seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Catalpa Rescue

catalpaThe whaling ship Catalpa is given a tumultuous welcome as it sails into New York harbor on August 19, 1876. She has no whales on board, but a far more valuable cargo, six Fenian prisoners from the British penal colony of Western Australia.

Clan na Gael‘s John Devoy, with the help of his friend John Boyle O’Reilly, a Fenian who had once escaped from Australia himself and editor of the Boston newspaper The Pilot, plan the escape. Somehow maintaining the secrecy of the mission, the two arrange to buy and crew the whaler Catalpa, purchased in New Bedford, Massachusetts, for the attempt.

The Catalpa sets out in April 1875 with most of the crew unaware of their actual mission. They reach western Australia in March 1876.

The first intended day for escape from the penal colony is April 6, but the appearance of HMS Convict and other Royal Navy ships and customs officers quickly lead to a postponement. The escape is rearranged for April 17, when most of the Convict Establishment garrison is watching the Royal Perth Yacht Club regatta.

Catalpa drops anchor in international waters off Rockingham and dispatches a whaleboat to shore. At 8:30 AM, six Fenians, Thomas Darragh, Martin Hogan, Michael Harrington, Thomas Hassett, Robert Cranston and James Wilson, who are working in work parties outside the prison walls abscond. They are met by Fenian agents John Breslin and Thomas Desmond and picked up in horse traps. A seventh Fenian, James Kiely, is left behind. The men race 12 miles south to Rockingham pier where Captain George Smith Anthony awaits them with the whaleboat. A local named Bell he had spoken to earlier sees the men and quickly alerts the authorities.

As they row to the Catalpa a fierce squall strikes, breaking the whaleboat’s mast. The storm lasts until dawn on April 18 and is so intense that Anthony later states that he did not expect the small boat to survive. At 7:00 AM, with the storm over, they again make for the Catalpa but an hour later spot the screw steamer SS Georgette, which has been commandeered by the colonial governor, heading for the whaler. The men lay down in the whaleboat and it is not seen by the SS Georgette. The SS Georgette finds the Catalpa, but in Captain Anthony’s absence the First Mate refuses to allow the colonial police to board as the ship is outside the colony’s three-mile limit. The steamer is forced to return to Fremantle for coal after following the Catalpa for several hours.

As the whaleboat again makes for the ship a police cutter with 30 to 40 armed men is spotted. The two boats race to reach the Catalpa first, with the whaleboat winning, and the men climbing aboard as the police cutter passes by. The cutter turns, lingers briefly beside the Catalpa, and then heads to shore.

Early on April 19 the refuelled and now heavily armed SS Georgette returns and comes alongside the whaler, demanding the surrender of the prisoners and attempting to herd the ship back into Australian waters. They fire a warning shot with the 12-pounder cannon that had been installed the night before. Ignoring the demand to surrender, Anthony raises and then points towards the U.S. flag, informing the SS Georgette that an attack on the Catalpa will be considered an act of war against the United States, and proceeds westward.

Governor William Cleaver Robinson has ordered the police on the SS Georgette not to create an incident outside territorial waters. After steaming around threateningly for about an hour, the SS Georgette heads back to Fremantle and Catalpa slips away into the Indian Ocean.

The Catalpa does its best to avoid Royal Navy ships on its way back to the United States. O’Reilly receives the news of the escape on June 6 and releases the news to the press. The news sparks celebrations in the United States and Ireland and anger in Britain and Australia, although there is also sympathy for the cause within the Australian population. The Catalpa arrives in New York Harbor on August 19, 1876. Clan na Gael and the Fenians achieve one of their greatest victories over the British Empire.

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The Closing of Ellis Island

Ellis Island, the gateway to America, shuts it doors on November 12, 1954, after processing more than 12 million immigrants, including an estimated two million Irish, since opening in 1892. Today, an estimated 40 percent of all Americans can trace their roots through Ellis Island, located in New York Harbor off the New Jersey coast and named for merchant Samuel Ellis, who owned the land in the 1770s.

On January 2, 1892, 15-year-old Annie Moore, from County Cork, becomes the first person to pass through the newly opened Ellis Island, which President Benjamin Harrison designates as America’s first federal immigration center in 1890. Prior to the opening of Ellis Island the processing of immigrants has been handled by individual states.

Not all immigrants who sail into New York have to go through Ellis Island. First- and second-class passengers submit to a brief shipboard inspection and then disembarked at the piers in New York or New Jersey, where they pass through customs. People in third class, though, are transported to Ellis Island, where they undergo medical and legal inspections to ensure they do not have a contagious disease or some condition that might make them a burden to the government. Only two percent of all immigrants are denied entrance into the United States.

Immigration to Ellis Island peaks between 1892 and 1924, during which time the 3.3-acre island is enlarged with landfill and additional buildings are constructed to handle the massive influx of immigrants. During the busiest year of operation, 1907, over 1 million people are processed at Ellis Island.

With the United States’ entrance into World War I, immigration declines and Ellis Island is used as a detention center for suspected enemies. Following the war, Congress passes quota laws and the Immigration Act of 1924, which sharply reduces the number of newcomers allowed into the country and also enables immigrants to be processed at U.S. consulates abroad. After 1924, Ellis Island switches from a processing center to serving other purposes, such as a detention and deportation center for illegal immigrants, a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War II and a Coast Guard training center. In November 1954, the last detainee, a Norwegian merchant seaman, is released and Ellis Island officially closes.

Beginning in 1984, Ellis Island undergoes a $160 million renovation, the largest historic restoration project in U.S. history. In September 1990, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum opens to the public and today is visited by almost 2 million people every year.


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Annie Moore Departs Queenstown for the United States

annie-mooreFifteen-year-old Annie Moore departs Queenstown, now Cobh, County Cork, on December 20, 1891, and becomes the first immigrant to the United States to pass through the Ellis Island facility in New York Harbor.

Her parents, Matthew and Julia Moore, had come to the United States in 1888 and are living at 32 Monroe Street in Manhattan. Moore departs from Queenstown aboard the S.S. Nevada, one of 148 steerage passengers. Accompanied by her brothers, Anthony and Philip, she spends twelve days at sea, including Christmas Day, arriving in New York on Thursday evening, December 31. It is reported that her arrival is on her 15th birthday, but records in Ireland reveal that her birthday is in May and she is actually seventeen.

Ellis Island officially opens on January 1, 1892 and, as the first person to be processed at the newly opened facility, Moore is presented with an American $10 gold piece from an American official. All three children are soon reunited with their parents in New York. From 1820 to 1920, more than 4 million people leave their native shores of Ireland bound for the Port of New York and a new life in America.

Moore marries a son of German immigrants, Joseph Augustus Schayer, an employee at Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market, with whom she has at least eleven children. She dies of heart failure on December 6, 1924, and is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens. Her previously unmarked grave is identified in August 2006. On October 11, 2008, a dedication ceremony is held at Calvary which celebrates the unveiling of a marker for her grave, a Celtic Cross made of Irish Blue Limestone.

The Irish American Cultural Institute presents an annual Annie Moore Award “to an individual who has made significant contributions to the Irish and/or Irish American community and legacy.” Moore’s story is told in the song “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears,” written by Brendan Graham. The song has been performed by Tynan and by The Irish Tenors, of which Tynan was formerly a member. Other artists performing the song include Seán Keane, Sean & Dolores Keane, Daniel O’Donnell, Celtic Thunder, Irish tenor Brian Dunphy, Celtic Woman, and Tommy Fleming.

A woman named “Annie Moore” who died near Fort Worth, Texas in 1924 had long been thought to be the one whose arrival marked the beginning of Ellis Island. Further research, however, established that the Annie Moore in Texas was born in Illinois.