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


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Death of Maurice Dease, Victoria Cross Recipient

maurice-deaseMaurice James Dease, British Army officer during World War I, dies in Mons, Belgium on August 23, 1914. He is one of the first British officer battle casualties of the war and the first posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross in the war.

Dease is born on September 28, 1889 in Gaulstown, Coole, County Westmeath to Edmund Fitzlaurence and Katherine Murray Dease. He is educated at Stonyhurst College and the Army Department of Wimbledon College before attending the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He is 24 years old, and a lieutenant in the 4th Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers, and is awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 23 August 1914, at Mons, Belgium.

Nimy Bridge is being defended by a single company of the 4th Royal Fusiliers and a machine-gun section with Dease in command. The gunfire is intense and the casualties very heavy, but the lieutenant continues to fire in spite of his wounds, until he is hit for the fifth time and is carried away.

Dease wins the first Victoria Cross to be awarded in the Great War and he receives it on the first day of the first significant British encounter in that war.

When Lieutenant Dease has been mortally wounded, Private Sidney Godley offers to defend the Railway Bridge while the rest of the section retreats and is also awarded the Victoria Cross. He is taken prisoner of war.

Dease is buried at St. Symphorien Military Cemetery, 2 kilometres east of Mons, Belgium. He is remembered with a plaque under the Nimy Railway Bridge, Mons and in Westminster Cathedral. His name is on the wayside cross in Woodchester, Stroud, Gloucestershire, on a cross at Exton, Rutland and on a plaque installed in St. Martin’s Church, Culmullen, County Meath. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Royal Fusiliers Museum in the Tower of London. Victoria Cross holders are being honoured with commemorative paving stones. Dease’s is the first to be unveiled on August 23, 2014 at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

Dease is portrayed in the BBC Three series Our World War (2014) by Dominic Thorburn.


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Birth of George Arthur French, Army Officer

george-arthur-french

Major 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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Formation of the Irish Citizen Army

The Irish Citizen Army (ICA) is formed on November 23, 1913, at the height of the Dublin Lockout. Its purpose is to enable the locked-out men to defend themselves in clashes with the Dublin Metropolitan Police and to counteract the demoralizing effects of unemployment by providing discipline, cohesion and purpose. The idea of forming a force apparently is first formally proposed in 1913 by Captain James Robert “Jack” White, an ex-army officer from County Antrim, who had been educated at Winchester College and Royal Military College, Sandhurst. During a speech in August, James Larkin had already suggested that the workers form a force. He publicly repeats this instruction on November 13. James Connolly likewise urges the men to train “as they are doing in Ulster.” Two weeks later drilling begins. According to the ICA constitution, its members are to “work for an Irish republic and for the emancipation of labour.” Larkin is anxious that those who enlist should not only espouse these principles but also be members of unions recognised by the Irish Trades Union Congress.

Despite competition from the Irish Volunteers, which launches on November 25, 1913, ICA membership quickly surpasses 1,000. However, after the dispute is over in January 1914 and the men return to work, the “army” all but disappears. But it is Connolly above all who, after his appointment as its commandant and as leader of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, rescues it from terminal decline and welds it into a potent force and potential weapon for his own use. He determines its structure, vets its officers and imposes a rigid discipline. He also demands an ideological commitment to revolution and the goal of an independent Irish socialist republic. The force’s guiding principle is that “the ownership of Ireland, moral and material, is vested by right in the people of Ireland.” Its membership remains small but it is otherwise superior to the much larger Irish Volunteers in its unity of purpose, lack of factional and ideological division and in the quality of its training.

After the outbreak of World War I, Connolly has become increasingly committed to fomenting an insurrection in Ireland. This is reflected in his military preparations with the ICA. He uses its headquarters, Liberty Hall, as his base. Fearing he might act on his own, and recognising the merits of collaboration, the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council informs him of their own clandestine plans for a rising and an agreement is reached.

During Easter week of 1916, 219 ICA men fight alongside over 1,300 from the Irish Volunteers. As the appointed leader of both forces in Dublin, Connolly skillfully ensures that the ideological and social divisions and personality clashes, which have hitherto blighted their relationship, are largely overcome. ICA forces are mainly concentrated at the General Post Office (GPO), the College of Surgeons and Dublin’s City Hall. They win volunteer admiration for their professionalism, dedication, and ruthlessness. Two of their leaders are subsequently executed – Connolly and Michael Mallin, the ICA Chief of Staff. Constance Markievicz, Mallin`s second-in command, is reprieved. Others are imprisoned or interned. The ICA is not revived after the insurrection. The new leadership of the ITGWU focuses instead on building up the union, safeguarding members’ wages and improving working conditions.