This Week in Irish History - April 23 - April 29

DOMHNAIGH -- On April 23, 1014 the Battle of Clontarf, one of the most famous and important battles in Irish history, was fought just north of Dublin. It was a bloody stand-up battle, fought mainly with ax and sword, with Brian Boru's men prevailing. This battle would later enter Irish legend as the place where Brian, High King of Ireland, drove the Vikings from Ireland. This is not completely false, but neither is it completely true.

(Left: Battle of Clontarf, oil on canvas painting by Hugh Frazer, 1826)

Some Irish fought with the Vikings, and some Vikings fought with the Irish, and in the end Brian's victory didn't drive out all the Vikings, but it did help break their power in Ireland. With the victory won, most of Boru's bodyguards abandoned him to join in the plunder. The Viking chief Brodar and his men, lurking in nearby woods, seized the opportunity to rush out and slay the victorious King. The way was now clear for a strong leader to unite the clans of Ireland, but the one man who could accomplish that unity lay dead on the battlefield. Perhaps, if Brian had lived, the clans may have united and might have defeated foiled England's invasions; we'll never know. Thus was the battle of Clontarf both a great victory and a great tragedy for the people of Ireland.

LUAIN -- April 24, 1916, Easter Monday, was one of the most critical days in the history of Ireland. On that day, Irish Volunteer units and the Irish Citizen Army, led by Patrick Pearse and James Connolly, began their famous Easter Rising, seizing the General Post Office (GPO) and several other key locations around Dublin. At the GPO, Pearse read the revolutionaries' proclamation in which they pledged, "our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of (Ireland's) freedom." Seven men signed that document. Given Irish Volunteer commander Eoin MacNeill's cancellation of the Volunteers maneuvers the day before, these seven men must have known that their signatures would likely lead to their executions, if they survived the combat they knew would surely come. Those names will forever be associated with the fight for Irish freedom. The seven signers were: Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Eamonn Ceannt and Joseph Plunkett. Ar dheis De go raibh siad.

Gustavus Conyngham, from an original lithograph by Arthur Szyk, courtesy of the Arthur Szyk Society You can find more of Mr. Szyk's historical lithographs here.

DEARDAOIN -- On April 27, 1779 Irish-born (County Donegal) U.S. Navy Capt. Gustavus Conyngham, "The Dunkirk Pirate," was captured by the British navy in the waters off New York. Conyngham had immigrated to the American colonies in his teens and went to work for his cousins shipping house in Philadelphia. By 1775 he was the master of the brig Charming Peggy, sailing to France to pick up war supplies for the colonial government. The British got wind of his plans and managed to maneuver him out of his ship with the help of the Dutch. Conyngham was stranded in France for the next year, until the American commissioners in Paris helped buy a ship for him to use against the British. Setting sail in a small ship called Surprise, Conyngham scored a first victory that would warm the heart of any Irishmen, capturing the British merchant ship Prince of Orange on May 3, 1777. Later that year he was commissioned a captain in the Continental Navy and given command of the Revenge. He began a series of highly successful raids into British waters from the port of Dunkirk, thus earning his sobriquet The Dunkirk Pirate. In 1778 Conyngham set sail for the West Indies and terrorized British vessels there before finally returning to Philadelphia on February 21, 1779. He and his men had claimed 60 prize vessels in just 18 months. When he set sail again his luck ran out and his ship was captured by the British vessel Galatea in April. Conyngham was taken to prison in England and treated harshly by his British captors. But after two other failed escape attempts, the determined naval officer tunneled his way of Mill Prison in Plymouth and managed to make his way to the continent. Conyngham joined John Paul Jones on a cruise on the Alliance before returning to the United States. He made his way back to the U.S., but was captured by the British again in March 1780 and spent another year in Mill Prison. After the war Conyngham failed in his efforts to continue his naval career or to gain recognition from Congress for his service during the war. He had lost the commission papers given to him by colonial representatives in Paris in 1777. It was said that Conyngham assisted in the defense of Philadelphia against his old British foes during the War of 1812; he would die in that same city seven years later. Some hundred years after Conyngham's death his commission papers surfaced in the collection of a Paris autograph dealer, proving that the "Dunkirk Pirate" had never been a pirate at all, but one of the first heroes of the United States Navy.

Thomas Ashe

AOINE -- On April 28, 1916, as the rebels in Dublin were being squeezed harder and harder by the British and nearing the end of their resistance, outside the city the rebels were achieving a small victory. Led by Thomas Ashe, a group of Irish Volunteers ambushed a 40-man unit of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in Ashbourne, Co. Meath. The two sides battled each other for several hours, until finally the police began to run short of ammunition and surrendered to Ashe's men. Eight policemen had died and fifteen were wounded. Ashe would eventually spend time in jail for his role in the uprising, and in 1917 he would be jailed again. He began a hunger strike on Sept. 20, demanding POW status and died after just five days from injuries while being force-fed. The manner of his death outraged the Irish population. (By the way, Ashe has a famous American cousin: actor Gregory Peck).

SATHAIRN -- On April 29, 1916, surrounded and driven from their position in the GPO, with James Connolly severely wounded, and having little hope of help from outside the city, Patrick Pearse and the leaders of the Rising were faced with a decision. All of them were more than ready to die fighting for a Republic themselves, but Pearse had just watched a family of three shot down in the street while waving a white flag. Hanging on the wall was a picture of Robert Emmet standing in the dock; glancing at that hero, whose epitaph Pearse dearly wished to write, he knew what they had to do. When Pearse made his decision to surrender, Tom Clarke, the old rebel who had been given the honor of placing his name first on the Republic proclamation, turned his face to the wall and wept. Their dreams of an Irish Republic were coming to an end, but their sacrifice gave new life to the violent struggle that would lead to that republic

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Confederate Memorial Hall, New Orleans
The flag of Co. H, 6th Louisiana Volunteers.

SATHAIRN -- From April 29 through May 4, 1863, the 6th Louisiana Infantry, a largely Irish Confederate regiment, fought at the 2nd battle of Fredericksburg, during the Chancellorsville campaign. With its ranks filled with Irishmen from New Orleans and roundabouts, the 6th would fight in nearly every major battle of the eastern theater, from 1st Bull Run to Appomattox. The Confederate forces engaged at the 2nd battle of Fredericksburg fought against heavy odds as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, leading the Army of Northern Virginia, were fighting Joe Hooker to the west at Chancellorsville. Outnumbered more than 2 to 1, the Confederates in Fredericksburg did their best to hold the Federal forces, which were intent on getting at Lee's flank and aiding Hooker. On May 3rd they finally broke the thin rebel line at the same sunken road where so many futile attacks were made the preceding December. The 6th, posted to the right of the breakthrough, was nearly surrounded and captured, but managed to retreat. The Confederates, including the 6th, would form another line near Salem Church and the next day they would be part of Robert E. Lee's counterattack, which would drive the Federals back across the Rappahannock River. The 6th would suffer 20 killed, 68 wounded and 98 missing during the six days of the fighting around Fredericksburg.

VOICES

National Museum of Ireland
The Irish Republic flag captured by the British army in 1916. It was returned to the Irish government in 1966.


'In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the last the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.'
         -- A portion of "The Proclamation of the Irish Republic" posted on Easter Monday, 1916.


Patrick Pearse

'For the sake of our fellow citizens and our comrades across this city who are likely to be shot or burned to death, I propose . . . we surrender.'
         -- Patrick Pearse addressing his fellow rebels Saturday, April 29, 1916.

BIRTHS

April -- Aibreán

23, 1791 - James Buchanan (15th President of the U.S., of an Irish immigrant father - Mercersburg, PA)
23, 1940 - Catherine Ford (Maryknoll sister, martyr, Brooklyn, NY)
25, 1906 - William Brennan (U.S. Supreme Court Justice, born of Irish immigrant parents - Newark, N.J.)
28, 1875 - Teresa Kearney (Mother Kevin - "Mother Kevina" -- Missionary - founder of Franciscan Missionary Sisters -- Knockenrahan, Co. Wicklow.)
29, 1769 - Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington (Soldier and statesman - - Dublin)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

23, 1014 - Battle of Clontarf. Brian Boru, king of Ireland, killed
23, 1938 - Douglas Hyde, a Protestant, is selected as Ireland's first president.
23, 1953 - Maud Gonne, Irish revolutionary, dies.
24, 1916 - Easter rising. Irish rebels seize General Post Office and other buildings in Dublin.
24, 1800 - United Irishmen in British army in Newfoundland, Canada, stage a brief, abortive mutiny.
24, 1886 - Father Abram J. Ryan, chaplain and poet-priest of the Confederacy, dies in Louisville, KY.
25, 1707 - Irish Brigade of France fights in the battle of Almanza.
25, 1797 - Col. Thomas Barry of Cork, commands a regiment of O'Mahony's Dragoons at Almanza.
25, 1836 - Mathew Flanagan, vice admiral in the Austrian navy, dies in Venice.
25, 1918 - Irish Labour Party declares one-day strike in protest over conscription act.

27, 1779 - Irish-born U.S. Navy Capt. Gustavus Conyngham, "The Dunkirk Pirate", is captured by the British.
27, 1802 - Count Lally arrives in India in command of French troops, including his own Irish regiment.
27, 1805 - U.S. Marines under the command of Lt. Presley O'Bannon capture the town of Derna in Libya, on 'The Shores of Tripoli.'
27, 1923 - De Valera announces end of operations against the Irish Free State, effectively ending the Irish Civil War.
28, 1794 - Rev. William Jackson, agent of French revolutionary government, arrested in Dublin on charge of high treason.
28, 1916 - Battle of Ashbourne - Irish Volunteers led by Thomas Ashe ambush RIC men.
28, 1927 - Death of Dan Daly, two-time winner of the U.S. Medal of Honor in Glendale, Queens New York.
29, 1829 - Catholic Emancipation Act passed giving rights to hold military and civilian offices
29, 1901 - James Stephens, chief founder of the Fenians, dies in Dublin.
29- May 4 - The largely Irish 6th Louisiana Infantry regiment fights at the 2nd battle of Fredericksburg during the Chancellorsville campaign.
29, 1916 - Irish rebels, led by Patrick Pearse and James Connolly, surrender in Dublin.

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