This Week in the History of the Irish: November 24-30

DOMHNAIGH -- On November 24, 1922, during the Irish Civil War, Irish republican Erskine Childers was executed by the Free State government. Childers, whose mother was from County Clare, was born in London. He was wounded while serving in the British army during the Boer War, a war in which the Boer side was supported by most Irish nationalists. After the war, Childers became involved in the Irish nationalist movement; he also wrote a book about his exploits in the Boer War called In the Ranks of the CIV (City Imperial Volunteers). In 1914, Childers was involved in one of the most famous incidents of the republican struggle when he smuggled German rifles into Ireland on his yacht, Asgard.

(Left: Erskine Childers in his British army uniform, c. 1900>

Surprisingly, however, Childers was convinced by John Redmond's arguments that an Irish contribution to England's war effort in World War I would yield home rule, and he enlisted in the British Navy and was even awarded a Distinguished Service Cross. Once the war was over, and he saw that Home Rule for the 32 counties was highly unlikely, he became a committed republican. He was elected to the Daíl Éireann from County Wicklow in 1921 and then appointed minister of propaganda in the Republican government. He was secretary to the Irish delegation that negotiated The Anglo-Irish Treaty, but he opposed that treaty and joined the republican side in the Civil War. In November 1922, Childers was captured by Free Staters while in possession of a pistol. Recent Free State legislation had made that a capital offence and Childers was sentenced to death. Ironically the pistol had been a gift from Michael Collins. On the 27th, he was taken from his cell at dawn and shot. Before they shot him, Childers shook the hand of each member of his firing squad and forgave them. In his prison cell the night before he died, Childers made his son promise to forgive those who were about to kill him; 51 years later that son, also Erskine, would be elected president of the Irish Republic. Read more about The Anglo-Irish Treaty.

MÁIRT -- On the night of November 26, 1781, units of Dillon’s and Walshes regiments of the Irish Brigade of France were among a force of about 400 commanded by Marquis de Bouille that landed on the British-held West Indies island of St. Eustache (now known as Eustatius). De Bouille had more than 1,500 troops with him (about 600 were Irish), but with only 400 ashore since bad weather and high seas made landing the remainder impossible. Knowing that his small force had only the element of surprise in its favor, and not knowing when the weather might allow the rest of his troops to land, the Marquis decided to attack. He ordered Count Arthur Dillon and his Irishmen to march on the barracks with hopes of capturing the island’s governor there.

(Right: Count Arthur Dillon, from a contemporary portrait. His family served France for more than 100 years, but in 1794 he would die on a French guillotine.)

Meanwhile Chevalier de Fresne and Vicomte de Damas would attempt to rush the fort and enter it before the surprised English could close the gates. Dillon’s men managed to march straight toward the barracks without alarming the island’s inhabitants thanks to their red coats. They arrived at the barracks about 6 a.m., where part of the English garrison was on parade. They also thought the Irish were some other English unit, and the Irish gave no sign of hostile intent until the last minute. By then it was too late for the unsuspecting British soldiers. (Quite a number actually being Irishmen.) A point-blank volley and a bayonet charge by Dillon’s men and the fighting there was over. The governor, Lt. Col. Cockburne, rode up shortly afterward and was made a prisoner. The French force sent to assail the fort was also successful, managing to get into the fort before the drawbridge could be closed and overpowering the garrison there. St. Eustache was captured and over 850 British soldiers taken prisoner. Dillon later reported that 530 of the prisoners were Irishmen who immediately agreed to join the Irish Brigade regiments. A large sum of money was found in the governor’s house and de Bouille, in a gesture seldom seen in that era, distributed 100 crowns to each private soldier. 

Over 150 Irishmen, woman and children were on the Queen, some for such heinous crimes as ‘stealing a black hat of silk,’ ‘stealing one silver tea spoon, of ‘taking a drab cloth coat.’ For such appalling crimes, these people were sentenced to ‘transportation for 7 years,’ which sentence might just as well be for life. There was little chance but a few of these people would ever see their beloved island of green again. Until the 1780s, many of England’s ‘criminals’ had been sent to the American Colonies; but the American Revolution had ended that. Over the next 80 odd years, thousands of Irish would arrive in Australia, some by choice, others would also be so-called ‘criminals.’ The ranks of the Irish in Australia would be swelled by revolutionaries from the United Irishmen, Young Ireland and Fenian movments -- often the best and brightest of Ireland’s youth. And just as they did in America, Australia’s Irish would get deeply involved in Australia’s political and labor movements, fighting to ensure that in their new land their children would never have to live under the same tyranny that ruled their homeland. (pic – auschain.jpg – An chain gang in ‘Van Dieman’s land.’ – National Library of Australia.)

AOINE -- On November 29, 1895, Denny Lane (right), author and poet, and member of the revolutionary Young Ireland party, died in Cork. Lane was born in Riverstown, near Glanmire in County Cork, in 1818. Denny attended Trinity College, Dublin. While a student there, he met fellow student Thomas Davis, a man who would have a profound effect on his life. After his schooling, Lane passed the Bar, but he soon became involved in the political activities surrounding Daniel O'Connell, joining the Repeal Association. Lane was active in the Association as was his friend Davis. Davis, Lane and small group of their friends soon became known by the name which has survived to this day: the Young Ireland Party. The young men became increasingly impatient with the slow pace of O'Connell's repeal campaign and soon began to contemplate armed insurrection. Davis, along with John Dillon and Charles Duffy, founded the newspap er of the movement The Nation in 1842. In its pages the idea of total separation from England was soon openly suggested, and Lane became one of the paper's contributors. Lane contributed articles and later poems to the paper, his best known poems being "Carrig Dhoun" and "Kate of Araglen." Finally, in 1846, the issue of physical force split the Young Irelanders from O'Connell's Repeal Association. Lane supported the split. He was among those arrested by the British after the failed '48 Rising, spending four months in prison. After his release, he returned to Cork and does not appear to have had much political involvement from then on. Lane was president of the Cork Literary and Scientific Society, and also had a successful business career in subsequent years before dying at the age of 82.

Library of Congress
William Brimmage Bate, the 10th Tennessee's division commander
at the battle of Franklin.

SATHAIRN -- On November 30, 1864, as the valiant Cleburne met his fate, a tiny band of his countrymen were engaged on another part of the field. The Irish 10th Tennessee, by now whittled down to a mere 36 men, went into the fight at Franklin as part of the second line of Gen. Bate's Division. Just as the 10th was really a small company masquerading as a regiment, Bate commanded a regiment masquerading as a division. The 10th went into action as part of a thin second line on the left flank of the Confederate attack. The unit's attack briefly led the men of the 10th into the works of Federal Gen. Ruger's division, but a strong counterattack soon had Bate's men, including the 10th Tennessee, running to the rear to avoid death or capture. Miraculously, the 10th would have only one man killed, but 10 were wounded, nine of whom were also captured, and one unwounded man was also captured. They had lost a third of their tiny number. Death, injury, decease and desertion over four years had now whittled what had begun as an under-strength regiment in May 1861 down to a squad. For Pvt. Martin Fleming of Co. E, 10th Tennessee, killed that day at Franklin, it is very likely that whatever family he had would never have a body to inter in a family plot. Like millions of 'Wild Geese' the world over before him, Fleming was another Irishmen who died on a foreign field. Just as the soldiers of other generations of 'Wild Geese' now lay in "far foreign fields, from Dunkirk to Belgrade," the bodies of Fleming's generation had sown the ground from Gettysburg to Franklin.


"I have come back [from the Boer War] finally and immutably a convert to Home Rule...though we both grew up steeped in the most irreconcilable sort of Unionism."
  -- Esrkine Childers in 1908

‘Each soldier thus gained for France is worth 3 men to her; she has an enemy the less, a defender the more, and the blood of a citizen saved.’
        -- Count Arthur Dillon discussing the value of Irish soldiers who often deserted from the English army to the Irish Brigade of France

Library of Congress
Patrick Ronayne


'Fare thee well, departed chieftain,
Erin's land sends forth a wail;
And oh! My country sad laments thee
Passed so soon death's dark vale

Blow, ye breezes, softly o'er him,
Fan his brow with gentle breath;
Disturb ye not his gentle slumbers;
Cleburne sleeps the sleep of death!

        -- From a poem written for Patrick Cleburne's funeral and placed in his casket by Miss Naomi Hays, niece of former President James K. Polk.

'Where this division ... attacked no numbers resisted its onslaught, save only once, and there is the grave of Cleburne.'
        -- Confederate General William Hardee, offering Cleburne's epitaph

'I went over the front of our works to see what we had done. Well, for 400 yards in front, I could hardly step without stepping on dead and wounded men. The ground was in a perfect slop and mud with blood and, oh such cries that would come up from the wounded was awful. Oh, how they suffered that night was terrible, they had to lay just as they were shot down all night without anything done for them.'
        -- Pvt. Andrew J. Moon, 104th Ohio, in a letter home to his sister about after the battle Franklin


November - Samhain

24, 1807 - Henry Blosse Lynch (Soldier and explorer -- Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo)
26, 1886 - Michael Francis McTigue, (Light-heavy weight boxing champion Kilnamona, Co. Clare)
27, 1923 - Edwin Joseph O’Hara (WWII hero, Lindsay, California.)
29, 1902 - Tommy Loughran (Light-Heavyweight boxing champion,Philadelphia, PA.)
30, 1667 - Jonathan Swift (Author -- Hoey's Court, Dublin)


24, 1865 - IRB founder James Stephens escapes from Richmond Gaol.
24, 1922 
- Erskine Childers(Irish Republican) executed by Free State.
25, 1783 - After the British evacuate New York City, George Washington has breakfast with Irish immigrant and American spy Hercules Mulligan, helping to clear his reputation in the city.
25, 1864 - The 10th Tenn. (Confederate-Irish) fights at the battle of Missionary Ridge, TN.
25, 1913 - Founding of the Irish Volunteers.
26, 1781 - Units of Dillon's and Walshes regiments of the Irish Brigade of France help capture the island of St. Eustache.
27, 1819 - Irish-born Gustavus Conyngham, "The Dunkirk Pirate," dies in Philadelphia, PA.
27, 1906 - Michael Cusack, founder of the GAA, dies.
27, 1953 - Playwright Eugene O'Neill dies at the Shelton Hotel in Boston.
28, 1864 - Foundation of Fenian newspaper, "Irish People."
28, 1899 - Irish units in Boer army fight in the battle of Modder River (Modderspruit).
28, 1920 - Tom Barry and his Cork Flying Column ambush an Auxiliary convoy in Kilmichael.
29, 1895 - Denny Lane, Young Irelander, author and poet dies.
30, 1864 - The 10th Tenn. (Confederate-Irish) fights at battle of Franklin, TN.
30, 1864 - Irish-born Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne is killed in command of his division at battle of Frankin, TN.
30, 1900 - Playwright and poet Oscar Wilde dies in Paris.
30, 1930 - Union organizer and human rights activist Mary Harris "Mother" Jones dies and is buried in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois.

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


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