This Week in the History of the Irish: April 18 - April 24

Justin McCarthy, Lord Mountcashel

LUAIN -- On April 18, 1690, five regiments of Irishmen set sail from Ireland for France. These soldiers, about 5,400 in all, would form the nucleus of France's famed Irish Brigade. The Irishmen were sent in exchange for about 6,000 of King Louis XIV's well-trained French soldiers. Louis wanted to support James II in his quest to regain the British crown from William of Orange, but he could ill-afford the loss of 6,000 soldiers during his own struggle with William on the continent. Louis demanded Irish replacements, ill trained though they might be, in exchange. The Irish regiments sailed out on the same ships that landed the French troops under Count de Lauzun. Soon after arriving in France, the five regiments would be reorganized into three, commanded by Justin MacCarthy (Lord Mountcashel), Daniel O'Brien, and Arthur Dillon, whose family would continue in command of this regiment for a hundred years. Mountcashel would command this first Irish Brigade. Mountcashel had grown up in France and became fluent in the French tongue after his father had lost everything due to his participation in the fight against Cromwell and subsequent exile to France. Mountcashel's brigade was joined by Sarsfield's men in late 1691. The Irish Brigade would carry on in French service for 100 years and amass a record equaled by few military organizations in history. Like Sarsfield, Mountcashel did not survive for very long in French service. Very shortly after his arrival in France, on September 11, 1690, he was seriously wounded in the chest fighting in Savoy near Mountiers de Tarentaise. Although he recovered from this wound and continued to command the brigade, the wound continued to hamper McCarthy. In 1694, he left the brigade, seeking relief from his wounds in the baths at Baréges in the Pyrenees. Unfortunately, Justin McCarthy, Lord Mountcashel, died there July 1, just short of a year after Patrick Sarsfield was killed at the Battle of Landen.

Read more about the Irish Brigade of France.

MÁIRT -- On April 20, 1772, William Lawless, revolutionary and officer in Napolean's Irish Legion (a soldier of the Irish Legion, left), was born in Dublin. Lawless was educated as a surgeon and later joined the United Irishmen, becoming a close friend of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. He fled to France in 1798 and served with the French army in Holland. Lawless was appointed a captain when Napoleon formed the Irish Legion in 1803. He was decorated by Napoleon for bravery at the siege of Flushing and promoted to lieutenant colonel and given command of the 1st Battalion of the Legion. In 1812, he was promoted to colonel and commanded the entire Legion. On August 21, 1813, at the battle of Lowenberg, Lawless was severely wounded, losing a leg. He retired to his country house in Tours. When the Bourbons were restored to the throne in 1814 he was placed on half-pay with the rank of Brig. Gen. Lawless died on Dec. 25, 1824, at the age of 52, and was buried at Pere Lachaise. William Lawless honorably served the French army. He was one of the best officers of the last large French unit of The Wild Geese.

AOINE -- On April 23, 1014, the Battle of Clontarf, one of the most famous and important battles in Irish history, was fought just north of Dublin. It was a bloody stand-up battle, fought mainly with ax and sword, with Brian Boru's men prevailing. This battle would later enter Irish legend as the place where Brian, High King of Ireland, drove the Vikings from Ireland. This is not completely false, but neither is it completely true.

(Right): Battle of Clontarf, oil on canvas painting by Hugh Frazer, 1826)

Some Irish fought with the Vikings, and some Vikings fought with the Irish, and in the end, Brian's victory didn't drive out all the Vikings, but it did help break their power in Ireland. With the victory won, most of Boru's bodyguards abandoned him to join in the plunder. The Viking chief Brodar and his men, lurking in nearby woods, seized the opportunity to rush out and slay the victorious King. The way was now clear for a strong leader to unite the clans of Ireland, but the one man who could accomplish that unity lay dead on the battlefield. Perhaps, if Brian had lived, the clans may have united and might have defeated foiled England's invasions; we'll never know. Thus was the battle of Clontarf both a great victory and a great tragedy for the people of Ireland.

SATHAIRN -- April 24, 1916, Easter Monday, was one of the most critical days in the history of Ireland. On that day, Irish Volunteer units and the Irish Citizen Army, led by Patrick Pearse and James Connolly, began their famous Easter Rising, seizing the General Post Office (GPO) and several other key locations around Dublin. At the GPO, Pearse read the revolutionaries' proclamation in which they pledged, "our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of (Ireland's) freedom." Seven men signed that document. Given Irish Volunteer commander Eoin MacNeill's cancellation of the Volunteers maneuvers the day before, these seven men must have known that their signatures would likely lead to their executions if they survived the combat they knew would surely come. Those names will forever be associated with the fight for Irish freedom. The seven signers were: Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Eamonn Ceannt, and Joseph Plunkett. Ar dheis De go raibh siad.


'Our levies [soldiers] . . . in a short time, with the discipline and order prevailing in France, will be the best in the world.'

         -- Justin MacCarthy, Lord Mountcashel, on the potential of the soldiers of the first Irish Brigade of France

'He was a most agreeable, kind, companionable man possible; highly educated, well versed in almost every branch of science, speaking fluently and well, both French and English; in short, had his country obtained her freedom, he would have shone in her senate as a first-rate orator.'
         -- Miles Byrne, member of the United Irishmen and officer in the Irish Legion, on his friend William Lawless

National Museum of Ireland
The Irish Republic flag captured by the British army in 1916. It was returned to the Irish government in 1966.

'In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the last the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.'
         -- A portion of "The Proclamation of the Irish Republic" posted on Easter Monday, 1916.

April - Aibreán


20, 1772 - William Lawless (General in the French army-Dublin)
20, 1776 - Alexander Dalton (Officer in the French army - Brive, France, of Irish parents)
21, 1871 - John Fitzpatrick (Labor leader, Irish nationalist - Athlone, Co. Westmeath)
23, 1791 - James Buchanan (15th President of the U.S., of an Irish immigrant father - Mercersburg, PA)
23, 1940 - Catherine Ford (Maryknoll sister, martyr, Brooklyn, NY)


17, 1849 – Irish born Count John Nugent, general in the Austrian army, dies in Austria.
17, 1949 - At midnight 26 Irish counties officially leave the British Commonwealth. A 21-gun salute on O'Connell Bridge, Dublin, ushers in the Republic of Ireland.
18, 1689
 Siege of Derry begins.
18, 1690 -
 Five regiments of Irishmen sail for France, form the nucleus of France's Irish Brigade.
18, 1887 -
 The London Times publishes a letter linking Parnell to the "Phoenix Park" murders. Later found to be a forgery.
18, 1914 -
 Irish home rule bill receives royal assent.
18, 1949 -
 Ireland declares itself a full republic, withdrawing from the British Commonwealth.
19-21, 1798 -
 Earl of Clare's visit to Trinity College, Dublin, and purge of United Irishmen; 19 expelled.
19, 1812 - Napoleon's Irish Legion and the Irish Hibernia regiment of Spain face each other at the battle of Badajoz.
19, 1972 - Lord Widgery's report exonerating "Bloody Sunday" troops is issued.
21, 1907 - Cumann na nGaedheal and Dungannon clubs become Sinn Fein League
21, 1916 - Roger Casement lands from German submarine and is captured, Banna Strand, Ireland.
21, 1916 - German ship "Aud," carrying arms shipment, captured in Tralee Bay.
22, 1834 - Daniel O'Connell introduces debate on Repeal of Union bill in Parliament.
22, 1905 - Capt. William O'Shea, politician, accuser of Parnell, dies in Hove, Great Britain.
23, 1014 - Battle of Clontarf. Brian Boru, king of Ireland, killed
23, 1918 – Irish Labour Party and Trades Union Congress call for a general strike to protest the Conscription Bill.
23, 1938 - Douglas Hyde, a Protestant, is selected as Ireland's first president.
23, 1953 - Maud Gonne, Irish revolutionary, dies.
24, 1916 - Easter rising. Irish rebels seize General Post Office and other buildings in Dublin.
24, 1800 - United Irishmen in British army in Newfoundland, Canada, stage a brief, abortive mutiny.
24, 1886 - Father Abram J. Ryan, chaplain and poet-priest of the Confederacy, dies in Louisville, KY.

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Tags: Europe, Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History, On This Day


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