seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Battle of Fontenoy

battle-of-fontenoyThe Irish Brigade of France, a brigade in the French Royal Army composed of Irish exiles most commonly identified in Irish history as The Wild Geese, achieve its most glorious victory at the Battle of Fontenoy on May 11, 1745 during the War of the Austrian Succession.

The battle takes place in the Belgian municipality of Antoing, near Tournai. A French army of 50,000 commanded by Marshal Maurice de Saxe defeats a slightly larger Pragmatic Army of 52,000 consisting of the Dutch Republic, Great Britain, Hanover and the Holy Roman Empire, led by Prince William, Duke of Cumberland. The Irish Brigade is led by Justin McCarthy, Viscount Mountcashel and is comprised of six regiments.

Despite setbacks elsewhere, at the end of 1744 the French hold the initiative in the Austrian Netherlands, and their leaders consider this theatre offers the best opportunity for a decisive victory. In late April, they besiege Tournai, which controls access to the upper Scheldt basin, which makes it a vital link in the North European trading network and the Allies march to its relief.

Leaving 22,000 men in front of Tournai, Saxe places his main force five miles away in the villages of St. Antoine, Vezin and Fontenoy, along a naturally strong feature which he strengthens with defensive works. After a series of unsuccessful flank assaults, the Allies attack the French centre with a column of 15,000 men.

Colonel Arthur Dillon‘s regiment, which had already been badly shot up earlier in the fight, along with the brigade’s other five, charge the British as they seem on the verge of breaking the French line. Fifty years of Irish frustration and British betrayal now come back to haunt the British. As the men of the Irish Brigade close through a hail of British bullets, their shouts are heard above the din: “Cuimhnígí ar Luimneach agus ar fheall na Sasanach!” (Remember Limerick and the Saxon Faith).

Nothing can withstand the wave of hatred and revenge that breaks on the hapless British line that day. The victory is won but the cost is high. Colonel Dillon is dead and Lord Clare is wounded twice. The brigade suffers 656 casualties in all, the highest percentage of all the French units.

Although the Allies retreat in good order, Tournai falls shortly afterwards, followed by Ghent, Oudenaarde, Bruges and Dendermonde. The withdrawal of British forces in October to deal with the Jacobite Rising facilitates the capture of Ostend and Nieuwpoort. By the end of 1745, France controls much of the Austrian Netherlands, threatening British links with Europe.

However, by early 1746, France is struggling to finance the war and begins peace talks at the Congress of Breda in May. Despite victories at Rocoux in October 1746 and Lauffeld in July 1747, the war continues until the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.

It is a day never to be forgotten by the Irish worldwide. At Manassas, Virginia, 116 years later, Thomas Francis Meagher cries out to the 69th New York, another regiment of Irishmen, “Remember Fontenoy!”

(Pictured: The Irish Brigade, presenting a captured British colour to Louis XV and the Dauphin)


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The Clive Barracks Bombing

clive-barracks-bombingThe Clive Barracks bombing, a bomb attack carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army on a British Army barracks at Ternhill, Shropshire, takes place on February 20, 1989. The attack injures two soldiers from the Parachute Regiment and destroys a large part of the barracks.

The IRA intensifies their campaign outside of Northern Ireland in 1988. In May 1988 the IRA enjoys one of their most successful ambushes on British Military figures in mainland Europe with attacks in the Netherlands where they kill three and injured three Royal Air Force soldiers. Four months later in August 1988, the Provisional IRA carries out the Inglis Barracks bombing, which kills one British soldier and injures ten others. It is the first IRA attack in England since the infamous Brighton hotel bombing in October 1984.

On Monday, February 20, 1989, the Provisional IRA explodes two bombs at Clive Barracks at Ternhill. Only two of the planned three bombs are primed and ready to explode when the two IRA members, both of whom are wearing combat jackets, are spotted and approached by a sentry, Lance-Corporal Alan Norris, who raises the alarm. They throw the third bomb, which was inside a backpack, at him and run to a car they had stolen earlier and drive away. Soldiers fire three rounds at the IRA members as they are fleeing but no shots hit their target.

The bombs explode about ten minutes after the IRA men escape. Even though nobody is killed in the attack, the explosions causes large damage to the barracks. The alarm sounded by Norris gives about fifty British soldiers a chance to escape almost certain death. Only two soldiers are injured, one being hit by flying glass the other with only minor injuries.

The IRA claims responsibility for the bombings and British police believe IRA fugitive Patrick Sheehy is the main operator in the attack. The IRA issues a statement saying, “While Britain maintains its colonial grip on the north of Ireland, the IRA will continue to strike at those who oversee and implement British Government policy in our country.”

Five months later, in July 1989, the IRA kills a British soldier in Hanover, West Germany when they place a booby trap IED under his car. On September 7 the IRA mistakenly shoots dead Heidi Hazell, the German wife of a British soldier, in a hail of bullets in Dortmund. In the climax of the England and European campaign by the IRA is the Deal barracks bombing in which the IRA kills eleven Royal Marines and seriously injures 22 others. It is the highest death toll from an operation in England in seven years since the Hyde Park and Regent’s Park bombings on September 22, 1982, which kill 11 soldiers and injured more than fifty.


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Birth of Lionel Cranfield Sackville, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland

lionel-cranfield-sackvilleLionel Cranfield Sackville, 1st Duke of Dorset, English political leader and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, is born in Dorset, United Kingdom on January 18, 1688.

Sackville is the son of Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset and 1st Earl of Middlesex, and the former Lady Mary Compton, younger daughter of James Compton, 3rd Earl of Northampton. Styled Lord Buckhurst from birth, he succeeds his father as 7th Earl of Dorset and 2nd Earl of Middlesex in 1706, and is created Duke of Dorset in 1720.

Perhaps because he had been on a previous diplomatic mission to Hanover, Sackville is chosen to inform George I of his accession to the Crown in August 1714. George I initially favours him and numerous offices and honours are given to him: Privy Councillor, Knight of the Garter, Groom of the Stool, Lord Steward, Governor of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. At George I’s coronation he carries the sceptre. At the coronation of George II he is Lord High Steward and carries St. Edward’s Crown. He quarrels with the King in 1717 and is told his services are no longer required, but he is made a Duke three years later.

Sackville serves twice as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, from 1731 to 1737 and again from 1751 to 1755. In 1739, at the foundation of the Foundling Hospital, he is one of that charity’s original governors. His first term as Lord Lieutenant is uneventful. His second takes place at a time of acute political tension between the two main factions in the Irish Government, one led by Henry Boyle, the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, the other by George Stone, the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh. Sackville, now heavily influenced by his son George Sackville, makes the mistake of openly backing the Archbishop. He is unable to oust Boyle from power, and is accused of being the Archbishop’s tool. He becomes extremely unpopular, leading to his eventual recall.

Sackville’s last years are uneventful, apart from a riot in 1757 caused by the passage of the Militia Act to raise an army for the Seven Years’ War, in which he narrowly escapes injury. He dies at Knole, a country house in west Kent, on October 9, 1765 and is buried at Withyham in East Sussex.

(Pictured: Oil on canvas Portrait of Lionel Sackville, 1st Duke of Dorset (1688-1765) by Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), 1719, currently displayed at Commonwealth Secretariat, Marlborough House, London)