This Week in the History of the Irish: September 8 - September 14

DOMHNAIGH -- 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

DOMHNAIGH -- 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)

LUAIN -- 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.

MÁIRT 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 ensure the good behavior of his clan. After three years O’Donnell escaped the Castle in the dead of a bitter winter; one of his companions 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, then 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 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.

AOINE -- On September 13, 1803, John Barry (left), 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.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress
John McCausland

AOINE -- On September 13, 1836 John McCausland, Confederate General and son of an Irish immigrant, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. McCausland grew up in the western part of Virginia and graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1857. He taught there following graduation and served in the cadet detachment that was on guard during the hanging of John Brown. Though many people in western Virginia remained loyal to the Union when the Civil War began, McCausland did not. He recruited a Confederate regiment, the 36th Virginia, and commanded it as it's first colonel.

McCausland and his regiment were transferred to Albert Johnston's western army in early 1862 and narrowly escaped capture at Fort Donelson. They were sent back to western Virginia later that year and fought there through 1863. In May 1864 McCausland was promoted to brigadier general and given a cavalry command. McCausland fought well through to the end of the war, but unfortunately he is best remembered as the man who burned Chambersburg, PA under orders from General Jubal Early in July 1864. In April 1865 he had his cavalry brigade cut its way through the Federal lines rather than surrender, but he disbanded them several days later. Returning to the area where he grew up, now the state of West Virginia, McCausland would be dogged by the memory of his burning of Chambersburg for the rest of his life. He was even charged with it in PA later, but President Grant used his influence to have the charge dropped. McCausland would spend two years in Europe and Mexico to escape the problems associated with the Chambersburg incident. He later bought a large tract of land in Macon County, West Virginia and lived there over 60 years as a recluse. When he died on January 22, 1927 he was the next to last surviving Confederate general of the war.


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

 "O'Donnell is dead... he is poisoned by James Blake, of whom your lordship hath been formerly acquainted..."
--  Sir George Carew, President of Munster during part of the Nine Years' War, to Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy

“No Sir, the thunder! If this ship cannot be fought without me, I will be brought on deck; to your duty, Sir.” -- John Barry to a junior officer while wounded below decks when it was suggested they surrender. 


September -- Meán Fomhair

8, 1812 - John Martin (Young Irelander - Newry, Co. Down.)
10, 1846 - John Finerty (Soldier, war correspondent, and US Congressman -Co. Galway)
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)


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.
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 in Philadelphia.
14, 1908 - Montana and Alaska pioneer John J. Healy dies in San Francisco.

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Tags: American Civil War, Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History, On This Day, United States


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