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


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Death of Charlotte Grace O’Brien, Philanthropist & Activist

Charlotte Grace O’Brien, author, philanthropist and an activist in nationalist causes and the protection of female emigrants, dies on June 3, 1909. She is known also as a plant collector.

Born on November 23, 1845 at Cahirmoyle, County Limerick, O’Brien is the younger daughter in a family of five sons and two daughters. Her father is William Smith O’Brien, the Irish nationalist and her mother is Lucy Caroline, eldest daughter of Joseph Gabbett, of High Park, County Limerick. On her father’s return in 1854 from the penal colony in Tasmania, she rejoins him in Brussels, and stays there until he comes back to Cahirmoyle in 1856. On her mother’s death in 1861, she moves with her father to Killiney, near Dublin, and is his constant companion until his death at Bangor, Gwynedd in 1864.

From 1864, O’Brien lives at Cahirmoyle with her brother Edward, caring for his motherless children until his remarriage in 1880. Having been hard of hearing since childhood, by 1879 she has become entirely deaf. She goes to live at Ardanoir near Foynes on the River Shannon, and spends time writing. She becomes a staunch supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell.

A bad harvest in Ireland in 1879, combined with Irish political turmoil, causes many Irish people to emigrate to the United States. In articles and letters to newspapers and reviews, O’Brien exposes the awful conditions that exist in the Queenstown (Cobh) lodging houses, on board the emigrant ships, and in the dock slums of New York City, where the Irish have to stay upon landing. A notable piece she writes is the Horrors of the Immigrant Ship which appears in The Pall Mall Gazette on May 6, 1881.

A visit to Queenstown, the port of embarkation, and a tour of the White Star Line‘s Germanic leads her to successfully lobby to get a Catholic priest aboard the emigrant ship to help ease the passage, at least spiritually. That achievement captures even more public attention by virtue of the fact that O’Brien herself is Protestant. Despite the limit of 1,000 passengers, she notes the steamer has carried as many as 1,775 at one time.

O’Brien presses the Board of Trade for greater vigilance, and in April 1882, founds a 105-bed boarding house at Queenstown for the reception and protection of girls on the point of emigrating. The O’Brien Emigrants Home at The Beach, Queenstown fails because it is boycotted by other boardinghouse keepers and local merchants, forcing her to order provisions from Cork.

O’Brien also daily visits three or four of the ships for which her lodgers are destined along with a medical officer. She makes passages herself to America, using the occasion to investigate shipboard conditions and lobby for the reform and enforcement of health and safety standards.

O’Brien finds little effort to provide food, drink or accommodation at the Castle Garden entry facility. She also finds that often the illiterate young women are being tricked into prostitution through spurious offers of employment. Additionally, she notes the high infant mortality rates in the tenements where the women live. She proposes to Archbishop John Ireland of Minnesota an information bureau at Castle Garden, a temporary shelter to provide accommodation for immigrants and a chapel. Archbishop Ireland agrees to raise the matter at the May 1883 meeting of the Irish Catholic Association which endorses the plan and votes to establish an information bureau at Castle Garden. Ireland also contacts Cardinal John McCloskey, Archbishop of New York, about providing a priest for immigrants arriving at Castle Garden.

The Mission opens on January 1, 1884 with Rev. John J. Riordan appointed as the first chaplain at Castle Garden. Immigrant girls needing accommodation are placed in local boarding houses until May 1 when a Home for Immigrant Girls is opened at 7 Broadway. In 1885, the James Watson House at 7 State Street is purchased from Isabella Wallace for the Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary for the Protection of Irish Immigrant Girls to serve as a way station for young immigrant women. Between 1884 and 1890, the Mission provides assistance to 25,000 Irish immigrant women.

In 1881–82, O’Brien embarks on a campaigning lecture tour in the United States. She encounters problems, however, particularly given her Protestant background and the need to enlist support from Catholic clergy. Poor health, and her profound deafness cause her to curtail her activities in America. When she returns to Ireland in 1883, she finds herself suspected of being a British agent whose Emigrant Boarding house and whose plans for an American home for Irish immigrant girls facilitate the government’s assisted emigrant scheme. Supposedly, this would be the scheme that helps landlords clear their estates of poor tenants. In fact, O’Brien opposes assisted emigration, but she continues to assist those who are sent to her.

O’Brien retires from active public work in 1886, moving to Ardanoir, Foynes, on the Shannon Estuary. She spends considerable time in Dublin, where she socialises with Douglas Hyde and the painter William Osbourne. She joins the Roman Catholic Church in 1887. She dies of heart failure on June 3, 1909 at Foynes, and is buried at Knockpatrick.


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The Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848

young-irelander-rebellion-1848The Young Irelander Rebellion, a failed Irish nationalist uprising against the British led by the Young Ireland movement, takes place on July 29, 1848 in the village of Ballingarry, County Tipperary. The rebellion is part of the wider Revolutions of 1848 that affect most of Europe. It is sometimes called the Famine Rebellion (since it takes place during the Great Famine) or the Battle of Ballingarry.

In 1846, William Smith O’Brien, alongside John Mitchel, form the Irish Confederation with the Young Ireland movement which is dedicated to direct action against the British. Two short years later they are already calling for open rebellion, despite the fact that Ireland is now in the third year of the devastating famine which is leaving millions of the country’s people in brutal starvation.

Just a year after Black ‘47, the worst year of the Great Famine, the Young Ireland movement is hoping to uprise and overthrow the British but with the starving Irish just struggling to stay alive, dying or emigrating in their thousands, their revolutionary talk does little to act as a call to arms for the average Irish person.

Whereas the mistreatment of the Irish people by the British had rightly led to an increased radicalism in Irish nationalist movement, without the general Irish population able to think of anything other than staying alive, it seems doomed to failure, especially after the arrest of Mitchel before the rebellion is even started. He is convicted of sedition and transported to a penal colony in Australia before the revolt begins, a move that leads to an increased furor to revolt among the leaders that remain.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien launches his rebellion. After being chased by a force of Young Irelanders and their supporters, a Royal Irish Constabulary unit takes refuge in a house and holds those inside as hostages.

It was evident to the rebels that the position of the police is almost impregnable. When a party of the Cashel police are seen arriving over Boulea Hill, the rebels attempt to stop them even though they are low on ammunition. The police continue to advance, firing up the road. It becomes clear that the police in the house are about to be reinforced and rescued. The rebels then fade away, effectively terminating both the era of Young Ireland and Repeal, but the consequences of their actions follow them for many years. This event is colloquially known as “The Battle of Widow McCormack’s cabbage plot.”

In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. On June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia). In 1854, after five years in Van Diemen’s Land, O’Brien is released on the condition he never return to the United Kingdom. He settled in Brussels.

(Pictured: The attack on the Widow McCormack’s house on Boulagh Common, Ballingarry, County Tipperary)


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Birth of Charlotte Grace O’Brien

charlotte-grace-obrien

Charlotte Grace O’Brien, author, philanthropist, plant collector, and activist in nationalist causes and the protection of female emigrants, is born on November 23, 1845 at Cahirmoyle, County Limerick.

O’Brien is the younger daughter in a family of five sons and two daughters of William Smith O’Brien, Irish nationalist, and his wife Lucy Caroline, eldest daughter of Joseph Gabbett, of High Park, County Limerick. Upon her father’s return in 1854 from the penal colony in Tasmania, she rejoins him in Brussels and stays there until his removal to Cahirmoyle in 1856. Upon her mother’s death in 1861 she moves with her father to Killiney, near Dublin, and is his constant companion until his death at Bangor, Gwynedd in 1864.

From 1864 O’Brien lives at Cahirmoyle with her brother Edward, tending his motherless children, until his remarriage in 1880. She then goes to live at Foynes on the River Shannon and there devotes herself to literary pursuits. She has already published in 1878 her first novel, Light and Shade, a tale of the Fenian rising of 1867, the material for which had been gathered from Fenian leaders. A Tale of Venice, a drama, and Lyrics appear in 1880.

By 1881 her interests and pen are absorbed in Irish political affairs, in which she shares her father’s opinions. She contributes articles to the Nineteenth Century on The Irish Poor Man (December 1880) and Eighty Years (March 1881). In the spring of 1881 the attitude of the liberal government towards Ireland leads her to address many fiery letters to The Pall Mall Gazette, then edited by John Morley.

Another interest, however, soon absorbs O’Brien’s activities. The disastrous harvest in Ireland in 1879, combined with Irish political turmoil, leads to much emigration to the United States. At Queenstown, the port of embarkation, female emigrants suffer much from overcrowded lodgings and robbery. She not only induces the board of trade to exercise greater vigilance but also founds in 1881 a large boarding-house at Queenstown for the reception and protection of girls on the point of emigrating.

In order to improve the steamship accommodations for female emigrants, and to study their prospects in America, O’Brien makes several steerage passages to America. She also establishes in New York a similar institution to that in Queenstown for the protection of girls. Many experiences during this period find expression in her Lyrics (Dublin, 1886), a small volume of poems, which gives simple pictures of the emigrants and contains some stirring nationalist ballads.

On her retirement from active public work in 1886, O’Brien returns to Ardanoir, Foynes, on the bank of the Shannon, devoting her leisure to writing and to study of plant life. She contributes much on the flora of the Shannon district to the Irish Naturalist and joins the Roman communion in 1887.

Charlotte Grace O’Brien dies on June 3, 1909 at Foynes, and is buried at Knockpatrick. Selections from her Writings and Correspondence is published at Dublin in 1909. Her verses have dignity and grace, her polemical essays are vigorous and direct, and her essays on nature charm by their simple style.


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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.