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


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The Siege of Limerick

Henry Ireton, Oliver Cromwell’s son-in-law, lays siege to Limerick city on June 4, 1651. During the Irish Confederate Wars, Limerick is one of the last fortified cities held by an alliance of Irish Confederate Catholics and English Royalists against the forces of the Parliament of England.

By 1650, the Irish Confederates and their English Royalist allies have been driven out of eastern Ireland by the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. They occupy a defensive position behind the River Shannon, of which Limerick is the southern stronghold. Oliver Cromwell himself leaves Ireland in May 1650, delegating his command of the English Parliamentarian forces to Henry Ireton. Ireton moves his forces north from Munster to besiege Limerick in October of that year. However, the weather is increasingly wet and cold and Ireton is forced to abandon the siege before the onset of winter.

Ireton returns on June 4, 1651 with 8,000 men, 28 siege artillery pieces and 4 mortars. He summons Hugh Dubh O’Neill, the Irish commander of Limerick to surrender, but is refused. The siege is on.

Limerick in 1651 is split into two sections, English town and Irish town, which are separated by the Abbey River. English town, which contains the citadel of King John’s Castle, is encircled by water, the Abbey River on three sides and the River Shannon on the other, in what is known as King’s Island. Thomond bridge is only one bridge onto the island and is fortified with bastioned earthworks. Irish town is more vulnerable, but is also more heavily fortified. Its medieval walls have been buttressed by 20 feet of earth, making it difficult to knock a breach in them. In addition, Irish town has a series of bastions along its walls, mounted with cannon which cover its approaches. The biggest of these bastions are at St. John’s Gate and Mungret gate. The garrison of the city is 2,000 strong and composed mainly of veterans from the Confederate’s Ulster army, commanded by Hugh Dubh O’Neill, who had distinguished themselves at the siege of Clonmel the previous year.

Because Limerick is very well fortified, Ireton does not risk an assault on its walls. Instead he secures the approaches to the city, cuts off its supplies and builds artillery earthworks to bombard the defenders. His troops take the fort at Thomond bridge, but the Irish destroy the bridge itself, denying the Parliamentarians land access to English town. Ireton then tries an amphibious attack on the city, a storming party attacking the city in small boats. They are initially successful, but O’Neill’s men counterattack and beat them off.

After this attack fails, Ireton resolves to starve the city into submission and builds two forts known as Ireton’s fort and Cromwell’s fort on nearby Singland Hill. An Irish attempt to relieve the city from the south is routed at the battle of Knocknaclashy. O’Neill’s only hope is now to hold out until bad weather and hunger force Ireton to raise the siege. To this end, O’Neill tries to send the town’s old men, women and children out of the city so that his supplies will last a little longer. However, Ireton’s men kill forty of these civilians and send the rest back into Limerick.

O’Neill comes under pressure from the town’s mayor and civilian population to surrender. The town’s garrison and civilians suffer terribly from hunger and disease, especially an outbreak of plague. In addition, Ireton finds a weak point in the defences of Irish town, and knocks a breach in them, opening the prospect of an all out assault.

Eventually in October 1651, six months after the siege started, part of Limerick’s garrison mutinies and turns some cannon inwards, threatening to fire on O’Neill’s men unless they surrender. Hugh Dubh O’Neill surrenders Limerick on October 27. The inhabitants lives and property are respected, but they are warned that they could be evicted in the future. The garrison is allowed to march to Galway, which is still holding out, but has to leave their weapons behind.

The lives of the civilian and military leaders of Limerick are excepted from the terms of surrender. A Catholic Bishop Terence Albert O’Brien, an Alderman and the English Royalist officer Colonel Fennell are hanged. O’Neill is also sentenced to death, but is reprieved by the Parliamentarian commander Edmund Ludlow and imprisoned instead in London. Former mayor Dominic Fanning is drawn, quartered, and decapitated, with his head mounted over St. John’s Gate.

Over 2,000 English Parliamentary soldiers die at Limerick, mostly from disease. Among them is Henry Ireton, who dies a month after the fall of the city. About 700 of the Irish garrison and an estimated 5,000 citizens die.

(Pictured: The Treaty Stone on which the treaty of Limerick may have been signed in 1691)


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Birth of Bishop Eamonn Casey

Eamonn Casey, Irish Roman Catholic prelate who serves as bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh in Ireland from 1976 to 1992, is born in Firies, County Kerry on April 24, 1927.

Casey is educated in Limerick and in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He is ordained a priest for the Diocese of Limerick on June 17, 1951 and appointed Bishop of Kerry on July 17, 1969. He holds this position until 1976, when he is appointed Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh and apostolic administrator of Kilfenora. While in Galway, he is seen as a progressive. It is a significant change in a diocese that has been led for nearly forty years by the very conservative Michael Browne.

Casey is well known for his work aiding Irish emigrants in Britain. In addition, he supports the Dunnes Stores‘ staff, who are locked out from 1982 to 1986 for refusing to sell goods from apartheid South Africa.

Casey attends the funeral of the murdered Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor Óscar Romero. He witnesses first hand the massacre of those attending the funeral by government forces. He then becomes a vocal opponent of United States foreign policy in Central America, and, as a result, opposes the 1984 visit of United States President Ronald Reagan to Ireland, refusing to meet him when he comes to Galway.

Casey is highly influential in the Irish Catholic hierarchy, and serves as bishop until his resignation in 1992. He is a friend and colleague of another highly prominent Irish priest, Father Michael Cleary.

In 1992, newspapers discover that Casey has had a sexual relationship with Annie Murphy, an American divorcée. Together they have a son, Peter, born in 1974 in Dublin. Murphy later claims that Casey had attempted to persuade her to give the child up for adoption at birth. She chooses not to do so and raises him with the help of her parents. When Murphy decides to go public about the relationship and informs The Irish Times, Casey tenders his resignation and leaves the country.

Casey’s resignation is regarded as a pivotal moment when the Roman Catholic hierarchy begins to lose its considerable influence over the society and politics of Ireland. He is succeeded by his Secretary, Bishop James McLoughlin, who serves in the post until his own retirement on July 3, 2005.

Casey opts to embrace the life of a foreign missionary in South America. He works with members of the Missionary Society of St. James in a rural parish in Ecuador, despite his lack of knowledge of the Spanish language. During this time, he travels long distances to reach the widely scattered members of his parish. After his missionary period is completed, instead of returning to Ireland, Casey takes a position in the parish of St. Pauls, Haywards Heath, in South East England. He returns to Ireland in 2006.

In 2005, Casey is investigated in conjunction with the sexual abuse scandal in Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora diocese. He is subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.

Casey suffers four mini strokes in 2002 and begins to experience memory issues. In August 2011, he is admitted to a nursing home in County Clare. Eamonn Casey dies on March 13, 2017 at the age of 89.


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Birth of Michael D. Higgins, Ninth President of Ireland

Michael Daniel Higgins, politician, human rights activist, university lecturer, poet, and the ninth and current President of Ireland, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on April 18, 1941. He takes office on November 11, 2011 following victory in the 2011 Irish presidential election.

At age five Higgins is separated from his parents, whose struggle to make ends meet is partly the product of his father’s ill health. He is raised in modest means by relatives in County Clare and starts his working life as a clerk in a bank. With a loan from a benefactor, he enters University College Galway, now National University of Ireland, Galway, at age 20 and continues his study with the benefit of scholarships. He serves as president of the student council and becomes involved with the Fianna Fáil party. Under the influence of politician Noël Browne, he soon switches allegiance to socialism and the Labour Party. An unashamed intellectual, Higgins continues his studies at Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Manchester. Before beginning a career in politics, he lectures in sociology and political science at Galway and is a visiting professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Twice Higgins runs unsuccessfully for a seat in the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, before being appointed to Seanad Éireann, the upper house, by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave in 1973. Higgins is then elected to represent Galway West in the Dáil (1981–82) and serves another term in the Seanad (1983–87), representing the National University of Ireland, before becoming a fixture in the Dáil in the seat for Galway West (1987–2011). He also serves two terms as the mayor of Galway (1982–83, 1991–92). Early on he earns a reputation as a leftist firebrand who opposes participation in coalition government. His radical commitment to human rights and to peace and justice in places such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Cambodia, as well as his advocacy of progressive issues such as equal pay for women and the rights of people with disabilities, remain constant, but he mellows over the years to accept coalition rule.

In 1993, in the Fianna Fáil–Labour coalition government led by Albert Reynolds, Higgins becomes the minister for arts, culture, and the Gaeltacht (the districts in which the Irish language and the traditional national culture are best preserved). In that capacity he champions the Irish film industry and is responsible for the creation of the first Irish-language television station, Teilifís na Gaeilge (TG4). A poet who publishes four books of poetry before his election as president, Higgins earns a reputation as an impassioned and eloquent orator in both Irish and English.

By 2003, when he takes over the leadership of the Labour Party, the diminutive Higgins has become something of a national icon, known to most people simply as “Michael D.” He seeks Labour’s nomination for the presidency in 2004 unsuccessfully, but in 2011 he is elected the ninth president of Ireland with some 40 percent of the first-preference votes. In the process he bests heavily favoured independent Seán Gallagher, who stumbles badly in a televised debate just before the election, as well as Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader who steps down temporarily as the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland to run.


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Birth of Engineer John Philip Holland

john-philip-hollandJohn Philip Holland, Irish engineer who develops the first submarine to be formally commissioned by the U.S. Navy, and the first Royal Navy submarine, HMS Holland 1, is born on February 24, 1841.

Holland, the second of four siblings, all boys, is born in a coastguard cottage in Liscannor, County Clare, where his father, John Philip Holland, Sr., is a member of the British Coastguard Service. His mother, a native Irish speaker from Liscannor, Máire Ní Scannláin, is John Holland’s second wife. His first wife, Anne Foley Holland, believed to be a native of Kilkee, dies in 1835. The area is heavily Irish-speaking and Holland learns English properly only when he attends the local English-speaking St. Macreehy’s National School, and from 1858, in the Christian Brothers in Ennistymon.

Holland joins the Irish Christian Brothers in Limerick and teaches in CBS Sexton Street in Limerick and many other centres in the country, including North Monastery CBS in Cork, St. Joseph’s CBS in Drogheda, and as the first Mathematics teacher in Coláiste Rís in Dundalk. Due to ill health, he leaves the Christian Brothers in 1873 and emigrates to the United States. Initially working for an engineering firm, he returns to teaching again for an additional six years in St. John’s Catholic school in Paterson, New Jersey.

While a teacher in Cork, Holland reads an account of the battle between the ironclads USS Monitor and USS Merrimack in the Battle of Hampton Roads during the American Civil War. He realizes that the best way to attack such ships would be through an attack beneath the waterline. He draws a design, but when he attempts to obtain funding, he is turned away. After his arrival in the United States, Holland slips and falls on an icy Boston street and breaks a leg. While recuperating from the injury in a hospital, he uses his time to refine his submarine designs and is encouraged by a priest, Isaac Whelan.

In 1875, his first submarine designs are submitted for consideration by the U.S. Navy, but are turned down as unworkable. The Fenians, however, continue to fund Holland’s research and development expenses at a level that allows him to resign from his teaching post. In 1881, Fenian Ram is launched, but soon after, Holland and the Fenians part company on bad terms over the issue of payment within the Fenian organization, and between the Fenians and Holland. The submarine is now preserved at Paterson Museum in New Jersey.

Holland continues to improve his designs and works on several experimental boats, prior to his successful efforts with a privately built type, launched on May 17, 1897. This is the first submarine having power to run submerged for any considerable distance, and the first to combine electric motors for submerged travel and gasoline engines for use on the surface. The submarine is purchased by the U.S. Navy on April 11, 1900, after rigorous tests and is commissioned on October 12, 1900 as USS Holland (SS-1). Six more of her type are ordered and built at the Crescent Shipyard in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The company that emerges from under these developments is called The Electric Boat Company, founded on February 7, 1899. Isaac Leopold Rice becomes the company’s first President with Elihu B. Frost acting as vice president and chief financial officer. The company eventually evolves into the major defense contractor General Dynamics.

The USS Holland design is also adopted by others, including the Royal Navy in developing the Holland-class submarine. The Imperial Japanese Navy employs a modified version of the basic design for their first five submarines, although these submarines are at least 10 feet longer at about 63 feet. These submarines are also developed at the Fore River Ship and Engine Company in Quincy, Massachusetts. Holland also designs the Holland II and Holland III prototypes. The Royal Navy ‘Holland 1’ is on display at the Submarine Museum in Gosport, England.

After spending 56 of his 73 years working with submersibles, John Philip Holland dies on August 12, 1914 in Newark, New Jersey. He is interred at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Totowa, New Jersey.


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Founding of the Irish Rugby Football Union

irfuThe Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), the body managing rugby union in the island of Ireland, both Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, is founded in Dublin on February 5, 1879. The IRFU has its head office at 10/12 Lansdowne Road and home ground at Aviva Stadium, where adult men’s Irish rugby union international matches are played. In addition, the Union also owns Kingspan Stadium in Belfast, Thomond Park in Limerick and a number of grounds in provincial areas that have been rented to clubs.

Initially, there are two unions, both founded in 1874. The Irish Football Union has jurisdiction over clubs in Leinster, Munster, and parts of Ulster. The Northern Football Union of Ireland controls the Belfast area. The IRFU is formed in 1879 as an amalgamation of these two organisations and branches of the new IRFU are formed in Leinster, Munster, and Ulster. The Connacht Branch is formed in 1900.

The IRFU is a founding member of the International Rugby Football Board, now known as World Rugby, in 1886 with Scotland and Wales. England refuses to join until 1890.

Following the political partition of Ireland into separate national states, Ireland, originally the Irish Free State then Éire, and Northern Ireland, a political division of the United Kingdom, the then Committee of the Irish Rugby Football Union decides that it will continue to administer its affairs on the basis of the full 32 Irish counties and the traditional four provinces of Ireland – Leinster (12 counties), Ulster (9 counties), Munster (6 counties), and Connacht (5 counties).

This leads to the unusual, but not unique, situation among international rugby union teams, where the Irish representative teams are drawn from players from two separate political, national territories. To maintain the unity of Irish rugby union and the linkages between North and South, the IRFU purchase a new ground in 1923 in the Ravenhill district of Belfast at a cost of £2,300. The last full International at Ravenhill involving Ireland for more than a half-century takes place in 1953–54 against Scotland who are victorious by 2 tries (6 points) to nil. Australia plays Romania in the 1999 World Cup at the ground. The next full International played at Ravenhill is the Rugby World Cup warm-up match against Italy in August 2007 due to the temporary closure of Lansdowne Road for reconstruction.

The four provincial branches of the IRFU first run cup competitions during the 1880s. Although these tournaments still take place every year, their significance has been diminished by the advent of an All-Ireland League of 48 Senior Clubs in 1990.

The four provincial teams have played an Interprovincial Championship since the 1920s and continue to be the focal point for players aspiring to the international level. These are Munster, Leinster, Ulster, and Connacht . All four provinces play at the senior level as members of the Guinness Pro12.

There are currently approximately 95,000 rugby players in total in Ireland. There are 56 clubs affiliated to the Ulster Branch, 71 to the Leinster Branch, 59 to the Munster Branch, and 19 to the Connacht Branch. In addition, there are 246 schools playing rugby: Ulster (107), Leinster (75), Munster (41) and Connacht (23).

The IRFU also has an Exiles Branch tasked with developing “Ireland-qualified” players (i.e., eligible to play internationally for Ireland through ancestry) living in England, Scotland, and Wales. Volunteers provide coaching, administration and development under the supervision of a paid development manager.


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Death of IRA Volunteer Seán South

sean-southSeán South, a member of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) military column led by Sean Garland on a raid against a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, on January 1, 1957, dies of wounds sustained during the raid along with another IRA volunteer, Fergal O’Hanlon.

South is born in 1928 in Limerick where he is educated at Sexton Street Christian Brothers School, later working as a clerk in a local wood-importing company called McMahon’s. South is a member of a number of organisations including the Gaelic League, Legion of Mary, Clann na Poblachta, and Sinn Féin. In Limerick he founds the local branch of Maria Duce, a social Catholic organisation, where he also edits both An Gath and An Giolla. He receives military training as a lieutenant of the Irish army reserve, the LDF which later becomes the FCA (An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil or Local Defence Force), before he becomes a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army.

South is a devout Catholic, being a member of An Réalt, the Irish-speaking chapter of the Legion of Mary, and a conservative, even by the standards of the day. He is also a member of the Knights of Columbanus.

On New Year’s Day 1957, fourteen IRA volunteers cross the border into County Fermanagh to launch an attack on a joint RUC/B Specials barracks in Brookeborough. During the attack a number of volunteers are injured, two fatally. South and Fergal O’Hanlon die of their wounds as they are making their escape. They are carried into an old sandstone barn by their comrades which is later demolished by a British army jeep. Stone from the barn is used to build a memorial at the site.

The attack on the barracks inspires two popular rebel songs: “Seán South of Garryowen” and “The Patriot Game.” “Seán South of Garryowen,” is written by Sean Costelloe from County Limerick to the tune of another republican ballad “Roddy McCorley” and is made famous by The Wolfe Tones. The popularity of this song leads to the misconception that South is from Garryowen, a suburb in Limerick city. In fact, South is actually from 47 Henry Street in Limerick.

South is also mentioned in The Rubberbandits song “Up Da Ra”, which pokes fun at the concept of armchair republicanism using the literary device of the unreliable narrator.

There is a plaque dedicated to Seán South outside his birthplace on Henry Street, Limerick.


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Birth of Gerald Griffin, Novelist & Playwright

gerald-griffinGerald Griffin, Irish novelist, poet, and playwright, born in Limerick on December 12, 1803.

Griffin is the twelfth of the fifteen surviving children in his family. His father, Patrick Griffin, is a brewery farmer, and his mother, Ellen Griffin, of the ancient Gaelic family of the O’Briens, is very cultivated and much interested in literature.

Griffin goes to London in 1823 and becomes a reporter for one of the daily papers. He later turns to writing fiction. One of his most famous works is The Collegians, a novel based on a trial he has reported on, that of John Scanlan, a Protestant Anglo-Irish man who murdered Ellen Hanley, a young Irish Catholic girl. The novel is adapted to the stage as The Colleen Bawn, by Dion Boucicault.

In September 1838, Griffin informs his family of his intention of joining the Congregation of Christian Brothers. He enters the novitiate at North Richmond Street, Dublin, on September 8. He embarks on his new career with intense dedication, abandoning his literary work entirely. He is then admitted to the religious habit on the feast of St. Theresa and embarks on a two-year novitiate. His distaste for his earlier vocation is allayed to the extent that he is willing to undertake the composition of a few tales of a pious nature, but he is also desperately determined to avoid as much as possible the renewal of old contacts and the reopening of painful associations. Griffin burns most all of his unpublished manuscripts, preserving only a few poems and the tragedy, Gisippus.

Griffin dies at the North Monastery, Cork, from typhus fever on June 12, 1840. He is buried in the community’s graveyard on June 15.

Gerald Griffin has a street named after him in Limerick City and another in Cork City. Loughill/Ballyhahill GAA club in west Limerick plays under the name of Gerald Griffins.