This Week in the History of the Irish: August 2 - August 8

DOMHNAIGH -- In the early morning hours of August 2, 1943, a small American torpedo boat was moving just west of New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. In command was a young Irish-American destined to one day be the first Catholic president of the United States: Lieutenant John Fitzgerald Kennedy As PT-109 moved through the gloomy morning, the Japanese destroyer Amagiri suddenly appeared like a ghost ship just a few hundred yards away. The PT boat was running on one idling engine and had almost no speed to maneuver. The commander of the Amagiri, Kohai Hanami, spotted the tiny ship. It was to close to fire at; Hanami turned to ram it. They sliced through the middle of the wooden PT boat, which burst into flames. Two of the crewmen were killed, but Kennedy and ten others survived. The next morning, with Kennedy towing a badly burned crewman, the crew swam to a nearby island. Though Kennedy was suffering greatly from a recurring back injury, he and Ensign Ross made several dangerous night trips into Ferguson Passage over the next few days, swimming out, and later using a canoe they found, in an attempt to contact help. On August 5, the group was found by two natives who worked for an Australian coast watcher, Lt. Reginald Evans. Kennedy quickly carved a note on a coconut for them to bring to Evans. Evans got word back to the U.S. Navy, and, on the night of August 8, all 11 survivors of PT 109 were rescued by PT 157. John F. Kennedy kept that carved coconut on his desk in the oval office until the day he was assassinated.

Courier & Ives print.
Thomas F. Meagher in zouave uniform while a captain commanding Company K of the 69th New York State Militia. 

MÁIRT -- On August 3, 1823, Irish nationalist and American Civil War general Thomas Francis Meagher was born in Waterford, Ireland. Well educated, Meagher's family was among the better-off Catholics in the country, the family expected he would practice law. But Meagher took up politics instead, joining the radical Young Ireland Party. He made a famous speech when the Young Irelanders broke with O'Connell's party, which earned him the sobriquet, 'Meagher of the Sword.' Exiled to Australia for his part in the '48 Rising, he escaped to America and became prominent in the Irish exile community in New York. When the Civil War erupted, he led a company of the 69th New York in July 1861 during the first battle of Bull Run and then organized the famous Irish Brigade of the Union army later in the year. He commanded the brigade in numerous battles until May '63, then resigned when he was not allowed to recruit for his decimated brigade. After the war, Meagher was appointed temporary governor of the Montana territory, and he accidentally drowned there in 1867.

DEARDAOIN -- On August 6, 1775, Daniel O'Connell, 'The Liberator,' one of the most influential men in Irish history was born near Cahirciveen, County Kerry. Raised by his uncle, Daniel learned the Irish language and Irish lore in Kerry. O'Connell did part of his schooling in France during the revolution and later practiced law in Dublin. The violent excesses he witnessed in France, the slaughter of the '98 Rising, and finally, his own killing a man in a duel in 1815 led him to renounce violence forever. Moving into politics, O'Connell founded the Catholic Association in 1823, creating one of the first massive political movements in Europe or the Americas. When he was elected to Parliament in 1828, a position still forbidden to a Catholic, fear of the reaction of his millions of followers led to the passage of the Catholic Emancipation Bill. O'Connell worked for Home Rule for Ireland for the rest of his days but never achieved it. The British banned his mass Repeal (of the Union) rallies in '43 and jailed him for a time. The movement lost momentum at that point and the long years of hard work wore 'The Liberator' down. He died in Italy on May 15, 1847. Daniel O'Connell had failed in his greatest ambition, but he had reawakened the nationalist soul of Ireland.

AOINE -- On August 7, 1890 labor organizer and American Communist Party official Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (left: at a strike in Paterson, New Jersey, 1913) was born in Concord, New Hampshire. Elizabeth grew up being regaled by tales of Irish revolutionaries. According to their oral tradition all four of her great-grandfathers, Flynn, Gurley, Conner, and Ryan, were United Irishman, with grandfather Flynn being one of the leaders in Mayo when the French fleet landed there during the 1798 Rising. Perhaps parts of this were apocryphal since it was the perfect family history for a labor activist. Elizabeth's father, Tom, was a socialist, and around the turn of the century, they moved to New York City, the perfect incubator for radical thought. On reaching adulthood Elizabeth, who had a natural speaking ability, began working for socialist causes joining the fledgling IWW (Industrial Workers of the World, AKA. Wobblies) in 1906. A newspaper editor at the time called her "an East Side Joan of Arc." One of her early mentors was James Connolly, while he was living in the United States. She worked tirelessly in the numerous labor-management strife of the times and managed to stay out of jail when many of the other IWW leaders were convicted of sedition during WWI. She was one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920. As the IWW faded away, Flynn moved into full-fledged Marxism, joining the Communist Party and writing a column of the "Daily Worker." She was elected to the Party's National Committee in 1938. In 1940 her Party membership caused her to be expelled from the ACLU. During the McCarthy era, she was convicted of advocating the overthrow of the government and jailed from 1955 to '57. She traveled to Moscow in 1964, planning to write the 2nd volume of her autobiography there. It was never written, as she died there on September 4, 1964. She was given a state funeral in Moscow. In 1978 the ACLU posthumously reinstated her membership.

VOICES

... so long as there remains one officer or one soldier of the Irish Brigade, so long shall there be found for him, for his family and little ones, if any there be, a devoted friend in Thomas Francis Meagher.' '
         -- The closing words of Meagher's farewell address to the Irish Brigade, May 19, 1863

'Poor old Dan! Wonderful, mighty, jovial and mean old man! ... What a royal yet vulgar soul! ... Pray ... that the good God who knew how to create so wondrous a creature may have mercy on his soul.'
         -- John Mitchel, writing of Daniel O'Connell in 1849

BIRTHS

August -- Lúnasa

2, 1932 - Peter O'Toole (Actor)
3, 1823 
Thomas Francis Meagher (Revolutionary, Union General - Waterford)
4, 1805
 - Sir William Rowan Hamilton (Mathematician - Dublin)
4, 1878 - Margaret Pearse - (Teacher, politician - Dublin.)
6, 1775 - Daniel O'Connell (Politician - Cahirciveen, County Kerry)
6, 1837 – Henry Splaine (Col. Union Army, US Civil War, Muskerry, Co. Cork)
7, 1892 - Tom Falcon Hazell (WWI Ace, 43 kills - Clifden, County Galway)
7, 1890 – Elizabeth Flynn Labor organizer / American Communist Pary Official - Concord, NH)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

2, 1649 - Battle of Rathmines.
2, 1862 - Irish 6th Louisiana Infantry 
fights at the battle of Bristoe Station.
2, 1943 -
 John F. Kennedy's PT 109 is rammed and sunk by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri in the Solomon Islands.
2, 1981 -
 Kieran Doherty dies on hunger strike.
3, 1868 -
 Charles Halpine ("Miles O'Reilly"), soldier and politician, dies in New York.
3, 1916 - Roger Casement hanged by English government.
4, 1798 - Thomas Addis Emmet, Arthur O'Connor, and William James MacNeven deliver to government their 'Memoir or detailed statement of the origin and progress of the Irish Union' (on United Irish movement.
5, 1888 - Irish-American Gen. Phil Sheridan, one of the finest Union generals of the American Civil War, dies of heart disease in Nonquitt, Massachusetts.
6, 1864 - 10th Tennessee Infantry (Irish) fights at the battle of Utoy Creek, Georgia.
6, 1920 - The Dail Eireann orders a boycott of Belfast businesses operated by Unionists.
7-14, 1798 - Examination of United Irishmen MacNeven, O'Connor, Neilson, Thomas Emmet and Bond by secret committee of House of Lords.
7, 1920 - The East Limerick Flying Column under Donnacha O'Hannigan and George Lennon, joined forces with a Cork Column under Tom Barry to ambush a six-man RIC foot patrol near Kildorrery, County Cork. All the RIC men were wounded, one fatally (Ernest S. Watkins). Six revolvers and 250 rounds of ammunition were seized.
8, 1981 - Thomas McElwee dies on hunger strike.

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Tags: American Civil War, Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History, Oceania, On This Day, United States

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