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


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Founding of Clan na Gael in New York City

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90The Clan na Gael, an Irish republican organization in the United States in the late 19th and 20th centuries, is founded by John Devoy, Daniel Cohalan, and Joseph McGarrity in New York City on June 20, 1867. It is the successor to the Fenian Brotherhood and a sister organization to the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). It has shrunk to a small fraction of its former size in the 21st century.

As Irish immigration to the United States begins to increase in the 18th century many Irish organizations are formed. In the later part of the 1780s, a strong Irish patriot character begins to grow in these organizations and amongst recently arrived Irish immigrants.

In 1858, the IRB is founded in Dublin by James Stephens. In response to the establishment of the IRB in Dublin, a sister organization is founded in New York City, the Fenian Brotherhood, led by John O’Mahony. This arm of Fenian activity in America produces a surge in radicalism among groups of Irish immigrants, many of whom had recently emigrated from Ireland during and after the Great Famine.

In October 1865, the Fenian Philadelphia Congress meets and appoints the Irish Republican Government in the United States. Meanwhile in Ireland, the IRB newspaper The Irish People is raided by the police and the IRB leadership is imprisoned. Another abortive uprising occurs in 1867, but the British remain in control.

After the 1865 crackdown in Ireland, the American organization begins to fracture over what to do next. Made up of veterans of the American Civil War, a Fenian army is formed. While O’Mahony and his supporters want to remain focused on supporting rebellions in Ireland, a competing faction, called the Roberts, or senate wing, wants this Fenian Army to attack British bases in Canada. The resulting Fenian raids strain U.S.–British relations. The level of American support for the Fenian cause begins to diminish as the Fenians are seen as a threat to stability in the region.

After 1867, the Irish Republican Brotherhood headquarters in Manchester chooses to support neither of the existing feuding factions, but instead promotes a renewed Irish republican organization in America, to be named Clan na Gael.

According to John Devoy in 1924, Jerome James Collins founds what is then called the Napper Tandy Club in New York on June 20, 1867, Wolfe Tone‘s birthday. This club expands into others and at one point at a picnic in 1870 is named the Clan na Gael by Sam Cavanagh. This is the same Cavanagh who killed the informer George Clark, who had exposed a Fenian pike-making operation in Dublin to the police.

Collins, who dies in 1881 on the disastrous Jeannette Expedition to the North Pole, is a science editor on the New York Herald, who had left England in 1866 when a plot he was involved in to free the Fenian prisoners at Pentonville Prison was uncovered by the police. Collins believes at the time of the founding in 1867 that the two feuding Fenians branches should patch things up.

The objective of Clan na Gael is to secure an independent Ireland and to assist the Irish Republican Brotherhood in achieving this aim. It becomes the largest single financier of both the Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence.

Clan na Gael continues to provide support and aid to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) after it is outlawed in Ireland by Éamon de Valera in 1936 but becomes less active in the 1940s and 1950s. However the organization grows in the 1970s. The organization plays a key part in NORAID and is a prominent source of finance and weapons for the Provisional Irish Republican Army during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1969–1998.

The Clan na Gael still exists today, much changed from the days of the Catalpa rescue. In 1987 the policy of abstentionism is abandoned. As recently as 1997 another internal split occurs as a result of the IRA shift away from the use of physical force as a result of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The two factions are known to insiders as Provisional Clan na Gael (allied to Provisional Sinn Féin/IRA) and Republican Clan na Gael (associated with both Republican Sinn Féin/Continuity IRA and 32 County Sovereignty Movement/Real IRA, though primarily the former). These have been listed as terrorist organizations at various times by the UK Government.

(Pictured: Clan na Gael marching in the 1970 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Philadelphia, photograph by John Hamilton)


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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.