seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.


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Death of Samuel Nielson, Society of United Irishmen Founder Member

Samuel Neilson, one of the founder members of the Society of United Irishmen and the founder of its newspaper the Northern Star, dies in Poughkeepsie, New York on August 29, 1803.

Neilson is born in Ballyroney, County Down, the son of Presbyterian minister Alexander, and Agnes Neilson. He is educated locally. He is the second son in a family of eight sons and five daughters. At the age of 16, he is apprenticed to his elder brother, John, in the business of woollen drapery in Belfast. Eight years later he establishes his own business.

Despite his commercial success, Neilson is naturally drawn to politics and is early on a member of the reformist Irish Volunteers movement. In 1791, inspired by the French Revolution, he suggests to Henry Joy McCracken the idea of a political society of Irishmen of every religious persuasion. He establishes the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast. The following year he launches the newspaper of the United Irishmen, the Northern Star, which effectively throws away his fortune. As its editor he is a high-profile target for the authorities and is prosecuted for libel several times, being twice imprisoned between 1796 and 1798.

Along with several other state prisoners, Neilson is released in February 1798 following several petitions by influential friends, on grounds of bad health. Upon release he immediately involves himself in the United Irishmen aligning with the radicals among the leadership who are pressing for immediate rebellion and oppose the moderates who wish to wait for French assistance before acting.

The United Irishmen are however, severely penetrated by informants who keep Dublin Castle abreast of their plans and discussions. In March 1798, information of a meeting of the United Irish executive at the house of Oliver Bond leads to the arrest of most of the leadership, leaving Neilson and Lord Edward FitzGerald as the only figures of national importance still at liberty. They decide to press ahead as soon as possible and settled on May 23 as the date for the rebellion to begin.

As the date looms closer, the authorities go into overdrive to sweep up the rump leadership and on May 18 Lord Edward is betrayed in his hiding place and critically wounded while resisting capture. Neilson, now with responsibility for finalising plans for the looming rebellion, decides that Fitzgerald is too valuable to do without, and decides to try and rescue him from Newgate Prison in Dublin. Wary of confiding his plans too early for fear of betrayal, Neilson goes on a reconnaissance of the prison but is spotted by chance by one of his former jailers and after a fierce struggle, he is overpowered and dragged into the prison.

Neilson is indicted for high treason and held in Kilmainham Gaol with other state prisoners for the duration of the doomed rebellion outside. After the execution of Oliver Bond, and the brothers John and Henry Sheares, Neilson and the remaining prisoners agree to provide the authorities with details of the organisation of the United Irishmen, plans for the rebellion, etc. in return for exile.

Following the suppression of the rebellion, Neilson is transferred to Fort George in Inverness-shire, Scotland, and in 1802 he is deported to the Netherlands. From there he makes his way to the United States, arriving in December 1802, and settling in Poughkeepsie, New York.  He has little time to enjoy his liberty  before his  sudden death on August 29, 1803 of yellow fever, or possibly a stroke.

Nielson is not idle during his short life in America as he completes plans to start a new evening newspaper in Poughkeepsie and also has plans in the works to establish a version of the Society of United Irishmen in the United States. Since his death, his remains have been moved to three different cemeteries before coming to rest in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in 1880.

(Photograph: (c) National Museums Northern Ireland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation)


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Execution of the Sheares Brothers

Brothers John and Henry Sheares, both Irish lawyers and members of the Society of United Irishmen, are executed in Dublin on July 14, 1798 during the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

The Sheares brothers are the sons of Henry Sheares, a liberal banker from County Cork who also sits in the Irish Parliament for the Borough of Clonakilty. Henry attends Trinity College, Dublin, buys an officer’s commission and then studies as a lawyer, being called to the bar as a barrister in 1790. John qualifies as a barrister in 1788.

In 1792 the brothers go to Paris and are swept away by the popular enthusiasms of the French Revolution. They meet leaders such as Jacques Pierre Brissot and Jean-Marie Roland, both of whom are to be executed in 1793. In particular they witness the introduction of the guillotine, on which 1,400 are to die in 1792. On the boat from France to England they meet Daniel O’Connell, then a student, who is disgusted by the increasingly bloodthirsty nature of the revolution. O’Connell remains an advocate of non-violence thereafter.

The brothers join the United Irish movement upon their return to Dublin in January 1793, when it is still legal, and John begins to write articles for the Press, a nationalist paper. However, France declares war on Britain, and by extension on Ireland, in February 1793. The Society’s initial aims of securing Catholic emancipation and universal suffrage are unsuccessful, amounting to the administration’s 1793 Relief Act. Its stance becomes more radical, and in turn the Irish administration fears a group inspired by France, banning it in 1794.

The Sheares brothers principally organise the movement in Cork, while continuing with their legal careers. A Mr. Conway, one of their keenest members in Cork, informs the administration of their activities. During 1793 the brothers also join the Dublin Society of the United Irishmen, where another spy, Thomas Collins, passes on their names. Their other two less famous brothers enlist in the British army and are killed in action. On the arrest of most of the United Irish “Directory” members in March 1798, John is chosen as a replacement on the approach to the outbreak of rebellion. His main act at this point is to decide on the date – May 23.

The Directory fatally stays in Dublin, where the United Irish have less support. Already quietly betrayed by Conway and Collins, John also befriends Captain Warnesford Armstrong from County Down, who claims to be a busy member of the party there. John never verifies this, and Armstrong informs the authorities of the brothers’ whereabouts, also appearing as a witness in the ensuing trial. They are arrested on May 21 and indicted on June 26.

Inevitably the brothers are tried on July 12, as the rebellion is at its height, and are hanged, drawn and quartered two days later outside Newgate Prison. Their lawyer is John Philpot Curran who, with Sir Jonah Barrington, obtain a stay of execution in the hope that Henry will recant, but the brothers are already dead. They are buried at Dublin’s St. Michan’s Church. Visitors are brought to their coffins on a tour of St. Michan’s vaults.

(Pictured: The coffins of the Sheares brothers in the crypt of St. Michan’s Church)


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The Battle of Foulksmills

During the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the Battle of Foulksmills, known locally as the Battle of Horetown and also known as the Battle of Goff’s Bridge, takes place on June 20, 1798 between advancing British forces seeking to stamp out the rebellion in County Wexford and a rebel army assembled to oppose them.

By June 19 the threat of the United Irish rebellion spreading outside County Wexford had been largely contained and Crown forces were positioned to move against rebel held territory. A force of about 1,500 men under Sir John Moore move out of New Ross towards Wexford as part of an overall encirclement operation in conjunction with General Gerard Lake‘s forces moving from the north.

Moore’s force is to link up and combine with the isolated garrison holding Duncannon before moving deeper into County Wexford, but after waiting several hours with no sign of their arrival, Moore decides to press ahead to the village of Taghmon alone. Upon nearing Goff’s Bridge at Foulkesmill, his scouts report a rapidly moving rebel force of some 5,000 moving along the road with the intent to give battle. Moore despatches a force of riflemen from the 60th Regiment to hold the bridge until artillery can be brought up in support.

The rebels however, led by Father Philip Roche, spot this move and move away from the road to the high ground on the left intending to outflank Moore’s force. The 60th are forced to engage the rebels on the roads, fields and forests of the area and the rebel flanking move briefly threatens to overturn Moore’s left. Moore has to personally rally his fleeing troops to hold the line and lead them in a successful counter-attack. As more troops begin to arrive the rebels are flushed out of their concealed positions, allowing the artillery to be brought into play and the rebels’ move is foiled. The rebels are gradually pushed back field by field but are able to withdraw the bulk of their force safely.

The road to Wexford is opened and the town recaptured by the Crown the next day but during this battle followers of rebel captain Thomas Dixon massacre up to 100 loyalist prisoners at Wexford bridge.

Casualties are estimated at 500 on the rebel side and 100 of the military.


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The Battle of Ballynahinch

The Battle of Ballynahinch is fought outside Ballynahinch, County Down, on June 12, 1798, during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 between British forces led by Major-General George Nugent and the local United Irishmen led by Henry Munro.

Munro is a Lisburn linen merchant and Presbyterian United Irishman who has no military experience but has taken over command of the Down organisation following the arrest on June 5 of the designated leader, Rev. William Steel Dickson. Upon hearing of the victory at Saintfield on June 9, Munro joins the rebel camp there and then moves to Ednavady Hill, Ballynahinch to join the thousands who have gathered in support of the rebellion. The response of the British garrisons is to converge on Ballynahinch from Belfast and Downpatrick in two columns accompanied by several pieces of cannon.

The battle begins on the night of June 12 when two hills to the left and right of Ballynahinch are occupied by the British who pound the town with their cannon. During a pause when night falls, some rebel officers are said to have pressed Munro for a night attack but he refuses on the grounds that it is unchivalrous. As a consequence many disillusioned rebels slip away during the night.

As dawn breaks the battle recommences with the rebels attacked from two sides and although achieving some initial success, confusion in the rebel army sees the United Irishmen retreat in chaos, pursued by regrouping British forces who quickly take advantage by turning retreat into massacre. Initial reports claim four hundred rebels are killed, while British losses are around forty.

Munro escapes the field of battle but is betrayed by a farmer who he has paid to conceal him and is hanged in front of his own house in Lisburn on June 16. Ballynahinch is sacked by the victorious military after the battle with sixty-three houses being burned down. Cavalry scours the surrounding countryside for rebels, raiding homes and killing indiscriminately, the 22nd Dragoons being guilty of some of the worst atrocities. The most famous victim is Betsy Gray, a young female rebel who, with her two brothers, is slaughtered in the post-battle massacre, ensuring her place in legend to this day.

Because of his family’s involvement in this event, Robert Stewart, the future Lord Castlereagh, is made Chief Secretary for Ireland.