This Week in the History of the Irish: August 24 - August 31

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

DOMHNAIGH -- 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.

MÁIRT -- 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.

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

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.'

DEARDAOIN -- 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.

SATHAIRN --On August 31, 1767 Henry Joy McCracken, leader of the United Irish rising in Antrim, was born in Belfast. McCracken was running a cotton factory by the age of 22. He and Thomas Russell organized the first Society of United Irishmen in Belfast in 1791. He was imprisoned for 13 months in 1796 but as soon as he was out on bail he began planning for the ’98 rising in Antrim and was appointed the leader of the rebel forces there.

(Left: The Hanging of Henry Joy McCracken by John Carey (1896). Ulster Museum.)

Though many of the northern United Irishmen failed to rise up when the time came, Henry Joy honored his pledge and led a brief a rising that was crushed at Antrim town. He escaped for a time and nearly managed to leave the country but he was captured and quickly found guilty. Henry Joy McCracken was hanged at Belfast market-house on June 17, 1798.


'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

‘The moment I set my eyes on him I was struck with the serenity and composure of his look. It seemed to me that I had never seen him look so well, so full of healthful bloom, so free from the slightest trace of care or trouble, as at that moment when he was perfectly aware of his approaching fate.’ 
         -- Mary Ann McCracken describing Henry Joy on his way to the gallows.


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.)
31, 1767 - Henry Joy McCracken (United Irishman - Belfast.)


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 in Harold's Cross, outside Dublin.
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.
26, 1913 - The Dublin Transport Strike, led by Jim Larkin and James Connolly, often called "The Great Dublin Lockout", begins.
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, 1862 – Irish 6th LA fights at the battle of 2nd Bull Run.
28, 1877 - Charles Stewart Parnell becomes President of Home Rule Confederation.
29-30, 1862 - Irish-born Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne commands a division at battle of Richmond, Kentucky, where he is wounded.
29, 1690 – Williamite siege of Limerick lifted.
29, 1803 - Samuel Neilson, co-founder of the United Irishmen, dies in Poughkeepsie, New York.
30, 1708 - Penal Laws passed in 1695 restricting Catholics rights are strengthened for the second time.
30, 1836
 - George Shannon, “Lost Boy” of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, dies in Palmyra, Missouri.
31, 1803
 - Napoleon issues a decree for the formation of an Irish Legion in his army.
31, 1864 
The 10th Tennessee Infantry (Confederate-Irish) fights at battle of Jonesborough, Georgia.
31, 1973
- Legendary film Director John Ford, who directed “The Quiet Man,” dies in Palm Desert, California.
31, 1994 
- IRA announces a cease-fire, Loyalist UDA and UVF do likewise several weeks later.

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


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