This Week in the History of the Irish: September 7 - September 13

Linen Hall Library
Lord Charles Cornwallis had already lost one colony, and his reputation wouldn't survive the loss of another.

LUAIN -- On September 8, 1798, Lord 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

LUAIN -- 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 Web site.

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.

MÁIRT -- 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.

SATHAIRN -- On September 13, 1803, John Barry(below), of Ballysampson, Co. Wexford, considered by many to be the 'Father of the U.S. Navy,' died in Philadelphia. At a young age, Barry went to sea as a fisherman; by age 20, he had a master's licensee. He emigrated to Philadelphia in 1760 and worked his way up to ownership of a merchant vessel. In 1775, he offered his services when the Continental Congress first formed the Navy. Given command of the sloop Lexington, Barry engaged and captured the British sloop Edward on April 7, 1776. It was the first capture of a British warship by a commissioned U.S. ship. Later, commanding the frigate Alliance, he would capture two more British ships, but he was severely wounded during those actions. After the war, Barry oversaw much of the building and improvement of the Navy and was promoted to commodore in 1794. Statues commemorate John Barry's life in his adopted home of Philadelphia and near his birthplace in County Wexford.


'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

'But, happily, there is no ground for any apprehensions of the kind [famine] in Ireland. There may have been some partial failures in some localities; but, we believe that there was never a more abundant potato crop in Ireland than there is at present.'
         -- The Dublin Evening Post, September 9, 1845


September -- Meán Fomhair

8, 1812 - John Martin (Young Irelander - Newry, Co. Down.)
11, 1862 - Patrick Henry Morrissey (Labor leader, son of Irish immigrants - Bloomington, IL)
13, 1836 - John McCausland (Confederate General, son of Irish immigrants - St. Louis, MO)


7, 1695 - Penal Laws passed severely restricting the rights of Catholics in Ireland.
8, 1798 - Ballinamuck, County Longford - Surrender of the French invasion for...
8, 1863 - Confederates under the command of Richard Dowling (Galway) repulse ...
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 Ir...
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 while serving in the Dublin Fusiliers.
11, 1649 - Massacre at Drogheda. Cromwell captures the town and slaughters the garrison.
12, 1850 - Presley O'Bannon, U.S. Marine hero of the capture of Derna, Libya (on 'The Shores of Tripoli) dies and is buried in Henry County KY - later reinterred in Frankfort Cemetery.
12, 1912 - "Ulster Day," Edward Carson and other Unionists pledge to resist Home Rule "to the end."
12, 1919 - Dail Eireann declared illegal.
13, 1803 - John Barry, of Wexford, US Navy commodore, father of US Navy, dies.

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

Comment by William Kenny on September 9, 2014 at 4:04pm

While there are close to 4000 different varieties of potato, the fungus effected only one strain of potato and this was the predominant type of potato planted in Ireland. One other fact, Ireland under Anglo-Saxon rule was still exporting other types of food to England but would not feed the Irish People. We have to call it what it was genocide. So to hell with all the Royals.

Comment by Terry McMahon on September 11, 2014 at 1:22pm

From what I´ve seen in BBC´s History of Scotland the fungus affected Scottish potatos as well, but the English government choosed to send food to Scotland because they found the Highlanders "amuzing" people, so they helped sending food. Sad story.


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