seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Battle of Curlew Pass

The Battle of Curlew Pass is fought on August 15, 1599, during the campaign of the Earl of Essex in the Nine Years’ War, between an English force under Sir Conyers Clifford and a rebel Irish force led by Hugh Roe O’Donnell. The English are ambushed and routed while marching through a pass in the Curlew Mountains, near the town of Boyle, in northwestern Ireland. The English forces suffer heavy casualties. Losses by allied Irish forces are not recorded but are probably minimal.

In April 1599, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, lands in Ireland with over 17,000 troops and cavalry to put down the rebellion of Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell, which has spread from Ulster to all Ireland. To this end, he supports an Irish enemy of O’Donnell’s, Sir Donogh O’Connor (O’Connor Sligo), encouraging him to repossess those territories of his in Sligo that O’Donnell has occupied. Sligo Town is an excellent advance base, with Ballyshannon 20 miles to the northeast commanding an important river-ford at the principal western passage into O’Donnell’s country in Ulster. English military advisers have long urged the government councils in Dublin and London to capture these strategic points. O’Connor’s brother-in-law, Tibbot ne Long Bourke, is appointed joint-commander with an English captain of a force sailing from Galway, and O’Connor is expected to receive them in Sligo. However, O’Donnell quickly besieges O’Connor at Collooney Castle with over 2,000 men in an effort to starve him out, and Essex is put on the back foot. Essex has no option but to support the besieged O’Connor, one of the few Gaelic chieftains the Crown can rely upon for support. He orders the experienced Sir Conyers Clifford, who is based in Athlone, to relieve the castle with 1,500 English infantry and 200 cavalry. It is hoped that the operation would also distract the chief rebel, O’Neill, and afford the crown an opportunity to march into his Ulster territory across its southeastern border.

O’Donnell leaves 300 men at Collooney Castle under his cousin, Niall Garbh O’Donnell, and sends another 600 to Sligo town to prevent the landing of English reinforcements under Tibbot ne Long Bourke. He then marches to Dunavaragh with 1,500 of his men, where he is joined by additional forces under local chieftains Conor MacDermott and Brian Óg na Samhthach Ó Ruairc. The Irish then carefully prepare an ambush site in the Curlew Mountains, along the English line of march. O’Donnell has trees felled and placed along the road to impede their progress. When he gets word of the English passing through Boyle, O’Donnell positions his men. Musketeers, archers and javelin men are placed in the woods alongside the road to harass the English. The main body of Irish infantry, armed with pikes and axes, are placed out of sight behind the ridge of the mountain.

In hot harvest weather, Clifford’s force marches from Athlone through Roscommon, Tulsk and Boyle. At 4:00 PM on August 15, they reach the foot of the Curlew Mountains, which have to be crossed before Sligo can be approached. The expedition is poorly supplied, and Clifford’s men are tired and hungry, and probably in no fit state to continue. But Clifford has received false intelligence that the pass is undefended, and he therefore chooses to seize the opportunity and march across, promising his troops plenty of beef in the evening. This means that his men miss out on the rest that had been planned for them in Boyle, whereas the Irish are well fed and prepared.

The English come under gunfire, arrow and javelin attack as soon as they reach the first of O’Donnell’s barricades, between Boyle and Ballinafad. The barricade is immediately abandoned by the Irish but as the English moved past and proceed up the hill they sustain further casualties. The road consists of “stones of six or seven foot broad, lying above ground, with plashes of bog between them,” and is lined with woodland on one side. The further the English advance, the more intensive the rebels’ fire becomes, and some English soldiers begin to lose their nerve and slip away. Eventually, there is a firefight, lasting about 90 minutes, at the end of which the English vanguard has run out of gunpowder. The commander of the vanguard, Alexander Radcliffe, can no longer control his troops. They wheel about in a panic and collide with the main column, which breaks and flees. The commander leads a charge with his remaining pikemen but is shot dead. With the English ranks in disarray, the main body of Irish infantry, which has concealed itself on the reverse slope of the hill, closes in and fights hand to hand. Clifford tries to regain control over his men, but appears overcome by his circumstances. He manages to rally himself and is killed by a pike-thrust as he rushes the enemy. The English are routed, but the situation is prevented from becoming a complete disaster for them when the commander of the horse, Sir Griffin Markham, charges uphill and temporarily drives the rebels back.

Though the actions of the English cavalry allows many of their foot soldiers to escape, Clifford’s men are pursued as far as the town of Boyle, where they find shelter in Boyle Abbey. About 500 English are killed in the battle. Irish losses are not recorded, but are probably small, having been firing from prepared positions and then routing a disorganised and demoralised enemy.

Clifford’s head is cut off and delivered to O’Donnell, who has remained nearby but without taking part in the fight. While the head is brought to Collooney Castle to intimidate its defenders, the trunk is carried by MacDermott to the monastery of Lough Key, where he hopes to use it to ransom his own prisoners. At last, the trunk is given a decent burial in the monastery.

O’Connor Sligo surrenders the castle shortly afterwards and reluctantly joins with the rebels. After the victory, there is a noticeable increase in the rate of desertion by Irish troops from the ranks of Essex’s army, and the earl orders that the surviving troops be divided up as fit only to hold walls.

The battle is a classic Gaelic Irish ambush, similar to the Battle of Glenmalure in 1580 or the Battle of the Yellow Ford in 1598. According to the Annals of the Four Masters, the victory is put down to the intercession of the Blessed Mary, rather than to arms. But Clifford had been overconfident, a trait in him that Essex once warned against, and it is clear that English military commanders are choosing to learn the hard way about the increased effectiveness of Irish rebel forces. Queen Elizabeth I‘s principal secretary, Sir Robert Cecil, rates this defeat (and the simultaneous defeat of Sir Henry Harrington in the Battle of Deputy’s Pass in County Wicklow) as the two heaviest blows ever suffered by the English in Ireland, and seeks to lay the blame indirectly on Essex. It leaves O’Donnell and O’Neill free from any threat from the Connacht side, and renders a land-based attack through Armagh highly improbable, a factor that weighs with Essex as he marches northward later in the year and enters a truce with O’Neill.

In August 1602, the Curlew Pass is the scene of the last victory won by the rebels during the war, when a panicking English force is again routed and suffers significant losses. This time the rebels are led by Rory O’Donnell who commands 400 musketeers.

Today the battlefield at Curlew Pass is overlooked by an impressionistic sculpture by Maurice Harron called “The Gaelic Chieftain”, unveiled in 1999.


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Charles Stewart Parnell’s Last Public Appearance

charles-stewart-parnellCharles Stewart Parnell makes his last public appearance at Creggs, County Galway on September 27, 1891.

After the split caused by the controversy over his relationship with Katharine O’Shea, Parnell tours the country seeking support. Already ill, his last public meeting is in Creggs, where he attacks his critics at length during heavy rain. He returns to his home in England and dies just over a week later, on October 6, at the age of 45.

Parnell, who is accompanied by J. P. Quinn, travels overnight from Dublin by the night mail train, is seen off by a considerable crowd at the Broadstone terminus and to them he makes a brief speech, expressing the hope that those who listen will give all support in their power to the new Nationalist paper it is intended to produce within a month. Parnell, who did not look at all well the previous night, wears his arm in a sling in consequence of his suffering from a severe attack of rheumatism.

When Parnell reaches Roscommon, he is met by a large crowd of people, who cheer him most enthusiastically. When he arrives at Mitchell’s Hotel, where he remains for the night, he is greeted with much enthusiasm, and, in response to repeated calls for a speech, he says a few words, explaining that on his arrival in Dublin he had been ordered by his doctor to go to bed and to remain there. But he disobeys those orders because of his desire to again meet with the men of Roscommon and Galway.

Parnell starts from Roscommon shortly after noon on September 27 and, in the company of Quinn and Luke Hayden, MP, travels to the meeting place in Creggs where he is met by a very large concourse of people. In fact, considering all the conditions of the district, its desolate character, and the smallness of the village, it is really surprising to find a gathering of between three and four thousand persons assembled.

As Parnell takes to the platform which is erected outside a pub in the village, sprinklings of rain begin to fall. Halfway through his speech the Heavens open and pour down upon the rally. Parnell, who is wearing light clothes and no hat, swats away an umbrella someone on the platform puts over him.

The crowd dwindles as the rain proves too hard to stand under, but Parnell perseveres and does not leave the platform until he has finished his entire speech. When he eventually finishes, he changes into dry clothes but finds such a mundane task difficult as his joints are so stiff and sore. He then joins twelve members of the organising committee for supper. Afterwards, on the train back to Dublin, he states how he regretted sitting at a table for thirteen as it is an extremely unlucky number.


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Birth of George Arthur French, Army Officer

george-arthur-frenchMajor General Sir George Arthur French, KCMG, British Army officer, is born in Roscommon, County Roscommon on June 19, 1841. He serves as the first Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police, predecessor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, from October 1873 to July 1876, and as Commandant of the colonial military forces in Queensland (1883–91) and New South Wales (1896–1902). He is also a relative of songwriter Percy French.

French is educated at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and commissioned in the Royal Artillery in 1860.

In 1871, at the request of the Canadian government, French is sent to Canada as a military inspector, eventually becoming head of the School of Gunnery at Kingston, Ontario.

French is appointed to organise the North-West Mounted Police on its creation in 1873, and the next year he leads the force on its famous march to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

French resigns in 1876 and returns to duty in the British Army, eventually attaining the rank of major general. The organizational skills developed in Canada are used to establish local defence forces in India and Australia. In September 1883 he is appointed Commandant of the Queensland Local Forces with the local rank of colonel, and arrives in the colony on January 4, 1884. In 1862, he marries Janet Clarke, daughter of the late Robert Long Innes, formerly of the 37th Regiment. French retires in 1891 and returns to England.

French retires from the army on September 3, 1902 and is knighted as Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) in the November 1902 Birthday Honours. For the next 19 years much of his time is spent guarding the crown jewels in London, where he dies on July 7, 1921. He is buried in Brompton Cemetery in London.


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Death of Irish Songwriter Percy French

percy-frenchPercy French, one of Ireland’s foremost songwriters and entertainers of his day, dies of pneumonia in Formby, England, on January 24, 1920.

French is born at Cloonyquin House, near Tulsk, County Roscommon. He is educated at Foyle College, Derry, and writes his first successful song, Abdul Abulbul Amir, while studying at Trinity College Dublin in 1877. The song is sold for £5 to an unscrupulous publisher and later becomes hugely popular and is falsely claimed by other authors.

He graduates from Trinity as a civil engineer in 1881 and joins the Board of Works in County Cavan as an “Inspector of Drains.” It is said that he writes his best songs during this period. French is also a prolific painter of landscape watercolours and during this period he considers art to be his true vocation. When he becomes well-known later in his life, his paintings from his time as a civil engineer become fashionable and sought after.

When the Board of Works reduces its staff around 1887, French turns to journalism as the editor of The Jarvey, a weekly comic paper. Upon the failure of the paper, French embarks on a long and successful career as a songwriter and entertainer. It is around this time that French marries Ethel Kathleen Armitage-Moore, second daughter of William Armytage-Moore, brother of Countess of Annesley. Tragically, at the age of 20, she dies during childbirth along with her daughter.

percy-french-statueFrench becomes renowned for composing and singing comic songs and gains considerable distinction with such songs as Phil the Fluther’s Ball, Slattery’s Mounted Foot, and The Mountains of Mourne. One of French’s most famous songs is Are Ye Right There Michael, a song that ridicules the state of the rail system in rural County Clare. The song causes such embarrassment to the rail company that it lead to an ultimately unsuccessful libel action against French. It is said that French arrives late for the libel hearing and, when questioned by the judge on his lateness, he responds, “Your honour, I travelled by the West Clare Railway,” which results in the case being thrown out.

French takes ill while performing in Glasgow and dies of pneumonia on January 24, 1920, at the age of 65 at the home of his cousin, Canon Richardson of Green Lea, in Formby. He is buried in the churchyard of St. Luke’s Parish Church, Formby in Merseyside. A statue of him sitting on a park bench can be found in the town center of Ballyjamesduff in honour of him and his famous song, Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff.


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Birth of Dr. Douglas Hyde, First President of Ireland

douglas-hydeDr. Douglas Hyde, Gaelic scholar and the first President of Ireland, is born at Longford House in Castlerea, County Roscommon, on January 17, 1860. In 1867, his father is appointed prebendary and rector of Tibohine, and the family moves to neighbouring Frenchpark, in County Roscommon. He is home schooled by his father and his aunt due to a childhood illness. While a young man, he becomes fascinated with hearing the old people in the locality speak the Irish language.

Rejecting family pressure to follow previous generations with a career in the Church, Hyde instead becomes an academic. He enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he gains a great facility for languages, learning Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and German, but his great passion in life is the preservation of the Irish language.

After spending a year teaching modern languages in Canada, Hyde returns to Ireland. For much of the rest of his life he writes and collects hundreds of stories, poems, and folktales in Irish, and translates others. His work in Irish helps to inspire many other literary writers, such as W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory.

In 1892, Hyde helps establish the Gaelic Journal and in November of that year writes a manifesto called The necessity for de-anglicising the Irish nation, arguing that Ireland should follow her own traditions in language, literature, and even in dress.

In 1893, Hyde founds the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) along with Eoin MacNeill and Fr. Eugene O’Growney and serves as its first president. Many of the new generation of Irish leaders who play a central role in the fight for Irish independence in the early twentieth century, including Patrick Pearse, Éamon de Valera, Michael Collins, and Ernest Blythe first become politicised and passionate about Irish independence through their involvement in the Gaelic League. Hyde does not want the Gaelic League to be a political entity, so when the surge of Irish nationalism that the Gaelic League helps to foster begins to take control of many in the League and politicize it in 1915, Hyde resigns as president.

Hyde takes no active part in the armed upheaval of the 1910s and 1920s, but does serve in Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Irish Free State’s Oireachtas, as a Free State senator in 1925-26. He then returns to academia, as Professor of Irish at University College Dublin, where one of his students is future Attorney General and President of Ireland Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.

In 1938, Hyde is unanimously elected to the newly created position of President of Ireland, a post he holds until 1945. Hyde is inaugurated on June 26, 1938, in the first inaugural ceremony in the nation’s history. Despite being placed in a position to shape the office of the presidency via precedent, Hyde by and large opts for a quiet, conservative interpretation of the office. In April 1940 he suffers a massive stroke and plans are made for his lying-in-state and state funeral, but to the surprise of everyone he survives, albeit paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. One of Hyde’s last presidential acts is a visit to the German ambassador Eduard Hempel on May 3, 1945 to offer his condolences on the death of Adolf Hitler, a visit which remains a secret until 2005.

Hyde leaves office on June 25, 1945, opting not to nominate himself for a second term. He opts not return to his Roscommon home due to his ill-health, but rather moves into the former Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant’s residence in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin, where he lived out the remaining four years of his life.

Hyde dies in Dublin on July 12, 1949 at age 89. As a former President of Ireland he is accorded a state funeral which, as a member of the Church of Ireland, takes place in Dublin’s Church of Ireland St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Since contemporary rules of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland at the time prohibit Roman Catholics from attending services in non-Catholic churches, all but one member of the Catholic cabinet remain outside the cathedral grounds while Hyde’s funeral takes place. Hyde is buried in Frenchpark, County Roscommon at Portahard Church.