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


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Birth of Lord Edward FitzGerald

Lord Edward FitzGerald, Irish aristocrat who abandoned his prospects as a distinguished veteran of British service in the American Revolutionary War, and as an Irish Parliamentarian, to embrace the cause of an independent Irish republic, is born at Carton House, near Dublin, on October 15, 1763.

FitzGerald is the fifth son of James FitzGerald, 1st Duke of Leinster, and the Lady Emily Lennox, daughter of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond. In 1773 his father dies and his mother soon afterwards marries William Ogilvie, who had been the tutor for him and his siblings. He spends most of his childhood in Frescati House at Blackrock, Dublin, where he is tutored by Ogilvie in a manner chiefly directed to the acquisition of knowledge that will fit him for a military career.

FitzGerald joins the British Army in 1779 and then becomes aide-de-camp on the staff of Lord Rawdon in the Southern theatre of the American Revolutionary War. He is seriously wounded at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781, his life being saved by an escaped slave named Tony Small. He commissions a portrait of Small by John Roberts in 1786. He frees Small and employs him to the end of his life. He is evacuated from Charleston, South Carolina in 1782 when the British forces abandon the city.

In 1783 FitzGerald visits the West Indies before returning to Ireland, where his brother, William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster, has procured Edward’s election to the Irish Parliament as an MP for Athy, a seat he holds until 1790. In Parliament he acts with the small Opposition Irish Patriot Party group led by Henry Grattan, but takes no prominent part in debate. In the spring of 1786 he takes the then unusual step for a young nobleman of entering the Military College, Woolwich, after which he makes a tour through Spain in 1787. Dejected by unrequited love for his cousin Georgina Lennox, he sails for New Brunswick to join the 54th Regiment with the rank of Major.

In April 1789, guided by compass, FitzGerald traverses the country with a brother officer from Fredericton, New Brunswick to Quebec, falling in with Indians by the way, with whom he fraternizes. He accomplishes the journey in twenty-six days, and establishes a shorter practicable route than that hitherto followed. The route crosses the extremely rugged and heavily forested northern part of the present state of Maine. In a subsequent expedition he is formally adopted at Detroit by the Bear clan of the Mohawk with the name “Eghnidal,” and makes his way down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, whence he returns to England.

Finding that his brother has procured his election for Kildare County, a seat he holds from 1790 to 1798, and desiring to maintain political independence, FitzGerald refuses the command of an expedition against Cádiz offered him by William Pitt the Younger, and devotes himself for the next few years to the pleasures of society and to his parliamentary duties. He is on terms of intimacy with his first cousin Charles Fox, with Richard Sheridan and other leading Whigs. According to Thomas Moore, FitzGerald is only one of numerous suitors of Sheridan’s first wife, Elizabeth, whose attentions are received with favour. She conceives a child by him, a baby girl who is born on March 30, 1792.

His Whig connections, together with his transatlantic experiences, predisposed FitzGerald to sympathize with the doctrines of the French Revolution, which he embraces enthusiastically when he visits Paris in October 1792. He lodges with Thomas Paine and listens to the debates in the Convention. While in Paris, he becomes enamoured of a young girl named Pamela whom he chances to see at the theatre, and who has a striking likeness to Elizabeth Sheridan. On December 27, 1792, he and Pamela are married at Tournai, one of the witnesses being Louis Philippe, afterwards King of the French. In January 1793 the couple reaches Dublin.

Ireland is by then seething with dissent which is finding a focus in the increasingly popular and revolutionary Society of the United Irishmen, which has been forced underground by the outbreak of war between France and Britain in 1793. FitzGerald, fresh from the gallery of the Convention in Paris, returns to his seat in the Irish Parliament and immediately springs to their defence. Within a week of his return he is ordered into custody and required to apologise at the bar of the House of Commons for violently denouncing in the House a Government proclamation which Grattan had approved for the suppression of the United-Irish attempt to revive the Irish Volunteer movement with a “National Guard.” However, it is not until 1796 that he joins the United Irishmen, who by now have given up as hopeless the path of constitutional reform and whose aim, after the recall of Lord FitzWilliam in 1795, is nothing less than the establishment of an independent Irish republic.

In May 1796 Theobald Wolfe Tone is in Paris endeavouring to obtain French assistance for an insurrection in Ireland. In the same month, FitzGerald and his friend Arthur O’Connor proceed to Hamburg, where they open negotiations with the Directory through Reinhard, French minister to the Hanseatic towns. The Duke of York, meeting Pamela at Devonshire House on her way through London with her husband, tells her that his plans are known and advises that he should not go abroad. The proceedings of the conspirators at Hamburg are made known to the government in London by an informer, Samuel Turner. The result of the Hamburg negotiations is Louis Lazare Hoche‘s abortive expedition to Bantry Bay in December 1796.

In September 1797 the Government learns from the informer Leonard McNally that FitzGerald is among those directing the conspiracy of the United Irishmen, which is now quickly maturing. Thomas Reynolds, converted from a conspirator to an informer, keeps the authorities posted in what is going on, though lack of evidence produced in court delays the arrest of the ringleaders. But on March 12, 1798 Reynolds’ information leads to the seizure of a number of conspirators at the house of Oliver Bond. FitzGerald, warned by Reynolds, is not among them.

As a fellow member of the Ascendancy class, the Government are anxious to make an exception for FitzGerald, avoiding the embarrassing and dangerous consequences of his subversive activities. They communicate their willingness to spare him from the normal fate meted out to traitors. FitzGerald however refuses to desert others who cannot escape, and whom he has himself led into danger. On March 30 the government proclamation of martial law authorising the military to act as they see fit to crush the United Irishmen leads to a campaign of vicious brutality in several parts of the country.

FitzGerald’s social position makes him the most important United Irish leader still at liberty. On May 9 a reward of £1,000 is offered by Dublin Castle for his apprehension. Since the arrests at Bond’s house, he has been in hiding. The date for the rising is finally fixed for May 23 and FitzGerald awaits the day hidden by Mary Moore above her family’s inn in Thomas Street, Dublin.

Tipped off that the house is going to be raided, Moore turns to Francis Magan, a Catholic barrister and trusted sympathiser, who agrees to hide Fitzgerald. Making its way to Magan’s house on May 18, Fitzgerald’s party is challenged by Major Henry Sirr and a company of Dumbarton Fencibles. Moore escapes with Fitzgerald and takes him back to Thomas Street to the house of Nicholas Murphy.

Moore explains to Magan what had happened and, unbeknownst to her, Magan informs Dublin Castle. The Moore house is raided that day. Mary, running to warn the Leinster Directory meeting nearby in James’s Gate, receives a bayonet cut across the shoulders. That same evening Sirr storms Murphy’s house where FitzGerald is in bed suffering from a fever. Alerted by the commotion, he jumps out of bed and, ignoring the pleas of the arresting officers to surrender peacefully, he stabs one and mortally wounds the other with a dagger in a desperate attempt to escape. He is secured only after Major Sirr shoots him in the shoulder.

FitzGerald is conveyed to New Prison, Dublin where he is denied proper medical treatment. After a brief detention in Dublin Castle he is taken to Newgate Prison, Dublin where his wound, which has become infected, becomes mortally inflamed. His wife, whom the government probably has enough evidence to convict of treason, has fled the country, never to see her husband again, but FitzGerald’s brother Henry and his aunt Lady Louisa Conolly are allowed to see him in his last moments. He dies at the age of 34 on June 4, 1798, as the rebellion rages outside. He is buried the next day in the cemetery of St. Werburgh’s Church, Dublin. An Act of Attainder confiscating his property is passed as 38 Geo. 3 c. 77, but is eventually repealed in 1819.

There are Lord Edward Streets named in FitzGerald’s honour in many places in Ireland, such as Dublin, Limerick, Sligo, Kilkenny, Ballina, Ballymote, and Ballycullenbeg in County Laois. The County Roscommon GAA club Tulsk Lord Edward’s and the Geraldines P. Moran’s GAA club in Cornelscourt, Dublin, are named after him.


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Birth of Frank Ryan, Politician, Journalist & Paramilitary Activist

Frank Ryan, politician, journalist, intelligence agent and paramilitary activist, is born in the townland of Bottomstown, Elton, County Limerick, on September 11, 1902. A fascinating, somewhat mythical figure, he lives during turbulent times when Ireland finally disposes of tyrannical British rule in Ireland and becomes an icon for socialist republicans in Europe during the 1930s and 40s.

Ryan’s parents, Vere Foster Ryan and Annie Slattery, are National School teachers at Bottomstown with a taste for Irish traditional music, and they live in a house full of books. He attends St. Colman’s College, Fermoy. From then on he is devoted to the restoration of the Irish language. He studies Celtic Studies at University College Dublin (UCD), where he is a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) training corps. He serves as a flying column member during the murderous Irish War of Independence (1919-21), thereby interrupting his studies. He leaves UCD before graduating to join the IRA’s East Limerick Brigade in 1922.

Ryan fights on the Anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War (1922-23), and is wounded and interned. In November 1923 he is released and returns to UCD. He secures his degree in Celtic Studies and further secures the editorship of An Phoblacht (The Republic), the newspaper of the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The split in the Irish independence party, Sinn Féin, results in regular fist fights between pro and anti-Treaty forces. Cumann na nGaedhael, the pro-Treaty political party in government, recruits the Army Comrades Association (Blueshirts) under former Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy to protect their members from anti-Treaty IRA protesters at annual Armistice Day and Wolfe Tone commemorations. Ryan is a forceful orator at these events and is frequently arrested and beaten up by the Gardai. The fractious politics results in Dáil members Sean Hales and Kevin O’Higgins being shot dead in public.

Ryan resigns from the IRA and founds the Republican Congress with Peadar O’Donnell and George Gilmore. Worker’s strikes unite Northern Protestant and Southern Catholic workers protesting against low wages and long hours.

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) inspires Ryan to lead the first contingent of Irish volunteers to support the Popular Front government of Republican Spain. A brave and inspiring leader, he serves with Italian and German Republican divisions. He is seriously wounded at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937. Following recuperation in Ireland, he is appointed adjutant to republican General José Miaja. During the Aragon Offensive he is captured with 150 of his men in April 1938 and sentenced to death. Irish President, Éamon de Valera, intervenes with General Francisco Franco and Ryan’s sentence is commuted to thirty years. His health suffers severely in Burgos Prison, Spain during his two year incarceration.

Franco refuses to release Ryan because he is considered his most dangerous prisoner. In August 1940 he is transferred to Berlin, where he is re-united with IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell. An attempt to return both men to Ireland by U-boat ends with Russell dying from a perforated ulcer. Ryan voluntarily returns to Germany where he serves as the unofficial IRA ambassador for German intelligence. Irishman Francis Stuart, son-in-law of Maud Gonne, who writes some of William Joyce’s propaganda, takes good care of Ryan until his untimely death at a hospital in Loschwitz in Dresden on June 10, 1944.

Ryan’s funeral in Dresden is attended by Elizabeth Clissmann, wife of Helmut Clissmann, and Francis Stuart. Clissmann eventually forwards details of Ryan’s fate to Leopold Kerney in Madrid. According to Stuart and Clissmann, the cause of death is pleurisy and pneumonia.

In 1963, historian Enno Stephan locates Ryan’s grave in Dresden. Three volunteers of the International Brigades, Frank Edwards, Peter O’Connor and Michael O’Riordan travel to East Germany as a guard of honour to repatriate Ryan’s remains in 1979. On June 21, 1979, his remains arrive in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, his local church when he lived in Dublin. The church is packed with all shades of Republican and left-wing opinion, as well as those from his past such as the Stuarts, the Clissmanns, Peadar O’Donnell, George Gilmore, and ex-comrades and sympathizers from all over the world. The cortège on its way to Glasnevin Cemetery halts at the GPO in memory of the dead of the 1916 Easter Rising. His coffin is borne to the grave in Glasnevin Cemetery by Irish veterans of the Spanish Civil War, Frank Edwards, Peter O’Connor, Michael O’Riordan and Terry Flanagan. Con Lehane delivers the funeral oration while a piper plays “Limerick’s Lamentation.” He is buried next to Éamonn Mac Thomáis.

Ryan leads a vicarious life in pursuit of human rights, socialism and republicanism. His life story remains more colourful than fiction.


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The Execution of Father James Coigly

Father James Coigly (Coigley, Quigley, O’Coigley), United Irishman and Catholic priest, is executed by hanging at Penenden Heath, a suburb in the town of Maidstone, Kent, England, on June 7, 1798.

Coigly is born in August 1761 in Kilmore, County Armagh, second son of James Coigly, farmer, and Louisa Coigly (née Donnelly). In the absence of seminary education in penal Ireland, he serves an apprenticeship with a local parish priest. He is ordained to the priesthood at Dungannon, County Tyrone, in 1785 and goes on to study at the Irish College in Paris, where he takes the unprecedented step of initiating legal proceedings against his superior, John Baptist Walsh, which ends in a compromise after the intervention of the Archbishop of Paris. Coigly, who has been described as “no friend of the revolution,” leaves France in October 1789, after a narrow escape from a revolutionary mob.

Coigly returns to Ireland where he holds a curacy in Dundalk from 1793–96. He finds the inhabitants of County Armagh engaged in a civil war, and religion made the pretext – the Armagh disturbances. There is no suggestion that his religious views are not orthodox. He sees himself not as a politician, but as a priest attempting to reconcile parties. He quickly immerses himself in the politics of the region, riding through Ulster in an attempt to unite Catholic and dissenter. Yet, while he represents his efforts in 1791–93 as an isolated effort to restore peace, there is little doubt that his mission merges into the “uniting business” of Theobald Wolfe Tone, Samuel Neilson, and John Keogh. Almost certainly a Defender, he represents a key link between that organisation and the United Irishmen. He cooperates in their efforts to expose the tyranny of the Orange Order and his profile is heightened, in late 1796, after the arrest of the Ulster leadership of the United Irishmen. He becomes particularly conspicuous in 1797 and, with a general election in the offing, possibly writes an influential anonymous pamphlet, A view of the present state of Ireland (London, 1797), attributed by Francis Plowden to Arthur O’Connor.

More significantly, Coigly makes several forays to England to forge alliances between the United Irishmen and British radicals. In 1796 he carries communications from the secret committee of England to the French directory, and makes at least two crossings to France in 1797, endeavouring to rekindle French interest in Ireland after the failure of the French expedition to Ireland in December 1796. His final mission in February 1798 ends in disaster when he is arrested at Margate, as he prepares to cross to France along with John Binns and Arthur O’Connor.

The arrests electrify government circles, since O’Connor is publicly associated with the Whig opposition. No effort is spared to secure his conviction, including the manipulation of the jury. Yet while O’Connor is acquitted, Coigly is found guilty of high treason and sentenced to die, on the slender evidence of seditious papers found in his coat pocket. The administration immediately attempts to reverse this embarrassment. Coigly is offered his life in return for the incrimination of O’Connor, and the vicar apostolic refuses him final absolution unless he obliges. His refusal seals his fate.

Awaiting execution, Coigly pens a propagandist narrative of his life for publication. It appears in three editions, which Benjamin Binns claims has a circulation of 40,000 copies. In it the priest condemns his judicial murder, Lord Camden, his ‘Irish Sanhedrim,’ and the Orange Order. He is executed on June 7, 1798 at Penenden Heath, Maidstone. His death is overtaken by the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Forgotten in the general narrative history of 1798, his social radicalism and diplomatic missions set him among the most significant Irish radicals of the 1790s.

On June 7, 1998, a memorial was unveiled to Coigly in the cemetery at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh. In the oration, Monsignor Réamonn Ó Muirí reads from a letter Coigly wrote from prison. While he assured Irish Catholics of his attachment to “the principles of our holy religion”, Coigly addressed himself to Irish Presbyterians.

(From: “Coigly (Coigley, Quigley, O’Coigley), James” by Dáire Keogh, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Birth of Count Daniel Charles O’Connell, French General & Uncle of “The Liberator”

Count Daniel Charles O’Connell, French general and count in the French nobility, is born on May 21, 1745 in Derrynane, County Kerry, twenty-first among twenty-two children of Donal Mor O’Connell, a Catholic landowner, and his wife Mary, daughter of Daniel O’Donoghue of Glenflesk, near Killarney.

O’Connell is tutored at home in Latin and Greek, and before he is sixteen he leaves with his cousin, Murty O’Connell, to join the French army. On February 13, 1760 he becomes a cadet in the Régiment de Royal Suédois. He spends almost his entire career in France or serving abroad with French regiments, but remains in close contact with his family, being in constant correspondence with the head of the clan, his brother Maurice O’Connell, who is almost twenty years his senior, and later arranging army appointments for a host of young nephews and cousins.

O’Connell serves with the Royal Suédois in the last two campaigns of the Seven Years’ War and is made assistant adjutant (sous-aide-major) of the regiment. At the close of the war, he is recommended for the military academy of Strasbourg (1765–66). He has a talent for self-advancement and is well regarded by his seniors, being tall, strong, handsome, disciplined, industrious, and sober. He has an almost morbid horror of drink, and his great boast is that he has never wasted a moment of his time or a farthing of his money.

Appointed to Col. Meade’s regiment of Lord Clare’s Irish Brigade with the rank of captain in October 1769, he sets sail immediately for Mauritius. Two years later he is allowed a visit home to Kerry for the first time in eleven years. In 1775 the death of Lord Clare’s son and the extinction of the title results in the reduction of the Irish Brigade, and destroys O’Connell’s chance of promotion. He devotes himself to the study of chemistry, literature, and the military. A published study, Discipline of the army, comes under the notice of the military authorities, who obtain for him a Cross of Saint Louis, a pension of 2,000 livres a year, and the rank of lieutenant-colonel with which he is posted to his old regiment, the Royal Suédois, in 1778. With them he serves at the taking of Menorca in 1781 and is severely wounded at the Great Siege of Gibraltar in 1782 but manages to save the life of Charles Philippe, Count of Artois, the future Charles X. For these services he is made a count, one of only twenty-two people outside the royal family to receive this honour, and is made colonel of the German regiment of Salm-Salm in French pay, which at a grand review of 30,000 French troops in Alsace in 1785 is pronounced the best regiment. He begins to move in court circles and in 1788 kisses the hand of Marie Antoinette and rides in the king’s coach.

In 1788 O’Connell recommends to his brother Maurice the college of Saint-Omer as a suitable school for his nephews, Maurice and Daniel O’Connell, but taking belated notice of the gathering revolutionary storm, tries unsuccessfully to dissuade them. During the French Revolution of 1789 he allegedly announces his readiness to move his regiment into the capital to disperse revolutionary mobs, but is not able to obtain the king’s permission. In 1790 his men mutiny, leaving him in the anomalous position of a colonel without a regiment. A protégé of the Ancien Régime, he nevertheless remains in Paris in 1790–91, serving the nouveau régime as a member of a commission engaged in revising army regulations.

In 1792 O’Connell joins Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick‘s émigré army at Koblenz and takes part in the disastrous Battle of Valmy in Berchini’s regiment. Ever cautious, he serves as a private, refusing any command so that his name would not be mentioned in France. In November 1792 he is in London, almost penniless and bent on concealing that he had served against the republic. An alibi is procured and attested at Tralee to the effect that O’Connell had been in Ireland all the time, and was forwarded to Paris to prevent the confiscation of property.

In London O’Connell petitions William Pitt the Younger to reconstruct the Irish Brigade in the service of George III. Six regiments are raised, with O’Connell appointed colonel of the 4th, but the scheme is only partially realised as three of the regiments are sent to the West Indies and Nova Scotia, where they succumb to pestilence. By 1798 the brigade has entirely ceased to exist, though he retains his full pay as a British colonel, which he draws to the end of his life. At this period his name is mooted by Gen. Henry Clarke and Theobald Wolfe Tone as a possible commander of their troops. Clarke gives his opinion that O’Connell is a good parade officer but has no genius in command, to which Wolfe Tone replies that he “was in favour of his being employed for I know he hates England.”

In 1796, O’Connell marries Martha, comtesse de Bellevue (née Drouillard de Lamarre; d. 1807), a young widow with three children, at the French chapel in Covent Garden. In 1802 he takes advantage of the peace of Amiens to return to France. On the renewal of war the couple is detained by Napoleon as British subjects, and remain virtual prisoners in France until the restoration of the Bourbons in 1814. Back in favour, O’Connell receives the rank of lieutenant-general in the French army and commander of the Order of Saint Louis. His fortunes revive, he advances a large sum to his nephew Daniel to save him from bankruptcy in 1815 and comes to his rescue again in 1818, though by this date he has already settled the bulk of his fortune on his great-nephews. He follows his namesake’s career with keen interest, but his advice is invariably cautious and is not much heeded. After the French Revolution of 1830 he refuses to take the oath of allegiance to Louis Philippe I and is struck off the military list, though he becomes a naturalised French citizen in 1831.

O’Connell dies on July 9, 1833 at the Château de Bellevue at Meudon, near Blois, and is buried at the cemetery at Coudé. He has no children and his title, though not his fortune, descends to his godson, the Baron d’Eschegoyen’s second son, who takes the name O’Connell. A portrait by Paul Guérin hangs in Derrynane House.

(From: “O’Connell, Count Daniel Charles” by Bridget Hourican, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Death of Robert Briscoe, Fianna Fáil Politician

Robert Emmet Briscoe, Fianna Fáil politician who serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) in the Oireachtas from 1927 to 1965, dies on March 11, 1969.

Briscoe is born in Dublin on September 25, 1894, the son of Abraham William Briscoe and Ida Yoedicke, both of whom are Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants. The original family name in Lithuania is believed to have been Cherrick or Chasen. His brother Wolfe Tone Briscoe is named after Theobald Wolfe Tone, one of the leaders of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. His father is the proprietor of Lawlor Briscoe, a furniture factory on Ormond Quay which makes, refurbishes, imports, exports and sells furniture, trading all over Ireland and abroad.

Briscoe is active in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Sinn Féin during the Irish War of Independence and accompanies Éamon de Valera to the United States. He speaks for the Sinn Féin cause at public meetings there and is adamant that being a “Hebrew” does not lessen his Irishness. He is sent by Michael Collins to Germany in 1919 to be the chief agent for procuring arms for the IRA. While in Germany in 1921 he purchases a small tug boat named Frieda to be used in transporting guns and ammunition to Ireland. On October 28, 1921 the Frieda slips out to sea with Charles McGuinness at the helm and a German crew with a cargo of 300 guns and 20,000 rounds of ammunition. Some sources cite this shipment as “the largest military shipment ever to reach the IRA” consisting of 1,500 rifles, 2,000 pistols and 1.7 million rounds of ammunition. On November 2, 1921 the Frieda successfully lands its cargo near Waterford Harbour.

In June 1922 during the Irish Civil War, Briscoe is involved in an incident with fellow anti-treaty IRA members who attack pro-treaty politician Darrell Figgis at his home. They enter the house and assault Figgis, cutting off his well-prized beard in the process. This traumatises Figgis’ wife Millie, who had been under the impression Briscoe and his fellow assistants had come to kill Figgis. In November 1924 Millie commits suicide, expressing in a suicide note that she was suffering from depression as a result of the 1922 attack. Figgis himself commits suicide in 1926.

In his biography, Briscoe recalls an incident of being recognised by a pro-Treaty opponent during the Civil War. He merely turns and walks away, confident that his enemy will not shoot him in the back.

Elected to the Dáil in the newly independent Ireland, Briscoe works with Patrick Little to bring through a law limiting the interest that can be charged by moneylenders and also, as he writes, “made it illegal for a married woman to borrow money without the knowledge and consent of her husband, for these foolish ones are always the easiest prey of the moneylenders.”

During World War II, Briscoe, at this time a member of Dáil Éireann, comes under close scrutiny from the Irish security services. His support for Zionism and his lobbying on behalf of refugees is considered potentially damaging to the interests of the state by officials from the Department of Justice. He is an admirer and friend of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his campaign to liberate the Jews. Between 1939 and 1940, he along with John Henry Patterson, a former commander of both the Zion Mule Corps and later the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, are involved in fund raising for the Irgun in the United States. Jabotinsky while head of Irgun visits Dublin to receive training in guerrilla warfare tactics against the British under the instruction of Briscoe. During the period Briscoe describes himself as the “Chair of Subversive Activity against England.” He wishes for Ireland to give asylum to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, but does so discreetly in order not to be accused of compromising the neutrality policy of the Fianna Fáil government.

After World War II Briscoe acts as a special advisor to Menachem Begin in the transformation of Irgun from a paramilitary group to a parliamentary political movement in the form of Herut in the new Israeli state. The party later becomes Likud. As he had already been a key figure in the formation in his own Fianna Fáil party out of the Anti-treaty IRA post Irish independence but not before a bitter Civil War, he prompts Begin to make the transition immediately after the Altalena Affair in order to avoid a similar civil conflict.

Briscoe serves in Dáil Éireann for 38 years and is elected 12 times in the Dublin South and from 1948, Dublin South-West constituencies. He retires at the 1965 Irish general election, being succeeded by his son, Ben, who serves for a further 37 years. In 1956, he becomes the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin, although he is not the first Jewish Mayor in Ireland. That title belongs to William Annyas, who was elected Mayor of Youghal, County Cork in 1555. He serves a one-year term and is re-elected in 1961. His son Ben is also a Fianna Fáil TD, and he too serves as Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1988–1989.

Briscoe’s memoir, For the Life of Me, is published in 1958.


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Birth of Thomas Russell, Founding Member of the Society of United Irishmen

Thomas Paliser Russell, founding member and leading organiser of the Society of United Irishmen, is born in Dromahane, County Cork, on November 21, 1767.

Born into an Anglican family with a military tradition. Russell is intended for an ecclesiastical career in the Church of Ireland, but in 1783 sails with his brother’s regiment to India and fights at the battle of Cannanore. He is, however, disgusted by what he regards as “the unjust and rapacious conduct pursued by the authorities in the case of two native women,” and returns disaffected to Ireland in 1786. After briefly studying for the church ministry, he spends the next four years as a half-pay officer in Dublin pursuing studies of science, philosophy and politics.

In 1790, Russell meets Theobald Wolfe Tone in the visitors’ gallery of the Irish House of Commons and a lifelong friendship begins. At the end of the year, he is commissioned to Belfast as an ensign in the 64th infantry regiment of foot. Being convivial, good looking, charismatic and charming, he fits quickly into Belfast society. He is deeply religious and holds strong millennialist beliefs. On the other hand, he is also of a restless nature, drinks heavily, and is highly promiscuous.

Russell becomes a founder member of the first Society of United Irishmen in Belfast in 1791, writes for the Northern Star, and acts as secretary for the Dublin United Irishmen. He is the most socially radical of all United Irish leaders, an outspoken opponent of slavery and industrial exploitation.

Russell posts bail for a friend in order to secure his release from a debtor’s prison. When the friend defaults, Russell has to sell his ensigncy in July 1791. After several months, and to avoid further debt, he accepts the offer of Thomas Knox, 1st Viscount Northland, the father of an old army friend, to become seneschal (a kind of stipendiary magistrate) to the Northlands’ manor court at Dungannon. However, he resigns within a year, apparently disgusted by the sectarian animosities there. His financial situation worsens until he becomes librarian at the Belfast Society for Promoting Knowledge (the later Linen Hall Library) in 1794.

Russell is arrested on September 16, 1796, is charged with treason, and detained without trial in Newgate Prison, Dublin, until March 1799. He is then sent to Fort George in the north of Scotland. The longest serving United Irish prisoner, he is released in June 1802 on condition of exile to Hamburg. However, he soon makes his way to Paris where he meets Robert Emmet who, with William Putnam McCabe are advancing the plans for insurrection pending the French renewal of the war against England. Having little confidence in the French, however, he returns to Ireland in March 1803 to organise the North in conjunction with the veteran of the Battle of Antrim, James Hope. However he meets with little success as much of the North is subdued following the suppression of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

In 1803 Russell joins a general insurrection that is to take place throughout Ireland with blows being struck simultaneously at Dublin, Belfast, and Downpatrick. Unknown to him, Robert Emmet is unable to secure help and promised firearms. In Dublin after a brief street battle on the evening of July 23, 1803, Emmett calls off the rising.

Russell manages to hide for a number of weeks in Dublin but is caught in the authorities’ dragnet on September 9. He is sent under heavy escort to Downpatrick Gaol. There, convicted of high treason, he is hung and beheaded on October 12, 1803. His remains are buried in the graveyard of the parish church, Down Cathedral, in a grave paid for by his friend Mary Ann McCracken.


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Birth of Charles Edward Jennings, Soldier & Revolutionary

General Charles Edward Saul Jennings, Irish soldier and revolutionary who serves France in the eighteenth century and is sometimes romanticised as Brave Kilmaine, is born on October 19, 1751 in Sauls Court, Dublin.

Jennings is the second son of Theobald Jennings, a physician of Polaniran (Ironpool), Tuam, County Galway, and Eleonore Saul, daughter of Laurence Saul, a wealthy Dublin distiller. Educated privately in Dublin, he leaves Ireland in 1769, settling in Tonnay-Charente in the south of France, where his father had set up practice. His father had, several years previously, assumed the fictitious title of ‘baron of Kilmaine’ in the hope of improving his position in French society, and he subsequently assumes the same title.

In 1774 Jennings joins the Royal Dragoons as a trooper, transferring in 1778 into the Légion de Lauzun, a corps made up mostly of foreign volunteers. After the campaign in Senegal (1778–79) he returns to France and is commissioned as a sous-lieutenant. He then campaigns with Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, during the American Revolutionary War and teaches cavalry tactics at Metz on his return. Promoted to captain in 1788, at the outbreak of the French Revolution, he is stationed at Verdun and, despite a short period in prison, continues to serve with his regiment. In 1791, when several of the regiment’s officers flee from France, he remains and is one of the first officers to swear allegiance to the national assembly.

Promoted to Chef d’escadron in April 1792, Jennings serves under Charles François Dumouriez during the invasion of the Netherlands, distinguishing himself at the Battle of Valmy and the Battle of Jemappes, where he reinforces the French centre at a critical point, ensuring victory. A series of rapid promotions follow. He is made a colonel in January 1793, a general of brigade in March 1794, and a general of division in May1794.

After a series of reverses in the summer of 1793, in which the French lose the fortress-towns of Condé and Valenciennes, the committee of public safety appoints Jennings to command the Armée du Nord on May 15, 1793, with the rank of full general. In August, in order to preserve his force in the face of overwhelming opposition, he retreats from a position 120 miles north of Paris known as ‘Caesar’s camp.’ Although the allied army swings away to invest Dunkirk, he is arrested and imprisoned for endangering the city, and remains in prison until after the fall of Robespierre in July 1794. Within a few days, due to the turbulent political situation, he is rearrested and not released until December 1794. In May 1795 he cooperates with Napoléon Bonaparte in suppressing the Jacobin uprising in Faubourg Saint-Antoine in Paris and, having reestablished his credentials, commands the cavalry during the invasion of Italy (1796). Bonaparte regards him highly, and he distinguishes himself at the Battle of Lodi on May 10, 1796, seizing the city of Milan five days later. He defeats a large Austrian force in the Battle of Borghetto before investing and taking the fortress-town of Mantua in February 1797.

When peace terms are agreed with Austria, Jennings returns to France, taking command of the centre column of the Armée d’Angleterre, which had been raised to invade Britain and Ireland. However, his deteriorating health makes some observers question his suitability for such an appointment. An associate of Thomas Paine and James Napper Tandy, and a friend of Wolfe Tone, he is forced to watch the gradual reduction of his army as Napoleon diverts troops for his campaign in Egypt. Tone is at first suspicious of him, given that many Irish-born French officers had deserted the revolutionary cause, but comes to admire him.

After the defeat of Admiral Bombard’s expedition to Ireland and Tone’s arrest on November 3, 1798, Jennings requests that the French government should take a senior British prisoner as hostage and subject him to the same treatment as Tone. After Tone’s death he assists Matilda Tone and her children. In early 1799 he is appointed military governor of Switzerland but is forced to resign due to his failing health.

In a fragile condition Jennings leaves Switzerland and returns to Passy in Paris, where his domestic griefs and chagrins add to the poignancy of his bodily sufferings, for his constitution is now completely broken up. He dies of dysentery on December 11, 1799, at the age of 48. He is buried with full military honours.

Jennings is historically honored at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, where his name can be seen on the inside triumphal arch, on the Northern pillar, Column 05. Underneath the Arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (World War I). There is a personal portrait of Jennings in the ‘Hotel de Ville’ (City Hall) at Tonnay-Charente, where his father Dr. Theobald Jennings practiced as a physician.

A monument was erected in Jennings’s memory in Tonnay-Charente in the 19th century. Rue du Général Kilmaine, a street in Tonnay-Charente, is named in his honour in the 19th century.


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Birth of Thomas Devin Reilly, Revolutionary & Journalist

Thomas Devin Reilly, Irish revolutionary, Young Irelander and journalist, is born in Monaghan, County Monaghan, on March 30, 1824.

Reilly is the son of a solicitor and completes his education at Trinity College, Dublin. From early on he espouses the republican beliefs of Theobald Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet and writes for The Nation and John Martin‘s The Irish Felon in support of economic and political improvements for the working class. He is more interested in the realities of the common man than high idealism.

As a member of the Irish Confederation during the Great Famine, Reilly together with John Mitchel and James Fintan Lalor advocate the refusal to pay rents, retention of crops by small tenant farmers and labourers to feed their own families, and the breaking up of bridges and tearing up of railway lines to prevent the removal of food from the country.

Reilly is involved in the failed Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 and is forced to flee to the United States where he becomes active in U.S. political affairs in support of Irish independence. He is reported to be the founder of The People newspaper in New York City which folds after six months in 1849.

James Connolly claims that as the editor of the Protective Union labour rights newspaper for the printers of Boston, Reilly is a pioneer of American labour journalism and that Horace Greeley believed of his series of articles in The American Review on the European situation “that if collected and published as a book, they would create a revolution in Europe.”

It is possible that Connolly confuses The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, which is known for its political activism, with The American Review, which for a time had Edgar Allan Poe as an editorial assistant. Other sources refer to Reilly as being editor of the New York Democratic Review and later the Washington Union.

Thomas Devin Reilly dies at the age of 30 on March 5, 1854. He is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C., together with his infant child Mollie and wife Jennie Miller from Enniskillen.


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Birth of Robert Simms, Founding Member of the Society of United Irishmen

Robert Simms, Irish radical, a founding member of the Society of United Irishmen (Cumann na nÉireannach Aontaithe) in Belfast, and proprietor of the Northern Star newspaper, is born into a Presbyterian family in Belfast on March 20, 1761.

Simms is the owner of a paper mill in Ballyclare with his brother William Simms, one of twelve proprietors of the Northern Star. A close friend of Theobald Wolfe Tone, he is one of the founders of the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast in 1791 and the author of “Declaration and Resolutions of the Society of United Irishmen of Belfast.” He serves as the first Secretary of the Society, drafting many of its early letters, pamphlets and papers.

Following the French declaration of war on Britain in February 1793, the movement is outlawed and goes underground from 1794 as they become more determined to force a revolt against British rule. Simms, along with his brother William and Thomas Addis Emmet are arrested, but swiftly acquitted. The leadership is divided into those who wish to wait for French aid before rising and the more radical elements that wish to press ahead regardless. However, the suppression of a bloody preemptive rebellion, which breaks out in Leitrim in 1793, leads to the former faction prevailing and links are forged with the revolutionary French government with instructions to wait sent to all of the United Irish membership.

In 1795, along with Wolfe Tone, Samuel Neilson and Thomas Russell meet atop the summit of McArt’s Fort, overlooking Belfast, and, in Wolfe Tone’s words, “took a solemn obligation…never to desist in our efforts until we had subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted her independence.” The Simms brothers are again arrested in 1797 and held in Newgate Prison. From there he is transported along with Russell and Emmett to Fort George, Scotland. In his absence, the printing press and building housing the Northern Star is burned.

Upon his release, Simms is appointed as Commander of the United Army in Antrim. The appointment is met reluctantly however, as he feels his lack of military experience counts against him being an effective leader. In addition, many leaders are beginning to agitate for a rising without French aid. He is unwavering in his rejection of this idea. He resigns his position on June 1, 1798 after falling out with the leadership on this issue when most had changed their minds. He is replaced by Henry Joy McCracken who leads the Society in the Battle of Antrim. Simms is accused by many of cowardice and indecision for his refusal to launch an insurrection in Antrim.

Simms is nonetheless arrested and again imprisoned in Fort George with Emmet and William James MacNeven and is released in 1802. When Robert Emmet‘s failed coup is launched in 1803, the Simms brothers do not participate. He dies at the age of 82 in 1843.

Simms is a friend of the naturalist John Templeton and his son, also Robert Simms, is one of the founders of the Belfast Natural History Society.


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Death of William Drennan, Physician, Poet & Political Radical

William Drennan, physician, poet and political radical, dies on February 5, 1820 in Belfast. He is one of the chief architects of the Society of United Irishmen and is known as the first to refer in print to Ireland as “the emerald isle” in his poem When Erin first rose.

Drennan is born on May 23, 1754 in Belfast, the son the son of Reverend Thomas Drennan (1696–1768), minister of Belfast’s First Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street. Thomas Drennan is an educated man from the University of Glasgow and is ordained to the congregation of Holywood, County Down in 1731. Drennan is heavily influenced by his father, whose religious convictions serve as the foundation for his own radical political ideas. His sister, Martha, marries fellow future United Irishman Samuel McTier in 1773.

In 1769 Drennan follows in his father’s footsteps by enrolling in the University of Glasgow where he becomes interested in the study of philosophy. In 1772 he graduates in arts and then in 1773 he commences the study of medicine at Edinburgh. After graduating in 1778 he sets up practice in Belfast, specialising in obstetrics. He is credited with being one of the earliest advocates of inoculation against smallpox and of hand washing to prevent the spread of infection. He also writes much poetry, coining the phrase “Emerald Isle” and is the founder and editor of a literary periodical, Belfast Magazine. He moves to Newry in 1783 but eventually moves to Dublin in 1789 where he quickly becomes involved in nationalist circles.

Like many other Ulster Presbyterians, Drennan is an early supporter of the American Colonies in the American Revolution and joins the Volunteers who had been formed to defend Ireland for Britain in the event of French invasion. The Volunteer movement soon becomes a powerful political force and a forum for Protestant nationalists to press for political reform in Ireland eventually assisting Henry Grattan to achieve legislative independence for the Irish parliament in 1782. However Drennan, like many other reformers, quickly becomes dismayed by the conservative and sectarian nature of the Irish parliament and in 1791 he co-founds the Society of United Irishmen with Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell.

Drennan writes many political pamphlets for the United Irishmen and is arrested in 1794 for seditious libel, a political charge that is a major factor in driving the United Irishmen underground and into becoming a radical revolutionary party. Although he is eventually acquitted, he gradually withdraws from the United Irishmen but continues to campaign for Catholic Emancipation.

On February 8, 1800, Drennan marries Sarah Swanwick, “an English lady of some wealth” from Shropshire. They have one daughter and four sons.

Drennan settles in Belfast in 1807. In 1810 he co-founds the non-denominational Royal Belfast Academical Institution. As a poet, he is best remembered for his poem The Wake of William Orr, written in memory of a United Irishman executed by the British. Despite his links with revolutionary republicans, he gradually becomes alienated from the post-Union nationalism of the period. His abiding concern for Liberalism and post union realities make him contemplate his political ideas anew.

Drennan dies in Belfast on February 5, 1820. He directs that his coffin be carried by an equal number of Catholics and Protestants with clergy from different denominations in attendance.

Drennan’s son, John Swanwick Drennan, is a noted poet who, along with his brother William Drennan, write a biography of him for Richard Davis Webb‘s A Compendium of Irish Biography. Through his daughter Sarah, who marries John Andrews of a prominent family of flax merchants, he has several notable descendants, including William Drennan Andrews, judge of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, John Miller Andrews, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Thomas Andrews who drew up the plans for the RMS Titanic and was aboard and drowned when she sank, and Thomas Drennan, performance artist known primarily for his seminal work ‘Journey to the Centre of Drennan.’