This Week in the History of the Irish: August 27 - September 2

DOMHNAIGH -- 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 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, 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.'

MÁIRT -- 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 on August 29, 1803.

DEARDAOIN -- 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 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.

AOINE -- On September 1, 1864, Irish patriot Roger Casement was born at Sandycove, County Dublin. Casement joined the British colonial service and was knighted in 1911 for his work on behalf of African and South American native workers who were being exploited by whites. Leaving the colonial service in 1912, he became involved with Irish nationalism, joining the Irish Volunteers. In 1916, Sir Roger traveled to Germany and arranged German assistance for the Easter Rising. He traveled back to Ireland by submarine, convinced by then that the Rising could not succeed but that he must join his comrades. He was captured at McKenna's Fort soon after landing on the southwest coast. Casement was later tried in England. To lessen the protests over his expected death sentence, the British circulated small parts of his so-called Black Diaries, which purported to reveal his alleged homosexual activity while in colonial service. Recent evidence points to a possibility that these diaries were forged by British intelligence to lessen worldwide condemnation of Casement's execution. Sir Roger Casement was hanged at Pentonville Prison on August 3, 1916. In 1965, Casement's body was returned to Ireland, where he was given a funeral on March 1 that rivaled that of O'Donovan Rossa. Eamon de Valera, 82 years old and feeling poorly, insisted on attending and gave the graveside oration at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. Casement had returned to Ireland in 1916 to share his comrades' fate -- 49 years later, he was finally able to rejoin them one last time.


'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

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.)

September -- Meán Fomhair

1, 1864 - Roger Casement (Revolutionary - Sandycove, Co. Dublin)
1, 1866 - James “Gentlemen Jim” Corbett (Heavyweight Champion – San Francisco, CA)


August — Lúnasa

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.

September -- Meán Fomhair

1, 1701 - Irish Brigade of France fights at the Battle of Chiari in northern Italy during the War of the Spanish Succession.
1, 1862 - Irish American Union General Philip Kearny is killed at the battle of Chantilly, VA.
1, 1862 - Irish 6th LA fights at the battle of Chantilly.
2, 1939 - Ireland declares its intention to remain neutral in coming war.
2, 1942 
- IRA Volunteer Tom Williams is hanged at Belfast's Crumlin Road Jail.

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


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