This Week in the History of the Irish: May 5 - May 11

DOMHNAIGH -- 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.

MÁIRT -- 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.

CÉADAOIN -- 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.

AOINE -- On May 10, 1806James Shields (left), who would have one of the most remarkable careers in American history, was born in County Tyrone, Ireland. Coming to the United States, he first settled in Illinois. While there, Shields fought in the Black Hawk War and nearly fought a duel with Abraham Lincoln, with whom he was later very friendly. Shields was a brigadier general of volunteers during the Mexican War and fought at Cerro Gordo; he was commended by Winfield Scott, commander of the American invasion force. After the war, he was elected Senator, first from Illinois and later from Minnesota. At the start of the Civil War, his former enemy, Lincoln, appointed him brigadier general. His war record was not outstanding, but he was one of the few Federal commanders to ever defeat "Stonewall" Jackson, at the 1st Battle of Kernstown in March 1862. Of course, Jackson would more than avenge that defeat later. After the war, Shields was appointed Senator from Missouri, making him the only man in U.S. history to represent three states in the Senate. He died June 1, 1879, while on a speaking tour in Ottumwa, Iowa. James Shields is buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, Carrollton, Missouri.

SATHAIRN -- 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.

(Right: 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.)

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!"

VOICES

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).
10, 1810 -James Shields (Union General - US Senator from three different states - Co. Tyrone) 
10, 1832 - William Grace (First Irish Catholic Mayor of New York - Cobh, Co. Cork.)
11, 1788 - Henry Cooke (Cleric - Maghera, Co. Derry)
11, 1933Father Mychal Judge (Catholic priest killed on 9/11 - Brooklyn, NY.)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

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, 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, in 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.
10, 1318 - Battle of Dysert O'Dea.
10, 1795 - United Irishmen of Ulster secretly meet in Belfast and adopt new constitution.
11, 1745 - Battle of Fontenoy, charge of Irish Brigade of French army breaks English line. 

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

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