This Week in the History of the Irish: May 14 - May 20

MÁIRT -- On May 15, 1847, The Syria, the first ship to arrive during what Quebecois would call the 'Summer of Sorrow,' landed at the Canadian quarantine station in the St. Lawrence River, just north of Quebec. The French had called that island 'Grosse Ile,' but since 1847 many have called it 'L'Ile des Irlandais.' The first victim died on the day The Syria arrived. She was only four years old; her name was Ellen Kane, from Kilmore in County Mayo. Within six days, 202 of the ship's 241 passengers were ill. The island's hospital was built for 200 patients; the very first ship of the year had filled it to capacity. Hundreds more of these coffin ships would arrive before the year was out, each filled with passengers as sick as those on The Syria. English landlords were in the process of clearing the sick and starving from their lands; sheep were profitable, the Irish were expensive and disposable. It was "Black '47," and a long summer nightmare of despair was just beginning for those on Grosse Ile, and for the thousands en route. The island today is a monument to the Irish who suffered and died there.

CÉADAOIN -- On May 17-18, 1918, the British government began arresting all the leaders of Sinn Fein that it could round-up. Britain desperately wanted to impose conscription on the Irish to replace its tremendous losses in the trenches of Europe; Sinn Fein was adamantly opposed to more Irishmen being used as cannon fodder in service to their oppressors. The British answer to this resistance was the one that had used so often before in Ireland: coercion. De Valera, Griffith, Constance Markiewicz and other many other leaders were all eventually imprisoned. The British cover for these arrests was a bogus 'German Plot,' which has since been thoroughly discredited. The British would live to regret one man who slipped through their fingers that spring; Michael Collins would use the months he might have spent in an English prison assembling an intelligence organization that would soon make the 'Empira' squeal.


The arrest and mortal wounding of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, who stands to the left.

AOINE -- On May 19, 1798, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, military leader of the United Irishmen, was captured by the British in Dublin. From one of the most distinguished families in Ireland, a descendant of 'Silken Thomas' Fitzgerald, who was executed by the British in 1537, and brother of the Duke of Leinster, Lord Edward had served in the British army against the American colonists during the American Revolution. He spent time in Paris after the war, where one of his companions was American political theorist Thomas Paine. There Fitzgerald acquired his republican ideals. He had escaped capture in March when many of the United Irish leaders had been arrested, but a spy had betrayed his hiding place on Thomas Street. Lord Edward fiercely resisted arrest, stabbing to death one of his captors, but another shot him, and he died of his wounds 16 days later.

VOICES


'I believe that even those coming to this beautiful island knowing nothing of the tragedy which occurred here, would sense its difference. I am certain that one knowing the story could not remain unaffected. This is a hallowed place.'

       
  -- Irish President Mary Robinson at Grosse Ile, August 21, 1994

'You may as well declare war on Ireland and be done with it. And it will be a futile war. It will take three English army corps to get one Irish corps out of the country. And in the process you will destroy the Irish Parliamentary Party. You are driving millions of the best men of our race to turn their eyes from this Parliament forever.'       

-- An Irish member of Parliament on the "Man-Power" bill, which called for conscription in Ireland

'What a noble fellow. Of the first family of Ireland, with an easy fortune, a beautiful wife, a family of lovely children, the certainty of a splendid appointment under the government, if he would condescend to support their measures; he has devoted himself wholly to the emancipation of his country.'
         -- United Irish commander Theobald Wolfe Tone commenting on Lord Edward Fitzgerald (right) in his diary

 BIRTHS

May -- Bealtaine

14, 1893 - George Edward Henry "McIrish" McElroy (WWI Ace, 47 kills - Donnybrook, Co. Dublin.)
14, 1905 - Father Joseph Timothy O'Callahan (Congressional Medal of Honor winner - Boston, MA)
15, 1867 - Eoin MacNeill(Gaelic scholar - Glenarm, Co. Antrim)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

14, 1260 - Norman forces under James de Audley defeated an Irish army under Brian Ó Néill at the Battle of Druim Dearg.
14, 1864 - The 10th Tennessee Infantry (Confederate-Irish) fights at battle of Resaca, Georgia.
15, 1847 - The first immigrant ship of Black '47, Syria, arrives at Grosse Ile, Canada.
15, 1847 - Daniel O'Connell dies in Genoa, Italy.
16, 1826 - Joseph Holt, revolutionary, dies. Read Holt's account of 1798 Rising and it's aftermath: 
Rebellion in Wicklow: General Joseph Holt's Personal Account of 1798.

17, 1880 - Charles Stewart Parnell elected Chairmen of Irish Parlimentary Party.
17-18, 1917 - Sinn Fein leaders arrested, charged in bogus "German plot."
17, 1974 - Loyalist militia car bombs kill 31 in Dublin and Monaghan
18, 1825 - House of Lords rejects Catholic Emancipation Bill. 
19, 1797 - Presses of Belfast Northern Star (United Irishmen) broken up by Monaghan militia.
19, 1798 - Lord Edward Fitzgerald, United Irish leader, shot while being apprehended. (He died on June 4.)
19, 1870 - Isaac Butt founds Home Rule movement; first public meeting of Home Government Association.
19, 1921 - British troops surprised an IRA ambush party at Kilmeena, Co. Mayo. Five Irish volunteers were killed and seven wounded, one RIC constable and one Black & Tan killed.
19, 1993 - Former Light-Heavyweight Champ of the World Billy Conn dies in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
20, 1836 - Irish Constabulary established (Later named Royal Irish Constabulary).

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Tags: Canada, History of Ireland, Irish Freedom Struggle, On This Day

Comment by kathleen m donohoe on May 14, 2017 at 9:34pm
Comment by kathleen m donohoe on May 14, 2017 at 9:36pm

My Uncle "Jimmie" James Donohoe, now passed 8 yrs. was in this concentration camp for a long time and came home starved, half blind and never the same again...God rest his soul.  Most people don't realize that more than Jews and even some Germans (who refused to work for the Germans during the war) were imprisoned here.

Comment by kathleen m donohoe on May 14, 2017 at 9:37pm

Irish sailors were sent to death camp for refusing to help Nazis, newly released letters reveal

March 23, 2017By Aidan Lonergan

British Army officers liberated from Brunswick Oflag 79, the largest officers camp in Germany. (Picture: Getty)
IRISH merchant seamen were sent to concentration camps because they refused to work for the Germans, newly-released letters show.
Files released at the National Archives in London reveal that 50 Irish men were captured at sea on British ships during World War II and sent to concentration camps.
Of those 50 Irish men only 28 survived the war.
The majority of the men were initially held at the Marlag und Milag Nord prisoner of war camp after being captured.
They were asked to help the German war effort by working on railways and shipyards in the cities of Bremen and Hamburg.
After they refused, 32 of the men were sent to the notorious Bremen-Farge concentration camp where prisoners were regularly worked or starved to death.
The newly released files show that the surviving Irish men were recognised for bravery after the war and given compensation by the British Government.
After returning home the men described in detail the “harsh” conditions in the camp, with food that was “atrocious in quality and quantity” as well as punishing 12-hour days of hard labour.
In one letter, Patrick O’Brien said: “Punishment was severe and meted out for the smallest of no demeanour.
“The reason for my imprisonment was my refusal to work on the German railway at Bremen and refusing to work on German ships at Hamburg.
“They claimed I was an Irish national and was therefore a free civilian, a claim which at no time I had ever made.”
Another soldier, James Aldous Furlong from Wexford, told a similar story.
“For refusing to work for the Germans I was sent to Farge SS Camp as a punishment and it was punishment place,” he said.
“I have seeing people being flogged to death and shot and was always afraid my turn would come one day.
A May 17, 1945 article newspaper describing the horrors the men endured.
“Food was bad, accommodation very bad and there was syphilis in the camp and people were dying all over the place.
“However, I came through alright but I am crippled now with rheumatic.”
The letters describing the horrors the men suffered were in fact applications to the British Government for compensation.
The surviving Irish men were successful in their claim and were awarded between £1,000 and £2,400 each.
Mr Furlong wrote back to the British Government thanking them for their compensation, saying that it had helped him pay off his house.
He said: “I am a very happy man now as I have paid off the mortgage on my house and have a few pounds left over which will come in my handy.
“So let me thank you once again.”
An account of the horrors the men witnessed in Germany appeared in an article in The Irish Timesdated May 17, 1945 – two weeks after the end of the war.
The article revealed that the camp commandant – named Schauwecker – shot 16 prisoners just prior to the end of the war after saying he would “take as many as he could with him.”
It was also revealed that the men were regularly beaten by SS guards and told that, since they were civilians, they were not protected by the Geneva Convention, or the International Red Cross.
Their accommodation was a disused fuel tank buried beneath several metres of solid concrete.
The Irishman who recounted his story to the newspaper, William English, said that he had witnessed a number of atrocities at the camp.
One involved a naked Belgian prisoner being beaten to death with a rubber hose over an escape attempt, while another involved a Polish man having salt rubbed into a gunshot wound and beaten with an electric cable.
Mr English also revealed that a Russian prisoner who refused to work had muck forced down his throat with a wire before being beaten to death with a rifle butt.
One of the Irish men, Michael O’Brien of Limerick returned to mainland Europe after the war and testified against the Nazis in a special criminal court during the Nuremberg Trials.
His testimony was one of a number which lead to the conviction and subsequent execution of a number of top-ranking Nazi officials for war crimes.

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