Memorial Day: Recalling Those Irish-Americans Who Gave Their Last Full Measure

The origins of Memorial Day, originally titled Decoration Day, has a somewhat murky origin. But what is clear is that on May 30, 1868, 145 years ago today, 5,000 gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate the 20,000 fallen warriors buried there, with the help of remarks by General and future President James Garfield, whose ancestors reputedly arrived from Ulster. It was the first commemoration of America's war dead with nationwide aspirations.

Our present-day Memorial Day rites have their genesis in America's Civil War, which ended only three years earlier, after taking the lives of more than 600,000 during its four-year span. Perhaps as many as 200,000 Irish and Irish Americans served during the conflict, with tens of thousands losing their lives.

On this poignant occasion, we'd love to learn more about your Irish or Irish-American ancestors' military experiences serving the United States during wartime, particularly if they are among the many thousands who died while serving.


Memorial Day Discussion

Memorial Day Wall of Honor

Memorial Day History

Irish During America's Civil War

Remembering the Irish Who Fell at Fredericksburg
For Erin and America - James McKay Rorty
'Born a Soldier': Myles Walter Keogh - Part 1 of 3
Video: Myles Keogh -- Born a Soldier
Private Willie Mitchel: An Irish Confederate Boy
Video: Irish Brigade Memorial-Gettysburg Battlefield

Famed Irish-American Regiments

'The Fighting 69th' Part 1
Corcoran: Part 1: From Bane to Toast of the Nation

America's Medal of Honor

Irish Dominate Medal of Honor List
Lt. Michael P. Murphy, the Medal of Honor Awardee Behind 'Lone Survivor'
LCpl Patrick Gallagher, Courage Worthy of the Foremost Recognition

Honoring Our Ancestors

A Soldier's Story: Sgt. Lawrence F. Condon

Irish-Americans in the Revolutionary War

Paddy Colvin's Unforgettable New Year

(Note: This list is far from comprehensive. Please add to it in the comments section below any pages that you find meritorious, whether on or elsewhere.) 

Tags: American Civil War,, Civil War, Gettysburg, Memorial Day, Military History, United States

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A great article. One thing I would like people to know (if they aren't aware of it) is that New York's Fighting 69th was also called "the Fenian Regiment," which means two things: 1.) that as members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood they were, in effect, the first fully armed Irish Republican Army and that 2.) our own nation, the United States of America was defended and preserved by that same IRA at yet another time when the British Empire sought to destroy it via our enemy the Confederate States of America. Please remember this. The IRA died fighting for the Union as well as for Irish freedom.

John, do you have any ancestors who fought in any of America's wars? BTW, serving in the 69th during "The Great War" was, among many others, poet Joyce Kilmer, who died in combat in France.

Hi Gerry,
Yes I do, my father:

A few years before he died we took my Dad out to Valley Forge where they have the Medal of Honor Grove. The Irish have a prominent standing:

My Dad's father William Hurley (who brought the family here), was in the 2nd Bn Royal Munster Fusiliers in France in WWI; afterwards he was in Óglaigh na hÉireann in Kerry in both the War of Independence and the Civil War. He was Anti-Treaty.
There's a great book called "When Youth Was Mine" about my grandfathers generation in Kerry. Many Anti-Treaty IRA men came to the US after the war. "When Youth Was Mine" points out 2 IRA men who later served in the US Army in WWII.
Congratulations on the new site Gerry it looks great.

Go raibh maith agat, John. Do you have any images to share of your grandfather? Please use the personal blog all we members have to share your family's poignant story in more detail. Did your grandfather join the US Army then?

Hi Gerry,
My grandfather was actually shot on two separate occasions in the same leg (I'm thinking by raked machine gunfire while charging trenches - the Germans would shoot advancing lines left to right in the legs and then shoot right to left and try and hit them all on the top of the helmet killing them). So his second wound put him out of the Army just before the war ended. He always walked with a limp and I don't think would have been fit for service in 1941. But some of those IRA guys were still in their teens when the war ended so by the time 1941 came around they would have still been in their early 30's. I'll get the photo's, etc. up for you soon.


John, how about posting the obit here too. Your Dad is a part of this heritage, and his passing is both noteworthy to us and sad. Plus, any from his part of Kerry might be here or come here and we'll better be able to make the connection.

Think you're stretching a point there John, in fact you're stretching several.  Can't remember hearing of any of the 69th fighting in the north of Ireland.

Not sure John is claiming the 69th fought in Ireland as a unit, which I believe highly improbable. But some of the 69th, on their own, may have traveled to Ireland to fight as part of the Fenian insurrection and perhaps even the War of Independence. Would love to get some of our more expert members and associates to comment on this. And the first time the term IRA was used that we know of is in June 1866, when the Fenians invaded Canada.

Hi Gerry,

I'm the only person that I know of (apart from actual IRB members themselves) to assert this point in writing so other people will probably not be familiar with it. And I'm sorry if this comes across as a plug but I have actually published the proof or evidence for it in my book which you can search through for FREE here:

The monument of the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg is replete IRB/Fenian symbolism as was the flag of the 69th:

John, we have a marketplace of ideas (and evidence, where available) here on WG. So please don't hesitate to promote both your ideas and your work.

Hi Joe. I don't know where you're getting the north of Ireland from but it wasn't me. And I know it's not a popular thing to bring up with some people but the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) was the same organization from its foundation on 17 March 1858 to is dissolution in 1924 by Michael Collins' protégé Richard Mulcahy. Patrick Pearse and Michael Collins were both former heads of the IRB, later called "IRA" when it operated in the open. So just as the "Union Army" is the same organization today that is known as the U.S. Army, so the IRB of 1858 was the same IRB of 1916 etc. All the officers (and I'm pretty sure all the enlisted men) of the 69th New York were members of the IRB, making them members of the same organization that was lead by Patrick Pearse in 1916. That organization is also known as the IRA

Still think you're stretching a point John.  While many of the members of the 69th may indeed have sympathies with the Irish Republican Army unless you can show that some of them actually came over here and fought with the IRA it is a big jump to say that people in the Union army with such sympathies died fighting for Irish freedom.  It does a disservice to the IRA here who did actually die fighting for Irish freedom or indeed the captain of the 'Jacknell or 'Erin's Hope' who did attempt to strike a blow over here! 


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