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


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Birth of Michael Kelly Lawler, United States Army Officer

Michael Kelly Lawler, a volunteer militia soldier in the Black Hawk War (1831–32), an officer in the United States Army in both the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War, is born on November 16, 1814, in Monasterevin, County Kildare. As a brigadier general in the American Civil War, he commands a brigade of infantry in the Western Theater and serves in several battles.

Born to John Lawler and Elizabeth Kelly, they move to the United States four years later and settle initially in Frederick County, Maryland. In 1819, they move to rural Gallatin County, Illinois. On December 20, 1837 Lawler marries Elizabeth Crenshaw. He receives an appointment as a captain in the Mexican-American War and commands two companies in separate deployments to Mexico. He first leads a company from Shawneetown, Illinois that guards the supply route from Veracruz to General Winfield Scott‘s army. After the fall of Veracruz his company is discharged. He makes a visit to Washington after which he is asked by Illinois Governor Thomas Ford to organize a company of riflemen. He serves in the campaign to take Matamoros, Tamaulipas.

Lawler then returns to his farm in Illinois, where he is residing at the outbreak of the American Civil War. He establishes a thriving mercantile business, dealing in hardware, dry goods, and shoes. He studies law, passes his bar exam, and uses his legal license to help the claims of Mexican War veterans.

In May 1861 Lawler recruits the 18th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and is appointed as its first colonel. His time in command of the regiment in Kentucky and Tennessee is controversial and an “ordeal.” He is wounded during the Battle of Fort Donelson. In November 1862 he is commissioned as a brigadier general, and commands a brigade in the Second Division of the XIII Corps. He fights with distinction in the Vicksburg campaign in 1863. He leads his men in the battles of Port Gibson, Champion Hill, Big Black River Bridge, and the May 22, 1863 general assault on Vicksburg, Mississippi, where troops under his command are the only Union forces to enter the Confederate works at the Railroad Redoubt where they plant the United States flag.

Following the surrender of Jackson, Mississippi, the XIII Corps is split up and divided among other operations in the Western Theater. For the rest of the war, Lawler serves as commander of the 1st Division, XIII Corps in Louisiana in the Department of the Gulf, taking command of the division during the disastrous Red River campaign and leading it on an expedition in June 1864 to secure a crossing of the Atchafalaya River used by Confederate forces.

In the omnibus promotions at the end of the American Civil War, Lawler receives a promotion for distinguished service to major general in the Union army backdated from March 13, 1865. After mustering out of the army in 1866, he returns home and resumes his legal practice and farming near Shawneetown, Illinois.

Lawler dies in Shawneetown on July 22, 1882 and is buried in the Lawler Family Cemetery near Equality, Illinois, at the rear of the Old Slave House property.

A memorial to Lawler stands in Equality, Illinois. He also is honored with a marble bust in Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Chicago renames a street to Lawler Avenue in his memory.


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Death of Fr. Abram Joseph Ryan, Poet & Priest

Abram Joseph Ryan, Irish American poet, active proponent of the Confederate States of America, and a Catholic priest, dies in Louisville, Kentucky on April 22, 1886. He has been called the “Poet-Priest of the South” and, less frequently, the “Poet Laureate of the Confederacy.”

Ryan is born Matthew Abraham Ryan in Hagerstown, Maryland on February 5, 1838, the fourth child of Irish immigrants Matthew Ryan and his wife, Mary Coughlin, both of Clogheen, County Tipperary, and their first to be born in the United States.

In 1840 the family relocates to Ralls County, Missouri, and then, in 1846, to St. Louis, where the father opens a general store. Ryan is educated at St. Joseph’s Academy, run by the De La Salle Brothers. Showing a strong inclination to piety, he is encouraged by his mother and teachers to consider becoming a priest. He decides to test a calling to the priesthood and on September 16, 1851, at the age of 13, enters the College of St. Mary’s of the Barrens, near Perryville, Missouri, a minor seminary for young candidates for the priesthood. By the time of his graduation in 1855, he has decided to pursue Holy Orders.

Ryan then enters the Vincentians, taking the oath of obedience to the Congregation. He does three more years of study at the college during the course of which, on June 19, 1857, he receives minor orders. In 1858, shortly after the death of his father, he is sent to the Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels near Niagara Falls, New York.

As a Southerner, Ryan feels out of place at the seminary, and soon begins to express his opposition to the abolitionist movement then gaining popularity in the Northeastern United States. He then joins in the sentiment expressed by the Catholic bishops and editors of the nation in that period, who feel threatened by the anti-Catholic opinions expressed by the leadership of the Abolitionists. His writings in that period begin to express suspicion of Northern goals. Possibly for that reason, he is sent back to St. Mary of the Barrens.

During the winter of 1860, Ryan gives a lecture series through which he starts to gain notice as a speaker. His abilities as a preacher gain wide approval, and his superiors decide to have him ordained a priest earlier than is the normal age under church law. On September 12, 1860, he is ordained a priest at his home parish in St. Louis, with the ordination being performed by the Bishop of St. Louis, Peter Richard Kenrick.

In the Fall of 1861, soon after the start of the American Civil War, Ryan is transferred back to the Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels in New York. After a couple of bouts of illness, he declares himself fit to teach again in April 1862, but his superiors instead transfer him to parish duties in LaSalle, Illinois. After arriving there, he realizes that he will not be able to express his strong views in support of the Confederacy. Frustrated, and feeling ignored by his immediate superior, he requests his release from his oath of obedience. Upon his release he returns home, where he and his brother David intend to enlist in the Confederate States Army.

Ryan makes sporadic early appearances as a freelance chaplain among Confederate troops from Louisiana and begins making appearances in Tennessee in 1862. He begins full-time pastoral duties in Tennessee in late 1863 or early 1864. Though he never formally joins the Confederate Army, he clearly is serving as a freelance chaplain by the last two years of the conflict, with possible appearances at the Battle of Lookout Mountain and the Battle of Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga, and well-authenticated service at the Battle of Franklin and the subsequent Battle of Nashville. Some of his most moving poems —”In Memoriam” and “In Memory of My Brother”— come in response to his brother’s death, who died while serving in uniform for the Confederacy in April 1863, likely from injuries suffered during fighting near Mount Sterling, Kentucky.

On June 24, 1865, Ryan’s most famous poem, “The Conquered Banner,” appears in the pages of the New York Freeman’s Journal over his early pen-name “Moina.” Starting in 1865, he moves from parish to parish throughout the South. Beginning in November 1881 he spends a year in semi-retirement at Biloxi, Mississippi while completing his second book, A Crown for Our Queen. In Augusta, Georgia, he founds The Banner of the South, a religious and political weekly in which he republishes much of his early poetry, along with poetry by fellow-southerners James Ryder Randall, Paul Hamilton Hayne, and Sidney Lanier, as well as an early story by Mark Twain.

In 1879, Ryan’s work is gathered into a collected volume of verse, first titled Father Ryan’s Poems and subsequently republished in 1880 as Poems: Patriotic, Religious, Miscellaneous. His collection sells remarkably well for the next half-century. His work also finds a popular following in his family’s ancestral home of Ireland. An article about his work appears in Irish Monthly during his life, and a decade after his death, yet another collection of his poetry is published in Dublin by The Talbot Press under the title Selected Poems of Father Abram Ryan.

In 1880 Ryan’s old restlessness returns, and he heads north for the twofold object of publishing his poems and lecturing. He dies April 22, 1886, at a Franciscan friary in Louisville, Kentucky, but his body is returned to St. Mary’s in Mobile, Alabama for burial. He is interred in Mobile’s Catholic Cemetery. In recognition of his loyal service to the Confederacy, a stained glass window is placed in the Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans in his memory. In 1912 a local newspaper launches a drive to erect a statue to him. Dedicated in July 1913, it includes a stanza from “The Conquered Banner” below an inscription that reads: “Poet, Patriot, and Priest.”


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Choctaw Nation Raises Money for Irish Famine Relief

On March 23, 1847, the Native Americans of the Choctaw Nation take up an amazing collection. They raise $170 for Irish Famine relief, an incredible sum at the time worth in the tens of thousands of dollars today.

The Choctaw have an incredible history of deprivation themselves, forced off their lands in 1831, they embark on a 500-mile trek to Oklahoma called the “Trail of Tears.” Ironically the man who forces them off their lands is Andrew Jackson, the son of Irish immigrants.

On September 27, 1830, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek is signed. It represents one of the largest transfers of land that is signed between the United States Government and Native Americans without being instigated by warfare. By the treaty, the Choctaws sign away their remaining traditional homelands, opening them up for European American settlement. The tribes are then sent on a forced march.

As historian Edward O’Donnell writes “Of the 21,000 Choctaws who started the journey, more than half perished from exposure, malnutrition, and disease. This despite the fact that during the War of 1812 the Choctaws had been allies of then-General Jackson in his campaign against the British in New Orleans.”

Sixteen years later the Choctaws meet in their new tribal land and send money to a U.S. famine relief organization for Ireland. It is the most extraordinary gift of all to famine relief in Ireland. The Choctaws send the money at the height of the Famine, “Black 47,” when close to a million Irish are starving to death.

Thanks to the work of Irish activists such as Don Mullan and Choctaw leader Gary White Deer, the Choctaw gift has been recognized in Ireland. In 1990, a number of Choctaw leaders take part in the first annual Famine walk at Doolough in County Mayo recreating a desperate walk by locals to a local landlord in 1848.

In 1992 Irish commemoration leaders take part in the 500-mile trek from Oklahoma to Mississippi. The Choctaw make Ireland’s president Mary Robinson an honorary chief. They do the same for Don Mullan. Even better, both groups become determined to help famine sufferers, mostly in Africa and the Third World, and have done so ever since.

The gift is remembered in Ireland. A plaque on Dublin‘s Mansion House that honors the Choctaw contribution reads: “Their humanity calls us to remember the millions of human beings throughout our world today who die of hunger and hunger-related illness in a world of plenty.”

(From: “How Choctaw Indians raised money for Irish Great Hunger relief” by IrishCentral Staff, http://www.irishcentral.com, November 27, 2020 | Pictured: Kindred Spirits monument, a tribute to the Choctaw Nation, in Midleton, County Cork, Ireland)


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The Provisional Congress of the Confederate States Convenes

The Provisional Congress of the Confederate States, also known as the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America, convenes in Montgomery, Alabama on February 4, 1861. As many as 30,000 Irish-born fight on the Confederate side during the American Civil War including Chaplain John B. Bannon. A number of Irish rise to senior leadership in the Confederate army including Patrick Cleburne and Henry Strong. Strong is killed at the Battle of Antietam while on the opposite Union side on that awful day, 540 members of the Irish Brigade are killed.

The Provisional Congress of the Confederate States is a congress of deputies and delegates called together from the Southern States which become the governing body of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States from February 4, 1861 to February 17, 1862. It sits in Montgomery until May 21, 1861, when it adjourns to meet in Richmond, Virginia, on July 20, 1861. It adds new members as other states secede from the Union and directs the election on November 6, 1861, at which a permanent government is elected.

The First Session of the Provisional Congress is held at Montgomery from February 4, 1861, to March 16, 1861. On February 8, the Convention adopts the Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States, and so becomes the first session of the Provisional Confederate Congress. Members are present from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. It drafts the provisional constitution and sets up a government. For president and vice president, it selects Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia.

The Second Session of the Provisional Congress is held at Montgomery from April 29, 1861, to May 21, 1861. It includes the members of the First Session with the additions of Virginia and Arkansas. John Tyler, the tenth president of the United States (1841–1845), serves as a delegate from Virginia in the Provisional Confederate States Congress until his death in 1862.

North Carolina and Tennessee join the Third Session of the Provisional Congress which is held at Richmond from July 20, 1861, to August 31, 1861. Membership remains unchanged for the Fourth Session on September 3, 1861.

The Fifth Session of the Provisional Congress is held at Richmond from November 18, 1861, to February 17, 1862. All previous members are present with the additions of Missouri and Kentucky. One non-voting member is present from the Arizona Territory.


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Birth of Walter P. Lane, Confederate General

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01Walter Paye Lane, Confederate general during the American Civil War who also serves in the armies of the Republic of Texas and the United States of America, is born in County Cork on February 18, 1817.

The Lane family emigrates to Fairview in Guernsey County, Ohio, in 1821, and moves to Kentucky in 1825. In 1836 Lane moves to Texas to participate in its war for independence against Mexico. After Texas has gained its independence, he lives in San Augustine County in East Texas and then San Antonio, where he briefly serves as a Texas Ranger.

In 1846 Lane joins the First Regiment, Texas Mounted Riflemen, as a first lieutenant to fight in the Mexican–American War. He fights with honors at the Battle of Monterey and is later given the rank of major and command of his own battalion. After the Mexican–American War, he wanders about doing various things in Arizona, California, and Peru before opening a mercantile business in Marshall, Texas, in 1858.

When the American Civil War breaks out, Lane is among the first Texans to call for secession. His military reputation is so great that the first volunteer Confederate company raised in Harrison County is named for him, though he joins the 3rd Texas Cavalry. He participates in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, the Battle of Chustenahlah, the Battle of Pea Ridge and both the Siege of Corinth and Second Battle of Corinth. He leads the 3rd Texas at the battle of Franklin, Mississippi, and is commended by General P. G. T. Beauregard for his efforts. He is severely wounded in the Battle of Mansfield in 1864, where Confederates forces rebuff a push to capture either or both Shreveport, Louisiana, or Marshall, Texas. Before the war ends, Lane is promoted to the rank of brigadier general in 1865, being confirmed on the last day the Confederate States Congress meets.

After the Civil War, Lane returns to Marshall where he helps to establish the Texas Veterans Association. After Reconstruction, he and his brother George, a local judge, found the first White Citizens Party in Texas and run Republicans and African Americans out of Marshall. With Democratic white hegemony brutally reestablished in Marshall and Harrison County, he declares the city and county “redeemed.”

Lane dies in Marshall, Texas on January 28, 1892 and is buried in the Marshall Cemetery near downtown Marshall. His memoirs, The Adventures and Recollections of General Walter P. Lane, are published posthumously in 1928.


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Birth of Astronaut & Test Pilot Michael Collins

Michael Collins, Irish American former astronaut and test pilot who is part of the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions, is born in Rome, Italy, on October 31, 1930. The Apollo 11 mission includes the first lunar landing in history. His Irish roots can be traced to the town of Dunmanway in County Cork, from which his grandfather, Jeremiah Collins, emigrates in the 1860s.

Collins is born in Rome where his father, United States Army Major General James Lawton Collins, is stationed at the time. After the United States enters World War II, the family moves to Washington, D.C., where Collins attends St. Albans School. During this time, he applies and is accepted to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and decides to follow his father, two uncles, brother and cousin into the armed services.

In 1952, Collins graduates from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree. He joins the United States Air Force that same year, and completes flight training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. His performance earns him a position on the advanced day fighter training team at Nellis Air Force Base, flying the F-86 Sabres. This is followed by an assignment to the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing at the George Air Force Base, where he learns how to deliver nuclear weapons. He also serves as an experimental flight test officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California, testing jet fighters.

Collins makes the decision to become an astronaut after watching John Glenn‘s Mercury-Atlas 6 flight. He applies for the second group of astronauts that same year, but is not accepted. Disappointed, but undaunted, Collins enters the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School as the Air Force begins to research space. That year, NASA once again calls for astronaut applications, and Collins is more prepared than ever. In 1963 he is chosen by NASA to be part of the third group of astronauts.

Collins makes two spaceflights. The first, on July 18, 1966, is the Gemini 10 mission, where Collins performs a spacewalk. The second is the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969, the first lunar landing in history. Collins, accompanied by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, remains in the Command Module while his partners walk on the moon’s surface. Collins continues circling the moon until July 21, when Armstrong and Aldrin rejoin him. The next day, he and his fellow astronauts leave lunar orbit. They land in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin are all awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon. However, Aldrin and Armstrong end up receiving a majority of the public credit for the historic event, although Collins is also on the flight.

Collins leaves NASA in January 1970, and one year later, he joins the administrative staff of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1980, he enters the private sector, working as an aerospace consultant. In his spare time, Collins says he stays active, and spends his days “worrying about the stock market” and “searching for a really good bottle of cabernet under ten dollars.”

Collins and his wife, Patricia Finnegan, have three children. The couple lived in both Marco Island, Florida, and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.


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Birth of Brigadier General James Lawlor Kiernan

James Lawlor Kiernan, Irish-born Brigadier General in the American Civil War, is born in Mountbellew, County Galway, on October 26, 1837.

Kiernan’s father is a retired British navy surgeon. Kiernan attends Trinity College, Dublin, before emigrating to the United States around 1854. He studies medicine at New York University and practices law in New York until 1861. Upon the outbreak of American Civil War in 1861 he joins the 69th New York State Infantry Regiment as Assistant Surgeon and serves as such through the First Battle of Bull Run. When the 69th returns to Manhattan, he moves west and becomes the surgeon of the 6th Missouri Volunteer Infantry.

After the Battle of Pea Ridge, Kiernan insists on joining the fighting ranks, and in that capacity is seemingly appointed a Major in the 6th Missouri Volunteer Infantry. In May 1863 at Port Gibson, Mississippi, he is wounded in the left lung and left on the battlefield for dead. Recovered and imprisoned, he effects an escape back to Union forces and resigns his commission. On August 1, 1863 he is commissioned a Brigadier General of the United States Volunteers by President Abraham Lincoln, commanding a post at Miliken’s Bend on the Mississippi River. However, ill-health as a result of his battlefield wounds force him to resign on February 3, 1864.

In May 1865 Kiernan gains a U.S. consular post at Chinkiang, China. He manages to make the trip there but his health does not allow him to perform the duties. He returns to New York where he becomes an examining physician for the Bureau of Pensions, a position he holds until his death.

James Lawlor Kiernan dies on November 26, 1869. The official cause of death is “congestion of the lungs.” Perhaps he is killed by that Confederate ball that wounded him six years earlier. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.


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The Last Official Bare-Knuckle Title Fight

sullivan-kilrain-fightHeavyweight boxer John L. Sullivan defeats fellow Irish American Jake Kilrain in a world championship bout which lasts 75 rounds on July 8, 1889, the last official bare knuckle title fight ever held.

Bare-knuckle boxing is the original form of boxing, closely related to ancient combat sports. It involves two individuals fighting without boxing gloves or other padding on their hands. The difference between a street fight and a bare-knuckle boxing match is an accepted set of rules, such as not striking a downed opponent.

The Sullivan-Kilrain fight is considered to be a turning point in boxing history because it is the last world title bout fought under the London Prize Ring Rules, and therefore the last bare-knuckle heavyweight title bout. It is one of the first sporting events in the United States to receive national press coverage.

For the first time, newspapers carry extensive pre-fight coverage, reporting on the fighters’ training and speculating on where the bout will take place. The traditional center of bare-knuckle fighting is New Orleans, but the governor of Louisiana has forbidden the fight in that state. Sullivan has trained for months in Belfast, New York under trainer William Muldoon, whose biggest problem has been keeping Sullivan from liquor. A report on Sullivan’s training regimen in Belfast is written by famed reporter Nellie Bly and published in the New York World.

Rochester reporter Arch Merrill comments that occasionally Sullivan would “escape” from his guard. In Belfast village, the cry is heard, “John L. is loose again. Send for Muldoon!” Muldoon would snatch the champ away from the bar and take him back to their training camp.

On July 8, 1889, an estimated 3,000 spectators board special trains for the secret location, which turns out to be Richburg, a town just south of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The fight begins at 10:30, and it looks as if Sullivan is going to lose, especially after he vomits during the 44th round. But the champion gets his second wind after that, and Kilrain’s manager, Mike Donovan, finally throws in the towel after the 75th round. Kilrain does not want to give up thinking he can outlast Sullivan, but Donovan defends his actions insisting that Kilrain would die if the fight continued. In any case, the Kilrain-Sullivan fight can rightly be listed among the greatest fights of the pre-modern era.