seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Colonel Dennis O’Kane

dennis-o-kaneColonel Dennis O’Kane, officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War, dies on July 4, 1863 of wounds sustained the previous day when fighting with the 69th Pennsylvania Irish Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Born in Coleraine, County Londonderry, O’Kane is a tavern owner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a member of the 2nd Pennsylvania Militia regiment prior to the Civil War. When the conflict starts, he helps recruit the 24th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a unit that has the 2nd Pennsylvania Militia as its nucleus. Commissioned Major, Field and Staff, on May 1, 1861, he is with his regiment as it serves first in Maryland and then Virginia before their enlistment expires in July 1861.

In August 1861 O’Kane joins with many of the men from the 24th Pennsylvania in re-enlisting to continue the war effort, and they form the basis of what becomes the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. Commissioned Lieutenant Colonel, Field and Staff on August 19, 1861, his new regiment is composed largely of Irish immigrants like himself, and they emblazon the Irish harp on their flag. The unit eventually is joined with the 71st, 72nd and 106th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiments to form the famous Philadelphia Brigade.

O’ Kane serves as second-in-command through 1862, participating in the Peninsular Campaign of May and June, the Second Battle of Bull Run in August, and the September 1862 Battle of Antietam, where his brigade is caught in the West Woods area and takes heavy losses. In November 1862, the 69th Pennsylvania’s commander, Colonel Joshua T. Owen, is promoted to Brigadier General, US Volunteers. O’Kane is advanced to Colonel on December 1, 1862 to fill the vacancy.

At the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 14, 1862, O’Kane leads his men in the third of four waves of futile Union charges on strong Confederate positions at Marye’s Heights south of the town, and sees his regiment sustain fifty-one casualties. In May 1863 during the Battle of Chancellorsville, his brigade is held in reserve and sees limited action.

During the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, O’Kane finds the 69th Pennsylvania positioned along a rock fencing in the middle of the Union lines that becomes famous as “The Angle.” That position becomes the epicenter of Pickett’s Charge on July 3, the third day of the battle, as the remnants of the Confederate forces, having been much devastated from Union artillery fire, crash over the rock walls and engage the Philadelphia Brigade in brutal hand-to-hand fighting.

O’Kane is shot in the head at the wall and dies the following day. His regiment again takes high casualties but succeeds in helping to repulse the rebels and defeat the charge. The monument for the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry in Gettysburg National Military Park stands on the spot where O’Kane was mortally wounded.

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John Kennedy’s Address to Oireachtas

jfk-address-to-oireachtasUnited States President John F. Kennedy addresses a joint session of Houses of the Oireachtas in Dublin on June 28, 1963, on the third day of his Irish visit. It follows a visit earlier in the day to Cork where he is greeted like a rock star.

Kennedy makes a surprising mistake when speaking to a packed Dáil Éireann about one of the most momentous days for the Irish Brigade during the American Civil War. Somehow, Kennedy gets his dates and geography mixed up when he says, “The 13th day of September, 1862, will be a day long remembered in American history. At Fredericksburg, Maryland, thousands of men fought and died on one of the bloodiest battlefields of the American Civil War.” The date of the Battle of Fredericksburg where so many Irish are slaughtered is December 13 rather than September 13 as Kennedy states. Also, Fredericksburg is in Virginia and not Maryland.

Kennedy is accompanied on this European trip, which includes the famous Ich bin ein Berliner, speech by his counselor and speech writer Ted Sorensen, a master wordsmith and fastidious researcher who seems to have erred in the writing of the speech. It is unlikely that Kennedy mispronounced “December” as the transcript of the speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum includes the incorrect dates. No one in Dáil Éireann appears to notice Kennedy’s error.

Aside from this mistake, the speech is uplifting and motivating to an Irish nation that is still young. Kennedy says:

“This has never been a rich or powerful country, and yet, since earliest times, its influence on the world has been rich and powerful. No larger nation did more to keep Christianity and Western culture alive in their darkest centuries. No larger nation did more to spark the cause of independence in America, indeed, around the world. And no larger nation has ever provided the world with more literary and artistic genius.

This is an extraordinary country. George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life: Other people, he said “see things and . . . say ‘Why?’ . . . But I dream things that never were – and I say: ‘Why not?’” ”

The complete audio version of Kennedy’s speech can be heard on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum website.


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Andrew Lewis Appointed Brigadier General of the Continental Army

andrew-lewis-statueIrish-born Andrew Lewis is appointed a brigadier general in the Continental Army on March 1, 1776. He is most famous for his 1774 victory in the Battle of Point Pleasant in Lord Dunmore’s War. He also helps found Liberty Hall, later Washington and Lee University, when it is made into a college in 1776.

Lewis is born in County Donegal to Colonel John Lewis and his wife Margaret Lynn. In 1732 John Lewis, having killed his landlord in an altercation, flees to Virginia with his sons Andrew and Thomas. They become among the first settlers in western Augusta County.

Lewis receives a basic education and learns the skills of a surveyor. He spends at least fifteen years farming and working as a surveyor in southwestern Virginia. He also serves as county lieutenant and later captain in the Augusta County militia.

Early in the 1740s Lewis marries Elizabeth Givens, daughter of Samuel and Sarah (Cathey) Givens, formerly of County Antrim. They establish their own home, called Richfield, in what later becomes Roanoke County near Salem.

The Virginia frontier becomes a battleground in the French and Indian War, as do the frontiers of the more northerly colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Virginia organizes a militia to defend settlers subject to attacks by Indians upset at encroachments into their territories. Lewis becomes a captain in George Washington‘s regiment. However, after the loss at the Battle of Fort Necessity in 1754, Washington is forced to surrender to the French. Lewis retreats across the Appalachian Mountains.

Washington proposes a series of frontier fortifications to protect settlers east of the Appalachians. Lewis initially serves to build Fort Dinwiddie on the Jackson River of present-day Bath County and is relieved of his command September 21, 1755. The Virginia assembly approves Lewis’ promotion to major and assigns him to oversee the region along the Greenbrier River. On February 18, 1756, he leads the Big Sandy expedition from Fort Frederick with a mixed force of militiamen and Cherokees to raid the Shawnee towns along the Big Sandy and Ohio rivers to retaliate for Shawnee attacks. He leads several expeditions against both Indian settlements and French outposts. During the Forbes Expedition, he is captured during Major James Grant‘s attack on Fort Duquesne during the Battle of Fort Duquesne in September 1758. Taken to Quebec, he remains a prisoner until late 1759.

Upon the formation of Botetourt County from Augusta County in 1769, Lewis is elected to the House of Burgesses and reelected several times until 1780, though the American Revolution precludes much attendance in later years.

When the American Revolution begins, Governor Dunmore suspends Virginia’s legislature. The Whigs form a provisional congress, which includes both Lewis and his brother Thomas as delegates. When the Continental Congress creates a Continental Army in 1775 and makes George Washington its commander, he asks that Lewis be made a brigadier general. However, initially the Continental Congress had decided there should be only one general from each state, and Charles Lee is the first Virginian commissioned as Brigadier General.

On March 1, 1776, Lewis becomes a brigadier general, overseeing Virginia’s defense and raising men for the Continental Army. Virginia’s Committee of Safety calls on Lewis to stop Governor Dunmore’s raids along the coast from his last stronghold, a fortified position on Gwynn’s Island in the Chesapeake Bay. On July 9, 1776 he leads Virginia’s forces which capture the island as Lord Dunmore escapes by sea, sailing to the Caribbean, never to return.

On April 15, 1777, Lewis resigns his commission, alleging poor health. However, he also faces discontent among his men and the army as a whole. Moreover, he is bypassed when promotions are announced for Major General in early 1777. George Washington, in need of every able officer, expresses his disappointment to Lewis.

Lewis remains active in the legislature, and in 1780, Governor Thomas Jefferson appoints him to the Executive Council. The following year, he falls ill while returning home from a council meeting. He dies of fever in Bedford County on September 26, 1781. He is buried in the family plot at his home. His gravesite is not marked. Colonel Elijah McClanahan, who marries Lewis’ granddaughter, Agatha Lewis McClanahan, attended his funeral as a young man, and later identifies his grave to Roanoke County’s Clerk of the Court. In 1887 General Lewis’ remains are re-interred in the East Hill Cemetery at Salem, Virginia.

(Pictured: Statue of General Andrew Lewis outside the Salem Civic Center)


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Birth of Philip Embury, Methodist Preacher

Philip EmburyPhilip Embury, Methodist preacher and a leader of one of the earliest Methodist congregations in the United States, is born in Ballingrane, County Limerick on September 21, 1729.

Embury’s parents are members of the colony of Germans that emigrate from the Palatinate to Ireland early in the eighteenth century, and in which Methodism co-founder John Wesley labors with great success. The colony forms from refugees from the War of the Spanish Succession. Embury is educated at a school near Ballingrane and learns the carpentry trade. He is converted on Christmas day 1752, becomes a local preacher at Court-Matrix in 1758 and marries Margaret Switzer that fall.

In 1760, due to rising rents and scarce land, he goes to New York City and works as a school teacher. In common with his fellow emigrants, he begins to lose interest in religious matters and does not preach in New York until 1766 when, moved by the reproaches of his cousin Barbara Heck, sometimes called the “mother of American Methodism,” he begins to hold services first in his own house on Barrack Street, now Park Place, and then in a rigging loft on what is now William Street. The congregation thus forms what is probably the first Methodist congregation in the United States, though it is a disputed question whether precedence should not be given to Robert Strawbridge, who begins laboring in Maryland about this time. Before this, he and Barbara Heck worship along with other Irish Palatines at Trinity Church in Manhattan, where three of his children are baptized.

The first Methodist church is built under Embury’s charge in 1768, in association with Thomas Webb and others, on the site of the present John Street United Methodist Church. He himself works on the building as a carpenter and afterward preaches there gratuitously. In 1769, preachers sent out by John Wesley arrive in New York City, and Embury goes to work in the vicinity of Albany at Camden Valley, New York, where he continues to work at his trade during the week and preaches every Sunday. He and several others receive a grant of 8,000 acres to develop for the manufacture of linen. He organizes among Irish emigrants at Ashgrove, near Camden Valley, the first Methodist society within the bounds of what becomes the flourishing and influential Troy Conference.

Philip Embury dies suddenly in Camden, New York in August 1775, in consequence of an accident in mowing. He is buried on a neighboring farm but in 1832 his remains are removed to Ashgrove churchyard and in 1866 to Woodland cemetery, Cambridge, New York, where a monument to him is unveiled in 1873, with an address by Bishop Matthew Simpson.

(Pictured: Portrait of Philip Embury by John Barnes, Salem, 1773)


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Birth of Father Michael Joseph McGivney

michael-joseph-mcgivneyMichael Joseph McGivney, American Catholic priest, is born to Irish immigrants Patrick and Mary (Lynch) McGivney on August 12, 1852 in Waterbury, Connecticut. He founds the Knights of Columbus at a local parish to serve as a mutual aid and fraternal insurance organization, particularly for immigrants and their families. It develops through the 20th century as the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization.

McGivney attends the local Waterbury district school but leaves at 13 to work in the spoon-making department of one of the area brass mills. In 1868, at the age of 16, he enters the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada. He continues his studies at Our Lady of Angels Seminary, near Niagara Falls, New York (1871–1872) and at the Jesuits‘ St. Mary’s College, in Montreal, Quebec. He has to leave the seminary, returning home, to help finish raising his siblings after the death of his father in June 1873. He later resumes his studies at St. Mary’s Seminary, in Baltimore, Maryland. He is ordained a priest on December 22, 1877, by Archbishop James Gibbons at the Baltimore Cathedral of the Assumption.

From his own experience, McGivney recognizes the devastating effect on immigrant families of the untimely death of the father and wage earner. Many Catholics are still struggling to assimilate into the American economy. On March 29, 1882, while an assistant pastor at Saint Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut, he founds the Knights of Columbus, with a small group of parishioners, as a mutual aid society to provide financial assistance in the event of the men’s death to their widows and orphans. The organization develops as a fraternal society. He is also known for his tireless work among his parishioners.

Father Michael Joseph McGivney dies from pneumonia at the age of 38 on August 14, 1890, the eve of the Assumption, in Thomaston, Connecticut.

The Knights of Columbus is among the first groups to recruit blood donors, with formal efforts dating to 1937 during the Great Depression. As of 2013, the order has more than 1.8 million member families and 15,000 councils. During the 2012 fraternal year, $167 million and 70 million man-hours are donated to charity by the order.

In 1996, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford opens the cause for canonization, an investigation into McGivney’s life with a view towards formal recognition by the Church of his sainthood. Father Gabriel O’Donnell, OP, is the postulator of McGivney’s cause. He is also the director of the Fr. McGivney Guild, which now has 150,000 members supporting his cause.

The diocesan investigation is closed in 2000 and the case is passed to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Vatican City. On March 15, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI approves a decree recognizing McGivney’s heroic virtue, thus declaring him “Venerable.” As of August 6, 2013, a miracle attributed to McGivney’s intercession is under investigation at the Vatican.


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Birth of John Hughes, 1st Archbishop of New York

john-joseph-hughesJohn Joseph Hughesprelate of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States and the fourth Bishop and first Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, is born in the hamlet of Annaloghan, near Aughnacloy, County Tyrone in Northern Ireland on June 24, 1797.

Hughes is the third of seven children of Patrick and Margaret (née McKenna) Hughes. He and his family suffer religious persecution in their native land. He is sent with his elder brothers to a day school in the nearby village of Augher, and afterwards attends a grammar school in Aughnacloy. The family emigrates to the United States in 1816 and settles in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Hughes joins them there the following year.

After several unsuccessful applications to Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland, he is eventually hired as a gardener at the college. During this time he befriends Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, who is impressed by Hughes and persuades the Rector to reconsider his admission. Hughes is subsequently admitted as a regular student of Mount St. Mary’s in September 1820.

On October 15, 1826, Hughes is ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Henry Conwell at St. Joseph’s Church in Philadelphia. His first assignment is as a curate at St. Augustine’s Church in Philadelphia, where he assists its pastor by celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, preaching sermons, and other duties in the parish.

Hughes is chosen by Pope Gregory XVI as the coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of New York on August 7, 1837. He is consecrated bishop at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on January 7, 1838 with the title of the titular see of Basilinopolis, by the Bishop of New York, John Dubois, his former Rector.

Hughes campaigns actively on behalf of Irish immigrants and attempts to secure state support for parochial schools. Although this attempt fails, he founds an independent Catholic school system which becomes an integral part of the Catholic Church’s structure at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884), which mandates that all parishes have a school and that all Catholic children be sent to those schools. In 1841, Hughes founds St. John’s College in New York City which is now Fordham University.

Hughes is appointed Apostolic Administrator of the diocese due to Bishop Dubois’ failing health. As coadjutor, he automatically succeeds Dubois upon the bishop’s death on December 20, 1842, taking over a diocese which covers the entire state of New York and northern New Jersey. He is a staunch opponent of Abolitionism and the Free Soil movement, whose proponents often express anti-Catholic attitudes. Hughes also founds the Ultramontane newspaper New York Freeman to express his ideas.

Hughes becomes an archbishop on July 19, 1850, when the diocese is elevated to the status of archdiocese by Pope Pius IX. As archbishop, he becomes the metropolitan for the Catholic bishops serving all the dioceses established in the entire Northeastern United States. To the dismay of many in New York’s Protestant upper-class, Hughes foresees the uptown expansion of the city and begins construction of the current St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st Street, laying its cornerstone on August 15, 1858. At the request of President Abraham Lincoln, Hughes serves as semiofficial envoy to the Vatican and to France in late 1861 and early 1862. Lincoln also seeks Hughes’ advice on the appointment of hospital chaplains.

Hughes serves as archbishop until his death. He is originally buried in St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, but his remains are exhumed in 1882 and re-interred in the crypt under the altar of the new cathedral he had begun.


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Birth of Frank Harte, Traditional Irish Singer

frank-harteFrank Harte, traditional Irish singer, music collector, architect and lecturer, is born in Chapelizod, County Dublin on May 14, 1933. He emigrates to the United States for a short period, but later returns to Ireland where he works as an architect, lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology in Rathmines, Dublin and in later life fully engages in songs in many ways.

Harte’s introduction to Irish traditional singing comes from a chance listening to an itinerant who is selling ballad sheets at a fair in Boyle, County Roscommon. He begins collecting early in life and by the end of his life has assembled a database of over 15,500 recordings.

Harte becomes a great exponent of the Dublin street ballad, which he prefers to sing unaccompanied. He is widely known for his distinctive singing, his Dublin accent having a rich nasal quality complementing his often high register. His voice mellows considerably by the time of his later recordings, allowing for an expressive interpretation of many love songs such as “My Bonny Light Horseman” on the album My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte. This is contrasted sublimely by his cogent interpretation of the popular “Molly Malone.” He also becomes more accustomed to singing with accompaniment which is not strictly part of the Irish singing tradition and does not come naturally to him.

Though Irish Republican in his politics, Harte believes that the Irish song tradition need not be a sectarian or nationalist preserve. He believes that songs are a key to understanding the past often saying, “those in power write the history, while those who suffer write the songs, and, given our history, we have an awful lot of songs.” Though considered a stalwart of traditional Irish singing and well aware of it, he does not consider himself to be a sean-nós singer.

Harte wins the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil singing competition on a number of occasions and in 2003 receives the Traditional Singer of the Year award from the Irish-language television channel TG4.

Harte records several albums and makes numerous television and radio appearances, most notably the Singing Voices series he writes and presents for RTÉ Radio, which is produced by Peter Browne in 1987. He is a regular at the Sunday morning sessions at The Brazen Head pub, along with Liam Weldon who runs the session. He is also an enthusiastic supporter of An Góilín Traditional Singer’s Club.

Harte appears at many American festivals including The Blarney Star in New York City, Gaelic Roots in Boston College, The Catskills Irish Arts Week, The Greater Washington Ceili Club Festival in Maryland and the Milwaukee Irish Fest and for seventeen years he is a veritable staple at the Irish Week every July in the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, West Virginia where he often performs with Mick Moloney.

Frank Harte dies of a heart attack, aged 72, on June 27, 2005. His influence is still evident in singers such as Karan Casey and he continues to be remembered fondly in sessions and folk clubs on both sides of the Irish Sea.