This Week in the History of the Irish: August 24-30

DOMHNAIGH -- On August 24, 1968, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association marched from Coalisland to Dungannon in County Tyrone in one of the first large-scale marches of the six-county civil rights movement.

(Left: An ad for a commemorative march held in 2008.)

The march was uneventful until the 2,500 mixed Catholic and Protestant marchers reached the outskirts of Dungannon. There they found 400 RUC officers barring their path. Behind the RUC line were 1,500 Loyalists armed with cudgels and staves. The anti-civil rights countermarch had been organized by the Ulster Protestant Volunteers with the help of the Rev. Ian Paisley. Confronted with this massive force, the civil rights marchers merely sat down and listened to a number of speeches, while Paisley and his followers sang sectarian songs and shouted abuse from behind the RUC barricades. On this day, the civil-rights marchers would escape harm but very soon all that would change. Ian Paisley was rapidly making a name for himself among hard-line Loyalist groups; he would later even help form a Loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defense Association. In the near future, his followers would be using their cudgels and staves in the streets of the six counties in an attempt to physically beat back the rising tide of the civil rights movement. The cycle of violence in the six counties was rapidly spinning out of control, and Ian Paisley was one of the individuals with his hand on the crank.

National Gallery of Ireland
Irish martyr Robert Emmet, from a miniature by John Comerford.

LUAIN -- On August 25, 1803, the British captured one of the most famous revolutionaries in Irish history, Robert Emmet, at the home of Mrs. Palmer in Harold's Cross, outside Dublin. Emmet had been on the run since the failure of the rising he had planned a month earlier. Friends had urged him to escape to the Wicklow Mountains and join Michael Dwyer, who had evaded the British since the failed '98 Rising. From there he might have escaped to France or the United States. Emmet said he was ashamed to face Dwyer after the disaster of the rising, but the more likely reason he remained near Dublin was his reluctance to leave the woman he loved, Sarah Curran, daughter of lawyer John Philpot Curran. Some believe Emmet's location was betrayed by tavernkeeper Simon Doyle, who had delivered eggs to Mrs. Palmer's house. On the 25th, Major Sirr burst into the house and captured Robert at the dinner table. Execution awaited Emmet, and an exalted place in Ireland's martyrology.

County Mayo, showing Killala Bay to the north, where Humbert landed, Lough Conn in the center, and Castlebar to the south.

CÉADAOIN -- On August 27, 1798, the combined force of Gen. Humbert's small French invasion unit and western Irish rebels won one of the most famous battles ever fought in Ireland at Castlebar, County Mayo. Humbert had orders to wait for the remainder of the French invasion force under General Hardy, but he was a man of action and bent those instructions to fit his ambitions. After landing near Killala on the 22nd, Humbert had marched to Ballina and captured it without a fight. Now he made a long, forced march from Ballina on the 26th, avoiding the main road to Castlebar, going west of Lough Conn. The British outnumbered the Franco-Irish two to one, their commander, General Gerard Lake, arriving just in time to take command of the troops in Castlebar. It was a bit of timing he lived to regret. As the Franco-Irish force attacked, some of the Irish rebels, mostly untrained farmers, broke and ran from the British artillery, but the highly disciplined French veterans pressed on without stopping to fire. Suddenly the British line fell apart, and a desperate rout ensued. Humbert captured numerous flags, cannons and munitions, and even Lake's luggage. The British didn't stop running until some had reached Tuam, 30 miles away; it would be known in Irish history as the 'Races at Castlebar.'

Samuel Neilson, a founder of the United Irishmen

AOINE -- On August 29, 1803, Samuel Neilson, one of the founders of the United Irishmen, died in Poughkeepsie, New York. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Neilson had made a fortune in business by 1790, then he dedicated himself to Irish politics. It was Neilson, a native of Ballyroney, County Down, who first proposed the idea of the organization that eventually became the United Irishmen. He edited a republican paper, the Northern Star in 1792 and in 1796 he was imprisoned by the British for those activities. He was released by reason of bad health in February 1798 on condition that he refrain from republican activity but he violated that condition almost immediately. He was helping Lord Edward Fitzgerald organize for the rising in Dublin when Fitzgerald was arrested in May. Neilson then went to Newgate prison, where Lord Edward was being held -- some say to evaluate the chances for a rescue, others say he was intoxicated. In either case, Neilson was captured himself and was badly hurt as he struggled to escape. Neilson was one of the lucky few of the United Irishmen who avoided execution. He was held in Scotland for three years and then deported to the Netherlands. Neilson emigrated to the United States in 1802 and planned to start a newspaper in Poughkeepsie, but he died suddenly August 29, 1803.


'We war not against property, we war against no religious sect, we war not against past opinions or prejudices, we war against English dominion.'
         -- From Robert Emmet's proclamation for 'The Provisional Government to the People of Ireland,' July 1803

'… against the common enemy, the Tyrant of Ireland – the English; whose destruction is the only way of ensuring the independence and happiness of ancient Hibernia.'
         -- From Gen. Humbert's proclamation setting up a provisional Irish government in Castlebar, County Mayo, August 1798

'I scorn your power, and despise your authority, that it shall ever be my pride to have opposed. ...'
         -- Samuel Neilson at his trial, July 1798


August — Lúnasa

25, 1764 - James Hope (United Irishman - Templepatrick, County Antrim.)
25, 1863 - Father Eugene O'Growney (A leader of the Irish language movement - Ballyfallon, Co. Meath.)
28, 1815 - Mary Martin ('Princess of Connemara,' novelist and daughter of 'Humanity Dick' Martin - Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway.)
29, 1871 - Jack B. Yeats (Artist - London.)


24, 1706 - Irish Brigade of France officer Count O'Mahoney forced to surrender the town of Alicante.
24, 1969 - Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association marches from Coalisland to Dungannon.
25, 1580 – Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne defeats Lord Grey at Glenmalure, Co. Wicklow.
25, 1798 - Cornwallis takes command of British forces in the field and sends urgent request to England for reinforcements.
25, 1803 - Robert Emmet captured.
25, 1922 - William T. Cosgrave succeeds the deceased Michael Collins as Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State.
25, 1943 - Teresa Brayton, poet, died in America.
27, 1690 – Williamite attack on Limerick fails.
27, 1798 - "Races of Castlebar" -- French and Irish defeat English forces at Castlebar.
27, 1979 - Lord Louis Mountbatten is killed by an IRA bomb on his boat off the coast of Sligo.
28-29, 1862Irish 6th Louisiana Infantry fights at the second battle of Bull Run.
28, 1877 - Charles Stewart Parnell becomes president of Home Rule Confederation.
29, 1690 – Williamite siege of Limerick lifted.
29, 1803 - Samuel Neilson, co-founder of the United Irishmen, dies in Poughkeepsie, New York.
29-30, 1862 - Irish-born Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne commands a division at battle of Richmond, Kentucky, where he is wounded.
29, 1913 - The beginning of the Transport Workers strike in Dublin, led by Connolly and Larkin.
30, 1708 - Penal Laws passed in 1695 restricting Catholics rights are strengthened for the second time.

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