This Week in the History of the Irish: July 30 - August 5

MÁIRT -- On Aug. 1, 1915, the funeral of Fenian Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa was held before a huge crowd at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. Rossa's body had been returned from New York where he died June 30. He had been exiled by the British for his Fenian activities in 1871. While in exile, Rossa had managed to alienate many of his former Fenian colleagues, including his good friend John Devoy, with his uncompromising advocacy of violence to end British rule in Ireland.

(Left: National Library of Ireland - Taken just after Pearse's oration at O'Donovan Rossa's grave side. Pearse is seen just to the left of the priest and altar boy in white cassocks, putting away the text of his speech. Click on the photo for a larger veiw.)

Perhaps his attitude was due in part to the harsh treatment he received in British prisons as well as scenes he witnessed while helping to distribute relief in his native County Cork during the Great Hunger . In the late 1870s, he organized the 'Skirmishing Fund,' which financed the infamous dynamite campaign in England. When he died in New York on June 30, 1915, he was estranged from most in the Irish republican movement, but his funeral would be one of the seminal events in the revival of the movement in Ireland. Patrick Pearse gave an address at the graveside that day which has resounded with republicans down through the years; the final words of his oration provided them with one of their most enduring slogans: "Ireland unfree will never be at peace." [Editor's note: Interestingly, the world slogan derives from the Gaelic sluagh ghairm, or army cry, according to The Random House Dictionary.]

CÉADAOIN -- In the early morning hours of August 2, 1943, a small American torpedo boat was moving just west of New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. In command was a young Irish-American destined to one day be the first Catholic president of the United States: Lieutenant John Fitzgerald Kennedy . As PT-109 moved through the gloomy morning, the Japanese destroyer Amagiri suddenly appeared like a ghost ship just a few hundred yards away. The PT boat was running on one idling engine and had almost no speed to maneuver. The commander of the Amagiri, Kohai Hanami, spotted the tiny ship. It was to close to fire at; Hanami turned to ram it. They sliced through the middle of the wooden PT boat, which burst into flames. Two of the crewmen were killed, but Kennedy and ten others survived. The next morning, with Kennedy towing a badly burned crewman, the crew swam to a nearby island. Though Kennedy was suffering greatly from a recurring back injury, he and Ensign Ross made several dangerous night trips into Ferguson Passage over the next few days, swimming out, and later using a canoe they found, in an attempt to contact help. On August 5, the group was found by two natives who worked for an Australian coast watcher, Lt. Reginald Evans. Kennedy quickly carved a note on a coconut for them to bring to Evans. Evans got word back to the U.S. Navy, and, on the night of August 8, all 11 survivors of PT 109 were rescued by PT 157. John F. Kennedy kept that carved coconut on his desk in the oval office until the day he was assassinated.

Courier & Ives print.
Thomas F. Meagher in zouave uniform while a captain commanding Company K of the 69th New York State Militia. 

DEARDAOIN -- On August 3, 1823, Irish nationalist and American Civil War general Thomas Francis Meagher was born in Waterford, Ireland. Well educated, Meagher's family was among the better-off Catholics in the country, and the family expected he would practice law. But Meagher took up politics instead, joining the radical Young Ireland Party . He made a famous speech when the Young Irelanders broke with O'Connell's party, which earned him the sobriquet, 'Meagher of the Sword.' Exiled to Australia for his part in the '48 Rising, he escaped to America and became prominent in the Irish exile community in New York. When the Civil War erupted, he led a company of the 69th New York in July 1861 during the first battle of Bull Run and then organized the famous Irish Brigade of the Union army later in the year. He commanded the brigade in numerous battles until May '63, then resigned when he was not allowed to recruit for his decimated brigade. After the war, Meagher was appointed temporary governor of the Montana territory, and he accidentally drowned there in 1867.

VOICES

'Life springs from death; and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations.'
         -- From Patrick Pearse's oration at the grave side of O'Donovan Rossa, Aug. 1, 1915

... so long as there remains one officer or one soldier of the Irish Brigade, so long shall there be found for him, for his family and little ones, if any there be, a devoted friend in Thomas Francis Meagher.' '
         -- The closing words of Meagher's farewell address to the Irish Brigade, May 19, 1863

BIRTHS

July -- Iúil

30, 1863 - Henry Ford (Automobile manufacturer - Dearborn, Michigan.)

August -- Lúnasa

2, 1932 - Peter O'Toole (Actor)
3, 1823 - Thomas Francis Meagher (Revolutionary, Union General - Waterford)
4, 1805 - Sir William Rowan Hamilton (Mathematician - Dublin)
4, 1878 - Margaret Pearse - (Teacher, politician - Dublin.)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

July -- Iúil

31, 1689 - Siege of Derry lifted.
31, 1893 - Founding of the Gaelic League.
31, 1922 - Harry Boland shot by Free Staters in Skerries, he would die three days later.

August -- Lúnasa

1588Ships from the Spanish Armada wreck on the western Irish coastline.
1, 1166 - Rory O'Connor defeats Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster forcing him to flee from Ireland.
1, 1800 - Act of Union uniting Ireland to England passed by Parliament.
1, 1822 - Irish Constabulary Act sets up county police forces.
1, 1915 - Nationalist Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa buried in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin.
1, 1981 - Kevin Lynch dies on hunger strike.
2, 1649 - Battle of Rathmines.
2, 1862 - Irish 6th Louisiana Infantry 
fights at the battle of Bristoe Station.
2, 1943 -
 John F. Kennedy's PT 109 is rammed and sunk by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri in the Solomon Islands.
2, 1981 -
 Kieran Doherty dies on hunger strike.
3, 1868 -
 Charles Halpine ("Miles O'Reilly"), soldier and politician, dies in New York.
3, 1916 - Roger Casement hanged by English government.
4, 1798 - Thomas Addis Emmet, Arthur O'Connor, and William James MacNeven deliver to government their 'Memoir or detailed statement of the origin and progress of the Irish Union' (on United Irish movement).
5, 1888 - Irish-American Gen. Phil Sheridan, one of the finest Union generals of the American Civil War, dies of heart disease in Nonquitt, Massachusetts.

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Tags: American Civil War, History of Ireland, Irish Freedom Struggle, Oceania, On This Day

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