This Week in the History of the Irish: February 20 - February 26

DOMHNAIGH -- On February 20, 1942, Lt. Edward "Butch" O'Hare became the first U.S. Navy ace of the war when he was credited with downing five Japanese bombers in a single day. O'Hare had an interesting family history. After his parents divorced when he was 13, his lawyer father moved to Chicago and took on Al Capone as a client. He later turned against Capone and gave evidence against him. This help led to his tax evasion conviction. In 1939, O'Hare's father, also Edward, was murdered, probably by members of Capone's gang.

Butch attended a military high school and graduated from Annapolis and then flight school in Pensacola, Florida, finishing his aviation training in 1940. On February 20, 1942, O'Hare was assigned to an F4F Wildcat squadron VF-3, stationed on the carrier USS Lexington, which was off the island of New Ireland in the South Pacific. With several flights of Wildcats off investigating earlier radar contacts, Butch and his wingman manned the only fighters able to intercept a formation of nine Japanese Betty bombers radar picked up coming from another direction. If this situation were not bad enough, as they closed on the bombers, O'Hare's wingman, "Duff" Dufilho, discovered his guns were jammed. Butch was going to have to take them on alone.

Diving into the formation from above, O'Hare quickly took out one of the last planes on the right of the Betty's vee formation, then swung across to hit the one on the left. Continuing his attack as the bombers came in range of the fleet's anti-aircraft guns it appeared that O'Hare had destroyed five Bettys, though post-war research would show he shot down three, and two that he damaged managed to return to their base. But O'Hare had undoubtedly disrupted their attacks, and no bombs hit the Lexington. By the time the Lexington returned to Pearl Harbor in late March, O'Hare's exploits had made him a hero. He was sent back to the mainland for a bond tour, and he was presented the Medal of Honor by Franklin Roosevelt at the White House, the first winner MOH awardee in naval aviation history.

O'Hare's combat career was not over, however. Promoted to Lt. Commander, Butch returned to the war in the Pacific. In November 1943 he was flying off the USS Enterprise in the Marianas Islands. Flying a dangerous night fighter mission, once again against Betty bombers, O'Hare's plane when down. A search of the area the following day found no sign of him. To this day it's not certain if he was shot down by a gunner on one of the Betty bombers, or friendly fire from the rear gunner of a US TBF Avenger that was nearby.

In 1945 the navy destroyer USS O'Hare (DD-889) was named in his honor. It would later serve in the Vietnam War. But the most famous honor awarded to him was the renaming of Chicago's Orchard Depot Airport as O'Hare International Airport in 1949.

MÁIRT -- On February 22, 1886, Conservative Party politician Lord Randolph Churchill, father of Winston Churchill, gave what many consider one of the single most destructive speeches in Irish history, inciting militant loyalists at Ulster Hall in Belfast. Churchill had shown disdain for Ulster Unionists up until then, in private, at least, telling Lord Salisbury, "these foul Ulster Tories have always ruined our party," but as 1886 began he saw an opportunity to exploit their fears for political gain.

(Right: Belfast Central Library - A drawing of Lord Randolph Churchill from the Illustrated London News. Churchill died at age 46.)

He decided that if Prime Minister William Gladstone "went for Home Rule [for Ireland], the Orange Card would be the one to play. Please, God, may it turn out the ace of trumps and not the two." This quote would lead one to believe he had few real convictions regarding the issue. "Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right," he proclaimed to a crowd before he even arrived at Ulster Hall on February 22. During his speech, he played on Protestant fears of Dublin's "Catholic" rule and encouraged Ulster Protestants to organize, which they did, beginning to form paramilitary drilling units. Churchill achieved a short-term political gain by his playing of the Orange Card; but his most lasting legacy is the unfounded fear of Irish Catholics that he helped to implant in the minds of Ulster Protestants, a tragedy for both traditions on the island. Those fears are still evident in the sectarian hatreds of today.

CÉADAOIN -- On February 23, 1965, Irish patriot Roger Casement's body was returned to Ireland to be reinterred. Casement was born at Sandycove, County Dublin, in 1864. He 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.

(Left: Roger Casement being led out of Pentonville Prison, where he would later be hanged.)

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. In 1965, 49 years later, he was finally able to rejoin them one last time.

DEARDAOIN -- On February 24, 1854, Daniel Florence O'Leary a general in Simon Bolivar's South American army, died in Bogota, Colombia. O'Leary was probably born about 1800 in Cork city, the son of a butter merchant. Little is known of his early life. In 1817, he traveled to London to enlist in a regiment being formed by Henry Wilson. Wilson was recruiting officers and NCOs to go to South America and form a Hussar regiment in service to Simon Bolívar, who would go on to liberate much of South America from Spanish rule.

(Right: Colección Hermanas Cantillo O'Leary - Daniel O'Leary, 1818)

O'Leary sailed for Venezuela with Wilson near the end of 1817, arriving in March 1818. O'Leary first met Bolívar away from the front shortly afterward and apparently Bolívar was impressed with the young Irish officer. In March 1819, O'Leary saw his first action and was promoted to captain. In July, after Bolívar's famous crossing through the Casanare Swamps and over the Andes, O'Leary received a saber wound in the battle of Pantano de Vargas but he quickly recovered and took part in the battle of Boyaca on August 9. Shortly after this, O'Leary became aide de camp to Bolivar. Two years later, after much more fighting, Venezuela was freed. During the next few years, as the fight continued to free the rest of South America from Spanish domination, O'Leary would perform many dangerous missions for "The Liberator," rising ever higher in his esteem. O'Leary continued to serve Bolívar well through the political and military intrigues that followed the freeing of South America from the Spanish. After the death of Bolívar in December 1830, the new Venezuelan government exiled O'Leary to Jamaica. There he wrote extensive memoirs that were later edited by O'Leary's son, Simon Bolívar O'Leary, and published in the 1870s and 80s. Simon was the eldest of six children O'Leary had with his South American wife. In 1833, O'Leary was able to return to Venezuela. He held a number of diplomatic posts for the Venezuelan government for the next 20 years, and on at least two occasions was able to visit his boyhood home of Cork. When O'Leary died in Bogota in 1854, he was buried there in Colombia's capital. The Venezuelans named a plaza after him in Caracas. In 1882, they obtained permission to take Daniel O'Leary's body from Bogota to Caracas, where it was laid to rest in the National Pantheon of Venezuela to lie forever in death next to the man had served so faithfully in life, Don Simon Bolívar.

AOINE -- On February 25, 1891, Edward "Ned" Daly, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising, was born in a home on Frederick Street in Limerick city. Edward's family was staunchly republican. His father and uncle were Fenians. His uncle, John, served 12 years in English prisons. Edward's sister, Kathleen, married Thomas Clarke, another leader of the Easter Rising. Edward joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and became captain of one of their companies and then advanced to battalion command.

(Left: National Library of Ireland - Edward Daly, 1916 martyr, in his Irish Volunteers uniform.)

His unit was charged with holding the Four Courts area during the Rising, which took place in April 1916. Though pressed hard and attacked by superior numbers of British troops, Daly's men managed to hold out until the very end, inflicting heavy casualties. After Patrick Pearse ordered the surrender Saturday evening, Daly was held at Kilmainham Jail. He was given the same quick sham court-martial at Richmond Barracks as the other leaders of the Rising. On the morning of May 4, Edward Daly died for Ireland, shot against a cold damp wall at Kilmainham Jail.

VOICES

"Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right".
      
  -- Lord Randolph Churchill at an Orange rally in 1886.

"What a head he has and he's not yet 28!"
       
 -- Simon Bolívar speaking of Daniel O'Leary

'What a glorious reunion we'll have in Heaven, eh? Sure Katie, I'll give Tom* your love. First thing I'll do. As for me, girls, I'm proud of what I did. Next time, we'll win. I'm only sorry I won't be there to do my bit.'
        -- Edward Daly, during a visit to his cell by his mother and two sisters the night before he was shot. May 4, 1916. *Tom Clarke was Daly's brother-in-law, who was shot earlier that day.

Edward "Butch" O'Hare in his Wildcat fighter.

"As a result of his gallant action -- one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation -- he undoubtedly saved his carrier from serious damage."
        -- From "Butch" O'Hare's Medal of Honor citation.

February - Feabhra

BIRTHS

20, 1794 - William Carleton (Author - Prillisk, Co. Tyrone)
22, 1893
 - Peadar O’Donnell (Revolutionary, writer - Meenmore, Co. Donegal.)

24, 1841
 - John Holland (Inventor of the submarine - Liscannor, Co. Clare.)
25, 1891 - Edward Daly (Revolutionary - Limerick.)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

20, 1921 - 12 Irish Volunteers are killed when Crown forces surround a farmhouse in Clonmult, Co. Cork
20, 1942 - Lt. Edward "Butch" O'Hare becomes the first U.S. Navy ace of the war when he is credited with downing five Japanese bombers in a single day

21, 1945
 - For his actions leading his company on Iwo Jima on this day, Marine Capt. Joseph Jeremiah McCarthy is awarded the Medal of Honor
22, 1797 -The last invasion of England: Small French force commanded by Irishman William Tate lands in Wales.
22, 1832 – The first burial in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, which will one day be the final resting place of many Irish heroes such as Charles Stewart Parnell, Constance Markievicz Daniel O'Connell, and Michael Collins
22, 1886 - Lord Randolph Churchill gives a memorable speech inciting militant loyalists at Ulster Hall in Belfast.
23, 1919
- The Tipperary Brigade of the Irish Volunteers issues a proclamation ordering all British personnel to leave Tipperary or “forfeit their lives.”
23, 1965 - Roger Casement's body returned from England to be reinterred at Glasnevin in Dublin.
24, 1692 - The Treaty of Limerick is ratified by William of Orange.
24, 1854 - General Daniel Florence O'Leary, officer in Simon Bolivar's South American army, dies in Bogota, Colombia.
24, 1920 - The Mid-Clare Brigade Irish Volunteers ambush RIC at Crowe’s Bridge, Vice Commandant Martin Devitt is killed.
25, 1919 - Cork No. 3 Brigade Irish Volunteers attack RIC barracks in Timoleague and Mount Pleasant.
25, 1921 - Cork No. 1 Brigade Irish Volunteers ambush Auxiliaries at Coolnacahera, Co. Cork.

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

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