This Week in the History of the Irish: March 15 - March 21

LUAIN -- On March 16, 1828, Patrick Cleburne, one of the finest generals produced by either side during America's long, bloody civil war was born at Bride Park Cottage in Ovens Township, Co. Cork, just outside Cork City. Robert E. Lee would one day say of Cleburne , "In a field of battle he shone like a meteor on a clouded sky."

(Left: Cleburne leading his troops in the bloody assault at Franklin -Image courtesy Don Troiani.)

Cleburne's father was a physician. His early life was one of privilege and personal tragedy, for he never knew his mother, who died when he was 18 months old. After spending some time in the British army, Cleburne emigrated to the United States in 1849, eventually settling in Helena, Arkansas. He enlisted as a private in a local militia there shortly before the war began. His rise from that lowly rank would be dramatic. His former military experience soon had him elected captain. When his company and others were formed into the 1st Arkansas Infantry at the beginning of the Civil War, he was elected its colonel. At Shiloh, Richmond - where he was wounded in the mouth - and Perryville in 1862 his performance in command was recognized to be excellent, and he was promoted first to brigadier and then major general in command of a division. He would command with the same excellence to the end of his life, but would not receive another promotion beyond division command. Many believe this was primarily due to his advancement of the idea of enlisting slaves in the Confederate army in return for their freedom in late 1863. In November 1864 Cleburne's division was part of the command of John Bell Hood at Franklin Tennessee when Hood ordered an ill-advised frontal assault on a fortified Federal line. Cleburne went into the attack mounted, making him an easier target, and a ball struck him just below the heart, killing him. The south had lost one of its brightest stars.

MÁIRT -- On March 17, 1858, James Stephens founded the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Dublin at the same time as John O'Mahoney was founding the American branch of the revolutionary group. O'Mahoney gave the organization the better-known name Fenians, in honor of the Fianna, the soldiers led by Fionn Mac Cuchail, the heroic warrior of Irish legend.

(Right: From the "From Atlas and Cyclopedia of Ireland.)

The Fenians were the first truly worldwide revolutionary organization, with branches in France, England, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and the United States. The group raised millions of dollars among Irish exiles in the U.S. to support efforts at gaining Ireland her independence, setting a precedent that continues. Though the founders of the Fenians never saw their goal come to fruition, Ireland's freedom was built on the foundation they laid down.

MÁIRT -- On March 17, 1800, Charles James Patrick Mahon, soldier and politician, was born in Ennis, Co. Clare. He joined Daniel O'Connell's Catholic Association and helped him win Clare's seat in Parliament in 1830. After falling out with O'Connell, he went abroad and began a series of amazing (if all true) adventures. He was served in the Czar's bodyguard, was a general and an admiral in South America and fought on the side of the North in the American Civil War. During the course of all this, he was said to have fought 13 duels. Mahon then served in Napoleon's III's army before returning to Irish politics, where he was elected MP (Member of Parliament) from Carlow. Mahon died in London on June 15, 1891, having lived (if only half the adventures he claimed are true) an incredibly full life.

DEARDAOIN - On March 19, 1921 Tom Barry and the West Cork Flying Column ambushed crown forces at Crossbarry, County Cork during the Irish War of Independence. The British had learned that the Flying Column’s HQ’s was in the Crossbarry area from a volunteer captured at the Upton ambush in February. Several groups of British troops from the Hampshire and Essex Regiments, over 1,000 total, from the Bandon, Cork, Ballincollig, Kinsale and Macroom area moved in, trying to surround and capture the entire group of Volunteers. There were slightly over 100 Volunteers in the area. As is often the case with such a complicated operation involving the coordination of several groups of troops, the timing was not good. The operation began in the early morning hours, with the troops going house to house, arresting all military-age men. Charlie Hurley, the commander of the Cork # 3 Brigade, who had been wounded at the Upton, was surprised in a house at 6:30 am. He refused to surrender, wounding British Major Hallinen of the Essex regiment before being killed himself.

Barry, who had served in the British army in World War 1, had been alerted around 2:30 a.m. and roused his men. Quickly realizing from reports of British troops in several directions, Barry got his forces organized. Though he was outnumbered, the British were divided and he had the advantage of interior lines. They probably expected the Irish to run or take a defensive posture, but Barry took the initiative away from them by setting up two ambushes with mines and attacking them. The first engaged the troops coming from the west in three lorries, routing them, with Flor Begley, an intelligence officer, playing traditional Irish war songs on his pipes as they opened fire. It was perhaps the last time the “war pipes” ever sounded in battle on the island. As the British survivors ran for their lives, the Volunteers burned the lorries. Barry's excellent positioning of his other troops allowed them to surprise and drive off the British in the other direction, as well. Barry was then able to consolidate all his troops and make their escape from the British trap. Encountering one more group of British, he had his entire 100-man unit fire a volley at them, scattering them.

It was one of the larger actions of the war, and one of the most embarrassing defeats for the British, who claimed they faced over 300 Volunteers perhaps to decrease their embarrassment, or perhaps that just reflected how well the Irish had taken advantage of their interior lines. The British admitted to 10 killed, though the Irish claimed they had killed over 30. The Irish had four killed. Barry had definitely proven himself a formidable guerrilla commander.

AOINE -- On March 20, 1780, Miles Byrne, United Irishman and officer in Napoleon's Irish Legion, was born in County Wexford. He was active in the 1798 Rising in Wexford and fought all its major battles, right through the rebels' climactic defeat at Vinegar Hill.

(Right: The banner of Napoleon's Irish Legion)

He escaped to the hills and served with Michael Dwyer until the failure of the rising led by Robert Emmet, a close friend of Byrne, in 1803. Byrne traveled to France hoping to arrange for more French aid to Ireland, but after failing in that he joined the Irish Legion assembling in the French army. He had a long career in the service of France. Byrne rose to command a regiment and was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor. After his retirement, he wrote his Memoirs, which were published in 1863, a year after his death in Paris.

SATHAIRN -- On March 21, 1763, William MacNeven, United Irishman, was born in Aughrim, County Galway.

(left: The emblem of the United Irishmen. It reads "Equality" above and "It is new strung and shall be heard" below.)

Educated in the medical profession in Austria, where his uncle was physician to the Empress, MacNeven returned to Ireland to practice in 1783. He was sworn into the United Irishmen by Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Arrested with most of the other leaders of the United Irishmen on March 12, 1798, MacNeven was imprisoned at Fort George in Scotland. Released in 1802, he traveled to France and for a time was an officer in Napoleon's Irish Legion, but departed when it was clear that the French would not be sending troops to Ireland again. Emigrating to the United States, MacNeven settled in New York City, where he had a distinguished career in medicine, worked among the growing Irish community there and also published several books. MacNeven died in the city on July 12, 1841.

DEARDAOIN -- On March 21, 1921, Irish Volunteers of the Kerry No. 2 Brigade ambushed a train at Headford, County Kerry, during the Irish War of Independence. In many parts of Ireland, the war was increasing in intensity as the winter turned into spring. They had learned that a detachment of the Royal London Fusiliers would be traveling from Kenmare to Tralee, and would have to change trains in Headford. Commandant Danny Allman commanded about 30 Volunteers in the ambush. The British would have approximately the same number on the train, which also contained many Irish civilians.

Unusually for the Irish railroad system, the train arrived earlier, barely over 10 minutes after the Volunteers arrived to prepare the ambush. Luckily most of the civilians had disembarked prior to the soldiers, but a few were still on the landing as the firing began. As the soldiers began to debark, the Volunteers opened fire with devastating effect. The British had a Vickers machine gun in front of the engine but the Volunteers were able to kill or wound the entire five-man crew manning it fairly quickly. Meanwhile, the soldiers still inside the train's cars returned fire. It was a very long battle by the standard of the Irish War of Independence and the largest engagement in Kerry during the war. After about 50 minutes another train arrived carrying more British soldiers, and the Volunteers scattered into the countryside.

The British had suffered at least 8 dead and 12 wounded. The Volunteers had 2 killed, Commandant Allman and Lt. Jimmy Baily and, in addition, three civilians died in the crossfire and two others were wounded. Hardly a day had gone by in the month of March without some sort of attack by the Volunteers in some part of the island. The world was taking notice and the British government was starting to feel the pressure. 

Read more about the Headford Ambush HERE.


"Well, [General] Govan, if we are to die, let us die like men."

        -- Patrick Cleburne (left) to General Daniel Govan just before the battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864, where both were killed

'Ere long there shall be an Irish Army on Irish hillsides, ready to do battle for Irish independence and drive back from the green and sacred Isle of Erin those ruthless tyrants who have desolated our homes and driven us wandering exiles over the whole earth.'
         -- John O'Mahoney, co-founder of the Fenian Brotherhood.

'About two hours had elapsed since the opening of the fight; we were in possession of the countryside; no British were visible and our task was completed. The whole Column was drawn up in line of sections and told they had done well.'
        -- Tom Barry on the Crossbarry Ambush

'Walking on bright winter days along the Avenue of the Champs Elysées, a tall erect figure, magnificent in old age . . . memories clouding at times his clear grey eyes; and through and beyond the battle-smoke and thunder of all Napoleon's fields he has a vision of the pikemen of New Ross and hears the fierce hurrah of Oulart Hill.'
        -- Ulster-born journalist and revolutionary John Mitchel on Miles Byrne, whom Mitchel met while living in exile in Paris.

We had no prepared positions and scrambled into position as best we could. I was in a section commanded by Davit McCarthy. We were on the railway embankment with very little cover, but a good field of fire. I think most of the military were put out of action early on, but some two or three got down on the tracks under the train and kept up a continuous fire. No doubt they could have been dislodged, but a full train of troops entered the station and we had to withdraw.
        -- Denis Prendiville Kerry #2 Brigade on the ambush at Headford, County Kerry

March - Márta


15, 1821 - Peter Sullivan (Union Gen. – Cork, Ireland) 
15, 1852 - Lady Gregory (Playwright - Loughrea, Co. Galway)
16, 1828 - Patrick Cleburne (Confederate General - Ovens Township, Co. Cork)
16, 1865 – Patrick “Patsy” Donovan (Major League baseball player & manager, Cobh, Co. Cork)
17, 1800 - Charles James Patrick Mahon (Soldier, politician - Ennis, Co. Clare)
17, 1820 - Patrick Edward Connor (Union General - Co. Kerry)
17, 1877 - Michael O'Hanrahan (Author, revolutionary - New Ross, Co. Wexford.)
18, 1881 - George (Seoirse) Clancy (nationalist and politician - Grange, Co. Limerick.)
20, 1780 - Miles Byrne (United Irishman, Officer in Napoleon's Irish Legion - Co. Wexford.)
21, 1763 - William MacNeven (United Irishman - Aughrim, Co. Galway.)


16 –April 6, 1812 - The Hibernia regiment of Spain and Napoleon’s Irish Legion face each other at the siege of Badajoz during the Peninsular War.
16, 1865 - Irish born Martin Murphy, one of the greatest pioneers of early California, dies in near Santa Clara.
16, 1919 – Robert Barton, later one of the signers of the 1921 Treaty escapes from Mountjoy Prison with the help of Rory O’Connor.
17, 1771 – The “Friendly Sons of St. Patrick” is founded in Philadelphia.
17, 1776 – In honor of Irishmen in the Colonial army, Gen. Washington designates “St. Patrick” as the armies countersign that day.
17, 1858 - James Stephens founds the Irish Republican Brotherhood (Fenians) in Dublin.
17, 1899 - First issue of Gaelic League’s An Claidheamh Soluis.
17, 1923 - Mike McTigue wins the Light-Heavyweight Championship by decision victory over “Battling” Siki in Dublin.
18, 1801 - Ambrose O'Higgins, Viceroy of Peru, dies in Lima.
18, 1825 - Catholic Association dissolved by Unlawful Societies Act nine days earlier.
18-19, 1921 – The West Waterford Irish Volunteers ambush the Black &Tans at “The Burgery,” 2 volunteers, 1 Black & Tan and 1 RIC constable died.
19 March 1919 - IRA volunteers raid Collinstown airfield (now Dublin Airport) outside Dublin and capture 75 rifles and 4,000 rounds of ammunition
19, 1921 - Tom Barry and the West Cork Flying Column ambushed crown forces at Crossbarry, Co. Cork.
20, 1868 – Dublin native George Cartwright, a Union Col. in the Civil War, dies in Charleston, SC.
20, 1919 - The Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers capture 75 rifles and over 4000 rounds of ammo from the Collintown Aerodrome.
20, 1920 - Tomás MacCurtain, Lord Mayor of Cork, murdered in his home by RIC.
20, 1964 - Author Brendan Behan dies in Dublin.
21, 1881 - 'Peace Preservation' Act for Ireland legalizes special coercive powers.
21, 1914 - Curragh Mutiny - British officers refuse to move against Irish Unionists.
21, 1921 Irish Volunteers of the Kerry #2 Brigade ambush a train at Headford, Co. Kerry during the Irish War of Independence.

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

Comment by Liam McAlister on March 15, 2020 at 6:02pm

RE: Birthday List.

The entry for Peter Sullivan is incorrect. Brevet General Sullivan served the UNION Army as Colonel of 48th Ohio Infantry.

Sullivan, Peter John

Born in Co. Cork on 15th March 1821, he emigrated to the United States while still a child, his family initially settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He saw service in the Mexican War and was breveted Major for meritorious services. He became an official stenographer in the United States Senate before moving to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1848 where he became a lawyer. He was also a prominent opponent of the Know-Nothing movement in the city. When the Civil War broke out he was active in recruitment, paying for the organisation expenses of no less that four regiments. He became Colonel of the 48th Ohio Infantry when it was organised in February 1862. At the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee in April 1862 Sullivan’s left arm was shattered by a bullet. He returned to the regiment on the 1st August but was unable to continue and was appointed to a military board. The disability eventually forced him to resign on 7th August 1863 and was breveted Brigadier-General of volunteers on 13th March 1865 for gallant and meritorious services during the war. 


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