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


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Birth of Richard Sankey, Officer in the Madras Engineer Group

Lieutenant-General Sir Richard Hieram Sankey KCB, officer in the Madras Engineer Group in the East India Company‘s army in British India, is born on March 22, 1829 at Rockwell Castle, County Tipperary.

Sankey is the fourth son of Eleanor and Matthew Sankey. His mother is herself from a family of military men, her father being Colonel Henry O’Hara, J.P of O’Hara Broom, County Antrim. His father is a barrister at Bawnmore, County Cork and Modeshil, County Tipperary. He does his schooling at Rev. Flynn’s School on Harcourt Street in Dublin and enters the East India Company’s Addiscombe Military Seminary at Addiscombe, Surrey in 1845. At Addiscombe he is awarded for his excellence at painting.

Sankey is commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Madras Engineer Group in November 1846, and is then trained in military engineering with the Royal Engineers at Chatham, Kent from January 1, 1847, holding temporary rank as an ensign in the British Army. He then arrives in India in November 1848. After two years of service at Mercatur, he officiates in 1850 as Superintending Engineer at Nagpur. During this time he makes a small collection of fossils of Glossopteris from the Nagpur district and writes a paper on the geology of the region in 1854. The collection is moved from the Museum of Practical Geology to the British Museum in 1880.

In 1856, Sankey is promoted as the Superintendent of the East Coast Canal at Madras. In May 1857, he is promoted Under-Secretary of the Public Works Department under Col. William Erskine Baker in Calcutta. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, he is commissioned as the Captain of the Calcutta Cavalry Volunteers, but is soon despatched to Allahabad where he leads the construction of several embankments and bridges across the Yamuna and Ganges. He is involved in the construction of shelters to advancing troops along the Grand Trunk Road to aid the quelling of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. He arrives in course of this work at Cawnpore (now Kanpur) a day before the Second Battle of Cawnpore. He also is involved in crucial civil works that aid the quelling of the rebellion by bridging the Ghaghara and Gomti rivers at Gorakhpur and Phulpur that enable the Gurkha regiment to cross these rivers.

Sankey receives several commendations from his commanders here and later in the taking of the fort at Jumalpur, Khandua nalla and Qaisar Bagh, vital actions in the breaking of the Siege of Lucknow. For his actions at Jumalpur he is recommended for the Victoria Cross, although he does not receive this honour. He receives a medal for the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and is promoted to second captain on August 27, 1858, and given brevet promotion to major the following day for his services in the quelling of the rebellion. He is sent to the Nilgiris due to ill-health during this time.

Sankey spends a year in Burma as the executive engineer and Superintendent of the jail at Moulmein. On June 29, 1861, he is promoted to substantive captain and is posted as the Garrison Engineer at Fort William, Calcutta and later as the assistant to Chief Engineer, Mysore until 1864, when he is made the Chief Engineer. During this period he creates a system within the irrigation department to deal with old Indian water catchment systems, surveying the catchment area and determining the area drained and the flows involved. Due to the reorganisation of the armed forces following the assumption of Crown rule in India he is transferred to the Royal Engineers on April 29, 1862.

In 1870, at the request of the Victorian Colonial Government in Australia, in view of his experience with hydrological studies in Mysore, Sankey is invited to be Chairman of the Board of Enquiry on Victorian Water Supply. During this visit, he also gives evidence to the Victorian Select Committee on Railways, as well as reports on the Yarra River Floods, and the Coliban Water Supply, and later contributes to the report on the North West Canal. While in Australia, he is also invited to the colony of South Australia to report on the water supply of Adelaide.

Sankey is appointed as an under-secretary to the Government of India in 1877, which earns him the Afghanistan Medal. In 1878, he is promoted as the Secretary in the public works department at Madras, and is promoted substantive colonel on December 30. He is appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath on July 25, 1879, and also commands the Royal Engineers on the advance from Kandahar to Kabul during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. For about five years he is in Madras where he becomes a member of the legislative council in Madras and is elected as a Fellow of the University of Madras. He also helps in the creation and improvements of the Marina, the gardens and the Government House grounds. He is promoted major general on June 4, 1883, and retires from the army on January 11, 1884 with the honorary rank of lieutenant general. He also receives the distinguished service award in India.

After retirement, Sankey returns to Ireland, where he becomes the Chairman of the Board of Works. He is promoted Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on May 25, 1892 for his work in Ireland. He also undertakes projects in Mexico. Later he settles in London where he dies at St. George’s Hospital on November 11, 1908 and is interred at Hove, East Sussex.

Sankey is memorialised in Phoenix Park, Dublin. A circle of trees bears the name Sankey’s Wood. A plaque dated 1894 lies half-hidden in the undergrowth there.


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Death of Lieutenant Colonel Abraham Boulger, Victoria Cross Recipient

Lieutenant Colonel Abraham Boulger VC, Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces, dies in Moate, County Westmeath on January 23, 1900.

Boulger is born on September 4, 1835 in Kilcullen, County Kildare. He is 21-years-old, and a Lance Corporal in the 84th Regiment of Foot (later 2nd Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment), British Army during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 when the following deeds take place for which he is awarded the Victoria Cross:

Lance-Corporal Abraham Boulger
Date of Acts of Bravery, from 12th July to 25th September, 1857
For distinguished bravery and forwardness; a skirmisher, in all the twelve action’s fought between 12th July, and 25th September, 1857.
(Extract from Field Force Orders of the late Major-General Henry Havelock, dated October 17, 1857.)

Boulger serves as a quartermaster during the 1882 Anglo-Egyptian War and later achieves the rank of lieutenant colonel. He dies at the age of 64 in Moate, County Westmeath, on January 23, 1900. He is buried in the Ballymore Churchyard, County Westmeath. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the York & Lancaster Regiment Museum at Clifton Park in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England.


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Death of John Alexander, Victoria Cross Recipient

John Alexander VC, British Army soldier and an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to a member of the British and Commonwealth forces, is killed during the Siege of Lucknow in India on September 24, 1857.

Born in Mullingar, County Westmeath, Alexander is a private in the 90th Perthshire Light Infantry, later known as the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), during the Crimean War. He is awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery during the war. His citation reads:

“On 18 June 1855 after the attack on the Redan at Sevastopol, Crimea, Alexander went out from the trenches under very heavy fire and brought in several wounded men. On 6 September, when he was with a working party in the most advanced trench, he went out under heavy fire and helped to bring in a captain who was severely wounded.”

Alexander is later killed in action during the Siege of Lucknow during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 in British India on September 24, 1857.

Private Alexander’s Victoria Cross is displayed at the National War Museum at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.

(Pictured: “The Battle of Sebastopol,” after 1856, Jean-Charles Langlois)


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Birth of John Barry, Victoria Cross Recipient

john-barry-vcJohn Barry is born on February 1, 1873 in St. Mary’s Parish, Kilkenny, County Kilkenny. He is by birth an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Little is known of Barry’s early life prior to his enlistment with the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army. Shortly after his enlistment, he finds himself sailing to South Africa for the outbreak of the Second Boer War, a conflict which ultimately leads to the award of the Victoria Cross, albeit tragically posthumously.

During the night attack on Monument Hill on January 7-8, 1901, Private Barry, although surrounded and threatened by the Boers at the time, smashes the breach of the Maxim gun, thus rendering it useless to its captors. It is in doing this splendid act for his country that he meets his death.

Barry dies of wounds received during his VC action at Monument Hill, South Africa. At the time, no posthumous awards of the VC can be made. However, as so often in the history of the Victoria Cross it is an individual, the mother of Alfred Atkinson, that brings about a decisive move to investigate those servicemen who would have been recommended for the award of the VC if they had not died beforehand. The outcome of the War Office investigation results in an announcement being published in The London Gazette on August 8, 1902. In fact, Barry’s family had already received his medal via registered post on April 30, 1902.

Barry is buried in Belfast Cemetery, east of Johannesburg, South Africa. His medals are sold at auction on September 22, 2000 and purchased at a hammer price of £85,000 by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery in the Imperial War Museum, London.


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The Battle of Colenso

battle-of-colensoOn December 15, 1899, Irish units of the Boer army face the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Connaught Rangers, and the 6th (Inniskillings) Dragoons in the battle of Colenso, the third and final battle fought during the Black Week of the Second Boer War. It is fought between British and Boer forces from the independent South African Republic and Orange Free State in and around Colenso, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Inadequate preparation and reconnaissance and uninspired leadership lead to a British defeat.

Early on the morning of December 15, Major General Arthur Henry Seton Hart-Synnot, commander of the 5th (Irish) Infantry Brigade, gives his men half an hour’s parade ground drill, then leads them in close column towards the Bridle Drift. However, his locally recruited guide, who speaks no English, leads the brigade towards the wrong ford, the Punt Drift at the end of a loop in the river. Louis Botha, commander of the Boers on this front, orders his men to hold their fire until the British attempt to cross the river. However Hart-Synnot’s brigade, jammed into the loop of the river, is too good a target to miss and the Boers open fire. Hart-Synnot’s brigade suffers over 500 casualties before they can be extricated. The battalions repeatedly try to extend to the left and locate the Bridle Drift. On each occasion, Hart-Synnot recalls them and sends them back into the loop.

Meanwhile, as Major-General Henry J. T. Hildyard moves his 2nd Infantry Brigade towards Colenso, the two batteries of field guns under Colonel Charles James Long forge ahead of him and deploy in the open well within rifle range of the nearest Boers. Once again, this is too tempting a target, and the Boers open fire. The British gunners fight on, even though suffering heavy casualties, but ammunition cannot be brought to them and they are eventually forced to take shelter in a dry stream bed behind the guns. The bullock-drawn naval guns have not been able to keep up with the field pieces, but are able to come into action 1,500 metres from the Boer trenches.

General Sir Redvers Buller, who has also heard that his light horse are pinned down at the foot of the hill known as Hlangwane south of the river and unable to advance, decides to call the battle off at this point, even though Hildyard’s men, advancing in open order, have just occupied Colenso. He goes forward, being slightly wounded himself, and calls for volunteers to recover Long’s guns. Two teams approach them, hook up and bring away two weapons. A second attempt to recover the rest of guns fails when horses and volunteers are shot down by Boer rifle fire.

During the afternoon, the British fall back to their camp, leaving ten guns, many wounded gunners and some of Hildyard’s men behind to be captured during the night. Although Buller had committed few of his reserves, he reasons that a full day under a boiling sun would have sapped their morale and strength. Major General Neville Lyttelton (4th Infantry Brigade) commits some of his troops to help Hart’s brigade withdraw, but the cautious Major General Geoffrey Barton (6th Infantry Brigade) refuses to support Lord Dundonald‘s or Hildyard’s hard-pressed troops.

Buller’s army loses 143 killed, 756 wounded and 220 captured. Boer casualties are eight killed and 30 wounded.

After the battle of Colenso, four soldiers are awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry that can be awarded to British forces. All crossed an exposed area of intense Boer fire and rescued two of the twelve guns of the 14th and 66th Batteries when their crews had become casualties or were driven from their weapons. They are Captain Walter Norris Congreve, Captain Harry Norton Schofield, Corporal George Edward Nurse and Lieutenant Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts, son of Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, who died of his wounds two days later.

(Pictured: Boers capturing the British guns at the Battle of Colenso on December 15, 1899 in the Boer War. Picture by Fritz Neumann.)


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Birth of General Sir Abraham Roberts

abraham-robertsGeneral Sir Abraham Roberts GCB, British East India Company Army general who serves nearly 50 years in India, is born in Waterford, County Waterford on April 11, 1784.

Abraham Roberts is a member of a famous Waterford city family. He is the son of Anne Sandys and The Reverend John Roberts, a magistrate in County Waterford and a rector of Passage East. He marries Frances Isabella Ricketts, daughter of George Poyntz Ricketts, on July 20, 1820. On the death of his first wife he marries Isabella Bunbury, daughter of Abraham Bunbury, on August 2, 1830.

Roberts gains the rank of colonel in the service of the Honourable East India Company and is the commander of the 1st Bengal European Regiment and the Lahore Division. He also fights in the First Anglo-Afghan War.

Roberts is invested as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB). He leaves India in 1853 to live in Ireland with his second wife, who outlives him. He also has a house at 25 Royal York Crescent, Bristol, Somerset, England.

From 1862 until his death on December 28, 1873 Roberts is Colonel of the 101st Regiment of Foot (Royal Bengal Fusiliers).

Roberts had two sons, Major General George Ricketts Roberts by Frances Isabella and Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts (1832-1914) by Isabella Bunbury, who both obtain the highest ranks in the British Army. Frederick and a grandson, Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts (1872-1899), receive the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for bravery in the face of the enemy in the British Army.


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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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Heroic Act of Charles Davis Lucas Earns First Victoria Cross

Charles Davis Lucas, a 20-year-old mate on the HMS Hecla in the Royal Navy, hurls a Russian shell, its fuse still burning, from the deck of his ship on June 21, 1854 during the Crimean War. For this action, he becomes the first recipient of the Victoria Cross in 1857.

Lucas is born in Druminargal House, Poyntzpass, County Armagh, on February 19, 1834. He enlists in the Royal Navy in 1848 at the age of 13, serves aboard HMS Vengeance, and sees action in the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852–53 aboard the frigate HMS Fox at Rangoon, Pegu, and Dalla. By age 20, he has become a mate.

On June 21, 1854 in the Baltic Sea, HMS Hecla, along with two other ships, is bombarding Bomarsund, a fort in the Åland Islands off Finland. The fire is returned from the fort and, at the height of the action, a live shell lands on HMS Hecla‘s upper deck with its fuse still hissing. All hands are ordered to fling themselves flat on the deck, but Lucas with great presence of mind runs forward and hurls the shell into the sea where it explodes with a tremendous roar before it hits the water. Thanks to Lucas’s action no one on board is killed or seriously wounded by the shell and, accordingly, he is immediately promoted to lieutenant by his commanding officer. His act of bravery is the first to be rewarded with the Victoria Cross.

His later career includes service on HMS Calcutta, HMS Powerful, HMS Cressy, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Liffey and HMS Indus. He is promoted to commander in 1862 and commands the experimental armoured gunboat HMS Vixen in 1867. He is promoted to captain in 1867, before retiring on October 1, 1873. He is later promoted to rear admiral on the retired list in 1885. During his career he receives the India General Service Medal with the bar Pegu 1852, the Baltic Medal 1854–55, and the Royal Humane Society Lifesaving Medal.

In 1879 he marries Frances Russell Hall, daughter of Admiral William Hutcheon Hall, who had been captain of HMS Hecla in 1854. The couple has three daughters together. Lucas serves for a time as Justice of the Peace for both Kent and Argyllshire, and dies in Great Culverden, Kent on August 7, 1914. He is buried at St. Lawrence Church, Mereworth, Maidstone, Kent.

Lucas’s campaign medals, including his Victoria Cross, are displayed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. They are not the original medals, which were left on a train and never recovered. Replacement copies were made, though the reverse of the Victoria Cross copy is uninscribed.


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Death of Father Willie Doyle

father-willie-doyleFather Willie Doyle, an Irish Jesuit priest, is killed in action on August 16, 1917, during the World War I.

Born William Joseph Gabriel Doyle in Dalkey, County Dublin, on March 3, 1873, Doyle is the youngest of seven children of Hugh and Christine Byrne Doyle. He is educated at Ratcliffe College, Leicester. After reading St. Alphonsus’ book Instructions and Consideration on the Religious State he is inspired to enter the priesthood and is ordained a Jesuit priest in 1907. He serves for five years on the mission staff.

Doyle serves in the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department of the British Army during World War I, appointed as a chaplain to 48 Brigade of the 16th Irish Division. During the Battle of Loos Doyle is caught in a German gas attack and for his conduct is mentioned in dispatches. A recommendation for a Military Cross is rejected as “he had not been long enough at the front.” Instead, Doyle is presented with the parchment of merit of the 49th Infantry Brigade (Irish). He is killed in the Battle of Langemarck, on August 16, 1917. Father Doyle’s body is never recovered but he is commemorated at Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium.

General William Bernard Hickie, the commander-in-chief of the 16th Irish Division, describes Doyle as “one of the bravest men who fought or served out here.” Doyle is awarded the Military Cross for his bravery during the assault on the village of Ginchy. He is recommended for a posthumous Victoria Cross and Distinguished Service Order but is awarded neither. Doyle is proposed for canonisation in 1938, but this is not followed through.

A stained glass window dedicated to his memory is present in St. Finnian’s Church, Dromin, County Louth.