seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Flight of the Wild Geese

flight-of-the-wild-geesePatrick Sarsfield sails to France on December 22, 1691, leading 19,000 of his countrymen to enter the French service in the first phase of the military denuding of Ireland known as the Flight of the Wild Geese, as agreed in the Treaty of Limerick on October 3, 1691, following the end of the Williamite War in Ireland.

More broadly, the term “Wild Geese” is used in Irish history to refer to Irish soldiers who leave to serve in continental European armies in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, or even, poetically, Irish soldiers in British armies as late as World War I.

Irish recruitment for continental armies dries up after it is made illegal in 1745. In 1732 Sir Charles Wogan indicates in a letter to Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, that 120,000 Irishmen have been killed and wounded in foreign service “within these forty years.” Swift later replies, “I cannot but highly esteem those gentlemen of Ireland who, with all the disadvantages of being exiles and strangers, have been able to distinguish themselves by their valour and conduct in so many parts of Europe, I think, above all other nations.”

It was some time before the British armed forces begin to tap into Irish Catholic manpower. In the late eighteenth century, the Penal Laws are gradually relaxed and in the 1790s the laws prohibiting Catholics bearing arms are abolished.

Thereafter, the British begin recruiting Irish regiments for the Crown Forces – including such famous units as the Connaught Rangers. Several more Irish units are created in the 19th century. By 1914 specifically Irish infantry regiments in the British Army comprise the Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Irish Guards, the Royal Irish Regiment, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Rifles, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Connaught Rangers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers. With the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 five of the above regiments are disbanded, with most of the remainder undergoing a series of amalgamations between 1968 and 2006. The United Kingdom still retains three Irish regiments: the Irish Guards, the Royal Irish Regiment, and the London Irish Rifles.

Sarsfield is honored to this day in the crest of County Limerick. The Flight of the Wild Geese is remembered in the poetic words…“War-battered dogs are we, Fighters in every clime, Fillers of trench and of grave, Mockers, bemocked by time. War-dogs, hungry and grey, Gnawing a naked bone, Fighters in every clime, Every cause but our own.”

(Pictured: ‘Irish Troops Leaving Limerick’, 1692, (Cassell Petter & Galpin, London, Paris & New York, c1880), Artist Unknown)

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Birth of Northern Ireland Politician Gerry Fitt

Gerard Fitt, Northern Ireland politician, is born in Belfast on April 9, 1926. He is a founder and the first leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), a social democratic and Irish nationalist party.

Fitt is educated at a local Christian Brothers school in Belfast. He joins the Merchant Navy in 1941 and serves on convoy duty during World War II. His elder brother Geordie, an Irish Guardsman, is killed at the Battle of Normandy.

Living in the nationalist Beechmount neighbourhood of the Falls, he stands for the Falls as a candidate for the Dock Labour Party in a city council by-election in 1956, but loses to Paddy Devlin of the Irish Labour Party, who later becomes his close ally. In 1958, he is elected to Belfast City Council as a member of the Irish Labour Party.

In 1962, he wins a seat in the Parliament of Northern Ireland from the Ulster Unionist Party, becoming the only Irish Labour member. Two years later, he left Irish Labour and joined with Harry Diamond, the sole Socialist Republican Party Stormont MP, to form the Republican Labour Party. At the 1966 general election, Fitt won the Belfast West seat in the Westminster parliament.

Many sympathetic British Members of Parliament (MPs) are present at a civil rights march in Derry on October 5, 1968 when Fitt and others are beaten by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Fitt also supports the 1969 candidacy of Bernadette Devlin in the Mid Ulster by-election who runs as an anti-abstentionist ‘Unity‘ candidate. Devlin’s success greatly increases the authority of Fitt in the eyes of many British commentators, particularly as it produces a second voice on the floor of the British House of Commons who challenge the Unionist viewpoint at a time when Harold Wilson and other British ministers are beginning to take notice.

In August 1970, Fitt becomes the first leader of a coalition of civil rights and nationalist leaders who create the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). By this time Northern Ireland is charging headlong towards near-civil war and the majority of unionists remain hostile.

After the collapse of Stormont in 1972 and the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1973 Fitt becomes deputy chief executive of the short-lived Power-Sharing Executive created by the Sunningdale Agreement.

Fitt becomes increasingly detached from both his own party and also becomes more outspoken in his condemnation of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He becomes a target for republican sympathisers in 1976 when they attack his home. He becomes disillusioned with the handling of Northern Ireland by the British government. In 1979, he abstains from a crucial vote in the House of Commons which brings down the Labour government, citing the way that the government had failed to help the nationalist population and tried to form a deal with the Ulster Unionist Party.

In 1979, Fitt is replaced by John Hume as leader of the SDLP and he leaves the party altogether after he agrees to constitutional talks with British Secretary of State Humphrey Atkins without any provision for an ‘Irish dimension’ and then sees his decision overturned by the SDLP party conference. Like Paddy Devlin before him, he claims the SDLP has ceased to be a socialist force.

In 1981, he opposes the hunger strikes in the Maze prison in Belfast. His seat in Westminster is targeted by Sinn Féin as well as by the SDLP. In June 1983, he loses his seat in Belfast West to Gerry Adams, in part due to competition from an SDLP candidate. The following month, on October 14, 1983, he is created a UK life peer as Baron Fitt, of Bell’s Hill in County Down. His Belfast home is firebombed a month later and he moves to London.

Gerry Fitt dies in London on August 26, 2005, at the age of 79, after a long history of heart disease.


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Formation of The Irish Guards

The Irish Guards regiment is formed on April 1, 1900 by order of Queen Victoria to commemorate the Irishmen who fought in the Second Boer War for the British Empire. The Irish Guards, part of the Guards Division, is a Foot Guards regiment based in Cavalry Barracks, Hounslow.

The regiment takes its motto, “Quis Separabit” or “Who shall separate us?” from the Order of St. Patrick, an order of chivalry founded by George III.

As a Foot Guards Regiment the Irish Guards Regiment is involved in state ceremonial and public duties at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, St. James’s Palace, and the Tower of London. HRH Prince William is Colonel of the Regiment and wore the uniform of the Irish Guards for his marriage to Kate Middleton.

St. Patrick’s Day is the traditional celebration of the Irish Guards and fresh shamrock is presented to members of the regiment.

The 1st Battalion Irish Guards is broken down into five separate Companies – three rifle companies, Numbers One, Two, and Four Companies, the Support Company (3 Company) and Headquarter Company. The rifle companies use the Warrior tracked armoured vehicle. In common with her sister Guards regiments, the regimental organization also includes the Band of the Irish Guards and the Corps of Drums, a fife and drum band.

The Battalion has deployed on recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan. The Battalion has also recently carried out a tour of Cyprus under the United Nations. As well as deploying on operations the Battalion has also deployed on various oversea exercises to Bosnia, Latvia, Oman, Kenya, and numerous other countries.


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Birth of Novelist Liam O’Flaherty

liam-oflahertyLiam O’Flaherty, novelist, short story writer, and a major figure in the Irish literary renaissance, is born on August 28, 1896, in the remote village of Gort na gCapall on Inis Mór, one of the Aran Islands of County Galway. He is involved for a time in left-wing politics, as is his brother Tom Maidhc O’Flaherty (also a writer), and their father, Maidhc Ó Flaithearta, before them.

At the age of twelve, O’Flaherty goes to Rockwell College and later University College Dublin and the Dublin Diocesan teacher training college Holy Cross College. It is intended he enter the priesthood, but he joins the Irish Guards in 1917 under the name Bill Ganly. Serving on the Western Front, he finds trench life devastatingly monotonous and is badly injured in September 1917 during the Battle of Langemarck. It is speculated that shell shock is responsible for the mental illness which becomes apparent in 1933.

He returns from the front a socialist. Having become interested in Marxism as a schoolboy, atheistic and communistic beliefs evolve in his 20s and he is a founding member of the Communist Party of Ireland. Two days after the establishment of the Irish Free State, O’Flaherty and other unemployed Dublin workers seize the Rotunda Concert Hall in Dublin and hold it for four days in protest at “the apathy of the authorities.” Free State troops force their surrender.

O’Flaherty then leaves Ireland and moves first to England where, destitute and jobless, he takes to writing. In 1925 he scores immediate success with his best-selling novel The Informer about a rebel with confused ideals in the Irish War of Independence, which wins him the 1925 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Four years later his next short novel Return of the Brute, set in the World War I trenches, proves another success. He then travels to the United States, where he lives in Hollywood for a short time. The well-known director John Ford, a cousin, later makes a film of O’Flaherty’ first novel. The novel is also the source of a 1929 film of the same name directed by Arthur Robison.

Many of his works have the common theme of nature and Ireland. He is a distinguished short story writer, and some of his best work in that genre is in Irish. The collection Dúil, published towards the end of his life, contains Irish language versions of a number of stories published elsewhere in English. This collection, now widely admired, has a poor reception at the time, and this seems to discourage him from proceeding with an Irish language novel he has in hand.

In a letter written to The Sunday Times in later years he confesses to a certain ambivalence regarding his work in Irish, and speaks of other Irish writers who receive little praise for their work in the language. This gives rise to some controversy. His First Flight, a short story which symbolizes the nervousness one experiences before doing something new, is regarded as one of his most famous works. In 1923, O’Flaherty publishes his first novel, Thy Neighbour’s Wife, thought to be one of his best. Over the next couple of years he publishes other novels and short stories. In 1933 he suffers the first of two mental breakdowns.

He travels in the United States and Europe, and the letters he writes while travelling have now been published. He has a love of French and Russian culture. Before his death he leaves the Communist Party and returns to the Roman Catholic faith. O’Flaherty dies in Dublin on September 7, 1984, and many of his works are subsequently republished. He is remembered today as a powerful writer and a strong voice in Irish culture.