This Week in the History of the Irish: February 5 - February 11

DOMHNAIGH -- On February 5, 1733, Arthur Dillon, son of the 7th Viscount Dillon, and first commander of Dillon's regiment of the Irish Brigade of France, died at St. Germain-en-Laye, France. His father, Theobald, was killed in 1691 at the Battle of Aughrim, and his mother was killed during the siege of Limerick. Arthur was already in France at the time. He departed for France along with Lord Mountcashel's brigade, in command of a regiment his father had raised. That regiment would go on to serve France for 100 years and be the only regiment of the Irish Brigade of France to be commanded by the members of the same family for the entire history of the brigade. The Irish regiments had been sent in exchange for several veteran French regiments sent to Ireland to serve King James in his fight to regain the English crown.

(Right: An officer of Dillon's Regiment - from the Vinkhuijzen collection of military uniforms, NYPL)

Arthur would command "Dillion's Regiment" for nearly 40 years, fighting in campaigns of the French army in Spain, Italy, and Germany. In 1704 he was promoted to Marechal-de-Camp. He would eventually rise to the rank of Lieutenant-General before retiring in 1730. Four of his sons would serve with the family regiment of the Irish Brigade, and the other would join the priesthood and rise to be Bishop of Evreux, Archbishop of Toulouse, and Archbishop of Narbonne. Three of the four sons who served with Dillion's regiment would command it. Two of them were killed in battle while in command: James at Fontenoy in 1745 and Edward at Lauffeld in 1747. Two of Arthur's grandsons would attain the rank of general in the French army, but they would both become victims of the French Revolution. Theobald Dillon was accused of being a "traitor and aristocrat" and killed by his own troops in 1792 after a lost battle. Arthur, the last commander of the family's regiment, would suffer the indignity of death by the guillotine during the Reign of Terror in 1794. It was an ignominious end for a family that had served the French so gallantly for a century.

MÁIRT -- On February 7, 1877, John O'Mahony (left: from the 'Atlas and Cyclopedia of Ireland), founder of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States, died in New York. O'Mahony was a member of the Young Ireland party in the 1840s; he escaped to France after the failed rising in 1848. In Paris, he met James Stephens before moving on to New York in 1853. On March 17, 1858, O'Mahony founded the Fenian Brotherhood in New York, as Stephens was founding the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in Dublin. O'Mahony led the entire Fenian organization until 1865 when internal disputes led to its splitting into three factions, one being O'Mahony's. His faction's failed in its attempt to invade Canada through Campobello Island in April 1866. Eleven months later, a rising in Ireland failed. In the wake of these debacles, O'Mahony's Fenian wing ceased to exist and he lived out his last days in poverty until his death in 1877. Like Terence MacManus, O'Mahony's body was returned to Dublin where he was given a huge funeral and was buried at Glasnevin Cemetery.

CÉADAOIN -- On February 8, 1743, during the War of Austrian Succession, the Irish Brigade of Spain fought at the battle of Campo Santo. The regiments of Ultonia, Irlanda, and Hibernia formed the Irish Brigade fighting in Italy in a Spanish army, led by Gen. Don Juan de Gages. The Spanish government had ordered Gages forward, though he did not have sufficient supplies for his army. He was met at Campo Santo by Gen. Traun's Austrian army.

(Right: Soldiers and flag of the Hibernia Regiment.)

Gages took up a defensive position with the Panaro River to his rear, a risky decision. The Irish were posted on the Spanish right, and, during a momentary breakthrough, the Irish captured two Austrian flags. But the second line of Austrians did not break, and the Spanish advance was halted as darkness set in, ending the fighting. The Spanish could claim a tactical victory since the Austrians left the field first, but it came at horrendous cost, especially to the Irish. They lost over 24 officers and 465 men killed. Once again hundreds of Irishmen died many miles from home for "every cause but their own."

CÉADAOIN -- On February 8, 1959, William "Wild Bill" Donovan , soldier, lawyer, politician, and head of the Office of Strategic Services, died in Berryville, Virginia. Donovan was a key figure in the development of the United States intelligence service. His life reads like a Hollywood movie script. Born in Buffalo, New York, on January 1, 1883, Donovan earned his nickname "Wild Bill" for his bubbly personality. In truth, an examination of his life shows that he seldom acted in a way one would be likely to call "wild." After flirting with the idea of the priesthood early in his life, Donovan became a lawyer, practicing in Buffalo. He also organized a cavalry unit in the N.Y. National Guard and took that unit to Mexico when General John "Black Jack" Pershing pursued Pancho Villa.

(Left: William "Wild Bill" Donovan as he appeared while commanding the 69th NY (165 Infantry) during WWI.)

On Donovan's return, he was commissioned a major commanding the famous 69th New York Infantry. He commanded the regiment when the United States entered World War I in 1917. The Army redesignated the now federalized 69th as the 165th Infantry (though it remained the 69th to the men in it) and placed it in the Rainbow Division. Donovan distinguished himself in command of the 69th, winning the Medal of Honor. After the war, Donovan was appointed an assistant United States attorney. He ran unsuccessfully as the Republican candidate for governor of New York in 1932. Donovan was sent on a number of diplomatic missions by President Roosevelt in the 1930s. When World War II began, Roosevelt named Donovan to head up the new Office of Strategic Services, or OSS. Under Donovan's leadership, the OSS proved itself a valuable asset in the American war effort. Through his work organizing the OSS, Donovan laid the groundwork for the Central Intelligence Agency, which was formed in 1947. When Donovan died in 1959, President Eisenhower remarked, "What a man! We have lost the last hero."

DEARDAOIN -- On February 9, 1854, Sir Edward Henry Carson, Unionist politician, was born in Dublin. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, Carson was called to the Irish and then the English bar. In his most famous case, he represented the Marquis of Queensbury against a libel suit by Oscar Wilde and won. Carson was a Unionist MP from Dublin University from 1892 to 1918.

(Right: Belfast Central Library - Sir Edward Carson, leader of the Ulster's resistance to Home Rule.)

He was elected leader of the Unionist party in 1910, and his opposition to Home Rule became more and more strident. His party's willingness to go to war over Home Rule – including collusion by British army officers in the procuring of arms -- pushed the British to retain six of nine counties in Ulster in the Anglo-Irish Treaty, leading to the present six-county statelet. In 1921, Carson gave up the leadership of the Unionist Party to Lord James Craig. Carson took a cabinet post in London but was in poor health when he gave up the party leadership. He died in Kent, England, on October 12, 1935, and was given a state funeral in Belfast.


Arthur Dillon

'Count Dillon, we knew you to be a brave and able soldier, but we were not aware that you were so good a lawyer. We have investigated and have confirmed all your judgments, and all your decrees delivered during your government.'
        -- The British Lord Chancellor to Arthur Dillon after the isle of St. Kitts was returned to the British by treaty at the end of the American Revolution

When I think of all the boys I have left behind me who died out of loyalty to me ... it's too much.'
 -- William "Wild Bill" Donovan, lamenting the men of the 69th who were killed in World War I

'We must be prepared … the morning Home Rule passes, ourselves to become responsible for the government of the Protestant Province of Ulster.'
        -- Sir Henry Carson in a speech at Craigavon, September 23, 1911

February - Feabhra


7, 1868 - Aleen Cust (First female veterinarian in Ireland and Great Britan -Co Tipperary.)
9, 1854
 - Edward Carson, Lord Carson (Politician, Unionist - Dublin)
9, 1923 - Brendan Behan (Author - Dublin.)
10, 1842 - Agnes Mary Clerke (Astronomer & author - Skibbereen, County Cork)
11, 1820 - Theodore O'Hara (Confederate colonel and author of "The Bivouac of the Dead, Danville, Kentucky)


5, 1733 - Arthur Dillon, son of the 7th Viscount Dillon, first commander of Dillon's regiment, Irish Brigade of France, dies at St. Germain-en-Laye, France.
5, 1969 – Thomas P. Noonan (Medal of Honor) is killed attempting to save a comrade in the A Shau Valley, Republic of Vietnam.
6, 1685
 - Coronation of King James II.
6, 1971 - First British soldier killed by Provos.
7, 1549
 - Composing of any poem or song about anyone other than the King prohibited by statute.
7, 1589 
- Burkes rise in revolt in Co. Mayo.
7, 1854 
- Thomas “Broken Hand” Fitzpatrick, mountain man and Indian agent, dies in Washington D.C
7, 1877 
- John O'Mahony, founder of Fenian Brotherhood in US, dies in New York.
8, 1743
- Irish Brigade of Spain fights in the battle of Campo Santo.
8, 1959 – William 'Wild Bill' Donovan, Col. in the 69th NY, MOH awardee and head of the WWII OSS, dies at Walter Reed Army Hospital, Falls Church, VA.
9, 1773
 - James Fitzgerald, officer in the Irish Brigade of France, dies in France.
9, 1920 - The No. 1 (East) Cork Brigade Irish Volunteers capture the RIC barracks at Castlemartyr, Co. Cork.
10, 1844 - Daniel O'Connell convicted of "conspiracy," fined and sentenced to 12 months.
10, 1855 – John Allen, associate of Robert Emmet and soldier in Napoleon’s Irish Legion, dies in Caen, France. 
10-22, 1889 - Richard Piggott exposed as forger of 'Times' Phoenix Park letters.

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


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