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

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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.


The Ballinglass Incident

ballinglass-evictionsDuring the Great Famine (An Gorta Mór) in Ireland, the Ballinglass incident occurs in Ballinglass, County Galway, on March 13, 1846, when 300 tenants are evicted by their landlord, a Mrs. Gerrard who wants to use the land for grazing purposes.

During this period, Ireland is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, governed directly by its parliament in London. Many working class Irish farmers are tenants under landlords, producing cereals, potatoes, and livestock. But only the potatoes remain as food for the farmers themselves. A portion of the other products are used for paying the rent while the remainder is exported from Ireland to Great Britain. These exports continue even after the potato crop fails in 1845.

Farmers who are not able to pay the rent during this period are evicted from their homes and land. It is estimated that tens of thousands are evicted during the famine.

The 300 inhabitants of the townland of Ballinglass in Galway County, in the Barony of Killian, northeast of Mountbellew, are relatively “wealthy” and able to pay their rent. But despite this fact, they are evicted because their landlord intends to establish a grazing farm where the village is situated.

The houses of Ballinglass are demolished by army and police. The evicted tenants sleep in the ruins that night. The next day, police and army return to evict them permanently and their neighbours are not allowed to take them in.

The eviction of the entire village receives wide publicity. Even the London Times, never a supporter of Irish rights, rails against this particular injustice. Lord Londonderry “personally investigates” the evictions and issues a statement on March 30, 1846 saying, “I am deeply grieved, but there is no doubt concerning the truth of the evictions at Ballinglass. Seventy-six families, comprising 300 individuals had not only been turned out of their houses, but had even – the unfortunate wretches – been mercilessly driven from the ditches to which they had been taken themselves for shelter…these unfortunate people had their rents actually ready…” Despite widespread condemnation, the eviction order is not rescinded.