This Week in the History of the Irish: March 3 - March 9

LUAIN -- 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.

(Left: 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 overpowered the constables guarding them, seizing a small number of firearms. 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.

MÁIRT -- 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 a 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 and killed. The fighting went on for about two hours, but the Vickers gun in the 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 13 dead and 15 wounded. Some estimates were lower, but the 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. 

CÉADAOIN -- On March 6, 1831, Philip Sheridan, one of the greatest Union generals on the American Civil War, was born. We know he was the son of Irish immigrants, but his place of birth is uncertain, with Albany, New York; somewhere in Ohio; at sea; and County Cavan, Ireland, all rumored as his birthplace. Less uncertain is his place among Union generals; he was one of the finest of the war. Sheridan had an undistinguished pre-war Army career, which came on the heels of a stormy career at West Point, from which he was nearly expelled for fighting with a fellow cadet.

(Left: Library of Congress: Phil Sheridan and his staff in the field.)

After eight years in the Army, the diminutive Sheridan -- 5'5" -- was only a 2nd lieutenant when the Civil War began. He languished as a supply officer for the first year of the war. It seemed Phil Sheridan was destined for obscurity, but suddenly that destiny took a turn. On May 25, 1862, he was appointed colonel of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry. By September Sheridan was a brigadier general; in March '63 he made major general. The brilliant assault of his command on Missionary Ridge brought him to the attention of U.S. Grant. In spring 1864, Grant brought Sheridan to Washington and put him in charge of all the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac. In the East he showed the same aggressiveness he had in the West, seeking confrontations with Stuart's cavalry. His troopers killed Confederate cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart at Yellow Ford in May. Later that year Grant gave the 33-year-old Sheridan an independent command in the Shenandoah Valley. There Sheridan made his famous ride to the battlefield of Cedar Creek, saving his imperiled army. Returning to Grant's army, Sheridan was instrumental in the victory at Five Forks, which sealed the fate of Richmond, and later he cut off Lee's retreat at Appomattox. After the war he rose to full general and commanded the entire army. Philip Sheridan died on August 5, 1888, in Nonquitt, Massachusetts, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Read more about the life of Sheridan: Scrappy Phil Sheridan - The U.S. Army's Little Big Man

"Sheridan's Ride" famous Civil War poem by Thomas Buchanan Read

DEARDAOIN -- On March 7, 1921, Limerick Mayor George Clancy was shot and killed in his home. Clancy came from a family with a strong republican tradition. In college, he joined the Gaelic League, forming a branch at University College Dublin and recruiting other students to join. Among those others were Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Tomás MacCurtain, Terence MacSwiney, and James Joyce. It is said that Clancy was the model for the character of Davin in Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. After college, Clancy taught Irish at Clongowes Wood, a college administered by the Jesuits, and was active in the Gaelic Athletic Association. Clancy helped in Eamon de Valera's election campaign in East Clare. He nearly died of swine flu during the 1918 epidemic but recovered and in January 1921 he was elected Mayor of Limerick. Though Clancy took no active part in the violence of the War of Independence, on the morning of March 7, 1921, masked men burst into his home and shot him dead. Suspicion immediately fell upon members of the Black and Tans, but a British inquiry into the murder, like most such inquiries through the years, absolved Crown forces of any blame.

Anne Bonny

AOINE -- On March 8, 1700, or perhaps a year or two earlier, Anne Bonny (née Cormac), destined to become arguably the most famous woman pirate in history, was born in County Cork, Ireland. Anne was rumored to be the product of a liaison between her mother, Mary Brennan, and lawyer William Cormac, by whom Mary was employed as a housemaid. It was also rumored (nearly everything known about Anne's life is a rumor) that Cormac's wife learned of the affair and drove Mary from the house. Mary and Anne then traveled to the new world, settling in Charleston, South Carolina. The teenage Anne ran off with a soon to be pirate by the name of James Bonny. She and James traveled to the pirate haven of New Providence Island in the Bahamas. There Anne had soon dumped her husband, perhaps because he became an informer, and took up with pirate captain "Calico" Jack Rackam. She may have become his lover and had a child with Jack and left it to be raised by others in Cuba. Anne later became very "friendly" with another member of the crew, whom she may have mistaken for a man, but whom she soon discovered was actually Mary Read. It seems quite likely that the two of them became lovers. Though there are few things in Anne's life that are certain, one that seems to be, is that she was a fierce fighter. Perhaps this was a result of her feeling the need to prove herself to the male crew. She and Mary were known to be "fierce hell cats" in battle. Their battling days came to an end on November 16, 1720, when their ship was captured by Captain Jonathan Barnett of the Royal Navy, a former pirate himself. The entire crew were hanged, save Mary and Anne. They were saved when they "pled their bellies," i.e. claimed to be pregnant, which was confirmed by the courts doctor. That both were pregnant seems unlikely, and thus another rumor inserts a friendly doctor here. Anne disappears from history at that point. The various tales have her being hanged year later, returning home to South Carolina, returning to her husband, settling down on some Caribbean island, owning a pub in the south of England, or living out her days with Mary somewhere in Louisiana. Whichever of the rumors of her life are true, there is no question that she lived a more adventurous life than most woman of her time.

AOINE -- On March 8, 1903, Charles Gavan Duffy, Young Irelander leader, was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. Along with Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon, he founded The Nation in 1842, the journal that was the soul of the Young Ireland movement. In 1855, despairing of Irish politics, he voluntarily emigrated to Australia. There he entered politics and rose to be Prime Minister of the colony of Victoria and was knighted by the Queen. He retired to France in 1880, spending his time writing until his death in Nice on February 9, 1903. His body was returned to Ireland and interred at Glasnevin.

Left to right: Harry Boland, Michael Collins, and Eamon de Valera

SATHAIRN -- On March 9, 1932 Eamon de Valera formed his first Free State government. Eamon was born on October 14, 1882 in New York City, of an Irish mother from Country Limberic and a Spanish father. When his father died in 1885 his mother sent Eamon back to Bruree, County Limerick to be raised as an Irishman from the age of three by his grandmother, Elizabeth Coll.

Following his graduation from college he taught mathematics at several different colleges. His political activism began through an interest in the Irish language which cause him to join the Gaelic League in 1908, where he also met his future wife, Sinèad Flanagan. De Valera joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and rose to become commandant of the 3rd Battalion and adjutant of the Dublin Brigade as well as becoming a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret organization that controlled the Irish Volunteers. During the Easter Rising in 1916 he commanded the 3rd Battalion at Boland's Mills and was the last commander in the city to surrender. Though he was sentenced to death, his US birth probably saved his life, as his sentence was commuted to life in prison.

When he was released under a general amnesty in June 1917 he was elected as the Sinn Fein candidate for MP from East Clare, a post he would hold until 1959. De Valera became president of Sinn Fein in October and led Sinn Fein to a huge victory in the 1918 elections. He was arrested by the British as part of their bogus "German Plot" in May 1918 and was in prison when Sinn Fein MPs meet in Dublin and declared themselves an Irish parliament, known as Dàil Éireann. De Valera was broken out of prison by Harry Boland and Michael Collins in February 1919

A trip to the US following his escape designed to help raise funds for the Irish cause from the Irish American community did not go well, as his relations with several US leaders was strained, but money did flow from the US for the Irish cause in spite of his problems. Following the truce that ended the Irish War of Independence in 1921 de Valera made a controversial decision not to be on the committee negotiating the Anglo-Irish Treaty. His opposition to that treaty led to the tragic Irish Civil War.

Following the defeat of the anti-treaty forces in the Civil War de Valera founded a new party, Fianna Fáil (The Warriors of Destiny), in March 1926. It would become the dominant Irish Party of the 20th century. In 1932 the party won a majority in the Dáil and formed a government with the Labour Party, putting de Valera in charge. He immediately began a campaign to remove all visible and eventually all actual connections to Great Britain and would continue that process as his party held power through the next 16 years. He would keep Ireland neutral during WWII, and controversially offer condolences to the German Ambassador following Hitler's suicide in 1945.

The process of totally ending Ireland's connections to Great Britain would culminate on April 18, 1949 when Ireland was declared a republic, though not by de Valera, but his successor Taoiseach John Costello after de Valera was voted out of power in 1947. De Valera would be voted back into power in 1951, out in 1954 and in again in 1957 and then would be elected President of Ireland in 1959. He would hold the post until 1973, when he retired. He would pass away on August 29, 1975.

Eamon de Valera was a controversial figure in Irish history, but whether for good or ill, there is no question that he was the towering figure of 20th century Ireland.


"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)

"You will find him big enough for the purpose before we get through with him."
-- Ulysses Grant to a staff officer who thought Phil Sheridan was to small to lead the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac.

"Did Sherican say that? He usually knows what he is talking about. Let him go ahead and do it."
-- Ulysses Grant to Gen. George Meade, after Meade said Sheridan had insisted his troopers could beat Jeb Stuart if given a chance.

"I am sorry to see you here Jack, but if you had fought like a man, you need not be hanged like a dog."         -- Anne Bonny to the imprisoned captain of her ship, and father of her child, "Calico Jack" Rackham.

March - Márta


4, 1778 - Robert Emmet (Revolutionary - Dublin)
4, 1898 - General Emmet Dalton (Revolutionary, aide to Michael Collins.)
6, 1751 - Edward Marcus Despard (Colonel in the British army and revolutionary, Mountrath, Co. Laois)
6, 1791 - John MacHale (Archbishop of Tuam - Tirawley, Co. Mayo.)
6, 1831 - Philip Sheridan (Union General - son of Irish immigrants rumored to have been born in Ireland.)
8, 1700 (?) - Anne Bonny (née Cormac) (Female pirate - County Cork) 
9, 1913 - Dr. Aidan MacCarthy, (RAF MD and WWII POW – Castletownbere, Co. Cork)


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.
4, 1919 – The US House of Representatives passes a resolution asking the Paris Peace Conference to “favorably consider the claims of Ireland to self-determination.”
5, 1779 - Boston Massacre, 5 killed, including Irish immigrant Patrick Carr.
5, 1867 - Fenian Rising in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Clare and Tipperary Counties.
5, 1921 - During the Irish War of Independence an IRA ambush at Clonbanin, Co. Cork killed British general Hanway Cumming and three other soldiers.
6, 1794 - James O’Moran, general in the French army is guillotined in Place du Trône renversé, France.
6-19, 1924 - Reduction of the Irish Army by 20,000 at the end of the Civil War nearly causes a mutiny.
7, 1921 - Tom Maguire’s South Mayo IRA flying column under Tom Maguire surrounds a British army patrol at Kilfall, between Ballinrobe and Castlebar, forcing it to surrender and give up its arms.
7, 1921 – Limerick Mayor George Clancy shot and killed in his home by disguised members of the Black and Tans.
8, 1574 - Captain William Martin lays siege to Granuaile (Grace O'Malley) in Rockfleet castle.
8, 1779 - Don Hugo O'Conor, governor of the Yucatán dies at Quinta de Miraflores, just east of Mérida.
8, 1903 - Charles Gavan Duffy, Young Irelander, buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
8 1966 - Nelson's Pillar in Dublin, Ireland, destroyed by a bomb.
9, 1795 - Irish-born Revolutionary War general John Armstrong dies at Carlisle, PA.
9, 1825 - Parliament passses Unlawful Societies act.
9, 1932 - Eamon de Valera forms his first Free State government. 

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

Comment by Chris Dwyer on March 5, 2019 at 3:22pm

It's interesting to read about the insurrection at Castle Hill. My great great great grandfather Michael Dwyer, known as the Wicklow Chief, was accused of being involved but was later found to be innocent of any involvement.


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