The graveside oration given by Patrick Pearse remains one of the most famous speeches of the Irish independence movement stirring his audience to a call to arms.


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Birth of Irish National Land League Founder Michael Davitt

michael-davittMichael Davitt, Irish republican and agrarian agitator, is born in Straide, County Mayo, on March 25, 1846. Davitt is the  founder of the Irish National Land League, which organizes resistance to absentee landlordism and seeks to relieve the poverty of the tenant farmers by securing fixity of tenure, fair rent, and free sale of the tenant’s interest.

Davitt is the son of an evicted tenant farmer. After their eviction, the family emigrates to England. In 1856, at the age of 10, he starts work in a cotton mill, where he loses an arm in a machinery accident a year later. In 1865, he joins the revolutionary Fenian Brotherhood, an international secret society that seeks to secure political freedom for Ireland. He becomes secretary of its Irish analogue, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), in 1868. Arrested  in Paddington Station in London for sending firearms to Ireland on May 14, 1870, he is sentenced to 15 years in Dartmoor Prison and there lays plans to link Charles Stewart Parnell’s constitutional reform with Fenian activism to achieve political-agrarian agitation.

Paroled from prison in 1877, Davitt rejoins the IRB and goes to the United States, where the Fenian movement originated. There he is deeply influenced by Henry George’s ideas about the relationship between land monopoly and poverty.

Back in Ireland, using funds raised by John Devoy and Clan na Gael in the United States, Davitt wins Parnell’s cooperation in organizing the Land League in 1879, which leads, however, to his expulsion from the supreme council of the IRB in 1880. He is elected member of Parliament for County Meath in 1882 but is disqualified as he is a convict. He is also imprisoned for seditious speeches in 1881 and 1883.

Because of his public championing of Henry George’s theories of land reform, Parnell repudiates him. Davitt actively defends the Nationalists before the Parnell Commission, which meets between 1887 and 1889. When the Irish party splits in 1890 over Parnell’s involvement in Capt. William Henry O’Shea’s divorce case, Davitt is among the first to oppose Parnell’s continuance as leader.

Davitt is elected to Parliament in 1892 and 1893 but is unseated in both cases. He is elected again, for South Mayo in 1895, but resigns in 1899 in protest against the Second Boer War.

Davitt dies in Elphis Hospital, Dublin on May 30, 1906, at the age of 60, from blood poisoning. The fact that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland attends his funeral is a public indication of the dramatic political journey this former Fenian prisoner has taken. There is no plan for public funeral, and hence Davitt’s body is brought quietly to the Carmelite Friary, Clarendon Street, Dublin. However, the next day over 20,000 people file past his coffin. His remains are taken by train to Foxford, County Mayo, and buried in the grounds of Straide Abbey at Straide, near his place of birth.

Davitt’s book, The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland (1904), is a valuable record of his time.