This Week in the History of the Irish: October 11 - October 17

DOMHNAIGH -- On October 11, 1860, all the militia units of New York City were ordered to turn out to march in honor of the visiting Prince of Wales, the 19-year-old heir to the English throne.

(Left: Courtesy of the late Lt. Col. Ken Powers, historian, 69th Regiment, New York Infantry - The 'Prince of Wales flag,' presented by grateful Irish citizens on March 16, 1861, to the 69th Regiment "in commemoration of the 11th Oct. 1860." The flag has been restored and is on display in the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan.)

One unit in that city refused to obey this order: the 69th Regiment New York State Militia. Five days earlier, Col. Michael Corcoran, commander of the 69th, had refused tickets to the ball in the Prince's honor telling those who invited him that he was "not desirous of joining in the festivity." As for the order to march, he said he refused to ask the sons of Erin to honor the son of "a sovereign under whose reign Ireland was made a desert and her sons forced to exile." He was also heard to refer to the Prince as "the bald-faced son of our oppressor." Corcoran's actions caused a firestorm of outrage around the country and especially in New York. U.S. citizens, most completely ignorant of the conditions under which many of these men had lived in British-controlled Ireland, saw the actions of the men of the 69th as an insult to American hospitality in welcoming these immigrants to their adopted country. (Though in truth, that welcome had been much less than lukewarm.) Corcoran was arrested and stripped of his command by New York and a court-martial was planned. But Corcoran had written his name forever in the pantheon of Irish heroes in America. New York's Irish presented the regiment with a green flag commemorating the event. Before Corcoran could be tried on the charge, Fort Sumter was fired on and the country was more worried about saving the Union than honoring visiting princes. Corcoran would lead his regiment into battle at 1st Bull Run, on July 21, 1861, with what is now called the "Prince of Wales Flag" flying proudly above his men.

CÉADAOIN -- On Oct. 14, 1814, Thomas Osborne Davis, the poet laureate of the Young Ireland party and one of its founders, was born in Mallow, Co. Cork. Like many other revolutionary Irish leaders, Davis was of an Anglo-Irish family; his father was a British army surgeon. He graduated from Trinity College and was called to the bar in 1838, but he never practiced.

(Right: Thomas Davis from an illustration in Atlas and Cyclopedia of Ireland, c. 1903.)

Davis joined Daniel O'Connell's Repeal Association in 1839; the rest of his short life would be dedicated to the cause of Irish freedom. In 1840, along with John Blake Dillon and Gavan Duffy, he founded The Nation, the paper which gave voice to the Young Irelanders. The poetry and prose in the paper, especially Davis', but also those of many other Irish nationalists, was an inspiration to people of Ireland, helping to reawaken the spirit of Irish nationalism. Many of his poems focused on past glories, such as, Fontenoy, Battle Eve of the Brigadeand Death of Owen Roe O'Neill, and others, such as his most famous verse, A Nation Once Again contained a hopeful vision of the future. The latter, The West's Asleep, and many other of Davis' poems have been put to music, and are very popular to this day. The movement Davis helped found would be short-lived, but it would still outlive him. On Sept. 16, 1845, 28 days before his 31st birthday, Davis died of a fever at his mother's house at 67 Baggot St., Dublin.

National Library of Ireland
Mary Spring-Rice, right, next to Molly Childers aboard the Asgard, July 1914.

CÉADAOIN -- On Oct. 14, 1880, nationalist and Gaelic League activist Mary Ellen Spring-Rice was born in Foynes, Co. Limerick. Her family had Jacobite roots but by the time Mary Ellen was a child, it was very much a part of the Anglo-Irish ruling class. Her father was the 2nd Baron of Monteagle, with estates in Kerry and Limerick, her cousin was the British ambassador to the U.S. Mary grew up around many Irish speakers in the Foynes, Co. Limerick, area and became a fluent Irish speaker. This was to influence her entire life. She met Dr. Douglas Hyde early in her life and later joined his Gaelic League. Mary organized many Irish language festivals in Limerick and hired an Irish teacher for a local school. She helped her cousin Nellie O'Brien organize an Irish-language summer school, even getting many of her establishment relatives to contribute money. Like many others before and since Mary Ellen's study of the native language of Ireland influenced her politics and she was soon an ardent nationalist. It is said that it was she who first proposed to Erskine Childers the idea of transporting German arms to Ireland aboard private yachts, such as the one Childers owned. She then helped plan the famous Asgard gun-running affair into Howth on July 26, 1914, and accompanied Childers and his wife, Molly, on the ship during the actual operation. Mary's health began to fail while she was working as a nurse during the War of Independence. When she died in 1924, she was buried in Loghill, Co. Limerick, near her childhood home. Local republicans carried her coffin to the cemetery in honor of her contributions to the fight for Ireland's freedom and the preservation of its language.

DEARDAOIN -- On Oct. 15, 1763, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, military leader of the United Irishmen, was born in Carton House, Co. Kildare. Like Wolfe Tone and Emmet, Lord Edward was from a prominent family. His father was the 1st Duke of Leinster and his mother was the daughter of the Duke of Richmond. But there were rebels in his family tree also -- he was a descendant of 'Silken Thomas' Fitzgerald, who was executed by the English in 1537. Lord Edward served in the British army with the Sussex Militia against the American colonists and was severely wounded at the battle of Eutaw Springs in '81. He spent time in Paris after the war, where one of his companions was Thomas Paine. There he acquired his republican ideals. One night at a dinner of British residents of Paris he toasted to the abolition of hereditary titles, which caused his discharge from the British army.

Right: Lord Edward Fitzgerald by Horace Hone - 1797

He returned to Ireland and in the mid-1790s he joined the United Irishmen. With his military experience, he was one of the main planners of the '98 Rising. In March '98, when many of the United Irish leaders were arrested, he barely escaped capture. He managed to hide out in Dublin for a time, but a spy betrayed his hiding place on Thomas Street. Lord Edward was arrested there on May 19; he resisted fiercely, stabbing one of his opponents to death, but another shot him and he died of his wounds on June 4. His loss was a terrible blow to the cause of the United Irishmen but his name lives on as another in a long line of Irish rebels who made a conscious choice of principle over power and money.

SATHAIRN -- On Oct. 17, 1803, nationalist politician and Young Irelander William Smith O'Brien was born in Dromoland, County Clare. O'Brien was educated in England and was a Conservative when elected to Parliament from Ennis in 1829. However, his politics changed once there and by 1844 he supported Daniel O'Connell's Repeal Movement. He soon became a member of the Young Irelanders. In 1848 the British suspended habeas corpus and began arresting all the Young Ireland leaders. Smith eluded escape for a time and led a brief, abortive rising in Tipperary. He was arrested and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered but the sentence was reduced to penal servitude for life in Tasmania. After serving five years there, he was given a partial pardon in 1854 and then a full pardon two years later. As he prepared to leave Australia in '54 he was given a series of dinners and testimonials and presented with gifts by the Irish population of the area. O'Brien lived in Brussels until his final pardon came through and then returned to Ireland but did not participate in Irish politics again. On June 16, 1864, he died in Bangor, Wales. He is buried in Rathronan churchyard in Co. Limerick.

VOICES

'... refused lawfully as a citizen, courageously as a soldier, indignantly as an Irishman. ...'
        
 -- Part of Thomas Francis Meagher's assessment of Michael Corcoran's refusal to allow the 69th New York State Militia regiment to parade for the Prince of Wales, October 1860

'The prophet I followed throughout my life, the man whose words and teachings I tried to translate into practice in politics.'
        -- Sinn Fein founder Arthur Griffin on his respect for Young Irelander Thomas Osborne Davis

'You're the greatest soldier, ma'am, indeed, y'are.'
        -- Michael O'Rahilly (The O'Rahilly) to Mary Rice's companion on the Asgard, Molly Childers, at the quay in Howth. A sentiment he no doubt would have applied to Mary Ellen Spring-Rice as well.

Lord Edward Fitzgerald, from an early 20th century postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons.

''What a noble fellow. Of the first family of Ireland, with an easy fortune, a beautiful wife, a family of lovely children, the certainty of a splendid appointment under the government, if he would condescend to support their measures; he has devoted himself wholly to the emancipation of his country.'
        -- Theobald Wolfe Tone on Edward Fitzgerald from Tone's diary.

'I had firmly resolved not to say or write or do anything which could be interpreted as a confession on my part that I consider myself a criminal in regard to the transactions of 1848.'

        -- William Smith O'Brien writing to his wife in 1854 after learning of his conditional pardon.

BIRTHS

October -- Deireadh Fomhair

12, 1671 - Peter Drake (soldier and memoir author, Co. Meath.)
13, 1717 - John Armstrong (General in US Continental Army – Brookeborough Co. Fermanagh)
13, 1872 - Charles "Kid" McCoy (Welterweight and Middleweight boxing champion.)
14, 1814 - Thomas Davis (Author and Patriot - Mallow, Co. Cork)
14, 1880 - Mary Rice (Nationalist and Gaelic Leaguer - Foynes, Co. Limerick.)
14, 1882 - Eamon de Valera (Politician and Revolutionary - New York)
15, 1763 - Lord Edward Fitzgerald (Revolutionary - Carton House, Co. Kildare)
15, 1881 - William Pearse (Revolutionary, brother of Patrick - Dublin.)
16, 1854 - Oscar Wilde (Author - Dublin)
16, 1890 - Michael Collins (Revolutionary - Clonakilty, Co. Cork)
17, 1765 - Henry Clarke (Duke of Feltre, soldier and diplomat, Landrecies, France, of Irish parents)
17, 1803 - William Smith O'Brien (Young Irelander - Dromoland, Co. Clare)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

11, 1649 - Massacre at Wexford.
11, 1860 
Michael Corcoran and the 69th militia refuse to parade for the Prince of Wales.
11, 1995
- Dr. Aidan MacCarthy, RAF MD and WWII POW dies in London.
12, 1798 
- French invasion squadron under Admiral JBF Bompart is defeated outside Lough Swilly by British squadron under Sir John Borlase Warren.
12, 1984 – IRA bomb nearly kills Margaret Thatcher in Brighton, England.
13, 1881
 - Parnell arrested for Land League activities.
14, 1702 - Irish Brigade of France fights in the battle of Friedlingen.
14, 1791 - United Irishmen (Irish revolutionary group) formed in Belfast.
14, 1797 - William Orr, United Irishman, executed by the British.
14, 1920 - Sean Treacy killed in Dublin.
15, 1842 - First issue of "The Nation."
16, 1827 - Cavan born Thomas Baron von Brady, general in the Austrian army, dies in Vienna.
16, 1865 - The third Fenian convention, in Philadelphia, approves a plan to invade Canada.
17, 1796 - Grattan's motion in House of Commons in favor of admitting Catholics to parliament defeated.
17, 1882 - Irish National League founded by Parnell, replacing the Outlawed Land League.

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Tags: American Civil War, Australia, Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History

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