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


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Death of Dick Dowling, Confederate Commander

Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer LibraryRichard William “Dick” Dowling, the victorious confederate commander at the Second Battle of Sabine Pass in the American Civil War, dies of yellow fever in Houston, Texas on September 23, 1867.

Dowling is born in the townland of Knockballyvishteal, Milltown, County Galway on January 14, 1837, the second of eight children, born to tenant farmer Patrick and Bridget Dowling (née Qualter). Following the eviction of his family from their home in 1845, the first year of the Great Famine, nine-year-old Dowling leaves Ireland in 1846 with his older sister Honora, bound for New Orleans in the United States.

As a teenager, Dowling displays his entrepreneurial skills by successfully running the Continental Coffeehouse, a saloon in the fashionable French Quarter. His parents and siblings follow from Ireland in 1851, but the joy of reunion is short-lived. In 1853, a yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans takes the lives of his parents and one of his younger brothers. With rising anti-Irish feeling growing in New Orleans, following local elections which see a landslide victory for the “Know Nothing” party, Dowling moves to Houston in 1857.

In 1857 Dowling marries Elizabeth Ann Odlum, daughter of Benjamin Digby Odlum, a Kildare-born Irishman, who had fought in the Texas Revolution, being captured at the Battle of Refugio in 1836.

By 1860, Dowling owns a number of saloons. His most successful is named the Bank of Bacchus, located on Courthouse Square in downtown Houston. “The Bank” as it is known locally becomes Houston’s most popular social gathering place in the 1860s and is renowned for its hospitality. He is also involved in setting up Houston’s first gaslight company, and is first to have it installed in his home and “The Bank.” He is a founding member of Houston’s Hook and Ladder Company Number One fire department and is also involved in running the city’s first streetcar company.

Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, Dowling makes a name for himself as an able and successful entrepreneur. Among other things, he is involved with a predominantly Irish militia company which serves a more social than military role in Houston society. Upon Secession, this militia company is mustered straight into the Confederate States Army, with Dowling being elected First Lieutenant. The unit names themselves the “Jefferson Davis Guards” in honor of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Davis Guards are initially part of a Texas State Troops/Confederate expedition sent to take over Union Army forts and arsenals along the border with Mexico. The expedition is successfully completed without a shot being fired. They participate in the Battle of Galveston on New Year’s Day 1863, following which they are assigned to a newly constructed artillery post near the mouth of the Sabine River called Fort Sabine.

Sabine Pass was important as a point of arrival and departure for blockade runners. It is suspected that the Union Army will attempt an invasion of Texas via Sabine Pass because of its value as a harbor for blockade runners and its proximity 18 miles southeast of Beaumont, which lies on the railroad between Houston and the eastern part of the Confederacy.

To negotiate Sabine Pass all vessels except small boats take one of the two river channels. No seagoing ship can traverse the Pass without great risk of running aground should it stray from one of the channels. The inevitable course of any steam-powered warship, including shallow-draft gunboats then common to the U.S. Navy, would use one of the channels, both of which are within fair range of the fort’s six smoothbores.

Dowling spends the summer of 1863 at the earthen fort instructing his men in gunnery. On September 8, 1863 a Union Navy flotilla of some 22 gunboats and transports with 5,000 men accompanied by cavalry and artillery arrive off the mouth of Sabine Pass. The plan of invasion is sound, but monumentally mismanaged. Four of the flanking gunboats are to steam up the pass at speed and draw the fire of the fort, two in each channel, a tactic which had been used successfully in subduing the defensive fortifications of Mobile and New Orleans prior to this. This time, however, Dowling’s artillery drills pay off as the Confederates pour a rapid and withering fire onto the incoming gunboats, disabling and capturing two, while the others retreat in disarray. The rest of the flotilla retreats from the mouth of the pass and returns ignominiously to New Orleans, leaving the disabled ships with no option but to surrender to Dowling. With a command of just 47 men, Dowling had thwarted an attempted invasion of Texas, in the process capturing two gunboats, some 350 prisoners and a large quantity of supplies and munitions.

The Confederate government offers its gratitude and admiration to Dowling, now promoted to Major, and his unit, as a result of their battlefield prowess. In gratitude, the ladies of Houston present the unit with specially struck medals, which are actually Mexican eight reale coins with both faces sanded down and inscribed “Sabine Pass, 1864” on one side and a Maltese cross with the letters D and G on the other. Because of the official recognition given to the action, it is now accepted that these Davis Guard Medals are the only medals of honor issued by the Confederate government, and consequently are collector’s items today.

After the battle of Sabine Pass Dowling is elevated to hero status in his hometown of Houston. He subsequently serves as a recruiter for the Confederacy and is personally commended for his action at the battle by Jefferson Davis. After the war he returns to his saloon business and quickly becomes one of the city’s leading businessmen.

Dowling’s promising future is cut short by another yellow fever epidemic which devastates Houston in the late summer of 1867, and he dies on September 23, 1867. He is buried at St. Vincent’s Catholic Cemetery, the oldest Catholic cemetery in Houston.


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The Capture of Robert Emmet

robert-emmetRobert Emmet, one of the most famous revolutionaries in Irish history, is captured by the British at the home of a Mrs. Palmer in Harold’s Cross, outside Dublin on August 25, 1803.

Emmet is born at 109 St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin on March 4, 1778. He is the youngest son of Dr. Robert Emmet, a court physician, and his wife Elizabeth Mason. He attends Oswald’s school in Dopping’s-court, off Golden-lane and enters Trinity College, Dublin, in October 1793 at the age of fifteen. In December 1797, he joins the College Historical Society, a debating society.

While he is in college, his brother Thomas and some of his friends become involved in political activism. Emmet becomes secretary of a secret United Irish Committee in college and is expelled in April 1798 as a result. That same year he flees to France to avoid the many British arrests of nationalists that are taking place in Ireland. While in France, he garners the support of Napoleon, who promises to lend support when the upcoming revolution starts.

After the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Emmet is involved in reorganising the defeated Society of United Irishmen. In April 1799, a warrant is issued for his arrest. He escapes and soon after travels to the continent in the hope of securing French military aid. His efforts are unsuccessful, as Napoleon is concentrating his efforts on invading England. He returns to Ireland in October 1802.

In March of the following year, Emmet begins to prepare a new rebellion, with fellow Anglo-Irish revolutionaries Thomas Russell and James Hope. The revolutionaries conceal their preparations, but a premature explosion at one of Emmet’s arms depots kills a man, forcing Emmet to advance the date of the rising before the authorities’ suspicions are aroused.

Despite being unable to secure help from Michael Dwyer‘s Wicklow rebels and many rebels from Kildare turning back due to the scarcity of firearms, the rising begins in Dublin on the evening of July 23, 1803. Failing to seize the lightly defended Dublin Castle, the rising amounts to a large-scale disturbance in the Thomas Street area. Emmet witnesses a dragoon being pulled from his horse and piked to death, the sight of which prompts him to call off the rising to avoid further bloodshed. However, sporadic clashes continue into the night until finally quelled by British military forces.

Emmet flees into hiding, moving from Rathfarnham to Harold’s Cross so that he can be near his sweetheart, Sarah Curran. He is captured on August 25 and taken to Dublin Castle, then later removed to Kilmainham Gaol. Vigorous but ineffectual efforts are made to procure his escape.

Emmet is tried for and found guilty of high treason on September 19, 1803. Chief Justice John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury sentences Emmet to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, as is customary for conviction of treason. The following day, Emmet is executed in Thomas Street near St. Catherine’s Church. He is hanged and beheaded after his death. Out of fear of being arrested, no one comes forward to claim his remains.

Emmet’s remains are first delivered to Newgate Prison and then returned to Kilmainham Gaol, where the jailer is under instructions to be bury the remains in a nearby hospital’s burial grounds if no one claims them. No remains have been found there and, though not confirmed, it appears that he was secretly removed and reinterred in St. Michan’s Church, a Dublin church with strong United Irish associations. There is also speculation that the remains are buried secretly in the vault of a Dublin Anglican church. When inspected in the 1950s, a headless corpse is found in the vault but can not be identified. The widely accepted theory is that Emmet’s remains are transferred to St. Peter’s Church in Aungier St. under cover of the burial of his sister in 1804. In the 1980s the church is deconsecrated and all the coffins are removed from the vaults. The church has since been demolished.


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Birth of James Owen Hannay, Clergyman & Novelist

Generated by IIPImageJames Owen Hannay, Irish clergyman and prolific novelist who writes under the pen name of George A. Birmingham, is born on July 16, 1865 in Belfast. Today the house where he is born is a part of the administration building of Queen’s University Belfast.

Hannay receives his education in England. He enters Temple Grove School near the River Thames at the age of nine, and later studies at a public school called Haileybury School. He then returns to Ireland to enter the Divinity School of Trinity College Dublin. He is ordained in 1889 as a Church of Ireland (Anglican) minister and starts working as a curate for Delgany, County Wicklow, a seaside town south of Dublin.

To make up for a deficiency in their living Hannay writes a short story and sends it to a London publisher. It is accepted for publication and he receives a check of £10. On his wife’s advice, he gives up writing fiction and commits himself to the study of Christian theology with her. This bears fruit with the publications of The Spirit and Origin of Christian Monasticism (1903) and The Wisdom of the Desert (1904).

Hannay then serves as rector of Holy Trinity Church in Westport, County Mayo. It is here that he makes his debut as a novelist. His early writings raise the ire of nationalist Catholics, and he withdraws from the Gaelic League in the wake of ongoing protests about the tour of his successful play General John Regan.

Hannay becomes rector of Kildare parish from 1918 to 1920, and after serving as chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, he joins the British ambassadorial team in Budapest in 1922. He returns to officiate at Mells, Somerset from 1924 to 1934, after which he is appointed vicar of Holy Trinity Church in the London suburb of Kensington where he serves from 1934 until his death in London on February 2, 1950.

Hannay enjoys sailing, and is taught the rudiments by his father and grandfather in Belfast. When he is based in Westport, the financial success of his writing enables him to purchase a boat, a Dublin Bay Water Wag. In recognition of Hannay, the Water Wag Club of Dun Laoghaire returns to Westport and Clew Bay in 2016. In the frontispiece of his book The Inviolable Sanctuary Hannay includes a picture of the Water Wag.


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The 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup

gordon-bennett-cup-1903The Gordon Bennett Cup takes place on July 2, 1903, becoming the first international motor race to be held in Ireland. The race is sponsored by James Gordon Bennett, Jr., owner of the New York Herald. Under the rules, the races are hosted in the country of the previous year’s winner. Selwyn Edge had won the 1902 event in the ParisVienna race driving a car manufactured by D. Napier & Son.

The Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland want the race to be hosted in the British Isles, and their secretary, Claude Johnson, suggests Ireland as the venue because racing is illegal on British public roads. The editor of the Dublin Motor News, Richard J. Mecredy, suggests an area in County Kildare, and letters are sent to 102 Irish MPs, 90 Irish peers, 300 newspapers, 34 chairmen of county and local councils, 34 County secretaries, 26 mayors, 41 railway companies, 460 hoteliers, 13 PPs, plus the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Patrick Foley, who pronounces himself in favour.

Local laws have to be adjusted, ergo the ‘Light Locomotives (Ireland) Bill’ is passed on March 27, 1903. Kildare and other local councils draw attention to their areas, while Queen’s County (now County Laois) declares that every facility will be given and the roads placed at the disposal of motorists during the proposed race. Eventually Kildare is chosen, partly on the grounds that the straightness of the roads will be a safety benefit. As a compliment to Ireland the British team chooses to race in Shamrock green which thus becomes known as British racing green, although the winning Napier of 1902 had been painted Olive green.

There is considerable public concern about safety after the 1901 Paris-Bordeaux Rally, in which at least eight people had been killed, and severe crashes during the May 24, 1903 Paris-Madrid race where more than 200 cars competed over a distance of 800 miles but which had to be halted at Bordeaux because there had been so many fatalities. To allay these fears, the 1903 race is held over a closed course which is carefully prepared for the event, and is marshaled by 7,000 police officers assisted by troops and club stewards, with strict instructions to keep spectators off the roads and away from corners. The route consists of two loops that comprise a figure of eight, the first being a 52-mile loop that includes Kilcullen, the Curragh, Kildare, Monasterevin, Ballydavis (Port Laoise), Stradbally and Athy, followed by a 40-mile loop through Castledermot, Carlow, and Athy again. The race starts at the Ballyshannon cross-roads near Calverstown.

The official timekeeper of the race is T. H. Woolen of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland. Ninety one chronographs for timing the race are supplied by the Anglo-Swiss firm Stauffer Son & Co. of La Chaux-de-Fonds and London. Competitors are started at seven-minute intervals and have to follow bicycles through the “control zones” in each town. The 328-mile race is won by the famous Belgian Camille Jenatzy, driving a Mercedes in German colours.


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Birth of Writer Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha

padraig-o-siochfhradhaPádraig Ó Siochfhradha, writer under the pseudonym An Seabhac and promoter of the Irish language, is born in the Gaeltacht near Dingle, County Kerry on March 10, 1883. His brother, Mícheál Ó Siochfhradha is also a writer, teacher, and Irish language storyteller.

Ó Siochfhradha becomes an organiser for Conradh na Gaeilge, cycling all over the countryside to set up branches and promote the Irish language. As a writer, he takes the pen-name An Seabhac, the Hawk, writing books including An Baile Seo Gainne (1913) and Jimín Mháire Thaidhg (1921), both of which draw on his Dingle youth and are later published in one volume as Seoda an tSeabhaic (1974).

Ó Siochfhradha is a prominent and influential figure of early 20th century Irish culture, a key populariser of the Irish Revival. He is an author, storyteller, folklorist, activist and politician.

Ó Siochfhradha’s nickname is thought to be a consequence of his years as a travelling teacher, when he adopts it as a pseudonym for the writing of his most famous book Jimín Mháire Thaidhg. This book, known in its English translation as Jimeen, is a fictionalised account of life growing up in the country, which follows the tribulations and misadventures of a young boy who cannot stay out of trouble.

Ó Siochfhradha works as a teacher from 1910 until 1922 in Kildare and in the Fermoy region of Kerry. He also works as an editor of The Light, a bilingual magazine which lasts six years, from 1907 to 1913. He is a member of Conradh na Gaeilge from early in his life and a frequent member of the League of Employment, which is an outgrowth of Conradh na Gaeilge. In 1911, a resolution, proposed by him and a colleague, is adopted that helps set the agenda for the ongoing revival of the Irish language. The proposal is to teach Irish to children of secondary school age as a living language rather than an antique one. This strategy persists to the present day.

Ó Siochfhradha becomes an active organiser for the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and is imprisoned three times for his activities. He spends time in Durham Prison in England and on Bere Island, County Cork.

In 1922 Ó Siochfhradha moves to Dublin under the auspices of the Department of Education. It is around this time that he is thought to have taken up residence in 119 Morehampton Road, Donnybrook, where he remains for the rest of his life. He continues to stay active in a large number of writing and political projects. He is secretary to the Irish Manuscripts Commission from October 1928 to October 1932.

During the Irish Civil War it is said Ó Siochfhradha does his best to reconcile the opposing sides of the conflict. His political sympathies are primarily republican and he spends a great deal of energy in the 1920s establishing Irish-speaking schools in Dublin. He is a member of Seanad Éireann from 1946–1948, 1951–1954 and 1957–1964, being personally nominated by his friend Taoiseach Éamon de Valera, on each occasion.

Ó Siochfhradha dies on November 19, 1964. His personal papers are on loan to Tralee Library and his archive has been digitised and stored by the University of Limerick.

(From: Stair na hÉireann/History of Ireland (https://stairnaheireann.net), “Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha – An Seabhac”)


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Execution of Robert Emmet, Irish Nationalist & Republican

Robert Emmet, Irish nationalist and Republican, orator and rebel leader, is hung, drawn, and quartered in Dublin on September 20, 1803, following his conviction for high treason.

Emmet is born at 109 St. Stephen’s Green, in Dublin on March 4, 1778, the youngest son of Dr. Robert Emmet, a court physician, and his wife, Elizabeth Mason. He attends Oswald’s school, in Dopping’s-court, off Golden-lane and enters Trinity College, Dublin in October 1793, at the age of fifteen. He becomes secretary of a secret United Irish Committee in college, and is expelled in April 1798 as a result. That same year he flees to France to avoid the many British arrests of nationalists that are taking place in Ireland.

After the 1798 rising, Emmet is involved in reorganising the defeated Society of United Irishmen. In April 1799 a warrant is issued for his arrest. He escapes and soon after travels to the continent in the hope of securing French military aid. His efforts are unsuccessful, as Napoleon is concentrating his efforts on invading England.

Emmet returns to Ireland in October 1802 and, along with fellow revolutionaries Thomas Russell and James Hope, begins preparations for another uprising in March of the following year. A premature explosion at one of Emmet’s arms depots forces him to advance the date of the rising before the authorities’ suspicions are aroused.

Emmet is unable to secure the help of Michael Dwyer‘s Wicklow rebels. Many rebels from Kildare turn back due to the scarcity of firearms they had been promised, but the rising proceeds in Dublin on the evening of July 23, 1803. Failing to seize Dublin Castle, which is lightly defended, the rising amounts to a large-scale disturbance in the Thomas Street area. He sees a dragoon pulled from his horse and piked to death, the sight of which prompts him to call off the rising to avoid further bloodshed but he has no control over of his followers. Sporadic clashes continue into the night until finally quelled by British military forces.

Emmet flees into hiding but is captured on August 25 and taken to Dublin Castle, then removed to Kilmainham Gaol. He is tried for treason on September 19. The Crown repairs the weaknesses in its case by secretly buying the assistance of Emmet’s defence attorney, Leonard McNally, for £200 and a pension. McNally’s assistant Peter Burrowes cannot be bought and he pleads the case as best he can. Emmet is found guilty of high treason.

Chief Justice John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury sentences Emmet to be hanged, drawn and quartered, as is customary for conviction of treason. The following day, September 20, Emmet is executed in Thomas Street near St. Catherine’s Church. He is hanged and beheaded once dead. As family members and friends of Emmet had also been arrested, including some who had nothing to do with the rebellion, no one comes forward to claim his remains out of fear of arrest.

Emmet’s remains are first delivered to Newgate Prison and then back to Kilmainham Gaol, where the jailer is under instructions that if no one claims them they are to be buried in a nearby hospital’s burial grounds. A later search there finds no remains. It is speculated that Emmet’s remains were secretly removed from the site and reinterred in St. Michan’s Church, a Dublin church with strong United Irish associations, though it is never confirmed. It is later suspected that they are buried secretly in the vault of a Dublin Anglican church. When the vault is inspected in the 1950s a headless corpse was found, suspected of being Emmet’s, but cannot be identified. Widely accepted is the theory that Emmet’s remains were transferred to St. Peter’s Church in Aungier St. under cover of the burial of his sister, Mary Anne Holmes, in 1804. In the 1980s the church is deconsecrated and all the coffins are removed from the vaults. The church has since been demolished.


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Death of Arkle, the Greatest Irish Steeplechaser

Arkle, the greatest Irish steeplechaser of all time, dies at the early age of thirteen on May 31, 1970. A bay gelding by Archive out of Bright Cherry, Arkle is the grandson of the unbeaten flat racehorse and prepotent sire Nearco.

Arkle is born at Ballymacoll Stud, County Meath, by Mrs. Mary Alison Baker of Malahow House, near Naul, County Dublin. He is named after the mountain Arkle in Sutherland, Scotland that borders the Duchess of Westminster’s Sutherland estate. Owned by Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster, he is trained by Tom Dreaper at Greenogue, Kilsallaghan in County Meath, and ridden during his steeplechasing career by Pat Taaffe.

At 212, his Timeform rating is the highest ever awarded to a steeplechaser. Only Flyingbolt, also trained by Dreaper, has a rating anywhere near his at 210. Next on their ratings are Sprinter Sacre on 192 and then Kauto Star and Mill House on 191. Despite his career being cut short by injury, Arkle wins three Cheltenham Gold Cups, the Blue Riband of steeplechasing, and a host of other top prizes.

In December 1966, Arkle races in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park Racecourse but strikes the guard rail with a hoof when jumping the open ditch, which results in a fractured pedal bone. Despite this injury, he completes the race and finishes second. He is in plaster for four months and, though he makes a good enough recovery to go back into training, he never runs again. He is retired and ridden as a hack by his owner and then succumbs to what has been variously described as advanced arthritis or possibly brucellosis and is put down at the early age of thirteen.

Arkle becomes a national legend in Ireland. His strength is jokingly claimed to come from drinking Guinness twice a day. At one point, the slogan Arkle for President is written on a wall in Dublin. The horse is often referred to simply as “Himself,” and the story goes that he receives items of fan mail addressed to “Himself, Ireland.”

The government-owned Irish National Stud, at Tully, Kildare, County Kildare, has the skeleton of Arkle on display in its museum. A 1.1 scale bronze statue in his memory was erected in Ashbourne, County Meath on April 19, 2014.