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


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Birth of William Francis Butler, Army Officer & Writer

william-francis-butlerWilliam Francis Butler, 19th-century British Army officer, writer, and adventurer, is born on October 31, 1838 at Ballyslatteen, Golden, County Tipperary.

Butler is the son of Richard and Ellen Butler. The great famine of 1847 and scenes of suffering and eviction are amongst his earliest recollections. He is educated chiefly by the Jesuits at Tullabeg College.

Butler enters the army as an ensign of the 69th Regiment of Foot at Fermoy Barracks in 1858, becoming captain in 1872 and major in 1874. He takes part with distinction in the Red River expedition (1870–71) and the Ashanti operations of 1873–1874 under Garnet Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley and receives the Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1874.

On June 11, 1877, Butler marries Elizabeth Thompson, an accomplished painter of battle scenes, notably The Roll Call (1874), Quatre Bras (1875), Rorke’s Drift (1881), The Camel Corps (1891), and The Dawn of Waterloo (1895). They have six children. His daughter, Elizabeth Butler, marries Lt.-Col. Randolph Albert Fitzhardinge Kingscote (1867-1940) on July 24, 1903.

Butler again serves with General Wolseley in the Anglo-Zulu War, the Battle of Tell El Kebir (after which he is made an aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria) and the Sudan in 1884–1886, being employed as colonel on the staff in 1885 and brigadier general in 1885–1886. In the latter year, he is made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. He serves as brigadier general on the staff in Egypt until 1892 when he is promoted to major general and stationed at Aldershot, subsequent to which he is given command of the South-Eastern District in March 1896.

In 1898 Butler succeeds General William Howley Goodenough as commander-in-chief in South Africa, with the local rank of lieutenant general. For a short period (December 1898 – February 1899), during the absence of Sir Alfred Milner in England, he acts as high commissioner, and as such, and subsequently in his military capacity, he expresses views on the subject of the probabilities of war which are not approved by the home government. He is consequently ordered home to command the Western District, and holds this post until 1905. He also holds the Aldershot Command for a brief period from 1900 to 1901. He is promoted to lieutenant general in 1900 and continues to serve, finally leaving the King‘s service in 1905.

In October 1905, having reached the age limit of sixty-seven, Butler is placed on the retired list. The few years of life which remain to him he spends at Bansha Castle in Ireland, devoted chiefly to the cause of education. He is a frequent lecturer both in Dublin and the provinces on historical, social, and economic questions. He is known as a Home Ruler and an admirer of Charles Stewart Parnell. He is a member of the Senate of the National University of Ireland, and a commissioner of the Board of National Education. In June 1906, he is appointed Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, and in 1909 he is made a member of the Privy Council of Ireland.

William Butler dies at Bansha Castle in Bansha, County Tipperary, on June 10, 1910 and is buried at the cemetery of Killaldriffe, a few miles distant and not far from his ancestral home.

Butler had long been known as a descriptive writer, since his publication of The Great Lone Land (1872) and other works and he was the biographer (1899) of Sir George Pomeroy Colley. He had started work on his autobiography a few years before his death but died before it was completed. His youngest daughter, Eileen, Viscountess Gormanston, completes the work and has it published in 1911.

(Pictured: William Francis Butler, Source: Archives of Manitoba, Personalities – Butler, W. F. 1, N10492)


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First Issue of “The Nation” Published

the-nation-01-17-1852The first issue of The Nation, an Irish nationalist weekly newspaper, is published on October 15, 1842. It is printed at 12 Trinity Street, Dublin until January 6, 1844. The paper is later published at 4 D’Olier Street from July 13, 1844 until July 28, 1848, when the issue for the following day is seized and the paper suppressed. It is published again in Middle Abbey Street on its revival in September 1849.

The founders of The Nation are three young men, Charles Gavan Duffy, its first editor, Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon. All three are members of Daniel O’Connell‘s Repeal Association, which seeks repeal of the disastrous Acts of Union 1800 between Ireland and Britain. This association later becomes known as Young Ireland.

John Mitchel joins the staff of The Nation in the autumn of 1845. On Mitchel’s frequent trips from Banbridge, County Down to Dublin, he had come in contact with the Repeal members who gathered about The Nation office and in the spring of 1843 he becomes a member of the Repeal Association. For the next two years he writes political and historical articles and reviews for The Nation. He covers a wide range of subjects, including the Irish Potato Famine, on which he contributes some influential articles which attract significant attention.

Mitchel resigns his position as lead writer for The Nation in 1847 because he comes to regard as “absolutely necessary a more vigorous policy against the English Government than that which William Smith O’Brien, Charles Gavan Duffy and other Young Ireland leaders were willing to pursue.” Upon his resignation he starts his own paper, The United Irishman.

Women also write for The Nation and publish under pseudonyms such as Speranza (Jane Elgee, Lady Wilde, Oscar Wilde‘s mother), Eithne (Marie Thompson) and Eva (Mary Eva Kelly, who would marry Kevin Izod O’Doherty.

The role played by some of its key figures in the paper in the ill-fated Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 cement the paper’s reputation as the voice of Irish radicalism. Dillon is a central figure in the revolt and is sentenced to death, the sentence later commuted. He flees Ireland, escaping first to France and, eventually, to the United States, where he serves the New York Bar.

Its triumvirate of founders follow differing paths. Davis dies at age 30 in 1845. Both Dillon and Duffy become MPs in the British House of Commons. Duffy emigrates to Australia where he becomes premier of the state of Victoria, later being knighted as a Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG). Dillon dies in 1866. His son, John Dillon, becomes leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party and his grandson, James Dillon, leader of Fine Gael.

The Nation continues to be published until 1900, when it merges with the Irish Weekly Independent. Later political figures associated with the paper included Timothy Daniel Sullivan and J.J. Clancy.


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Death of Dick Dowling, Confederate Commander

Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer LibraryRichard William “Dick” Dowling, the victorious confederate commander at the Second Battle of Sabine Pass in the American Civil War, dies of yellow fever in Houston, Texas on September 23, 1867.

Dowling is born in the townland of Knockballyvishteal, Milltown, County Galway on January 14, 1837, the second of eight children, born to tenant farmer Patrick and Bridget Dowling (née Qualter). Following the eviction of his family from their home in 1845, the first year of the Great Famine, nine-year-old Dowling leaves Ireland in 1846 with his older sister Honora, bound for New Orleans in the United States.

As a teenager, Dowling displays his entrepreneurial skills by successfully running the Continental Coffeehouse, a saloon in the fashionable French Quarter. His parents and siblings follow from Ireland in 1851, but the joy of reunion is short-lived. In 1853, a yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans takes the lives of his parents and one of his younger brothers. With rising anti-Irish feeling growing in New Orleans, following local elections which see a landslide victory for the “Know Nothing” party, Dowling moves to Houston in 1857.

In 1857 Dowling marries Elizabeth Ann Odlum, daughter of Benjamin Digby Odlum, a Kildare-born Irishman, who had fought in the Texas Revolution, being captured at the Battle of Refugio in 1836.

By 1860, Dowling owns a number of saloons. His most successful is named the Bank of Bacchus, located on Courthouse Square in downtown Houston. “The Bank” as it is known locally becomes Houston’s most popular social gathering place in the 1860s and is renowned for its hospitality. He is also involved in setting up Houston’s first gaslight company, and is first to have it installed in his home and “The Bank.” He is a founding member of Houston’s Hook and Ladder Company Number One fire department and is also involved in running the city’s first streetcar company.

Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, Dowling makes a name for himself as an able and successful entrepreneur. Among other things, he is involved with a predominantly Irish militia company which serves a more social than military role in Houston society. Upon Secession, this militia company is mustered straight into the Confederate States Army, with Dowling being elected First Lieutenant. The unit names themselves the “Jefferson Davis Guards” in honor of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Davis Guards are initially part of a Texas State Troops/Confederate expedition sent to take over Union Army forts and arsenals along the border with Mexico. The expedition is successfully completed without a shot being fired. They participate in the Battle of Galveston on New Year’s Day 1863, following which they are assigned to a newly constructed artillery post near the mouth of the Sabine River called Fort Sabine.

Sabine Pass was important as a point of arrival and departure for blockade runners. It is suspected that the Union Army will attempt an invasion of Texas via Sabine Pass because of its value as a harbor for blockade runners and its proximity 18 miles southeast of Beaumont, which lies on the railroad between Houston and the eastern part of the Confederacy.

To negotiate Sabine Pass all vessels except small boats take one of the two river channels. No seagoing ship can traverse the Pass without great risk of running aground should it stray from one of the channels. The inevitable course of any steam-powered warship, including shallow-draft gunboats then common to the U.S. Navy, would use one of the channels, both of which are within fair range of the fort’s six smoothbores.

Dowling spends the summer of 1863 at the earthen fort instructing his men in gunnery. On September 8, 1863 a Union Navy flotilla of some 22 gunboats and transports with 5,000 men accompanied by cavalry and artillery arrive off the mouth of Sabine Pass. The plan of invasion is sound, but monumentally mismanaged. Four of the flanking gunboats are to steam up the pass at speed and draw the fire of the fort, two in each channel, a tactic which had been used successfully in subduing the defensive fortifications of Mobile and New Orleans prior to this. This time, however, Dowling’s artillery drills pay off as the Confederates pour a rapid and withering fire onto the incoming gunboats, disabling and capturing two, while the others retreat in disarray. The rest of the flotilla retreats from the mouth of the pass and returns ignominiously to New Orleans, leaving the disabled ships with no option but to surrender to Dowling. With a command of just 47 men, Dowling had thwarted an attempted invasion of Texas, in the process capturing two gunboats, some 350 prisoners and a large quantity of supplies and munitions.

The Confederate government offers its gratitude and admiration to Dowling, now promoted to Major, and his unit, as a result of their battlefield prowess. In gratitude, the ladies of Houston present the unit with specially struck medals, which are actually Mexican eight reale coins with both faces sanded down and inscribed “Sabine Pass, 1864” on one side and a Maltese cross with the letters D and G on the other. Because of the official recognition given to the action, it is now accepted that these Davis Guard Medals are the only medals of honor issued by the Confederate government, and consequently are collector’s items today.

After the battle of Sabine Pass Dowling is elevated to hero status in his hometown of Houston. He subsequently serves as a recruiter for the Confederacy and is personally commended for his action at the battle by Jefferson Davis. After the war he returns to his saloon business and quickly becomes one of the city’s leading businessmen.

Dowling’s promising future is cut short by another yellow fever epidemic which devastates Houston in the late summer of 1867, and he dies on September 23, 1867. He is buried at St. Vincent’s Catholic Cemetery, the oldest Catholic cemetery in Houston.


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Birth of Michael Cusack, Founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association

michael-cusackMichael Cusack, teacher and founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association, is born to Irish speaking parents on September 20, 1847 in the parish of Carran on the eastern fringe of the Burren, County Clare during the Great Famine.

Cusack becomes a national school teacher, and after teaching in various parts of Ireland becomes a professor in 1874 at Blackrock College, then known as the French College. In 1877, he establishes his own Civil Service Academy, Cusack’s Academy, in Dublin which proves successful in preparing pupils for the civil service examinations.

A romantic nationalist, Cusack is also “reputed” to have been associated with the Fenian movement. He is active in the Gaelic revival as a member of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language which is founded in 1876, and later the Conradh na Gaeilge who in 1879 breaks away from the Society. Also in 1879, he meets Pat Nally, who is a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and a leading nationalist and athlete. He finds that Nally’s views on the influence of British landlordism on Irish athletics are the same as his. He recalls how both Nally and himself while walking through the Phoenix Park in Dublin seeing only a handful of people playing sports in the park so depressed them that they agreed it was time to “make an effort to preserve the physical strength of [their] race.” Nally organises a National Athletics Sports meeting in County Mayo in September 1879 which is a success, with Cusack organising a similar event which is open to ‘artisans’ in Dublin the following April.

On November 1, 1884, Cusack, together with Maurice Davin of Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, call a meeting in Hayes’ Commercial Hotel, Thurles, County Tipperary, and found the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Davin is elected president and Cusack becomes its first secretary. Later, Archbishop Thomas William Croke (May 28, 1824 – July 22, 1902), Archbishop of Cashel & Emly, Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell become patrons. Cusack also becomes involved in the Irish language movement, founding The Celtic Times, a weekly newspaper which focuses on “native games” and Irish culture.

Michael Cusack dies in Dublin at the age of 59 on November 27, 1906.


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Birth of Isaac Butt, Barrister & Politician

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_of_Isaac_Butt.jpgIsaac Butt, barrister and politician, is born in Glenfin, County Donegal on September 6, 1813. If not the originator of the term Home Rule, he is the first to make it an effective political slogan. He is the founder (1870) and first chief of the Home Government Association and president (1873–77) of the Home Rule League of Great Britain, but he is superseded in 1878 as head of the Home Rule movement by the younger and more forceful Charles Stewart Parnell.

Butt is the son of a Church of Ireland rector and is descended from the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell, through the Ramsays. He receives his secondary school education at The Royal School in Raphoe, County Donegal, and at Midleton College in County Cork, before going to Trinity College Dublin at the age of fifteen, where he is elected a Scholar. While there he co-founds the Dublin University Magazine and edits it for four years. For much of his life he is a member of the Irish Conservative Party. He becomes Whately Chair of Political Economy at Trinity in 1836 and holds that position until 1841.

Butt is called to the Irish bar in 1838 and the English bar in 1859. Intermittently from 1852 he represents, successively, one English and two Irish constituencies in the House of Commons. In 1848 he undertakes the defense of the Young Ireland leaders, who are charged with high treason for their abortive insurrection that year. From 1865 to 1869 he is the principal defense counsel for the imprisoned leaders of the Fenians (Irish Republican, or Revolutionary, Brotherhood).

Despite his legal work for the Fenians, Butt, who is basically a conservative, fears the consequences of a successful Fenian revolt. Disillusioned, however, by the British government’s failure to relieve the Irish Great Famine of the late 1840s, he becomes convinced that a native parliament is required for Irish land reform and other needs. In May 1870 he calls for an Irish Parliament subordinate to the imperial Parliament at Westminster, and later that year he forms the Home Government Association. From 1871 he quickens the Irish nationalist agitation in the House of Commons but gradually loses his leadership, partly because he disapproves of Parnell’s tactics of obstructing routine parliamentary business.

Butt amasses debts and pursues romances. It is said that at meetings he is occasionally heckled by women with whom he had fathered children. He is also involved in a financial scandal when it is revealed that he had taken money from several Indian princes to represent their interests in parliament.

Isaac Butt dies on May 5, 1879 in Clonskeagh in Dublin. His remains are brought by train to Stranorlar, County Donegal, where he is buried in a corner of the Church of Ireland cemetery beneath a tree by which he used to sit and dream as a boy. His grave has been restored and the memorial now includes a wreath.

Despite his chaotic lifestyle and political limitations, Butt is capable of inspiring deep personal loyalty. Some of his friends, such as John Butler Yeats and the future Catholic Bishop of Limerick, Edward Thomas O’Dwyer, retain a lasting hostility towards Parnell for his role in Butt’s downfall.

In May 2010 the Church of Ireland parishes of Stranorlar, Meenglass and Kilteevogue instigate an annual memorial Service and Lecture in Butt’s honour, inviting members of the professions of law, politics and journalism to reflect aspects of his life. Speakers have included Dr. Joe Mulholland, Senator David Norris, Dr. Chris McGimpsey and Prof. Brian Walker.

(Pictured: Isaac Butt, portrait by John Butler Yeats)


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Birth of Irish American Painter William Harnett

william-michael-harnettWilliam Michael Harnett, Irish American painter known for his trompe-l’œil still lifes of ordinary objects, is born in Clonakilty, County Cork on August 10, 1848, during the time of the Great Famine.

Shortly after his birth Harnett’s family emigrates to the United States, settling in Philadelphia. Becoming a United States citizen in 1868, he makes a living as a young man by engraving designs on table silver, while also taking night classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and later, in New York City, at Cooper Union and at the National Academy of Design. His first known oil painting, a still life, dates from 1874.

The style of trompe-l’œil painting that Harnett develops is distinctive and inspired many imitators, but it is not without precedent. A number of Dutch Golden Age painters, Pieter Claesz for instance, had specialized in tabletop still life of astonishing verisimilitude. Raphaelle Peale, working in Philadelphia in the early 19th century, pioneers the form in America. What sets Harnett’s work apart, besides his enormous skill, is his interest in depicting objects not usually made the subject of a painting.

Harnett paints musical instruments, hanging game, and tankards, but also paints the unconventional Golden Horseshoe (1886), a single rusted horseshoe shown nailed to a board. He paints a casual jumble of second-hand books set on top of a crate, Job Lot, Cheap (1878), as well as firearms and even paper currency. His works sell well, but they are more likely to be found hanging in a tavern or a business office than in a museum, as they dds not conform to contemporary notions of high art.

still-life-violin-and-musicHarnett spent the years 1880–1886 in Europe, staying in Munich from 1881 until early 1885. His best-known paintings, the four versions of After The Hunt, are painted between 1883 and 1885. Each is an imposing composition of hunting equipment and dead game, hanging on a door with ornate hinges at the right and keyhole plate at the left. These paintings, like the horseshoe or currency depictions mentioned earlier, are especially effective as trompe-l’œil because the objects occupy a shallow space, meaning that the illusion is not spoiled by parallax shift if the viewer moves.

Overall, Harnett’s work is most comparable to that of the slightly younger John F. Peto. The two artists know each other, and a comparison can be made between two paintings featuring violins. Harnett’s Music and Good Luck from 1888 shows the violin hanging upright on a door with ornate hinges and with a slightly torn piece of sheet music behind it. The elements are arranged in a stable, deliberate manner. Peto’s 1890 painting shows the violin hanging askew, as well as chipped and worn, with one broken string. The sheet music is dog-eared and torn around the edges, and placed haphazardly behind the instrument. The hinges are less ornate, and one is broken. Harnett’s objects show signs of use but are well preserved, while Peto’s more humble objects are nearly used up.

Crippling rheumatism plagues Harnett in his last years, reducing the number but not the quality of his paintings. He dies in New York City on October 29, 1892. Other artists who paint similar compositions in Harnett’s wake include his contemporary John Haberle and successors such as Otis Kaye and Jefferson David Chalfant.

Harnett’s work is in collections in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, New York), the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (Fort Worth, Texas), the Dallas Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Harvard Art Museums, the High Museum of Art (Atlanta, Georgia), the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Joslyn Art Museum (Omaha, Nebraska), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, New York), the National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.), the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario), the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the San Diego Museum of Art, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Madrid, Spain), the Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio), the Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, Connecticut), and the Wichita Art Museum (Wichita, Kansas) among others.

(Pictured: Music and Good Luck, oil on canvas by William Michael Harnett, 1888, Metropolitan Museum of Art)


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The Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848

young-irelander-rebellion-1848The Young Irelander Rebellion, a failed Irish nationalist uprising against the British led by the Young Ireland movement, takes place on July 29, 1848 in the village of Ballingarry, County Tipperary. The rebellion is part of the wider Revolutions of 1848 that affect most of Europe. It is sometimes called the Famine Rebellion (since it takes place during the Great Famine) or the Battle of Ballingarry.

In 1846, William Smith O’Brien, alongside John Mitchel, form the Irish Confederation with the Young Ireland movement which is dedicated to direct action against the British. Two short years later they are already calling for open rebellion, despite the fact that Ireland is now in the third year of the devastating famine which is leaving millions of the country’s people in brutal starvation.

Just a year after Black ‘47, the worst year of the Great Famine, the Young Ireland movement is hoping to uprise and overthrow the British but with the starving Irish just struggling to stay alive, dying or emigrating in their thousands, their revolutionary talk does little to act as a call to arms for the average Irish person.

Whereas the mistreatment of the Irish people by the British had rightly led to an increased radicalism in Irish nationalist movement, without the general Irish population able to think of anything other than staying alive, it seems doomed to failure, especially after the arrest of Mitchel before the rebellion is even started. He is convicted of sedition and transported to a penal colony in Australia before the revolt begins, a move that leads to an increased furor to revolt among the leaders that remain.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien launches his rebellion. After being chased by a force of Young Irelanders and their supporters, a Royal Irish Constabulary unit takes refuge in a house and holds those inside as hostages.

It was evident to the rebels that the position of the police is almost impregnable. When a party of the Cashel police are seen arriving over Boulea Hill, the rebels attempt to stop them even though they are low on ammunition. The police continue to advance, firing up the road. It becomes clear that the police in the house are about to be reinforced and rescued. The rebels then fade away, effectively terminating both the era of Young Ireland and Repeal, but the consequences of their actions follow them for many years. This event is colloquially known as “The Battle of Widow McCormack’s cabbage plot.”

In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. On June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia). In 1854, after five years in Van Diemen’s Land, O’Brien is released on the condition he never return to the United Kingdom. He settled in Brussels.

(Pictured: The attack on the Widow McCormack’s house on Boulagh Common, Ballingarry, County Tipperary)