This Week in the History of the Irish: March 21 - March 27

DOMHNAIGH -- 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 a 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.

DOMHNAIGH -- 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.

MÁIRT -- On March 23, 1862, Irish-born Union General James Shields (left: pictured during the Mexican War) defeated Stonewall Jackson's Confederates at the Battle of Kernstown, Virginia, during the American Civil War. Just a few miles south of Winchester, in the Shenandoah Valley, a thunderous exchange of artillery fire around midday signaled the battle's start. At first, Jackson's men drove in the Federal line. Jackson had received a false report about the strength of the Federal forces around Kernstown, and he believed he was only facing a rear guard. In fact, Shields had 9,000 men there, outnumbering Jackson's 4,000 by better than two to one. About 3 o'clock, Shields' Federal forces counterattacked. When Confederate Brigadier General Richard Garnett's brigade ran out of ammunition, Jackson ordered a retreat, which precipitated a general retreat of the Confederate line. Jackson lost 455 men killed or wounded and several hundred captured. The Federals lost 553 killed or wounded and 23 missing. Although Jackson had lost this first major battle of what would come to be known as his Valley Campaign, his actions had already alarmed authorities in Washington enough for them to reduce the number of troops that they would send to Major General George B. McClellan on the Virginia peninsula. In the coming weeks, Jackson will exacerbate those fears. For Tyrone-born James Shields, Kernstown would be the pinnacle of a rather lackluster performance during the Civil War. Still, Shields would go on to become the only man to serve in the U.S. Senate from three different states, and how many of his colleagues in the Senate, or anywhere else, could boast of having once bested the great Stonewall Jackson in independent command?

DEARDAOIN -- On March 25, 1846, Michael Davitt (right), revolutionary and agrarian agitator, was born in Straide, County Mayo. Davitt's family was evicted from their small farm when he was just a boy. After they emigrated to England, Davitt lost his right arm while working in a cotton mill at the age of 11. He joined the Fenians in the 1860s and served a typically brutal jail sentence. Released after seven years, he began what would be his life's work: agrarian agitation. Using funds raised by John Devoy and Clan na Gael in the United States, and allied with Charles Stewart Parnell, Davitt formed the Land League in 1879. This organization forced many reforms in the corrupt Irish landlord system. Davitt was a member of Parliament for a time in the 1890s but resigned in protest against the Boer War. Michael Davitt died in Dublin on May 31, 1906.

SATHAIRN -- On March 27, 1872, Mary MacSwiney (Maire Nic Shuibhne), republican activist, was born in Surrey, England, of an Irish father and an English mother.

(Left: National Library of Ireland: Mary MacSwiney, in her later years.)

Mary grew up in Cork and was educated as a teacher, like her mother and father. Influenced by her revolutionary brother, Terence, she became involved with the Irish nationalist movement. She was arrested in her classroom during the 1916 Easter Rising. After her brother's death on hunger strike, she toured the United States in support of the republican cause. She opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, calling it, "the grossest act of betrayal that Ireland ever endured." When de Valera compromised in 1926 in order to enter the Dáil, MacSwiney, much like her brother before her, held fast to her strict republican ideals, refusing to take the required oath to the Crown. Mary MacSwiney died at her home in Cork on March 8, 1942.

VOICES

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

National Museum of Ireland
Michael Davitt, one of the founders of the Irish National Land League.

'If the nationalists want me [the Irish farmer] to believe in and labor a little for independence, they must first show themselves willing and strong enough to stand between me and the power which a single Englishman, a landlord, wields over me.'
        -- Michael Davitt, giving voice to the attitude of the small Irish farmer toward Irish independence, December 1878

'If [England] exterminates the men, the women will take their places, and if she exterminates the women, the children are rising fast.'
         -- The indomitable Mary MacSwiney

March - Márta

BIRTHS

21, 1763 - William MacNeven (United Irishman - Aughrim, Co. Galway.)
22, 1848
- Sarah Purser (Artist - Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin)
24, 1866 - Jack McAuliffe (Light-Heavyweight boxing champion - Ireland.)
25, 1840 - Myles Keogh (Capt. US 7th Cav., later killed at Little Big Horn - Orchard, Co Carlow.)
25, 1846 - Michael Davitt (Revolutionary - Straide, Co. Mayo)
26, 1838 - William Edward Hartpole Lecky (Historian - Newtown Park, Co. Dublin.)
26, 1856 - William Ferguson Massey (Prime Minister of New Zealand - Limavady, Co. Derry.)
27, 1872 - Mary MacSwiney (Maire Nic Shuibhne) (Republican - Surry, England.)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

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 - Co. Longford Volunteer leader Seán MacEoin is arrested in Mullingar railway station.
21, 1921Irish Volunteers of the Kerry #2 Brigade ambush a train at Headford, Co. Kerry during the Irish War of Independence.
22, 1841 – Formation of the Irish Emigrant Society in New York.
22, 1921 - Irish Volunteers and Black & Tans engage in a gun battle at Lispole, Co. Kerry during the Irish War of Independence.
23, 1535 - Sir William Skeffington captures Maynooth Castle, stronghold of "Silken" Thomas Fitzgerald in one of the first recorded uses of siege artillery.
23, 1847 - Choctaw Indians collect money to donate to starving Irish Hunger victims.
23, 1862 - Irish-born Union General James Shields defeats Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Kernstown, Virginia, during the American Civil War.
23, 1921 - North and South Roscommon brigades of the Irish Volunteers ambush a convoy of British soldiers and RIC at Scramoge, killing 4.
23, 1921 – Six Volunteers from the 1st Battlion, Co. Cork are killed in Clogheen after their location is betrayed by a loyalist informer.
24, 1922 - Owen MacMahon, a Catholic publican, his 6 sons and a barman murdered by Loyalist paramilitaries in revenge for IRA ambush that killed 2 RIC officers.
25, 1634 - First Catholic Mass in English North American colonies celebrated in Maryland.
25, 1738 - Famous Irish Harper, Turlogh O'Carolan, dies in Alderford, Co. Roscommon.
26, 1920 - Infamous Black and Tans, special constables, arrive in Ireland.
26, 1922 - An IRA anti-treaty army convention announces it will no longer accept the authority of Free State Minister for Defense Richard Mulcahy.

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

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