This Week in the History of the Irish: September 15 - September 21

MÁIRT -- On Sept. 17, 1860, units of the Irish Battalion of St. Patrick of the Papal army fought a Piedmontese army allied with Garibaldi at Spoleto. Spoleto was a walled city south of Florence with the fortress of Rocca on the side of a hill. Maj. Miles O'Reilly commanded the Irish, and with his men awaited the Piedmontese army in the fortress. The Piedmontese arrived on the 16th under the command of Brignone and the next day demanded that O'Reilly surrender. O'Reilly rejected that offer and the assault commenced soon afterward. In spite of a long, heavy bombardment, when the famed Bersaglieri advanced, they were met with a withering fire by the Irish on the walls that stopped them in their tracks. The outcome was in doubt, but the bishop of Spoleto, distraught at the destruction of his city, arranged a cease-fire. O'Reilly was nearly out of ammunition at that point; he sent a Papal representative to Brignone and surrender terms were arranged. Brignone described O'Reilly as "both honorable and brave" and allowed the Irish to march out as prisoners with officers retaining their swords.


Library of Congress
In this photo by Alexander Gardner, the Sunken Road is seen filled with Confederate dead.

MÁIRT -- On Sept. 17, 1862, the Irish Brigade of the Federal Army fought in one of the most famous battles of the American Civil War: Antietam. As Gen. George McClellan attempted to push back the Southern arrny of Robert E. Lee across the Potomac, the Irish Brigade and the rest of the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac attacked near the center of Lee's line along the banks of Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland. There the rebels had found a sunken roadbed to serve as a ready-made trench, a formidable defensive position. As the Irish Brigade came over the crest of a rise in front of the road, it was met full in the face by the volleys of thousands of Confederates. Unable to move forward, the Brigade's men lay on the ground and returned fire, taking horrendous casualties as they did. Irish Brigade commander Thomas Francis Meagher's horse was shot from under him -- the 69th New York would lose eight color bearers, the 63rd five. But the buck and ball ammunition in their smooth-bore muskets was also taking a toll on the enemy. Eventually the position would be taken by the Federals, but at a terrible cost to the Irish Brigade. That sunken road is now known as "Bloody Lane." In October 1997, the Irish Cultural Foundation unveiled a monument commemorating the sacrifice of the Irish Brigade near the site of "Bloody Lane."

Michael Corcoran left his imprint on his Legion, which continued to carry his name after his death in December 1863.

SATHAIRN -- On Sept. 21, 1827, Michael Corcoran (right), a brigadier general in the Federal Army during America's Civil War, was born in Carrowkeel, County Sligo. Corcoran served as a policeman in the Royal Irish Constabulary but resigned during the Great Hunger, no longer able to condone the repressive actions of that police force against the starving Irish. He emigrated to New York and found work in the city's employ while also joining the 69th New York State Militia as a private. He rose through the ranks to colonel commanding the regiment and won the hearts of the city's Irish population when he refused to parade the 69th for the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1860. The state intended to court-martial him for this but the start of the Civil War led officials to dismiss the charges, and Corcoran led the regiment to Washington. At the Battle of 1st Bull Run, Corcoran was wounded and captured and spent the next 13 months in various Confederate prisons before he was finally exchanged. His health would never recover from that time in Southern prison camps. Promoted to brigadier general on his return, he recruited a brigade of volunteers from Irish enclaves in New York state that became known as Corcoran's Legion. He led the legion and then a division during the Suffolk (Virginia) campaign in April 1863. While there he was involved with a regrettable incident. While riding with fellow Fenian leader John O'Mahoney, Corcoran shot and killed Lt. Col. Edgar Kimball of the 9th New York Infantry. Corcoran was ordered to face a court-martial in the case, but it was never convened. On December 22, 1863, Corcoran was riding with Brig. Gen. Thomas F. Meagher and others when he suddenly fell from his horse and died shortly afterwards. Many articles on Corcoran say he was killed when his horse fell on him, but recent research points toward a stroke as the most likely cause of death. On December 27, he was interred at Calvary Cemetery in the borough of Queens, today within New York City.

SATHAIRN-- On Sept. 21, 1881, revolutionary Éamonn Ceannt (Kent) (left) was born in Glenamaddy, County Galway. He was educated at University College, Dublin, and worked on the clerical staff of the Dublin city council. Éamonn joined the Gaelic League in 1900 and later taught classes in Irish. Ceannt was a pipe player, once playing the uileann pipes for the Pope in Rome. He was said to love the language, music and dance of his native country and to have an unshakeable commitment to Irish freedom. Ceannt joined Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1908. He was also one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and was elected to its Provisional Committee. The day before the Easter Rising in 1916, Ceannt was one of the seven signatories to the Proclamation, in effect, signing their death warrants. During the Rising, he commanded the area of the South Dublin Union. The plan called for him to hold the area with 1,000 men; he had only 130, but his small command, especially Cathal Brugha, resisted the British until Patrick Pearse surrendered the entire rebel force. Like the other leaders of the Rising, Éamonn Ceannt faced the kangaroo court that condemned him with his head held high. On May 7, he wrote his wife a note, telling her, "I shall die, like a man for Ireland's sake." On May 8, he was put up against a wall in Kilmainham Jail and shot.


'French and Italian witnesses on both sides are unanimous as to the valour of the Irish [at Spoleto] …. Almost all the column of assault were killed or wounded. … The assault was repulsed that day.'  -- Historian G.M. Trevelyan reporting on the battle of Spoleto

T. F. Meagher

'How sad it is, General, that we are not marching against a line of redcoats to free our own country.'  -- Called out to Brig. Gen. Thomas Francis Meagher by a man in the ranks of the Irish Brigade at Antietam, September 17, 1862
'... let him rest in the soil that is sacred to liberty, under the starry arch of the Republic he so nobly served, and within sight of that city which honored him when dead as she honored him when living, and where his name will never sound strange …  -- From Thomas Francis Meagher's oration in honor of Michael Corcoran at a memorial service for him in Manhattan, January 22, 1864

National Library of Ireland
Éamonn Ceannt

'To my dear poor little son, Ronan, from his father who is on the point of dying tomorrow for Ireland. Goodbye, E.K.
P.S. Take good care of your dear mother. May God help the two of you and may He give you both long life and happineess. God free Ireland.'  
-- Éamonn Ceannt (Kent) in a note to his son the night before his execution, May 7, 1916



September -- Meán Fomhair

17, 1711 - John Holwell, (surgeon and survivor of 'Black Hole of Calcutta' - Dublin
17, 1903 - Frank O'Connor (Author - Cork)
17, 1920 - Chaim Herzog (President of Israel - Belfast)
19, 1737 - Charles Carroll (Only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence - Annapolis, MD)
20, 1847- Michael Cusack (GAA founder - Carron, Co. Clare)
21, 1827 - Michael Corcoran (Union General - Co. Donegal)
21, 1881 - Èamonn Ceannt (Revolutionary - Glenamaddy, Co. Galway.)



15, 1866 - John Blake Dillon, Young Irelander, co-founder of The Nation, dies in Killarney.
15, 1997 - Sinn Fein joins multiparty peace talks in Northern Ireland.
16, 1701 - King James II dies in France.
16, 1798 - Small French force under James Napper Tandy makes brief landing on Rutland Island, Co Donegal.
16, 1798 - Belfast United Irish leaders arrested.
16, 1845 - Young Ireland poet Thomas Davis dies of fever.
17, 1860 - Irish Papal Brigade fights Garibaldi's army at Spoleto, Italy.
17, 1862 - Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg, MD) - Irish Brigade assault on "Bloody Lane." 6th Louisiana fights on Confederate side.
18, 1851 - Anne Devilin, friend and comrade of Robert Emmet, dies in Dublin.
18, 1860 - Elements of the St. Patrick's battalion of the Papal army fight in the battle of Castlefidardo.
18, 1867 - "Smashing of the van." Fenian rescue of Kelly and Deasy in Manchester, England.
19-20, 1863 - The 10th Tenn. (Confederate-Irish) fights at battle of Chickamauga, GA.
19-20, 1864 - 25, 1864 - Irish-born Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne commands a division at battle of Chickamauga, GA.
20, 1803 - Robert Emmet hung drawn and quartered in Dublin.
20, 1920 - Kevin Barry captured after an IRA attack on British van.
21, 1601 - Spanish force lands at Kinsale.
21, 1795 - 'Battle of the Diamond' near Loughgall, Co Armagh, between Peep O' Day Boys and Defenders, leading to foundation of Orange Order.
21-23, 1798 - British Gen. Trench attacks the French and Irish left behind by Humbert to hold Killala. About 300 Irish rebels are killed, some while trying to surrender.

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Tags: 69th NY, American Civil War, Antietam, Battle of 1st Bull Run, Battle of Antietam, Corcoran's Legion, Diaspora History, Easter Rising, Europe, Fenians, More…Garibaldi, Irish Battalion of St. Patrick, Irish Brigade, Michael Corcoran, Miles O'Reilly, Military History, On This Day, United States, homas Francis Meagher, Éamonn Ceannt, Éamonn Kent


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