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


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Birth of Thomas Addis Emmet, Lawyer, Politician & Revolutionary

Thomas Addis Emmet, Irish and American lawyer and politician, is born in the Hammond’s Marsh area of Cork, County Cork, on April 24, 1764. He is a senior member of the revolutionary republican group Society of United Irishmen in the 1790s and Attorney General of New York 1812–1813.

Emmet is a son of Dr. Robert Emmet from County Tipperary (later to become State Physician of Ireland) and Elizabeth Mason of County Kerry, both of whose portraits are today displayed at Cork’s Crawford Art Gallery. He is the elder brother of Robert Emmet, who is executed for leading the Irish Rebellion of 1803, becoming one of Ireland’s most famous republican martyrs. His sister, Mary Anne Holmes, holds similar political beliefs.

Emmet is educated at Trinity College, Dublin and is a member of the committee of the College Historical Society. He later studies medicine at the University of Edinburgh and is a pupil of Dugald Stewart in philosophy. After visiting the chief medical schools on the continent, he returns to Ireland in 1788. However, the sudden death of his elder brother, Christopher Temple Emmet (1761–1788), a student of great distinction, induces him to follow the advice of Sir James Mackintosh to forsake medicine for the law as a profession.

Emmet is a man of liberal political sympathies and becomes involved with a campaign to extend the democratic franchise for the Irish Parliament and to end discrimination against Catholics. He is called to the Irish bar in 1790 and quickly obtains a practice, principally as counsel for prisoners charged with political offenses. He also becomes the legal adviser of the Society of the United Irishmen.

When the Dublin Corporation issues a declaration of support of the Protestant Ascendancy in 1792, the response of the United Irishmen is their nonsectarian manifesto which is largely drawn up by Emmet. In 1795 he formally takes the oath of the United Irishmen, becoming secretary in the same year and a member of the executive in 1797. As by this time the United Irishmen had been declared illegal and driven underground, any efforts at peaceful reform of government and Catholic emancipation in Ireland are abandoned as futile, and their goal is now the creation of a non-sectarian Irish republic, independent from Britain and to be achieved by armed rebellion. Although Emmet supports this policy, he believes that the rebellion should not commence until French aid has arrived, differing from more radical members such as Lord Edward FitzGerald.

British intelligence infiltrates the United Irishmen and manages to arrest most of their leaders on the eve of the rebellion. Though not among those taken at the house of Oliver Bond on March 12, 1798, Emmet is arrested about the same time, and is one of the leaders imprisoned initially at Kilmainham Gaol and later in Scotland at Fort George until 1802. Upon his release he goes to Brussels where he is visited by his brother Robert in October 1802 and is informed of the preparations for a fresh rising in Ireland in conjunction with French aid. However, at that stage France and Britain are briefly at peace, and the Emmets’ pleas for help are turned down by Napoleon.

Emmet receives news of the failure of his brother’s rising in July 1803 in Paris, where he is in communication with Napoleon Bonaparte. He then emigrates to the United States and joins the New York bar where he obtains a lucrative practice.

After the death of Matthias B. Hildreth, Emmet is appointed New York State Attorney General in August 1812, but is removed from office in February 1813 when the opposing Federalist Party obtains a majority in the Council of Appointment.

Emmet’s abilities and successes become so acclaimed and his services so requested that he becomes one of the most respected attorneys in the nation, with United States Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story declaring him to be “the favourite counsellor of New York.” He argues the case for Aaron Ogden in the landmark United States Supreme Court case of Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 (1824) relating to the Commerce and Supremacy clauses of the United States Constitution.

Emmet dies on November 14, 1827 while conducting a case in court regarding the estate of Robert Richard Randall, the founder of Sailors’ Snug Harbor, a home for needy seamen in Staten Island, New York. He is buried in St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery churchyard in the East Village, New York City, where a large white marble monument marks his grave.


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Birth of William Lawless, Officer in Napoleon’s Irish Legion

General William Lawless, surgeon, revolutionary, and officer in Napoleon‘s Irish Legion, is born in Dublin on April 20, 1772. He is also an important member of the Society of the United Irishmen, a revolutionary republican organisation in late 18th century Ireland.

Lawless, a Catholic, is the confidant of Lord Edward FitzGerald, and Professor of Anatomy and Physiology in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin. Closely connected with John Sheares in the direction of affairs in the spring of 1798, a warrant for his arrest is issued on May 20 with a reward of £300. Timely notice is, however, given him of the fact by Mr. Stewart, the Surgeon-General, and he escapes to France, where his abilities and spirit recommend him to the special favour of Napoleon. While in Paris, he spends time with other United Irishmen in exile, including Myles Byrne and William James MacNeven.

Lawless is placed on half-pay in 1800, but in 1803 is appointed captain of the Irish Legion, and in July 1806 is ordered to Vlissingen, then besieged by the English, to command the Irish battalion. To reach his post he has to pass in a small open boat through the English fleet. He is dangerously wounded in a sortie, and when General Monet capitulates without stipulating for the treatment of the Irish as prisoners of war, Lawless escapes from the town with the eagle of his regiment, conceals himself for two months in a doctor’s house, and at length finds an opportunity of getting to Antwerp by night in a fishing boat. Marshall Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte welcomes him, extols him in general orders, and reports his exploits to Napoleon, who summons him to Paris, decorates him with the Legion of Honour, and promotes him to be lieutenant-colonel. In 1812 he gains a colonelcy, and on August 21, 1813 he loses a leg at the Battle of Dresden. He retires to his country house in Tours.

After the restoration of the Bourbons, Lawless is returned, in October 1814, to half-pay with the rank of brigadier-general. He dies in Paris at the age of 52 on December 25, 1824. His remains are buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. He is one of the best officers of the last large French unit of The Wild Geese. Thomas Moore describes him as “a person of that mild and quiet exterior which is usually found to accompany the most determined spirit.”

(Pictured: Gravesite of General William Lawless in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France)


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Birth of Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin

Daniel Murray, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, is born on April 18, 1768 at Sheepwalk, near Arklow, County Wicklow.

Murray is the son of Thomas and Judith Murray, who are farmers. At the age of eight he goes to Thomas Betagh‘s school at Saul’s Court, near Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. At sixteen, Archbishop John Carpenter sends him to the Irish College at Salamanca, completing his studies at the University of Salamanca. He is ordained priest in 1792 at the age of twenty-four.

After some years as curate at St. Paul’s Church in Dublin, Murray is transferred to Arklow, and is there in 1798 when the rebellion breaks out. The yeomanry shoot the parish priest in bed and Murray, to escape a similar fate, flees to the city where for two years he serves as curate at St. Andrew’s Chapel on Hawkins Street. As a preacher, he is said to be particularly effective, especially in appeals for charitable causes, such as the schools. He is then assigned to the Chapel of St. Mary in Upper Liffey Street where Archbishop John Troy is the parish priest.

In 1809, at the request of Archbishop Troy, Murray is appointed coadjutor bishop, and consecrated on November 30, 1809. In 1811 he is made Administrator of St. Andrew’s. That same year he helps Mary Aikenhead establish the Religious Sisters of Charity. While coadjutor he fills for one year the position of president of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Murray is an uncompromising opponent of a proposal granting the British government a “veto” over Catholic ecclesiastical appointments in Ireland, and in 1814 and 1815, makes two separate trips to Rome concerning the controversy.

Murray becomes Archbishop of Dublin in 1825 and on November 14, 1825 celebrates the completion of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral. He enjoys the confidence of successive popes, and is held in high respect by the British government. His life is mainly devoted to ecclesiastical affairs, the establishment and organisation of religious associations for the education and relief of the poor. With the outbreak of cholera in the 1830s, in 1834 he and Mother Aikenhead found St. Vincent’s Hospital. He persuades Edmund Rice to send members of the Christian Brothers to Dublin to start a school for boys. The first is opened in a lumber yard on the City-quay. He assists Catherine McAuley in founding the Sisters of Mercy, and in 1831 professes the first three members.

Edward Bouverie Pusey has an interview with Murray in 1841, and bears testimony to his moderation, and John Henry Newman has some correspondence with him prior to Newman’s conversion from the Anglican Church to the Roman Catholic Church in 1845. A seat in the privy council at Dublin, officially offered to him in 1846, is not accepted. He takes part in the synod of the Roman Catholic clergy at Thurles in 1850.

Towards the end of his life, Murray’s eyesight is impaired, and he reads and writes with difficulty. Among his last priestly functions is a funeral service for Richard Lalor Sheil who had died in Italy, and whose body had been brought back to Ireland for burial. Murray dies in Dublin on February 26, 1852, at the age of eighty-four. He is interred in the St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, where a marble statue of him has been erected in connection with a monument to his memory, executed by James Farrell, president of the Royal Hibernian Academy of Fine Arts.

(Pictured: Portrait of Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, by unknown 19th century Irish portrait painter)


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Death of Robert Briscoe, Fianna Fáil Politician

Robert Emmet Briscoe, Fianna Fáil politician who serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) in the Oireachtas from 1927 to 1965, dies on March 11, 1969.

Briscoe is born in Dublin on September 25, 1894, the son of Abraham William Briscoe and Ida Yoedicke, both of whom are Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants. The original family name in Lithuania is believed to have been Cherrick or Chasen. His brother Wolfe Tone Briscoe is named after Theobald Wolfe Tone, one of the leaders of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. His father is the proprietor of Lawlor Briscoe, a furniture factory on Ormond Quay which makes, refurbishes, imports, exports and sells furniture, trading all over Ireland and abroad.

Briscoe is active in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Sinn Féin during the Irish War of Independence and accompanies Éamon de Valera to the United States. He speaks for the Sinn Féin cause at public meetings there and is adamant that being a “Hebrew” does not lessen his Irishness. He is sent by Michael Collins to Germany in 1919 to be the chief agent for procuring arms for the IRA. While in Germany in 1921 he purchases a small tug boat named Frieda to be used in transporting guns and ammunition to Ireland. On October 28, 1921 the Frieda slips out to sea with Charles McGuinness at the helm and a German crew with a cargo of 300 guns and 20,000 rounds of ammunition. Some sources cite this shipment as “the largest military shipment ever to reach the IRA” consisting of 1,500 rifles, 2,000 pistols and 1.7 million rounds of ammunition. On November 2, 1921 the Frieda successfully lands its cargo near Waterford Harbour.

In June 1922 during the Irish Civil War, Briscoe is involved in an incident with fellow anti-treaty IRA members who attack pro-treaty politician Darrell Figgis at his home. They enter the house and assault Figgis, cutting off his well-prized beard in the process. This traumatises Figgis’ wife Millie, who had been under the impression Briscoe and his fellow assistants had come to kill Figgis. In November 1924 Millie commits suicide, expressing in a suicide note that she was suffering from depression as a result of the 1922 attack. Figgis himself commits suicide in 1926.

In his biography, Briscoe recalls an incident of being recognised by a pro-Treaty opponent during the Civil War. He merely turns and walks away, confident that his enemy will not shoot him in the back.

Elected to the Dáil in the newly independent Ireland, Briscoe works with Patrick Little to bring through a law limiting the interest that can be charged by moneylenders and also, as he writes, “made it illegal for a married woman to borrow money without the knowledge and consent of her husband, for these foolish ones are always the easiest prey of the moneylenders.”

During World War II, Briscoe, at this time a member of Dáil Éireann, comes under close scrutiny from the Irish security services. His support for Zionism and his lobbying on behalf of refugees is considered potentially damaging to the interests of the state by officials from the Department of Justice. He is an admirer and friend of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his campaign to liberate the Jews. Between 1939 and 1940, he along with John Henry Patterson, a former commander of both the Zion Mule Corps and later the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, are involved in fund raising for the Irgun in the United States. Jabotinsky while head of Irgun visits Dublin to receive training in guerrilla warfare tactics against the British under the instruction of Briscoe. During the period Briscoe describes himself as the “Chair of Subversive Activity against England.” He wishes for Ireland to give asylum to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, but does so discreetly in order not to be accused of compromising the neutrality policy of the Fianna Fáil government.

After World War II Briscoe acts as a special advisor to Menachem Begin in the transformation of Irgun from a paramilitary group to a parliamentary political movement in the form of Herut in the new Israeli state. The party later becomes Likud. As he had already been a key figure in the formation in his own Fianna Fáil party out of the Anti-treaty IRA post Irish independence but not before a bitter Civil War, he prompts Begin to make the transition immediately after the Altalena Affair in order to avoid a similar civil conflict.

Briscoe serves in Dáil Éireann for 38 years and is elected 12 times in the Dublin South and from 1948, Dublin South-West constituencies. He retires at the 1965 Irish general election, being succeeded by his son, Ben, who serves for a further 37 years. In 1956, he becomes the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin, although he is not the first Jewish Mayor in Ireland. That title belongs to William Annyas, who was elected Mayor of Youghal, County Cork in 1555. He serves a one-year term and is re-elected in 1961. His son Ben is also a Fianna Fáil TD, and he too serves as Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1988–1989.

Briscoe’s memoir, For the Life of Me, is published in 1958.


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Death of James “Jemmy” Hope, United Irishmen Leader

James “Jemmy” Hope, Society of United Irishmen leader who fights in the Irish Rebellions of 1798 and 1803 against British rule in Ireland, dies on February 10, 1847 at his son Henry’s home, 1 Lancaster St., Belfast.

Hope is born in Templepatrick, County Antrim, on August 25, 1764 to a Presbyterian family originally of Covenanter stock. He is apprenticed as a linen weaver but attends night school in his spare time. Influenced by the American Revolution, he joins the Irish Volunteers, but upon the demise of that organisation and further influenced by the French Revolution, he joins the Society of the United Irishmen in 1795.

Hope quickly establishes himself as a prominent organiser and is elected to the central committee in Belfast, becoming close to leaders such as Samuel Neilson, Thomas Russell, and Henry Joy McCracken. He is almost alone among the United Irish leaders in targeting manufacturers as well as landowners as the enemies of all radicals. In 1796, he is sent to Dublin to assist the United Irish organisation there to mobilise support among the working classes, and he is successful in establishing several branches throughout the city and especially in The Liberties area. He also travels to counties in Ulster and Connacht, disseminating literature and organizing localities.

Upon the outbreak of the 1798 rebellion in Leinster, Hope is sent on a failed mission to Belfast by Henry Joy McCracken to brief the leader of the County Down United Irishmen, Rev. William Steel Dickson, with news of the planned rising in County Antrim, unaware that Dickson had been arrested only a couple of days before. He manages to escape from Belfast in time to take part in the Battle of Antrim where he plays a skillful and courageous role with his “Spartan Band,” in covering the retreat of the fleeing rebels after their defeat.

Hope manages to rejoin McCracken and his remaining forces after the battle at their camp upon Slemish mountain, but the camp gradually disperses, and the dwindling band of insurgents are then forced to go on the run. He successfully eludes capture, but his friend McCracken is captured and executed on July 17. Upon the collapse of the general rising, he refuses to avail of the terms of an amnesty offered by Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis on the grounds that to do so would be “not only a recantation of one’s principles, but a tacit acquiescence in the justice of the punishment which had been inflicted on thousands of my unfortunate associates.”

Hope lives the years following 1798 on the move between counties Dublin, Meath and Westmeath but is finally forced to flee Dublin following the failure of Robert Emmet‘s rebellion in 1803. He returns to the north and evades the authorities attentions in the ensuing repression by securing employment with a sympathetic friend from England. He is today regarded as the most egalitarian and socialist of all the United Irish leadership.

After suffering poor health for some years, Hope dies on February 10, 1847 at his son Henry’s home, 1 Lancaster St., Belfast. He is buried in the Mallusk Cemetery, Newtownabbey, County Antrim. The headstone is raised by his friends, Henry Joy McCracken’s sister Mary Ann, and the Shankill Road United Irishman Isreal Milliken. The historian Richard Robert Madden, who had encouraged Hope to write his memoirs, supplies the inscription. The headstone features the outline of a large dog, which supposedly brought provisions to him and his compatriots when they were hiding following the Battle of Antrim.


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Birth of John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury

John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury PC, KC, Irish lawyer, politician and judge known as The Lord Norbury between 1800 and 1827, is born at Beechwood, Nenagh, County Tipperary, on December 3, 1745. A greatly controversial figure in his time, he is nicknamed the “Hanging Judge” and is considered to be one of the most corrupt legal figures in Irish history. He is Chief Justice of the Common Pleas for Ireland between 1800 and 1827.

Toler is the youngest son of Daniel Toler, MP, and Letitia, daughter of Thomas Otway (1665–1724), of Lissenhall, Nenagh, County Tipperary. His elder brother Daniel Toler is also a politician, serving as High Sheriff for Tipperary and also as MP for Tipperary. The Toler family is originally from Norfolk, East Anglia, England, but settles in County Tipperary in the 17th century. He is educated at Kilkenny College and at Trinity College, Dublin.

After graduating from university Toler enters the legal profession and is called to the Irish Bar in 1770. In 1781 he is appointed a King’s Counsel. He is returned to the Parliament of Ireland for Tralee in 1773, a seat he holds until 1780, and later represents Philipstown between 1783 and 1790 and Gorey from 1790 until the Acts of Union 1800. In 1789 he is appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland, which he remains until 1798 when he is promoted to Attorney-General for Ireland and sworn of the Privy Council of Ireland. In his role as Attorney-General he is responsible for the prosecution of those involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. According to the Dictionary of National Biography “his indifference to human suffering … disgusted even those who thought the occasion called for firmness on the part of government.” In 1799, he brings forward a law which gives the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland power to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act and to impose martial law.

In 1800 Toler is appointed Chief Justice of the Common Pleas for Ireland and raised to the Peerage of Ireland as Baron Norbury, of Ballycrenode in the County of Tipperary. His appointment to the bench is controversial and John FitzGibbon, 1st Earl of Clare, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, is said to have quipped, “Make him a bishop, or even an archbishop, but not a chief justice.” His tenure as Chief Justice lasts for 27 years, despite the fact that, the Dictionary of National Biography opines, “his scanty knowledge of the law, his gross partiality, his callousness, and his buffoonery, completely disqualified him for the position. His court was in constant uproar owing to his noisy merriment. He joked even when the life of a human being was hanging in the balance.” This earns him the nickname the “Hanging Judge.” His most famous trial is that of Irish nationalist leader Robert Emmet. He interrupts and abuses Emmet throughout the trial before sentencing him to death. In spite of this, with his strong belief in the Protestant Ascendancy, he is considered to have had great influence over the government in Ireland in the early part of the nineteenth century.

However, Toler’s position eventually becomes untenable even to his strongest supporters, especially with the British government‘s aim of establishing a better relationship with the Catholic majority. His reputation is tainted in 1822, when a letter written to him by William Saurin, the Attorney-General for Ireland, is discovered, in which Saurin urges him to use his influence with the Irish Protestant gentry which makes up local juries against the Catholics. Saurin is dismissed soon afterwards. He finds his greatest adversary in Daniel O’Connell, to whom Toler is “an especial object of abhorrence.” At O’Connell’s instigation the case of Saurin’s letter is brought before the House of Commons of the United Kingdom by Henry Brougham. Toler survives this as well as an 1825 petition drawn up by O’Connell, which calls for his removal on the grounds of him falling asleep during a murder trial and later being unable to present any account of the evidence given. However, it is not until George Canning becomes Prime Minister in 1827 that Toler, then 82, is finally induced to resign. His resignation is sweetened by him being created Viscount Glandine and Earl of Norbury, of Glandine in King’s County, in the Peerage of Ireland. Unlike the barony of Norbury these titles are created with remainder to his second son Hector John. His eldest son Daniel is then considered mentally unsound.

Toler marries Grace, daughter of Hector Graham, in 1778. They have two sons and two daughters. In 1797 Grace is raised to the Peerage of Ireland as Baroness Norwood, of Knockalton in the County of Tipperary, in honour of her husband. She dies in 1822 and is succeeded in the barony by her eldest son, Daniel. Toler survives her by nine years and dies at the age of 85 at his Dublin home at 3 Great Denmark Street on July 27, 1831. He is succeeded in the barony of Norbury by his eldest son Daniel and in the viscountcy and earldom according to the special remainder by his second son, Hector. In 1832 the latter also succeeds his elder brother in the baronies of Norwood and Norbury. He is considered to be the father of the astronomer John Brinkley.

(Pictured: John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury, coloured etching by unknown artist, early 19th century, National Portrait Gallery, NPG D9303)


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Birth of Thomas Russell, Founding Member of the Society of United Irishmen

Thomas Paliser Russell, founding member and leading organiser of the Society of United Irishmen, is born in Dromahane, County Cork, on November 21, 1767.

Born into an Anglican family with a military tradition. Russell is intended for an ecclesiastical career in the Church of Ireland, but in 1783 sails with his brother’s regiment to India and fights at the battle of Cannanore. He is, however, disgusted by what he regards as “the unjust and rapacious conduct pursued by the authorities in the case of two native women,” and returns disaffected to Ireland in 1786. After briefly studying for the church ministry, he spends the next four years as a half-pay officer in Dublin pursuing studies of science, philosophy and politics.

In 1790, Russell meets Theobald Wolfe Tone in the visitors’ gallery of the Irish House of Commons and a lifelong friendship begins. At the end of the year, he is commissioned to Belfast as an ensign in the 64th infantry regiment of foot. Being convivial, good looking, charismatic and charming, he fits quickly into Belfast society. He is deeply religious and holds strong millennialist beliefs. On the other hand, he is also of a restless nature, drinks heavily, and is highly promiscuous.

Russell becomes a founder member of the first Society of United Irishmen in Belfast in 1791, writes for the Northern Star, and acts as secretary for the Dublin United Irishmen. He is the most socially radical of all United Irish leaders, an outspoken opponent of slavery and industrial exploitation.

Russell posts bail for a friend in order to secure his release from a debtor’s prison. When the friend defaults, Russell has to sell his ensigncy in July 1791. After several months, and to avoid further debt, he accepts the offer of Thomas Knox, 1st Viscount Northland, the father of an old army friend, to become seneschal (a kind of stipendiary magistrate) to the Northlands’ manor court at Dungannon. However, he resigns within a year, apparently disgusted by the sectarian animosities there. His financial situation worsens until he becomes librarian at the Belfast Society for Promoting Knowledge (the later Linen Hall Library) in 1794.

Russell is arrested on September 16, 1796, is charged with treason, and detained without trial in Newgate Prison, Dublin, until March 1799. He is then sent to Fort George in the north of Scotland. The longest serving United Irish prisoner, he is released in June 1802 on condition of exile to Hamburg. However, he soon makes his way to Paris where he meets Robert Emmet who, with William Putnam McCabe are advancing the plans for insurrection pending the French renewal of the war against England. Having little confidence in the French, however, he returns to Ireland in March 1803 to organise the North in conjunction with the veteran of the Battle of Antrim, James Hope. However he meets with little success as much of the North is subdued following the suppression of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

In 1803 Russell joins a general insurrection that is to take place throughout Ireland with blows being struck simultaneously at Dublin, Belfast, and Downpatrick. Unknown to him, Robert Emmet is unable to secure help and promised firearms. In Dublin after a brief street battle on the evening of July 23, 1803, Emmett calls off the rising.

Russell manages to hide for a number of weeks in Dublin but is caught in the authorities’ dragnet on September 9. He is sent under heavy escort to Downpatrick Gaol. There, convicted of high treason, he is hung and beheaded on October 12, 1803. His remains are buried in the graveyard of the parish church, Down Cathedral, in a grave paid for by his friend Mary Ann McCracken.


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Execution of William Orr, Member of the United Irishmen

William Orr, a member of the United Irishmen, is executed by the British on October 14, 1797 in what is widely believed at the time to be “judicial murder” and whose memory leads to the rallying cry “Remember Orr” during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. He is regarded as the first United Irish martyr.

Little is known of Orr’s early life. He is born in 1766 to a Presbyterian farming family and bleach-green proprietor, at Ferranshane outside Antrim town. The family is in comfortable circumstances and, as a result, he receives a good education. His appearance and manner are at the time considered noteworthy as he stands 6′ 2″ in height and is always carefully and respectably dressed, a familiar feature in his apparel being a green necktie, which he wears “even in his last confinement.” His popularity amongst his countrymen is also noted, particularly among the Northern Presbyterian patriots. He becomes active in the Irish Volunteers and then joins the United Irishmen. Sometime in the mid-1790s, he contributes several articles to their newspaper, the Northern Star.

Orr is charged at Carrickfergus Town Hall with administering the United Irishmen oath to a soldier named Hugh Wheatly, an offence which had recently been deemed a capital charge under the 1796 Insurrection Act. The offence is aggravated from a legal point of view because of the allegation that it is a serving soldier whom he is alleged to have administered the oath to. The prosecution makes the most of this “proof” of the “treasonable” aim of the United Irishmen to “seduce from their allegiance” the “men who are the Kingdom’s only safeguard against the foreign foe.”

The United Irishmen know from the evidence of some of their own number that Orr had not administered the oath on the occasion alleged. They also have the evidence of another eyewitness, James “Jemmy” Hope. The soldier witness Wheatly perjures himself and it is proved he is of bad character. The person who did tender the oath is a well known member of the Society, William McKeever, who subsequently escapes to the United States. It is widely believed at the time that the authorities wish to make an example of Orr to act as a deterrent to potential United Irishmen recruits.

The actual case, which does not appear in the course of the proceedings but everyone, according to T. A. Jackson, is “in the know” and fully aware that the United Irishmen’s oath had been administered to a soldier “whether it was Orr or another who administered the oath was merely incidental.”

Orr is represented by John Philpot Curran, and the trial leads to a speech, which, according to T. A. Jackson, “is among the most remarkable of his many remarkable speeches.” It is a charge of libel against the Press newspaper, the journal founded by Arthur O’Connor to replace the Northern Star. The Press had published an open letter to the Viceroy, remarking scornfully on his refusal to show clemency to Orr. Curran’s defence is a counter-attack — an indictment of the Government, root and branch.

The only evidence used against Orr is the unsupported evidence of the soldier Wheatly and after hearing Curran’s defence of the prisoner, “there could be no possible doubt of his innocence.” Even the presiding judge, Barry Yelverton, 1st Viscount Avonmore, is said to have shed tears at the passing of the death sentence, although Orr’s friend, the poet and United Irishman William Drennan expresses his disgust at this display with the words “I hate those Yelvertonian tears.”

The sentence was hardly passed on Orr when regret is to seize on those who had aided in securing that verdict. The witness Wheatly, who subsequently goes insane and is believed to have died by his own hand, makes an affidavit before a magistrate admitting that he had sworn wrongly against Orr. Two members of the jury make depositions stating that they had been “induced to join in the verdict of guilty while under the influence of drink,” while two others swear that they had “been terrified into the same course by threats of violence.”

These particulars are placed before the Viceroy, but Lord Camden, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, is “deaf to all appeals” (including from his sister Lady Londonderry). “Well might Orr exclaim within his dungeon” he said “that the Government had laid down a system having for its object murder and devastation.”

Though his execution is postponed three times, Orr is hanged in the town of Carrickfergus on October 14, 1797, surrounded by an extra strong military guard. It is said that the population of the town, to express their sympathy with the “patriot” being “murdered by law,” and to mark their repugnance of the conduct of the Government towards him, quit the town on the day of his execution.

Orr’s fate “excited the deepest indignation throughout the country” and it is commented on “in words of fire” by the national writers of the period, and for many years after the rallying cry of the United Irishmen is “Remember Orr.” The journalist Peter Finnerty, who publishes an attack on Yelverton and Camden for their conduct in the matter, is later convicted of seditious libel, despite an eloquent defence by Curran.

(Pictured: William Orr from a sketch by E. A. Morrow)


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Death of Oliver Bond, Member of the Society of United Irishmen

Oliver Bond, Irish merchant and a member of the Leinster directorate of the Society of United Irishmen, dies in prison in Dublin on September 6, 1798 following the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

Born in St. Johnston, County Donegal around 1760, Bond is the son of a dissenting minister and is connected with several respectable families. In his early years, he works as an apprentice haberdasher in Derry before relocating to Dublin.

In the capital, Bond is in business as a merchant in the woollen trade, and becomes wealthy. Initially, he is based in Pill Lane (now Chancery Street), before moving to 9 Lower Bridge Street in 1786. In 1791, he marries Eleanor ‘Lucy’ Jackson, daughter of the iron founder Henry Jackson, who like Bond is to become a leading United Irishman.

Bond is an early member in the movement planning for a union in Ireland across religious lines to press for reform of the Parliament of Ireland and for an accountable government independent of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom and cabinet. When, following the Belfast example, the Society of United Irishmen forms in Dublin in November 1791, Bond becomes a member.

Bond is secretary of the meeting, with the barrister Simon Butler presiding, when in February 1793 the society passes resolutions which, in addition to the call for Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform, condemn as unconstitutional the repressive measures of the government, and deplore war against the new French Republic. A result is a summons to appear before the bar of the Irish House of Lords in Dublin where, in consequence of the their defiant performance, Bond and Butler are charged and convicted of libel, fined and confined for six months in Newgate Prison.

Despairing of their efforts to secure full emancipation and advance parliamentary reform, and in anticipation of French assistance, the United Irishmen resolve on an insurrection to depose the Crown‘s Dublin Castle executive and the Protestant Ascendancy Lords and Commons, and to establish Ireland as an independent republic. Bond becomes a member of the United Irishmen’s northern executive committee and of the Leinster directorate, the meetings of which are generally held at his house on Lower Bridge Street.

There, on February 19, 1798, the famous resolution is passed: “We will pay no attention to any measure which the Parliament of this kingdom may adopt, to divert the public mind from the grand object we have in view; as nothing short of the entire and complete regeneration of our country can satisfy us.”

Through the treachery of Thomas Reynolds, Bond’s house is surrounded by military on the morning of March 12, 1798, and fourteen members of the Leinster Directory are seized. The insurrection goes forward in their absence to defeat in the early summer. Following suppression of the rebellion, Bond goes to trial. The efforts of his defence counsel, John Philpot Curran, to discredit Reynold’s testimony are unavailing. On July 27, 1798, Bond is convicted of treason and sentenced to hang.

It is mainly to prevent Bond’s execution that Thomas Addis Emmet and other state prisoners enter a compact with government whereby (without incriminating further individuals) they agree to testify on the activities of Union Irishmen before a parliamentary committee, and to accept permanent exile. With the endorsement of Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, the Commander-in-Chief, Ireland, Bond’s sentence is commuted. He survives, however, but five weeks, dying in prison of apoplexy at the age of 36 on September 6, 1798.

Bond is buried in the cemetery of St. Michan’s Church, Dublin. The “enlightened republican” principles of Bond are eulogised by his political associate and fellow-prisoner, William James MacNeven. Bond’s widow Lucy moves with her family from Ireland to the United States, and dies in Baltimore, Maryland in 1843.

The Oliver Bond flats in The Liberties area of Dublin are named after him.


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Birth of John Keegan “Leo” Casey, the Poet of the Fenians

John Keegan “Leo” Casey, Irish poet, orator and republican known as the Poet of the Fenians, is born in Mount Dalton, County Westmeath on August 22, 1846. He is famous as the writer of the song “The Rising of the Moon” and as one of the central figures in the Fenian Rising of 1867. He is imprisoned by the English and dies on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1870.

Casey is born to a teacher during the height of the Great Famine of 1846. Eight years later he moves to Gurteen, near Ballymahon in County Longford, when his father is given the post of head master at the local school. His work would come to be closely associated with Ballymahon.

As a teenager Casey works as an assistant to his father and is expected to follow him into teaching. However, he is disillusioned by the insufficiently nationalistic nature of the curriculum and spends a great deal of time writing poetry. It is at this time, reputedly at the age of fifteen, that he writes his best-known song, “The Rising of the Moon,” which commemorates the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

Following the increasing popularity of his songs and ballads at nationalist gatherings, Casey moves to Dublin in the 1860s and becomes active in the Fenian movement. He is a major contributor to The Nation newspaper, for which he assumes his pen name of ‘Leo.’

In 1866, at the age of 20, Casey publishes a collection of poems, entitled A Wreath of Shamrocks. Most of the poems therein had already been published elsewhere, primarily in The Nation. The further fame engendered by the success of the book leads him to be sought after as a speaker. He addresses mass rallies in Dublin, Liverpool and London that year, in the lead up to the Fenian Rising in 1867.

When the uprising fails, Casey is imprisoned without trial for eight months in Mountjoy Prison. He is released on the understanding that he would leave for Australia and not return to Ireland. However, he chooses to stay on in Summerhill, Dublin in disguise, living as a Quaker and continuing to write and publish in secret.

Casey marries Mary Josephine Briscoe in January 1868 and they have a son Michael, who dies shortly after birth in October 1869. Casey’s health had been broken by the treatment he had received in prison. He falls from a cab on or near O’Connell Bridge in the centre of Dublin in 1870. He dies from his injuries on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1870.

Following his death, Casey is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. The newspapers report that between fifty and one hundred thousand mourners walk in his funeral procession.