seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Luis de Lacy, Spanish Soldier of Irish Descent

Luis Roberto de Lacy, a Spanish professional soldier of Irish descent who serves in the Spanish and French Imperial armies, is born on January 11, 1775 in San Roque, Cádiz, Spain.

De Lacy is born to Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick de Lacy, an officer in the Ultonia or Ulster Regiment, a foreign unit or Infantería de línea extranjera of the Spanish army. Patrick dies sometime before 1785 and his wife, Antonia, remarries Jean Gautier, another Ultonia officer. His grandfather, General Patrick de Lacy y Gould, came from Limerick. Along with many relatives, he was part of the post-1691 Irish diaspora known as the Flight of the Wild Geese.

De Lacy is commissioned into the Ultonia regiment when he is ten, although his age is recorded as thirteen to satisfy minimum requirements. Issuing commissions to children is not unusual, as they are considered private investments and often used to provide pensions for orphans. Although by now the Ultonia is no longer “Irish,” many of the officers are Spanish-born descendants of the original Irish emigrants, including his uncle Francis and various cousins.

In 1789, de Lacy joins an expedition to Puerto Rico, accompanied by his stepfather. They apparently quarrel and on their return, de Lacy walks to Porto, in Portugal, intending to take ship to the Maluku Islands, before his stepfather brings him home.

Promoted captain, de Lacy takes part in the War of the Pyrenees against France, which ends with the April 1795 Peace of Basel. He is posted to the Canary Islands in 1799, where he fights a duel with the local Capitán-General. Despite being transferred to El Hierro, he continues their feud. He is court-martialed as a result and sentenced to one year in the Royal Prison at the Concepción Arsenal at Cádiz.

De Lacy’s jailers allegedly consider him mentally unbalanced. As a result, he is stripped of his commission and barred from re-enlisting in the Spanish army. He moves to France in order to continue his career and is appointed captain in the Irish Legion, a French army unit formed in Brittany and intended to support an Irish rising. Although many of its officers are Irish exiles or of Irish descent, the rank and file are mostly Polish.

When the proposed rebellion fails to materialise, the Legion is posted to the Netherlands, where it remains until the War of the Third Coalition ends in 1806. De Lacy is appointed commandant of the second battalion, which participates in the 1807 Invasion of Portugal. In March 1808, Charles IV of Spain abdicates in favour of his son, Ferdinand, who is replaced in May by Joseph Bonaparte and held in France.

De Lacy arrives in Madrid shortly before the May 1808 revolt known as the Dos de Mayo. He deserts and is reinstated in the Spanish army as colonel of the Burgos regiment.

In July 1809, de Lacy is given command of the Isla de León, an important defensive position in Cádiz, home of the Regency Council that rules Spain in Ferdinand’s absence. He leads the 1st Division at the Battle of Ocaña on November 19, 1809. The collapse of the Spanish cavalry under Manuel Freire de Andrade exposes him to a flank attack that practically annihilates his division. A second defeat at Alba de Tormes on November 29 leaves the Spanish unable to confront the French in open battle and they resort to guerrilla tactics.

Although Cádiz is besieged by the French from February 1810 to August 1812, support from the Royal Navy allows the Council to send small amphibious expeditions intended to bolster resistance elsewhere. De Lacy leads landings in Algeciras, Ronda, Marbella and Huelva and although unable to hold them, this absorbs French resources. In March 1811, his troops support an Anglo-Spanish attempt to break the siege of Cádiz. The resulting Battle of Barrosa is a significant victory, although command failures mean the siege continues.

After the loss of Tarragona in June 1811, de Lacy replaces the Marquess of Campoverde as Capitán-General of Catalonia, a position held by his uncle Francis from 1789 to 1792. French efforts to capture Valencia weaken them elsewhere and provide the Spanish opportunities for partisan warfare. He leads a series of incursions into the French departments of Haute-Garonne and Ariège. These restore local morale and force the French to send reinforcements.

Most major towns, including Barcelona, Tarragona and Lleida, remain in French hands and in early 1812, Napoleon makes Catalonia part of France. The focus on guerrilla tactics lead to an increasingly bitter war of reprisals and executions by both sides, which severely impact the civilian population. Many of the partisan bands are beyond central control and their operations often indistinguishable from simple brigandage. This leads to conflict between de Lacy and local Catalan leaders and in January 1813, he moves to Santiago de Compostela as Captain General of the Kingdom of Galicia. He assumes command of the Reserva de Galicia, which he focuses on disciplining and reorganising. Following Allied victory at Vitoria in June 1813, the French withdraw from Spain and Ferdinand returns to Madrid in April 1814.

Ferdinand rejects a previous commitment to accept the Spanish Constitution of 1812 and establishes an absolutist regime. Spain also faces colonial wars in the Americas, which begin in 1810 and continue until 1833. This destabilises the regime and leads to a series of attempted coups, by military officers like de Lacy backed by progressive civilian elements, often linked by Freemasonry.

Following failed attempts in 1815 and 1816, de Lacy returns to Barcelona and assisted by a former subordinate, Francisco Milans del Bosch, plan another. This begins on April 5, 1817 but quickly collapses. De Lacy is captured, court-martialed, and sentenced to death. Following public protests against the sentence, he is secretly taken to Palma de Mallorca, held at Bellver Castle and executed there by firing squad on July 5, 1817.

In 1820, a revolt led by Colonel Rafael del Riego forces Ferdinand to restore the 1812 Constitution. This begins the Trienio Liberal, a period of liberalisation that ends in 1823, when a French army allows Ferdinand to re-assert control. However, in 1820 the reconstituted Cortes Generales declares de Lacy a martyr. Along with others including Riego, he is commemorated on a plaque in the Palacio de las Cortes, Madrid, which can still be seen today. De Lacy is buried at the Cementiri de Sant Andreu, in Barcelona.


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Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Little Christmas)

Little Christmas, traditionally known as Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Little Christmas, takes place on January 6 each year. It is also known more widely as the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated after the conclusion of the twelve days of Christmastide. It is the traditional end of the Christmas season and until 2013 was the last day of the Christmas holidays for both primary and secondary schools in Ireland.

Owing to differences in liturgical calendars, as early as the fourth century, the churches of the Eastern Roman Empire were celebrating Christmas on January 6, while those of the Western Roman Empire were celebrating it on December 25.

In October 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduces the Gregorian calendar as a correction the Julian calendar, because the latter has too many leap years that cause it to drift out of alignment with the solar year. This has liturgical significance since calculation of the date of Easter assumes that spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere occurs on March 21. To correct the accumulated error, he ordains the date be advanced by ten days. Most Roman Catholic countries adopt the new calendar immediately and Protestant countries follow suit over the following 200 years. For this reason, in some parts of the world, the Feast of the Epiphany, which is traditionally observed on January 6, is sometimes referred to as Old Christmas or Old Christmas Day.

In Ireland, Little Christmas is also called Women’s Christmas (Irish: Nollaig na mBan), and sometimes Women’s Little Christmas. The tradition, still strong in counties Cork and Kerry, is so called because Irish men take on household duties for the day. Goose is the traditional meat served on Women’s Christmas. Some women hold parties or go out to celebrate the day with their friends, sisters, mothers and aunts. As a result, parties of women and girls are common in bars and restaurants on this night.

In Ireland and Puerto Rico, it is the traditional day to remove the Christmas tree and decorations. The tradition is not well documented, but one article from a January 1998 issue of The Irish Times, entitled “On the woman’s day of Christmas,” describes both some sources of information and the spirit of this occasion.

A “Little Christmas” is also a figure in Irish set dancing. It refers to a figure where half the set, four dancers, join together with hands linked behind partners lower back, and the whole figure proceeds to rotate in a clockwise motion, usually for eight bars.

So, to all of the women of Ireland and the Irish diaspora, Nollaig na mBan shona daoibh!


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Death of Boston Politician James Michael Curley

james-michael-curleyJames Michael Curley, American Democratic Party politician and one of the best known and most colourful big-city Democratic bosses, dies in Boston, Massachusetts on November 12, 1958. He dominated Boston politics throughout the first half of the 20th century.

Curley’s father, Michael Curley, a juvenile petty criminal, leaves Oughterard, County Galway, at the age of fourteen. He settles in Roxbury, an Irish immigrant neighborhood in Boston.

Curley never forgets the needs of new immigrants, and he owes much of his political success to serving those needs in exchange for votes. He enters politics in 1899, winning a seat on the Boston common council. In 1904 he is imprisoned briefly for impersonating a friend at a civil service examination.

Curley serves in a succession of elective capacities—as a state legislator, alderman, city councilman, and U.S. representative—before winning the mayoralty in 1914, resigning his congressional seat to assume the municipal office.

Curley centralizes the powers of patronage in his own hands and distributes public-works jobs in such a way as to retain the loyalty and support of his working-class electoral base. As mayor, he nearly brings the city to bankruptcy by spending enormous sums on parks and hospitals to satisfy his various constituencies. He is a gifted orator and a resourceful political campaigner. He loses his bid for reelection in 1918, wins in 1922, loses in 1926, and wins again in 1930.

Unable to win a seat in the Massachusetts delegation to the 1932 Democratic National Convention in 1932, Curley contrives by means he never explains to be elected a delegate from Puerto Rico. He supports the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but national party leaders look upon the controversial Curley as something of an embarrassment. As governor of Massachusetts from 1935 to 1937, he spends New Deal funds lavishly on roads, bridges, and other public works programs. He is out of elective office from 1938 to 1942, during which period he loses bids for the United States Senate, mayor, and governor. He wins a seat in the United States House of Representatives in 1942, however, and is reelected two years later. He follows with another tenure as mayor of Boston (1947–50) but spends five months of his term in federal prison following a conviction for mail fraud. President Harry S. Truman secures his release and, in 1950, grants him a full pardon.

Curley, who has foiled an attempt by the Republican Party to have him replaced while he is in prison, retires from politics after losing reelection bids in 1950 and 1954. His career inspires Edwin O’Connor’s popular novel The Last Hurrah (1956), and the next year Curley’s best-selling autobiography, I’d Do It Again, is published.

James Curley dies in Boston, Massachusetts on November 12, 1958. His death is followed by one of the largest funerals in the city’s history. He is interred in Old Calvary Cemetery.


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Death of U.S. President William McKinley

william-mckinleyWilliam McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, dies on September 14, 1901, eight days after being shot by anarchist Leon Czolgozc and six months into his second term. McKinley leads the nation to victory in the Spanish–American War, raises protective tariffs to promote American industry, and maintains the nation on the gold standard in a rejection of free silver.

McKinley is born on January 29, 1843 in Niles, Ohio, the seventh child of William McKinley Sr. and Nancy (née Allison) McKinley. The McKinleys are of English and Scots-Irish descent and settled in western Pennsylvania in the 18th century, tracing back to a David McKinley who is born in Dervock, County Antrim, in present-day Northern Ireland.

McKinley is the last president to serve in the American Civil War and the only one to start the war as an enlisted soldier, beginning as a private in the Union Army and ending as a brevet major. After the war, he settles in Canton, Ohio, where he practices law and marries Ida Saxton. In 1876, he is elected to the United States Congress, where he becomes the Republican Party‘s expert on the protective tariff, which he promises will bring prosperity. His 1890 McKinley Tariff is highly controversial which, together with a Democratic redistricting aimed at gerrymandering him out of office, leads to his defeat in the Democratic landslide of 1890.

McKinley is elected Ohio’s governor in 1891 and 1893, steering a moderate course between capital and labor interests. With the aid of his close adviser Mark Hanna, he secures the Republican nomination for president in 1896, amid a deep economic depression. He defeats his Democratic rival, William Jennings Bryan, after a front porch campaign in which he advocates “sound money” and promises that high tariffs will restore prosperity.

Rapid economic growth marks McKinley’s presidency. He promotes the 1897 Dingley Act to protect manufacturers and factory workers from foreign competition, and in 1900, he secures the passage of the Gold Standard Act. He hopes to persuade Spain to grant independence to rebellious Cuba without conflict, but when negotiation fails, he leads the nation into the Spanish–American War of 1898. The U.S. victory is quick and decisive. As part of the Treaty of Paris, Spain turns over to the United States its main overseas colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Cuba is promised independence, but at that time remains under the control of the U.S. Army. The United States annexes the independent Republic of Hawaii in 1898 and it became a U.S. territory.

Historians regard McKinley’s 1896 victory as a realigning election, in which the political stalemate of the post–Civil War era gives way to the Republican-dominated Fourth Party System, which begins with the Progressive Era.

McKinley defeats Bryan again in the 1900 presidential election, in a campaign focused on imperialism, protectionism, and free silver. However, his legacy is suddenly cut short when he is shot on September 6, 1901 by Leon Czolgosz, a second-generation Polish American with anarchist leanings. McKinley dies eight days later on September 14, 1901, and is succeeded by his Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt. He is buried at the McKinley National Memorial in Canton, Ohio.

As an innovator of American interventionism and pro-business sentiment, McKinley’s presidency is generally considered above average, though his highly positive public perception is soon overshadowed by Roosevelt.