seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of John Kelly, United Irish Leader

john-kelly-markerJohn Kelly, also known as Kelly of Killanne, a leader of the Society of United Irishmen, is hanged along with seven other rebel leaders on Wexford bridge on June 22, 1798.

Kelly lives in the town of Killanne in the parish of Rathnure and is a United Irish leader who fights in the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

While Kelly is obviously well known to rebel and loyalist alike during the short duration of the Wexford Rebellion, almost nothing is known of him outside this time. He is one of the leaders of the rebel victory at the Battle of Three Rocks which leads to the capture of Wexford town but is later seriously wounded while leading a rebel column at the Battle of New Ross.

Kelly is under orders from the Wexford commander Bagenal Harvey to attack the British outposts around New Ross but on no account to attack the town itself.

The rebels outnumber the British forces and so Harvey sends a messenger to give them an opportunity to surrender. The messenger is shot while carrying a white flag. This angers the rebels who begin the attack without receiving the official order from Harvey.

Kelly’s column of 800 men attacks and breaks through Ross’s “Three Bullet Gate” and proceeds into the town itself. After initial success, they are eventually beaten back by British troops and Kelly is wounded in the leg. He is moved to Wexford to recuperate but, after the fall of Wexford on June 21, he is dragged from his bed, tried and sentenced to death.

John Kelly is hanged on June 22, 1798 along with seven other rebel leaders on Wexford bridge, after which his body is decapitated, the trunk thrown into the River Slaney and the head kicked through the streets before being set on display on a spike.

Kelly’s exploits are commemorated in the famous Irish ballad Kelly the Boy From Killanne written by Patrick Joseph McCall (1861–1919). Don Partridge records a solo acoustic version of the song in 1964, and later regularly plays the song during street busking, before and after his hit records in the late 1960s.

(Pictured: The grave of John Kelly, Kelly of Killanne, in Saint Anne’s Churchyard, Killanne, County Wexford)

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The Battle of New Ross

battle-of-new-rossThe Battle of New Ross takes place in County Wexford in southeastern Ireland on June 5, 1798, during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. It is fought between the Irish Republican insurgents called the United Irishmen and British Crown forces composed of regular soldiers, militia and yeomanry. The attack on the town of New Ross on the River Barrow, is an attempt by the recently victorious rebels to break out of County Wexford across the River Barrow and to spread the rebellion into County Kilkenny and the outlying province of Munster.

On June 4, 1798, the rebels advance from their camp on Carrigbyrne Hill to Corbet Hill, just outside the town of New Ross. The battle, the bloodiest of the 1798 rebellion, begins at dawn on June 5 when the Crown garrison is attacked by a force of almost 10,000 rebels, massed in three columns outside the town. The attack has been expected since the fall of Wexford to the rebels on May 30 and the British garrison of 2,000 has prepared defences both outside and inside the town. Trenches are dug and manned by skirmishers on the approaches to the town while cannon are stationed facing all the rapidly falling approaches and narrow streets of the town to counter the expected mass charges by the rebels, who are mainly armed with pikes.

Bagenal Harvey, the United Irish Leader recently released from captivity following the rebel seizure of Wexford, attempts to negotiate surrender of New Ross but the rebel emissary Matt Furlong is shot down by Crown outposts while bearing a flag of truce. His death provokes a furious charge by an advance guard of 500 insurgents led by John Kelly who has instructions to seize the Three Bullet Gate and wait for reinforcements before pushing into the town. To aid their attack, the rebels first drive a herd of cattle through the gate.

Another rebel column attacks the Priory Gate but the third pulls back from the Market Gate intimidated by the strong defences. Seizing the opportunity, the garrison sends a force of cavalry out the Market Gate to attack and scatter the remaining two hostile columns from the flanks. However the rebel rump has not yet deployed and upon spotting the British manoeuvre, rally the front ranks who stand and break the cavalry charge with massed pikes.

The encouraged rebel army then sweeps past the Crown outposts and seizes the Three Bullet Gate causing the garrison and populace to flee in panic. Without pausing for reinforcement, the rebels break into the town attacking simultaneously down the steeply sloping streets but meet with strong resistance from well-prepared second lines of defence of the well armed soldiers. Despite horrific casualties the rebels manage to seize two-thirds of the town by using the cover of smoke from burning buildings and force the near withdrawal of all Crown forces from the town. However, the rebels’ limited supplies of gunpowder and ammunition force them to rely on the pike and blunts their offensive. The military manages to hold on and, following the arrival of reinforcements, launches a counterattack before noon which finally drives the exhausted rebels from the town.

No effort to pursue the withdrawing rebels is made but when the town has been secured, a massacre of prisoners, trapped rebels and civilians of both sympathies alike begins which continues for days. Hundreds are burned alive when rebel casualty stations are torched by victorious troops. More rebels are believed to have been killed in the aftermath of the battle than during the actual fighting. Reports of such atrocities brought by escaping rebels are believed to have influenced the retaliatory murder of over 100 loyalists in the flames of Scullabogue Barn.

Casualties in the Battle of New Ross are estimated at 2,800 to 3,000 Rebels and 200 Garrison dead. Most of the dead Rebels are thrown in the River Barrow or buried in a mass grave outside the town walls a few days after the Battle.
The remaining rebel army reorganises and forms a camp at Sliabh Coillte some five miles to the east but never attempts to attack the town again. They later attack General John Moore‘s invading column but are defeated at the Battle of Foulksmills on June 20, 1798.

(Pictured: The 1845 illustration “The Battle of Ross” by George Cruikshank)


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The Battle of Ridgeway

battle-of-ridgewayThe Battle of Ridgeway, sometimes called the Battle of Lime Ridge or Limestone Ridge, is fought on June 2, 1866 in the vicinity of the town of Fort Erie across the Niagara River from Buffalo, New York between Canadian troops and an irregular army of Irish American invaders, the Fenians.

The Fenian insurgents, led by Brigadier General John O’Neill, a former Union cavalry commander who had specialized in anti-guerrilla warfare in Ohio, secures boats and transfers some 800 men across the Niagara River, landing above Fort Erie, before dawn on June 1, 1866. An additional 200–400 Fenians and supplies cross later in the morning and early afternoon until the U.S. Navy gunboat, the USS Michigan, begins intercepting Fenian barges at 2:20 PM.

O’Neill spends the first day trying to rally the local citizenry to the Fenian cause and to commandeer supplies for his mission, but his force is plagued by desertions almost from the outset. An additional column of 200 Fenians join his group, bringing his total strength at Ridgeway to at least 650 men.

Meanwhile, the British are mobilizing both local Canadian militia and British garrison troops to defend against the impending invasion of Canada. The Fenians night-march north across Black Creek through a cedar swamp, then turn inland on Ridge Road on the morning of June 2, taking up a defensive position on Limestone Ridge near the present Canadian town of Ridgeway. There, they clash with 850 advancing Canadian militia commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Booker of the 13th Battalion.

In the first hour of the battle, the Canadians appear to prevail, driving Fenian skirmishers back across Bertie Road. Then the tide turns and, to this day, it is not clear what causes the impending chaos. O’Neill, observing the chaos breaking out in the Canadian ranks, quickly orders a bayonet charge that completely routs the inexperienced Canadians. The Fenians take and briefly hold the town of Ridgeway. Then, expecting to be overwhelmed by British reinforcements, they quickly turn back to Fort Erie where they fight a second battle, the Battle of Fort Erie, against a small but determined detachment of Canadians holding the town.

The Canadian loss is nine killed on the field, four dying of wounds in the immediate days following the battle, 22 dying of wounds or disease later and 37 are wounded, some severely enough to require amputation of their limbs. O’Neill says that four or five of his men are killed, but Canadians claim to have found six Fenian bodies on the field. The relatively low casualty figures make this an interesting battle for proponents of theories about soldiers’ reluctance to shoot to kill, but might also be accounted for by the fact that the Fenians had deployed only their skirmishers in an attempt to lure the Canadians towards their main force which did not advance until the last minutes of the battle when they launched a bayonet attack that broke Canadian lines.

The battlefield is designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1921 and is the last battle fought in the province of Ontario against a foreign invasion. The action at Ridgeway has the distinction of being the only armed victory for the cause of Irish independence between the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and the Irish War of Independence (1919).

(Pictured: An 1869 illustration of the battle: Charge of General O’Neill’s Fenians upon the Canadian troops, causing their rout.)


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Death of Joseph Holt, United Irish General

joseph-holtJoseph Holt, United Irish general and leader of a large guerrilla force which fights against British troops in County Wicklow from June–October 1798, dies at Kingstown, now Dún Laoghaire, near Dublin on May 16, 1826.

Holt is one of six sons of John Holt, a farmer in County Wicklow. He joins the Irish Volunteers in the 1780s and holds a number of minor public offices but becomes involved in law enforcement as a sub-constable, billet master for the militia and a bounty hunter. He is involved in the Battle of Vinegar Hill which is an engagement during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 on June 21, 1798 when over 15,000 British soldiers launch an attack on Vinegar Hill outside Enniscorthy, County Wexford.

Despite Holt’s apparent loyalism, he becomes a member of the Society of United Irishmen in 1797 and gradually begins to attract suspicion until finally in May 1798, his house is burned down by the militia of Fermanagh. He then takes to the Wicklow mountains, gradually assuming a position of prominence with the United Irish rebels. The defeat of the County Wexford rebels at Vinegar Hill on June 21 sees surviving rebel factions heading towards the Wicklow Mountains to link up with Holt’s forces.

Emerging to meet them, Holt is given much of the credit for the planning of the ambush and defeat of a pursuing force of 200 British cavalry in the Battle of Ballyellis on June 30, 1798. However, the subsequent Midlands campaign to revive the rebellion is a disaster, and he is lucky to escape with his life back to the safety of the Wicklow Mountains.

Holt largely holds out in expectation of the arrival of French aid but news of the defeat of the French in the Battle of Ballinamuck together with his ill-health brought about by the hardships of his fugitive life, age and family considerations prompt him to initiate contact with the Dublin Castle authorities with a view to a negotiated surrender. Dublin Castle is eager to end the rebellion in Wicklow and allows him exile after incarceration in the Bermingham Tower without trial in New South Wales.

Holt goes out on the Minerva and meets Captain William Cox who has been appointed paymaster of the New South Wales Corps. The ship arrives at Sydney on January 11, 1800, and shortly afterwards Holt agrees to manage Captain Cox’s farm. He always claims in Australia that he is a political exile and not a convict. In 1804 when the Castle Hill uprising occurs Holt, who is not involved, has been warned that evening that it is about to happen. During the night he sets up a defense of Captain Cox’s house. He is nonetheless afterwards hounded by Governor Philip Gidley King and many false witnesses are brought against him. Although there is no plausible evidence at all against him, he is exiled by King to Norfolk Island in April 1804, and there put to hard labour.

Holt is officially pardoned on January 1, 1811 and in December 1812, with his wife and younger son, takes passage to Europe on the Isabella. The ship is wrecked by a reef so the passengers and crew are landed at Eagle Island, one of the Falkland Islands. He shows great resolution and ingenuity in making the best of the conditions on the island. He is rescued on April 4, 1813 but does not reach England until February 22, 1814 as he travels via the United States. He retires to Ireland where he lives for the rest of his life, but regrets he had left Australia.

Joseph Holt dies at Kingstown, now Dún Laoghaire, near Dublin on May 16, 1826 and is buried in Carrickbrennan Churchyard at Monkstown.


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Surrender of Rebel Leader Michael Dwyer

michael-dwyerUnited Irishmen leader Michael Dwyer, whose guerrilla attacks maddened the British Army from 1798, surrenders on December 17, 1803.

Dwyer is born in Camara, a townland in the Glen of Imaal County Wicklow in 1772 and he participates in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. However, unlike most of the leaders and soldiers in that Rising, he does not either leave the country or return to his normal life, nor is he captured. He retreats into the Wicklow Mountains with a band of men and drives the British to distraction in their attempts to apprehend him. A reward is placed on Dwyer’s head and another for each of his men, but he leads the British authorities on a merry chase for five years, with many daring narrow escapes, each adding to his legend. Some call him the “Outlaw of Glenmalure.”

In 1803, he plans to assist Robert Emmet in his rising but he never receives the signal to join the rising. At this point he recognizes the futility of his situation, and he also wishes to relieve the suffering of a number of his family members, including his sister, whom has been jailed for no offense other than their family relationship to him. Some claim that when he contacts the British to ask terms of surrender, he is promised he and his men will be sent to the United States. If so, and not for the first time, their word to an Irishman proves worthless. After two years of brutal treatment in Kilmainham Gaol, under the infamous Edward Trevor, Dwyer is transported to Botany Bay.

Dwyer and his family, along with a number of his men, set sail for Australia on board the Tellicherry on August 25, 1805, arriving in Sydney on February 14, 1806. However, the story of Michael Dwyer does not end there. In Sydney, Dwyer runs afoul of the Governor, a certain Capt. William Bligh, of HMS Bounty fame. Bligh accuses Dwyer of being the leader of a rebellious plot involving other United Irishmen in the area, which, if true, would certainly not be out of character. Bligh ships Dwyer off to Norfolk Island, one of the worst hellholes of the British penal system in Australia.

After six months he is transferred to Tasmania, where he remains for another two years. In 1808, Bligh leaves the Governorship and Dwyer finally makes it back to his family in Sydney and is granted 100 acres of land nearby. Like many transported Irish rebels, he eventually becomes part of the local establishment and, in a bit of irony, the “Outlaw of Glenmalure” is appointed constable.

Michael Dwyer dies in 1825, but his wife lives to be 93, not dying until 1861. With her passes the last connection to the “Boys of ’98” in Australia. Dwyer remains a legend among the people of the Wicklow Mountains to this day.


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Birth of Henry Charles Sirr

Henry Charles Sirr, Irish soldier, police officer, wine merchant and collector, is born in Dublin Castle on November 25, 1764. He is the founder of the Irish Society for Promoting Scriptural Education in the Irish Language.

Sirr is the son of Major Joseph Sirr, the Town Major (chief of police) of Dublin from 1762 to 1767. He serves in the British Army from 1778 until 1791 and is thereafter a wine merchant. In 1792 he marries Eliza D’Arcy, the daughter of James D’Arcy. He is the father of Rev. Joseph D’Arcy Sirr, MRIA and of Henry Charles Sirr.

In 1796 Sirr is appointed acting Town Major of Dublin. He is responsible for the arrest of Irish revolutionaries Lord Edward FitzGerald, Thomas Russell and Robert Emmet.

In 1802 Sirr is mulcted £150 damages, and costs, for the assault and false imprisonment of John Hevey. His lawyer in this case refers to his “very great exertions and laudable efforts” to crush the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The opposing lawyer, John Philpot Curran, tells a long tale of a grudge held by Sirr against Hevey, the latter a prosperous businessman and a Yeoman volunteer against the Rebellion, who has happened to be in court during a treason case brought by Sirr. Hevey recognises the witness for the prosecution, describes him in court “a man of infamous character,” and convinces the jury that no credit is due to the witness. The treason case collapses. Sirr and his colleague had then subjected Hevey to wrongful arrest, imprisonment incommunicado, extortion of goods and money, and condemnation to hanging. Curran implies that these techniques are typical of the methods used by Sirr and by others to suppress the Rebellion.

In 1808 the Dublin police is re-organised and his post is abolished, but he is allowed to retain the title. Niles’ Register of March 24, 1821 remarks that “Several persons have been arrested at a public house in Dublin, by major Sirr, charged with being engaged in a treasonable meeting, and committed to prison. We thought that this old sinner, given to eternal infamy by the eloquence of Curran, had gone home.”

Sirr is an avid collector of documents and curios. He sells McCormac’s Cross and other valuable antiquities in exchange for second-rate copied paintings. The remains are given by his older son, Joseph, to Trinity College, Dublin at some time between 1841 and 1843. It now forms the Sirr Collection of the Trinity College Library, Dublin.

Henry Charles Sirr dies in 1841 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Werburgh’s Church, while his victim, Lord Edward FitzGerald, is buried in the vaults of the same church.


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Birth of Michael Collins, Revolutionary Leader & Politician

Michael Collins, soldier and politician who was a leading figure in the struggle for, and achievement of Irish independence in the early 20th century, is born near Clonakilty, County Cork, on October 16, 1890.

Michael Collins is born to a successful farmer, Michael John Collins, and Mary Anne O’Brien. When the couple marries, she is twenty-three years old and he is sixty. The couple have eight children, with Michael being the youngest.

Raised in a beautiful but remote part of southwest Ireland, Collins is educated at local primary schools. At the Lisavair National School, Collins is inspired by his teacher, Denis Lyons, a member of a secret organization, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), whose aim is to gain Ireland’s independence from Great Britain. Collins is also influenced by the stories of local men who had taken part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, a conflict that sparks a feud between the Irish Protestants and Catholics. From these stories Collins learns of Irish pride, rebellion, executions, and the general harsh treatment imposed on his country by the British.

In 1906 Collins goes to London to enter the civil service as a postal clerk. For ten years Collins lives in London, where he becomes active in various Irish organizations, including the Gaelic League, a society that promotes the use of the Irish language. Also during this time, Collins is influenced by the writings of Arthur Griffith, an Irish nationalist who founded the Irish political party Sinn Féin. In 1909 Collins himself becomes a member of the IRB, and later becomes the IRB treasurer for the South of England.

Collins returns to Ireland in 1916 to take part in the Easter Rising, a rebellion against British rule. After the rebellion is crushed, Collins is interned in North Wales along with most of the other rebels from the IRB. When the internees are released in December 1916, he goes to Dublin, where his sharp intelligence and dynamic energy soon secure him a leadership position in the reviving revolutionary movement.

After their victory in the general election of December 1918, the revolutionaries establish an Irish parliament, Dáil Éireann, in January 1919. The Dáil officially announces an Irish Republic and sets up an executive to take over the government of the country. British attempts to crush the Republican movement are met with guerrilla warfare from the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Collins plays the most important role in this struggle. As director of intelligence of the IRA, he cripples the British intelligence system in Ireland and replaces it with an effective Irish network. At the same time he performs other important military functions, heads the IRB, and, as minister of finance in the Republican government, successfully raises and hands out large sums of money on behalf of the rebel cause. Despite constant efforts, the British are unable to capture Collins or stop his work. The “Big Fellow” becomes an idolized and near-legendary figure in Ireland, and he wins a reputation in Britain and abroad for ruthlessness, resourcefulness, and daring.

After the truce of July 1921, Collins reluctantly agrees to Irish president Éamon de Valera‘s request to serve on the peace-making talks headed by Arthur Griffith. During the autumn negotiations in London, the British government firmly rejects any settlement that involves recognition of the republic. Instead its representatives offer Dominion status for Ireland with the right of exclusion for loyalist Northern Ireland. Collins decides to accept these terms, in the belief that rejection would mean renewal of the war and quick defeat for Ireland, and that the proposed treaty will soon lead to unity and complete freedom for his country. Using these arguments, he and Griffith persuade their side to sign the treaty on December 6, 1921, and Dáil Éireann to approve it on January 7, 1922.

De Valera and many Republicans refuse to accept the agreement, however, believing that it means a betrayal of the republic and a continued domination by Britain. As the British evacuate southern Ireland, Collins and Griffith do their best to maintain order and enforce the treaty signed with the British. They find their efforts frustrated by the opposition of an armed Republican minority. Collins seeks desperately to satisfy the forces that oppose the treaty without abandoning the treaty altogether, but he finds it impossible to make a workable compromise.

In late June 1922, after the population had supported the settlement in an election, Collins agrees to use force against the opposition. This action sparks a civil war, a bitter conflict in which the forces of the infant Irish Free State eventually overcome the extreme Republicans in May 1923. However, Collins does not live to see the end of the war. He is killed in an ambush in West Cork on August 22, 1922, just ten days after the death of Arthur Griffith.

Much of Collins’s success as a revolutionary leader is due mainly to his realism and extraordinary efficiency. He also possesses an amazing vision and humanity in his character, however, which appeals to friend and foe alike. The treaty that costs him his life does not end the argument, as he had hoped, but it does make possible the peaceful gaining of full political freedom for most of Ireland.