seamus dubhghaill

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


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Capture of Gustavus Conyngham, the Dunkirk Pirate

gustavus-conynghamIrish-born United States Navy Captain Gustavus Conyngham, “The Dunkirk Pirate,” is captured by the British Royal Navy in the waters off New York on April 27, 1779.

Conyngham is born in County Donegal in 1747 and emigrated to British America in 1763 in search of a better life. He settles in Philadelphia in order to work for his cousin Redmond Conyngham in the shipping industry. When the American Revolutionary War begins in 1775 he immediately sailed to France to try to procure supplies needed for the war effort.

The British become aware of Conyngham’s plans and manage to maneuver him out of his ship with the help of the Dutch. After the loss of his ship, he heads back to France, hoping to connect with an ally to the United States. It is there he meets Benjamin Franklin, who helps him in his adventures many times in the future. They form a lasting relationship, and Conyngham eventually awards Franklin the nickname “the Philosopher” for his intellectual fortitude and resourcefulness. Franklin is entrusted with several commissions of the Continental Navy, and on March 1, 1777 Conyngham is appointed Captain of the lugger Surprise.

Conyngham scores a first victory that would warm the heart of any Irishmen, capturing the British merchant ship Prince of Orange on May 3, 1777. Later that year he is commissioned a captain in the Continental Navy and given command of the USS Revenge. He begins a series of highly successful raids into British waters from the port of Dunkirk, thus earning his sobriquet “The Dunkirk Pirate.”

In 1778 Conyngham sets sail for the West Indies and terrorizes British vessels there before finally returning to Philadelphia on February 21, 1779. He and his men had claimed 60 prize vessels in just 18 months. When he sets sail again his luck runs out and his ship is captured by the British vessel HMS Galatea on April 27, 1779. Conyngham was taken to prison in England and treated harshly by his British captors.

After two failed escape attempts, Conyngham tunnels his way out of Mill Prison in Plymouth and manages to make his way to the continent. He joins John Paul Jones on a cruise on the Alliance before returning to the United States. He is captured by the British again in March 1780 and spends another year in Mill Prison.

After the war Conyngham fails in his efforts to continue his naval career or to gain recognition from the United States Congress for his service during the war. He had lost the commission papers given to him by colonial representatives in Paris in 1777. It is said that he assists in the defense of Philadelphia against his old British foes during the War of 1812.

Gustavus Conyngham dies in Philadelphia seven years later on November 27, 1819. Nearly a century later, John Sanford Barnes, a retired navy captain and naval historian, acquires a cache of autographs and documents from a sale by Charavay of Paris. In the collection is Conyngham’s commission from Benjamin Franklin. Barnes publishes his discovery in September 1902, proving that the “Dunkirk Pirate” had never been a pirate at all, but one of the first heroes of the United States Navy.

(Pictured: Captain Gustavus Conyngham, Continental Navy. Painting by V. Zveg, 1976, based on a miniature by Louis Marie Sicardi. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.)

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Death of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert

jean-joseph-amable-humbertGeneral Jean Joseph Amable Humbert, French soldier and French Revolution participant who leads a failed invasion of Ireland to assist Irish rebels in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, dies on January 3, 1823 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Born in the townland of La Coâre Saint-Nabord, outside Remiremont Vosges, Humbert is a sergeant in the National Guard of Lyon. He rapidly advances through the ranks to become brigadier general on April 9, 1794 and fights in the Western campaigns before being allocated to the Army of the Rhine.

In 1794, after serving in the Army of the Coasts of Brest, Humbert serves under Louis Lazare Hoche in the Army of the Rhin-et-Moselle. Charged to prepare for an expedition against Ireland, he takes command of the Légion des Francs under Hoche, sailing in the ill-fated Expédition d’Irlande against Bantry Bay in 1796, and is engaged in actions at sea against the Royal Navy. Contrary weather and enemy action force this expedition to withdraw. The trip home ends in a naval battle, the Action of 13 January 1797, during which Humbert, on the French ship Droits de l’Homme (1794), narrowly escapes death. As the ship is destroyed and sinks, hundreds of men perish, but Humbert is among the last to escape.

On his return to France, Humbert serves in the Army of the Sambre-et-Meuse, before being appointed to command the troops in another attempt to support a rising in Ireland in 1798. His command chiefly consists of infantry of the 70th demi-brigade with a few artillerymen and some cavalry of the 3rd Hussars, however by the time he arrives off the Irish coast the United Irish rising has already suffered defeat. The expedition is able to land in Ireland at Killala on Thursday August 23, 1798, meeting with initial success in the Battle of Castlebar where he routs the Irish Militia. Humbert subsequently declares a Republic of Connacht, with hopes of taking Dublin. However, Humbert’s small force is defeated at the Battle of Ballinamuck by the Irish Royal Army and he is taken as a prisoner of war by the authorities. The British send the French officers home in two frigates and then massacre their Irish supporters. Humbert makes no attempt to save the Irish who bravely supported him.

Humbert is shortly repatriated in a prisoner exchange and appointed in succession to the Armies of Mayence, Danube and Helvetia, with which he serves at the Second Battle of Zurich. He then embarks for Santo Domingo and participates in several Caribbean campaigns for Napoleon Bonaparte before being accused of plundering by General Brunet. It is also rumored that he engages in an affair with Pauline Bonaparte, the wife of his commanding officer Charles Leclerc. He is returned to France by order of General Leclerc in October 1802, for “prevarications, and liaison relationships with organisers of the inhabitants and with leaders of brigands.” A committed Republican, his displeasure at Napoleon’s Imperial pretensions lead to him being dismissed in 1803 and he retires to Morbihan in Brittany.

In 1810, after brief service in the Army of the North, Humbert emigrates to New Orleans, where he makes his acquaintance with French pirate Jean Lafitte. In 1813, Humbert joins the revolutionary Juan Bautista Mariano Picornell y Gomila in an unsuccessful attempt to foment rebellion in Spanish Mexico, but the effort fails. In 1814, Humbert again leaves New Orleans and joins the rebelling forces of Buenos Aires, briefly commanding a corps, before returning home. Humbert last fights the British at the Battle of New Orleans, as a volunteer private soldier in U.S. ranks, in the War of 1812, wearing his Napoleonic uniform. General Andrew Jackson thanks him for his assistance there after the American victory in January 1815. Thereafter Humbert lives peacefully as a schoolteacher until his death on January 3, 1823.

A monument to General Humbert depicting Mother Ireland stands on Humbert Street, Ballina, County Mayo. In 1989, sculptor Carmel Gallagher unveils a bust of General Humbert in Killala, Ireland, to mark the upcoming bicentennial of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.


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Sinking of the HMS Wasp

hms-waspHMS Wasp, a composite screw Banterer-class gunboat of the Royal Navy, is wrecked off Tory Island, County Donegal on September 22, 1884 with the loss of 52 lives. There are six survivors.

The Banterer class is designed by Nathaniel Barnaby, the Admiralty Director of Naval Construction. The keel of the HMS Wasp is laid at Barrow Iron Shipbuilding as yard number 71 and she is launched on October 5, 1880. She is commissioned on December 1, 1881 and is rigged with three masts, making her a barquentine-rigged vessel.

On her final voyage, HMS Wasp, under the command of Lieutenant J.D. Nicholls, is sailing from Westport, County Mayo, in the West of Ireland, to Moville in Inishowen, County Donegal, in Ulster, to pick up a party of police, bailiffs and court officials. These are to be transported to Inishtrahull, an island off Malin Head, to carry out evictions for non-payment of rents. Ironically, the ship had delivered urgently needed supplies of seed potatoes to the same islanders the previous year.

In the early morning of September 22, 1884, HMS Wasp is near Tory Island. The weather is cloudy with occasional squalls and rain showers. The commanding officer and most of the crew are in their bunks. The lieutenant navigating the ship is relatively unfamiliar with the area in which the ship is sailing. At 3:55 AM HMS Wasp runs aground on a reef. The initial shock breaks the hull of the ship and she begins to rapidly fill with water. The commander orders the ship’s boats lowered but HMS Wasp hits the reefs again, sinking so quickly that the boats cannot be launched. HMS Wasp sinks within fifteen minutes. Six crewmen manage to cling to one of the gunboat’s spars and they wash ashore on Tory Island and are found by islanders. The other 52 crew aboard drown.

A court martial is held for the survivors. The finding is that the cause of the wreck was a lack of care taken with the vessel’s navigation, but the survivors are all exonerated. The wreck is sold to the Cornish Salvage Co. in November 1910.


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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 Siege of Derry Begins

siege-of-derryThe Siege of Derry, the first major event in the Williamite War in Ireland, begins on April 18, 1689. The siege lasts nearly three and a half months, ending on July 30, 1689 when relief ships bringing the English Army sail down Lough Foyle.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 is a relatively bloodless revolution in which James II, King of England, Ireland and Scotland and a Roman Catholic convert, is ousted from power by the Parliament of England. The English throne is then offered to his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William III of England, also known as William of Orange. In Scotland, the privy council asks William III to assume responsibility for the government in January 1689, and he and Mary are formally offered the Scottish throne in March. The situation is different in Ireland where most of the population are Catholics. Irish Catholics are hoping that James will re-grant them lands, which had been seized from them after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–53). James thus looks to Ireland to muster support in regaining his kingdoms just as his father, Charles I, had done in the English Civil War of the 1640s.

On December 10, James flees London. He is caught but flees a second time on December 23 and makes his way to France. On March 12, James I lands in Kinsale with 6,000 French soldiers. He takes Dublin and marches north with an army of Irish and French Catholics.

In April 1689 reinforcements from England arrive under the command of Colonel John Cunningham, who is a native of the city. He is under instructions to take his orders from the Derry City Governor, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Lundy. Lundy advises Colonel Cunningham to leave as arrangements have been made for the city to be surrendered. Lundy calls a meeting with several of his most loyal supporters to discuss surrender. News of the meeting spread, angering many of the citizens. That night, Lundy and many others leave the city and board a ship to Scotland. The city’s defence is overseen by Major Henry Baker, Colonel Adam Murray, and Major George Walker, also an Anglican priest. Their slogan is “No Surrender.”

As the Jacobite army nears, all the buildings outside the city walls are set alight by the defenders to prevent them being used as cover by the besiegers.

The Jacobite army reaches Derry on April 18. James and his retinue ride to within 300 yards of Bishop’s Gate and demand the surrender of the city. He is rebuffed with shouts of “No surrender!” and some of the city’s defenders fire at him. James asks for surrender three more times but is refused each time. This marks the beginning of the siege. Cannon and mortar fire are exchanged and disease takes hold within the city. James returns to Dublin and leaves his forces under the command of Richard Hamilton.

Royal Navy warships under Admiral George Rooke arrive in Lough Foyle on June 11, but initially decline to ram through the heavily defended defensive boom across the River Foyle at Culmore.

On July 28, two armed merchant ships, Mountjoy and Phoenix, sail toward the boom, protected by the frigate HMS Dartmouth under Captain John Leake. Mountjoy rams and breaches the boom, and the ships move in, unloading many tons of food to relieve the siege. The city had endured 105 days of siege during which some 4,000 Protestants of a population of 8,000 are said to have died.

The siege is commemorated yearly by the Protestant Apprentice Boys of Derry who stage the week-long Maiden City Festival culminating in a parade around the walls of the city by local members, followed by a parade of the city by the full Association. Although violence has attended these parades in the past, those in recent years have been largely peaceful.

The song “Derry’s Walls” is written to commemorate the siege.


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Sinking of the SS Tuscania

ss-tuscaniaThe SS Tuscania, a luxury liner of the Cunard Line subsidiary Anchor Line converted for troop use, is torpedoed and sunk on February 5, 1918 off Rathlin Island, north of Ireland by the German U-boat UB-77. The ship is transporting over 2,000 American troops to the war in Europe. Over 200 people lose their lives.

SS Tuscania carries passengers between New York City and Glasgow while in service with the Anchor Line, on a route that had previously been assigned to her sister ship SS Transylvania. She continues to run this route even as World War I breaks out in Europe in August 1914 and Germany initiates a submarine campaign against merchant shipping in waters near the United Kingdom.

SS Tuscania makes international headlines for rescuing passengers and crew from the burning Greek steamer SS Athinai on September 20, 1915. In 1916, SS Tuscania is refitted and pressed into service as a troopship. She makes the news again in March 1917 by evading a submarine and a suspected Imperial German Navy armed merchant cruiser.

On January 24, 1918, SS Tuscania departs Hoboken, New Jersey, with 384 crew members and 2,013 United States Army personnel aboard. On the morning of February 5, 1918, she turns south for the North Channel en route to Liverpool. The German submarine UB-77 sights SS Tuscania′s convoy during the day and stalks it until early evening. Under the cover of darkness at about 6:40 PM, the submarine′s commanding officer, Korvettenkapitän Wilhelm Meyer, orders two torpedoes fired at SS Tuscania. The second of these strikes home, sending her to the bottom of the Irish Sea within about four hours. SS Tuscania sinks nearly three years to the day after her maiden voyage as a passenger liner. Approximately 210 of the troops and crew are lost, while many others are rescued by the Royal Navy destroyers HMS Mosquito and HMS Pigeon.

Three notable passengers who survive the sinking are British critic Sydney Brooks, Leonard Read, founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, and Harry Randall Truman who later dies in the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

The wreck of SS Tuscania lies between Scotland‘s Islay and Northern Ireland′s Rathlin Island, about 7 nautical miles north of Rathlin lighthouse, at roughly 55.41°N 06.185°W in 328 feet of water.


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Death of Novelist & Translator Patrick O’Brian

Patrick O'BrianPatrick O’Brian, English novelist and translator, dies in Dublin on January 2, 2000.

O’Brian is born Richard Patrick Russ, in Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire, to Charles Russ, an English physician of German descent, and Jessie Russ (née Goddard), an English woman of Irish descent. His literary career begins in his childhood with the publishing of his earliest works, including several short stories, the book Hussein, An Entertainment, and the short story collection Beasts Royal. The latter two bring him considerable critical praise especially considering his youth. He publishes his first novel, Caesar: The Life Story of a Panda Leopard, at the age of 15 with help from his father.

O’Brian is best known for his Aubrey–Maturin series of sea novels set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, and centered on the friendship of the English naval captain Jack Aubrey and the Irish–Catalan physician Stephen Maturin. The 20-novel series, the first of which is Master and Commander, is known for its well-researched and highly detailed portrayal of early 19th-century life, as well as its authentic and evocative language. A partially finished 21st novel in the series is published posthumously containing facing pages of handwriting and typescript.

O’Brian write a number of other novels and short stories, most of which were published before he achieves success with the Aubrey–Maturin series. He also translates works from French to English, and writes two biographies.

O’Brian’s major success as a writer comes late in life, when the Aubrey-Maturin series catches the eye of an American publisher. The series draws more readers and favourable reviews when the author is in his seventies. Near the end of his life, and in the same year he loses his beloved wife, British media reveals details of O’Brian’s early life, first marriage, and post-war change of name, causing distress to the very private author and to many of his readers at that time.

Between 1946 and 1949 O’Brian and his wife Mary live in Cwm Croesor, a remote valley in north Wales, where they initially rent a cottage from Clough Williams-Ellis. In 1949 they move to Collioure, a Catalan town in southern France. He and Mary remain together in Collioure until her death in 1998.

O’Brian dies on January 2, 2000 at Trinity College, Dublin where he had been living and working on his next book. His body is returned to Collioure, where he is buried next to his wife.