This Week in the History of the Irish: May 11 - May 17

From an engraving by Jean Sorieul
Uniforms of
the Irish Brigade of France from the 1750s. Note that red coats were worn throughout the Brigade's history, signifying their support for the Stuart claim to the English crown.

DOMHNAIGH -- On May 11, 1745, the Irish Brigade of France, whose soldiers are most identified in Irish history as The Wild Geese, achieved its most glorious victory at the Battle of Fontenoy. The brigade was led by Lord Clare, comprising six regiments. Dillon's regiment, which had already been badly shot up earlier in the fight, along with the brigade's other five, charged the British as they seemed on the verge breaking the French line. Fifty years of Irish frustration and British betrayal now came back to haunt the British. As the men of the Irish Brigade closed through a hail of British bullets, their shouts were heard above the din: "Cuimnidh ar Luimneach agus ar Feall na Sasanach!" -- Remember Limerick and the Saxon Faith (i.e., English betrayal). Nothing could have withstood the wave of hatred and revenge that broke on the hapless British line that day – the English went reeling to the rear. The victory was won but the cost was high; Col. Dillon was dead, Lord Clare wounded twice. The brigade suffered 656 casualties in all, the highest percentage of all the French units, but it was a day never to be forgotten by the Irish worldwide. At Manassas, Virginia, 116 years later, Thomas Francis Meagher would cry out to the 69th New York, another regiment of Irishmen, "REMEMBER FONTENOY!"

The Imperial War Museum

A Irish poster from shortly after the Easter Rising shows how Irish attitudes toward the rebels had changed since the executions.

LUAIN -- On May 12, 1916, the British army executed Sean Mac Diarmada and James Connolly, the last of the Rising leaders they would kill in Dublin. The treatment accorded to Connolly, a hero among the poor of Ireland for his dedication to the cause of labor, was particularly despicable. Crippled by an infected wound in the ankle, he was carried to Kilmainham jail, tied to a chair and shot. As they were loading their rifles, Connolly forgave the men of the army firing squad for their actions. A ragged volley of shots resounded from their rifles, so shaken were they by their distasteful task. Sir John Maxwell's merciless and rapid application of military justice to the rebel leaders disgusted much of the Irish population. The British once again allowed iron-fist policies in Ireland to pour gasoline on the flames they had nearly extinguished.

DEARDAOIN -- On May 15, 1847, The Syria, the first ship to arrive during what Quebecois would call the 'Summer of Sorrow,' landed at the Canadian quarantine station in the St. Lawrence River, just north of Quebec. The French had called that island 'Grosse Ile,' but since 1847 many have called it 'L'Ile des Irlandais.' The first victim died on the day The Syria arrived. She was only four years old; her name was Ellen Kane, from Kilmore in County Mayo. Within six days, 202 of the ship's 241 passengers were ill. The island's hospital was built for 200 patients; the very first ship of the year had filled it to capacity. Hundreds more of these coffin ships would arrive before the year was out, each filled with passengers as sick as those on The Syria. English landlords were in the process of clearing the sick and starving from their lands; sheep were profitable, the Irish were expensive and disposable. It was "Black '47," and a long summer nightmare of despair was just beginning for those on Grosse Ile, and for the thousands en route. The island today is a monument to the Irish who suffered and died there.

Gael-Linn photo
Young men holding up the Anti-Conscription pledge,. The pledge reads: "Denying the right of the British Government to enforce compulsory service in this country, we pledge ourselves solemnly to one another to resist Conscription by the most effective means at our disposal."

SATHAIRN -- On May 17-18, 1918, the British government began arresting all the leaders of Sinn Fein that it could round-up. Britain desperately wanted to impose conscription on the Irish to replace its tremendous losses in the trenches of Europe; Sinn Fein was adamantly opposed to more Irishmen being used as cannon fodder in service to their oppressors. The British answer to this resistance was the one that had used so often before in Ireland: coercion. De Valera, Griffith, Constance Markiewicz and other many other leaders were all eventually imprisoned. The British cover for these arrests was a bogus 'German Plot,' which has since been thoroughly discredited. The British would live to regret one man who slipped through their fingers that spring; Michael Collins would use the months he might have spent in an English prison assembling an intelligence organization that would soon make the 'Empira' squeal.


If you strike at, imprison, or kill us, out of our prisons or graves we will still evoke a spirit that will thwart you, and perhaps, raise a force that will destroy you! We defy you! Do your worst!”
         -- James Connelly

'You took care that no plea for mercy should impose on behalf of the poor young fellows who surrendered to you in Dublin. The first intimation which we got of their fate was the announcement that they had been shot in cold blood. Personally I regard your actions with horror, and I believe it has outraged the conscience of the country.'

         -- Bishop O'Dwyer of Limerick, May, 17, 1916, responding to a demand from Maj. Gen. Sir John Maxwell that he dismiss two priests who had shown sympathy for the rebels.

'I believe that even those coming to this beautiful island knowing nothing of the tragedy which occurred here, would sense its difference. I am certain that one knowing the story could not remain unaffected. This is a hallowed place.'
         -- Irish President Mary Robinson at Grosse Ile, August 21, 1994

'You may as well declare war on Ireland and be done with it. And it will be a futile war. It will take three English army corps to get one Irish corps out of the country. And in the process you will destroy the Irish Parliamentary Party. You are driving millions of the best men of our race to turn their eyes from this Parliament forever.'
         -- An Irish member of Parliament on the "Man-Power" bill, which called for conscription in Ireland

 May -- Bealtaine

11, 1788 - Henry Cooke (Cleric - Maghera, Co. Derry)
13, 1906 - Samuel Beckett (Author - Dublin)
14, 1893 - George Edward Henry "McIrish" McElroy (WWI Ace, 47 kills - Donnybrook, Co. Dublin.)
14, 1905 - Father Joseph Timothy O'Callahan (Congressional Medal of Honor winner - Boston, MA)
15, 1867 - Eoin MacNeill (Gaelic scholar - Glenarm, Co. Antrim)


11, 1745 - Battle of Fontenoy, charge of Irish Brigade of French army breaks E...
12, 1776 - Irish-born William Irvine is appointed a Brigadier General in the Continental Army.
12, 1823 - Catholic Association founded.
12, 1916 - James Connolly, unable to stand, is tied to his chair and shot, Kilmainham jail.
12, 1916 - Seán Mac Diarmada excuted by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
12, 1981 - Francis Hughes dies on hunger strike.
13, 1848 - John Mitchel arrested; later tried and sentenced to transportation to Australia.
13, 1919 - Dan Breen and Sean Treacy rescue Sean Hogan from Dublin-Cork train.
14, 1260 - Norman forces under James de Audley defeated an Irish army under Brian Ó Néill at the Battle of Druim Dearg.
14, 1864 - The 10th Tennessee Infantry (Confederate-Irish) fights at battle of Resaca, Georgia.
15, 1847 - The first immigrant ship of Black '47, Syria, arrives at Grosse Ile, Canada.
15, 1847 - Daniel O'Connell dies in Genoa, Italy.
16, 1826 - Joseph Holt, revolutionary, dies. Read Holt's account of 1798 Rising and it's aftermath:
Rebellion in Wicklow: General Joseph Holt's Personal Account of 1798.

17, 1880 - Charles Stewart Parnell elected Chairmen of Irish Parlimentary Party.
17-18, 1917 - Sinn Fein leaders arrested, charged in bogus "German plot."
17, 1974 - Loyalist militia car bombs kill 31 in Dublin and Monaghan

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Tags: Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History, On This Day


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