This Week in the History of the Irish: January 24 - January 30

DEARDAOIN -- On January 24, 1862, Miles Byrne, United Irishman and officer in Napoleon's Irish Legion, died in Paris. He was active in the 1798 Rising in Wexford and fought all its major battles, right through the rebels' climactic defeat at Vinegar Hill.

(Left: Miles Byrne (from his 'Memoirs".)

He escaped to the hills and served with Michael Dwyer until the failure of the rising led by Robert Emmet, a close friend of Byrne's, in 1803. Byrne traveled to France hoping to arrange for more French aid to Ireland but after failing in that he joined the Irish Legion being formed in the French army. He had a long career in the service of France. Byrne rose to command a regiment and was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor. After his retirement he wrote his Memoirs, which were published 1863, a year after his death in Paris. 

Thomas Charles Wright

MÁIRT -- On January 26, 1799, Thomas Charles Wright, an officer in Simón Bolívar's South American army and founder and first commander-in-chief of the Ecuadorian navy, was born in Drogheda, Co. Louth. Wright joined the British navy as a teen-ager and served against the United States in the War of 1812. In 1817 he was moved so strongly by Bolívar's struggle for South American independence that he sailed for Venezuela to join his army. Wright found many other Irish among Bolívar's troops, including his aide-de-camp, Colonel O'Leary. Wright served in a number of land battles with Bolívar's army, including Carabobo, Bombino, and Pichincha. Like Bernardo O'Higgins in Chile, Bolívar had come to understand the need for a naval force to combat the Spanish and was encouraging the formation of revolutionary naval forces. In early 1824, Wright transferred to the Peruvian navy of Admiral Guise and was made captain of the 18-gun-brigantine Chimborazo. Guise praised Wright's conduct when his fleet captured Callao from the Spanish, and Wright then commanded his own fleet of small vessels. With these, Wright helped Antonio Jose de Sucre win the final victory at Ayacucho on December 9, 1824, effectively freeing Peru. As often happens after revolutions, the departure of the colonial power led to fighting among the factions that once were united against the common foe. In 1827, Peruvian President José Lamar invaded Bolivia, then Ecuador. Wright had settled in Ecuador after the ouster of the Spanish, and now he took up the cause of his adopted home, forming the first Ecuadorian navy. Wright's navy fought two battles with the Peruvians in the Gulf of Guayaquil, breaking their blockade of the port and defeating and killing Wright's revolutionary comrade, Admiral Guise. Wright would spend the rest of his days helping to build the Ecuadorian navy and taking part in the politics of the country. It was said he always supported the cause of poor Ecuadorians, perhaps driven by memories of the downtrodden people of his native land. Thomas Charles Wright died in Guayaquil on December 10, 1835.

Edme Patrice MacMahon, general and president of the French Republic.

SATHAIRN -- On January 30, 1879, Edme Patrice de MacMahon retired as president of France. MacMahon's ancestors had immigrated to France from Torrodile, County Limerick, in 1691, after the family's support of King James. His father, Maurice Francis, was a soldier in the French army. In 1790 Maurice's royalist politics nearly caused his head to become separated from his body, but he managed to survive until the Bourbon restoration. Edme Patrice was born on June 13, 1808, at Autum in Burgundy. He attended the military academy at Saint-Cyr and in 1827 he joined the French army. MacMahon served in Algeria until 1854. His performance there moved him steadily through the ranks; by the time the Crimean War began, MacMahon had been promoted to general and was transferred to the French army at the front. On September 8, 1855, he helped to plan -- and personally led -- a successful assault on the Russian fortress of Malakoff at Sebastopol. The plan included what was perhaps the first use of synchronized watches in a military attack. After the attack took the fort, MacMahon received a message from the French commander-in-chief warning him that the fort had been mined by the Russians. He advised MacMahon to withdraw, but MacMahon decided to risk the danger and remain in the fort. Sebastopol fell shortly after this victory, and the war was soon over. General MacMahon next commanded French troops against the Austrians in the Piedmont. Here he won his greatest fame, on June 4, 1859, when he defeated the Austrians at the battle of Magenta.

"The Attack on the Malakoff" by William Simpson (click on graphic for a larger view).

For this victory, Napoleon III conferred on MacMahon the title, duc de Magenta. MacMahon also performed well at the battle of Solferino on June 24. It is said that when news of MacMahon's victory at Magenta reached Ireland, bonfires were lit on hilltops in celebration, showing how much pride the native Irish took in their exiled sons. MacMahon was given command of the 1st Army Corps during the Franco-Prussian War. He was heavily outnumbered and defeated at Worth and Sedan as the Prussian army overwhelmed the French in six weeks. MacMahon was wounded and carried from the field at Sedan, and emerged from the debacle with reputation intact. He later headed an army that crushed the Commune of Paris in 1871. In May 1873, he was elected president of the Republic. MacMahon was president for six fateful years in the history of France. Republicans, royalists, and other factions plotted and fought on all sides, but MacMahon brought France through this perilous period and helped establish a permanent democratic government. He retired to private life in 1879. Edme Patrice MacMahon, Duke of Magenta, died October 17, 1893.

SATHAIRN -- On January 30, 1845, Katharine (Kitty) O'Shea, nee Wood, whose affair with Charles Stewart Parnell would cause his political ruin, was born at Bradwell, Essex, England. On January 24, 1867, she married Captain William Henry O'Shea. Their marriage does not appear to have been a happy one. In 1875, perhaps as a result of their poor financial situation, she and O'Shea began living apart, as she and their children moved in with a wealthy aunt, Mrs. Benjamin Wood, and he took an apartment in London. O'Shea only visited them occasionally thereafter. In 1880, her husband was elected to Parliament, and in July of the same year Kitty arranged to meet the leader of her husband's party, Charles Stewart Parnell; shortly, they were involved in an affair. Although it is rumored that he challenged Parnell to a duel in July 1881 (Kitty reputedly talked her husband out of it), it appears that O'Shea eventually accepted the affair between his wife and Parnell.

Hulton Picture Library
Katharine 'Kitty' O'Shea


Perhaps access to money from Kitty's aunt and the fact that he could use the affair to pressure Parnell into helping to further his career convinced him to do nothing. Parnell fathered three daughters with Kitty between 1882 and 1884, and she also served as an occasional envoy from Parnell to William Gladstone. Though Parnell put his political career in jeopardy numerous times on his behalf, O'Shea began to develop a deep hatred of Parnell. In 1886, Parnell put his party leadership on the line to secure an MP seat for O'Shea in Galway, but, strangely, O'Shea resigned from the seat shortly afterward. When Kitty's rich aunt died, depriving him of access to her money, the Captain finally made the affair public when he named Parnell as co-respondent when he sued Kitty for divorce on December 24, 1889. Although the publicity surrounding the case virtually destroyed Parnell's political career, Kitty felt optimistic about their future since they no longer had to hide their relationship. Kitty and Parnell were married in June 1891, but they were not fated to enjoy their new life. Exhausted from his political battles, Parnell became ill and died, age 45, in Kitty's arms at their home in Brighton, England on October 6, 1891. Kitty mourned Parnell the rest of her life, suffering some mental problems, perhaps caused by her heartbreak. She wrote a book about her life with Parnell, Charles Stewart Parnell: His Love Story and Political Life, in 1914. Katharine 'Kitty' O'Shea died in Littlehampton, Sussex, England, on February 5, 1921, apparently never once setting foot on Irish soil.

VOICES

"Wright, as always, behaved well."
        -- From the report of Peruvian Admiral Guise (later to lose his life in a naval battle versus Wright) after the battle of Callao.

'J'y suis, J'y reste.' (I am there, there I remain.)
        -- General Edme Patrice MacMahon's reply to the suggestion he evacuate the fortress of Malakoff, September 8, 1855 (This is one of the most famous quotes in French military history.) 

Library of Congress
Charles Stuart Parnell

''I don't pretend that I had not moments of trial and of temptation, but I do claim that never in thought, word, or deed, have I been false to the trust which Irishmen have confided in me.'
        -- Charles Stewart Parnell (left), lover and later husband of Katharine 'Kitty' O'Shea, December 18, 1890

January - Eanáir

BIRTHS

26, 1799 - Thomas Charles Wright (Officer in Bolivar's army and founder of Ecuadorian navy) Drogheda, Co. Louth.
26, 1904 - Séan MacBride (Revolutionary, Statesman - Paris.)
28, 1760 - Mathew Carey (Author, bookseller, and publisher - Dublin.)
28, 1807 - Robert John Le Mesurier M'Clure (Explorer - Wexford.)
28, 1892 - David Mary Tidmarsh (WWI Ace, 7 kills - Limerick.)
30, 1845 - Katharine (Kitty) O'Shea (Mistress and later wife of Parnell - England.)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

24, 1862 - Miles Byrne, United Irishmen and soldier in Napoleon's Irish Legion, dies in Paris.
25, 1925 - Nellie Cashman "Frontier Angel" of western US miners, dies in Victoria, BC, Canada.
26, 1942 - US expeditionary troops land in Northern Ireland.
26, 1945 - In Holtzwihr, France, Audie Murphy fights in the action that will win him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
27, 1975 - Mother Mary Martin, founder of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, dies in Drogheda.
28, 1921 - An IRA ambush party of men from the Cork No. 1 Brigade waiting to ambush a convoy of British troops at Godfrey's Cross is itself ambushed by British troops who had been alerted by an informer.
28,1939 - William Butler Yeats dies in Monaco.
28, 1967 - Helena Moloney, republican and trade unionist, dies in Dublin.
29, 1794 - Archibald Hamilton Rowan, United Irishman, tried on charge of distributing seditious paper
30, 1863Corcoran's Legion fights it first battle (battle of the Deserted House/Kelly's Story), near Suffolk, VA.
30, 1879 - Patrice de MacMahon retires as President of France.
30, 1900 - Irish Parliamentary Party reunites under John Redmond, incorporating United Irish League.
30, 1972 - "Bloody Sunday," thirteen killed by British paratroopers in Derry.

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Tags: Americas, Diaspora History, Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History, On This Day

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