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

MÁIRT -- On March 16, 1828, Patrick Cleburne, one of the finest generals produced by either side during America's long, bloody civil war was born at Bride Park Cottage in Ovens Township, Co. Cork, just outside Cork City. Robert E. Lee would one day say of Cleburne , "In a field of battle he shone like a meteor on a clouded sky."

(Left: Cleburne leading his troops in the bloody assault at Franklin -Image courtesy Don Troiani.)

Cleburne's father was a physician. His early life was one of privilege and personal tragedy, for he never knew his mother, who died when he was 18 months old. After spending some time in the British army, Cleburne emigrated to the United States in 1849, eventually settling in Helena, Arkansas. He enlisted as a private in a local militia there shortly before the war began. His rise from that lowly rank would be dramatic. His former military experience soon had him elected captain. When his company and others were formed into the 1st Arkansas Infantry at the beginning of the Civil War, he was elected its colonel. At Shiloh, Richmond - where he was wounded in the mouth - and Perryville in 1862 his performance in command was recognized to be excellent, and he was promoted first to brigadier and then major general in command of a division. He would command with the same excellence to the end of his life, but would not receive another promotion beyond division command. Many believe this was primarily due to his advancement of the idea of enlisting slaves in the Confederate army in return for their freedom in late 1863. In November 1864 Cleburne's division was part of the command of John Bell Hood at Franklin Tennessee when Hood ordered an ill-advised frontal assault on a fortified Federal line. Cleburne went into the attack mounted, making him an easier target, and a ball struck him just below the heart, killing him. The south had lost one of its brightest stars.

DEARDAOIN -- On March 17, 1858, James Stephens founded the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Dublin at the same time as John O'Mahoney was founding the American branch of the revolutionary group. O'Mahoney gave the organization the better-known name Fenians, in honor of the Fianna, the soldiers led by Fionn Mac Cuchail, the heroic warrior of Irish legend.

(Right: From the "From Atlas and Cyclopedia of Ireland.)

The Fenians were the first truly worldwide revolutionary organization, with branches in France, England, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and the United States. The group raised millions of dollars among Irish exiles in the U.S. to support efforts at gaining Ireland her independence, setting a precedent that continues. Though the founders of the Fenians never saw their goal come to fruition, Ireland's freedom was built on the foundation they laid down.

DEARDAOIN -- On March 17, 1800, Charles James Patrick Mahon, soldier and politician, was born in Ennis, Co. Clare. He joined Daniel O'Connell's Catholic Association and helped him win Clare's seat in Parliament in 1830. After falling out with O'Connell, he went abroad and began a series of amazing (if all true) adventures. He was served in the Czar's bodyguard, was a general and an admiral in South America and fought on the side of the North in the American Civil War. During the course of all this, he was said to have fought 13 duels. Mahon then served in Napoleon's III's army before returning to Irish politics, where he was elected MP (Member of Parliament) from Carlow. Mahon died in London on June 15, 1891, having lived (if only half the adventures he claimed are true) an incredibly full life.

DEARDAOIN - On March 19, 1921 Tom Barry and the West Cork Flying Column ambushed crown forces at Crossbarry, County Cork during the Irish War of Independence. The British had learned that the Flying Column’s HQ’s was in the Crossbarry area from a volunteer captured at the Upton ambush in February. Several groups of British troops from the Hampshire and Essex Regiments, over 1,000 total, from the Bandon, Cork, Ballincollig, Kinsale and Macroom area moved in, trying to surround and capture the entire group of Volunteers. There were slightly over 100 Volunteers in the area. As is often the case with such a complicated operation involving the coordination of several groups of troops, the timing was not good. The operation began in the early morning hours, with the troops going house to house, arresting all military-age men. Charlie Hurley, the commander of the Cork # 3 Brigade, who had been wounded at the Upton, was surprised in a house at 6:30 am. He refused to surrender, wounding British Major Hallinen of the Essex regiment before being killed himself.

Barry, who had served in the British army in World War 1, had been alerted around 2:30 a.m. and roused his men. Quickly realizing from reports of British troops in several directions, Barry got his forces organized. Though he was outnumbered, the British were divided and he had the advantage of interior lines. They probably expected the Irish to run or take a defensive posture, but Barry took the initiative away from them by setting up two ambushes with mines and attacking them. The first engaged the troops coming from the west in three lorries, routing them, with Flor Begley, an intelligence officer, playing traditional Irish war songs on his pipes as they opened fire. It was perhaps the last time the “war pipes” ever sounded in battle on the island. As the British survivors ran for their lives, the Volunteers burned the lorries. Barry's excellent positioning of his other troops allowed them to surprise and drive off the British in the other direction, as well. Barry was then able to consolidate all his troops and make their escape from the British trap. Encountering one more group of British, he had his entire 100-man unit fire a volley at them, scattering them.

It was one of the larger actions of the war, and one of the most embarrassing defeats for the British, who claimed they faced over 300 Volunteers perhaps to decrease their embarrassment, or perhaps that just reflected how well the Irish had taken advantage of their interior lines. The British admitted to 10 killed, though the Irish claimed they had killed over 30. The Irish had four killed. Barry had definitely proven himself a formidable guerrilla commander.

SATHAIRN -- On March 20, 1780, Miles Byrne, United Irishman and officer in Napoleon's Irish Legion, was born in County Wexford. He was active in the 1798 Rising in Wexford and fought all its major battles, right through the rebels' climactic defeat at Vinegar Hill.

(Right: The banner of Napoleon's Irish Legion)

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, 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 assembling 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 in 1863, a year after his death in Paris.


"Well, [General] Govan, if we are to die, let us die like men."

        -- Patrick Cleburne (left) to General Daniel Govan just before the battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864, where both were killed

'Ere long there shall be an Irish Army on Irish hillsides, ready to do battle for Irish independence and drive back from the green and sacred Isle of Erin those ruthless tyrants who have desolated our homes and driven us wandering exiles over the whole earth.'
         -- John O'Mahoney, co-founder of the Fenian Brotherhood.

'About two hours had elapsed since the opening of the fight; we were in possession of the countryside; no British were visible and our task was completed. The whole Column was drawn up in line of sections and told they had done well.'
        -- Tom Barry on the Crossbarry Ambush

'Walking on bright winter days along the Avenue of the Champs Elysées, a tall erect figure, magnificent in old age . . . memories clouding at times his clear grey eyes; and through and beyond the battle-smoke and thunder of all Napoleon's fields he has a vision of the pikemen of New Ross and hears the fierce hurrah of Oulart Hill.'
        -- Ulster-born journalist and revolutionary John Mitchel on Miles Byrne, whom Mitchel met while living in exile in Paris.

March - Márta


14, 1894 - William Earle "Moley" Molesworth (WWI Ace, 18 kills - Ireland)
15, 1821
 - Peter Sullivan (Union Gen. – Cork, Ireland) 
15, 1852 - Lady Gregory (Playwright - Loughrea, Co. Galway)
16, 1828 - Patrick Cleburne (Confederate General - Ovens Township, Co. Cork)
16, 1865 – Patrick “Patsy” Donovan (Major League baseball player & manager, Cobh, Co. Cork)
17, 1800 - Charles James Patrick Mahon (Soldier, politician - Ennis, Co. Clare)
17, 1820 - Patrick Edward Connor (Union General - Co. Kerry)
17, 1877 - Michael O'Hanrahan (Author, revolutionary - New Ross, Co. Wexford.)
18, 1881 - George (Seoirse) Clancy (nationalist and politician - Grange, Co. Limerick.)
20, 1780 - Miles Byrne (United Irishman, Officer in Napoleon's Irish Legion - Co. Wexford.)


14, 1689 – Ulster Protestant force is defeated by Jacobites under Richard Hamilton at the “Break of Dromore,” in Co. Down.
14, 1779 
- John O'Flanagan, Col. in the Austrian army, dies in Felsberg.
16 –April 6, 1812
 - The Hibernia regiment of Spain and Napoleon’s Irish Legion face each other at the siege of Badajoz during the Peninsular War.
16, 1865 - Irish born Martin Murphy, one of the greatest pioneers of early California, dies in near Santa Clara.
16, 1919 – Robert Barton, later one of the signers of the 1921 Treaty escapes from Mountjoy Prison with the help of Rory O’Connor.
17, 1771 – The “Friendly Sons of St. Patrick” is founded in Philadelphia.
17, 1776 – In honor of Irishmen in the Colonial army, Gen. Washington designates “St. Patrick” as the armies countersign that day.
17, 1858 - James Stephens founds the Irish Republican Brotherhood (Fenians) in Dublin.
17, 1899 - First issue of Gaelic League’s An Claidheamh Soluis.
17, 1923 - Mike McTigue wins the Light-Heavyweight Championship by decision victory over “Battling” Siki in Dublin.
18, 1801 - Ambrose O'Higgins, Viceroy of Peru, dies in Lima.
18, 1825 - Catholic Association dissolved by Unlawful Societies Act nine days earlier.
18-19, 1921 – The West Waterford Irish Volunteers ambush the Black &Tans at “The Burgery,” 2 volunteers, 1 Black & Tan and 1 RIC constable died.
19 March 1919 - IRA volunteers raid Collinstown airfield (now Dublin Airport) outside Dublin and capture 75 rifles and 4,000 rounds of ammunition
19, 1921 - Tom Barry and the West Cork Flying Column ambushed crown forces at Crossbarry, Co. Cork.
20, 1868 – Dublin native George Cartwright, a Union Col. in the Civil War, dies in Charleston, SC.
20, 1919 - The Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers capture 75 rifles and over 4000 rounds of ammo from the Collintown Aerodrome.
20, 1920 - Tomás MacCurtain, Lord Mayor of Cork, murdered in his home by RIC.
20, 1964 - Author Brendan Behan dies in Dublin.

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Tags: American Civil War, Europe, History of Ireland, Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History, On This Day, United States

Comment by Liam McAlister on March 14, 2021 at 4:16pm

Comment by Liam McAlister on March 14, 2021 at 4:18pm

This is the bedroom in Bride Park Cottage where Major-General Cleburne was born. The beams are original to the house, having been well cared for in the 200, or so, years the house has been standing.

Comment by Joe Gannon on March 16, 2021 at 9:56pm

Liam, have you seen the plaque on the wall of the house commemorating his birth there? I was there with a group of Confederate "Cleburne's Brigade" reenactors 27 years ago tomorrow when that plaque was unveiled. That's me in the front row to the right of the Confederate flags on that day. It's hard to believe that 27 years have gone by.

Comment by Liam McAlister on March 17, 2021 at 11:48am

Wow, I have seen the plaque many times and hope to do so again soon, if house is still in current ownership.

Comment by Joe Gannon on March 17, 2021 at 1:40pm

It was owned by a Murphy family at the time. But I believe they have sold it now. That night we had a hoolie in the house. Most of the town must have been there. We sat around their living room singing and drinking late into the night. We'd sing one of our Civil War era campfire songs, then the "locals" would sing one of theirs. The craic was mighty. That's me front and center with my head turned to my right. 


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