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


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Birth of William O’Brien, Journalist & Politician

william-o-brienWilliam O’Brien, journalist and politician who is for several years second only to Charles Stewart Parnell among Irish Nationalist leaders, is born on October 2, 1852 in Mallow, County Cork. He is perhaps most important for his Plan of Campaign (1886), by which Irish tenant farmers withhold all rent payments from landlords who refuse to lower their rents and instead pay the money into a mutual defense fund on which evicted tenants can draw.

O’Brien shares his primary education with a townsman with whom he is later to have a close political connection, Canon Patrick Augustine Sheehan of Doneraile. He enjoys his secondary education at the Cloyne diocesan college, which results in his being brought up in an environment noted for its religious tolerance. He greatly values having had this experience from an early age, which strongly influences his later views for the need of such tolerance in Irish national life.

A journalist from 1869, O’Brien is appointed editor of the Irish Land League’s weekly United Ireland by Parnell in 1881. In October of that year the British authorities suppress the paper and put O’Brien in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, along with Parnell and others. There he draws up a No Rent Manifesto, which, when read at a Land League meeting, results in the outlawing of the League. Released from prison in 1882, he resumes the editorship of United Ireland, and in 1883 he is elected to the British House of Commons, remaining there until 1895. His “plan of campaign” is disavowed by Parnell but nonetheless stirs up fierce agitation. To suppress the movement, the British government passes the Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act 1887, under which O’Brien is jailed again.

For some time following the O’Shea divorce case (1889–90), in which Parnell is corespondent, O’Brien attempts to mediate between the Parnellites and their opponents, although he sides with the majority in rejecting Parnell’s continued leadership of the Irish Home Rule struggle. In 1902 he supports the Land Conference, which secures agreement between landlords and tenants’ representatives and results in George Wyndham‘s Land Purchase Act (1903), which is designed to turn Irish tenant farmers into occupying owners.

In 1898 O’Brien founds the United Irish League, and in 1910, after control of that group passes to the Parnellite John Redmond, he establishes the All-for-Ireland League in opposition to the older organization. Most of his personal following, however, join Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin party by the end of World War I.

Retiring from political life, O’Brien contents himself with writing and declines Éamon de Valera‘s offer to stand for Fianna Fáil in the 1927 general election. He dies suddenly at the age of 75 on February 25, 1928 while on a visit to London with his wife. His remains rest in Mallow, and one of the principal streets in the town bears his name to this day. His head-bust overlooks the town Council’s Chamber Room and one of his finest portraits hangs in University College Cork.


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Death of Dick Dowling, Confederate Commander

Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer LibraryRichard William “Dick” Dowling, the victorious confederate commander at the Second Battle of Sabine Pass in the American Civil War, dies of yellow fever in Houston, Texas on September 23, 1867.

Dowling is born in the townland of Knockballyvishteal, Milltown, County Galway on January 14, 1837, the second of eight children, born to tenant farmer Patrick and Bridget Dowling (née Qualter). Following the eviction of his family from their home in 1845, the first year of the Great Famine, nine-year-old Dowling leaves Ireland in 1846 with his older sister Honora, bound for New Orleans in the United States.

As a teenager, Dowling displays his entrepreneurial skills by successfully running the Continental Coffeehouse, a saloon in the fashionable French Quarter. His parents and siblings follow from Ireland in 1851, but the joy of reunion is short-lived. In 1853, a yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans takes the lives of his parents and one of his younger brothers. With rising anti-Irish feeling growing in New Orleans, following local elections which see a landslide victory for the “Know Nothing” party, Dowling moves to Houston in 1857.

In 1857 Dowling marries Elizabeth Ann Odlum, daughter of Benjamin Digby Odlum, a Kildare-born Irishman, who had fought in the Texas Revolution, being captured at the Battle of Refugio in 1836.

By 1860, Dowling owns a number of saloons. His most successful is named the Bank of Bacchus, located on Courthouse Square in downtown Houston. “The Bank” as it is known locally becomes Houston’s most popular social gathering place in the 1860s and is renowned for its hospitality. He is also involved in setting up Houston’s first gaslight company, and is first to have it installed in his home and “The Bank.” He is a founding member of Houston’s Hook and Ladder Company Number One fire department and is also involved in running the city’s first streetcar company.

Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, Dowling makes a name for himself as an able and successful entrepreneur. Among other things, he is involved with a predominantly Irish militia company which serves a more social than military role in Houston society. Upon Secession, this militia company is mustered straight into the Confederate States Army, with Dowling being elected First Lieutenant. The unit names themselves the “Jefferson Davis Guards” in honor of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Davis Guards are initially part of a Texas State Troops/Confederate expedition sent to take over Union Army forts and arsenals along the border with Mexico. The expedition is successfully completed without a shot being fired. They participate in the Battle of Galveston on New Year’s Day 1863, following which they are assigned to a newly constructed artillery post near the mouth of the Sabine River called Fort Sabine.

Sabine Pass was important as a point of arrival and departure for blockade runners. It is suspected that the Union Army will attempt an invasion of Texas via Sabine Pass because of its value as a harbor for blockade runners and its proximity 18 miles southeast of Beaumont, which lies on the railroad between Houston and the eastern part of the Confederacy.

To negotiate Sabine Pass all vessels except small boats take one of the two river channels. No seagoing ship can traverse the Pass without great risk of running aground should it stray from one of the channels. The inevitable course of any steam-powered warship, including shallow-draft gunboats then common to the U.S. Navy, would use one of the channels, both of which are within fair range of the fort’s six smoothbores.

Dowling spends the summer of 1863 at the earthen fort instructing his men in gunnery. On September 8, 1863 a Union Navy flotilla of some 22 gunboats and transports with 5,000 men accompanied by cavalry and artillery arrive off the mouth of Sabine Pass. The plan of invasion is sound, but monumentally mismanaged. Four of the flanking gunboats are to steam up the pass at speed and draw the fire of the fort, two in each channel, a tactic which had been used successfully in subduing the defensive fortifications of Mobile and New Orleans prior to this. This time, however, Dowling’s artillery drills pay off as the Confederates pour a rapid and withering fire onto the incoming gunboats, disabling and capturing two, while the others retreat in disarray. The rest of the flotilla retreats from the mouth of the pass and returns ignominiously to New Orleans, leaving the disabled ships with no option but to surrender to Dowling. With a command of just 47 men, Dowling had thwarted an attempted invasion of Texas, in the process capturing two gunboats, some 350 prisoners and a large quantity of supplies and munitions.

The Confederate government offers its gratitude and admiration to Dowling, now promoted to Major, and his unit, as a result of their battlefield prowess. In gratitude, the ladies of Houston present the unit with specially struck medals, which are actually Mexican eight reale coins with both faces sanded down and inscribed “Sabine Pass, 1864” on one side and a Maltese cross with the letters D and G on the other. Because of the official recognition given to the action, it is now accepted that these Davis Guard Medals are the only medals of honor issued by the Confederate government, and consequently are collector’s items today.

After the battle of Sabine Pass Dowling is elevated to hero status in his hometown of Houston. He subsequently serves as a recruiter for the Confederacy and is personally commended for his action at the battle by Jefferson Davis. After the war he returns to his saloon business and quickly becomes one of the city’s leading businessmen.

Dowling’s promising future is cut short by another yellow fever epidemic which devastates Houston in the late summer of 1867, and he dies on September 23, 1867. He is buried at St. Vincent’s Catholic Cemetery, the oldest Catholic cemetery in Houston.