This Week in the History of the Irish: January 29 - February 4

LUAIN -- On January 30, 1879, Edme Patrice de MacMahon (right) retired as president of France. MacMahon's ancestors had immigrated to France from Torrodile, County Limerick, in 1691, after the family's support of King James. His father, Maurice Francis, was a soldier in the French army. In 1790 Maurice's royalist politics nearly caused his head to become separated from his body, but he managed to survive until the Bourbon restoration. Edme Patrice was born on June 13, 1808, at Autumn in Burgundy. He attended the military academy at Saint-Cyr, and in 1827 he joined the French army. MacMahon served in Algeria until 1854. His performance there moved him steadily through the ranks; by the time the Crimean War began, MacMahon had been promoted to general and was transferred to the French army at the front. On September 8, 1855, he helped to plan -- and personally led -- a successful assault on the Russian fortress of Malakoff at Sebastopol. The plan included what was perhaps the first use of synchronized watches in a military attack. After the attack took the fort, MacMahon received a message from the French commander-in-chief warning him that the fort had been mined by the Russians. He advised MacMahon to withdraw, but MacMahon decided to risk the danger and remain in the fort. Sebastopol fell shortly after this victory, and the war was soon over. General MacMahon next commanded French troops against the Austrians in the Piedmont. Here he won his greatest fame on June 4, 1859, when he defeated the Austrians at the battle of Magenta.

"The Attack on the Malakoff" by William Simpson (click on graphic for a larger view).

For this victory, Napoleon III conferred on MacMahon the title duc de Magenta. MacMahon also performed well at the battle of Solferino on June 24. It is said that when news of MacMahon's victory at Magenta reached Ireland, bonfires were lit on hilltops in celebration, showing how much pride the native Irish took in their exiled sons. MacMahon was given command of the 1st Army Corps during the Franco-Prussian War. He was heavily outnumbered and defeated at Worth and Sedan as the Prussian army overwhelmed the French in six weeks. MacMahon was wounded and carried from the field at Sedan and emerged from the debacle with his reputation intact. He later headed an army that crushed the Commune of Paris in 1871. In May 1873, he was elected president of the Republic. MacMahon was president for six fateful years in the history of France. Republicans, royalists, and other factions plotted and fought on all sides, but MacMahon brought France through this perilous period and helped establish a permanent democratic government. He retired to private life in 1879. Edme Patrice MacMahon, Duke of Magenta, died October 17, 1893.

LUAIN -- On January 30, 1845, Katharine (Kitty) O'Shea, nee Wood, whose affair with Charles Stewart Parnell would cause his political ruin, was born at Bradwell, Essex, England. On January 24, 1867, she married Captain William Henry O'Shea. Their marriage does not appear to have been a happy one. In 1875, perhaps as a result of their poor financial situation, she and O'Shea began living apart, as she and their children moved in with a wealthy aunt, Mrs. Benjamin Wood, and he took an apartment in London. O'Shea only visited them occasionally thereafter. In 1880, her husband was elected to Parliament, and in July of the same year, Kitty arranged to meet the leader of her husband's party, Charles Stewart Parnell; shortly, they were involved in an affair. Although it is rumored that he challenged Parnell to a duel in July 1881 (Kitty reputedly talked her husband out of it), it appears that O'Shea eventually accepted the affair between his wife and Parnell.

Hulton Picture Library
Katharine 'Kitty' O'Shea

Perhaps access to money from Kitty's aunt and the fact that he could use the affair to pressure Parnell into helping to further his career convinced him to do nothing. Parnell fathered three daughters with Kitty between 1882 and 1884, and she also served as an occasional envoy from Parnell to William Gladstone. Though Parnell put his political career in jeopardy numerous times on his behalf, O'Shea began to develop a deep hatred of Parnell. In 1886, Parnell put his party leadership on the line to secure an MP seat for O'Shea in Galway, but strangely, O'Shea resigned from the seat shortly afterward. When Kitty's rich aunt died, depriving him of access to her money, the Captain finally made the affair public when he named Parnell as co-respondent when he sued Kitty for divorce on December 24, 1889. Although the publicity surrounding the case virtually destroyed Parnell's political career, Kitty felt optimistic about their future since they no longer had to hide their relationship. Kitty and Parnell were married in June 1891, but they were not fated to enjoy their new life. Exhausted from his political battles, Parnell became ill and died, age 45, in Kitty's arms at their home in Brighton, England, on October 6, 1891. Kitty mourned Parnell the rest of her life, suffering some mental problems, perhaps caused by her heartbreak. She wrote a book about her life with Parnell, Charles Stewart Parnell: His Love Story and Political Life, in 1914. Katharine 'Kitty' O'Shea died in Littlehampton, Sussex, England, on February 5, 1921, apparently never once setting foot on Irish soil.

CÉADAOIN -- On February 1, 1702, the Irish Brigade of France added to its growing reputation as elements of the Brigade fought at the battle of Cremona during the War of Spanish Succession. With the city nearly overrun by Prince Eugene's Austrians, only the taking of the Po Gate and its bridge stood between Eugene and complete victory. But guarding that bridge and gate were 600 men of Dillon's and Burke's regiments.

(Left: National Museum of Ireland - The flag of Dillon's Regiment, Irish Brigade of France.)

Neither bribery, nor pleading, nor 12 hours of fighting could move them; the gate was held, and the town was saved. The brave soldiers of the Irish Brigade had won the day for France, but their courageous stand had cost them 60 percent casualties.

Read the full story of the Irish Brigade's desperate fight at the battle of Cremona

DEARDAOIN -- On February 2, 1860, William O. 'Buckey' O'Neill, sheriff, politician, and one of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders, was born, possibly somewhere in Ireland. Son of a veteran of the American Civil War's famed Irish Brigade, young William left Washington, D.C., in 1879, hoping to find excitement in the Arizona territories. He found enough for three men.

(Right: 'The Rough Riders' by Theodore Roosevelt (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1899) Capt. Buckey O'Neill, 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry.)

He won fame during many exploits against outlaws as a sheriff and eventually won an election for mayor of Prescott. At the start of the Spanish-American War, O'Neill -- nicknamed 'Buckey' after his favorite card game -- raised a company for Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. It was then that he first listed his birthplace as Ireland after years of claiming U.S. birth. 'Buckey' O'Neill was one of the most popular men, enlisted or officer, in Roosevelt's regiment. He was killed just before the regiment's famous assault up Kettle Hill (not San Juan Hill) on July 1, 1898.

AOINE -- On February 3, 1537, Lord "Silken" Thomas Fitzgerald and his five uncles were executed at Tyburn, England. In June 1534, believing the English had killed his father in London (he actually died in the Tower later of disease), Fitzgerald led a revolt against the English. He gained the name 'Silken' for the silk fringes on the helmets of his horsemen. Thomas had overestimated the support for actions, however. His attempt to get Lord Butler, son of the Earl of Ormond, his cousin, to join him in the uprising failed. His forces were defeated at Dublin and forced to retreat to their strongholds in County Kildare. When his castle at Maynooth was taken while he was away seeking reinforcements in March 1535, he was driven from his lands in County Kildare. In July, Fitzgerald surrendered to Lord Leonard Grey, England's Marshal of Ireland, after Grey guaranteed the safety of Fitzgerald and his men. But in October 1535, the English broke their promise. Thomas Fitzgerald and five of his uncles were shipped to London and imprisoned in the Tower until February 1537, when all six were hung, drawn, and quartered.

SATHAIRN -- On February 4, 1860, Spanish General Don Leopoldo O'Donnell y Jorris, 1st Duke of Tétuan, 1st Count of Lucena, 1st Viscount of Aliaga, won the battle of Tétuan in Spain's war against Morocco. Leopoldo was descended from a long line of O'Donnells in Spain, who had been there since the Williamite wars. In Ireland, it was said that he was a direct descendant of Calvagh O'Donnell, a 16th-century chief of the O'Donnell clan. He was involved in various political intrigues in Spain during the 1830s and 40s, a period during which his prospects rose and fell. By the late '50s, he had risen to be prime minister, a position he would hold on three separate occasions. In late 1859, while holding the office of prime minister, he personally took command of the Spanish army in its invasion of Morocco. O'Donnell split his army into three corps and marched on Tétuan. The Spanish army, around 30,000 men, faced 40,000 Moroccans entrenched around Tétuan. That numerical disadvantage was overcome by the Spanish artillery, which drove the Moroccans out of their entrenchments and into the city with heavy casualties during the battle on the 4th. On the 6th, their position now untenable, the city surrendered to him. O'Donnell returned to Spain in triumph. For his victory, he was given the title of Duke of Tétuan. He would lose and then regain the prime minister's post one more time, holding it until 1866. He died on November 5, 1867. The title "Duke of Tétuan" is held today by a descendant, Don Hugo O'Donnell


'J'y suis, J'y reste.' (I am there, there I remain.)
        -- General Edme Patrice MacMahon's reply to the suggestion he evacuate the fortress of Malakoff, September 8, 1855 (This is one of the most famous quotes in French military history.) 

Library of Congress
Charles Stuart Parnell

''I don't pretend that I had not moments of trial and of temptation, but I do claim that never in thought, word, or deed, have I been false to the trust which Irishmen have confided in me.'
        -- Charles Stewart Parnell (left), lover and later husband of Katharine 'Kitty' O'Shea, December 18, 1890

'The Irish performed there the most important piece of service for Louis XIV, that, perhaps, any King of France ever received from so small a body of men since the foundation of that monarchy. This action by the Irish, by any impartial way of reasoning, saved the whole French army in Italy.'
        -- The English writer Forman, remarking on the battle of Cremona

'The iron-nerved, iron-willed fighter from Arizona ... a staunchly loyal and generous friend. ... he, alone among his comrades, was a visionary, an articulate emotionalist ... He was less apt to tell tales of his hard and stormy past than he was to speak of the mysteries which lie behind courage, and fear, and love.'
        -- Teddy Roosevelt describing William "Buckey" O'Neill

January - Eanáir


30, 1845 - Katharine (Kitty) O'Shea (Mistress and later wife of Parnell - England.)

February - Feabhra

1, 1878
 - Thomas MacDonagh (Poet, revolutionary - Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary.)
2, 1860 - William O. "Buckey" O'Neill (Rough Rider, Span-Am War - Ireland)
2, 1882 - James Joyce (Author - Dublin)
2, 1895 - John Ford (Movie Director)
2, 1896 - Michael Brennan (County Clare Volunteer leader – Meelick, Co. Clare)
2, 1911 - Richard "Killer" O'Kane (US Navy MOH winner - Dover, NH)
3, 1793 - Charles Stewart McCauley (Commodore, U.S. Navy, Civil War, Philadelphia, PA)
4, 1868 - Constance Markievicz (Revolutionary - London, England)

January - Eanáir

29, 1794 - Archibald Hamilton Rowan, United Irishman, tried on charge of distributing seditious paper.
29, 1957 - The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association is formed in Belfast
30, 1863
Corcoran's Legion fights it first battle (battle of the Deserted House/Kelly's Story), near Suffolk, VA.
30, 1879 - Patrice de MacMahon retires as President of France.
30, 1900 - Irish Parliamentary Party reunites under John Redmond, incorporating United Irish League.
30, 1972 - "Bloody Sunday," thirteen killed by British paratroopers in Derry.

31, 1881
 - Ladies Land League launched in Ireland.
31, 1913 - The Ulster Volunteer Force is founded by the Unionist Council.

February - Feabhra

1, St. Brigid's Day.
1, 1315 - Edward the Bruce of Scotland and his Irish allies win the battle of Skerries in Kildare.
1, 1702 Irish Brigade of France fights at the battle of Cremona.
1, 1796 - Theobald Wolf Tone, United Irish leader, arrives in France seeking assistance.
1, 1815 – Daniel O’Connel mortally wounds John D'Esterre in a duel.
1, 1921 - Volunteer Cornelius Murphy of the 2nd Cork Brigade, is the 1st person executed by the British under the Martial Law crime of carrying a revolver.
2, 1880 - Charles S. Parnell addresses the U.S. Congress.
2, 1918 - Former Heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan dies.
2, 1921 – The North Longford Flying Column, Irish Volunteers, ambush a convoy of RIC Auxiliaries in Clonfin, County Longford, killing 4.
2, 1922 - James Joyce's "Ulysses" published in Paris.
2, 1942 - Lts John F. Fitzgerald and James F. McCarthy fly the first two B-25s off the USS WASP to begin Doolittle's Tokyo.
3, 1537 - Lord Thomas Fitzgerald and his five uncles hung drawn and quartered at Tyburn.
3, 1801 - PM Pitt resigns over Royal veto on Catholic emancipation.
3, 1881 - Irish Land League organizer Michael Davitt is arrested.
3, 1896 - Lady Jane Wilde - Speranza of the Nation, Mother of Oscar - dies in London.
3, 1917 - The first Sinn Fein candidate for an MP seat, Count Plunkett,, father of Easter Rising martyr Joseph Plunkett, is elected in the North Roscommon bye-election and starts their tradition of refusing to sit in the British Parliament.
3, 1919 - Harry Boland and Michael Collins engineer Eamon de Valera's escape from Lincoln Jail in England.
3, 1921 - East Limerick and Mid-Limerick Volunteers kill 11 RIC and Black & Tans in ambush at Dromkeen, Co. Limerick.
4, 1860 - Spanish Gen. Leopoldo O'Donnell wins the battle of Tétouan in war against Morocco.
4, 1880 – Five of the “Black” Donnolly’s murdered by a vigilante group in southwest Ontario.

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


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