This Week in the History of the Irish: Feb. 26 - March 4

LUAIN - On February 27, 1735, Thomas Conway, a soldier in French and U.S. armies, was born in Cloghane, County Kerry. Conway was taken to France at the age of six to be educated and, in 1749, he joined the Irish Brigade of France and served in the Clare Regiment. He served in the French army until 1776, seeing combat and rising to the rank of colonel. When the Americans came looking for officers to help their fledgling army against the much better trained and armed British, Conway volunteered. He was made a brigadier general on arrival in America and served well in several battles. But when Washington refused to promote him to major general over several American generals, Conway turned against him. He entered into discussions and intrigues with several other officers with the intent of replacing Washington with General Horatio Gates. This group was later named after him as the "Conway Cabal." It failed, but Conway was promoted to major general and Inspector General of the army over several American brigadiers in spite of Washington's objections.

(Left: George Washington, Conway's nemesis, in the field, by Don Troiani.)

His fortunes in the U.S. Army went downhill from there. He asked to be Lafayette's second in command, but Lafayette refused and Conway had to accept being third. Later, he complained to his friends in Congress who had gotten him the first promotion, threatening to resign, as he had the first time. But his star was on the wane this time and they accepted it. Things went from bad to worse when he fought a duel with a militia general (some say over Conway's attitude toward Washington) and was shot in the mouth.

Conway lived, and during his recovery he wrong a conciliatory letter to Washington, but he never replied. The ill-starred general returned to France in 1779 and was welcomed back into the French army, shortly earning the rank of major general. He was made governor of all French possessions in India in 1787, but after the Revolution his royalist leaning caused him to be returned to France. There the veteran conspirator returned to that activity, this time in favor of the royalty. Unlike some other Irish Brigade veterans, he escaped with his head and was for a time an officer in an attempted "Irish Brigade" in the British army. He died in 1800. 

CÉADAOIN -- On March 1, 1776, Irish-born Andrew Lewis was appointed a brigadier general in the Continental Army. Andrew's father's reportedly fled to the colonies after killing his landlord in self-defense. The family settled in Virginia. Given their father's history in Ireland, it is not surprising that two of the Lewis brothers would fight in the revolutionary army. Andrew's brother William would rise from lieutenant to major before being captured in 1780. Andrew's military career predated the Revolution.

(Left: From Wikipedia: Statue of Andrew Lewis, Point Pleasant, West Virginia.)

He served with Washington during the French and Indian War, seeing extensive action after that with Braddock. Andrew was captured by the French in 1758 and sent to Montreal. After the war, he saw action against the Indians on the Virginia frontier during Dunmore's War. Another brother, Charles, was killed under Andrew's command during that war. Lewis' military experience led to his promotion to brigadier general in 1776. In July of that year, he helped drive British Governor Dunmore from Virginia. Ironically, this was the same man who gave his name to the war in which Lewis had earlier fought. Lewis took umbrage at his passing over for promotion in the years that followed. His old friend from the French and Indian War, George Washington, tried to console him, but Lewis resigned April 15, 1777, citing "ill health." Lewis remained in the Virginia militia, and died in 1781.

Currier and Ives
Robert Emmet stands defiant before the judge at his trial.

SATHAIRN -- On March 4, 1778, Robert Emmet, one of the most famous revolutionaries in Irish history, was born in St. Stephen's Green, Dublin. The Emmets were a prosperous Protestant family; Robert's father was a physician. Robert attended Trinity College Dublin in the 1790s and there became involved with the United Irishmen. He quit the college in 1798 when students were forced to take a loyalty oath. In 1799 he traveled to France, where his brother, Thomas, exiled for his United Irish activities, joined him in 1802. Returning to Dublin that year, he began to organize another rising. With so many of the leaders dead or exiled, his plan had little chance of success, but on July 23, 1803, his small group rose up. Word never got to rebel leader Michael Dwyer in the Wicklow hills and the rising failed. Emmet might have escaped, but he would not go without his love, Sarah Curren, and this proved fatal. He was captured on August 25. Emmet had little hope of acquittal, and his lawyer is now known to have been a paid agent of Dublin Castle. He was found guilty and was hung on Thomas Street on September 20, 1803. His head was severed on the scaffold minutes after the hanging and held up to the crowd as "the head of Robert Emmet, a traitor." Though they had killed the man, in his trial they had given the fiery Emmet a rostrum, and, long after his death, his famous words live on.

SATHAIRN -- On March 4, 1804 in Australia former United Irishmen staged a small insurrection that ended with a short fight at Castle Hill. Starting in 1799 the British had been shipping many of the leaders and participants of the Rising 1798 Rising to “Van Diemen’s Land” (Australia). Once there they did not change their anti-government mindsets. Some saw their fight against the same foe as merely transferred from Ireland to Australia.

(Below: Convict uprising at Castle Hill in 1804, unknown artist. National Library of Australia.)

As evening fell in the 4th, Phillip Cunningham, a veteran of the 1798 rebellion, led about 300 Irish convicts in a rising at Castle Hill. They lite a fire as a signal to a much larger group of convicts, over 1,000, in the Green’s Hill area to join them in the revolt. It was not seen, however, leaving the Castle Hill rebels on their own. They overpowered the constables guarding them, seizing a small number of firearms. The plan was to meet up with the Green’s Hill group at Constitution Hill and then march on Parramatta, where they hoped to raid an arsenal. They would then march on Sydney with enough numbers to overwhelm government forces there, hoping to seize a ship to sail home. They split into small groups hoping to raid local farms for arms before reforming on Constitution Hill, but many got lost and never got there.

As it was, the militia were alerted before the rebels could reach Parramatta and stopped them there. Major George Johnston of the New South Wales Corps arrived on the scene, and along with a number of armed civilians, confronted the rebel force. When asked to surrender the rebels replied “death or liberty, and a ship to take us home.” The far better armed government forces routed the rebels. Fifteen were killed there and fifteen more as the scattered remnants were pursued. Seven of the returned prisoners were given 200 to 500 lashes as punishment. Nine were executed, including Cunningham. Two, William Johnston and Samuel Humes, had their bodies cold-bloodedly left hanging over the road at Parramatta. The whip and gallows “justice” system of Ireland had been directly transferred to Australia.

VOICES

"I am here ready to die. I am not allowed to vindicate my character; no man shall dare to vindicate my character; and when I am prevented from vindicating myself, let no man dare to calumniate me. Let my character and my motives repose in obscurity and peace, till other times and other men can do them justice. Then shall my character be vindicated; then may my epitaph be written."
-- The closing of Robert Emmet's epitaph.

"Our servant burst into the Parlour pale and violent in agitation … he told us that the croppies had risen … We then learnt that Castle Hill was in flames. The fire was discernible from Parramatta.")
-- Elizabeth Macarthur, Australian settler, 1804

February - Feabhra

BIRTHS

27, 1735 - Thomas Conway (Soldier in French and U.S. armies, Cloghane, Co. Kerry.)
28, 1884 - Seán Mac Diarmada (Revolutionary - Kiltyclogher, Co. Leitrim.)
28, 1951 - Barry McGuigan (WBA Welterweight champion - Clones, Co. Monaghan.)

March - Márta

1, 1848 - Augustus St. Gaudens (Sculptor - Dublin)
4, 1778
 - Robert Emmet (Revolutionary - Dublin)
4, 1898 - General Emmet Dalton (Revolutionary, aide to Michael Collins.)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

27, 1830 - John Baron O'Brien, colonel in the Austrian army, dies in Austria.
27, 1945 – Gunnery Sgt. William G. Walsh is killed in action on the island of Iwo Jima. He was posthumously award the Medal of Honor.
28, 1587 - Queen Elizabeth I grants Sir Walter Raleigh 40,000 acres in counties Cork and Waterford.

March - Márta

1, 1776 - Irish-born Andrew Lewis is appointed a Brigadier General in the Continental Army
1, 1586 - Clanowen Castle, Co. Clare, is captured from Mahon O'Brien by Sir Richard Bingham.
1, 1776 - Irish-born John Armstrong is appointed a Brigadier General in the Continental Army.
1, 1776 - Irish-born William Thompson is appointed a Brigadier General in the Continental Army.
1, 1794 - Statutes of Dublin University amended to allow Catholics to take degrees.
1, 1965 - Roger Casement's body re-interred in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin.
1, 1981 - Bobby Sands begins his hunger strike at Long Kesh prison
3, 1921
 - During the Irish War of Independence, the West Waterford column of the Irish Volunteers under George Lennon ambush a train at Durrow Station, Co. Waterford. 
4, 1704
 - Penal Laws passed in 1695 restricting Catholic civil rights strengthened
4, 1804 - In Australia, former United Irishmen stage a small insurrection that ends with a short fight at Castle Hill.
4, 1902 - Ancient Order of Hibernians in Ireland revived at unity council.

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Tags: Australia, Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History, On This Day, United States

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