This Week in Irish History - April 30 - May 6

DEARDAOIN -- From April 29 through May 4, 1863, the 6th Louisiana Infantry, a largely Irish Confederate regiment, fought at the 2nd battle of Fredericksburg, during the Chancellorsville campaign. With its ranks filled with Irishmen from New Orleans and roundabouts, the 6th would fight in nearly every major battle of the eastern theater, from 1st Bull Run to Appomattox. The Confederate forces engaged at the 2nd battle of Fredericksburg fought against heavy odds as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, leading the Army of Northern Virginia, were fighting Joe Hooker to the west at Chancellorsville.

(Right: Confederate Memorial Hall, New Orleans - The flag of Co. H, 6th Louisiana Volunteers.)

Outnumbered more than 2 to 1, the Confederates in Fredericksburg did their best to hold the Federal forces, which were intent on getting at Lee's flank and aiding Hooker.On May 3rd they finally broke the thin rebel line at the same sunken road where so many futile attacks were made the preceding December. The 6th, posted to the right of the breakthrough, was nearly surrounded and captured, but managed to retreat. The Confederates, including the 6th, would form another line near Salem Church and the next day they would be part of Robert E. Lee's counterattack, which would drive the Federals back across the Rappahannock River. The 6th would suffer 20 killed, 68 wounded and 98 missing during the six days of the fighting around Fredericksburg.

MÁIRT -- On May 2, 1870, Father Francis Duffy, World War I chaplain of the 69th New York, was born in Cobourg, Ontario. Francis moved to New York at age 22 to teach at St. Francis Xavier College but quit to enter the seminary. Father Duffy became well known around the town as an editor of the Catholic New York Review and later as the chaplain of the 69th New York National Guard, the famous "Fighting 69th." When the 69th went off to France in 1917 (redesignated the 165th Infantry by the Federal government), the 46-year-old Duffy went with them.

(Left: Father Francis Duffy, at Brieulles-sur-Bar, France, on Nov. 4, 1918.)

No one who served with the 69th in France would ever forget the ubiquitous cleric, who knew no fear as he ministered to his khaki-clad congregation. Duffy was so active in his duties that it was said that Douglas MacArthur thought him worthy of commanding a combat unit. After the war, Father Duffy became pastor of Holy Cross parish, near Times Square. Everyone in New York, from the Mayor down to the shoeshine boys on the street, knew – and loved Father Duffy. When he died from a liver infection June 26, 1932, the whole city mourned and provided him with a funeral worthy of a great man. Over 50,000 stood in silence along the route to St. Raymond's Cemetery, while many of his old 69th comrades accompanied him on that final trip. In 1937, a statue of Father Duffy was unveiled in Times Square. There the good Father stands guard over his old parish to this day.

CÉADAOIN -- On May 3, 1921 the South Mayo Brigade of the Irish Volunteers, commanded by Tom Maguire, ambushed an RIC / Black and Tan supply column of a Crossley tender and a Ford car at Tourmakeady, Co. Mayo on the western shore of Lough Mask. This was the first major attack on crown forces in the county.  

(Right: The South Mayo Brigade. Maguire is standing on the left with #10 over his head.)

The Volunteers had gotten word that these vehicles were on their way from Ballinrobe to Derrypark RIC station and were lying wait for them. Maguire had perhaps as many as 60 Volunteers with him, but as was so often the case in those days, they didn’t have enough weapons, perhaps 6 or 8 rifles and some shot guns and not much ammunition for them. Maguire split his force into three sections, commanding one himself with the second under Michael O’Brien and the third under Paddy May, with May’s section blocking the road and the other two on the high ground to the west of the road. When they opened fire the four men in the Ford were killed or mortally wounded, but those in the Crossley tender were able to take cover in the nearby hotel.  Expecting that help would be coming from the British military, Maguire withdrew his men west in the Partry Mountains. Some British reinforcements did, indeed, make their way into the area trying to engage the Volunteers, but how many is in dispute. The Volunteers would claim it was hundreds, which the British claimed it was less than hundred. Whatever the true number of British that were closing in, they confronted each other in the mountains. O’Brien was killed in the skirmish there and Maguire was severely wounded in the arm. But the column snuck by the British in the dark and escaped and Maguire was able to find shelter in some local homes and avoided capture. Many homes in the area would be burned as a result of this ambush, and they also burned Maguire’s in Cross.

The National Library of Ireland

Willie Pearse

DEARDAOIN -- On May 4, 1916, the British executed Patrick Pearse's younger brother, Willie. Willie was not one of the signers of the Proclamation; he was not one of the planners of the revolt, nor was he one of it commanders. Willie was merely one of the soldiers involved with the Dublin actions. No other participant in Dublin whose actions or responsibilities were similar to Willie's was executed in those dark days, save perhaps John MacBride, and MacBride's earlier service with the Boers probably marked him for death. It seems likely that the sole reason William Pearse was executed by the British government was for the crime of being Patrick's brother. It was repugnant British excesses such as this that would soon reverse the Irish people's initially negative opinion of the '16 Rising.

AOINE -- On May 5, 1981, Bobby Sands (right) died on hunger strike at Long Kesh prison. He had begun the strike on March 1, in protest over the removal of political status for IRA prisoners. Hunger strikes were an old republican strategy going back to Terence MacSwiney's famous hunger strike in 1920, which had helped turn the tide of world opinion against England during the War of Independence. Other prisoners at Long Kesh soon followed Sand's example. On April 9, the republican community in the six counties showed its support of Sands by electing him to the British Parliament for Fermanagh-Tyrone. The "Iron Maiden," British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, would remain unmoved by Sand's death, and those of the nine whose deaths followed his extending through mid-August.


'For myself, I cannot claim any special attribute except that of being fond of people – just people.' 

         -- Father Francis Duffy, chaplain of the famed "Fighting 69th" during World War I

They have nothing in their whole imperial arsenal that can break the spirit of one Irishman who doesn't want to be broken. 

       -- Bobby Sands

May -- Bealtaine


1, 1739 - Gen. James O'Moran - Officer in the Irish Brigade of France - Co. Roscommon)
? (Possibly July), 1838 - Richard Dowling (Commander of Confederate Davis Guards, who repulsed Union fleet at Sabine pass in Texas, September 1863, US Civil War - Co. Galway.)
?, 1858 - Jennie Wyse (née O'Toole) (Feminist, politician - Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow.)
1, 1830 - Mary Harris "Mother" Jones (Labor leader - Cork City)
2, 1870 - Father Francis Duffy (Chaplain of the 69th New York, WW I - Cobourg, Ontario.)
5, 1864 - Mary Jane Cochran (Nellie Bly) (Journalist)


?, 1171 - Battle of Dublin.
1-5, 1169 - Norman invasion begins. A small force arrives to help Diarmaid MacMurrough, regain the kingship of Leinster.
1-5, 1171 - Diarmaid MacMurrough, King of Leinster, dies in Ferns, Co. Wexford.
1, 1823 - Oliver Harty, Baron de Pierrebourg, of Co. Limerick, Lieutenant-General in Napoleon's army, retires.
2, 1316 - Edward the Bruce of Scotland crowned high king of Ireland at Dundalk.
2, 1565 - Shane O'Neill defeats the MacDonnells at Glenshesk, Co. Antrim.
2, 1794 - United Irishman Archibald Rowan escapes from custody, eventually making his way to America. 
2, 1882 - Parnell released from prison by 'Kilmainham Treaty.'
2, 1957 - Father Aloysius Roche, Irish patriot, dies.
3, 1844 - Anti-Irish Catholic mobs burn 2 churches and large portions of Irish neighborhoods in Philadelphia.
3, 1916 - Patrick Pearse executed by a British firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
3, 1916 - Thomas Clarke executed by a British firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
3, 1916 - Thomas MacDonagh executed by a British firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
3, 1921 - IRA troops under Tom Maguire (who was wounded) fight off 600 English troops in Tourmakeady, Co. Mayo.
4, 1836 - Founding of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, New York City.
4, 1916 - Edward Daly executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
4, 1916 - Michael O'Hanrahan executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
4, 1916 - William Pearse executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
4, 1916 - Joseph Mary Plunkett executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
5, 1795 - House of Commons rejects Grattan's Catholic relief bill, by 155 to 84.
5, 1844 - Bishop Hughes of New York threatens to burn down the city if his churches are attacked (as were churches in Philadelphia).
5, 1906 - First issue of Sinn Féin.
5, 1916 - John MacBride executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
5, 1981 - Bobby Sands dies on hunger strike at Long Kesh prison.
6, 1882 - Phoenix Park murders of Lord Frederick Cavendish and T.H. Burke by Fenians

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


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