This Week in the History of the Irish: February 28 - March 5

MÁIRT -- On March 1, 1776, Irish-born Andrew Lewis was appointed a brigadier general in the Continental Army. Andrew's father's reportedly fled to the colonies after killing his landlord in self-defense. The family settled in Virginia. Given their father's history in Ireland, it is not surprising that two of the Lewis brothers would fight in the revolutionary army. Andrew's brother William would rise from lieutenant to major before being captured in 1780. Andrew's military career predated the Revolution.

(Left: From Wikipedia: Statue of Andrew Lewis, Point Pleasant, West Virginia.)

He served with Washington during the French and Indian War, seeing extensive action after that with Braddock. Andrew was captured by the French in 1758 and sent to Montreal. After the war, he saw action against the Indians on the Virginia frontier during Dunmore's War. Another brother, Charles, was killed under Andrew's command during that war. Lewis' military experience led to his promotion to brigadier general in 1776. In July of that year, he helped drive British Governor Dunmore from Virginia. Ironically, this was the same man who gave his name to the war in which Lewis had earlier fought. Lewis took umbrage at his passing over for promotion in the years that followed. His old friend from the French and Indian War, George Washington, tried to console him, but Lewis resigned April 15, 1777, citing "ill health." Lewis remained in the Virginia militia, and died in 1781.

Currier and Ives
Robert Emmet stands defiant before the judge at his trial.

AOINE -- On March 4, 1778, Robert Emmet, one of the most famous revolutionaries in Irish history, was born in St. Stephen's Green, Dublin. The Emmets were a prosperous Protestant family; Robert's father was a physician. Robert attended Trinity College Dublin in the 1790s and there became involved with the United Irishmen. He quit the college in 1798 when students were forced to take a loyalty oath. In 1799 he traveled to France, where his brother, Thomas, exiled for his United Irish activities, joined him in 1802. Returning to Dublin that year, he began to organize another rising. With so many of the leaders dead or exiled, his plan had little chance of success, but on July 23, 1803, his small group rose up. Word never got to rebel leader Michael Dwyer in the Wicklow hills and the rising failed. Emmet might have escaped, but he would not go without his love, Sarah Curren, and this proved fatal. He was captured on August 25. Emmet had little hope of acquittal, and his lawyer is now known to have been a paid agent of Dublin Castle. He was found guilty and was hung on Thomas Street on September 20, 1803. His head was severed on the scaffold minutes after the hanging and held up to the crowd as "the head of Robert Emmet, a traitor." Though they had killed the man, in his trial they had given the fiery Emmet a rostrum, and long after his death his famous words live on.

AOINE -- On March 4, 1804 in Australia former United Irishmen stage a small insurrection that ended with a short fight at Castle Hill. Starting in 1799 the British had been shipping many of the leaders and participants of the Rising 1798 Rising to “Van Diemen’s Land” (Australia). Once there they did not change their anti-government mindsets. Some saw their fight against the same foe as merely transferred from Ireland to Australia.

(Below: Convict uprising at Castle Hill 1804, unknown artist. National Library of Australia.)

As evening fell in the 4th, Phillip Cunningham, a veteran of the 1798 rebellion, led about 300 Irish convicts in a rising at Castle Hill. They lite a fire as a signal to a much larger group of convicts, over 1,000, in the Green’s Hill area to join them in the revolt. It was not seen, however, leaving the Castle Hill rebels on their own. They over powered the constables guarding them, seizing a small number of fire arms. The plan was to meet up with the Green’s Hill group at Constitution Hill and then march on Parramatta, where they hoped to raid and arsenal. They would then march on Sydney with enough numbers to overwhelm government forces there, hoping to seize a ship to sail home. They split into small groups hoping to raid local farms for arms before reforming on Constitution Hill, but many got lost and never got there.

As it was the militia were alerted before the rebels could reach Parramatta and stopped them there. Major George Johnston of the New South Wales Corps arrived on the scene, and along with a number of armed civilians, confronted the rebel force. When asked to surrender the rebels replied “death or liberty, and a ship to take us home.” The far better armed government forces routed the rebels. Fifteen were killed there and fifteen more as the scattered remnants were pursued. Seven of the returned prisoners were given 200 to 500 lashes as punishment. Nine were executed, including Cunningham. Two, William Johnston and Samuel Humes, had their bodies cold-bloodedly left hanging over the road at Parramatta. The whip and gallows “justice” system of Ireland had been directly transferred to Australia.

SATHAIRN -- On March 5, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence, an ambush by the Irish Volunteers at Clonbanin, Co. Cork killed British General Hanway Cumming and twelve other British soldiers. Seán Moylan, commander of the North Cork Flying Column, had information that General Peter Strickland, the British commander in Munster province, was on an inspection tour in Kerry.

(Right: Three members of a Cork Flying column.)

Knowing Strickland would have a large number of soldiers guarding his column, Moylan called in the Volunteers from the Millstreet, Charleville, and Newmarket battalions and also from the Kerry No. 2 Brigade.

Moylan selected spot where he expected Strickland’s column to pass through at Clonbanin, Co. Cork, five miles east of Rathmore on the road from Killarney to Buttevant in Co. Cork and set up the ambush on the morning of the 5th. They were well armed in comparison to most Flying Column ambushes during the war, with a Hotchkiss gun that been captured from the British at Mallow, and mines and perhaps as many as 100 armed troops. They set up two mines, planning to blow up one at the front and back of the British convoy. The plan was for Moylan to blow up a mine as a signal to open fire. At 10 am they saw three British trucks approaching from the east, rather than the west. Clearly this wasn’t Strickland’s convoy. Fortunately for the men in those trucks, but not for General Cumming and the other victims of the later attack, Moylan decided to let them pass hoping for the bigger prize. The Volunteers were so close they heard an accordion being played in one of the trucks.

A little after 2 pm a larger convoy approached from the west. There were two trucks, then a staff car, an armored car, and another truck. This appeared to be the Strickland convoy they were waiting for, but in fact was the convoy of General Cumming, who was in the staff car. Moylan triggered the mine as the first truck reached it, but failed to explode. But the Hotchkiss gun opened fire to signal the attack and the first truck the convoy went off the road into the roadside ditch. The armored car went off the road as well. As Cumming excited his car he was hit in the head killed. The fighting went on for about two hours, but the Vickers gun in armored car remained in action and kept the IRA at bay. With their ammo running low, and always aware that British reinforcements could arrive at any moment, the Volunteers withdrew. British casualties were said to be wounded to 13 dead and 15 wounded. Some estimates were lower, but that British had definitely lost a general and the Volunteers had suffered no casualties at all. It was one of the IRA more lopsided victories of the war. 


"I am here ready to die. I am not allowed to vindicate my character; no man shall dare to vindicate my character; and when I am prevented from vindicating myself, let no man dare to calumniate me. Let my character and my motives repose in obscurity and peace, till other times and other men can do them justice. Then shall my character be vindicated; then may my epitaph be written."
-- The closing of Robert Emmet's epitaph.

"Our servant burst into the Parlour pale and violent in agitation … he told us that the croppies had risen … we then learnt that Castle Hill was in flames. The fire was discernible from Parramatta."
-- Elizabeth Macarthur, Australian settler, 1804

"The revolutionaries set out to make British Government impossible in Ireland and prepared to take over governmental control wherever the British had been ousted or where the allegiance of the people had been weaned therefrom."
-- Seán Moylan (right)

February - Feabhra


28, 1884 - Seán Mac Diarmada (Revolutionary - Kiltycolgher, Co. Leitrim.)
28, 1951 - Barry McGuigan (WBA Welterweight champion - Clones, Co. Monaghan.)


28, 1587 - Queen Elizabeth I grants Sir Walter Raleigh 40,000 acres in counties Cork and Waterford.

March - Márta


1, 1848 - Augustus St. Guadens (Sculptor - Dublin)
4, 1778
 - Robert Emmet (Revolutionary - Dublin)
4, 1898 - General Emmet Dalton (Revolutionary, aide to Michael Collins.)


1, 1776 - Irish-born Andrew Lewis is appointed a Brigadier General in the Continental Army
1, 1586 - Clanowen Castle, Co. Clare is captured from Mahon O'Brien by Sir Richard Bingham.
1, 1776 - Irish-born John Armstrong is appointed a Brigadier General in the Continental Army.
1, 1776 - Irish-born William Thompson is appointed a Brigadier General in the Continental Army.
1, 1794 - Statutes of Dublin University amended to allow Catholics to take degrees.
1, 1965 - Roger Casement's body re-interred in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin.
1, 1981 - Bobby Sands begins his hunger strike at Long Kesh prison
3, 1921
 - During the Irish War of Independence the West Waterford column of the Irish Volunteers under George Lennon ambush a train at Durrow Station, Co. Waterford.
4, 1704
 - Penal Laws passed in 1695 restricting Catholic civil rights strengthened
4, 1804 - In Australia former United Irishmen stage a small insurrection that ends with a short fight at Castle Hill.
4, 1902 - Ancient Order of Hibernians in Ireland revived at unity council.
5, 1921 - During the Irish War of Independence an IRA ambush at Clonbanin, Co. Cork killed British general Hanway Cumming and three other soldiers.

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


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