seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Battle of Saintfield

battle-of-saintfieldThe Battle of Saintfield, a short but bloody clash in County Down in what is now Northern Ireland, takes place on Saturday, June 9, 1798. The battle is the first major conflict of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 in County Down.

A rebel force, over a thousand strong, converge on a large house owned by the McKee family. The McKees are a family of loyalists, who are unpopular in the region because they had provided information to the authorities leading to the arrest of a radical Presbyterian minister and some members of his congregation. The McKees know that they are unpopular and are thus armed to the teeth. As the house is surrounded, shots are fired from the fortified house, hitting some of the attackers. Gunfire holds the insurgents back for a short while, until one of them, a fiddler by the name of Orr, manages to sneak around the back of the house with a ladder and sets the roof alight. The house is destroyed, and all eight members of the family inside are killed. News of this quickly reaches the British forces in the area, and a 300 strong force under Colonel Granville Staplyton, consisting of Newtownards Yeomanry cavalry and 270 York Fencibles, as well as two light cannon, march to the region.

The rebels, however, anticipate the move and are waiting in ambush. Stapylton sees the road ahead twisting into woods, and orders a pair of scouts to check for anything suspicious. The men do not seem to be particularly vigilant, as they return and declared the road ahead to be safe.

The redcoats march into the wooded area, a dense hedge snaking along the road on one side. On the opposite side, the ground steadily rises, with the areas higher up the slope dominated by demesne woods. This provides cover for the Irish. The Irish rebels are mostly armed with pikes and the terrain allows them to quickly swarm the soldiers on the road below. In the fierce hand-to-hand combat that follows the British forces are overwhelmed. One of the fencibles, a veteran of wars in Europe who manages to survive the attack later states that he had never before witnessed such fierce fighting.

Over fifty men are piked to death before Staplyton manages to order the soldiers. He then brings his cannon into play against the mass of rebels before him, inflicting enough casualties with canister and grapeshot to blunt their attack. In the meantime, Staplytons force uses the situation to march to safety.

The Battle of Saintfield is largely regarded as a victory of the United Irish rebels. Long after, in the 1950s, two skeletons, a sword and bayonet of the York fencibles are found in the area.

The rebellion in Down proves to be short lived. Only a few days later the rebel army is slaughtered at the Battle of Ballynahinch.

Many of the dead from both sides of the battle are placed in a mass grave within the grounds of the nearby Presbyterian church. Although there is a plaque signifying the location of these graves, the area seems largely neglected with what appears to be temporary vehicle access over the belligerents final resting place. In May 2010 a memorial park is finished and opened. The area has been cleared and landscaped, with several new plaques and information boards being erected. The graves have been refurbished and the headstones relaid.

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Founding of the Irish Socialist Republican Party

james-connollyThe Irish Socialist Republican Party, a small, but pivotal Irish political party, is founded on May 29, 1896 by James Connolly. Its aim is to establish an Irish workers’ republic. The party splits in 1904 following months of internal political rows.

The party is small throughout its existence. According to the ISRP historian David Lynch, the party never has more than 80 members. Upon its founding one journalist comments that the party has more syllables than members. Nevertheless, the ISRP is regarded by many Irish historians as a party of seminal importance in the early history of Irish socialism and republicanism. It is often described as the first socialist and republican party in Ireland, and the first organisation to espouse the ideology of socialist republicanism on the island. During its lifespan it only has one really active branch, the Dublin branch. There are several attempts to create branches in Cork, Belfast, Limerick, Naas, and even in northern England but they never come to much. The party establishes links with feminist and revolutionary Maud Gonne who approves of the party.

The party produces the first regular socialist paper in Ireland, the Workers’ Republic, runs candidates in local elections, represents Ireland at the Second International, and agitates over issues such as the Boer War and the commemorations of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Politically the ISRP is before its time, putting the call for an independent “Republic” at the centre of its propaganda before Sinn Féin or other political organizations.

A public meeting held by the party is described in Irish socialist playwright Sean O’Casey‘s autobiography Drums under the Window.

Connolly, who is the full-time paid organiser for the party, subsequently leaves Ireland for the United States in 1903 following internal conflict. In fact, it seems that a combination of the petty infighting and his own poverty that causes Connolly to abandon Ireland (he returns in 1910). Connolly clashes with the party’s other leading light, E. W. Stewart, over trade union and electoral strategy. A small number of members around Stewart establish an anti-Connolly micro organisation called the Irish Socialist Labour Party. In 1904, this merges with the remains of the ISRP to form the Socialist Party of Ireland.


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Birth of Thomas Moore, Poet, Satirist & Composer

thomas-moore

Thomas Moore, poet, satirist, composer, and political propagandist, is born in Dublin on May 28, 1779. He is best remembered for the lyrics of “The Minstrel Boy” and “The Last Rose of Summer.” He is a close friend of Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley. As Lord Byron’s named literary executor, along with John Murray, Moore is responsible for burning Lord Byron’s memoirs after his death. In his lifetime he is often referred to as Anacreon Moore.

The son of a Roman Catholic wine merchant, Moore graduates from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1799 and then studies law in London. His major poetic work, Irish Melodies (1807–34), earns him an income of £500 annually for a quarter of a century. It contains such titles as “The Last Rose of Summer” and “Oft in the Stilly Night.” The Melodies, a group of 130 poems set to the music of Moore and of Sir John Stevenson and performed for London’s aristocracy, arouses sympathy and support for the Irish nationalists, among whom Moore is a popular hero.

Lalla-Rookh (1817), a narrative poem set in an atmosphere of Oriental splendour, gives Moore a reputation among his contemporaries rivaling that of Byron and Sir Walter Scott. It is perhaps the most translated poem of its time, and it earns what was until then the highest price paid by an English publisher for a poem (£3,000). His many satirical works, such as The Fudge Family in Paris (1818), portray the politics and manners of the Regency era.

In 1824 Moore becomes a participant in one of the most celebrated episodes of the Romantic era. He is the recipient of Byron’s memoirs, but he and the publisher John Murray burn them, presumably to protect Byron. He later brings out the Letters and Journals of Lord Byron (1830), in which he includes a life of the poet. His lifelong espousal of the Catholic cause leads him to produce such brilliant works as his parody of agrarian insurgency, The Memoirs of Captain Rock (1824), and his courageous biography of the revolutionary leader of the 1798 rebellion, The Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1831).

Moore’s personal life is dogged by tragedy including the deaths of all five of his children within his lifetime and a stroke in later life, which disables him from performances, the activity for which he is most renowned. Moore dies while being cared for by his wife, Elizabeth (nee Dyke), at Sloperton Cottage, Bromham, Wiltshire, England on February 26, 1852. His remains are in a vault at St. Nicholas churchyard, Bromham, within view of his cottage-home and beside his daughter Anastasia.

(Pictured: Thomas Moore, after a painting by Thomas Lawrence)


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The Battle of Oulart Hill

battle-of-oulart-hillThe Battle of Oulart Hill takes place on May 27, 1798 when a rebel gathering of between 4,000 and 5,000 massacre a detachment of 110 militia sent from Wexford town to stamp out the spreading rebellion in County Wexford.

When news of the long expected rising on May 23 of the Society of United Irishmen in the midlands reaches County Wexford, it is already in an unsettled condition due to fears brought by the recently instituted anti-insurgent disarmament campaign in the county. The measures used included pitchcapping, half-hanging, and house burnings to uncover rebel conspirators. The recent arrival in Wexford of the North Cork Militia, who are notorious for their brutality in the “pacification” of Ulster, terror raids by local yeomen and finally news of the massacres at Dunlavin Green, Carlow and Carnew, have the effect of drawing people together in large groups for security, especially at night.

One such group of one hundred or so gather on the evening of May 26 at The Harrow, near the parish of Boolavogue under the tutelage of Fr. John Murphy, when they encounter a patrol of about 20 yeomen on their way to the house of a suspected rebel. They burn the suspect’s dwelling but, returning empty-handed, they encounter Fr. Murphy’s band again. The patrol are pushing their way through when a skirmish begins in which they lose two of their number, the rest fleeing with news of the killings.

The reaction on both sides is rapid. Vengeful yeomanry patrols roam, burning and killing indiscriminately, while the rebels rouse the countryside and make several raids on manors and other houses holding arms, killing more loyalists and yeomen. News of the skirmish and raids has by now reached Wexford town and, on the morning of May 27, the bulk of its garrison, 110 of the North Cork militia under Colonel Foote, are ordered north to crush the nascent rebellion. They are joined en route by some 16 yeomen cavalry under Colonel Le Hunt. However, these yeomanry are of doubtful loyalty, many (including their sergeant) having joined the rebels that morning.

The militia reaches the village of Oulart at 2:00 PM on May 27. Finding a mass of “from four to five thousand combatants” occupying the high ground of Oulart hill, they rashly advance and pursue the rebels to the summit. The rebel leaders mistakenly believe a large body of yeoman cavalry is waiting to intercept their flight, so their forces desperately turn to face their enemy and kill the whole detachment in an instant, leaving only the commanding officer, Colonel Foote, and four other survivors to escape to their base at Wexford.

Foote reports that, contrary to his orders, the militia had advanced incautiously and were surrounded and overpowered by the overwhelming rebel numbers, mostly armed with pikes, and that “great numbers” of the rebels were killed.

Following the rebel victory, almost all of North Wexford joins the rebellion. Crown forces and loyalist civilians cede control of the countryside, withdrawing to towns such as Enniscorthy, Gorey and Wexford.

(Pictured: The Battle of Oulart Hill by Fr. Edward Foran OSA (1861-1938) who also designed the 1898 Monument in Oulart Village)


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The Battle of the Hill of Tara

battle-of-tara-hillThe Battle of the Hill of Tara is fought on the evening of May 26, 1798 between British forces and Irish rebels involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, resulting in a heavy defeat for the rebels and the end of the rebellion in County Meath.

Following the outbreak of the rebellion, signaled in Meath by the prearranged signal of the ceasing of a mail coach near Turvey hill, road blocks are posted on the Navan road. Members of the Society of United Irishmen and rebels in Meath begin to assemble at the Hill of Tara. Tara is chosen as it provides strategic control of road access to the capital of Dublin and cultural significance as the former seat of the High Kings of Ireland. Between 4,000-7,000 rebels gather at the hill. Following the outbreak of the rebellion on May 23, there are incidents of violent encounters throughout the countryside as rallying rebels make their way to Tara.

Picking up yeomanry reinforcements along the way, the combined fencible, yeoman and militia force forms up at the bottom of the hill in advance of the attack on the rebels who have established a large camp on the hill. The lack of any cannon or cavalry places the rebels at a great disadvantage despite their numbers. Disciplined volley fire and flanking cavalry action combined with withering grapeshot delivered from a 6 pounder cannon drive the rebels to within the graveyard walls at the summit. There, at dusk, the rebels make their last stand on the hill until a final grenadier assault finishes them.

The loss to the fencibles, yeomen and militia is minimal. However rebel casualties have estimates running from several hundred to several thousand dead and many wounded. Many bodies are removed during the night of the 26th and 350 dead are counted still lying on the battlefield the following day. Witnesses to the burial recollect many more bodies of those rebels who died of their wounds during the night being collected from the surrounding countryside in carts. It is noted by the witnesses that the bodies are universally disembowelled by the victors. The dead are buried in a mass grave marked by the Lia Fáil stone which is moved to mark the burial site. The defeat effectively ends the United Irishmen’s rising in Meath.

(Pictured: The high cross at the site of the Battle of the Hill of Tara, County Meath)


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The Battle of Carlow

battle-of-carlow-monumentThe Battle of Carlow takes place in Carlow, County Carlow on May 25, 1798 when Carlow rebels rise in support of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 which had begun the day before in County Kildare.

The Society of United Irishmen organisation in Carlow, led by a young brogue-maker named Mick Heydon who had taken over the leadership following the arrest of the previous leader, Peter Ivers, who was arrested with several other leading United Irishmen at Oliver Bond‘s house in March of that year, assemble on the night of May 24 and set off at dawn to attack the county town. Picking up more volunteers along the way, their numbers swell to around 1,200 and they march completely unopposed.

The attack on the town is planned to take place simultaneously from four different directions, through the four main streets. All are to converge on Potato Market.

As the various contingents advance, they are unaware that Colonel Mahon of the Ninth Dragoons has the military in the barracks and the town on the highest alert. Their every move is known to him. A strong party of military is stationed in the court house, which is now known as the Deighton Hall, situated immediately to the north of the bridge across the River Burren. Another party with two small cannon are stationed on the bridge. On Graigue bridge, there is an officer’s guard of yeomen. In Dublin Street and to the north, well-armed loyalists fill some large strong houses, but without military support, as the attack is known to be weak from that quarter. Tullow Street is left open and to all appearances undefended against what is expected to be the strongest attack of all. The trap is laid.

When the Rebels enter the town of Carlow they are joined not only by the Catholic inhabitants but also by people who have secretly arrived there during the previous day and night. A crowd of approximately two hundred people break away and march through Tullow Street but when they reach Potato Market their fortunes change.

The forewarned garrison had prepared a deadly ambush, posting men at every window and rooftop. As the rebels relax after their apparently easy victory, the concealed soldiers pour volley after volley of gunfire into the masses of exposed rebels. Taken completely by surprise, the shocked and poorly armed rebels break and flee only to run into another army ambush. The survivors try to escape by breaking through adjoining houses and cabins which are set afire by the pursuing soldiers causing the deaths of 200 of the inhabitants.

In the meantime, the County Laois Rebels, on their way to aid the Carlow rebels having heard mixed reports of the battle and hearing the fate of their comrades, decide it is too late to help and change their plans. They are led by men called Redmond and Brennan. They proceed to Ballickmoyler instead, some miles outside Carlow in County Laois and there they set fire to many loyalist houses and attack the home of John Whitty, a Protestant clergyman. Twenty-one of the Rebels are killed in the fray but despite this they eventually overcome the loyalist inhabitants.

An estimated 500 rebels and civilians are killed in the streets of the town with no reported losses to the military. Another 150 are executed in the repression over the following ten days. A local man who becomes known as “Paddy the Pointer” is reported to have helped to identify escaped rebels to the military by riding around the town and pointing them out.

A memorial, pictured above, is located at Carlow-Graigue, or Graigue-Cullen as it is now known, where remains of many of those who perished that day were flung into a mass grave.


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Premiere of “Cathleen ni Houlihan”

cathleen-ni-houlihanCathleen ni Houlihan, a one-act play written by William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory, is first performed in Dublin on April 2, 1902 with Maud Gonne in the leading role. It is first published in the October 1902 number of Samhain magazine.

The play centers on the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The play is startlingly nationalistic, in its last pages encouraging young men to sacrifice their lives for the heroine Cathleen ni Houlihan, who represents an independent and separate Irish state. The title character first appears as an old woman at the door of a family celebrating their son’s wedding. She describes her four “beautiful green fields,” representing the four provinces of Ireland, that have been unjustly taken from her. With little subtlety, she requests a blood sacrifice, declaring that “many a child will be born and there will be no father at the christening” and that “they that have red cheeks will have pale cheeks for my sake, and for all that, they will think they are well paid.” She convinces the future groom, Michael, to give up the wedding and go fight.

After the youth leaves the safety of his home to fight for her, she appears as an image of youth with “the walk of a queen,” professing of those who fight for her: “They shall be remembered forever, They shall be alive forever, They shall be speaking forever, The people shall hear them forever.”

Death is common during the time around the rising, but becoming a martyr is somethings that is admirable, so oftentimes people welcome death so they can create themselves a heroic memory. The martyrs will be remembered forever, which is why this theme is so ingrained into this play.

Cathleen ni Houlihan is such a simple play that contains many symbols and has the goal of convincing men to fight for Ireland. While the play is written about the rising of 1798, it is meant to inspire people for the 1916 Easter Rising. Throughout the whole play, there is constant reference to memory and its influence on the public. The men that die while fighting for Ireland are considered heroes, which is why memory and martyrdom are such important themes that are incorporated into works about revolution.

Cathleen ni Houlihan is about Irish Independence, but there are themes of martyrdom in other works, like the musicals about American Independence, Hamilton and 1776.

(Pictured: Scene from a production of “Cathleen ni Houlihan,” circa 1912)