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

DOMHNAIGH -- On May 3, 1921, the South Mayo Brigade of the Irish Volunteers, commanded by Tom Maguire, ambushed an RIC / Black and Tan supply column of a Crossley tender and a Ford car at Tourmakeady, Co. Mayo on the western shore of Lough Mask. This was the 2nd in a series of major attacks on crown forces in the county in the spring of 1921. It was all part of Michael Collins' plan to bring the revolution to every county in Ireland and convince the British government the war was unwinnable.

(Left: The South Mayo Brigade. Maguire is standing on the left with #10 over his head.)

The Volunteers had gotten word that these vehicles were on their way from Ballinrobe to Derrypark RIC station and were lying wait for them. Maguire had perhaps as many as 60 Volunteers with him, but as was so often the case in those days, they didn’t have enough weapons, perhaps 6 or 8 rifles and some shotguns and not much ammunition for them. Maguire split his force into three sections, commanding one himself with the second under Michael O’Brien and the third under Paddy May, with May’s section blocking the road and the other two on the high ground to the west of the road. When they opened fire the four men in the Ford were killed or mortally wounded, but those in the Crossley tender were able to take cover in the nearby hotel.  Expecting that help would be coming from the British military, Maguire withdrew his men west in the Partry Mountains. Some British reinforcements did, indeed, make their way into the area trying to engage the Volunteers, but how many is in dispute. The Volunteers would claim it was hundreds, which the British claimed it was less than a hundred. Whatever the true number of British that were closing in, they confronted each other in the mountains. O’Brien was killed in the skirmish there and Maguire was severely wounded in the arm. But the column snuck by the British in the dark and escaped and Maguire was able to find shelter in some local homes and avoided capture. Many homes in the area would be burned as a result of this ambush, and they also burned Maguire’s in Cross.

Read more about the ambush HERE.

The National Library of Ireland
Willie Pearse

LUAIN -- On May 4, 1916, the British executed Patrick Pearse's younger brother, Willie. Willie was not one of the signers of the Proclamation; he was not one of the planners of the revolt, nor was he one of it commanders. Willie was merely one of the soldiers involved with the Dublin actions. No other participant in Dublin whose actions or responsibilities were similar to Willie's was executed in those dark days, save perhaps John MacBride, and MacBride's earlier service with the Boers probably marked him for death. It seems likely that the sole reason William Pearse was executed by the British government was for the crime of being Patrick's brother. It was repugnant British excesses such as this that would soon reverse the Irish people's initially negative opinion of the '16 Rising.

MÁIRT -- On May 5, 1981, Bobby Sands (right) died on hunger strike at Long Kesh prison. He had begun the strike on March 1, in protest over the removal of political status for IRA prisoners. Hunger strikes were an old republican strategy going back to Terence MacSwiney's famous hunger strike in 1920, which had helped turn the tide of world opinion against England during the War of Independence. Other prisoners at Long Kesh soon followed Sand's example. On April 9, the republican community in the six counties showed its support of Sands by electing him to the British Parliament for Fermanagh-Tyrone. The "Iron Maiden," British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, would remain unmoved by Sand's death, and those of the nine whose deaths followed his extending through mid-August.

DEARDAOIN -- On May 7, 1915, the English passenger ship Lusitania was sunk near Old Head, Co. Cork, off the southern Irish coast. The liner had left New York bound for Liverpool on May 1. German intelligence believed, and most historians now believe, that the ship was carrying munitions.

(Left: Dean and William Hodges, who perished along with their mother and father on the Lusitania.)

The German Ambassador had warned Americans against traveling in British ships in wartime. Kapitan-Leutnant Walther Schwieger and his U-20 put only one torpedo into her just after 2 p.m. and the ship sank quickly after a second explosion inside the ship. Among the 1,200 who died were 118 Americans. This incident would cause severe problems for Irish-Americans who supported nationalist movements in Ireland and were courting German help. At the British Admiralty hearing into the incident, British officials would claim two torpedoes hit the Lusitania. They knew this claim was false, having intercepted and decoded a transmission from the U-20, but they lied to cover the fact that their own munitions might have caused the second explosion.

AOINE -- On May 8, 1857, William Brown, of Foxford, Co. Mayo, an Admiral in the Argentine navy, died in Buenos Aires. Brown first came to the New World as a boy, when his family immigrated to the United States in 1786. He later went to sea on a merchant ship. Pressed into the British navy in 1796, he would eventually rise to command a British merchant ship. Brown settled in Buenos Aires and in 1814 he joined the fledgling navy of the Argentine Republic.

(Right: Admiral William Brown from a daguerreotype taken late in his life - Naval Museum at San Isidro, Argentina.)

Later that year he would win one of the most famous victories in Argentine history, defeating the Spanish navy at the mouth of Uruguay River. In 1825, Brown was in action again, when Brazil declared war on Argentina. The Argentine navy had not been a priority for the new government, and Brown's small force was heavily outnumbered in the struggle with Brazil. At the battle of Los Pozos, fought in view of the people of Buenos Aries, Brown faced 31 enemy ships with four ships and few gunboats. With this small force, Brown turned the Brazilians away. Admiral Brown continued his service in the Argentine navy until 1845 and spent his remaining years at his home near Buenos Aires. He is considered the father of the Argentine navy.

VOICES

For myself, I cannot claim any special attribute except that of being fond of people – just people.' 

         -- Father Francis Duffy, chaplain of the famed "Fighting 69th" during World War I

They have nothing in their whole imperial arsenal that can break the spirit of one Irishman who doesn't want to be broken. 

       -- Bobby Sands

May -- Bealtaine

BIRTHS

5, 1864 - Mary Jane Cochran (Nellie Bly) (Journalist - Cochran's Mills, Penns...
7, 1865 - John MacBride (Soldier, leader in 1916 Rising - Westport, Co. Mayo.) 
7, 1945 - Christopher Andrew "Christy" Moore (Musician, Newbridge, County Kildare)
7, 1976 – Michael Murphy (MOH winner in Afghanistan, Smithtown, NY).

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

3, 1844 - Anti-Irish Catholic mobs burn 2 churches and large portions of Irish neighborhoods in Philadelphia.
3, 1916 - Patrick Pearse executed by a British firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
3, 1916 - Thomas Clarke executed by a British firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
3, 1916 - Grace Gifford and Joseph Plunkett are married in Kimainham Gaol just hours before his execution.
3, 1916 - Thomas MacDonagh executed by a British firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
3, 1921 - IRA troops under Tom Maguire (who was wounded) ambush an RIC column in Tourmakeady, Co. Mayo, and escape pursuing British troops in the Partry Mountains.
4, 1836 - Founding of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, New York City.
4, 1916 - Edward Daly executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
4, 1916 - Michael O'Hanrahan executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
4, 1916 - William Pearse executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
4, 1916 - Joseph Mary Plunkett executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
5, 1795 - House of Commons rejects Grattan's Catholic relief bill, by 155 to 84.
5, 1834
- James Power and a few hundred pioneers from Co. Wexford arrive to help colonize the Mexican territory of Texas.
5, 1844 -
Bishop Hughes of New York threatens to burn down the city if his churches are attacked (as were churches in Philadelphia).
5, 1906 -
First issue of Sinn Féin.
5, 1916 
Sean MacBride executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
5, 1981 
Bobby Sands dies on hunger strike at Long Kesh prison.
6, 1897 – Count Arthur Nugent, a colonel in the Austrian army, and son of Field Marshal Count Laval Nugent, dies in Bosiljevo, Croatia.
6, 1882 - Phoenix Park murders of Lord Frederick Cavendish and T.H. Burke by Fenians.
7, 1905 – Father Peter Paul Cooney C.S.C. a priest of the Holy Cross order from Notre Dame University and chaplain of the Irish Brigade in the Civil War, dies South Bend, Indiana.
7, 1915 - The Lusitania is sunk off the southern Irish coast.
8, 1567 - Battle of Farsetmore
8, 1857 - William Brown, of Co. Mayo, Admiral in the Argentine navy, dies.
8, 1916 - Èamonn Ceannt executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
8, 1916 - Michael Mallin executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail
8, 1916 - Seán Heuston executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
8, 1916 - Con Colbert executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.
9, 1691 – The Marquis de Ruth and his French army arrive in Limerick.
9, 1766 - Count Lally executed by French for losing India.
9, 1916 - Thomas Kent executed by firing squad in Collins Barracks, Cork.
9 1920 - Irish volunteers under Frank Aiken attack the RIC barracks in Newtownhamilton, Co. Armagh.

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Tags: Irish Freedom Struggle, Irish War of Independence, Military History, On This Day, United States

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