seamus dubhghaill

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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Irish National Day of Mourning

BERTIE AHERN IRISH RESPONSE TO TERRORIST ATTACK ON UNITED STATES OF AMERICAThe Irish government declares a National Day of Mourning on September 14, 2001. Schools, businesses, and shops are shut down in an unprecedented gesture of sympathy following the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City three days earlier.

Thousands of people queue for hours in front of the United States Embassy in Ballsbridge, Dublin, waiting patiently to sign one of the many books of condolences to be presented to the U.S. government in the aftermath of the attack. At John F. Kennedy’s ancestral home in Dunganstown, County Wexford, the U.S. flag flies at half-mast and the house is closed to visitors.

As it was on the day that Kennedy was assassinated, everyone remembers where they were on September 11. But on September 14 in Ireland, the churches are full and the offices, shops and pubs dark and silent as the country mourns with its American relatives, colleagues and friends.

Bouquets of flowers, teddy bears, candles and messages are left at the Embassy, as thousands stand with heads bowed. The building’s facade is turned into a shrine to those who died in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. There are both tears and applause when 250 firefighters from all over Ireland parade past the Embassy as a mark of respect to the hundreds of firefighters lost in New York. People weep openly as they hear of the casualties and more details emerge of that terrible morning.

The nation prays as industrial and commercial life comes to a halt and offices, government departments and all places of entertainment close for mourning. In every parish and diocese religious services are held, with the biggest, an ecumenical service in Dublin, attended by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, President Mary McAleese and many other cabinet members. At least 2,000 people attempt to squeeze into St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, which holds only 1,500. Outside, a group of U.S. students break into the American national anthem and the crowd falls silent.

The bells of Christ Church Cathedral ring muffled for 90 minutes to mark the occasion, and at 11:00 AM towns and villages fall silent as the people join in a European-wide three minutes of silence. At noon, all trains stop for five minutes and special services are held in practically every town in the country. In Bray, County Wicklow, so many people show up that the church runs out of communion. A number of people approaching the altar are given a blessing instead.

In Dublin’s universities in the months following the attacks, Irish students who were present in New York at the time are offered free counseling to help them deal with the “nightmares and flashbacks.”

A fund for the families of the victims started by Independent News and Media, which donates the money from the sales of all its newspapers on September 14, reaches more than 120,000 punts. It is given to The American Ireland Fund in the presence of U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Richard Egan. Money is collected throughout the country for many months.

(From: “Ireland’s National Day of Mourning” by Irish America staff, http://www.irishamerica.com, December/January 2002 | Pictured: Taoisearch Bernie Ahern and Tanaiste Mary Harney with members of the Irish Cabinet sign the book of condolences in the U.S. Embassy in Dublin three days after the terrorist attacks)