This Week in the History of the Irish: May 7 - May 13

DOMHNAIGH -- On May 7, 1915, the English passenger ship Lusitania was sunk near Old Head, Co. Cork, off the southern Irish coast. The liner had left New York bound for Liverpool on May 1. German intelligence believed, and most historians now believe, that the ship was carrying munitions.

(Left: Dean and William Hodges, who perished along with their mother and father on the Lusitania.)

The German Ambassador had warned Americans against traveling in British ships in wartime. Kapitan-Leutnant Walther Schwieger and his U-20 put only one torpedo into her just after 2 a.m. and the ship sank quickly after a second explosion inside the ship. Among the 1,200 who died were 118 Americans. This incident would cause severe problems for Irish-Americans who supported nationalist movements in Ireland and were courting German help. At the British Admiralty hearing into the incident, British officials would claim two torpedoes hit the Lusitania. They knew this claim was false, having intercepted and decoded a transmission from the U-20, but they lied to cover the fact that their own munitions might have caused the second explosion.

LUAIN -- On May 8, 1857, William Brown, of Foxford, Co. Mayo, an Admiral in the Argentine navy, died in Buenos Aires. Brown first came to the New World as a boy, when his family immigrated to the United States in 1786. He later went to sea on a merchant ship. Pressed into the British navy in 1796, he would eventually rise to command a British merchant ship. Brown settled in Buenos Aires and in 1814 he joined the fledgling navy of the Argentine Republic.

(Right: Admiral William Brown from a daguerreotype taken late in his life - Naval Museum at San Isidro, Argentina.)

Later that year he would win one of the most famous victories in Argentine history, defeating the Spanish navy at the mouth of Uruguay River. In 1825, Brown was in action again, when Brazil declared war on Argentina. The Argentine navy had not been a priority for the new government, and Brown's small force was heavily outnumbered in the struggle with Brazil. At the battle of Los Pozos, fought in view of the people of Buenos Aries, Brown faced 31 enemy ships with four ships and few gunboats. With this small force, Brown turned the Brazilians away. Admiral Brown continued his service in the Argentine navy until 1845 and spent his remaining years at his home near Buenos Aires. He is considered the father of the Argentine navy.

Brig. Gen. James Shields

CÉADAOIN -- On May 10, 1806James Shields, who would have one of the most remarkable careers in American history, was born in County Tyrone, Ireland. Coming to the United States, he first settled in Illinois. While there, Shields fought in the Black Hawk War and nearly fought a duel with Abraham Lincoln, with whom he was later very friendly. Shields was a brigadier general of volunteers during the Mexican War and fought at Cerro Gordo; he was commended by Winfield Scott, commander of the American invasion force. After the war, he was elected Senator, first from Illinois and later from Minnesota. At the start of the Civil War, his former enemy, Lincoln, appointed him brigadier general. His war record was not outstanding, but he was one of the few Federal commanders to ever defeat "Stonewall" Jackson, at the 1st Battle of Kernstown in March 1862. Of course, Jackson would more than avenge that defeat later. After the war, Shields was appointed Senator from Missouri, making him the only man in U.S. history to represent three states in the Senate. He died June 1, 1879, while on a speaking tour in Ottumwa, Iowa. James Shields is buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, Carrollton, Missouri.

From an engraving by Jean Sorieul
Uniforms of
the Irish Brigade of France from the 1750s. Note that red coats were worn throughout the Brigade's history, signifying their support for the Stuart claim to the English crown.

DEARDAOIN -- On May 11, 1745, the Irish Brigade of France, whose soldiers are most identified in Irish history as The Wild Geese, achieved its most glorious victory at the Battle of Fontenoy. The brigade was led by Lord Clare, comprising six regiments. Dillon's regiment, which had already been badly shot up earlier in the fight, along with the brigade's other five, charged the British as they seemed on the verge breaking the French line. Fifty years of Irish frustration and British betrayal now came back to haunt the British. As the men of the Irish Brigade closed through a hail of British bullets, their shouts were heard above the din: "Cuimnidh ar Luimneach agus ar Feall na Sasanach!" -- Remember Limerick and the Saxon Faith (i.e., English betrayal). Nothing could have withstood the wave of hatred and revenge that broke on the hapless British line that day – the English went reeling to the rear. The victory was won but the cost was high; Col. Dillon was dead, Lord Clare wounded twice. The brigade suffered 656 casualties in all, the highest percentage of all the French units, but it was a day never to be forgotten by the Irish worldwide. At Manassas, Virginia, 116 years later, Thomas Francis Meagher would cry out to the 69th New York, another regiment of Irishmen, "REMEMBER FONTENOY!"

 

AOINE -- On May 12, 1916, the British army executed Sean Mac Diarmada and James Connolly, the last of the Rising leaders they would kill in Dublin. The treatment accorded to Connolly, a hero among the poor of Ireland for his dedication to the cause of labor, was particularly despicable. Crippled by an infected wound in the ankle, he was carried to Kilmainham jail, tied to a chair and shot. As they were loading their rifles, Connolly forgave the men of the army firing squad for their actions. A ragged volley of shots resounded from their rifles, so shaken were they by their distasteful task. Sir John Maxwell's merciless and rapid application of military justice to the rebel leaders disgusted much of the Irish population. The British once again allowed iron-fist policies in Ireland to pour gasoline on the flames they had nearly extinguished.

VOICES

If you strike at, imprison, or kill us, out of our prisons or graves we will still evoke a spirit that will thwart you, and perhaps, raise a force that will destroy you! We defy you! Do your worst!”
         -- James Connelly


'You took care that no plea for mercy should impose on behalf of the poor young fellows who surrendered to you in Dublin. The first intimation which we got of their fate was the announcement that they had been shot in cold blood. Personally I regard your actions with horror, and I believe it has outraged the conscience of the country.'

         -- Bishop O'Dwyer of Limerick, May, 17, 1916, responding to a demand from Maj. Gen. Sir John Maxwell that he dismiss two priests who had shown sympathy for the rebels.

May -- Bealtaine

BIRTHS

7, 1865 - John MacBride (Soldier, leader in 1916 Rising - Westport, Co. Mayo.) 
7, 1945 - Christopher Andrew "Christy" Moore (Musician, Newbridge, County Kildare)
7, 1976 – Michael Murphy (MOH winner in Afghanistan, Smithtown, NY).
10, 1810 -James Shields (Union General - US Senator from three different states - Co. Tyrone) 
10, 1832 - William Grace (First Irish Catholic Mayor of New York - Cobh, Co. Cork.)
11, 1788 - Henry Cooke (Cleric - Maghera, Co. Derry)
11, 1933Father Mychal Judge (Catholic priest killed on 9/11 - Brooklyn, NY.)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

7, 1915 - The Lusitania is sunk off the southern Irish coast.
8, 1567 - Battle of Farsetmore
8, 1857 - William Brown, of Co. Mayo, Admiral in the Argentine navy, dies.
8, 1916 - Èamonn Ceannt executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
8, 1916 - Michael Mallin executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail
8, 1916 - Seán Heuston executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
8, 1916 - Con Colbert executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
9, 1691 – The Marquis de Ruth and his French army arrive in Limerick.
9, 1766 - Count Lally executed by French for losing India.
9, 1916 - Thomas Kent executed by firing squad in Collins Barracks, Cork.
9 1920 - Irish volunteers under Frank Aiken attack the RIC barracks in Newtownhamilton, Co. Armagh.
10, 1318 - Battle of Dysert O'Dea.
10, 1795 - United Irishmen of Ulster secretly meet in Belfast and adopt new constitution.
11, 1745 - Battle of Fontenoy, charge of Irish Brigade of French army breaks English line. 
12, 1652 - Siege of Galway: Thomas Preston surrenders the city to English Parliamentarian forces of Charles Coote. Galway is the last city held by Irish Catholic forces.
12, 1654Augustinian priest William Tirry is executed by Cromwellian forces in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.
12, 1776 - Irish-born William Irvine is appointed a Brigadier General in the Continental Army.
12, 1823 - Catholic Association founded.
12, 1916 - James Connolly, unable to stand, is tied to his chair and shot, Kilmainham jail.
12, 1916 - Seán Mac Diarmada excuted by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
12, 1981 - Francis Hughes dies on hunger strike.
13, 1848 - John Mitchel arrested; later tried and sentenced to transportation to Australia.
13, 1919 - Dan Breen and Sean Treacy rescue Sean Hogan from Dublin-Cork train.

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