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


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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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Birth of Thomas Arthur, comte de Lally, baron de Tollendal

thomas-arthur-lallyThomas Arthur, comte de Lally, baron de Tollendal, French General of Irish Jacobite ancestry, is born on January 13, 1702. Lally commands French forces in India during the Seven Years’ War, including two battalions of his own red-coated Regiment of Lally of the Irish Brigade.

Lally is born at Romans-sur-Isère, Dauphiné, the son of Sir Gerald Lally, one of the original “Wild Geese” of 1691 and an Irish Jacobite from Tuam, County Galway, who married a French lady of noble family. His title is derived from the Lally’s ancestral home, Castel Tullendally in County Galway where the Lally’s, originally called O’Mullallys, are prominent members of the Gaelic Aristocracy who can trace their ancestry back to the second century High King of Ireland, Conn of the Hundred Battles.

Entering the French army in 1721 he serves in the war of 1734 against Austria. He is present at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, and commands the regiment de Lally in the famous Irish brigade in the Battle of Fontenoy in May 1745. He is made a brigadier on the field by Louis XV of France.

Lally is a staunch Jacobite and in 1745 accompanies Charles Edward Stuart to Scotland, serving as aide-de-camp at the Battle of Falkirk Muir in January 1746. Escaping to France, he serves with Marshal Maurice de Saxe in the Low Countries. At the Siege of Maastricht in 1748 he is made a maréchal de camp.

When war breaks out with Britain in 1756 Lally is appointed governor-general of French India and commands a French expedition to India, made up of four battalions, two of whom are from his own Regiment of Lally of the Irish Brigade. He reaches Pondicherry in April 1758, and within six weeks has pushed the British back from the coast to Madras, the headquarters of the British East India Company.

He is a man of courage and a capable general, but his pride and ferocity make him unpopular with his officers and men. He is unsuccessful in an attack on Tanjore, and as he lacks French naval support he has to retire from the Siege of Madras in 1758, owing to the timely arrival of the British fleet. He is defeated by Sir Eyre Coote at the Battle of Wandiwash in 1760, and besieged in Pondicherry, where he is forced to capitulate in 1761.

Lally is sent to England as a prisoner of war. Public opinion in France is very hostile, blaming him for the defeat by the British, and there are widespread calls for Lally to be put on trial. While in London, he hears that he is accused of treason in France, and insists, against advice, on returning on parole to stand trial. He is kept prisoner for nearly two years before the trial begins in 1764. When the Advocate General of the Paris Parlement Joseph Omer Joly de Fleury begins the prosecution, Lally has not received any documentation of the charges and is not allowed a defence lawyer. Throughout the trial, which lasts for two years, Lally fights against Joly de Fleury’s charges but on May 6, 1766 he is convicted and sentenced to death.

Lally makes an unsuccessful attempt at suicide in prison after his sentencing. On May 9, 1766, three days after his conviction, he is gagged to prevent him from protesting his innocence further and is transported in a garbage cart to the Place de Grève to be beheaded. The executioner’s first blow only slices open his skull and it takes a second blow to kill him.