This Week in the History of the Irish: August 11 - August 17

DOMHNAIGH -- On August 11, 1744, during the War of Austrian Succession, the Irish Brigade of Spain fought at the battle of Velletri, in Italy, against an Austrian army commanded by Irishman Field Marshal Count Maximillian Ulysses Browne, of Limerick. The surprise attack of Browne's Austrians overran the advanced Irish piquets commanded by Lt. Burke, who was killed; but Burke's men rallied to make a fighting retreat, joined by members of the relief guard commanded by Capt. Slattery.

(Left: Ultonia Regiment of the Spanish army, toy soldiers by "The Warrior Irish.")

The delaying tactics of the piquets allowed the rest of the Brigade, along with a regiment of Walloons, to form a line to meet the Austrians. Still, the Irish were heavily outnumbered and suffered tremendous casualties as the Austrians pushed them. At Velletri's gates they made a stand -- Col. MacDonald of the Hibernia regiment and over 40 other Irish officers were killed, along with several hundred of the Irish soldiers. But they had exhausted the Austrians, as well. With the rest of the Spanish army now rallied behind them, the remaining Irish and Walloons led a bayonet charge that drove the Austrians from the field. So impressively had the Irish fought, the King of Spain awarded each regiment a motto for their flags: "In Omneim Terram ex hivit sonos corum" (Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth). And to each regiment he also granted a sobriquet: To Irlanda, "El Famoso"; to Ultonia, "El Immortal"; and to Hibernia, "La Culumna Irlanda" ("The pillar of Ireland.").

The wanted poster for Dan Breen.

DOMHNAIGH -- On August 11, 1894, Dan Breen, one of the most famous IRA leaders during Ireland's War of Independence, was born in Grange, Donohill, Co. Tipperary. He joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912 and the Irish Volunteers in 1914. Breen took part in the ambush at Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary, commanded by Sean Treacy on Jan. 21, 1919, often considered the start of the War of Independence. Breen was involved in several famous incidents during the war. On May 13, 1919, he took part in the rescue of Sean Hogan near Knocklong, Co. Limerick. Sean Treacy was once again in command as he, Breen and Séamus Robinson boarded a train on which RIC officers were transporting Hogan. In the ensuing shootout, two policemen were killed and both Treacy and Breen were seriously wounded, the first of four times that Breen would be wounded in the war, but they succeeded in freeing Hogan.

Recovered from his wounds, Breen then took part in the Dec. 19 ambush at Ashtown, near Dublin, attempting to kill the commander of the British army in Ireland, Lord John French. French escaped, probably because he was in the first car of the column, rather than the 2nd, as the IRA expected. Breen was wounded again, this time in the leg. By the spring of 1920, it had become too dangerous for Treacy and Breen in Tipperary, as the British had put a price on their heads. They were transferred to Collins' unit in Dublin, operating as part of his assassination squad. On Oct. 11th, they were trapped in a house in north Dublin by a British raid. They managed to shoot their way out of it, killing two British officers, but both were also wounded again, Breen the more seriously. This may have saved his life, as he was still in the hospital (under a false name) three days later when British agents again located Treacy. This time Treacy was killed.

After the war, Breen supported the Republican side during the Civil War and was arrested and held in Limerick prison for several months, but was released after going on hunger strike. He won the seat from Tipperary in the Dáil and was the first anti-treaty TD to take his seat in 1927, but he lost it in the election later that year. He moved to the United States for a short time during the Prohibition era and reputedly ran a speakeasy, but returned to win back his seat in the Dáil for Fianna Fáil. He would hold it from 1932 to 1965. He published his account of the war, "My Fight for Irish Freedom," in 1924. After his death, his body was returned to Tipperary and buried in Donohill with an estimated 10,000 mourners in attendance.

Read more about Dan Breen in: "Dan Breen and the IRA."

LUAIN -- On August 12, 1834, just after midnight, an anti-Catholic mob attacked the Ursuline Convent School in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and burned it to the ground as the nuns hurried the children out the back. Rev. Lyman Beecher had helped to incite the mob hours earlier, giving three anti-Catholic diatribes at three different churches in Boston.

(Left: A period drawing of the burning of the Ursuline Convent School, Aug. 12, 1834.)

Beecher, whose children included educator Catharine and abolitionist and author of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' Harriet Beecher Stowe, later expressed regret over the arson; but as is often the case, violent speech led to violent action. Those arrested for the outrage were quickly found not guilty and became heroes in Boston. After failed attempts to get the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to pay for the damages, and amid threats of further violence, the nuns eventually moved to Canada, driven from the country by bigotry and hate.

DEARDAOIN -- On August 15, 1909, the Ancient Order of Hibernians dedicated a monument to victims of the Great Hunger at Grosse Ile, in Quebec, Canada. More than 60 years had passed since more than 5,000 Irish men, women, and children had perished on the island, which served as a quarantine station on the St. Lawrence River, but the ancestors and relatives of those victims had not forgotten them. Through the hard work of the AOH, thousands of dollars had been collected to erect a fitting memorial to those innocent victims of man's inhumanity to man. The symbol they chose to use was a Celtic cross. Designed by Jeremiah Gallagher, a member of the AOH in Quebec, the cross was carved from granite and stood 48 feet high atop its pedestal. To ensure that no one traveling up or down the St. Lawrence could fail to see the monument , it was placed on Telegraph Hill, the highest point on the island. More than 7,000 attended the dedication ceremony that day, including several hundred French Canadians, some perhaps from families that had adopted one or more of the over 600 Irish orphans whose parents were left behind on Gross Ile. For the last 104 years, that cross has stood as a beacon to those who passed up and down this busy waterway, reminding them not only of the tragedy that once happened on that island, but also of the ultimate triumph of those who survived.

Bernardo O'Higgins

SATHAIRN -- On August 17, 1778, Bernardo O'Higgins , the father of Chilean independence, was born in Chile. Bernardo's mother was Chilean and his father was Ambrose O'Higgins of County Sligo, a brigadier general of a Chilean army and Viceroy of Peru. Bernardo met supporters of Latin American independence while attending school in England and became active in the movement on his return to Chile in 1802. He led a failed revolt against the Spanish in 1814, being forced to take refuge in Argentina. From there, along with José de San Martín, he helped to organize and lead a successful revolt against Spanish rule in Chile three years later. He next led a rebel force against the Spanish in Peru. O'Higgins ruled Chile for six years, putting many reforms in place, before being ousted by conservative landowners in 1823. He lived the rest of his days in Peru, dying there October 24, 1842.

VOICES

Count Maximillian
Ulysses Browne

'By the breakfast I've just received I can judge what a fine lunch is being prepared for me.'
         -- Part of Capt. Slattery's reply in refusing the demand of Limerick-born Field Marshal Maximillian Browne that he surrender his advanced guard during the early portion of the battle of Velletri, August 11, 1744

Go Ahead! To Arms! To Arms!! Ye brave and free Avenging Sword unshield! Leave not one stone upon another of that cursed Nunnery that prostitutes female virtue and liberty under the garb of holy religion. When Bonaparte opened the Nunnerys of Europe he found cords of infant skulls.'
         -- One of the incendiary placards posted around the Boston area just prior to the burning of the Ursuline Convent School in Charlestown, on August 12, 1834.

'We sail under the protection of the flag of the United States. Fire on us and you fire on the American flag.'
         -- Catalpa Capt. George Anthony's reply to the demand of the captain of the Georgette that he surrender the 6 Fenian prisoners

‘Mr. Casey puts treason in a fascinating and intelligent manner.’
        
-- The London Review commenting on John Keegan Casey’s writing.

BIRTHS

August -- Lúnasa

11, 1894 - Dan Breen (Officer in Irish War of Independence - Donohill, Co. Tipperary.)
14, 1814 - Mary O’Connell (Sister Anthony) (American Civil War nurse - Co Limerick.)
17, 1778 - Bernardo O’Higgins (Father of Chilean independence – Chillán, Chile.)
17, 1779 - William Corbet (United Irishman, soldier - Ballythomas, Co Cork.)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

11, 1744 - Irish regiments of Spain fight in the battle of Velletri.
11, 1834 - Rev. Lyman Beecher, father of Hariet Beecher Stowe, gives three violently anti-Catholic sermons in Boston.
12, 1652 - "To Hell or Connacht" Act for the Settling of Ireland - Cromwellian land confiscations.
12, 1690- Just past midnight Patrick Sarsfield's cavalry attacks and destroys the Williamite siege train near Ballyneety Castle.
12, 1796 - Kilmainham Gaol opens in Dublin.
12, 1834 - Inspired by Rev. Beecher and other Boston ministers, an anti- Catholic mob burns the Ursuline convent in Charleston, Massachusetts.
12, 1899 - First issue of James Connolly's Workers Republic.
12, 1920 - Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, arrested by British.
12, 1922 - Arthur Griffith dies of a cerebral hemorrhage.
12, 1966 – Former Light-Heavyweight Champion Mike McTigue dies in Queens, NY.
12-14, 1969 - British troops are deployed in Northern Ireland after riots in Derry and Belfast
13, 1704 - Irish Brigade of France fights at the battle of Blenheim.
13, 1881 - First issue of United Ireland, Parnellite weekly.
13, 1887 - Special committee appointed to investigate Parnell's ties to Phoenix Park murders.
14, 1598 - Battle of Yellow Ford.
14, 1828 - Anti-Catholic, evangelical Protestant Brunswick Clubs founded.
15, 1649 - Oliver Cromwell arrives in Dublin.
15, 1702 - Irish Brigade of France fights at the battle of Luzzara.
15, 1834 - 15 Irish homes are burned in further rioting in Charleston, Massachusetts.
15, 1909 - The Ancient Order of Hibernians dedicates a monument to victims of the Great Hunger at Grosse Ile, Quebec, Canada.
16, 1705 - Units of the Irish Brigade of France fight at the battle of Cassano.
16, 1921 - The Second Dáil Éireann convenes.
17, 1846 - Russell administration announces they will not interfere with grain market in Ireland.

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Tags: Americas, Canada, Europe, Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History, On This Day, United States

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