This Week in the History of the Irish: April 21 - April 27

MÁIRT -- 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.

CÉADAOIN -- 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.

SATHAIRN -- On April 27, 1779 Irish-born (County Donegal) U.S. Navy Capt. Gustavus Conyngham, "The Dunkirk Pirate," was captured by the British navy in the waters off New York. Conyngham had immigrated to the American colonies in his teens and went to work for his cousins shipping house in Philadelphia. By 1775 he was the master of the brig Charming Peggy, sailing to France to pick up war supplies for the colonial government.

(Right: Gustavus Conyngham, from an original lithograph by Arthur Szyk, courtesy of the Arthur Szyk Society You can find more of Mr. Szyk's historical lithographs here.)

The British got wind of his plans and managed to maneuver him out of his ship with the help of the Dutch. Conyngham was stranded in France for the next year, until the American commissioners in Paris helped buy a ship for him to use against the British. Setting sail in a small ship called Surprise, Conyngham scored a first victory that would warm the heart of any Irishmen, capturing the British merchant ship Prince of Orange on May 3, 1777. Later that year he was commissioned a captain in the Continental Navy and given command of the Revenge. He began a series of highly successful raids into British waters from the port of Dunkirk, thus earning his sobriquet The Dunkirk Pirate. In 1778 Conyngham set sail for the West Indies and terrorized British vessels there before finally returning to Philadelphia on February 21, 1779. He and his men had claimed 60 prize vessels in just 18 months. When he set sail again his luck ran out and his ship was captured by the British vessel Galatea in April. Conyngham was taken to prison in England and treated harshly by his British captors. But after two other failed escape attempts, the determined naval officer tunneled his way of Mill Prison in Plymouth and managed to make his way to the continent. Conyngham joined John Paul Jones on a cruise on the Alliance before returning to the United States. He made his way back to the U.S., but was captured by the British again in March 1780 and spent another year in Mill Prison. After the war Conyngham failed in his efforts to continue his naval career or to gain recognition from Congress for his service during the war. He had lost the commission papers given to him by colonial representatives in Paris in 1777. It was said that Conyngham assisted in the defense of Philadelphia against his old British foes during the War of 1812; he would die in that same city seven years later. Some hundred years after Conyngham's death his commission papers surfaced in the collection of a Paris autograph dealer, proving that the "Dunkirk Pirate" had never been a pirate at all, but one of the first heroes of the United States Navy.

Read more about Gustavus Conyngham.


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


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)
25, 1906
 - William Brennan (U.S. Supreme Court Justice, born of Irish immigrant parents - Newark, N.J.)


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.
25, 1707 - Irish Brigade of France fights in the battle of Almanza.
25, 1707 - Col. Thomas Barry of Cork, commands a regiment of O'Mahony's Dragoons at Almanza.
25, 1836 - Mathew Flanagan, vice admiral in the Austrian navy, dies in Venice.
25, 1918 - Irish Labour Party declares one-day strike in protest over conscription act.
25, 1920 - RIC Sgt. Cornelius Crean and Constable Patrick McGoldrick killed by Irish Volunteers in Ballinspittle, Co. Cork.

27, 1779
- Irish-born U.S. Navy Capt. Gustavus Conyngham, "The Dunkirk Pirate", is captured by the British.
27, 1802 - Count Lally arrives in India in command of French troops, including his own Irish regiment.
27, 1805 - U.S. Marines under the command of Lt. Presley O'Bannon capture the town of Derna in Libya, on 'The Shores of Tripoli.'
27, 1923 - De Valera announces end of operations against the Irish Free State, effectively ending the Irish Civil War.

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Tags: History of Ireland, Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History, On This Day, United States


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