This Week in the History of the Irish: September 4 - September 10

DOMHNAIGH -- 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.

(Below: Contemporary plan of the Ballinamuck battle-ground, marking the positions of the opposing forces.)

DEARDAOIN -- On September 8, 1798Lord Charles 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

DEARDAOIN -- 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)

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.

AOINE -- About September 9, 1845, the first effects of the potato blight were reported around Ireland. No one was sure what caused the potato leafs 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. 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.

DEARDAOIN On September 10, 1602, “Red” Hugh O’Donnell died in Simancas, Spain. “Red” Hugh is one of the most romantic figures in Irish history. (Right: Donegal Castle in Donegal Town) In 1588, at about 17, Hugh was snatched away from his family and held hostage by the English in Dublin Castle to insure the good behavior of his clan. After three years O’Donnell escaped the Castle in the dead of a bitter winter; one of his companion in that escape, a son of Shane O’Neill died of exposure and “Red” Hugh suffering severe frostbite in the process. A year later the 21 year old Hugh became head of the O’Donnell clan. For the next ten years he would lead his clan in a desperate, and ultimately unsuccessful fight to save the Gaelic culture of Ireland. Allied with the legendary Hugh O’Neill, the he would help bring the Irish to the very brink of expelling the English occupation. At Yellow Ford, in 1598, they would hand the English their worst defeat ever on Irish soil. But England superior resources of men and equipment would eventually win out. After a disastrous defeat or the Irish and their Spanish allies at Kinsale in 1602, “Red” Hugh was dispatched to Spain in an attempt to win further aid from the King Philip. At Simancas O’Donnell suddenly fell ill; there is evidence to suggest that an English agent may have poisoned him. On September 10, 1595, “Red” Hugh O’Donnell breathed his last; the days of the Gaelic culture of Ireland were numbered.


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

Courtesy of Dick Dowling Camp, SCV
The medal awarded to the Davis Guards (D. G.) by Jefferson Davis

'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

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.)
10, 1846 - John Finerty (Soldier, war correspondent, and US Congressman -Co. Galway)


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.
10, 1602 - “Red” Hugh O’Donnell dies in Simancas, Spain, probably poisoned by English spy.
10, 1916 – Irish poet Lt. Tom Kettle dies in attack on Ginchy serving in the Dublin Fusiliers.

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Comment by michael dunne on September 12, 2016 at 2:28pm

Our history in the end of the sixteenth Century was complex with the destruction of the great Earls. The greatest rebellion in our history was the Desmond Rebellion where over a protracted war of scorched earth policies and famine an estimated 500,000 people perished in Munster.

A grim summary of sixteenth century from the observations of Anglo Irish historian W.E.H.Lecky:

The pictures of the condition of Ireland at this time are as terrible as anything in human history. It needs, indeed, the widest stretch of historic charity- it needs the fullest realization of the manner in which, in the sixteenth century, civilized men were accustomed to look upon races they regarded as inferior- to judge this history with equity or moderation.

Some historians dispute these figures, yet it's the least written of. It is also curious that O'Neill or any of the Northern Earls never came to Fitzgeralds aid at that time. O'Neill was an astute politician as well as Warlord. Brought in the English court and well known to Q Elizabeth 1st he bided his time when superimposed by her in Ulster. It is also suggested he aided Lord Grey in the crushing of Catholics in the Desmond rebellion. This failure might go some way to explaining why O'Neill and O Donnell got no help from the Munster Chieftains in 1601.Others think we were well rid of them, and their departure from Irish history ensured four centuries of 'Síolta Teine' earls or no earls!


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