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


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Birth of Januarius MacGahan, Journalist & Correspondent

januarius-macgahanJanuarius Aloysius MacGahan, American journalist and war correspondent for the New York Herald and The Daily News, is born near New Lexington, Ohio on June 12, 1844. His articles describing the massacre of Bulgarian civilians by Turkish soldiers and irregular volunteers in 1876 creates public outrage in Europe, and are a major factor in preventing Britain from supporting Turkey in the Russo–Turkish War of 1877–78, which leads to Bulgaria gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire.

MacGahan’s father is an immigrant from Ireland who had served on the Northumberland, the ship which took Napoleon into exile on Saint Helena. He moves to St. Louis, where he briefly works as a teacher and as a journalist. There he meets his cousin, General Philip Sheridan, an American Civil War hero also of Irish parentage, who convinces him to study law in Europe. He sails to Brussels in December 1868.

MacGahan does not get a law degree, but he discovers that he has a gift for languages, learning French and German. He runs short of money and is about to return to America in 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War breaks out. Sheridan happens to be an observer with the German Army, and he uses his influence to persuade the European editor of the New York Herald to hire MacGahan as a war correspondent with the French Army.

MacGahan’s vivid articles from the front lines describing the stunning defeat of the French Army win him a large following, and many of his dispatches to the Herald are reprinted by European newspapers. When the war ends, he interviews French leader Léon Gambetta and Victor Hugo and, in March 1871, he hurries to Paris and is one of the first foreign correspondents to report on the uprising of the Paris Commune. He is arrested by the French military and nearly executed, and is only rescued through the intervention of the U.S. Minister to France Elihu B. Washburne.

In 1871 MacGahan is assigned as the Herald‘s correspondent to Saint Petersburg. He learns Russian, mingles with the Russian military and nobility, covers the Russian tour of General William Tecumseh Sherman and meets his future wife, Varvara Elagina, whom he marries in 1873. In 1874 he spends ten months in Spain, covering the Third Carlist War.

In 1876 MacGahan quarrels with James Gordon Bennett Jr., the publisher of the New York Herald, and leaves the newspaper. He is invited by his friend, Eugene Schuyler, the American Consul-General in Constantinople, to investigate reports of large-scale atrocities committed by the Turkish Army following the failure of an attempted uprising by Bulgarian nationalists in April 1876. He obtains a commission from The Daily News, then the leading liberal newspaper in England, and leaves for Bulgaria on July 23, 1876.

MacGahan reports that the Turkish soldiers have forced some of the villagers into the church, then the church is burned and survivors tortured to learn where they have hidden their treasures. He says that of a population of seven thousand, only two thousand survive. According to his account, fifty-eight villages in Bulgaria are destroyed, five monasteries demolished, and fifteen thousand people in all massacred. These reports, published first in The Daily News, and then in other papers, cause widespread popular outrage against Turkey in Britain. The government of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, a supporter of Turkey, tries to minimize the massacres and says that the Bulgarians are equally to blame, but his arguments are refuted by the newspaper accounts of MacGahan.

In the wake of the massacres and atrocities committed by the Ottoman forces during the suppression of the April Uprising, as well as centuries-long conflicts between Russia and Turkey in Crimea, the Russian Government, stirred by anti-Turkish and Pan-Slavism sentiment, prepare to invade the Ottoman Empire, and declare war on it on April 24, 1877. The Turkish Government of Sultan Abdul Hamid II appeals for help to Britain, its traditional ally against Russia, but the British government responds that it can not intervene “because of the state of public feeling.”

MacGahan is assigned as a war correspondent for The Daily News and, thanks to his friendship with General Skobelev, the Russian commander, rides with the first units of the Russian Army as it crosses the Danube into Bulgaria. He covers all the major battles of the Russo–Turkish War, including the Siege of Plevna and the Battle of Shipka Pass. He reports on the final defeat of the Turkish armies and is present at the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano, which ends the war.

MacGahan is in Constantinople, preparing to travel to Berlin for the conference that determines the final borders of Bulgaria, when he catches typhoid fever. He dies on June 9, 1878, and is buried in the Greek cemetery, in the presence of diplomats, war correspondents, and General Skobelev. Five years later his body is returned to the United States and reburied in New Lexington and a statue is erected in his honor by a society of Bulgarian Americans.

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Birth of Major General Thomas Conway

thomas-conwayThomas Conway, a major general in the American Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, is born in Cloghane, County Kerry, on February 27, 1735. He becomes involved with the alleged Conway Cabal with Horatio Gates and later serves with Émigré forces during the French Revolutionary War.

Conway is born to James Conway and his wife Julieanne Conway. As a child, he immigrates to France with his parents. At 14, he enrolls in the Irish Brigade of the French Army and rises rapidly to the rank of colonel by 1772.

Following the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War he volunteers to the Continental Congress for service with the American rebels in 1777. Based on an introduction from Silas Deane, the Congress appoints him a brigadier general on May 13, and sends him on to George Washington.

Conway commands the leading brigade on the American right flank at the Battle of Germantown, and is justly praised for his actions. However, Washington opposes his promotion to major general, believing that many American-born officers with longer and valuable service deserve the rank. This, and Conway’s condescending attitude, lead to continued friction between the men. Congress appoints Conway a major general anyway in December 1777, and makes him inspector general of the army.

When his name is used politically, it is used to describe the infighting known as the Conway Cabal. During the affair, he has written a letter to General Horatio Gates in which he refers to Washington as a “weak general.” The letter is intercepted by Washington and his backers after its delivery is botched by Brigadier General James Wilkinson, and is brought before the Congress for inquiry. When the contents of the letter are made public, Conway loses his command as a result. He tries a ploy that had worked before his promotion, and submits his resignation to Congress in March 1778. This time, however, it is accepted, so he is forced to leave the Continental Army. John Cadwalader shoots him in a duel on July 4, 1778. When he recovers, he writes an apology to Washington and returns to France.

Conway later returns to the French Army. In 1787 he receives promotion to Maréchal-de-camp (Major General) and an appointment as Governor of French colonies in India.

In 1793 he fights with royalist forces in opposition to French Revolution in southern France. Their loss forces him to become an exile from his adopted country.

During the French Revolution he is condemned to death. He is saved only by an appeal to Great Britain, against which he had fought in the American Revolution, but is compelled to flee from France for his life. He supposedly returns to Ireland and remains there until his death.

After that Conway disappears from history. He is believed to have died about 1800 in poverty and exile.


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Birth of Patrick d’Arcy, Scientist & Soldier

patrick-darcyPatrick d’Arcy, scientist and soldier in the Irish Brigade of France, is born in Kitulla, County Galway, on September 27, 1725.

The d’Arcy family, who are Catholics, suffer under the Penal Laws. In 1739 d’Arcy is sent to Paris for his education. He is tutored in mathematics by Jean-Baptiste Clairaut, and becomes a friend of Jean-Baptiste’s son, Alexis-Claude Clairaut, who is a brilliant young mathematician. d’Arcy makes original contributions to dynamics. He is best known for his part in the discovery of the principle of angular momentum, in a form which is known as “the principle of areas,” which he announces in 1746.

Perhaps seeking more adventure than an academic life can provide, d’Arcy enlists in the French army. He fights in Germany in the regiment of Condé, and serves as an aide-de-camp to Marshal Saxe at the Battle of Fontenoy. He obtains the title of “Count” in the French nobility and is a generous patron of Irish refugees in France. He sails for Scotland in 1745, attempting to fight in “Bonnie” Prince Charlie‘s rising, but his ship is captured and he is taken prisoner.

After his release, d’Arcy returns to France where he continues both his scientific and military careers. In addition to his contributions to dynamics, he performs research on artillery and electricity. One of his experiments on visual perception, reported in 1765, is often referenced. It involves a rotating disk on which a burning coal ember is placed. When the disk is spun at an angular velocity exceeding seven revolutions per second, a full circle of light is perceived. This and other experiments make d’Arcy the first person to demonstrate the illusion of a moving image, although Joseph Plateau greatly elaborates on this initial finding.

Patrick d’Arcy is elected to the Academie Royale des Sciences in 1749. He died from cholera in Paris on October 18, 1779.


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The Beginning of the Williamite War

battle-of-the-boyneThe Williamite War in Ireland begins on March 12, 1688. It is a conflict between Jacobites, who support the English Catholic King James II, and Williamites, who support the Dutch Protestant Prince William of Orange, over who would be King of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

The cause of the war is the deposition of James II as King of the Three Kingdoms in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. James is supported by the mostly Catholic Jacobites in Ireland and hopes to use the country as a base to regain his Three Kingdoms. He is given military support by France. For this reason, the war becomes part of a wider European conflict known as the Nine Years’ War, or War of the Grand Alliance. Some Protestants of the established Church in Ireland also fight on the side of King James.

James is opposed in Ireland by the mostly Protestant Williamites, who are concentrated in the north of the country. William lands a multi-national force in Ireland, composed of English, Scottish, Dutch, Danish, and other troops, to put down Jacobite resistance. James leaves Ireland after a reverse at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and the Irish Jacobites are finally defeated after the Battle of Aughrim in 1691.

The Treaty of Limerick, signed on October 3, 1691, offers favourable terms to Jacobites willing to stay in Ireland and give an oath of loyalty to William III. Peace is concluded on these terms between Patrick Sarsfield and Godert de Ginkell, giving toleration to Catholicism and full legal rights to Catholics that swear an oath of loyalty to William and Mary. Part of the treaty agreed to Sarsfield’s demand that the Jacobite army be allowed to leave Ireland as a body and go to France. This event is popularly known in Ireland as the “Flight of the Wild Geese.” Around 14,000 men with around 10,000 women and children leave Ireland with Patrick Sarsfield in 1691.

The Williamite victory in the war in Ireland has two main long-term results. The first is that it ensures James II will not regain his thrones in England, Ireland, and Scotland by military means. The second is that it ensures closer British and Protestant dominance over Ireland. Until the 19th century, Ireland is ruled by what becomes known as the “Protestant Ascendancy,” the mostly Protestant ruling class. The majority of the Irish Catholic community and the Ulster-Scots Presbyterian community are systematically excluded from power, which is based on land ownership.

For over a century after the war, Irish Catholics maintain a sentimental attachment to the Jacobite cause, portraying James and the Stuarts as the rightful monarchs who would have given a just settlement to Ireland, including self-government, restoration of confiscated lands and tolerance for Catholicism. Thousands of Irish soldiers leave the country to serve the Stuart monarchs in the Irish Brigade (Spanish) and Irish Brigade of the French Army. Until 1766, France and the Papacy remain committed to restoring the Stuarts to their British Kingdoms. At least one composite Irish battalion drawn from Irish soldiers in the French service fight on the Jacobite side in the Scottish Jacobite uprisings leading up to the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Protestants, on the other hand, portray the Williamite victory as a triumph for religious and civil liberty where triumphant murals of King William still controversially adorn the gable walls in Ulster. The defeat of the Catholics in the Williamite war is still commemorated by Protestant Unionists in Ulster on the Twelfth of July by the Orange Order.