This Week in the History of the Irish: December 17 - December 23

DEARDAOIN -- On Dec. 17, 1803, rebel leader Michael Dwyer, whose guerrilla attacks had maddened British colonial authorities since 1798, surrendered. Dwyer was born in County Wicklow and he participated in the 1798 Rising; however, unlike most of the leaders and soldiers in that Rising, he did not either leave the country or return to his normal life, nor was he captured. Dwyer retreated into the Wicklow Mountains with a band of men and drove the British to distraction in their attempts to apprehend him.

(Right: Michael Dwyer, last holdout of the United Irishmen.)

A reward was placed on Dwyer's head and another for each of his men, but he led the British authorities on a merry chase for 5 years, with many daring narrow escapes, each adding to his legend. Some called him the 'Outlaw of Glenmalure.' In 1803 he planed to assist Robert Emmet in his rising but he never received the signal to join the rising. At this point he recognized the futility of his situation, and he also wished to relieve the suffering of a number of his family members, including his sister, whom had been jailed for no offense other than their family relationship to him. Some claim that when he contacted the British to ask terms of surrender Dwyer was promised he and his men would be sent to the United States. If so, and not for the first time, their word to an Irishman proved worthless. After 2 years of brutal treatment in Kilmainham Jail, under the infamous Edward Trevor, Dwyer was transported to Botany Bay. Dwyer and his family, along with a number of his men, set sail for Australia on board the Tellicherry on August 25, 1805; however, the story of Michael Dwyer does not end there. In Sydney, Dwyer ran afoul of the Governor, a certain Capt. William Bligh, of Bounty fame. Bligh accused Dwyer of being the leader of a rebellious plot involving other United Irishmen in the area, which, if true, would certainly not have been out of character. Bligh shipped Dwyer off to Norfolk Island, one of the worst hellholes of the British penal system in Australia. After 6 months he was transferred to Tasmania, where he remained for another 2 years. In 1808 Bligh left the Governorship and Dwyer finally made it back to his family in Sydney and was granted 100 acres of land nearby. Like many transported Irish rebels, he eventually became part of the local establishment and, in a bit of irony, the 'Outlaw of Glenmalure' was appointed constable. Michael Dwyer died in 1825, but his wife lived to be 93, not dying until 1861. With her passed the last connection to the 'boys of '98' in Australia. Dwyer remains a legend among the people of the Wicklow Mountains to this day.

MÁIRT -- On December 19, 1877, Land League organizer Michael Davitt was released from Dartmoor Prison. Davitt, revolutionary and agrarian agitator, was born in Straide, County Mayo. Davitt's family was evicted from their small farm when he was just a boy. After they emigrated to England, Davitt lost his right arm at age of 11 while working in a cotton mill.

(Left: Michael Davitt (Note the empty right sleeve.)

He joined the Fenians in the 1860s. On February 11, 1867, he participated in their raid on Chester Castle. Through the late 1860s, he was one of the chief arms procurers for the Fenians until his arrest and conviction in 1870. Davitt served a typically brutal jail sentence. After his release in 1877, he began what would be his life's work, agrarian agitation. After a stay in the United States, where he met revolutionary John Devoy, Davitt returned to Mayo and became involved in the local land agitation there. This activity led to the formation of the Land League in 1879, using funds raised by John Devoy and Clan na Gael in the United States, and allied with Charles Stewart Parnell. This organization forced many reforms in the corrupt Irish landlord system, and would result in Davitt serving a number of short jail sentences, courtesy of Her Majesty's government. Davitt was a member of Parliament for a time in the 1890s, but resigned in protest against the Boer War. Michael Davitt died in Dublin on May 31, 1906.

CÉADAOIN -- On December 20, 1865Maud Gonne was born in Aldershot, England. Her father was a wealthy British army colonel of Irish descent and her mother was English. Her mother died in 1871, and Maud was educated in France by a governess before moving to Dublin in 1882, when her father was posted there. Maud's father died in 1886, leaving her financially independent. While living in Paris, Maud was introduced to Fenianism by John "Pagan" O'Leary, a veteran of the 1848 Young Irelander uprising. In 1889, John O'Leary would also introduce Maud to a man whose infatuation with her would last most of his life: poet William Butler Yeats. Through the 1890s, Gonne began to work for the cause of Irish independence, and was involved in the protests against the Boer War.

(Right: Portrait of Maud Gonne by Sara Purser-Hugh.)

In 1900, she married a veteran of the fight against the British there, Major John MacBride. Gonne continued to write and agitate for the republican cause through the 1916 Rising, during which her by-then estranged husband was executed. She was jailed as part of the "German Plot" that the British used to discredit the Irish anti-conscription movement in 1918. Gonne was interned at Holloway Jail for six months along with Kathleen Clarke, Constance Markievicz, and others. She opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, causing her to later be jailed by the Free State government, but her immediate initiation of a hunger strike had her released in just 20 days. Maud stayed politically active to the end of her life. In 1938, she published "A Servant of the Queen," a biography of her life up to 1903. Gonne died on April 27, 1953, but her influence on Ireland and the world continued after her death through her son, Nobel Peace Prize winner Sean MacBride.

VOICES

At length, brave Michael Dwyer, you and your trusty men
Are hunted o'er the mountains and tracked into the glen.
Sleep not, but watch and listen; keep ready blade and ball;
The soldiers know, you're hiding tonight in wild Imaal.

He baffled his pursuers, who followed like the wind;
He swam the river Slaney, and left them far behind;
But many an English soldier he promised soon should fall,
For these, his gallant comrades, who died in wild Imaal.

-- From a poem by T. D. Sullivan.

'If the nationalists want me [the Irish farmer] to believe in and labor a little for independence, they must first show themselves willing and strong enough to stand between me and the power which a single Englishman, a landlord, wields over me.'
          -- Michael Davitt, giving voice to the attitude of the small Irish farmer toward Irish independence, December 1878

How many loved your movements of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled.
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

                   -- From "When You Are Old," a poem by William Butler Yeats, referring to Gonne

BIRTHS

18, 1798 - James Henry, physician and classical scholar, is born in Dublin.
20, 1865 - Maud Gonne MacBride (Revolutionary - Aldershot, England)
22, 1862 - Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy (“Connie Mac,” American professional baseball player, manager, and team owner - East Brookfield, Massachusetts)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

17, 1803 - Rebel leader Michael Dwyer surrenders to English.
19, 1803 - Count Philip George Browne, general in the Austrian army, son of Field Marshal Browne, dies in Hubertusburg.
19, 1877 - Land League organizer Michael Davitt is released from Dartmoor Prison.
22, 1691 - Patrick Sarsfield and 'The Wild Geese" sail out of Cork harbor for France.
22-7, 1796-97 - French invasion fleet, with troops and Tone on board, in Bantry Bay, Co. Cork; landing prevented by bad weather.
22, 1944 - At Bastogne, Belgium during WWII's "Battle of the Bulge," Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe of the U.S. 101st Airbrone gives the Germans his famous "Nuts!" reply to their demand for his surrender.
23,1688 - James II flees England for France.

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Tags: Irish Freedom Struggle, Living History, On This Day

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