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


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Death of Richard Montgomery, General of the Continental Army

Richard Montgomery, Irish-born major general of the Continental Army, is killed at the Battle of Quebec on December 31, 1776 during the American Revolutionary War.

Montgomery is born into a wealthy family in Swords, Dublin, on December 2, 1738. He attends Trinity College Dublin before dropping out to become a Junior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the British Army. He serves with distinction during the Seven Years’ War, more commonly known as the French and Indian War, and is promoted several times, finally attaining the rank of captain before the end of the war. He is released from duty due to his health and returns to Great Britain to recover. In Britain, he discusses politics and affiliates with the Whigs political party in Parliament, who later supports American independence. When his health finally recovers, he resigns his commission from the British Army and moves to New York, settling into the life of a farmer. On July 24, 1773, he marries Janet Livingston, who is from an anti-British patriot family. He continues to cement his beliefs and begins to identify as an “American” rather than a “Briton.”

Eventually, Montgomery’s political beliefs turn into political action. In May 1775, he is elected as one of the ten deputies to represent Dutchess County in the New York Provincial Congress and is chosen to organize the militias and defenses of New York. After George Washington is chosen to be the commander of the Continental Army in June of the same year, the New York Provincial Congress is asked to choose two people for the rank major general and brigadier general for service in the new army. Philip Schuyler is appointed to the rank of major general. Montgomery protests the promotion, arguing that Schuyler does not have enough combat experience to be an effective leader. Later, the New York Provincial Congress appoints Montgomery as brigadier general because of his military experience. General Washington personally appoints the reluctant Montgomery to be Schuyler’s second in command. This move is just in time as Schuyler falls ill during at the start of the invasion of Canada, thus giving Montgomery control of the campaign.

Once in command, Montgomery begins a successful campaign in Canada as General Benedict Arnold is marching through the wilderness of modern-day Maine to meet him in Quebec. He captures numerous strongpoints and eventually the city of Montreal falls to the Patriots. His numerous victories and kind treatment of British prisoners take a toll on the Patriot militias under his command, who demand rest and the same provisions given to the British prisoners. The commanding general is reluctant to lead his soldiers, who he has seen as undisciplined. It takes a personal letter from General Washington to reassure him that there is insubordination and lack of discipline all throughout the Continental Army and that resignation is not the answer. Nevertheless, he continues to Quebec to meet Arnold and his army.

When Montgomery and his men arrive outside Quebec, his force consists of some 300 men compared to Arnold’s 1,000 men. Now a major general, he establishes siege lines around the city of Quebec and demands the surrender of the defenders within. The terms of surrender are rejected numerous times, leaving him and Arnold with no other choice but to assault the city. He hopes that snow will hide the movement of his troops, thus, he plans on waiting for snowfall in order to attack. General Arnold, however, is worried about his men. A December 31 enlistment expiration is looming, that could drastically reduce the size of the assaulting force. Montgomery discovers waiting for the right time is not an option and coordinates an attack for the early hours of December 31, 1775. That morning, Montgomery leads a group of his men toward the interior of Quebec. With sword drawn and lantern out, the Patriots advance toward a blockhouse where the British and Canadian defenders notice this movement and let loose a volley of grapeshot and muskets, which instantly kills Montgomery and the men close to him.

Montgomery’s body is discovered after the failed attacks by the Continentals. The British defenders of Quebec bring his body to General Guy Carleton, who orders it be buried with respect and dignity. He is laid to rest in Quebec on January 4, 1776. News of his death causes widespread mourning, both in America and in the British Isles. Many Patriots elevate his status to a hero and martyr for independence and the American cause, while British members of parliament, especially the Whigs, use his death to mark the failures in the British response to the insurrection in their colonies. In July 1818 his remains are reinterred in New York.

(From: “Richard Montgemery,” American Battlefield Trust, http://www.battlefields.org)


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The Second Battle of Arklow

The second Battle of Arklow takes place on June 9, 1798 during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 when a force of United Irishmen from Wexford, estimated at 10,000 strong, launch an assault on the British-held town of Arklow, County Wicklow, in an attempt to spread the rebellion into Wicklow and to threaten the capital of Dublin.

A British advance force of 400 is defeated at Tuberneering on June 4. This rebel victory punches a hole in the dragnet the military has attempted to throw around County Wexford and also yields them three artillery pieces. The town of Arklow has been evacuated in the ensuing panic but the rebels content themselves with taking the town of Gorey and staying within the Wexford border. On June 5 the rebels attempt to break out of County Wexford across the River Barrow and to spread the rebellion but are halted by a major British victory at the Battle of New Ross. When the rebels finally move against Arklow, the town has been reoccupied by a force of 1,700 men sent from Dublin under Francis Needham, 1st Earl of Kilmorey, who quickly fortifies the town with barricades and has artillery positioned on all the approaches to the town.

The rebel army that forms for attack on the afternoon of June 9 is a combined force of Wexford and Wicklow rebels led by Billy Byrne, Anthony Perry, Conor McEvoy, Edward Fitzgerald, and Fr. Michael Murphy. The British in Arklow consist of approximately 1,000 militia from counties Antrim and Cavan and 150 regular cavalry supported by 250 Yeomanry. They are joined by 315 Durham Fencibles (Princess of Wales’s Fencible Dragoons) arriving an hour before the rebels.

The area surrounding the town and the approaches is covered by scrub and the rebel strategy adopted is to advance under cover attacking the town simultaneously from several points. Before the action begins, the rebels under Esmonde Kyan open fire upon the town with some of the artillery captured at Tuberneering and have some success by scoring a direct hit on a British artillery position, destroying the cannon and killing the attendant crew. The main assault is quickly launched but at all entry points the Irish are thrown back by the musket fire of the well-trained and disciplined militia and volunteers, and canister shot from the 3 pounder battalion gun brought by the fencibles. An attempt by the British to turn the Irish failure into a rout is defeated when pikemen and sharpshooters drive a cavalry charge back across the River Avoca, but an attempt to force a way into the town through the outlying fishing port is bloodily repulsed.

As Irish casualties mount, the lack of ammunition and proper leadership begin to work against them, and after Fr. Murphy is killed leading a charge, their attacks start to fade. As nightfall comes, the rebels begin to withdraw under cover of darkness and collect their wounded. They are not pursued or molested by the garrison who are, unknown to the rebels, down to their last three or four rounds per man and are themselves at the brink of defeat.

While rebel casualties are estimated at about 1,000 no full casualty list seems to exist on the British side, but are probably in the region of 100 dead and wounded. The defeat at Arklow marks the third failure to extend the fight for Irish independence beyond the borders of County Wexford following the other bloody repulses at New Ross and Bunclody. The Irish strategy now changes to a policy of static defence against the encroaching British armies.


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The Battle of Clontibret

The Battle of Clontibret is fought in County Monaghan in May 1595 during the Nine Years’ War, between the crown forces of England‘s Queen Elizabeth I and the Irish army of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone. It ends in victory for Tyrone on May 27, 1595, and is the first severe setback suffered by the English during the war.

The Nine Years War begins with a conflict over English efforts to maintain a string of garrisons along the southern border of Tyrone’s territory in Ulster. The Irish leader promptly besieges the English garrison at Monaghan Castle, and Sir Henry Bagenal, commander of the English forces, marches out to its relief on May 25 from Dundalk, via Newry. His army is made up of 1,750 troops, including some veterans and certain companies newly arrived from the Spanish campaign in Brittany, but there are many recruits in the ranks. Bagenal’s men are predominantly infantry, armed with muskets and pikes. There is also a small number of horsemen raised in the Pale.

The Battle of Clontibret is essentially a two day running battle, as Bagenal’s column is ambushed on its way to and from the castle at Monaghan town. The Irish fight sharply along the roads about Crossdall, around 4 miles from Monaghan, firing on the English column with calivers from the surrounding woodland. With the loss of 12 dead and 30 wounded the English reach the castle, which is re-supplied and reinforced with one company. Bagenal has misgivings about his supply of powder and lead, much of which had been used on the way, and can afford little for the garrison before he starts back.

Two days later, on May 27, Bagenal sets out for Newry in a column, but by another route, past the townland of Clontibret. The route lay through drumlin country, which abounds with hills, bogs and woods, making it ideal for an ambush. The column comes under fire from the outset, and then falls into a major ambush at a pass near Clontibret. Tyrone’s army, about 4,000 strong, consists of contingents from the O’Neill, MacMahon and Maguire clans, as well as Scottish mercenaries. The Irish also deploy a greatly enlarged force of cavalry and caliver-men. To Bagenal’s puzzlement, the caliver-men are turned out in red coats and acquitted themselves with expertise. Fire from the flanks is heavy, and many English troops are killed or wounded while the Irish cavalry plays around the fringes. Tyrone himself is almost killed in hand-to-hand combat with a Palesman named Seagrave, who leads a cavalry charge on the Irish position. Seagrave has his arm chopped off by Tyrone’s standard bearer O’Cahan, and is killed by Tyrone with a dagger thrust to the groin. Bagenal’s column is slowed to a crawl and, as night falls in the wilderness, the commander calls his men to a halt and camps at the hilltop of Ballymacowen. It seems that hundreds are missing, and there is fear that the Irish will renew the attack under cover of darkness. There is no further attack and, a little after first light, reinforcements from Newry arrive to relieve the column.

According to intelligence received in the days following, Tyrone’s failure to follow up is caused by a lack of powder, ironic given the state of Bagenal’s own supplies. The overall sense in government is of disquiet, and a bad job is made of hushing up the casualty figures. This gives fuel to the rumours of a severe defeat, and many people set greater store on the numbers put about by confederate supporters.

Sir Ralph Lane, the muster-master-general, informs the queen’s principal secretary, William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, that “more men were hurt and killed in that late service than was convenient to declare.” The casualty figures for both sides vary depending on sources. Bagenal admits only 31 killed and 109 wounded on the second day of fighting, but his losses are almost certainly higher. The Irish annals claimed up to 700 English killed. Estimates of the confederate losses vary between 100 to 400 killed. Three years later, Bagenal leads an army into another ambush by Tyrone, at the Battle of the Yellow Ford. The English general is killed and his troops are routed with heavy losses.

(From: “Battle of Clontibret,” wikia.org, https://military.wikia.org | Pictured: The marker stone on the northern edge of the battlefield commemorating the Irish victory at Clontibret, 1595)


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Ahern Meets Paisley in County Antrim

paisley-and-ahern-2008Taoiseach Bertie Ahern visits Ballymena on February 1, 2008 to meet Northern Ireland First Minister Ian Paisley in his County Antrim constituency. Paisley says the Taoiseach’s visit to north Antrim is a historic day, and Ahern says his visit is another tangible benefit of the ongoing peace process.

Ahern and Paisley discuss political and economic developments in Northern Ireland and increasing cross-Border co-operation. The Taoiseach says he is honoured to visit the north Antrim heartland of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader.

“I do not believe even a year back it could have been envisaged we would have been together here,” Ahern says. “It is an honour to be here with the First Minister to talk about progress.”

Paisley jokes that Ahern and his entourage had held a prayer meeting in their helicopter hoping that they would not be pelted with snowballs by him, a reference to his famous protest when former Taoiseach Seán Lemass visited Stormont in 1965.

When asked about welcoming the Fianna Fáil leader to his constituency Paisley quips, “What I am saying is he is in under my control. This is a good day for work. It is a good day for our province. It is a good day for the whole of Ireland because we need help from outside. We cannot live on our own.”

Ahern and Paisley meet again the following week at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce AGM dinner where Paisley has been invited to be a guest speaker.

The engagement is the latest visit to the Republic by the DUP leader since the Assembly was restored in Stormont the previous May. The Taoiseach invites Paisley to the historic Battle of the Boyne battle site in County Louth in July where the DUP leader presents a 17th-century musket to Ahern.

In October 2007, Paisley addresses the Trinity College Historical Society in Dublin and also attends an event in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in the city in November.

(From The Irish Times, Friday, February 1, 2008)