This Week in the History of the Irish: May 31 - June 6

LUAIN -- 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.

(Left: 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.)

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.

MÁIRT -- 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.

CÉADAOIN -- On June 3, 1836, Dr. Barry O'Meara (left) died in London. Born in Ireland, O'Meara joined the British Navy in 1808, after he had been dismissed from the army for assisting in a duel. In July 1815 he was serving on the HMS Bellerophon when Napoleon surrendered on board. His knowledge of Italian impressed Napoleon and he requested O'Meara's services on St. Helena. O'Meara remained on St. Helena as Napoleon's personal physician until 1818, when his refusal to spy on the Emperor for the British governor of the island caused him to be dismissed from that post. On his return to London, O'Meara published two books criticizing the treatment of Napoleon on St. Helena. O'Meara also became involved in politics, helping to found the Reform Club. Dr. Barry O'Meara died from complications after catching a cold while attending one of Daniel O'Connell's political rallies in 1836.

AOINE -- On June 5, 1868, James Connolly was born of Irish immigrant parents in the Cowgate, an Edinburgh, Scotland, slum. He served in the British army but deserted to marry an Irish girl and returned to Edinburgh. Under the influence of Scottish socialist John Leslie, Connolly became active in the labor movement. In 1896, he moved to Dublin, where he founded the first Irish socialist paper, The Workers' Republic. Connolly immigrated to the United States in 1903 and stayed there seven years, working for the American labor movement. When Connolly returned to Ireland in 1910, he helped Jim Larkin lead the Irish Transportation Workers strike in 1913, which turned him toward political action. He organized the Irish Citizens Army and became the leader of the labor movement after Larkin left for the U.S. in 1914. Padraig Pearse enlisted Connolly and his Citizens Army for the Easter Rising of 1916. Connolly helped plan the rising and was one of seven signatories of the proclamation. He participated in the fighting at the GPO, where he was severely wounded during the fighting. Connolly was one of 16 executed by the British in the Rising's aftermath. Unable to stand, James Connolly was tied to a chair and shot.

Read more about Connolly HERE.


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.

'Believing that the British Government has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland, and never can have any right in Ireland . . . I personally thank God that I have lived to see the day when thousands of Irish men and boys, and hundreds of Irish women and girls, were ready to affirm that truth, and attest it with their lives if need be.'
  -- From the last statement of James Connolly, given to daughter Nora Connolly on the eve of his execution by the British.


May -- Bealtaine

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) 
5, 1868 - James Connolly (Revolutionary and Socialist - Edinburgh, Scotland)
6, 1880William T. Cosgrave (Politician - Dublin)


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, 1921 – Michael Kilroy and the West Mayo Flying Column ambush a Crown forces convoy in Carrowkennedy, Co. Mayo.
3, 1798 - Battle of Ballymore.
3, 1836 - Barry Edward O'Meara, surgeon to Napoleon, dies in London.
4, 1798 - Lord Edward Fitzgerald dies of wounds at Newgate prison.
4, 1798 - Battle of Tubberneering
4, 1859 - Marshal MacMahon of France defeats the Austrian army at the battle of Magenta in Italy during the Franco-Austrian War.
5, 1646 - Battle of Benburb
5, 1798 - Reverend William Steel Dickson, a Presbyterian minister, and United Irishmen supporter arrested and imprisoned, without trial.
5, 1798 - Battle of New Ross
5, 1899 - Margaret Anne Cusack (Sister Mary Francis Clare), the 'Nun of Kenmare,' dies in England. 
6, 1690 - William of Orange enters Dublin following his victory at the Boyne.
6, 1798 - Rebellion breaks out in Ulster: Henry Joy McCracken issues a proclamation calling United Irishmen in Ulster to arms.
6, 1921 - The British government calls off the policy of house burnings as official reprisals.

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


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