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Birth of Lord Edward FitzGerald

Lord Edward FitzGerald, Irish aristocrat who abandoned his prospects as a distinguished veteran of British service in the American Revolutionary War, and as an Irish Parliamentarian, to embrace the cause of an independent Irish republic, is born at Carton House, near Dublin, on October 15, 1763.

FitzGerald is the fifth son of James FitzGerald, 1st Duke of Leinster, and the Lady Emily Lennox, daughter of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond. In 1773 his father dies and his mother soon afterwards marries William Ogilvie, who had been the tutor for him and his siblings. He spends most of his childhood in Frescati House at Blackrock, Dublin, where he is tutored by Ogilvie in a manner chiefly directed to the acquisition of knowledge that will fit him for a military career.

FitzGerald joins the British Army in 1779 and then becomes aide-de-camp on the staff of Lord Rawdon in the Southern theatre of the American Revolutionary War. He is seriously wounded at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781, his life being saved by an escaped slave named Tony Small. He commissions a portrait of Small by John Roberts in 1786. He frees Small and employs him to the end of his life. He is evacuated from Charleston, South Carolina in 1782 when the British forces abandon the city.

In 1783 FitzGerald visits the West Indies before returning to Ireland, where his brother, William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster, has procured Edward’s election to the Irish Parliament as an MP for Athy, a seat he holds until 1790. In Parliament he acts with the small Opposition Irish Patriot Party group led by Henry Grattan, but takes no prominent part in debate. In the spring of 1786 he takes the then unusual step for a young nobleman of entering the Military College, Woolwich, after which he makes a tour through Spain in 1787. Dejected by unrequited love for his cousin Georgina Lennox, he sails for New Brunswick to join the 54th Regiment with the rank of Major.

In April 1789, guided by compass, FitzGerald traverses the country with a brother officer from Fredericton, New Brunswick to Quebec, falling in with Indians by the way, with whom he fraternizes. He accomplishes the journey in twenty-six days, and establishes a shorter practicable route than that hitherto followed. The route crosses the extremely rugged and heavily forested northern part of the present state of Maine. In a subsequent expedition he is formally adopted at Detroit by the Bear clan of the Mohawk with the name “Eghnidal,” and makes his way down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, whence he returns to England.

Finding that his brother has procured his election for Kildare County, a seat he holds from 1790 to 1798, and desiring to maintain political independence, FitzGerald refuses the command of an expedition against Cádiz offered him by William Pitt the Younger, and devotes himself for the next few years to the pleasures of society and to his parliamentary duties. He is on terms of intimacy with his first cousin Charles Fox, with Richard Sheridan and other leading Whigs. According to Thomas Moore, FitzGerald is only one of numerous suitors of Sheridan’s first wife, Elizabeth, whose attentions are received with favour. She conceives a child by him, a baby girl who is born on March 30, 1792.

His Whig connections, together with his transatlantic experiences, predisposed FitzGerald to sympathize with the doctrines of the French Revolution, which he embraces enthusiastically when he visits Paris in October 1792. He lodges with Thomas Paine and listens to the debates in the Convention. While in Paris, he becomes enamoured of a young girl named Pamela whom he chances to see at the theatre, and who has a striking likeness to Elizabeth Sheridan. On December 27, 1792, he and Pamela are married at Tournai, one of the witnesses being Louis Philippe, afterwards King of the French. In January 1793 the couple reaches Dublin.

Ireland is by then seething with dissent which is finding a focus in the increasingly popular and revolutionary Society of the United Irishmen, which has been forced underground by the outbreak of war between France and Britain in 1793. FitzGerald, fresh from the gallery of the Convention in Paris, returns to his seat in the Irish Parliament and immediately springs to their defence. Within a week of his return he is ordered into custody and required to apologise at the bar of the House of Commons for violently denouncing in the House a Government proclamation which Grattan had approved for the suppression of the United-Irish attempt to revive the Irish Volunteer movement with a “National Guard.” However, it is not until 1796 that he joins the United Irishmen, who by now have given up as hopeless the path of constitutional reform and whose aim, after the recall of Lord FitzWilliam in 1795, is nothing less than the establishment of an independent Irish republic.

In May 1796 Theobald Wolfe Tone is in Paris endeavouring to obtain French assistance for an insurrection in Ireland. In the same month, FitzGerald and his friend Arthur O’Connor proceed to Hamburg, where they open negotiations with the Directory through Reinhard, French minister to the Hanseatic towns. The Duke of York, meeting Pamela at Devonshire House on her way through London with her husband, tells her that his plans are known and advises that he should not go abroad. The proceedings of the conspirators at Hamburg are made known to the government in London by an informer, Samuel Turner. The result of the Hamburg negotiations is Louis Lazare Hoche‘s abortive expedition to Bantry Bay in December 1796.

In September 1797 the Government learns from the informer Leonard McNally that FitzGerald is among those directing the conspiracy of the United Irishmen, which is now quickly maturing. Thomas Reynolds, converted from a conspirator to an informer, keeps the authorities posted in what is going on, though lack of evidence produced in court delays the arrest of the ringleaders. But on March 12, 1798 Reynolds’ information leads to the seizure of a number of conspirators at the house of Oliver Bond. FitzGerald, warned by Reynolds, is not among them.

As a fellow member of the Ascendancy class, the Government are anxious to make an exception for FitzGerald, avoiding the embarrassing and dangerous consequences of his subversive activities. They communicate their willingness to spare him from the normal fate meted out to traitors. FitzGerald however refuses to desert others who cannot escape, and whom he has himself led into danger. On March 30 the government proclamation of martial law authorising the military to act as they see fit to crush the United Irishmen leads to a campaign of vicious brutality in several parts of the country.

FitzGerald’s social position makes him the most important United Irish leader still at liberty. On May 9 a reward of £1,000 is offered by Dublin Castle for his apprehension. Since the arrests at Bond’s house, he has been in hiding. The date for the rising is finally fixed for May 23 and FitzGerald awaits the day hidden by Mary Moore above her family’s inn in Thomas Street, Dublin.

Tipped off that the house is going to be raided, Moore turns to Francis Magan, a Catholic barrister and trusted sympathiser, who agrees to hide Fitzgerald. Making its way to Magan’s house on May 18, Fitzgerald’s party is challenged by Major Henry Sirr and a company of Dumbarton Fencibles. Moore escapes with Fitzgerald and takes him back to Thomas Street to the house of Nicholas Murphy.

Moore explains to Magan what had happened and, unbeknownst to her, Magan informs Dublin Castle. The Moore house is raided that day. Mary, running to warn the Leinster Directory meeting nearby in James’s Gate, receives a bayonet cut across the shoulders. That same evening Sirr storms Murphy’s house where FitzGerald is in bed suffering from a fever. Alerted by the commotion, he jumps out of bed and, ignoring the pleas of the arresting officers to surrender peacefully, he stabs one and mortally wounds the other with a dagger in a desperate attempt to escape. He is secured only after Major Sirr shoots him in the shoulder.

FitzGerald is conveyed to New Prison, Dublin where he is denied proper medical treatment. After a brief detention in Dublin Castle he is taken to Newgate Prison, Dublin where his wound, which has become infected, becomes mortally inflamed. His wife, whom the government probably has enough evidence to convict of treason, has fled the country, never to see her husband again, but FitzGerald’s brother Henry and his aunt Lady Louisa Conolly are allowed to see him in his last moments. He dies at the age of 34 on June 4, 1798, as the rebellion rages outside. He is buried the next day in the cemetery of St. Werburgh’s Church, Dublin. An Act of Attainder confiscating his property is passed as 38 Geo. 3 c. 77, but is eventually repealed in 1819.

There are Lord Edward Streets named in FitzGerald’s honour in many places in Ireland, such as Dublin, Limerick, Sligo, Kilkenny, Ballina, Ballymote, and Ballycullenbeg in County Laois. The County Roscommon GAA club Tulsk Lord Edward’s and the Geraldines P. Moran’s GAA club in Cornelscourt, Dublin, are named after him.


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Birth of Arthur O’Connor, United Irishman

Arthur O’Connor, a United Irishman who is active in seeking allies for the Irish cause in England, is born near Bandon, County Cork, on July 4, 1763.

O’Connor is born into a wealthy Irish Protestant family. Through his brother Roger O’Connor, the author of the Chronicles of Eri who shares his politics, he is an uncle to Roderic O’Connor, Francisco Burdett O’Connor, and Feargus O’Connor among others. His other two brothers, Daniel and Robert, are pro-British loyalists.

As a young man, O’Connor embraces the Republican movement early on as he is encouraged by the American Revolution overseas. After his oldest brother Daniel gets into debt, his brother Roger buys out his inheritance. The family’s political and financial conflicts are only deepened when their sister Anne commits suicide, after having been forbidden by the family from marrying a Catholic man she was in love with.

From 1790 to 1795 O’Connor is a Member of Parliament in the Irish House of Commons for Philipstown. The Irish House of Commons is part of the colonial parliament that sits in College Green, Dublin. He is also a member of the Kildare Street Club in Dublin.

In 1796, O’Connor joins the Society of United Irishmen and determines, on its platform, to contest what had been his uncle Lord Longueville’s Irish parliamentary seat in Antrim. In January 1797, to the “free electors” of the county he commends the “entire abolition of religious distinctions” and the “establishment of a National Government,” while protesting the “invasion” of the country by English and Scottish troops and the continuation of the continental war. Arrests, including his own in February for seditious libel, frustrate his attempts to canvass. With Lord Edward FitzGerald and others in the leadership in Dublin his thoughts turn to securing “fraternal” French support for a revolutionary insurrection.

While traveling to France in March 1798, O’Connor is arrested alongside Father James Coigly, a Catholic priest, and two other United Irishmen, Benjamin Binns (also of the London Corresponding Society), and John Allen. Coigly, who is found to be carrying an clear evidence of treason, an address from “The Secret Committee of England” to the French Directory, is hanged. O’Connor, able to call Charles James Fox, Francis Rawdon-Hastings, the Earl of Moria, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and other Whig luminaries to testify to his character, is acquitted but is immediately re-arrested and imprisoned at Fort George in Scotland along with his brother Roger.

O’Connor is released in 1802 under the condition of “banishment,” He travels to Paris, where he is regarded as the accredited representative of the United Irishmen by Napoleon who, in February 1804, appoints him General of Division in the French army. General Louis-Alexandre Berthier, Minister of War, directs that O’Connor is to join the expeditionary army intended for the invasion of Ireland at Brest. When the plan falls through, O’Connor retires from the army.

In 1807, although more than twice her age, O’Connor marries Alexandrine Louise Sophie de Caritat de Condorcet, known as Eliza, the daughter of the scholar the Marquis de Condorcet and Sophie de Condorcet. Following his marriage he borrows money from fellow exile William Putnam McCabe to acquire a country residence. His tardiness in repaying the debt to McCabe, whose own investments into cotton spinning in Rouen had failed, results in a lawsuit. Cathal O’Bryne suggests that the debt is behind O’Connor’s later suggestion to Richard Robert Madden that McCabe had been a double agent, a charge to which, Madden notes, the French government lends no credence.

O’Connor offers his services to Napoleon during the Hundred Days. After Napoleon’s defeat he is allowed to retire, becoming a naturalised French citizen in 1818. He supports the 1830 revolution which creates the July Monarchy, publishing a defence of events in the form of an open letter to General Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. After the revolution he becomes mayor of Le Bignon-Mirabeau. The rest of his life is spent composing literary works on political and social topics. He and his wife continue the efforts of her mother, who is herself an accomplished translator of Thomas Paine and Adam Smith, to publish her father’s works in twelve volumes between 1847 and 1849.

O’Connor’s wife give birth to five children, three sons and two daughters, almost all of whom predecease him. Only one son, Daniel, marries and has issue. Daniel marries Ernestine Duval du Fraville, a daughter of Laurent-Martin Duval, Baron Duval du Fraville, in 1843. She dies at Cannes in 1877.

O’Connor dies on April 25, 1852. His widow dies in 1859.

O’Connor’s descendants continue to serve as officers in the French army and still reside at Château Dubignon. Through his only surviving son, Daniel, he is a grandfather of two boys, Arthur O’Connor (1844–1909), who serves in the French army, and Fernand O’Connor (1847–1905), a Brigade General who serves in Africa and is made a Knight of the Legion of Honour. His grandson, Arthur, marries Marguerite de Ganay (1859–1940), a daughter of Emily and Etienne, Marquis de Ganay, in 1878. They have two daughters, Elisabeth O’Connor, the wife of Alexandre de La Taulotte, and Brigitte Emilie Fernande O’Connor (1880–1948), who in 1904 marries the Comte François de La Tour du Pin (1878–1914), who is killed ten years later at the First Battle of the Marne.


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Death of Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler, Recluse of Llangollen

Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler, daughter of the 16th Earl of Ormonde and recluse of Llangollen, dies on June 2, 1829.

Butler is born in Cambrai, France, the youngest daughter of Walter Butler, 16th Earl of Ormonde, of Garryricken, County Tipperary, and his wife, Ellen (née Morres), of Latargh, County Tipperary. Her family are members of the old Catholic gentry, and her father is the sole lineal representative of James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormonde. In 1740 her family returns to the Garryricken estate, where she spends part of her childhood. She is educated by the English Benedictine nuns of the convent of Our Lady of Consolation in Cambrai, where her Jacobite grand-aunt is a pensioner. Reared in the liberal and anti-clerical environment at Cambrai, she is open about her opposition to Irish Catholicism. She is also well read in literature.

By the time Butler returns to Ireland, her brother John has claimed the family titles and is recognised as 17th Earl of Ormonde. Though he never uses the title, his sisters are recognised as the daughters of an earl. As the family is impoverished, and she is not disposed to marriage, a decade is passed in unhappiness. Then in 1768 the thirteen-year-old Sarah Ponsonby arrives in Kilkenny to attend a local school. Following her visit to the Butler home at Kilkenny Castle, and despite the difference in age, the two form an immediate friendship and correspond secretly, having discovered their mutual interest in the arts and Jean-Jacques Rousseau‘s ideal of pastoral retirement.

Ponsonby, on finishing school, is sent to live with relatives at the nearby Woodstock Estate, and there is subject to the uninvited attention of a middle-aged guardian. Butler is discontented with her life and the prospects of her family’s wish to send her back to Cambrai, so the two plan to leave their difficulties behind and settle in England. In their first attempt to flee in March 1778, they leave for Waterford disguised as men and wielding pistols, but their families manage to catch up with them. Butler is then sent to the home of her brother-in-law Thomas ‘Monarch’ Kavanagh of Borris, County Carlow, but makes a second, successful attempt and runs away to find Ponsonby at the Woodstock Estate. Her persistence wins out when both families finally capitulate and accept their plans to live together.

The two set out for Wales in May 1778 and, after an extensive tour of Wales and Shropshire, eventually settle in Llangollen Vale, where they rent a cottage which is renamed Plas Newydd. They are accompanied by Mary Carryl, a former servant of the Woodstock household, who remains in their service until her death in 1809. Having made a deliberate decision to retire from the world, they spend the greater part of their days corresponding with friends, reading, building up a large library and making alterations to Plas Newydd, which takes on a fashionable Gothic look. Their garden, landscaped under their direction, becomes a popular attraction for visitors. Butler meticulously records their daily routine in a series of journals, some of which are now lost.

Their seclusion, eccentricities, semi-masculine dress and short-cropped powdered hair gain them notoriety, and it becomes fashionable to call on them. Their numerous and illustrious visitors include Hester Lynch Piozzi, Charles and Erasmus Darwin, Sir Walter Scott, Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Gloucester and Josiah Wedgwood. In 1792 they entertain Pamela Sims, later that year to become the wife of Lord Edward FitzGerald, and her mother Madame de Genlis. Following the arrest of Edward FitzGerald in 1798, Pamela and her suite flee to London and on May 27 pass through Llangollen, where the events in Dublin are already known. On hearing that Pamela FitzGerald is staying in the local inn, Butler and Ponsonby invite her to call in. However, when Pamela wishes to stay for the day, their apprehension of Jacobinism leads them to persuade her “principally for her own sake and a little for [our] own to proceed as fast and as incognito as possible for London.”

Both Anna Seward and William Wordsworth, who stay at Plas Newydd, write poems celebrating their friendship, and Lord Byron sends them a copy of The corsair. Owing to her support of the Bourbons, Butler is sent the Croix St. Louis, which she wears about her neck. Their celebrity does have its drawbacks: an article in the General Evening Post of July 24, 1790, entitled ‘Extraordinary female affection’, suggests indirectly that their relationship is unnatural. Butler is particularly angered by this publicity and appeals to Edmund Burke for legal advice. Their retirement is also continually dogged by financial difficulties. They live mainly off their respective allowances and Butler’s royal pension, granted through the influence of Lady Frances Douglas, but spend beyond their means and are often in debt. To add to their problems, Butler receives no mention in her father’s will. However, the Gothic eccentricities of their cottage, which they succeed over time in purchasing, and garden attract even the interest of Queen Charlotte.

Though it is claimed that neither woman spent a night away from Plas Newydd, in January 1786 they stay with their friends the Barretts of Oswestry, and that September they visit Sir Henry Bridgeman of Weston Park, near Staffordshire. In June 1797 they take their only holiday, at the coastal resort of Barmouth. Despite their isolation they are well informed about international events and society gossip. The Irish serjeant-at-law Charles Kendal Bushe recalls how they gave him all the news of Dublin, London, Cheltenham, and Paris. In later years Butler’s eyesight deteriorates, preventing her from keeping her journal. She is secretly painted as an old woman with Ponsonby by Lady Mary Leighton and sketched by Lady Henrietta Delamere. A distinctive, anonymous silhouette shows the two generously proportioned women in traditional riding habits (National Portrait Gallery, London).

Butler dies on June 2, 1829, and is buried alongside Mary Carryl at St. Collen’s Church in Llangollen. Sarah Ponsonby is subsequently buried with them.

(From: “Butler, Lady (Charlotte) Eleanor” by Frances Clarke, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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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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The Execution of William Michael Byrne

William Michael Byrne, a key figure in the Society of United Irishmen in the years leading to the Irish Rebellion of 1798 against the British government, is executed in Dublin on July 25, 1798.

Byrne is one of the two sons of Colclough Byrne of Drumquin, Hackettstown and Mary Galway of Cork, a great grand-niece of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond. He lives most of his adult life at Park Hill in the Glen of the Downs, County Wicklow. In late 1796, he enlists in the yeomanry, serving in the Newtown Mount Kennedy cavalry.

Byrne joins the Society of the United Irishmen in the spring of 1797 and later that same year is appointed by the Leinster committee to organise the half barony of Rathdown. As a delegate for Rathdown barony, he is a well respected and competent figure. With the assistance of his Protestant friend Thomas Miller of Powerscourt, he undertakes the organisation of military and civil branches of the United Irishmen in Rathdown, recruiting 2,000 men by late 1797. In October 1797 he is forced to resign from the yeomen after refusing to swear the oath of loyalty and his activities begin to come to the attention of Dublin Castle.

According to the informant A.B. (Thomas Murray), Byrne attends the inaugural meeting of the United Irishmen’s Wicklow county committee in December. It is held in the Annacurra home of William’s first cousin, John Loftus. Murray’s information tells that Byrne established networks of contacts between the Leinster committee and the Cork United Irishmen along with other contacts in Munster.

Byrne’s career comes to an end when he, along with fourteen other Leinster delegates, are arrested on March 12, 1798 at the house of Oliver Bond. They had been betrayed by Thomas Reynolds, treasurer of Kildare United Irishmen and member of the provincial committee. Reynolds had been informed that plans for an insurrection were about to be finalised by the committee. Byrne is arrested in possession of incriminating documents which are described by Attorney-General for Ireland Arthur Wolfe as being ‘very treasonable printed papers.’

On July 4, 1798 Byrne with four others is brought before a commission of oyer and terminer on charges of high treason. The case mounted by the state against him is based principally on the evidence of Reynolds and also that given by his former comrade William Miller of Powerscourt. The weight of the evidence is overwhelming, rendering an effective defence impossible.

Byrne’s lawyer, John Philpot Curran KC, the leading defence counsel of the period, attempts to cast Reynold’s character and motives in a foul light but it is futile. In his last days, efforts are made to spare his life if he would only express regret for his actions and accuse Lord Edward FitzGerald for having led him to this point. He refuses, meeting his end with great dignity and stoicism.

Byrne is convicted of high treason and executed on July 25, 1798 outside Green Street Courthouse, Dublin.

The Dublin Magazine notes that Byrne “met his fate with a degree of courage perhaps unequalled.” For his service to the state, Reynolds is honoured by Dublin Corporation with the freedom of the city on October 19, 1798, spending much of his life thereafter in fear of assassination.


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Death of Lord Edward FitzGerald

lord-edward-fitzgerald

Lord Edward FitzGerald, Irish aristocrat and revolutionary, dies on June 4, 1798 of wounds received while resisting arrest on a charge of treason.

FitzGerald, the fifth son of James Fitzgerald, 1st Duke of Leinster, and the Lady Emily Lennox the daughter of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, is born at Carton House, near Dublin on October 15, 1763. He spends most of his childhood in Frescati House at Blackrock in Dublin where he is tutored in a manner chiefly directed to the acquisition of knowledge that would fit him for a military career.

FitzGerald joins the British Army in 1779 and in 1781 is aide-de-camp on the staff of Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings in the southern theatre of the American Revolutionary War. He is seriously wounded at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781.

Fitzgerald is first elected to the Parliament of Ireland in 1783. His enthusiasm for the French Revolution leads to dismissal from the army in 1792. Four years later he joins the Society of United Irishmen, a nationalist organization that aspires to free Ireland from English control. This group appoints him to head the military committee formed to plan an uprising and obtain aid from the French revolutionary regime.

Although the French delay in supplying arms and troops, Fitzgerald’s committee proceeds with its plans for a general rebellion. The insurrection is set for May 23, 1798. In March his co-conspirators are seized by government agents, making him the most important United Irish leader still at liberty. On May 9 a reward of £1,000 is offered by Dublin Castle for his apprehension.

FitzGerald’s hiding place in a house in Thomas Street, Dublin is disclosed by a Catholic barrister and informant named Francis Magan. On May 18 Major Henry Sirr leads a military party to the house where FitzGerald is in bed suffering from a fever. Alerted by the commotion, he jumps out of bed and, ignoring the pleas of the arresting officers Captain William Bellingham Swan and Captain Daniel Frederick Ryan to surrender peacefully, FitzGerald stabs Swan and mortally wounds Ryan with a dagger in a desperate attempt to escape. He is secured only after Major Sirr shoots him in the shoulder.

FitzGerald is conveyed to New Prison, Dublin where he is denied proper medical treatment. After a brief detention in Dublin Castle he is taken to Newgate Prison, Dublin where his wound, which had now become infected, becomes mortally inflamed. His wife, whom the government probably has enough evidence to convict of treason, had fled the country, never to see her husband again, but his brother Henry and his aunt Lady Louisa Conolly are allowed to see him in his last moments.

FitzGerald dies at the age of 34 on June 4, 1798 as the rebellion rages outside. He is buried the next day in the cemetery of St. Werburgh’s Church, Dublin. An Act of Attainder confiscating his property is passed as 38 Geo. 3 c. 77, but is eventually repealed in 1819.

(Pictured: Portrait of Edward FitzGerald by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, 1796. National Portrait Gallery, London.)


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Founding of “The Freeman’s Journal”

the-freemans-journalThe Freeman’s Journal, the oldest nationalist newspaper in Dublin, is founded by Charles Lucas on September 10, 1763. It is identified with radical 18th-century Protestant patriot politicians Henry Grattan and Henry Flood. This changes from 1784 when it passes to Francis Higgins and takes a more pro-British and pro-administration view. In fact, Higgins is mentioned in the Secret Service Money Book as having betrayed Lord Edward FitzGerald. Higgins is paid £1,000 for information on FitzGerald’s capture.

In the 19th century The Freeman’s Journal becomes more nationalist in tone, particularly under the control and inspiration of Sir John Gray (1815–75).

The Journal, as it is widely known, is the leading newspaper in Ireland throughout the 19th century. Contemporary sources record it being read to the largely illiterate population by priests and local teachers gathering in homes. It is mentioned in contemporary literature as when James Joyce immortalises The Freeman’s Journal as the place of employment of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. It is seen as symbolising Irish newspapers for most of its time. By the 1880s it becomes the primary media supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP).

The Journal is challenged on all sides by rivals. On the nationalist side some prefer The Nation founded by Thomas Davis while others, including radical supporters of Parnell, read the United Irishman. The Anglo-Irish establishment in contrast reads the historically Irish unionist The Irish Times. With the split in the IPP over Parnell’s relationship with Katharine O’Shea, its readership splits too. While The Journal goes with the majority in 1893 in opposing Parnell, a minority moves to read the Daily Irish Independent. It is also challenged from the turn of the century by William O’Brien‘s The Irish People and the Cork Free Press. With Thomas Sexton becoming Chairman of the Board of Directors (1893–1911), The Journal languishes under his spartanic management.

The collapse of the IPP in 1918, and the electoral success of Sinn Féin, see a more radical nationalism appear that is out of step with the moderation of The Journal. It finds itself overshadowed by the more aggressively marketed Irish Independent, the successor to the Daily Irish Independent. Just prior to the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in March 1922, The Freeman’s Journal printing machinery is destroyed by Anti-Treaty IRA men under Rory O’Connor for its support of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It does not resume publication until after the outbreak of civil war, when the Irish Free State re-asserts its authority over the country.

The Freeman’s Journal ceases publication in 1924, when it is merged with the Irish Independent. Until the 1990s, the Irish Independent includes the words ‘Incorporating the Freeman’s Journal’ in the masthead over its editorials.


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Death of William James MacNeven, Physician & Writer

william-james-macneven-1William James MacNeven, Irish American physician and writer, dies in New York City on July 12, 1841.

MacNeven is born on March 21, 1763 at Ballinahown, Aughrim, County Galway. The eldest of four sons, at the age of 12 MacNeven is sent by his uncle Baron MacNeven to receive his education abroad as the Penal Laws render education impossible for Catholics in Ireland. He makes his collegiate studies in Prague. His medical studies are made in Vienna where he is a pupil of Pestel and takes his degree in 1784. He returns to Dublin in the same year to practise.

MacNeven becomes involved in the Society of United Irishmen with such men as Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Thomas Addis Emmet, and his brother Robert Emmet. He is arrested in March 1798 and confined in Kilmainham Gaol, and afterwards in Fort George, Scotland, until 1802, when he is liberated and exiled. In 1803, he is in Paris seeking an interview with Napoleon Bonaparte in order to obtain French troops for Ireland. Disappointed in his mission, MacNeven comes to the United States, landing at New York City on July 4, 1805.

In 1807, he delivers a course of lectures on clinical medicine in the recently established College of Physicians and Surgeons. Here in 1808, he receives the appointment of professor of midwifery. In 1810, at the reorganization of the school, he becomes the professor of chemistry, and in 1816 is appointed to the chair of materia medica. In 1826 with six of his colleagues, he resigns his professorship because of a misunderstanding with the New York Board of Regents, and accepts the chair of materia medica at Rutgers Medical College, a branch of the New Jersey institution of that name, established in New York as a rival to the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The school at once becomes popular because of its faculty, but after four years is closed by legislative enactment on account of interstate difficulties. The attempt to create a school independent of the regents results in a reorganization of the University of the State of New York.

MacNeven, affectionately known as “The Father of American Chemistry,” dies in New York City on July 12, 1841. He is buried on the Riker Farm in the Astoria section of Queens, New York.

One of the oldest obelisks in New York City is dedicated to him in the Trinity Church, located between Wall Street and Broadway, New York. The obelisk is opposite to another commemorated for his friend Thomas Emmet. MacNeven’s monument features a lengthy inscription in Irish, one of the oldest existent dedications of this kind in the Americas.


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Birth of Henry Charles Sirr

Henry Charles Sirr, Irish soldier, police officer, wine merchant and collector, is born in Dublin Castle on November 25, 1764. He is the founder of the Irish Society for Promoting Scriptural Education in the Irish Language.

Sirr is the son of Major Joseph Sirr, the Town Major (chief of police) of Dublin from 1762 to 1767. He serves in the British Army from 1778 until 1791 and is thereafter a wine merchant. In 1792 he marries Eliza D’Arcy, the daughter of James D’Arcy. He is the father of Rev. Joseph D’Arcy Sirr, MRIA and of Henry Charles Sirr.

In 1796 Sirr is appointed acting Town Major of Dublin. He is responsible for the arrest of Irish revolutionaries Lord Edward FitzGerald, Thomas Russell and Robert Emmet.

In 1802 Sirr is mulcted £150 damages, and costs, for the assault and false imprisonment of John Hevey. His lawyer in this case refers to his “very great exertions and laudable efforts” to crush the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The opposing lawyer, John Philpot Curran, tells a long tale of a grudge held by Sirr against Hevey, the latter a prosperous businessman and a Yeoman volunteer against the Rebellion, who has happened to be in court during a treason case brought by Sirr. Hevey recognises the witness for the prosecution, describes him in court “a man of infamous character,” and convinces the jury that no credit is due to the witness. The treason case collapses. Sirr and his colleague had then subjected Hevey to wrongful arrest, imprisonment incommunicado, extortion of goods and money, and condemnation to hanging. Curran implies that these techniques are typical of the methods used by Sirr and by others to suppress the Rebellion.

In 1808 the Dublin police is re-organised and his post is abolished, but he is allowed to retain the title. Niles’ Register of March 24, 1821 remarks that “Several persons have been arrested at a public house in Dublin, by major Sirr, charged with being engaged in a treasonable meeting, and committed to prison. We thought that this old sinner, given to eternal infamy by the eloquence of Curran, had gone home.”

Sirr is an avid collector of documents and curios. He sells McCormac’s Cross and other valuable antiquities in exchange for second-rate copied paintings. The remains are given by his older son, Joseph, to Trinity College, Dublin at some time between 1841 and 1843. It now forms the Sirr Collection of the Trinity College Library, Dublin.

Henry Charles Sirr dies in 1841 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Werburgh’s Church, while his victim, Lord Edward FitzGerald, is buried in the vaults of the same church.