This Week in the History of the Irish: August 7 - August 13

DOMHNAIGH -- 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.

LUAIN -- 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.

CÉADAOIN -- On August 9, 1876, Josephine Bracken, whose parents were from Belfast, was born in Victoria City, British Hong Kong. Her father James, a soldier in the British army, was a native of County Offaly. Josephine's mother, a McBride, died in childbirth. She was adopted by her godparents, the Taufers. At the age of 19 she traveled to the Philippines with her foster father. There she met, fell in love, and shared exile with Dr. Jose Rizal, a leading Philippine intellectual whose writings were inspiring a generation of nationalist fervor.

(Right; Josephine Bracken wearing traditional Filipino dress, 1896.)

When revolution came to his country in August 1896, Rizal, though a pacifist, was arrested and convicted of treason by the Spanish and sentenced to death. Like a scene from a melodrama, one that would be repeated by Grace Gifford and Joseph Plunkett in 1916, Josephine married Rizal minutes before his execution. Josephine joined the rebels, first as a nurse, and then apparently taking part in some fighting. She fled to Hong Kong in 1897 and wrote the story of her involvement in the revolt, and traveled to Japan and the United States to raise money for the cause. According to one researcher, she died a pauper's death in Hong Kong, and is buried in an unknown grave.

AOINE -- 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.

AOINE -- 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 December 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 "Tipperary's Dan Breen: The Hardest Hard Man"

SATHAIRN -- 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.


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.


August -- Lúnasa

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)

9, 1876 
- Josephine Bracken (Philippino revolutionary – Hong Kong.)
11, 1894
 - Dan Breen (Officer in Irish War of Independence - Donohill, Co. Tipperary.)


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.
9, 1850 
- Irish Tenant League founded.
9, 1920 
- Parliament passes Restoration of Order in Ireland Act authorizing the jailing of any Irish man or woman without charge or trial and the conducting of secret courts-martial without legal representation for the defendant.
9, 1971 
- British begin internment campaign in Northern Ireland, suspects imprisoned without trial.
10, 1316
 - Battle of Athenry.
10, 1690 
- With “Galloping” Hogan as their guide, Patrick Sarsfield’s cavalry departs Limerick in search of an approaching Williamite siege train.
10, 1890 
- Author, poet, and republican John Boyle O’Reilly dies in Boston.
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 - Around 2 am, 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.

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Tags: Asia, Europe, History of Ireland, Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History, On This Day, United States


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