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


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Death of Author Benedict “Ben” Kiely

Benedict “Ben” Kiely, Irish writer and broadcaster, dies in St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin on February 9, 2007.

Kiely is born in Dromore, County Tyrone on August 15, 1919, the youngest of six children. In 1920, the family moves from Dromore to Omagh. After living for a short time in Castle Street and Drumragh, the family finally settles in St. Patrick’s Terrace in the Gallows Hill area of Omagh. This area is to be a lasting inspiration for Kiely.

Kiely begins to feel the urge to become a writer during his teenage years. He has a keen interest in the work of George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and Jonathan Swift. In 1936, after completing his education at Mount St. Columba Christian Brothers School in Omagh, he goes to work as a sorting clerk in the Omagh Post Office.

However, Kiely soon realises that the post office will not provide him with the life of the scholar which he so desires. In the spring of 1937, he leaves Omagh and begins a new life in Emo Park, Portarlington, County Laois, where he decides to train as a Jesuit priest. His life as a Jesuit is not meant to be for, exactly a year later, in the spring of 1938, he suffers a serious spinal injury, which results in a lengthy stay in Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital in Finglas, Dublin. During his hospitalisation, he is given plenty of time to think about the course his life has already taken, and about a course it might take. He also realises that he lacks a vocation to the priesthood and abandons his training as a Jesuit.

When Kiely gets out of hospital in 1939, he returns to Omagh to recover from his back problem. The following year, he begins working as a part-time journalist in the weekly Catholic Standard newspaper. In 1943, he graduates from National University of Ireland with a B.A. in History and Letters.

In 1945, Kiely begins working for the Irish Independent, where he is employed as a journalist and critic. In 1950, he joins The Irish Press as a literary editor. In 1964, he moves to the United States where, over a period of four years, he is a Writer-in-Residence at Emory University, visiting professor at the University of Oregon, and Writer-in-Residence at Hollins College (Virginia). In 1968, he returns to Ireland. In the spring of 1976, he is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Delaware. He continues to receive acclaim for his writing and journalism, a career which spans over six decades, receiving the Award for Literature from the Irish Academy of Letters. By now, he is one of Ireland’s best known writers. In 1996, he is named Saoi of Aosdána, the highest honour given by the Arts Council of Ireland.

Kiely visits Omagh in 2001 which is marked by the unveiling of a plaque outside his childhood home on Gallows Hill by Omagh’s Plain Speaking Community Arts group. Every September an event is held in Omagh called The Benedict Kiely Literary Weekend to celebrate his many achievements.

Benedict Kiely dies in St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin on February 9, 2007.


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The Provisional Congress of the Confederate States Convenes

The Provisional Congress of the Confederate States, also known as the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America, convenes in Montgomery, Alabama on February 4, 1861. As many as 30,000 Irish-born fight on the Confederate side during the American Civil War including Chaplain John B. Bannon. A number of Irish rise to senior leadership in the Confederate army including Patrick Cleburne and Henry Strong. Strong is killed at the Battle of Antietam while on the opposite Union side on that awful day, 540 members of the Irish Brigade are killed.

The Provisional Congress of the Confederate States is a congress of deputies and delegates called together from the Southern States which become the governing body of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States from February 4, 1861 to February 17, 1862. It sits in Montgomery until May 21, 1861, when it adjourns to meet in Richmond, Virginia, on July 20, 1861. It adds new members as other states secede from the Union and directs the election on November 6, 1861, at which a permanent government is elected.

The First Session of the Provisional Congress is held at Montgomery from February 4, 1861, to March 16, 1861. On February 8, the Convention adopts the Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States, and so becomes the first session of the Provisional Confederate Congress. Members are present from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. It drafts the provisional constitution and sets up a government. For president and vice president, it selects Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia.

The Second Session of the Provisional Congress is held at Montgomery from April 29, 1861, to May 21, 1861. It includes the members of the First Session with the additions of Virginia and Arkansas. John Tyler, the tenth president of the United States (1841–1845), serves as a delegate from Virginia in the Provisional Confederate States Congress until his death in 1862.

North Carolina and Tennessee join the Third Session of the Provisional Congress which is held at Richmond from July 20, 1861, to August 31, 1861. Membership remains unchanged for the Fourth Session on September 3, 1861.

The Fifth Session of the Provisional Congress is held at Richmond from November 18, 1861, to February 17, 1862. All previous members are present with the additions of Missouri and Kentucky. One non-voting member is present from the Arizona Territory.


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The Second Battle of Rappahannock Station

The Irish 6th Louisiana fights at the Second Battle of Rappahannock Station on November 7, 1863, near the village of Rappahannock Station (now Remington, Virginia), on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. The battle is between Confederate forces under Maj. Gen. Jubal Early and Union forces under Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick as part of the Bristoe campaign of the American Civil War. The battle results in a victory for the Union.

Following the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the Union and Confederate armies drift south and for three months spar with one another on the rolling plains of northern Virginia. In late October, General Robert E. Lee withdraws his Confederate army behind the Rappahannock River, a line he hopes to maintain throughout the winter. A single pontoon bridge at the town of Rappahannock Station is the only connection Lee retains with the northern bank of the river.

The Union Army of the Potomac‘s commander, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, divides his forces just as Lee expects. He orders Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick to attack the Confederate position at Rappahannock Station while Maj. Gen. William H. French forces a crossing five miles downstream at Kelly’s Ford. Once both Sedgwick and French are safely across the river, the reunited army is to proceed to Brandy Station.

The operation goes according to plan. Shortly after noon on November 7, French drives back Confederate defenders at Kelly’s Ford and crosses the river. As he does so, Sedgwick advances toward Rappahannock Station. Lee learns of these developments sometime after noon and immediately puts his troops in motion to meet the enemy. His plan is to resist Sedgwick with a small force at Rappahannock Station while attacking French at Kelly’s Ford with the larger part of his army. The success of the plan depends on his ability to maintain the Rappahannock Station bridgehead until French is defeated.

Sedgwick first engages the Confederates at 3:00 PM when Maj. Gen. Albion P. Howe‘s division of the VI Corps drives in Confederate skirmishers and seizes a range of high ground three-quarters of a mile from the river. Howe places Union batteries on these hills that pound the enemy earthworks with a “rapid and vigorous” fire. Confederate guns across the river return the fire, but with little effect.

Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s division occupies the bridgehead defenses that day. Early posts Brig. Gen. Harry T. Hays‘s Louisiana brigade and Captain Charles A. Green’s four gun Louisiana Guard Artillery in the works and at 4:30 PM reinforces them with three North Carolina regiments led by Colonel Archibald C. Godwin. The addition of Godwin’s troops increases the number of Confederate defenders at the bridgehead to nearly 2,000.

Sedgwick continues shelling the Confederates throughout the late afternoon, but otherwise he shows no disposition to attack. As the day draws to a close, Lee becomes convinced that the movement against the bridgehead is merely a feint to cover French’s crossing farther downstream. He is mistaken. At dusk the shelling stops, and Sedgwick’s infantry rushes suddenly upon the works. Col. Peter Ellmaker’s brigade advances adjacent to the railroad, precedes by skirmishers of the 6th Maine Volunteer Infantry. At the command “Forward, double-quick!” they surge over the Confederate works and engage Hays’s men in hand-to-hand combat. Without assistance, the 6th Maine breaches the Confederate line and plants its flags on the parapet of the easternmost redoubt. Moments later the 5th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment swarms over the walls of the western redoubt, likewise wresting it from Confederate control.

On the right, Union forces achieve comparable success. Just minutes after Ellmaker’s brigade penetrates Hays’s line, Col. Emory Upton‘s brigade overruns Godwin’s position. Upton reforms his lines inside the Confederate works and sends a portion of the 121st New York Volunteer Infantry to seize the pontoon bridge, while the rest of his command wheels right to attack the confused Confederate horde now massed at the lower end of the bridgehead.

Confederate resistance dissolves as hundreds of soldiers throw down their arms and surrender. Others seek to gain the opposite shore by swimming the icy river or by running the gauntlet of Union rifle fire at the bridge. Confederate troops south of the Rappahannock look on hopelessly as Union soldiers herd their comrades to the rear as prisoners of war.

In all, 1,670 Confederates are killed, wounded, or captured in the brief struggle, more than eighty percent of those engaged. Union casualty figures, by contrast, are small: 419 in all. The battle is as humiliating for the South as it is glorious for the North. Two of the Confederacy’s finest brigades, sheltered behind entrenchments and well supported by artillery, are routed and captured by an enemy force of equal size.

The Civil War Trust and its partners have acquired and preserved 856 acres of the battlefield where the First and Second Battles of Rappahannock Station were fought. The battleground for both battles is located along the Rappahannock River at Remington, VA and features visible earthworks as well as bridge and mill ruins. The earthworks at Remington are no longer there and more than 75% of the battlefield has been developed over.


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Birth of Michael Corcoran, Union Army General

Michael Corcoran, Irish American general in the Union Army during the American Civil War and a close confidant of President Abraham Lincoln, is born in Carrowkeel, near Ballymote, County Sligo, on September 21, 1827. As its colonel, he leads the 69th Infantry Regiment (New York) to Washington, D.C. and is one of the first to serve in the defense of Washington by building Fort Corcoran. He then leads the 69th into action at the First Battle of Bull Run. After promotion to brigadier general, he leaves the 69th and forms the Corcoran Legion, consisting of at least five other New York regiments.

Corcoran is the only child of Thomas Corcoran, an officer in the British Army, and Mary McDonagh. Through his mother, he claims descent from Patrick Sarsfield, hero of the Williamite War in Ireland and leader of the Wild Geese. In 1846 he takes an appointment to the Revenue Police, enforcing the laws and searching for illicit stills and distilling activities in Creeslough, County Donegal. He also joins a guerrilla group called the Ribbonmen.

On August 30, 1849, Corcoran emigrates from Sligo to the United States and settles in New York City where he finds work as a clerk in the tavern owned by John Heaney, whose niece, Elizabeth, he marries in 1854.

Corcoran enlists as a Private in the 69th New York Militia. By 1859 he is appointed colonel of the regiment. The regiment is a state militia unit at the time composed of citizens, not soldiers, and is involved in the maintenance of public order. On October 11, 1860, he refuses to march the regiment on parade for the 19-year-old Prince of Wales, who is visiting New York City at the time, protesting the British imposition of the Irish Famine. He is removed from command and a court martial is pending over that matter when the Civil War begins.

Corcoran also becomes involved in Democratic politics at Tammany Hall. He becomes district leader, a member of the judicial nominations committee, an elected school inspector for his ward, and a member of the Fourteenth Ward General Committee. He is one of the founders of the Fenian Brotherhood in America.

With the outbreak of war, the court martial is dropped and Corcoran is restored to his command because he had been instrumental in bringing other Irish immigrants to the Union cause. He leads the 69th to Washington, D.C. and serves for a while in the Washington defenses building, Fort Corcoran. In July 1861 he leads the regiment into action at the First Battle of Bull Run and is taken prisoner.

While Corcoran is imprisoned, the United States makes threats to execute captured Confederate privateers. Corcoran and several other Union prisoners are selected by lot for execution if the United States carries out its threats against the privateers. This event is known as the Enchantress Affair, but no executions are ever carried out by either side. Corcoran is then offered a parole under the conditions that he not take up arms against the Confederacy. Intending to resume his place in the Union army upon his release he refuses the offer of parole. He is appointed Brigadier General of volunteers in July and exchanged in August 1862. His role in the Enchantress Affair and his refusal for parole gains him some attention and upon his release he is invited to dinner with President Abraham Lincoln.

In April 1863 Corcoran is involved in an incident that ends with Corcoran shooting and killing Edgar A. Kimball, commander of the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Corcoran attempts to pass through the 9th New York’s area without giving the required password after receiving the challenge from a sentry. When Kimball intervenes on the side of the sentry, Corcoran shoots him. Corcoran is not charged with a crime or reprimanded, and continues to serve.

Corcoran returns to the army and sets about recruiting more Irish volunteers. He raises and takes command of what becomes known as the Corcoran Legion. Placed in command of the 1st Division, VII Corps he is engaged in the Battle of Deserted House and takes part in the Battle of Suffolk. In late 1863 he is placed in command of a division in the XXII Corps and returns to serve in the Washington defenses. While riding alone in Fairfax, Virginia he is thrown from a runaway horse and suffers a fractured skull. He dies at the age of 36 at the William Gunnell House on December 22, 1863.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveils Ireland’s national monument to the Fighting 69th in Ballymote on August 22, 2006. The monument is sculpted by Philip Flanagan. The inscription around the top of the monument reads “Michael Corcoran 1827–1863” Around the base is inscribed “New York Ballymote Creeslough Bull Run.” Underneath the monument is a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, donated by the family of Michael Lynch, who died in the tower on September 11, 2001. Lynch’s family are also from County Sligo.


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Death of Thomas Fitzsimons, U.S. Merchant & Statesman

thomas-fitzsimonsThomas Fitzsimons, American merchant and statesman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, dies in Philadelphia on August 26, 1811. He represents Pennsylvania in the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention and the United States House of Representatives.

Fitzsimons is born in Ireland in 1741. In the mid-1750s his family immigrates to Philadelphia, where his father dies soon thereafter. He has enough education that he begins work as a clerk in a mercantile house. He marries Catherine Meade on November 23, 1761 and forms a business partnership with her brother George. Their firm, which specializes in the West Indies trade, operates successfully for over 41 years.

The firm is soon hit by the new revenue measures created to help support the finances of the British Empire, including the much reviled Stamp Act of 1765. Concerned with these ideas, Fitzsimons becomes active in the Irish merchant community in Philadelphia. He is a founding member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in 1771 and later, in 1774, a steering committee organized to protest the Coercive Acts.

When Pennsylvania begins mobilizing and organizing a militia to fight the British, Fitzsimons is soon involved. He serves as captain of a company of home guards under the command of Colonel John Caldwalader. Initially his company serves as part of the soldiers who man posts along the New Jersey coast. His unit later serves as part of the reserve at the Battle of Trenton in 1776. Later in the war, he served on the Pennsylvania Council of Safety and heads a board to oversee the newly formed Pennsylvania Navy.

Fitzsimons enters active politics as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1782 and 1783. He is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1786 until 1795. He is also a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787. Although not a leading member of that convention, he supports a strong national government, the end of slavery, the United States Congress‘s powers to impose a tariff on imports and exports, the granting the House of Representatives, and power in equal to the United States Senate in making treaties. He is one of only two Catholic signers of the Constitution of the United States, the other being Daniel Carroll of Maryland.

After the Constitution is established, he serves in the first three sessions of the House of Representatives as a Federalist, where he favors protective tariffs and a strong navy, co-drafting the Naval Act of 1794 authorizing the original six frigates of the United States Navy. He fails to win re-election in 1794. This was partially attributed to public opinion turning against the Federalist Party over the forceful suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion. Although he never holds elective office again, he serves in 1798 as head of the committee of merchants overseeing the subscription-loan to build a warship at private expense for use in the Quasi-War.

In 1796, FitzSimons, along with James Innes of Virginia, is appointed by President John Adams to serve as one of two American members on the five-man debt commission charged under Article VI of the Jay Treaty with examining the claims of British subjects unable to collect debts incurred by Americans prior to the American Revolution. FitzSimons, Innes and Samuel Sitgreaves, who replaces Innes upon the latter’s death, become annoyed with the arguments used by their British counterparts to inflate the claims total. FitzSimons and Sitgreaves angrily and permanently seceded from the board in July 1799. The claims are eventually disposed of by a lump-sum payment, agreed upon by United States Minister to Britain Rufus King with British Foreign Secretary Robert Banks Jenkinson and approved by President Thomas Jefferson and the Senate in 1802.

While withdrawing from politics, Fitzsimons remains active in civic and business affairs. He serves as president of Philadelphia’s Chamber of Commerce, as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, Director of the Delaware Insurance Company and a director of the Bank of North America from 1781–1803. He is a founder of the bank and supports efforts to found Georgetown College. He also helps found the Insurance Company of North America.

Fitzsimons dies on August 26, 1811, in Philadelphia, where he is buried in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, which is in present-day Independence National Historical Park.


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The Battle of Port Republic

battle-of-port-republicAs part of Confederate States Army Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson‘s campaign through the Shenandoah Valley, the Irish 6th Louisiana fight in the Battle of Port Republic in Rockingham County, Virginia on June 9, 1862 during the American Civil War. The battle is a fierce contest between two equally determined foes and is the most costly battle fought by Jackson’s Army of the Valley during its campaign.

During the night of June 8–9, 1862, Brig. Gen. Charles S. Winder‘s Stonewall Brigade is withdrawn from its forward position near Bogota, a large house owned by Gabriel Jones, and rejoins Jackson’s division at Port Republic. Winder’s brigade is assigned the task of spearheading the assault against Union Army forces east of the river. Brig. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble‘s brigade and elements of Col. John M. Patton, Jr.’s, are left to delay Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont‘s Union forces at Cross Keys, while the rest of Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell‘s division march to Port Republic to be in position to support Winder’s attack.

Brig. Gen. Erastus B. Tyler‘s brigade joins Col. Samuel S. Carroll‘s brigade north of Lewiston on the Luray Road. The rest of Brig. Gen. James Shields‘s (a native of County Tyrone) division is strung out along the muddy roads back to Luray. General Tyler, in command on the field, advances at dawn on June 9 to the vicinity of Lewiston. He anchors the left of his line on a battery positioned on the Lewiston Coaling, extending his infantry west along Lewiston Lane to the South Fork near the site of Lewis’s Mill. The right and center are supported by artillery, 16 guns in all.

Winder’s brigade crosses the river by 5:00 AM and deploys to attack east across the bottomland. He sends two regiments, the 2nd Virginia Infantry and 4th Virginia Infantry, into the woods to flank the Union line and assault the Coaling. When the main Confederate battle line advances, it comes under heavy fire from the Union artillery and is soon pinned down. Confederate batteries are brought forward onto the plain but are outgunned and forced to seek safer positions. Ewell’s brigades are hurried forward to cross the river. Seeing the strength of the Union artillery at the Coaling, Jackson sends Richard Taylor‘s brigade, including the famed Louisiana Tigers, to the right into the woods to support the flanking column that is attempting to advance through the thick underbrush.

Winder’s brigade renews its assault on the Union right and center, taking heavy casualties. General Tyler moves two regiments from the Coaling to his right and launches a counterattack, driving Confederate forces back nearly half a mile. While this is occurring, the first Confederate regiments probe the defenses of the Coaling, but are repulsed.

Finding resistance fiercer than anticipated, Jackson orders the last of Ewell’s forces still north of Port Republic to cross the rivers and burn the North Fork bridge. These reinforcements begin to reach Winder, strengthening his line and stopping the Union counterattack. Taylor’s brigade reaches a position in the woods across from the Coaling and launches a fierce attack, which carries the hill, capturing five guns. Tyler immediately responds with a counterattack, using his reserves. These regiments, in hand-to-hand fighting, retake the position. Taylor shifts a regiment to the far right to outflank the Union battle line. The Confederate attack again surges forward to capture the Coaling. Five captured guns are turned against the rest of the Union line. With the loss of the Coaling, the Union position along Lewiston Lane becomes untenable, and Tyler orders a withdrawal about 10:30 AM. Jackson orders a general advance.

William B. Taliaferro‘s fresh Confederate brigade arrives from Port Republic and presses the retreating Federals for several miles north along the Luray Road, taking several hundred prisoners. The Confederate army is left in possession of the field. Shortly after noon, Frémont’s army begins to deploy on the west bank of the South Fork, too late to aid Tyler’s defeated command, and watches helplessly from across the rain-swollen river. Frémont deploys artillery on the high bluffs to harass the Confederate forces. Jackson gradually withdraws along a narrow road through the woods and concentrates his army in the vicinity of Mt. Vernon Furnace. Jackson expects Frémont to cross the river and attack him on the following day, but during the night Frémont withdraws toward Harrisonburg.

Together, the Battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic are the decisive victories in Jackson’s Valley campaign, forcing the Union armies to retreat and leaving Jackson in control of the upper and middle Shenandoah Valley and free to reinforce Gen. Robert E. Lee for the Seven Days Battles outside Richmond, Virginia.

The Civil War Trust, a division of the American Battlefield Trust, and its partners have acquired and preserved 947 acres of the Port Republic battlefield in seven transactions since 1988. The battlefield is located about three miles east of Port Republic at U.S. Route 340 and Ore Bank Road. It retains its wartime agrarian appearance. The Port Republic Battle Monument is on Ore Bank Road beside the site of The Coaling, a key battlefield feature. The Coaling is the first land acquisition of the modern Civil War battlefield preservation movement. The 8.55-acre site is donated to the Trust’s forerunner, the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites by the Lee-Jackson Foundation in 1988.


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The Battle of Fontenoy

battle-of-fontenoyThe Irish Brigade of France, a brigade in the French Royal Army composed of Irish exiles most commonly identified in Irish history as The Wild Geese, achieve its most glorious victory at the Battle of Fontenoy on May 11, 1745 during the War of the Austrian Succession.

The battle takes place in the Belgian municipality of Antoing, near Tournai. A French army of 50,000 commanded by Marshal Maurice de Saxe defeats a slightly larger Pragmatic Army of 52,000 consisting of the Dutch Republic, Great Britain, Hanover and the Holy Roman Empire, led by Prince William, Duke of Cumberland. The Irish Brigade is led by Justin McCarthy, Viscount Mountcashel and is comprised of six regiments.

Despite setbacks elsewhere, at the end of 1744 the French hold the initiative in the Austrian Netherlands, and their leaders consider this theatre offers the best opportunity for a decisive victory. In late April, they besiege Tournai, which controls access to the upper Scheldt basin, which makes it a vital link in the North European trading network and the Allies march to its relief.

Leaving 22,000 men in front of Tournai, Saxe places his main force five miles away in the villages of St. Antoine, Vezin and Fontenoy, along a naturally strong feature which he strengthens with defensive works. After a series of unsuccessful flank assaults, the Allies attack the French centre with a column of 15,000 men.

Colonel Arthur Dillon‘s regiment, which had already been badly shot up earlier in the fight, along with the brigade’s other five, charge the British as they seem on the verge of breaking the French line. Fifty years of Irish frustration and British betrayal now come back to haunt the British. As the men of the Irish Brigade close through a hail of British bullets, their shouts are heard above the din: “Cuimhnígí ar Luimneach agus ar fheall na Sasanach!” (Remember Limerick and the Saxon Faith).

Nothing can withstand the wave of hatred and revenge that breaks on the hapless British line that day. The victory is won but the cost is high. Colonel Dillon is dead and Lord Clare is wounded twice. The brigade suffers 656 casualties in all, the highest percentage of all the French units.

Although the Allies retreat in good order, Tournai falls shortly afterwards, followed by Ghent, Oudenaarde, Bruges and Dendermonde. The withdrawal of British forces in October to deal with the Jacobite Rising facilitates the capture of Ostend and Nieuwpoort. By the end of 1745, France controls much of the Austrian Netherlands, threatening British links with Europe.

However, by early 1746, France is struggling to finance the war and begins peace talks at the Congress of Breda in May. Despite victories at Rocoux in October 1746 and Lauffeld in July 1747, the war continues until the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.

It is a day never to be forgotten by the Irish worldwide. At Manassas, Virginia, 116 years later, Thomas Francis Meagher cries out to the 69th New York, another regiment of Irishmen, “Remember Fontenoy!”

(Pictured: The Irish Brigade, presenting a captured British colour to Louis XV and the Dauphin)


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Phillip O’Reilly Surrenders to the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland

settlement-of-ireland-1653The last major body of Irish Catholic troops under Phillip O’Reilly surrender to the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland at Cloughoughter in County Cavan on April 27, 1653. This marks the end of the Irish Confederate Wars which began in 1641.

Colonel Philip O’Reilly is a member of parliament (MP) for County Cavan in the Parliament of Ireland from 1639 to 1641, and a leading member of the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

O’Reilly’s father, grandfather and several other ancestors are chiefs of the O’Reilly clan and Lords of Breifne O’Reilly. His mother is Catherine MacMahon. He resides at Bellanacargy Castle in the barony of Tullygarvey, near to present day village of Drung. Bellanacargy castle, anciently referred to as Ballynacarraig because it was built on a carraig (rock island) situated in the middle of the River Annalee, is destroyed in May 1689 by Williamite forces led by Thomas Lloyd.

As a young man O’Reilly serves for some time in the Spanish army but returns to Ireland. He is appointed Commissioner of the Peace in 1625 and High Sheriff of Cavan in 1629. He is elected as MP for County Cavan in 1639.

During the Parliamentary session of 1640 O’Reilly is enlisted by Rory O’Moore in the plot to start a rebellion against English rule in Ireland. O’Moore is a distant relation as his sister Cecilia O’Moore is married to O’Reilly’s first cousin, Tirlagh O’Neill. On the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion in October 1641 he is elected chief of the O’Reillys. As a result, the Irish Parliament expels him on November 16, 1641. On November 6, 1641 he orders a general gathering of his clansmen from 16 to 60 years of age, to be held at Virginia, and on December 11, 1641 he has possession of the whole county, except the Killeshandra castles of Keelagh and Croghan which are defended by Sir Francis Hamilton and Sir James Craig. He raises a brigade of twelve hundred men, composed chiefly of his name and family, and serves with distinction as lieutenant-general in the service of the Confederate Catholics of Ireland. The Assembly of Kilkenny appoints him Lord President of Ulster. His second cousin Myles O’Reilly is High Sheriff of Cavan in 1641 at the outbreak of the Rebellion.

O’Reilly is detained for treason by the English government in 1642. In his diary for June 3, 1644, the historian Sir James Ware II states, “Intelligence came to Dublin that Roger Moore and Philip O’Reilly, two of the first incendiaries were committed to prison at Kilkenny.” O’Reilly is further denounced by the Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652 at the end of the rebellion. Following the collapse of the Irish confederacy, he formally surrenders to Oliver Cromwell at Cloughoughter Castle on April 27, 1653, being the last Irish garrison to do so. He secures favourable terms and is obliged to leave Ireland. He retires with his brigade into Spain and thence to the Netherlands, where he serves in the Spanish army for about two years and dies in 1655. He is buried in the Irish monastery of St. Dominick in Leuven, Belgium.


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Publication of the First Issue of “The United Irishman”

john-mitchelJohn Mitchel, Irish nationalist activist, author, and political journalist, publishes the first issue of The United Irishman on February 12, 1848.

Mitchel is one of the great propagandists of his day, although the causes he espouses often place him on the wrong side, he is loved and loathed in equal measure. He is one of the few Irishmen to have incurred the wrath of the British government and of the Federal administration of the United States.

Mitchel is born near Dungiven, County Derry in what is now Northern Ireland on November 3, 1815. The son of a Presbyterian clergyman, he creates his own pulpit in a series of journalistic enterprises in Dublin, Tennessee, Virginia and New York.

Mostly raised in Newry, County Down, Mitchel’s first political association is with the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s and the famous The Nation newspaper, founded by Charles Gavan Duffy, Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon in 1842. But long before the abortive Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 he has moved on, finding the editorial policies of The Nation rather too bland for his tastes.

Inflamed by the suffering he witnesses on a trip to Galway, it is Mitchel, more than any other writer or politician, who shapes the nationalist perception of an Gorta Mór (Great Famine):

“I could see, in front of the cottages, little children leaning against a fence when the sun shone out for they could not stand, their limbs fleshless, their bodies half-naked, their faces bloated yet wrinkled, and of a pale, greenish hue… I saw Trevelyan’s claw in the vitals of those children: his red tape would draw them to death: in his government laboratory he had prepared for them the typhus poison.”

Responding to such writing, Ireland simmers, angry and ready for rebellion. Fearful of Mitchel’s power, London’s Punch magazine emphasises his international standing by portraying him as an Irish monkey challenging the Great British Lion. The Times thunders against him. When Mitchel produces his own republican newspaper, The United Irishman, which, in its inaugural edition, claims that “the world was weary of Old Ireland and also of Young Ireland” thus attacking both Daniel O’Connell and his younger antagonists with the same broadsword. He aims to be an equal opportunities offender and succeeds admirably.

The United Irishman sells out and is shut down by the British authorities after a mere sixteen issues. In order to silence Mitchel, to rob him of his heroic status and his possible martyrdom, the British government passes the Treason Felony Act 1848, which seeks to treat treason as a common crime. He is later tried before an elegantly and efficiently packed jury, found guilty of treason-felony, and deported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). The result is one of the greatest works of Irish political history, The Jail Journal, in which Mitchel writes about his own experience of deportation and advocates a far more militaristic approach to Ireland’s “English problem” than would have been popular heretofore.

Mitchel is acclaimed by Patrick Pearse, who declares The Jail Journal to be “the last of the four gospels of the new testament of Irish nationality, the last and the fieriest and the most sublime.” Éamon de Valera reveres Mitchel, and when in 1943 he imagines Ireland as “the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit,” he too is delving into The Jail Journal for his inspiration.

(From: #OTD in 1848 – John Mitchel Publishes First United Irishman, Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland)


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Birth of Brigadier General Thomas Alfred Smyth

thomas-alfred-smythThomas Alfred Smyth, brigadier general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, is born in Ballyhooly, County Cork on December 25, 1832. He is the last Union general killed in the war. In March 1867, he is nominated and confirmed a brevet major general of volunteers posthumously to rank from April 7, 1865.

Smyth works on his father’s farm in Ireland as a youth. He emigrates to the United States in 1854, settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He participates in William Walker‘s expedition to Nicaragua. He is employed as a wood carver and coach and carriage maker. In 1858, he moves to Wilmington, Delaware.

In 1861 Smyth enlists in the Union army in an Irish American three-months regiment, the 24th Pennsylvania, and is quickly made a captain. He is later commissioned as a major of the 1st Delaware Infantry, a three-years regiment. He serves at the battles of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, following which he is promoted to lieutenant colonel and then to colonel. During the Gettysburg campaign, he commands the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division of the II Corps. During the Battle of Gettysburg, his men help defend Cemetery Ridge and advance to the area of the Bliss farm to oust enemy sharpshooters. He is wounded on the third day of the battle and relinquishes command briefly.

Smyth retains brigade command during the reorganization of II Corps before Ulysses S. Grant‘s Overland Campaign. He leads the second brigade of the first division from March 25 to May 17, 1864. When Colonel Samuel S. Carroll is wounded, Smyth is transferred to his command, the third brigade of second division, the Gibraltar Brigade. In October 1864, he is promoted to brigadier general during the Siege of Petersburg. He retains command of his brigade throughout the siege.

Between July 31, 1864 and August 22, 1864 and between December 23, 1864 and February 25, 1865, Smyth commands the 2nd division of the corps. In April 1865 near Farmville, Virginia, he is shot through the mouth by a sniper, with the bullet shattering his cervical vertebra and paralyzing him. He dies two days later at Burke’s Tavern, concurrent with the surrender of Robert E. Lee and his Confederate States Army at Appomattox Court House.

On March 18, 1867, President Andrew Johnson nominates Smyth for posthumous appointment to the grade of brevet major general of volunteers to rank from April 7, 1865, the date he was mortally wounded, and the United States Senate confirms the appointment on March 26, 1867. He is the last Union general killed or mortally wounded during the war, and is buried in Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware.