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


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Death of William Sampson, United Irishman, Author & Lawyer

william-sampsonWilliam Sampson, member of the Society of United Irishmen, author and Irish Protestant lawyer known for his defence of religious liberty in Ireland and the United States, dies in New York City on December 28, 1836.

Sampson is born in Derry, County Londonderry, to an affluent Anglican family. He attends Trinity College Dublin and studies law at Lincoln’s Inn in London. In his twenties, he briefly visits an uncle in North Carolina. In 1790 he marries Grace Clark and they have two sons, William and John, and a daughter, Catherine Anne.

Admitted to the Irish Bar, Sampson becomes Junior Counsel to John Philpot Curran, and helps him provide legal defences for many members of the Society of United Irishmen. A member of the Church of Ireland, he is disturbed by anti-Catholic violence and contributes writings to the Society’s newspapers. He is arrested at the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, imprisoned, and compelled to leave Ireland for exile in Europe.

Shipwrecked at Pwllheli in Wales, Sampson makes his way to exile in Porto, Portugal, where he is again arrested, imprisoned in Lisbon, and then expelled. After living some years in France, and then Hamburg, he flees to England ahead of the approach of Napoleon‘s armies where he is re-arrested. After unsuccessfully petitioning for a return to Ireland, he arrives in New York City on July 4, 1806.

In the United States, Sampson successfully continues his career in the law, eventually sending for his family. He sets up a business publishing detailed accounts of the court proceedings in cases with popular appeal. In 1809 he reports on the case of a Navy Lieutenant Renshaw prosecuted for dueling. That same year he handles a case against Amos and Demis Broad, accused of brutally beating their slave, Betty, and her 3-year-old daughter where Sampson succeeded in having both slaves manumitted. The authorities in Ireland had disbarred Sampson, which causes him some bitter amusement, as it does not affect his work in the United States.

Sampson’s most important case in the United States is in 1813 and is referred to as “The Catholic Question in America.” Police investigating the misdemeanor of receiving stolen goods question the suspects’ priest, the Reverend Mr. Kohlman. He declines to given any information that he has heard in confession. The priest is called to testify at the trial in the Court of General Sessions in the City of New York. He again declines. The issue whether to compel the testimony is fully briefed and carefully argued on both sides, with a detailed examination of the common law. In the end, the confessional privilege is accepted for the first time in a court of the United States.

William Sampson dies on December 28, 1836 and is buried in the Riker Family graveyard on Long Island in what is now East Elmhurst, Queens, New York. He is later reinterred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where he is now buried in the same plot as Matilda Witherington Tone and William Theobald Wolfe Tone, the wife and son of the Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone, and his daughter Catherine, the wife of William Theobald Wolfe Tone.


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The Sack of Cashel

rock-of-cashelThe Sack of Cashel (also known as the Massacre of Cashel) is a notorious atrocity which occurs in County Tipperary on September 15, 1647, during the Irish Confederate Wars, part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

In the summer of 1647, Murrough O’Brien, 6th Baron Inchiquin, the Irish Protestant commander of the Protestant army of Cork, commences a campaign against the Irish Catholic strongholds in Munster. The counties of Limerick and Clare are raided and he soon turns his attention to the bountiful eastern counties of Munster. In early September, his forces quickly take the Cahir Castle in Tipperary. This strong castle is well positioned to become a base for the Cork Protestant army, and it is used to raid and devastate the surrounding countryside. The Munster army under Lord Taaffe does not make any serious effort to oppose Inchiquin, probably the result of the political scheming of Donough MacCarty, 2nd Viscount Muskerry and other powerful Irish lords who hope to keep the Munster army intact for their own ends. As such, Inchiquin is allowed to make a major push towards the town and ecclesiastical centre of Cashel.

Inchiquin has already launched two minor raids against Cashel, and he now has the opportunity to launch a major assault. The Parliamentarian forces first storm nearby Roche Castle, putting fifty warders to the sword. This attack terrifies the local inhabitants of the region, some of whom flee to hiding places, while hundreds of others flee promptly to the Rock of Cashel, a stronger place than the town itself. Lord Taaffe has placed six companies in the fortified churchyard that sits upon the rock, and considers the place defensible, though he himself does not stay to put it to the test, leaving command to the Governor Lieutenant-Colonel Butler.

Arriving with his army at the Rock, Inchiquin calls for surrender within an hour. The defenders of the churchyard offer to negotiate but that is refused, and on the afternoon of September 15 the assault commences. The Parliamentarians are first reminded of earlier atrocities against Protestants, and then begin to deploy. The attack is led by around 150 dismounted horse officers with the remainder of the infantry following. Troops of horse ride along the flanks of the advancing force to encourage the infantry. The Irish soldiers attempt to drive off the attackers with pikes while the civilians inside hurl rocks down from the walls. In turn the attackers hurl firebrands into the compound, setting some of the buildings inside on fire. Although many are wounded, the Parliamentarians gradually fight their way over the walls, pushing the garrison into the church.

Initially, the Irish defenders manage to protect the Church, holding off the attackers trying to get through the doors, but the Parliamentarians then place numerous ladders against the many windows in the church and swarm the building. For another half an hour fighting rages inside the church, until the depleted defenders retreat up the bell tower. Only sixty soldiers of the garrison remain at this point, and they thus accept a call to surrender. However, after they have descended the tower and thrown their swords away, all are killed.

In the end all the soldiers and most of the civilians on the Rock are killed by the attackers. The Bishop and Mayor of Cashel along with a few others survive by taking shelter in a secret hiding place. Apart from these a few women are spared, after being stripped of their clothes, and a small number of wealthy civilians are taken prisoner, but these are the exceptions. Overall, close to 1,000 are killed, amongst them Lieutenant-Colonel Butler and catholic scholar Theobald Stapleton. The bodies in the churchyard are described by a witness as being five or six deep.

The slaughter is followed by extensive looting. There is much of value inside, for apart from pictures, chalices and vestments of the church, many of the slain civilians had also brought their valuables with them. The sword and ceremonial mace of the mayor of Cashel, as well as the coach of the bishop are captured. The plunder is accompanied by acts of iconoclasm, with statues smashed and pictures defaced. The deserted town of Cashel is also torched.

The atrocity at Cashel causes a deep impact in Ireland, as it is the worst single atrocity committed in Ireland since the start of fighting in 1641. Previously, the most infamous massacre amongst the Catholic population is that at Timolin in 1643, when 200 civilians are killed by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde‘s English Royalist army, but many more than this are killed at Cashel, and the Rock of Cashel is one of the chief holy places of Ireland. The slaughter of the garrison at Cashel and the subsequent devastation of Catholic held Munster earns Inchiquin the Irish nickname, Murchadh na Dóiteáin or “Murrough of the Burnings.”


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Birth of Playwright Seán O’Casey

sean-ocaseySeán O’Casey, Irish playwright renowned for realistic dramas of the Dublin slums in war and revolution, in which tragedy and comedy are juxtaposed in a way new to the theatre of his time, is born at 85 Upper Dorset Street in Dublin on March 30, 1880.

Born as John Casey into a lower middle-class Irish Protestant family, his father dies when he is six, and thereafter the family becomes progressively poorer. With only three years of formal schooling, he educates himself by reading. He starts work at 14, mostly at manual labour, including several years with the Irish railways.

O’Casey becomes caught up in the cause of Irish nationalism, and he changes his name to its Irish form and learns the Irish language. His attitudes are greatly influenced by the poverty and squalor he witnesses in Dublin’s slums and by the teachings of the Irish labour leader Jim Larkin. He becomes active in the labour movement and writes for The Irish Worker. He also joins the Irish Citizen Army, a paramilitary arm of the Irish labour unions, and draws up its constitution in 1914. At this time he becomes disillusioned with the Irish nationalist movement because its leaders put nationalist ideals before socialist ones. He does not take part in the 1916 Easter Rising against the British authorities.

Disgusted with the existing political parties, he turns his energies to drama. His tragicomedies reflect in part his mixed feelings about his fellow slum dwellers, seeing them as incapable of giving a socialist direction to the Irish cause but at the same time admirable for their unconquerable spirit.

After several of his plays have been rejected, the Abbey Theatre in Dublin produces The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), set during the guerrilla warfare between the Irish Republican Army and British forces. In 1924 the Abbey stages Juno and the Paycock, his most popular play, set during the period of civil war over the terms of Irish independence. The Plough and the Stars (1926), with the 1916 Easter Rising as its background, causes riots at the Abbey by patriots who think the play denigrates Irish heroes. When first produced in the 1920s, these plays have an explosive effect on the audiences at the Abbey and help to enlarge the theatre’s reputation.

O’Casey goes to England in 1926, meets the Irish actress Eileen Carey Reynolds, marries her, and henceforth makes England his home. His decision to live outside Ireland is motivated in part by the Abbey’s rejection of The Silver Tassie, a partly Expressionist antiwar drama produced in England in 1929. Another Expressionist play, Within the Gates (1934), follows, in which the modern world is symbolized by the happenings in a public park. The Star Turns Red (1940) is an antifascist play, and the semiautobiographical Red Roses for Me (1946) is set in Dublin at the time of the Irish railways strike of 1911.

O’Casey’s later plays, given to fantasy and ritual and directed against the life-denying puritanism he believes has beset Ireland, include Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955), and The Drums of Father Ned (1958). His last full-length play is a satire on Dublin intellectuals, Behind the Green Curtains, published in 1961.

O’Casey’s three indisputably great plays are The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, and The Plough and the Stars. All are tragicomedies set in the slums of Dublin during times of war and revolution. Violent death and the everyday realities of tenement life throw into relief the blustering rhetoric and patriotic swagger of men caught up in the struggle for Irish independence. The resulting ironic juxtapositions of the comic and tragic reveal the waste of war and the corrosive effects of poverty. His gifts are for vivid characterization and working-class language and, though he portrays war and poverty, he writes some of the funniest scenes in modern drama. His later plays are not considered as powerful or moving as his earlier realistic plays. In his later plays he tends to abandon vigorous characterization in favour of expressionism and symbolism, and sometimes the drama is marred by didacticism.

Six volumes of O’Casey’s autobiography appeared from 1939 to 1956. They are later collected as Mirror in My House (1956) in the United States and as Autobiographies (1963) in Great Britain. O’Casey’s letters from 1910 to 1941 are edited by David Krause in two volumes (1975, 1980).

Sean O’Casey dies of a heart attack at the age of 84 on September 18, 1964, in Torquay, Devon. He is cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.


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Roger Casement Hanged for Treason

roger-casementSir Roger David Casement, Irish diplomat who is knighted by King George V in 1911, is executed on August 3, 1916 for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Casement is an Irish Protestant who serves as a British diplomat during the early part of the 20th century. He wins international acclaim after exposing the illegal practice of slavery in the Congo and parts of South America. Despite his Ulster Protestant roots, he becomes an ardent supporter of the Irish independence movement and, after the outbreak of World War I, travels to the United States and then to Germany to secure aid for an Irish uprising against the British.

Germany, which is at war with Great Britain, promises limited aid, and Casement is transported back to Ireland in a German submarine. On April 21, 1916, just a few days before the outbreak of the Easter Rising in Dublin, he lands in County Kerry and is picked up by British authorities almost immediately. By the end of the month, the Easter Rising has been suppressed and a majority of its leaders executed.

Casement is tried separately because of his illustrious past but nevertheless is found guilty of treason on June 29. On August 3, he is hanged by John Ellis and his assistants at Pentonville Prison in London. Casement is the last to be executed as a result of the Easter Rebellion.