This Week in the History of the Irish: May 26 - June 2

DOMHNAIGH -- On May 27, 1798, a North Cork militia and local yeomanry force of around 128 was headed towards the rebel held town of Oulart, Co. Wexford. The yeomen, commanded by Colonel Foote, a veteran of the American Revolution, were met by the numerically superior but poorly armed rebels of Father John Murphy on Oulart Hill. Foote was reluctant to attack Murphy's men, who were well posted on high ground; but Col. Foote's men were supremely confident that they could easily sweep the ill-armed, untrained Irish rebels from the hill. They had also looted and burned a public house in Ballinamonabeg on their way, which may have increased their courage.

(Left: Father John Murphy, who commanded the rebels at Oulart Hill.)

While Foote was writing a request for more men, his enthusiastic soldiers began an assault without orders. Foote's subordinate, Major Lombard led the attack on the United Irishmen. Seeing a possible disaster in the making, Foote rode after them, trying to restrain his troops but it was too late. The Irish did not run away, as so many of the yeoman were sure they would. They held their ground until the yeomen came near and then overwhelmed them. Of the 128 men in his command, only Col. Foote, a sergeant and two privates survived the battle.

LUAIN -- On May 28, 1779, poet and songwriter Thomas Moore (right) was born at 12 Aungier Street in Dublin. Moore attended Trinity College with Robert Emmet, whom he befriended there, though he did not become personally involved with the United Irishmen. Moore traveled to London in 1799 to study law. He was appointed to a government job in Bermuda in 1803 but soon tired of it and he returned to London. His talents as a writer of verse soon overcame any other career pursuits. Although he wrote some prose as well, today Moore is most remembered for his 'Irish Melodies,' his lyrics put to the music of traditional Irish tunes, published sporadically between 1807 and 1834. Many, such as The Minstrel Boy, had patriotic Irish themes and are still widely known and sung to this day.

Maj. C. Donohue and D. Egan, 1869
Depicted somewhat imaginatively, O'Neill's assault at Ridgeway. Above the harp on the Fenians' flag are the initials IRA. The Fenian army assumed the title "Irish Republican Army" during the invasion, it was resurrected in Ireland more than 50 years later.

AOINE -- On June 1, 1866, the Fenian Brotherhood undertook the most famous action of its history: the invasion of Canada. Mexican and American Civil War veteran General "Fighting" Tom Sweeny planned the military action. The Fenians hoped to capture Canada, or a large portion of it, and make the British bargain for its return -- with Ireland's freedom as the price. To this day, there is controversy about the role of the American government in the invasion. The Fenians obtained most of their arms from surplus United States Army equipment, and many feel the government used the Fenians to pressure England into paying for damages inflicted on U.S. shipping by British-built Confederate sea raiders during the war. After a successful beginning with a rout at Ridgeway, the Fenians' plan fell apart when the mayor of Buffalo asked for U.S. Army help to close the border. Gen. George Meade arrived in Buffalo and closed the border, stranding Col. John O'Neill's men with no hope of relief and ending the invasion attempt. Significantly, on June 6, the British agreed to pay the U.S. 15 million dollars in war damages, and the U.S. passed neutrality laws designed to control the Fenians.

SATHAIRN -- On June 2, 1567, Shane "the Proud" O'Neill was murdered. The eldest son of Conn O'Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone, Shane became chief of the O'Neills in 1559. Shane alternately fought and negotiated with the English through the years. In 1562, Shane went to London to make peace with Queen Elizabeth again (right). Returning home, he destroyed McDonnell settlements in Antrim to consolidate his power. But soon after he was defeated and driven from his lands by Hugh Dubh (Black Hugh) O'Donnell, and he was forced to seek refuge with those same McDonnells in Cushendon. They feigned friendship and took him in, but then murdered him. The head of Shane the Proud was then delivered to the English in Dublin, where it was stuck on a pole and placed on the northwest gate of the city.


And said, 'No chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free,
They shall never sound in slavery!
         -- "The Minstrel Boy" by Thomas Moore.

We are the Fenian Brotherhood, skilled in the arts of war,
And we're going to fight for Ireland, the land we adore,
Many battles we have won, along with the boys in blue,
And we'll go and capture Canada for we've nothing else to do.'
         -- A song from the days prior to the Fenians' invasion of Canada in June 1866.

'If Elizabeth, your mistress, is Queen of England, I am O'Neill, King of Ulster; I never made peace with her without having been previously solicited to it by her. I am not ambitious for the abject title of Earl. . . . I have gained that kingdom by my sword, and by the sword I will preserve it.'
       -- The reply of Shane O'Neill (right) to a messenger from Queen Elizabeth offering him an English title.


May -- Bealtaine

28, 1779 - Thomas Moore (Author and Balladeer - Dublin)
31, 1847 - Alice Green - (Nationalist and historian - Kells, Co. Meath.)

June -- Meitheamh

1, 1762 - Edmund Ignatius Rice (Educator - Callan, Co. Kilkenny)
1, 1815 – Philip Kearny (Mexican War veteran and Civil War General, New York, NY) 


27, 1595 - Battle of Clontibret
27, 1798 - Battle of Oulart Hill, Co. Wexford; detachment of North Cork militia defeated by Father Murphy's United Irishmen.
27, 1936 - First Aer Lingus flight - Baldonnel military aerodrome to Bristol, England.
28, 1798 - Capture of Enniscorthy.
28, 1974 - Unionist strike brings down the Sunningdale power-sharing agreement.
29, 1879 - Irish born Daniel O'Connor, colonel in the Austrian army, dies in Vienna.
29, 1798 - 350 rebels killed at Curragh, Co Kildare, by troops under Sir James Duff.
29, 1896 - Irish Socialist Republican Party founded by James Connolly.
30, 1798 - Battle of the Three Rocks, Wexford town captured by rebels.
30, 1844 - Daniel O'Connell fined and sentenced to 12 months in prison for 'conspiracy.'
31, 1798 - Establishment of civilian government in Wexford Town led by four Catholics and four Protestants.
31, 1848 - At Grosse Ile, Canada, there are 40 immigrant vessels waiting to unload. On the island are over 1,000 sick, the two hospital buildings were built for 400.
31, 1906 - Michael Davitt, founder of the National Land League, dies in Dublin.

June -- Meitheamh

1, 1798 - Battle of Bunclody
1, 1818 - The Irish Ultonia Regiment of the Spanish Army is disbanded at the end of the Napoleonic wars. 
1, 1866 - Fenians invade Canada.
1, 1918 - William Jameson Cairnes, WWI Ace, born in Co. Louth, shot down and killed.
2, 1567 - Shane O'Neill (Shane the Proud) murdered by the McDonnells. 
2, 1866 - Fenians defeat Canadian militia at the Battle of Ridgeway, only major battle of their Canadian invasion.
2, 1921Michael Kilroy and the West Mayo Flying Column ambush a Crown forces convoy in Carrowkennedy, Co. Mayo.

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


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