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


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The Battle of Antietam

irish-brigade-at-antietamThe Irish Brigade of the Union Army fights in the Battle of Antietam, one of the most famous battles of the American Civil War, on September 17, 1862. The battle has the sad distinction of being the bloodiest single day of fighting in America’s bloodiest war. Combined casualties at the Battle of Antietam are 26,134. Few regiments suffered more than the Irish Brigade.

The Irish Brigade is the brainchild of their commanding officer Thomas Francis Meagher. The former Young Ireland rebel, creator of the Irish Tricolor of green, white and orange, escaped political prisoner, lawyer, newspaper editor and politician forms the brigade with the twin objectives of gaining respect for the Irish by their patriotism for their adopted country and developing a nucleus for a future fight for Ireland’s freedom. The Brigade is formed of the almost exclusively Irish American 69th, 63rd and 88th New York and the “honorary Irish” of the 29th Massachusetts. The regiments of the Irish Brigade had already earned a formidable reputation as a crack unit, having distinguished themselves in every battle of the earlier Seven Days Battles. It is small wonder, many in the Brigade’s ranks had already distinguished themselves in the Mexican-American War or in fighting with the Papal forces in Italy against Giuseppe Garibaldi.

The Union Army is already heavily engaged, when the Irish Brigade is ordered to advance through an open field to take an area of high ground. Subjected to accurate Confederate rifle fire as they cross the field, the Brigade marches on in disciplined order, the National and the famed Green Regimental Colors (flags) fluttering overhead. When they encounter a fence across their line of march, eighty volunteers rush forward to knock it down, rather than see the whole Brigade slowed by the obstacle and exposed to fire. Over half of these volunteers are killed. Seeing the Irish continue to press forward, the Confederates fall back as the Irish advance up the hill.

What no one on the Union side knows is that on the other side of the hill is a farmer’s dirt road that years of rain has eroded into a ditch five feet below the surrounding ground level. The sunken road is a perfect rifle pit and is filled with Colonel John Brown Gordon’s Georgians. As the Irish crest the hill, they are met with a volley that decimates the Brigade, including killing or wounding every single standard-bearer. Seeing the flags fall from across the field, an aide to Union General George B. McClellan exclaims, “The battles lost, the Irish are fleeing!” only for McClellan to respond, “No, the flags are raised again, they are advancing.” Eight successive standard-bearers of the 69th New York alone fall that day as men pick up the flags from fallen comrades. Captain Patrick Clooney, though wounded himself, snatches up the colors from the 88th’s fallen standard-bearer only to be killed by multiple shots, the Green Flag wrapping around him like a shroud befitting a hero. Another standard-bearer, the staff of his Irish Brigade flag snapped in two by a rifle shot, drapes the flag over his shoulder like a sash and continues to move forward, personifying the Gaelic phrase on the flag he is carrying “Riamh Nar Dhruid O Spairn lann”, “Who never retreated from the clash of spears.”

The fire of the Confederates is so intense that the Irish Brigade cannot advance, but they do not flee either. Despite the failure of promised reinforcements that never materialize, the Brigade pours “Buck and Ball” (a 69 caliber ball and three 30 caliber buckshot) into the enemy at 300 paces, turning the “Sunken Road” into “Bloody Lane.” When their ammunition is depleted, the remnants of the Brigade, with drill ground precision, form and march back to the Union lines. The Irish Brigade never “ran” from the enemy. Another Union unit takes the “Bloody Lane,” but most credit the punishment that the Irish Brigade inflicted on the enemy, at a terrible cost to themselves, with making it possible. The New York Regiments take over 50% casualties. The Irish Brigade is now no bigger than a single regiment. As the depleted ranks of the 88th march passed, Union Major General Israel Bush Richardson salutes as it passes with the words “Bravo 88th, I shall never forget you!”

During the course of the War, the Irish Brigade suffers over 4,000 casualties, more men than the Brigade ever had at any one time. The Fighting 69th loses more men than any other New York regiment. The Battle of Antietam is remembered as the Union victory that allows President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which frees the slaves in the Confederate states. It is all too often forgotten that this emancipation was secured in no small part with the blood of Irish immigrants, immigrants who were denied civil rights in their own country and faced discrimination in their adopted county before and after the Civil War.

In thinking of the Civil War, all Americans should remember the words of a defeated Confederate Officer to his Union counterpart at Appomattox, “You only won as you had more Irish than we did.”

(Credit: “The Irish Brigade at Antietam” by Neil F. Cosgrove, October 17, 2009)

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Death of Poet & Barrister Samuel Ferguson

sir-samuel-ferguson

Sir Samuel Ferguson, Irish poet, barrister, antiquarian, artist, and public servant, dies in Howth, County Dublin on August 9, 1886. Ferguson is perhaps the most important Irish poet of the 19th century. Due to his interest in Irish mythology and early Irish history he is seen as a forerunner of William Butler Yeats and the other poets of the Irish Literary Revival.

Ferguson is born in Belfast on March 10, 1810. He lives at a number of addresses, including Glenwhirry, where he acquires the love of nature that informs his later work. He is educated at the Belfast Academy and the Belfast Academical Institution, and then moves to Dublin to study law at Trinity College, obtaining his bachelor’s degree in 1826 and his masters degree in 1832.

Because his father has exhausted the family property, Ferguson is forced to support himself through his student years. He turns to writing and is a regular contributor to Blackwood’s Magazine by the age of 22. He is called to the bar in 1838, but continues to write and publish, both in Blackwood’s and in the newly established Dublin University Magazine.

Ferguson settles in Dublin, where he practises law. In 1848, he marries Mary Guinness, a great-great-niece of Arthur Guinness and the eldest daughter of Robert Rundell Guinness, founder of Guinness Mahon bank. At the time he is defending the Young Irelander poet Richard Dalton Williams.

In addition to his poetry, Ferguson contributes a number of articles on topics of Irish interest to antiquarian journals. In 1863, he travels in Brittany, Ireland, Wales, England, and Scotland to study megaliths and other archaeological sites. These studies are important to his major antiquarian work, Ogham Inscriptions in Ireland, Wales and Scotland, which is edited after his death by his widow and published in 1887.

His collected poems, Lays of the Western Gael is published in 1865, resulting in the award of a degree LL.D. honoris causa from Trinity College. He writes many of his poems in both Irish and English translations. In 1867, Ferguson retires from the bar to take up the newly created post of Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland. As reward for his services, he receives a knighthood in 1878.

Ferguson’s major work, the long poem Congal is published in 1872 and a third volume, Poems, in 1880. In 1882, he is elected President of the Royal Irish Academy, an organisation dedicated to the advancement of science, literature, and antiquarian studies. His house in North Great George’s St., Dublin, is open to everyone interested in art, literature or music.

Ferguson dies on August 9, 1886 in Howth, just outside Dublin city, and is buried in Donegore near Templepatrick, County Antrim.


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Death of William Smith O’Brien, Young Ireland Leader

william-smith-obrienWilliam Smith O’Brien, Irish nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) and leader of the Young Ireland movement, dies in Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales on June 18, 1864.

Born in Dromoland, Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, O’Brien is the second son of Sir Edward O’Brien, 4th Baronet, of Dromoland Castle. His mother is Charlotte Smith, whose father owns a property called Cahirmoyle in County Limerick. He takes the additional surname Smith, his mother’s maiden name, upon inheriting the property. He lives at Cahermoyle House, a mile from Ardagh, County Limerick. He is a descendant of the eleventh century Ard Rí (High King of Ireland), Brian Boru. He receives an upper-class English education at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. Subsequently, he studies law at King’s Inns in Dublin and Lincoln’s Inn in London.

From April 1828 to 1831 O’Brien is Conservative MP for Ennis. He becomes MP for Limerick County in 1835, holding his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom until 1849.

Although a Protestant country-gentleman, O’Brien supports Catholic emancipation while remaining a supporter of British-Irish union. In 1843, in protest against the imprisonment of Daniel O’Connell, he joins O’Connell’s anti-union Repeal Association.

Three years later, O’Brien withdraws the Young Irelanders from the association. In January 1847, with Thomas Francis Meagher, he founds the Irish Confederation, although he continues to preach reconciliation until O’Connell’s death in May 1847. He is active in seeking relief from the hardships of the famine. In March 1848, he speaks out in favour of a National Guard and tries to incite a national rebellion. He is tried for sedition on May 15, 1848 but is not convicted.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien and other Young Irelanders lead landlords and tenants in a rising in three counties, with an almost bloodless battle against police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary. In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. In Dublin on June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia).

O’Brien attempts to escape from Maria Island off Tasmania, but is betrayed by the captain of the schooner hired for the escape. He is sent to Port Arthur where he meets up with John Mitchel.

O’Brien is a founding member of the Ossianic Society, which is founded in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day 1853, whose aim is to further the interests of the Irish language and to publish and translate literature relating to the Fianna. He writes to his son Edward from Van Diemen’s Land, urging him to learn the Irish language. He himself studies the language and uses an Irish-language Bible, and presents to the Royal Irish Academy Irish-language manuscripts he has collected.

In 1854, after five years in Tasmania, O’Brien is released on the condition he never returns to Ireland. He settles in Brussels. In May 1856, he is granted an unconditional pardon and returns to Ireland that July. He contributes to the Nation newspaper, but plays no further part in politics.

In 1864 he visits England and Wales, with the view of rallying his failing health, but no improvement takes place and he dies at Bangor, in Wales on June 16, 1864.

A statue of William Smith O’Brien stands in O’Connell Street, Dublin. Sculpted in Portland limestone, it is designed by Thomas Farrell and erected in D’Olier Street, Dublin, in 1870. It is moved to its present position in 1929.


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Death of Poet & Revolutionary Denny Lane

Denny Lane, author, poet and member of the revolutionary Young Ireland party, dies in Cork, County Cork, on November 29, 1895.

Lane is born in Riverstown, near Glanmire in County Cork, on December 4, 1818. Although a Catholic, Lane graduates from the mainly Protestant Trinity College, Dublin, where he joins the College Historical Society, becomes a friend of Charles Gavan Duffy and Thomas Davis. He is called to the bar from Inner Temple, but soon becomes involved in the political activities surrounding Daniel O’Connell, joining the Repeal Association.

The young men become increasingly impatient with the slow pace of O’Connell’s repeal campaign and soon begin to contemplate armed insurrection. Davis, along with John Dillon and Charles Duffy, found The Nation, the newspaper of the movement in 1842. In its pages the idea of total separation from England is soon openly suggested, and Lane becomes one of the paper’s contributors. He contributes articles and later poems to the paper, his best known poems being Carrig Dhoun and Kate of Araglen which are written under the pen name “Domhnall na Glanna” or “Domhnall Gleannach.”

Finally, in 1846, the issue of physical force split the Young Irelanders from O’Connell’s Repeal Association. Lane supports the split. Davis, Lane, and small group of their friends soon become known by the name which has survived to this day: the Young Ireland Party.

Lane and his college classmate Michael Joseph Barry are the most prominent Young Irelanders in Cork, and are interned in Cork City Gaol after the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. Lane spends four months in prison. After his release, he returns to Cork and does not appear to have much political involvement thereafter.

Lane takes over his father’s distillery in Cork and later starts several industrial businesses near the city, with mixed success. He takes an interest in technology and industrial innovation. He is on the boards of the Macroom Railway Company and the Blackrock and Passage Railway Company, and also involved in Cork’s School of Art, School of Music, and Literary & Scientific and Historical & Archaeological societies. He stands for Parliament in the 1876 Cork City by-election, but the Home Rule vote is split with John Daly, so that unionist William Goulding is elected.

(Pictured: An 1889 bust of Denny Lane sculpted by John Lawlor)


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Birth of Thomas Davis, Founder of Young Ireland Movement

Thomas Osborne Davis, Irish writer and the chief organiser and poet laureate of the Young Ireland movement, is born in Mallow, County Cork, on October 14, 1814.

Davis is the son of a Welsh father, a surgeon in the Royal Artillery, and an Irish mother. Through his mother he is descended from the Gaelic noble family of O’Sullivan Beare. His father dies one month after his birth and his mother moves to Warrington Place near Mount Street bridge in Dublin. In 1830, they move to 67 Lower Baggot Street. He attends school in Lower Mount Street before studying at Trinity College, Dublin. He graduates in Law and received an Arts degree in 1836, before being called to the Irish Bar in 1838.

Davis gives a voice to the 19th-century foundational culture of modern Irish nationalism. Formerly it is based on the republicans of the 1790s and on the Catholic emancipation movement of Daniel O’Connell in the 1820s-30s, which has little in common with each other except for independence from Britain. Davis aims to create a common and more inclusive base for the future. He establishes The Nation newspaper with Charles Gavan Duffy and John Blake Dillon.

He writes some stirring nationalistic ballads, originally contributed to The Nation and afterwards republished as Spirit of the Nation, as well as a memoir of Curran, the Irish lawyer and orator, prefixed to an edition of his speeches, and a history of King James II‘s parliament of 1689. He has formed many literary plans which are unfinished at the time of his early death.

Davis supports O’Connell’s Repeal Association from 1840, hoping to recreate the old Parliament of Ireland. They split during a debate on the proposed new Queen’s University of Ireland, when Davis is reduced to tears by O’Connell’s superior debating skill. Davis is in favour of a university that would inclusively educate all Irish students. O’Connell and the Catholic hierarchy prefer a separate system for Catholic students within Ireland that would remain under church control.

O’Connell generally refers to his inexperienced allies as “Young Ireland,” initially as a dismissive term, that from the 1870s becomes the accepted term for nationalists inspired by Davis. He also prefers a federal arrangement with Britain in the 1840s while Davis seeks a greater degree of autonomy. Both agree that a gradual and non-violent process is the best way forward. Despite their differences, O’Connell is distraught at Davis’s early death.

Davis is a Protestant, but preaches unity between Catholics and Protestants. To him, it is not blood that makes a person Irish, but the willingness to be part of the Irish nation. He is to the fore of Irish nationalist thinking and it has been noted by later nationalist notables, such as Patrick Pearse, that while Theobald Wolfe Tone laid out the basic premise that Ireland as a nation must be free, Davis is the one who built this idea up promoting the Irish identity.

He is the author of influential songs such as The West’s Awake, A Nation Once Again and In Bodenstown Churchyard. He also writes The Lament for Owen Roe O’Neill.

Thomas Davis dies from scarlet fever on September 16, 1845, at the age of thirty. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.


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Birth of Revolutionary James Fintan Lalor

james-fintan-lalorJames Fintan Lalor, Irish revolutionary, journalist, and one of the most powerful writers of his day, is born on March 10, 1807, in Tinnakill House, Raheen, County Laois. A leading member of the Irish Confederation (Young Ireland), he plays an active part in both the Rebellion in July 1848 and the attempted Rising in September of that same year.

His father Patrick is an extensive farmer and is the first Catholic MP for Laois from 1832–1835. The household is a very political one where active discussion on national issues is encouraged.

Because of an accident when he is young, James is semi-crippled all his life. He is not a very healthy young man and consequently is educated at home. He spends some time attending college in Carlow but is forced to return home because of his health.

His father is passionately opposed to the payment of tithes and urges Catholics not to pay. James supports this stand but it is the land question and the power of the landlords to evict tenants that exercises James in particular. His father is also a great supporter of Daniel O’Connell and the Repeal movement. However, James does not support the Repeal movement as he considers it to be flawed. As a result, a rift occurs between James and his father on this question. Such is the rift that James leaves home and spends time in Belfast and Dublin. He finally returns home due to ill health and heals his differences with his father.

It is while writing from home that James achieves national prominence. His writings have a profound effect on such figures as Michael Davitt, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, and Arthur Griffith. He contributes articles to The Nation and The Felon. He advocates rent strikes and active resistance to any wrongdoings. His central theme is the rights of the tenant farmer to his own land. In his opinion, land reform is the biggest issue of the time. He writes articles such as “What must be done,” “The Faith of a felon,” “Resistance,” and “Clearing Decks.” It is he who says it is time for revolution and active resistance. This is especially evident during famine years when tenants are being evicted for nonpayment of rent. As a result, he is arrested and imprisoned. Upon his release he continues to write. He is now a nationally acclaimed writer, revolutionary, and reformer.

Ill health once again curtails his efforts. An attack of bronchitis eventually brings about his early death on December 27, 1849, at the age of 43. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetary in Dublin.


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Death of John O’Mahony, Founder of the Fenian Brotherhood

john-omahonyJohn Francis O’Mahony, Gaelic scholar and the founding member of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States, sister organisation to the Irish Republican Brotherhood, dies in New York City on February 7, 1877.

O’Mahony is born in 1816 in Kilbeheny, County Limerick. His father and uncle were members of the Society of United Irishmen, and took part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. On the death of an elder brother, he inherits a property which yields £300 per annum. He enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he studies Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Irish. He becomes an accomplished Gaelic scholar, and later teaches Greek and Latin, and contributes articles to Irish and French journals. He leaves Trinity without getting a degree.

In 1843, O’Mahony joins Daniel O’Connell‘s movement for the Repeal of the Acts of Union 1800, but quickly becomes dissatisfied with the lack of progress and joins the Young Ireland movement which William Smith O’Brien leads and takes part in the failed Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. His participation in the rebellion obligates him to leave Ireland, and he settles for a time in Paris, where he lives in great poverty. In 1854, he joins John Mitchel in New York City, and takes part in the Emigrant Aid Association, the Emmet Monument Association, and other Irish organisations.

In 1857, O’Mahony publishes History of Ireland, by Geoffrey Keating, D. D., translated from the Original Gaelic, and Copiously Annotated (New York, 1857). O’Mahony’s notes are copied from John O’Donovan‘s translations of Annals of the Four Masters, and it is on this ground that Hodges & Smith procures an injunction against the sale of the book in the United Kingdom. The mental strain to which O’Mahony is subjected in the preparation of this work, which brings him no pecuniary gain, affects his reasoning and he is removed by his friends for a short time to a lunatic asylum.

In 1860, O’Mahony organises the Fenian Brotherhood, also known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The object of the association is to secure the freedom of Ireland. The name is probably derived from O’Mahony’s Gaelic studies, the Fenians having been a military body in pagan Ireland, celebrated in the songs of Ossian. The organisation of the new society is completed at conventions that are held in Chicago in 1864 and in Cincinnati in January 1865.

At the time of the Cincinnati convention, O’Mahony holds the rank of colonel of the 69th Regiment of New York State Militia, recruited mainly from the ranks of the Brotherhood, which has also furnished a large proportion of Thomas Francis Meagher‘s Irish Brigade, Michael Corcoran‘s legion, and Irish regiments engaged in the American Civil War. The rapid growth in membership of the Fenian Brotherhood renders it impossible for O’Mahony to retain the colonelcy of the 69th regiment, which he has held for some time. He resigns in order to give all his attention to the spread of Fenianism.

The close of the civil war in the spring of 1865 gives a great impetus to the Fenians, owing to the number of Irish American soldiers that are disbanded and anxious to see service elsewhere. Money pours into the Fenian exchequer. Many differences occur between O’Mahony and James Stephens and the Central Council relative to the policy to be pursued for the attainment of their object, but O’Mahony remains president of the organisation for several years. He does not take any part personally in the attempted insurrection in Ireland or in the raids on Canada, although his advice counts for much in these enterprises.

He devotes the last years of his life to literary pursuits, but suffers from ill health, and he has a hard struggle to secure the bare means for subsistence. However visionary may have been his objectives, he is honest, and although thousands have passed through his hands, he is often at a loss for a dollar. When his poverty is discovered, he declines to receive assistance in any form. He dies in New York City on February 7, 1877 and soon after his death his remains are returned to Ireland and interred with the honors of a public funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.