seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Trial & Conviction of Theobald Wolfe Tone

Theobald Wolfe Tone, a leading Irish revolutionary figure and one of the founding members of the Society of United Irishmen, is tried and convicted of treason by a court-martial in Dublin on November 10, 1798 and sentenced to be hanged.

When the Irish Rebellion of 1798 breaks out in Ireland, Wolfe Tone urges the French Directory to send effective assistance to the Irish rebels. All that can be promised is a number of raids to descend simultaneously around the Irish coast. One of these raids under General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert succeeds in landing a force near Killala, County Mayo, and gains some success in Connacht (particularly at Castlebar) before it is subdued by General Gerard Lake and Charles Cornwallis. Wolfe Tone’s brother Matthew is captured, tried by court-martial and hanged. A second raid, accompanied by James Napper Tandy, comes to a disastrous end on the coast of County Donegal.

Wolfe Tone takes part in a third raid, under Admiral Jean-Baptiste-François Bompart, with General Jean Hardy in command of a force of 2,800 men. He certainly knows before departing that the odds against them are incredibly long. Most of the United Irish organization has already spent itself in Wexford, Ulster, and other places. There is one slim reed of hope for success – the news from Hubert, who is sweeping the British before him in Mayo with his 1,000 Frenchmen and Irish rebel allies. Wolfe Tone once said he would accompany any French force to Ireland even if it were only a corporal’s guard, so he sails off with Hardy’s Frenchmen aboard the Hoche.

They are intercepted by a large British fleet at Buncrana on Lough Swilly on October 12, 1798. Escape aboard one of the small, fast ships is Wolfe Tone’s only hope to avoid a hangman’s noose but he refuses to transfer from the large, slow Hoche, which has little choice but certain sinking or capture. He refuses offers by Napoleon Bonaparte and other French officers of escape in a frigate before the Battle of Tory Island. “Shall it be said,” he asks them, “that I fled while the French were fighting the battle of my country?”

The Hoche withstands an attack by five British ships for several hours, with Wolfe Tone commanding one of her batteries. Inevitably the masts and rigging of the Hoche are shot away and she strikes her colors. Wolfe Tone is dressed in a French adjutant general‘s uniform, but there is little chance of him avoiding detection with so many former acquaintances among the British. He is thrown into chains taken prisoner when the Hoche surrenders.

When the prisoners are landed at Letterkenny Port a fortnight later, Sir George Hill recognises Wolfe Tone in the French adjutant general’s uniform in Lord Cavan’s privy-quarters at Letterkenny. At his trial by court-martial in Dublin on November 8, 1798, Wolfe Tone makes a speech avowing his determined hostility to England and his intention “by frank and open war to procure the separation of the countries.” Recognising that the court is certain to convict him, he asks that “the court should adjudge me to die the death of a soldier, and that I may be shot.” His request to be shot is denied.

On November 10, 1798, Wolfe Tone is found guilty and sentenced to be hanged on November 12. Before this sentence is carried out, either he attempts suicide by slitting his throat or British soldiers torture and mortally wound him. Military surgeon Benjamin Lentaigne treats him just hours before he is due to be hanged. The story goes that he is initially saved when the wound is sealed with a bandage, and he is told if he tries to talk the wound will open and he will bleed to death.

A pamphlet published in Latin by Dr. Lentaigne some years after Wolfe Tone’s official “suicide” refers to an unusual neck wound suffered by an unnamed patient which indicates that “a bullet passed through his throat.” This leads to speculation that Wolfe Tone may have been shot.

Theobald Wolfe Tone dies on November 19, 1798 at the age of 35 in Provost’s Prison, Dublin, not far from where he was born. He is buried in Bodenstown Graveyard in County Kildare, near his birthplace at Sallins, and his grave is in the care of the National Graves Association.

(Pictured: “Capture Of Wolfe Tone Date 1798,” a drawing by Mary Evans Picture Library, the UK’s leading source for historical images)


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First Meeting of the Dublin United Irishmen

James Napper Tandy convenes the first meeting of the Society of United Irishmen in Dublin on November 9, 1791. The group had met the previous month in Belfast.

Spurred on by Theobold Wolfe Tone’s pamphlet titled An Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland, these young radicals propose three resolutions, which are to guide the new movement forward and which leave a lasting impression on generations of Irish men and women.

Firstly, that there exists the need for “a cordial union among all the people of Ireland.” Secondly, that a complete and radical reform of the representation of the people in Parliament is needed and, thirdly, that this reform should include “Irishmen of every religious persuasion.” The new organisation immediately tries to bring about change and Wolfe Tone, through his work as secretary of the Catholic Committee, organises a Catholic Convention in Dublin in 1792.

Although a Catholic Relief Act is passed in 1793, which rescinds some of the harsh Penal Laws, the United Irishmen soon turn their attention to France where they are heavily influenced by the French revolutionary ideals of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.”

When the United Irishmen are proclaimed a secret society and members arrested, Wolfe Tone travels to the United States and then France, making known his objectives for Irish Independence and that he wishes:

“To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter – these were my means”

The Irish Rebellion of 1798 soon follows and, although achieving initial success is brutally suppressed, thereby ending the ideals of the United Irishmen in uniting the people of Ireland.

(From: “Society of United Irishmen formed in Dublin 09 November 1791” posted on November 9, 2019, Irish News Archives, http://www.irishnewsarchives.com)


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The Battle of Enniscorthy

battle-of-enniscorthyThe Battle of Enniscorthy is a land battle fought on May 28, 1798 during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, when an overwhelming force of rebels assails the town of Enniscorthy, County Wexford, which is defended only by a 300-strong garrison supported by loyalist civilians. On the previous day at nearby Oulart, several thousand rebels led by Fr. John Murphy had massacred a detachment of the North Cork militia, amounting to 110 officers and men, in the Battle of Oulart Hill.

The attack on Enniscorthy begins at about 1:00 PM, when the rebels drive a herd of cattle through the town’s Duffry gate, creating disorder, and set the town’s buildings on fire. The troops defending the gate withdraw to a stone bridge over the River Slaney. After a determined defence of about three hours, the loyalist forces have expended their ammunition. They are also flanked by rebels wading across the river’s low water. However, after having driven all the rebels out of town they are ordered to abandon the town and withdraw to Wexford, which they do alongside a terrified multitude of men, women and children fleeing the burning town. In the action, the garrison and yeomanry had killed up to 500 insurgents at a cost of 90 of their own dead.

According to the historian Maxwell, the town’s Protestants see a merciless night attack as almost certain. Throughout the fight, Catholic residents support the rebels by shooting loyalists from their windows. Of the many fugitives, the weakest are carried on cavalry horses or otherwise abandoned to their fate, including infants and the elderly.

The rebels are brutal and vengeful in occupying their captured town. They set up a formidable encampment of 10,000 men on the nearby heights of Vinegar Hill and are able to roster forces to garrison Enniscorthy, whose streets are littered with dead and dying while flames continued to rage. Four hundred seventy-eight dwelling houses are destroyed in addition to commercial premises.


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The Dunlavin Green Executions

dunlavin-green-monumentThe Dunlavin Green executions, the summary execution of 36 suspected rebel prisoners in County Wicklow by the British military shortly after the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, take place on May 26, 1798. There are several accounts of the events, recorded at differing times and differing in detail.

The British government had begun raising yeomanry forces from the local Irish population in 1796. The force, composed of both Catholics and Protestants, was raised to help defend against a possible French invasion of Ireland and to aid in the policing of the country. The Society of United Irishmen have long threatened a rebellion in Ireland, which finally occurs in late May 1798. Major uprisings of the rebellion only occur in Ulster, Wicklow and Wexford, a county in the province of Leinster. For several months prior to May 1798, Wicklow and many other areas of the country have been subject to martial law which had been imposed in an effort to prevent the long threatened rebellion.

The campaign extends against the military itself as some corps of yeomen and militia, especially those with Catholic members, are suspected as United Irish infiltrators who have joined to get training and arms. Several days after the outbreak of the rebellion, the yeomanry and militia at Dunlavin are called out on parade and informed by their commanding officer that he has information on the identities of those in the corps who are affiliated with the United Irishmen among them. The British do not actually have such information, but twenty-eight fall for their bluff and come forward in hopes of receiving clemency.

Those who come forward are immediately arrested and imprisoned while several are subjected to flogging in an effort to extract information about the rebels plans and organization. Those who are outed as affiliates of the United Irishmen are imprisoned in the Market House of Dunlavin, while the British officers decide what to do with them.

The following day, Captain William Ryves of the Rathsallagh yeomanry has his horse shot from under him by rebels while on patrol. Ryves rides to Dunlavin the next day and brings eight suspected rebels imprisoned by his corps with him. There he meets with Captain Saunders of the Saunders-grove yeomanry. It is decided that their prisoners, a total of 36 men, should be put to death. On May 26, Market Day, the 36 are taken to the green, lined up and shot in front of the townspeople, including, in some cases, their own families.

The firing squad returns to the Market House where others are flogged or hanged. Before the bodies of the shot men are removed, soldiers’ wives loot them of valuables. The bodies are either removed for burial by their families or interred in a common grave at Tournant cemetery. One man survives, despite grievous wounds, and lives to “an advanced age.” Two more men, either hanging or about to be, are saved by the intervention of a “respectable Protestant” and escape.

One loyalist account details the events leading up to the execution differently. According to this account, Captain Ryves, a yeomanry commander at Dunlavin, receives word that a large number of rebels are set to attack Dunlavin and he observes that many Protestant houses have been set on fire in the surrounding countryside. Under the circumstances, he expects that the rebels’ intention is a pogrom of Protestants and loyalists in the town and its environs. A foray by the troops into the countryside fails and the garrison’s officers are aware that they are outnumbered by the prisoners held in the Market House.

The executions appear to have been motivated by simple revenge and intimidation, rather than fear of the prisoners and the ongoing rebellion. Though the public exhibition may have been designed to intimidate and discourage rebels in the immediate area from taking to the field, news of the executions, as well as those at Carnew spread rapidly and play a part in the rapid mobilization of rebels in northern County Wexford over the next few days.

The story of Dunlavin Green is quickly commemorated in the famous balladDunlavin Green,” which tells the story from the view of a sympathetic local eyewitness. In 1998, a commemorative stone was installed in St. Nicholas of Myra Roman Catholic church, adjacent to the green.


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Martial Law Declared in Ireland

martial-law-april-1916The United Kingdom declares martial law in Ireland for one month on April 25, 1916, the day after the commencement of the Easter Rising. A curfew is imposed from 8:30 PM until 5:00 AM. Anyone spotted on the streets during the hours of darkness are to be shot on sight. The trams stop running at 7:00 PM and the theatres and cinemas close by 8:00 PM. Those rushing for trams leaving the city centre have to pass through a stop-and-search military cordon.

The Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, is an armed insurrection in Ireland during Easter Week, 1916. The Rising is mounted by Irish republicans in an attempt to end British rule in Ireland, secede from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic. This takes place while the United Kingdom is heavily engaged in World War I. It is the most significant uprising in Ireland since the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

Organized by seven members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), the Rising begins on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, and lasts for six days. The following day the British Government immediately declares martial law in Ireland. Members of the Irish Volunteers, led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse and joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly and 200 members of Cumann na mBan, seize key locations in Dublin and proclaim the Irish Republic independent of the United Kingdom. There are actions in other parts of Ireland, however, except for the attack on the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks at Ashbourne in County Meath, they are minor.

With vastly superior numbers and artillery, the British army quickly suppresses the Rising and Pearse agrees to an unconditional surrender on Saturday, April, 29, 1916. Most of the leaders are executed following courts-martial, but the Rising succeeds in bringing physical force republicanism back to the forefront of Irish politics. Support for republicanism continues to rise in Ireland in the context of the ongoing war in Europe and the Middle East and revolutions in other countries, and especially as a result of the Conscription Crisis of 1918 and the failure of the British-sponsored Irish Convention.

In the 1918 Irish general election, republicans, by then represented by Sinn Féin, secure an overwhelming victory, winning 73 Irish seats out of 105 to the British Parliament, on a policy of abstentionism and Irish independence. The following year Éamon de Valera escapes from Lincoln Gaol to become party leader. On January 21, 1919 they convene the First Dáil and declare the independence of the Irish Republic. Later that same day the Irish Republican Army, organised by Minister for Finance and IRB president Michael Collins, begins the Irish War of Independence with the Soloheadbeg ambush.

(Pictured: Rebel prisoners are marched out of Dublin by the British Army)


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Birth of Tomás Mac Giolla, Irish Workers’ Party Politician

tomas-mac-giollaTomás Mac Giolla, Workers’ Party of Ireland politician who serves as Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1993 to 1994, leader of the Workers’ Party from 1962 to 1988 and leader of Sinn Féin from 1962 to 1970, is born Thomas Gill in Nenagh, County Tipperary on January 25, 1924. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin West constituency from 1982 to 1992.

Mac Giolla’s uncle T. P. Gill is a Member of Parliament (MP) and member of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) of Charles Stewart Parnell. His father, Robert Paul Gill, an engineer and architect, also stands unsuccessfully for election on a number of occasions. His mother is Mary Hourigan.

Mac Giolla is educated at the local national school in Nenagh before completing his secondary education at St. Flannan’s College in Ennis, County Clare. It is while at St. Flannan’s that he changes to using the Irish language version of his name. He wins a scholarship to University College Dublin where he qualifies with a Bachelor of Arts degree, followed by a degree in Commerce.

A qualified accountant, Mac Giolla is employed by the Irish Electricity Supply Board (ESB) from 1947 until he goes into full-time politics in 1977.

In his early life Mac Giolla is an active republican. He joins Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) around 1950. He is interned by the Government of Ireland during the 1956–1962 IRA border campaign. He also serves a number of prison sentences in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.

At the 1961 Irish general election, Mac Giolla unsuccessfully contests the Tipperary North constituency for Sinn Féin. In 1962, he becomes President of Sinn Féin, and is one of the people who moves the party to the left during the 1960s. In 1969, Sinn Féin splits and he remains leader of Official Sinn Féin. It is also in 1962 that he marries May McLoughlin who is also an active member of Sinn Féin as well as Cumann na mBan, the women’s section of the IRA. In 1977, the party changes its name to Sinn Féin the Workers Party and in 1982 it becomes simply the Workers’ Party.

Mac Giolla is elected to Dublin City Council representing the Ballyfermot local electoral area in 1979 and at every subsequent local election until he retires from the council in 1997. In the November 1982 Irish general election he is elected to Dáil Éireann for his party. In 1988, he steps down as party leader and is succeeded by Proinsias De Rossa. He serves as Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1993 to 1994 and remains a member of Dublin Corporation until 1998.

While president Mac Giolla is regarded as a mediator between the Marxist-Leninist wing headed by Sean Garland and the social democratic wing of Prionsias De Rossa. At the 1992 special Ard Fheis he votes for the motion to abandon democratic centralism and to re-constitute the party much as the Italian Communist Party became the Democratic Party of the Left. However the motion fails to reach the required two-thirds majority. Following the departure of six Workers’ Party TDs led by De Rossa to form the new Democratic Left party in 1992, Mac Giolla is the sole member of the Workers’ Party in the Dáil. He loses his Dáil seat at the 1992 Irish general election by a margin of just 59 votes to Liam Lawlor of Fianna Fáil.

In 1999, Mac Giolla writes to the chairman of the Flood Tribunal calling for an investigation into revelations that former Dublin Assistant City and County Manager George Redmond had been the official supervisor at the election count in Dublin West and was a close associate of Liam Lawlor. In 2003, Redmond is convicted of corruption by a Dublin court but subsequently has his conviction quashed due to conflicting evidence.

In his eighties Mac Giolla continues to be active and is a member of the group which campaigns to prevent the demolition of No. 16 Moore Street in Dublin city centre, where the surrender after the Easter Rising was completed. He also serves on the Dublin ’98 committee to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

Tomás Mac Giolla dies in Beaumont Hospital in Beaumont, Dublin on February 4, 2010 after a long illness.


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Death of William Sampson, United Irishman, Author & Lawyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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John Hely-Hutchinson Created Baron Hutchinson of Alexandria & Knocklofty

Generated by IIPImageGeneral John Hely-Hutchinson, Jr., Member of Parliament (MP) for Cork Borough, is created Baron Hutchinson of Alexandria and Knocklofty on December 18, 1801 for his military service.

Hely-Hutchinson is born on May 15, 1757, the son of John Hely-Hutchinson and the Christiana Hely-Hutchinson, 1st Baroness Donoughmore. He is educated at Eton College, Magdalen College, Oxford, and Trinity College, Dublin.

Hely-Hutchinson enters the Army as a cornet in the 18th Royal Hussars in 1774, rising to a lieutenant the following year. In 1776 he is promoted to become a captain in the 67th (South Hampshire) Regiment of Foot, and a major there in 1781. He moves regiments again in 1783, becoming a lieutenant-colonel in, and colonel-commandant of, the 77th Regiment of Foot, which is, however, disbanded shortly afterwards following an earlier mutiny. He spends the next 11 years on half-pay, studying military tactics in France before serving as a volunteer in the Flanders campaigns of 1793 as aide-de-camp to Sir Ralph Abercromby.

In March 1794 Hely-Hutchinson obtains brevet promotion to colonel and the colonelcy of the old 94th Regiment of Foot and then becomes a major-general in May 1796, serving in Ireland during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, where he is second-in-command at the Battle of Castlebar under General Gerard Lake. In 1799, he is in the expedition to the Netherlands.

Hely-Hutchinson is second-in-command of the 1801 expedition to Egypt, under Abercromby. Following Abercromby’s death in March after being wounded at the Battle of Alexandria, he takes command of the force. From then he is able to besiege the French firstly at Cairo which capitulates in June and then besieges and takes Alexandria, culminating in the capitulation of over 22,000 French soldiers. In reward for his successes there, the Ottoman Sultan Selim III makes him a Knight, 1st Class, of the Order of the Crescent.

On December 18, 1801 Hely-Hutchinson is created Baron Hutchinson in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, gaining a seat in the House of Lords. In recognition of his “eminent services” during the “late glorious and successful campaign in Egypt,” at the request of the King, the Parliament of the United Kingdom settles on Lord Hutchinson and the next two succeeding heirs male of his body an annuity of £2000 per annum, paid out of the Consolidated Fund.

Hely-Hutchinson is promoted lieutenant-general in September 1803, and made a full general in June 1813. In 1806, he becomes colonel of the 57th (West Middlesex) Regiment of Foot, transferring in 1811 to be colonel of the 18th Regiment of Foot, a position he holds until his death. He also holds the position of Governor of Stirling Castle from 1806 until his death.

Hely-Hutchinson sits as Member of Parliament (MP) for Lanesborough from 1776 to 1783 and for Taghmon from 1789 to 1790. Subsequently, he represents Cork City in the Irish House of Commons until the Act of Union 1800 and is then member for Cork City in the after-Union Parliament of the United Kingdom until 1802.

Hely-Hutchinson dies on June 29, 1832, never having married.


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Birth of Charles Bianconi, Italo-Irish Entrepreneur

charles-bianconiCharles Bianconi, Italo-Irish passenger car entrepreneur, is born Carlo Bianconi in Tregolo, Costa Masnaga, Italy on September 24, 1786.

Bianconi moves from an area poised to fall to Napoleon and travels to Ireland in 1802, by way of England, just four years after the Irish Rebellion of 1798. At the time, British fear of continental invasion results in an acute sense of insecurity and additional restrictions on the admission of foreigners. He is christened Carlo but anglicises his name to Charles when he arrives in Ireland.

Bianconi works as an engraver and printseller in Dublin, near Essex Street, under his sponsor, Andrea Faroni, when he is 16. In 1806 he sets up an engraving and print shop in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, moving to Clonmel in 1815.

Bianconi eventually becomes famous for his innovations in transport and is twice elected mayor of Clonmel.

Bianconi is the founder of public transportation in Ireland, at a time preceding railways. He establishes regular horse-drawn carriage services on various routes from about 1815 onward. These are known as “Bianconi coaches” and the first service, Clonmel to Cahir, takes five to eight hours by boat but only two hours by Bianconi’s carriage. Travel on one of his carriages cost one penny farthing a mile.

Bianconi also establishes a series of inns, the Bianconi Inns, some of which still exist in Piltown, County Kilkenny and Killorglin, County Kerry.

In 1832 Bianconi marries Eliza Hayes, the daughter of a wealthy Dublin stockbroker. They have three children – Charles Thomas Bianconi, Catherine Henrietta Bianconi and Mary Anne Bianconi, who marries Morgan O’Connell and is the mother of his grandson John O’Connell Bianconi.

Bianconi’s transport services continue into the 1850s and later, by which time there are a number of railway services in the country. The Bianconi coaches continue to be well-patronised, by offering connections from various termini, one of the first and few examples of an integrated transport system in Ireland. By 1865 Bianconi’s annual income was about £35,000.

Charles Bianconi dies on September 22, 1875 at Longfield House, Boherlahan, County Tipperary. Having donated land to the parish of Boherlahan for the construction of a parish church, he wishes to be buried on the Church grounds. He, and his family, are buried in a side chapel, separate from the parish church in Boherlahan, approximately 5 miles from Cashel, County Tipperary.


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Birth of Henry Joy McCracken, Irish Republican

henry-joy-mccrackenHenry Joy McCracken, Irish Republican and industrialist, is born in Belfast on August 31, 1767. He is a founding member of the Society of the United Irishmen.

McCracken is born into two of the city’s most prominent Presbyterian industrial families. He was the son of a shipowner, Captain John McCracken and Ann Joy, daughter of Francis Joy, of French Huguenot descent. The Joy family made their money in linen manufacture and founded the Belfast News Letter. He is the older brother of political activist and social reformer Mary Ann McCracken, with whom he shares an interest in Irish traditional culture.

In 1792, McCracken helps organise the Belfast Harp Festival which gathers aged harpists from around Ireland, and helps preserve the Irish airs by having them transcribed by Edward Bunting. Bunting, who lodges in the McCracken’s Rosemary Lane home, is a classically trained musician.

McCracken becomes interested in republican politics from an early age and along with other Protestants forms the Society of the United Irishmen in 1795 which quickly makes him a target of the authorities. He regularly travels throughout the country using his business as a cover for organising other United Irish societies, but is arrested in October 1796 and imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. While imprisoned with other leaders of the United Irishmen, he falls seriously ill and is released on bail in December 1797.

Following the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 in Leinster in May 1798, the County Antrim organisation meets on 3 June to decide on their response. The meeting ends inconclusively with a vote to wait for French aid being passed by a narrow margin. A new meeting of delegates is held in Templepatrick on June 5 where McCracken is elected general for Antrim and he quickly begins planning military operations.

McCracken formulates a plan for all small towns in Antrim to be seized after which rebels will converge upon Antrim town on June 7 where the county’s magistrates are to hold a crisis meeting. Although the plan meets initial success and McCracken leads the rebels in the attack on Antrim, the Catholic Defenders group whom he expects assistance from are conspicuous by their absence. The mainly Ulster Scots rebels led by McCracken are defeated by the English forces and his army melts away.

Although McCracken initially escapes with James Hope, James Orr, and James Dickey and is supported in his month long period of hiding by his sister Mary Ann, a chance encounter with men who recognize him from his cotton business leads to his arrest. He is offered clemency if he testifies against other United Irishmen leaders but he refuses to turn on his compatriots.

McCracken is court martialed and hanged at Corn Market, Belfast, on land his grandfather had donated to the city, on July 17, 1798. According to historian Guy Beiner, his corpse is spared the indignity of decapitation in order not to provoke renewed agitation. He is buried in the Parish Church of St. George in Belfast, but a few years later the grave is demolished.

McCracken’s remains are believed to have been re-interred by Francis Joseph Bigger in 1909 at Clifton Street Cemetery, Belfast, alongside his sister Mary Ann. His illegitimate daughter Maria, whose mother is speculated to have been Mary Bodell, is raised by her aunt Mary Ann McCracken.