Charlie Laverty – Soldier, Scholar, and Foe of British Rule in Ireland

Our personal friend and the friend of all who love Irish history and culture, Charles “Chuck” Laverty, passed away in October at age 84. 

Above, Chuck Laverty, taken in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Laverty Family Archives

The O’Lavertys of Tyrone were known for producing great leaders and historians. The Chief of the Name was Lord of Aileach (the most important ancient fortification in the Province of Ulster), and described by the Four Masters as Tanist of Tyrone -- among the notable O’Laverty historians (previous to Charlie) was Monsignor James O’Laverty (1828-1906).

Charlie Laverty (Cathal Ó Laithbhearthaigh, as Gaedhilge – in the Irish) was a true patriot, both to the land of his birth and ancestry, and to his adopted 'Land of the Free' and 'Home of the Brave' (which description, written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, inspired by the defense of Fort McHenry during America’s Second War for Independence from England, was also personified by the American life of Charlie Laverty – United States Army paratrooper, later retiring as (Green Beret) Sergeant Major of the 11th Special Forces Group. (A Special Forces Group is on the organizational level of an Infantry Regiment, commanded by a full colonel.)

Left, a contemporary photo of Chuck, circa 2007.

As a warrior, Charlie also had a great sense of history, which began around a thinteán féin – his own fireside, in The Moy, in County Tyrone, in the province of Ulster in (still occupied) Ireland.  His father, a raiser of horses, had been a Sinn Féin magistrate during 'The Troubles,” which followed the Irish Declaration of Independence 21st January 1919 (consequent to the all-Ireland election victory by the abstentionist Sinn Féin in the 14th December (“Khaki”) 1918 general election).  That is to say, he was an officer of the government of the Irish Republic, previously proclaimed in Dublin on Easter Monday, 24th April 1916.  

Charlie inherited both his father’s Irish republican creed and his way with horses.  He would later recall his walks to, and through, the site of the Battle of Benburb. [Between 1641 and 1649, for the first time since the Norman conquest, and before 1922, Ireland was recognized by the international community as an independent nation.]  Even though the Cromwellian reconquest of 1649/50 made short work of Catholic Ireland's revolution, it nevertheless ranks as one of the most successful revolts of early modern history.  

The brightest star in the Gaelic firmament was Eoghan Ruadh O’Neill (Owen Roe), (right) and, on the road toward that sovereign Irish republic he sought to achieve, his crowning achievement was the victory at Benburb, 5th June 1646.  As historian Bruce Catton said of American Civil War battlefields, at Benburb, Charlie sensed he was standing on 'Hallowed Ground.'

As Charlie embraced the Land of the Free – where he discovered that he was truly free, free even to be Irish, he not only expressed his gratitude through volunteering for an arduous (and adventurous) military service, but carried his sense of history, and of justice with him. The greatest single personal injustice, in Charlie’s mind (among myriad injustices under English rule in Ireland), came with the erection of a monument, by local authorities in The Moy, dedicated to those local men who had lost their lives during the Second World War (1939-1945).

His older brother, Hugh, a merchant mariner, had been killed in action in the British merchant navy, on the Murmansk Run – that older brother’s name had been intentionally left off the monument, because he was a Catholic.

“War-battered dogs are we, Fighters in every clime;

Fillers of trench and grave, Mockers bemocked by time.

War-dogs hungry and gray, Gnawing a naked bone,

Fighters in every clime – Every cause but our own.”

                                                    -- Emily Lawless

Charlie’s sense of history led him to the study of The Wild Geese, Irishmen who sought military service in the armies, and navies, of England’s enemies, or potential enemies, in the hope of acquiring military skills, and perhaps of striking a blow for Irish Freedom.  

Pictured, Chuck with an unidentified pal on a pitch in Ireland, likely at The Moy, where Chuck spent his childhood.

While he felt a special attraction to those many Irishmen, on both sides, in the American Civil War, who, often as members of the Fenian (Irish Republican) Brotherhood (which would later bring you the 1916 Easter Rising), followed The Wild Geese tradition, while fighting in defense of their new, American homes – Charlie’s attention focused on the 69th Regiment of New York, particularly “The Fighting 69th” in the Irish Brigade in the (Union) Army of the Potomac.   [An Gorta Mór, the “Famine” period of mid-19th century Ireland had the same psychological significance for the Irish as the Nazi era would later have for the Jews of the 20th century.  The 69th Regiment of New York came into being (1849 / 1851 / 1858) for the purpose of providing military training to Irish exiles to prepare for the future liberation of their homeland.  Charlie was a contributing member of the Irish Famine / Genocide Committee.]  

Recognizing that when it comes to keeping the tradition alive, of maintaining the centuries-old continuity of the idea of Ireland’s right to be “Free from the centre to the sea,” the pen can be sometimes mightier than the sword, and can become a force multiplier of the efforts of earlier generations of Wild Geese, Charlie Laverty joined with Gerry Regan, Liam Murphy, Steve O’Neill, Jack Conway, Joe Gannon, and others in 1990 to form the Irish Brigade Association (IBA).  The formation meeting of the IBA was held in old Fort Schuyler (constructed in the 1840s, as part of a ring of forts to defend the port of New York from attack by the “Evil Empire” of most of the 19th century – memories of the English occupation of New York City during America’s First War for Independence (1776 – 1783), were still running strong in “The Island at the Center of the World,” as so dubbed by historian Russell Shorto, as well as in Brooklyn, site of the British prison ship Jersey, where over 13,000 American patriots (POWs) perished in the course of the war, as well as site of the largest military action of that conflict (where a large number of Irishmen fought on the right side – including Edward Hand, who, as Charlie pointed out, was the uncle of John Mitchel, whose vitriolic pen caused his transportation to Van Dieman’s Land - before the 1848 Rising).

The particular historical attraction of Fort Schuyler is that it was the site for the initial organization and training of Meagher’s Irish Brigade in 1861, in the aftermath of the First Battle of Bull Run / Manassas.  The 69th and 88th New York Volunteer Infantry regiments got their start there.  Their own, and the genesis of their Irish Brigade, are remembered in the State University of New York Maritime Museum, which now makes its home in the very same fort, which now also serves as the headquarters of the college.

Active from the start, Charlie served as the editor and printer of The Irish Volunteer, the  newsletter of the Irish Brigade Association, a publication of such quality that at least one public library maintained a reference file of The Irish Volunteer – a tribute to Charlie Laverty’s handiwork.

In 1992, a group of American Civil War living historians (aka “reenactors” – many of whom you saw portraying the (Irish) 69th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, at the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy” in the movie “Gettysburg”) -- traveled to Dublin to participate in that city’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, portraying Irish soldiers of the “Army of the Free” from the American Civil War.

(Right: The IBA reenactor group in a pre-parade photo in Dublin. Charlie with the sword in the front, flanked by, left to right, Joe Gannon and Gerry Regan, both bearing the national colors.)

On that occasion, Charlie Laverty was persuaded to overcome his scruples about returning to a partitioned Ireland, in order that he might portray, on horseback Irish-American cavalry general and hero Phil Sheridan, a Fenian, and, on behalf of “Little Phil,” take the salutes of all attending the parade.  [As U.S. Marine Corps officer evaluations used to note,  Charlie Laverty sat a horse very well.]  Charlie later observed that a pilgrimage to the GPO, to Arbour Hill, and especially to Kilmainham Gaol, can have the same psychological effect as the renewing of one’s baptismal vows.

The reenactors, and especially Charlie astride an Irish steed, were very well received. Many of those same reenactors continue to march in the New York Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, as “A” Company of “The Fighting 69th” of the Irish Brigade -- the military escort for General Thomas Francis Meagher, whose image appears on the front of the County Waterford Association banner.  

Historian Charlie Laverty was also active with the prestigeous New York Irish History Roundtable, serving for a while as its president. Among those with whom he worked closely were Professor (and author) Marion Casey of New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House, and attorney Frank Durkan of O’Dwyer & Bernstein fame.

In addition to his writing, public speaking (including a history vignette on “Radio Free Éireann,” popular radio show of Cumann na Saoirse Náisiúnta (National Irish Freedom Committee) on WBAI 99.5 FM, in New York City) and publishing efforts, Charlie Laverty was the most industrious and indefatigable of historical researchers – generally concerning Ireland’s Wild Geese, wherever he found them -- around the globe      

          “In far foreign fields, from Dunkirk to Belgrade, lie the soldiers and chiefs of the Irish Brigade." --Thomas Davis

Cathal Ó Laithbhearthaigh -- Ar dheis láimh Dé go raibh a anam uasal 

(May his noble soul be at the right hand of God.)

Views: 1064

Tags: Eulogies, Irish Freedom Struggle, Obituaries, Opinion

Comment by Gerry Regan on March 1, 2016 at 3:13pm

The picture above was taken in March 1992, when Chuck (far right) became one of the 40 participants in the Irish Brigade Association's 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home' barnstorming tour across Ireland. This picture was taken in Fethard, County Tipperary, the birthplace of Fenian Michael Doheny, one of the early commanders of the 69th New York State Militia Regiment that later became famous as 'The Fighting 69th.' Chuck is wearing the uniform of a Union Army major general, in fact, a replica of that worn by Phil Sheridan, by Civil War's end perhaps the best-known of the Irish commanders serving the United States.


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