This Week in the History of the Irish: September 3 - September 9

DOMHNAIGH -- On September 3, 1842, John Devoy, (in a prison photo, left) one of the most devoted revolutionaries the world has ever seen, was born in Kill, County Kildare. John showed his commitment to Irish freedom early, refusing to sing 'God Save the Queen' in school at the tender age of 10. He was a faithful Fenian at 18 and later led Fenian recruitment among Irish soldiers of the British army. In 1866 he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years but was released during the '71 amnesty, on condition he leave Ireland. Moving to America he worked as a journalist and joined Clan na Gael which had become the leading Irish-American ally of the Irish republican movement. Devoy was soon its leading member. His greatest early success was the freeing of six Fenians from a penal colony in Australia on the whaling ship Catalpa and he accomplished much through his cooperation with the land reform movement in Ireland. He also became involved with numerous large and small disputes within the organization and saw it through a low period in the late 19th century. Through Devoy, Clan na Gael helped finance many Irish causes, culminating with the group's support of the Easter Rising and the War of Independence. He visited the Free State in 1924 and was given a well-deserved hero's welcome by the government and the people of Ireland. Few men have sustained their revolutionary zeal into their 80s as did Devoy. John Devoy died in Atlantic City, N.J., on September 29, 1928, having sacrificed his entire life for Ireland.

LUAIN -- September 4, 1607, (Julian calendar) was a crucial day in Irish history. On that day Hugh O'Neill, Ruari O'Donnell, and many other chiefs of their families departed from Lough Swilly for the continent. It is known in Irish history as the 'Flight of the Earls." O'Neill and his O'Donnell allies, led by "Red" Hugh, had fought Queen Elizabeth long and hard during the 'Nine Years War.' They had come very close to winning that war. But since their defeat at Kinsale in 1601, the chance of success of their cause had slowly faded. "Red" Hugh had died in Spain in 1602, probably poisoned by a British spy, and O'Neill had submitted to the crown soon afterward. Elizabeth died at the same time but her successor, James I, wanted to plant Ulster more heavily with loyal Scotch and English settlers and O'Neill was sure to object -- he had to go. A plot was devised to arrest O'Neill and Ruari O'Donnell, 'Red' Hugh's brother. O'Neill saw through the British plot, but he had few options -- lacking the resources to fight the English again, flight was the only option. And so they gathered at Lough Swilly and sailed to France, most never to see Ireland again. James I would soon plant the O'Neill and O'Donnell lands with Protestant settlers, helping to sow the seeds of the present 'Troubles.' O'Donnell died in Rome in 1608; O'Neill died there also in 1616.

AOINE -- On September 8, 1798, Lord Cornwallis and General Gerard Lake cornered French General Joseph Humbert's small Franco-Irish army at Ballinamuck, County Longford. With the two British armies closing in, Humbert drew his men up into line of battle. Humbert had less than 2,000 men, and only about 850 were his trained French troops; he was confronted with many times that number of British. Many of Humbert's French troops urged him to surrender, but he believed he was honor-bound to make some sort of fight. After about a half-hour of combat, Humbert and his Frenchmen surrendered. Most of the Irish rebels were not given that opportunity -- they were slaughtered in the hundreds by the dragoons who rode them down, slashing left and right. Many of those who were taken alive would be executed, including Wolfe Tone's brother Matthew and Bartholomew Teeling, of Antrim. Both had accompanied Humbert from France and were commissioned French officers, wearing French uniforms, but this defense was rejected by the British and they were executed at Arbour Hill barracks in Dublin. There were but a few more tragedies yet to be played out before the catastrophic year of 1798 came to a close.

Courtesy of Dick Dowling Camp, SCV
Lt. Richard Dowling, hero of Sabine Pass

AOINE -- On September 8, 1863, a small Confederate force commanded by Richard W. Dowling, a red-headed 25-year-old Houston saloon owner, won one of the most remarkable victories of the American Civil War. The Union commander had dispatched four heavy gunboats, 18 transports and 5,000 men to force its way up Sabine Pass, between Texas and Louisiana. They were to enter Texas and capture Sabine City and from there take Houston and Galveston. Tuam, Co. Galway-born Dowling, a lieutenant in the Confederate Army, held a partially finished earthwork called Fort Griffin with only 40 men, almost all of them also Irish, and six cannon. The orders Dowling received stated: "If you cannot defend, abandon the fort," but he and his men decided to stand to their guns. Dowling may have duped the Federals into thinking the fort was abandoned by holding his fire until the lead gunboat was only 1,200 yards away. When he opened fire he quickly disabled the Sachem and the Clifton, causing heavy damage and severe casualties. Both damaged ships hoisted the white flag and the rest of the fleet withdrew in disorder. Dowling and his men had inflicted an amazing defeat on the Union forces -- the Federals suffered 50 killed, a large number wounded, and 350 men and 2 gunboats captured, while Dowling had no casualties. Confederate President Jefferson Davis had a medal struck to commemorate the stunning victory, the only such medal ever awarded by that government. In 1937 a statue of Dowling was unveiled on the site of the fort, and last year a bronze plaque honoring Dowling was unveiled at the Tuam Town Hall. You can learn more about Dowling and his men at the Dick Dowling Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans Facebook page.

(Below: The Battle Of Sabine Pass by Andrew Jackson Houston, Son Of Sam Houston)

SATHAIRN -- About September 9, 1845, the first effects of the potato blight were reported around Ireland. No one was sure what caused the potato leaves and stalks to turn black and wither, and the potato to rot in the ground or sometimes seem fine on digging but then turn to putrid mush. It was the damp weather, some thought, or the unusually cold weather. Still, others were sure it was a punishment from God; some Protestants thinking it was for granting Catholic emancipation, and some Catholics that it was for accepting British money to finance Maynooth College.

(Left: From The Illustrated London News, August 29, 1846: A potato plant attacked by the blight. The lower leaves are dead -- the stem and upper leaves show black spots.)

No matter the cause, the peasantry of Ireland, virtually all Catholics, was now at the mercy of two forces completely beyond their control -- Mother Nature and the Parliament of Great Britain. The cause of the blight was a fungus we now know as 'Phytophthora infesians,' and there would be no cure until the 1880s; the cure for British rule would be even longer in coming. The unknown fungus, combined with the inept, some say criminal, colonial administration of Great Britain, was about to turn the beautiful green isle of Erin into a hell on earth -- it was the start of An Ghorta Mor, the Great Hunger.


O, sad in green Tyrone when you left us, Hugh O'Neill,
In our grief and bitter need, to the spoiler's cruel steel!
And sad in Donegal when you went, O! Rory Ban,
From your father's rugged towers and the wailing of your clan!

         -- From The Princes of the North by Ethna Carbery

After having obtained the greatest successes and made the arms of the French Republic triumph during my stay in Ireland, I have at length been obliged to submit to a superior force of 30,000 men.'
         -- From Gen. Humbert's report to the Directory of the French Republic after his defeat at Ballinamuck, September 1798

'There is no parallel in ancient or modern warfare to the victory of Dowling and his men at Sabine Pass, considering the great odds against which they had to contend.'
         -- Confederate President Jefferson Davis on the actions of Lt. Richard Dowling and his Davis Guards on September 8, 1863


September -- Meán Fomhair

3, 1842 - John Devoy (Fenian - Kill, Co. Kildare.)
4, 1851
 - John Dillon (Nationalist - Blackrock, Co. Dublin.)
6, 1866
 - James “Gentlemen Jim” Corbett (Heavyweight Champion – San Francisco, CA)
8, 1812 - John Martin (Young Irelander - Newry, Co. Down.)


3, 1741 - Irish-born Gen. Peter Lacy commands a Russian army which routs the Swedes at Wilmanstrand.
3 - Oct. 28, 1779 - Dillion's Regiment of the Irish Brigade of France takes part in the siege of Savannah.
4, 1607 (Julian calendar)
 - Flight of the Earls - O'Neill and other Irish nobles sail for the continent.
4, 1844 - Conspiracy judgment against Daniel O'Connell is reversed by House of Lords.

5, 1798 -
 Gen. Humbert's combined force of French soldiers and Irish rebels defeat an English force under Col Vereker at Collooney, south of Sligo town.
7, 1695
 - Penal Laws passed severely restricting the rights of Catholics in Ireland.
7, 1892 - "Gentleman" Jim Corbett beats John L. Sullivan for the Heavyweight boxing championship in New Orleans, LA.
8, 1798 - Ballinamuck, County Longford - Surrender of the French invasion force and Irish rebels to Cornwallis and the English army.
8, 1863 - Confederates under the command of Richard Dowling (Galway) repulse the Union invasion of Texas at the battle of Sabine Pass.
8, 1893 - The House of Lords rejects the 2nd Home Rule Bill.
8, 1908 - St Enda's school founded by Patrick Pearse.
9, 1706 - Dillon's regiment of the Irish Brigade of France fights at the Battle of Castiglione.
9, 1774 - Charles O'Brien, 6th Viscount Clare, soldier in the Irish Brigade of France, dies at Montpellier, Fance.
9, 1845 - First report of a new, and ultimately horrific, potato blight in Ireland.

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Tags: History of Ireland, Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History, On This Day, United States


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