Historical Happenings for April 2021 [Part 1]

A LETTER TO POSTERITY
[Part 1]

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY Historian

Patrick Moylett was a businessman who had opened a grocery and provisions business in Ballina, Mayo and established other branches in Galway.  He also acted as a justice of the Dáil Courts under the auspices of Dáil Eireann.  He was told to leave the area after death threats and the burning down of his stores in Ballina.  On 30 April 1921, the Sunday Times published a letter he had sent to the authorities regarding reprisals by the newly recruited British Black and Tans & Auxiliaries.  These are excerpts from that letter:

 I am not a member of the IRA or any such seditious organization. I am secretary of Galway development Association, the Sinn Fein Club and, up to August 1920, a member of Galway arbitration court.  On or about August 18, 1920 I met an ex-inspector of the RIC on O’Connell Street, Dublin.  He told me that he had resigned from the force some weeks previously and stated that all good policemen would have to resign as “the authorities were recruiting a force in London for murder and looting, and that the loot would be their own’ and that in 5 or 6 weeks from then ‘there would be queer work going on in the country’.”  On my return to Galway I told some friends of this conversation, but at the time neither my friends nor myself took much notice of it.  On the night of September 18, my business premises in Williamsgate St., Galway were bombed and shot up and considerable damage was done.  The following day, the Auxiliaries commandeered my private residence known as ‘The Retreat’ in Salthill, giving me 48 hours to vacate the premises.  The Retreat contained 12 rooms all fully furnished.  As Sunday came, a curfew was in force from 9 PM to 8 AM, I had only about eight working hours to clear out, with the result that my furniture etc. was badly damaged from hasty handling and some of it I had to leave behind from want of time to remove it.  The officer in charge of the Auxiliaries informed me that I would get paid for these by the British government and he requested me to make an inventory in duplicate and he would sign it or get it signed for me. This I did the following day, but when I presented it for signing, he did neither sign it nor get it signed.  Now I can neither get the officer nor the furniture etc. nor compensation, although I have written to the authorities several times for same.

When the auxiliaries arrived to take possession of ‘The Retreat’ their section leader told me by way of introduction that they were the auxiliary police sometimes called ‘Tudor’s Toughs’ or ‘Tudors Assassins’ and ‘Black and Tans’  but they did not like that name.  That they were really officers and gentlemen, that they were all equal as regards rank and authority, that they elected their own officers, that they were subject to no law or authority and that if any of their men were injured they would murder all before them. And that they would break Sinn Fein in 10 weeks or leave Galway a wilderness and England never failed. From subsequent experience I believe he was honest about leaving Galway a wilderness. Events proved him right, with the exception of the miscalculation to break Sinn Fein, Galway is pretty well on the way to being a wilderness.  From September 18 when curfew was imposed to October 2, the date I left Galway, I witnessed various  Crown forces in action. Every night there were at least two shops or private houses bombed and/or looted.  In my humble opinion, curfew was adopted as a means of blindfolding the Irish people so that Crown forces could wreak their vengeance on them undetected and on the following morning, an ‘innocent’ member of the Crown forces would call on the victim, if alive, or if not, his relatives to see what happened and, like the Jews at the crucifixion, to ask the victim ‘who smote him’ when they well knew that the victim had been blinded by curfew.

The night of September 30, during curfew my premise in Williamsgate St. were wrecked by bombs, my safe blown open by a high explosion and £173 in notes and silver taken, along with goods valued at £1,634 and private belongings valued at £364 pounds.  I might mention that my premises are not more than 80 yards from the police barracks in which there are over 100 police and I was told by neighbors that the looting of my premises went on all night and was preceded by many bomb explosions.  The morning after, as usual, two RIC district inspectors called to see the wreckage.  The County inspector gave me neither help nor satisfaction.  Instead he cross examined me as to why I did not attend the funerals of the two policemen killed locally and why I attended the funerals of two Sinn Feiners, also killed locally. He cautioned me about using the looting of my premises for propaganda purposes and I have never done so.  On Sunday night October 1, during curfew, a notice was handed to me by a man in Crown uniform warning me not to make a claim under the malicious injuries act and told me to leave Galway by the first train.  I left, but made the claim before I left. A few nights before my premises were wrecked, one of my employees was searched by an Auxiliary officer and when he found that this man worked for me he gave him notice to look for a new job as I would not be long in Galway.

In January 1921, my brothers who are my partners in business at our premises in Ballina, Co Mayo with four other prominent citizens, were forced by Auxiliaries to march through the streets of Ballina carrying union jacks and burn the Sinn Fein flag.  They were also forced to kneel in the gutter and kiss the Union Jack. What an insult to the British flag. On Saturday night April 16, 1921, our two premises were bombed and wrecked and nine plate glass windows, with all the internal fittings of the shop, utensils, and machinery, totally destroyed. At the time of the bombing my brother with his wife and 10 children were sleeping in one of the houses. I can’t give full details of all the destruction but I am reliably informed that 16 shops were wrecked in Ballina that night under the protection of curfew. There seems to be a watertight censorship in force in Ballina since that date, so that the entire world does not know what has happened there.

I hope the police or military authorities won’t consider this letter propaganda because I don’t  intend it to be such.  I simply want to know where I stand as the income tax man is bothering me for tax which he won’t get.  I have referred him to the British government.  I am not on the run or evading arrest but still I don’t want the Crown forces to shoot me or arrest me for writing this letter which I hope will in a little way help posterity and others to arrive at a true estimate of the Crown forces in Ireland in 1920 – 21

Signed Patrick Moylett.

In keeping with Patrick’s wish to let posterity know a bit of what the Tans and Auxies were at 100 years ago in Ireland, we share this letter.  Despite his anger at the Brits, Patrick was a true Republican and was sent by Dáil Eireann’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Arthur Griffith, to London to investigate the possibility of opening dialogue for a peaceful settlement of the War.  His friend, John Steele, the London editor of the Chicago Tribune, helped him contact high-level members of the British Foreign Office and Moylett organized a meeting to discuss the end of hostilities between both parties.  As a result, a cease fire would be arranged in June and deValera would be invited to London in July – thanks to Patrick Moylett.  Though his is a name that history has largely forgotten, he deserves recognition for his dedication to his country’s independence despite the tragic treatment he received, which would have broken lesser men.

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Historical Happenings for April 2021 [Part 2]

APRIL’S WARRIOR WOMEN
[Part 2]

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY Historian

In early 1900, Arthur Griffith, founder of Sinn Fein, broke a cane over the head of the editor of the society paper Figaro for writing that his friend, Maud Gonne, was an English spy. Granted, she was English-born, but Maud was no Brit. She arranged a meeting of 15 women in the Celtic Literary Society Rooms in Dublin on Easter Sunday, 15 April 1900 for the purpose of presenting the gift of a blackthorn stick to Griffith to replace the one he had broken. Discussion at the meeting turned to the coming visit of Queen Victoria and the women decided to organize a Patriotic Children’s March the same day to protest the royal visit which was to encourage Irishmen to enlist in the British Army to fight in the Boer War; Griffith and Gonne supported the Boers. More that 50 women joined the committee, raised funds, obtained gifts of sweets and drinks and led 30,000 children and parents in a march across Dublin to Clonturk Park for a picnic and anti-recruitment speeches. It was so successful they were reluctant to disband and so set up a new organization for women to continue anti-British activities, they called it Inghinidhe na hÉireann (in-NEE-ne na-HAIR-in), the Daughters of Ireland.

Their strong leanings towards nationalism with elements of feminism soon found expression in their paper Bean na hÉireann which carried articles by leading nationalists from Pearse and Connolly to McDonagh and Markievicz and was edited by Helena Molony. Their aims were to encourage Irish language, Irish culture and Irish products and boycott all that was British. They opposed Home Rule, opting instead for full independence and the concepts of self reliance preached by Sinn Féin but, they did so much more than that.  They politicized a whole generation of Irish women, many of whom were in favor of more active opposition.

Then on 25 November 1913, the Irish Volunteers were formed to counteract the Ulster Volunteers formed in 1912 and: to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland.  In 1913, a group of women, inspired by Bean na hEireann, met in Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin to discuss organizing women to  work with the new Irish Volunteers. They wrote a constitution and on 2 April 1914, a meeting, chaired by Agnes O’Farrelly, formed Cumann na mBan (CUM-un  na-MAHN): The Council of Women. Recruits pledged to the Constitution of the organization which contained explicit references to the use of force by arms if necessary. The primary aims of the organization were to: advance the cause of Irish liberty,  to organize Irishwomen in the furtherance of this object, assist in arming and equipping a body of Irish men for the defense of Ireland and form a fund for these purposes to be called ‘The Defense of Ireland Fund’. Branches formed throughout the country and in 1914, Inghinidhe na hÉireann was absorbed into Cumann na mBan while some members who were more labor-oriented, like Helena Moloney, joined James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army.  As Cumann na mBan members supported the Defense of Ireland Fund, they recruited from white-collar workers, professional women and a significant proportion of the working class.

On 23 April 1916, when the Military Council finalized preparations for the Easter Rising, it integrated Cumann na mBan with the Volunteers, Citizen Army and Hibernian Rifles into the Army of the Irish Republic.  At the close of the first day of the Rising, Cumann na mBan members were in all the major patriot strongholds throughout the city except Boland’s Mill and the South Dublin Union held by Éamon de Valera and Eamonn Ceannt.  They worked as nurses, gathered intelligence on scouting expeditions, carried despatches and transferred arms from dumps across the city to insurgent strongholds. They and the Citizen Army women were also combatants; Constance Markievicz killed a policeman at St. Stephen’s Green at the start of the hostilities and carried out sniper attacks on British troops with Mary Hyland and Lily Kempson. Helena Molony was among the Citizen Army company which attacked Dublin Castle and occupied City Hall as snipers. At the General Post Office, Pearse insisted that most of the women leave at noon on Friday, 28 April as the building was being shelled and many casualties were anticipated; Winnie Carney refused to leave the wounded James Connolly.  Pearse said that: when the history of this fight would be written, the foremost page in the annals should be given to the women of Dublin who had taken their place in the fight for the establishment of the republic.  He told the women that their presence had inspired the men whose heroism, wonderful though it was, paled before the devotion and duty of the women of Cumann na mBan and he prayed that God would give them the strength to carry on the fight.

The next day, 29 April, the leaders surrendered to prevent the deaths of more innocent civilians from the indiscriminate shelling. At the Four Courts, the women organized the evacuation and destroy all  incriminating papers while at the now HQ in Moore Street, nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell was asked to act as a go-between.

Nurse O’Farrell carried the surrender to General Lowe under a white flag and under British military supervision, brought it to the various units still fighting across the city.  More than 70 women, including many leading figures in Cumann na mBan, were arrested and imprisoned in Kilmainham jail.

After the Rising, the women did carry on the fight as Prearse knew they would.  A revitalized Cumann na mBan, led by Countess Markievicz and Kathleen Daly Clarke, took a leading role in lionizing the memory of the 1916 leaders, organizing prisoner relief and canvassing for Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election, in which Countess Markievicz became the first woman elected to the British Parliament.  She refused her seat and sat instead in the revolutionary Dáil Éireann as a Teachta Dála (TD – Delegate to the Dail). She was Minister for Labor from 1919 to 1922.  During the War of Independence, the women hid arms and provided safe houses for volunteers, helped to run the Dáil Courts and produced The Irish Bulletin, official newspaper of the Republic. In the Irish elections of May 1921, Markievicz was joined by fellow Cumann na mBan members Mary MacSwiney, Dr. Ada English and Kathleen Daly Clarke as Teachtaí Dála.

On 7 January 1922 the Anglo-Irish Treaty was approved by 64–57. On 5 February a convention was held and 419 Cumann na mBan members voted against as opposed to 63 in favor. In the ensuing Civil War, most of its members supported the anti-Treaty forces. More than 400 of its members were imprisoned by the  Provisional government which became the Irish Free State in December 1922. Some who supported the Treaty changed their name Cumann na Saoirse (Council of Freedom), while others kept the name and supported the Free State.

Historical Happenings for March 2021

CROSSBARRY

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

One hundred years ago on 19 March 1921, one of the largest and most significant battles of Ireland’s War of Independence took place and here’s how it happened.

General Tom Barry

Attacks on the civilian population multiplied after the introduction of the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries (Auxies) in mid-1920 to support the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).  As a result, Michael Collins escalated Republican attacks on them (see January Historical Happenings).  After the Croke Park massacre of 14 innocent civilians (see October Historical Happenings) and the burning of Cork City in December (see December Historical Happenings), Collins unleashed the Republican dogs of war!  Enter Tom Barry!

Tom Barry was an ex-British soldier who quit the Army after learning of the 1916 Rising and asking himself: ‘what the hell am I doing in the British Army?’ In 1920 he joined the Third Cork Brigade of the Irish Republican Army and commanded therein a Flying Column – a guerilla band that became famous for its discipline, efficiency and bravery; Barry even earned a reputation as the most brilliant field commander of the war.  A week after the Croke Park massacre, Barry’s column ambushed and killed nearly a whole platoon of Auxies at Kilmichael, Co. Cork, an area patrolled by the hated Essex Regiment.  Despised for their treatment of prisoners, Republican successes against them led to more intense interrogations in an effort to find the location of the guerrilla force responsible. According to Historian J.B. Hittle: General Percival, Commander of the Essex Regiment, stood out for his violent, sadistic behavior towards IRA prisoners, suspects and innocent civilians.  He had previously served as an officer at the Battle of the Somme – a campaign in which more than 57,000 casualties were the worst in the history of the British Army.

Barry led a force of 104 Volunteers and the problem with so large a group was that it is harder to move through the countryside undetected by informers and to find food and billeting for them.  However, Barry had faith in the Irish people whose assistance had increased as the British reprisals against civilians escalated.  Eventually, the Brits unmerciful torture succeeded in breaking one of the Volunteers previously captured; they learned that the Third Cork Brigade had its headquarters in Ballymurphy and that Barry’s Column was based near Crossbarry. Percival now planned a campaign to wipe out Barry’s column. He mobilized a massive combination of Military, Tans and Auxies to converge on the area from five directions catching Barry’s men in a pincer movement.  There were 400 to come from Cork, 200 from Ballincollig, 300 from Kinsale, 350 from Bandon and 120 Auxies from Macroom.  The sweep was launched early on 19 March 1921.

At 2:30 that morning, Barry was awakened by scouts who warned that British lorries had left Bandon and were heading in their direction. Soon reports came in of more Brits approaching from the south and Barry correctly assumed there were likely more coming from the north and east.  He knew that his 104 men, with only 40 rounds each, could not sustain a head-on fight and would be trapped if they tried.  They would have to fight their way out of the approaching encirclement.  Then he learned that the Bandon force was well ahead of the others.  He felt that if they could take them on, they could open a way out of the intended trap. 

He set an ambush at Crossbarry crossroads where many locals had once danced in happier times and had his men in position by 5:30AM.  Poor timing caused the segments of the 1,300 plus British force to arrive at staggered intervals and Barry, who was a brilliant strategist, took advantage of that. He would ambush the lorries from Bandon first and, if luck was with them, rout them quickly and open a pathway out of the intended encirclement.  At 6:30AM shots were heard from the northeast direction of Forde’s farm where Commander  Hurley of their Third Cork Brigade, was recovering from a serious wound received in a previous raid.  Barry knew that the shots were sounds of his friend Charlie Hurley engaging the Brits who raided the farm on their way to trap him.  Hurley managed to kill one and wound another before he was killed attempting to escape.

Then at about 8AM, a dozen British lorries came into view approaching Crossbarry crossroads.  Some of the troops descended from the lorries and proceeded quietly on foot hoping to catch Barry unaware.  When they reached the crossroads, they were caught by surprise in a close-range crossfire; Barry even brought a piper to fool the Brits into thinking they were facing a regiment.  The Brits suffered significant casualties before breaking and fleeing the scene.  Barry’s men collected the British arms and ammunition before setting fire to the lorries.  The way was now open for Barry to retreat, but another British unit came into view from the southwest. 

Barry decided that they should take on this new unit now that they were better armed and after a stiff fire-fight that unit also broke and ran.  Two more British units converged on the area trying to dislodge the Republicans from their ambush positions, but again without success as they too fled in disorder leaving many casualties and the road that once felt the steps of happy Irish feet now felt the warmth of British blood.  The action had taken about an hour and Barry took advantage of his victory to get away.  He marched his men to safety while the Brits were still all scattered in disarray.  Upon realizing what happened, Major Percival rushed to the scene with more troops to reorganize the scattered Brits, but they were only able to open a long range fire at Barry’s happily retreating column.

The reports of casualties vary according to the source reporting them,  Barry reported three of his men killed and three wounded while the Brits claimed that the six IRA men were all killed.  Barry reported 40 Brits killed while the Brits claimed only 30 in their report. Volunteer Tom Keleher in Barry’s column claimed that he personally shot and either killed or wounded 22 of them during the fire-fights.  Either way, the Crossbarry Battle was one of the most significant engagements in the War of Independence in which 104 Irish Republican Volunteers led by Tom Barry, outwitted more than 1,300 British forces trying to encircle them in an hour-long battle.  While the casualties were not large as battles go, Crossbarry was a major morale victory for the IRA who had defeated a major British force.  Prime Minister Lloyd George later stated that the Kilmichael and Crossbarry ambushes convinced him of the need for a truce and a treaty with the Irish who could not be defeated militarily. Talks began to that end three months later.

General Tom Barry lived to see his country gain independence for 26 of her 32 Counties.  General Arthur Percival lived to become Commander of Singapore which he surrendered to the Japanese in 1942 in the largest surrender in British military history; it seems he was destined to enter the history books for one disaster or another.  He spent the rest of WWII as a prisoner of the Japanese.

Historical Happenings for February 2021

THE LAST WARPIPES

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Many believed that the last time Irish War Pipes were played in battle was when the legendary Irish Brigade of France turned the tide of battle at Fontenoy led by their piper playing The White Cockade and St Patrick’s March.  However that was not the last time.  In the mid 19th century, many Irish fleeing Ireland’s Great Hunger, ended up in the coal fields of Durham County in northern England along the River Tyne.  The work continued to attract the Irish right into the early 20th century.  During World War One, Irishmen from the Durham coal fields formed the Tyneside Irish Battalion to protect their adopted homeland, just as the American Irish had done in the Union Irish Brigade of America’s Civil War. 

On 1 July 1916, at the Battle of the Somme, thousands of Tyneside Irish climbed out of the trenches into the morning mist and German gunfire.  Their Battalion Piper led them playing, not the three-droned Highland Pipes, but the ancient Piob Mor – the two-droned War Pipes of Ireland.  Irish historian, Joseph Keating, later reported: An Irish Piper from Tyneside found himself compelled to leap out of the trench at the signal to advance, and play his company over the parapet into action.  He marched ahead through a storm of bullets which were wounding or killing his comrades around him, until he himself fell.  The Battle of the Somme was a disaster for the British and it was especially hard on the Tyneside Irish.  Newsman, Chris Lloyd, noted that the Tyneside Irish paid a heavy price for their bravery: 75 officers and 2,096 men were killed or wounded including the piper. Instead of heralding their courage and fortitude, the British just unceremoniously erased them from their military roles as simply wiped out, after all, they were only Irish.

 The Battalion’s Warpipes were retrieved by Brigade Chaplain, Father George McBrearty, who was also wounded in the battle.  In 1923 Father McBrearty left his Durham County parish and gave the pipes to William Robinson, a veteran of the  Durham Light Infantry.  He requested that the pipes be kept in his family as a reminder of the sacrifices made by those courageous, but unheralded men.  In 1929, William, his wife and children, emigrated to America and the Warpipes went with him.  They are now in the hands of his grandson, Vincent, who is the Pipe Major of the Siol na hEireann (seed of Ireland) Pipe Band of AOH Division 8 in Selden, Long Island.  Vinnie had the pipes refurbished and thereafter, the historic pipes were carried and played once again this time in New York’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade by Pipe Major Vinnie Robinson with the Siol na hEireann Irish Pipe Band leading the New York State Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

The famous pipes even appeared in the movie Morning Glory with Diane Keaton in which the band played a part.  During a break in the shooting, Ms. Keaton asked Pipe Major Vinnie Robinson to show her how to play that thing he held under his arm.  Vinnie gladly complied and still has the lipstick-covered mouth-piece she used among his trophies. 

Knowledge of the pipes existence reached Durham County in 2000, when Vinnie’s uncle William, researching his family history, contacted John Sheen who had written a history of the Tyneside Irish.  Mr. Sheen referred  him to Jim Connor of Durham, whose ancestors fought with the Tyneside Irish and the story of the pipes was shared.  Delighted at the discovery of the pipes so long thought to be lost, The Northern Echo newspaper carried the story that the ‘lost’ Pipes of the Tyneside Irish Battalion had been found and were being well cared for.  Jim Connor added: I’m sure the unknown Tyneside Irish piper would be delighted to know that in this Millennium year, his  pipes had been played once again to excite and elate Celtic hearts in one of the world’s greatest parades.  Once the news was out, local veteran’s societies decided it was time to formally retire the colors of the Battalion which had been so unceremoniously dropped from Britain’s military roles as simply annihilated.  In 2001, Vinnie was invited to bring the Warpipes home for a formal retirement ceremony which was held with significant dignity. As Vinnie played Minstrel Boy, the adopted song of the Tyneside Irish, on the very Warpipes that so often led them into battle, the colors of the Tyneside Irish Battalion were brought out and formally retired.

Vinnie returned home with another trophy a certificate of appreciation from the grateful Tyneside Irish. However, when the news reached Mary McAleese, President of the Republic of Ireland, she lamented that she hadn’t been there to see so significant a historic moment.  SO, they did it again!  Vinnie was invited back in 2003 with the beloved Warpipes and this time, President McAleese was there to be a part of the retirement ceremony as Vinnie with the Irish Warpipes led President MacAleese into Saint Mary’s Cathedral for the opening Mass of the ceremony.

Later, President MacAleese had to have her photo taken with the famous Warpiper.  At the end of the ceremony, President McAleese said: One of the great rewards of my job is that I get to hear a lot of music and walk behind a lot of military bands and bagpipes. However, I have never heard anything like I heard today as I walked behind the very bagpipes that led those brave men of the Tyneside Irish into battle. I have had bagpipes played for me before, but never did they sound as sweet or played as well as the one I heard today.

Today when any one asks when the last time Irish Warpipes were played, they only have to look to the last parade of the Siol na hEireann Irish Pipe Band of AOH Division 8 in Selden, New York. U

Historical Happenings for January 2021

THE BEGINNING OF THE END

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

       The Black and Tans

When Sir Robert Peel introduced the Irish Constabulary in 1822 he never expected the colloquial terms “Bobby” and “Peeler” to derive from his name, nor did he expect that though well intended, it would become the most hated force in modern Irish history.  A Constabulary was set in each province with constables and inspectors under British administration in Dublin Castle.  Separate from the ministry of war, it was only for civilian policing. For most of its history, it was about 75% Irish Catholic, who joined needing employment, and 25% Protestant, though most senior officers were Protestant.  Queen Victoria added the prefix Royal to their name for their service during the Fenian rising of 1867; thus was born the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).

Unlike police elsewhere in Britain, the RIC were armed and billeted in barracks.  A few of its Irish members were sympathetic to the nationalist cause after 1916 and even worked with Michael Collins on clandestine activities allowing him to infiltrate the administration with the help of men like Ned Broy, David Neligan, Joseph Kavanagh and James McNamara.  Some also co-operated with the IRA out of fear for their lives and welfare of their families.  A raid on an RIC barracks in Cookstown, County Tyrone, in June 1920, was carried out with the help of sympathetic RIC men.  The barracks in Schull, County Cork, was captured with similar inside aid.  Collins even had RIC spies within the upper echelon at Dublin Castle.  However after the start of the War of Independence in January 1919, the RIC were markedly British and a civilian campaign of intimidation began against them.  They were subjected to threats, attacks and their families were ostracized by the local community.  By June 1920, RIC casualties rose to 55 killed and 74 wounded.  Barracks were attacked and recruitment suffered as RIC morale declined.  Barracks were abandoned and ranks were consolidated as pressure on their families, friends and shopkeepers resulted in resignations and early retirements.  Several also left rather than fight their countrymen over an issue with which they agreed.  However that was soon to change.

In late 1919, the Brits decided to counter the reduction in force by equipping the remaining RIC with military trucks, rockets, bombs and shotguns. Finding a more powerful RIC still insufficient to defeat Collins, PM Lloyd George, for political reasons, still refused to recognize the IRA as a military force.  He insisted that controlling them was a policeman’s task and called for more, better-prepared men in police uniforms.  Thus began the recruitment of jobless returning WW1 veterans.  Hurried into RIC service in January 1920 with a combination of dark green RIC jackets and khaki British Army pants, they were dubbed the Black and Tans. They had been recruited into and were under the control of RIC officers, but their lack of police training soon showed in their heavy-handed tactics.  Still unable to stop Collins’ IRA, a drastic move was made as a new force made up of returning military Officers were recruited in June. These turned out to be mostly battlefield commissions and  a lower class of men than Sandhurst quality officers. They were sent as an Auxiliary unit of the RIC but were, in fact, a counter-insurgency force operating independently under their own officers to open an offensive against the IRA.  They became notorious for their brutality and attacks on civilian instead of military targets.

On Bloody Sunday in Dublin, 21 November 1920, after 14 British intelligence agents were shot, the new RIC, with their Tans and Auxies, claiming that the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) was in league with the IRA,  retaliated by firing on an innocent crowd at a GAA football match, killing 14 civilians and wounding 65.  In December, the Brits declared martial law in southern Ireland and the civilian center of Cork city was burnt out by the new RIC in reprisal for an ambush on a military convoy.  Brian Hanley,  historian at National University of Ireland, noted that: the Brits were wrong that the GAA was a front for the IRA. While some of its members were in the IRA and the GAA was for independence, it was divided on the wisdom of armed rebellion.  They even refused to let the IRA use Croke Park for drills. Collins wanted the 21 November Croke Park match called off, fearing a reprisal for the shooting of the British spies that morning, but GAA officials refused since the day’s proceeds were for the families of imprisoned Irish republicans. Hanley said that the GAA massacre was the tipping point in the war.  It was then, in January 1921, 100 years ago, that the RIC, their Black and Tans and  Auxiliary units all became special targets by order of Michael Collins marking the beginning of their end. 

On 1 January the IRA ambushed an RIC patrol in Ballybay, County Monaghan, killing one officer and wounding others, the next day two RIC men were executed in a Belfast hotel.  On 4 January, an RIC Sergeant was fatally wounded in an IRA grenade attack in Armagh.  A Waterford IRA column ambushed an  RIC patrol outside Cappoquin on 5 January and on 7 January, ambushed another at Pickardstown.  On 12 January, the IRA ambushed a British troop train carrying 150 soldiers at Barnesmore Gap, County Donegal and on 20 January the IRA in Clare ambushed an RIC truck at Glenwood, between Sixmilebridge and Broadford in which six RIC were killed, two were wounded but escaped and the IRA took their weapons and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition before burning the truck. On 22 January, three RIC officers were killed near their County Monaghan barracks and an IRA ambush was mounted in County Armagh where two RIC men were killed and others injured.  In Dublin, IRA Third Battalion ambushed a number of RIC trucks at the Merrion Square/Mount Street intersection and a standing fight developed until the Brits withdrew with high casualties and no IRA losses.  By the end of January 1921, the RIC began carrying republican prisoners in their trucks when on patrol to stop grenade attacks on them, with signs saying “Bomb us now“.  This was discontinued when foreign journalists in the city reported it. They later covered the open back of their trucks with a mesh to prevent grenades from entering the vehicles, to which the IRA responded by attaching hooks to the grenades!

It soon became obvious that Collins’ IRA could not be defeated and the attacks on civilians in retaliation for attacks on the RIC had done little more than increase civilian support for the Republicans fighting for the independence of their country.  The end was near as a treaty in less than a year’s time would disband the RIC during a debate over whether they were just an armed police unit or a paramilitary force.  Either way, Peel’s Constabulary formed in 1822 was no more by 1922.  But some don’t know their history.

Unbelievably, in January 2020, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar asked the Irish people to pay homage by attending special commemorations to honor the Royal Irish Constabulary!  The request not only sparked major controversy, it resulted in the Wolfe Tones 1972 recording of Come Out Ye Black and Tans returning to the number one spot on the Irish charts.  Thankfully the people remembered their history and the commemoration was cancelled.  While it is worth remembering that the RIC had a few resignations after the heavy-handed crushing of the 1916 Rising, with some leaving the force as independence agitation increased and some even working as double agents on behalf of the IRA, there was also the fact that the overwhelming majority of the RIC were British tools of repression.  They had tumbled thousands of homes, evicting men women and children into starvation and exile during the Great Hunger; they helped defeat the Fenian brotherhood and the 1916 patriots and supported the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries during their murderous campaigns during the War of Independence.  Their  disbandment, shortly after a truce in July 1921 sent more than 6,000 officers and men back to England where they belonged and the only commemorations that should ever be held are prayers for those who died at their hands.

Historical Happenings for December 2020

A DECEMBER TO REMEMBER

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

The Burning of Cork City in December 11-12, 1920

According to the Supercentenarian Data table of the Irish Central Statistics Office on 29 November 2020, five woman in Ireland have passed their 110th birthday.  They are among the 456 Irish Centenarians and as little girls of 10 years a century ago, they experienced one of Ireland’s most tragic months – December 1920.

It was a time when the Irish people, inspired by the deeds of 1916, were involved in a War of Independence which  was about to enter its third year.  The new Army of the Irish Republic, made up of members of former Volunteers, Citizen Army, Hibernian Rifles and others was led by Michael Collins’ Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).  They had been concentrating their efforts on British military targets like Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks and ambushing British patrols.  The Brits found it difficult to defeat them for Collins fought a guerrilla campaign of hit and run tactics supported by the Irish people.  In March, 1920, the British government introduced the Black and Tans to beef up the RIC with little effect.  Then in July, they introduced the Auxiliaries, a counter-insurgency group of former military officers to act as a paramilitary force and launch reprisals against the civilian population to scare them away from their support of the IRB.  

The Black and Tans were reportedly under the control of the RIC, but the Auxies, as they were known, operated  independently and soon gained a reputation for brutality.  After the summer of 1920, the Tans and Auxies began responding to IRA attacks on military targets by carrying out arbitrary reprisals against civilian targets. This usually involved the burning of homes and farms with gunfire and grenades and the looting of businesses, all accompanied by beatings and killings.   Many villages also suffered mass reprisals, like the Sack of Balbriggan on 20 September.  After an ambush of a military convoy in Rineen, County Clare on 22 September, in which six RIC men were killed,  the surrounding villages of Milltown Malbay, Lahinch and Ennistymon were put to the torch and five civilians were killed.   Also burned were the villages of Kilkee (26 September), Trim (27 September), Tubbercurry (30 September) and Granard (31 October).  In early November, they besieged Tralee in reprisal for the IRA killing of two local RIC men, closing all the businesses in the town, letting no food in for a week and shooting dead three local civilians.  On 14 November, they even abducted and murdered a Catholic priest, Father Michael Griffin, in Galway.  From that time on, the level of brutality was far above the norm.  Then came a deadly December and the most barbarous act of revenge ever perpetrated against an innocent civilian population.

On 10 December 1920, the British government and administration in Ireland put the official stamp of approval on the reprisals by proclaiming Martial Law in counties Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary and imposing a 10pm curfew..  The next day, 20 Auxies were dispatched by Auxie Captain Charles Schulze in two lorries from Cork’s Victoria Barracks to carry out a series of raids.  The lorries were ambushed near Dillon’s Cross by 6 IRA men trying to prevent those raids and 12 Auxies were wounded; one critically.  At 9:30 pm that evening, more lorries of Auxies and British soldiers were sent to Dillon’s Cross where they broke into houses, herded the occupants onto the street and burned their homes to the ground.  Those who tried to intervene were fired on and some were badly beaten.  After seven buildings were set alight, one was found to be owned by Protestants and the Auxies quickly doused the fire.  Then the arsonists turned their anger on Cork City.

At curfew, witnesses reported seeing them arrive on St. Patrick’s Street, the city’s main thoroughfare.  Some were Auxies, some were British Army while others wore no uniforms at all as they smashed shop windows and set buildings alight.  A group of Auxies were seen throwing a bomb into the ground floor of the Munster Arcade, which housed both shops and flats.  It exploded under the residential quarters while people were still inside.  Those who escaped were detained by the Auxies.  The city’s fire brigade came at once.  On finding Grant’s department store ablaze, they tried to save it.  Fire brigade Superintendent, Alfred Hutson, met Cork Examiner reporter, Alan Ellis, and told him “all the fires were being deliberately started by incendiary bombs” and in several cases he had seen: “soldiers pouring cans of petrol into buildings and setting them alight.”  Firemen later testified that British forces hindered their attempts to tackle the blazes by intimidating them, cutting their hoses and/or driving lorries over the hoses.  The firemen were shot at and at least two were wounded.  Shortly after 3 am, Ellis found a unit of the fire brigade pinned down by gunfire from Brits who had broken into the City Hall building and  the firemen watched as uniformed men carried cans of petrol into the building from nearby Union Quay barracks.

At about 4 am a large explosion was heard and City Hall and the neighboring Carnegie Library went up in flames, resulting in the loss of a treasure in historic documents and public records.  When more firefighters arrived, British forces fired on them and refused them access to water.  The final act of arson took place at about 6am when a group of policemen looted and burned Murphy Brothers’ clothing shop on Washington Street.  After eight hours of uncontrolled destruction, five acres of the city, including more than 40 businesses and 300 homes were destroyed, amounting to near $11 million  in damage by today’s value while many were left homeless and 2,000 were left jobless.

The final act of vengeance associated with that event took place on 15 December as Auxie officer, Vern Hart, killed Catholic Very Rev. Canon Thomas J. Magner, who had been told to toll his bell for deceased British military on Armistice Day a month earlier on 11 November and he refused.  On a quiet road a mile from the Cork side of Bandon, he was walking with parishioner, Tadgh O’Crowley, when Hart shot them both dead.  Hart was arrested and at his Court Martial it was noted that he had been a close friend of the Auxie killed at Dillon’s Cross and had been drinking heavily since 11 December.  A number of ‘expert’  witness testified that Hart was temporarily insane at the time of the murders and the Court Martial ruled that he ‘was guilty of the offenses with which he was charged, but was insane at the time of their commission.’   He was discharged from the Auxies and sent to an asylum for a year.  He was then retired to South Africa and died in Golden Valley Hotel, Cape Provence in 1937 at age 55.  If that wasn’t rubbing enough salt in the wound, the Auxies took to wearing burnt corks in their caps to taunt the Irish. Auxie Captain Schulze, wrote to his girlfriend in England that it was “sweet revenge“, while to his mother he wrote: “Many who had witnessed scenes in France and Flanders say that nothing they had experienced was comparable with the punishment meted out in Cork.

Some debated whether British at Victoria Barracks had planned to burn the city before the ambush at Dillon’s Cross ever took place, or whether the British Army was even involved and whether those who set the fires were under the command of superior officers.  Florry O’Donoghue, intelligence officer of the 1st Cork Brigade IRA at the time, answered that debate when he wrote: “The ambush provided the excuse for an act which was long premeditated and for which all arrangements had been made.  The rapidity with which supplies of petrol and Verey lights were brought from Cork barracks to the centre of the city and the deliberate manner in which the work of firing the various premises was divided amongst groups under the control of officers, gives evidence of organization and pre-arrangement.  Moreover, the selection of certain premises for destruction and the attempt made by an Auxiliary officer to prevent the looting of one shop by Black and Tans: ‘You are in the wrong shop; that man is a Loyalist’ and the reply, ‘We don’t give a damn; this is the shop that was pointed out to us’, is additional proof that the matter had been carefully planned beforehand.”  Then, the month ended on 30 December 1920 as Martial law was extended to Counties Clare, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford and the horror began anew. 

We can only imagine what those little girls who lived through that time would have experienced or the trauma they may have endured.  On the other hand, we are happy that they lived to see a partially independent Irish Republic when so many others were denied that privilege.

Historical Happenings for November 2020

THOMAS MACDONAGH

by Mike McCormack, NY AOH Historian

                 Thomas Macdonagh Jr

Many believe the War of 1812 ended when Irish-American Andy Jackson beat the British at New Orleans on January 8, 1815.  Actually that’s not true.  The Brits were already beaten and had signed a peace treaty on December 24, 1814.  The fact is that Major General Edward Pakenham, commander of British forces in North America, decided that before sailing back to England, he would loot a major U.S. city and headed for the richest plum in the south – New Orleans.  He was also the man who beat the French who came to help the Irish in 1798.  Packenham was a loyal Brit and hated the Irish and America.  Fortunately, General Jackson also hated the Brits since his parents had been driven into exile from their Irish home.  He went to New Orleans to stop Packenham, aided by the very same French General that Packenham had defeated in Ireland, but that’s another story for another time.

The war had started over the issue of British naval vessels stopping American ships on the high seas and removing crew members they felt were British citizens. The fact is that they were grabbing Irishmen since their loss in the American Revolution just 30 year earlier was due to the large number of Irish in Washington’s army. Writing about the Revolution, James Froude, English historian noted: Washington’s Irish supporters were the foremost, the most irreconcilable, and the most determined to push the quarrel to the last extremity.  Major General Marquis de Chastellux wrote: On more than one occasion Congress owed their existence, and America her preservation to the fidelity and firmness of the Irish.

However, 30 years later, England was at war with Napoleon and the U.S. was trading with France.  That made American shipping targets in the eyes of the Brits and if a war with America was in the cards, they didn’t want to face Irishmen in the American army again so they began impressing American seamen and also inciting Native Americans to attack American citizens on the frontier. On 18 June an angry Senate, following an equally furious Congress, voted to declare, for the first time in the young nation’s history, war against a foreign nation – Great Britain.  President James Madison signed the declaration into law and the War of 1812 began.  Sometimes called the Second War of Independence, battles raged on the high seas and British soldiers invaded American soil, captured Washington D.C., and even burned the White House.  But it all boiled down to a major area of conflict on the 120 mile long Lake Champlain extending from British Canada into New York and Vermont.  That 435-square-mile lake was the scene of several naval battles as the Brits sailed down from Quebec into the U.S.

Fortunately, one of Washington’s Irish-American revolutionary officers, Major Thomas McDonough, Sr., a hero of the battle of Long Island who was  praised by Washington for gallantry, had a son who was just as ready as his father to fight the Brits. Grandson of James McDonough who migrated from Ireland in 1725, his name was Thomas Macdonagh Jr. He joined the new U.S. Navy, formed  just a few years earlier in 1797, when President Washington gave Wexford-born Commodore John Barry Commission Number One.  Three years later, in 1800, Thomas received a midshipman’s commission at the age of 16.  He served with Stephen Decatur at Tripoli and as a member of a select group of U.S. naval officers under Commodore Preble attacking Barbary pirates. He was reassigned to command U.S. naval forces in Lake Champlain in October 1812 and in 1813, was promoted to  master commandant. When the war began, there were only two American naval vessels on Lake Champlain and both were captured by the Brits giving them undisputed control of this strategic waterway.  In a secret Vermont shipyard, MacDonough began construction of a corvette, a sloop, several gunboats and converted a schooner into a 17-gun warship. The Brits found and attempted to attack the shipyard with eight galleys and a sloop, but Macdonough learned of the coming attack and prepared a defense using his ship’s guns as a shore battery and repelled the attack driving them back to Canada. 

With the way now clear, Macdonough’s squadron sailed out of the shipyard and made its way to Plattsburgh, NY, where it awaited a two-pronged British advance by land and lake.  In August 1814, 10,000 British troops assembled at the US border to march south and attack Brigadier General Alex Macomb’s, army defending America’s northern border.  Macomb, grandson of an Irish immigrant, had only 1500 men, but knowing he was greatly outnumbered, had his men fell trees and create fake roads to lead the Brits, unsure of the terrain, into dead-end traps where they became lost in the narrow maze of false roads and were targets of American ambush. Meanwhile, the Brits depended on their Navy which was headed for Plattsburgh to supply their planned advance into Vermont.  This was now the most crucial part of the war.  Macdonough knew Macomb was holding Plattsburgh and not allowing him to be surrounded by Brits forces on land and lake, was vital.  The Royal Navy was on its way south to trap Macomb’s forces and open the door to an invasion of the U.S.   However, Macdonagh had his back and his fleet was ready.  On September 11, the Brits arrived and attacked Macdonough’s fleet with the firepower of a 36-gun flagship. As the battle unfolded, Macdonough fired a broadside severely damaging the British ship and forcing its surrender.  Having removed the British flagship from action, the American forces captured or destroyed all the remaining ships in the fleet.  On shore, the British, about to launch an assault on the American defenses, learned of the defeat of the British fleet.  Without it, they had no choice but to abandon the expedition.  They turned tail, returned to Canada and sued for peace.  The War of 1812 was over. Both Macomb and Macdonagh received Congressional Gold Medals, a precursor to the Medal of Honor. In 1882, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote:  Macdonough in this battle won a higher fame than any other commander of the war, British or American. He had a decidedly superior force to contend with and it was solely owing to his foresight and resource that we won the victory. His skill, seamanship, quick eye, readiness of resource, and indomitable pluck, are beyond all praise. Down to the time of the Civil War he is the greatest figure in our naval history.  Macdonagh continued serving until 1818 when he was stricken with tuberculosis, yet at his request, he was granted command of the 44-gun frigate USS Constitution, Old Ironsides, in 1824.  However, his health continued to worsen. On 14 October 1825, at Gibraltar, Macdonough turned command of Constitution over to another Irish-American – Captain Daniel Patterson who was born on Long Island to a Donegal immigrant father. Intending to return to New York, on 10 November 1825, 195 years ago this month, Thomas Macdonough, the hero of the War of 1812, died aboard ship as it was passing the Rock of Gibraltar.  Shouldn’t Irish-Americans like that be remembered?  Well, they are!

Standing on Washington Boulevard in Detroit where he was born is the statue of Gen. Alex Macomb, but Macdonogh is more celebrated. Several U.S. Navy ships have been named USS Macdonough; in 1937, he was on a US Postage Stamp; an annual 74-mile Commodore Macdonough sailboat race is held on Lake Champlain every September; the State University of NY at Plattsburgh has a dormitory  named Macdonough Hall; the NY towns of Macdonough and East Macdonough and the greater Town of Macdonough in Chenango County are named after him; there is a Macdonough Hall at the US Naval Academy; the Macdonough Monument, a 135-foot-tall obelisk is located across from City Hall in Plattsburgh, N.Y. and in 1925, a Macdonough Monument was erected on the city green in Vergennes, Vermont to commemorate the secret building of the ships there used in the Battle of Plattsburgh.  Macdonough County, Illinois is also named for him; two elementary schools in Delaware and  Connecticut are named in his honor as are Macdonough Street in Montgomery, Alabama and Macdonagh Street in Brooklyn, NY.  Macdonough is also the county seat of Henry County, Georgia and his home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.  So now you know the War of 1812 was won by two Irish-Americans – Alex Macomb and Thomas Macdonagh and Andy Jackson just put the Irish-American seal of approval on it.

Historical Happenings for October 2020

Bloody Sunday

by Mike McCormack, NY AOH Historian

One hundred years ago, November 21, 1920 was a day of such violence in Dublin that it was ever after referred to as Bloody Sunday (Irish: Domhnach na Fola).  It occurred during the Irish War of Independence as 31 people were killed or fatally wounded on that one day – 14 British military, 14 Irish civilians, and 3 Irish prisoners.

The day began with an operation organized by Michael Collins, to “put out the eyes of the British empire” as  GPO soldier Sam O’Reilly once told this writer.  By late 1920, British Intelligence in Dublin had established an extensive network of spies and informers around the city.  Michael Collins, as head of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and IRA Chief of Intelligence, was running his country’s war for independence and had been hampered to a large degree by those agents.  They operated with impunity, believing that the Irish were unorganized and easily infiltrated.  Collins was determined to show them otherwise by destroying their intelligence network in a coordinated manner.

Collins established his own undercover operation with patriots like Ned Broy, a detective in the Dublin Metropolitan Police, who smuggled him in to spend the night in the Records Room of Great Brunswick Street Police Barracks, and Elizabeth Mernin, first cousin of his IRA Publicity Director, Pearse Beasley who was a typist in Dublin Castle’s adjutant’s office.  She shared critical information about the Castle’s intelligence officers and identified their Dublin residences.  In addition to other operatives, Collins also had formed a clandestine ‘Squad’ of IRA men, known as The Twelve Apostles.  They were tasked with eliminating informers and British operatives whenever they were identified.  Then on 20 November, the Squad and select members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade, were assembled as a team to be briefed on a specific group of targets.  Thirty-five undercover intelligence agents had been identified as living at different locations in Dublin and the instructions were to eliminate all of them the next morning at precisely 9AM.  Early on the morning of 21 November, some of the team attended Mass and quietly went about their assigned tasks.  One was Seán Lemass, who would later serve as Taoiseach from 1959 to 1966.  On the morning of 21 November however, he helped in the assassination of British Captain G. Baggallay.

Out of the agents on Collins’s hit list, only 14 were killed and 5 were seriously wounded since some were not at home at the time.  However, a number of agents and informers were seen later in the day lining up at the ferries back to England.  The action caused shock waves throughout the Empire and crippled British intelligence in Ireland.  The precision of the operation also caused consternation in the British administration who were now forced to re-evaluate their opponent.  Collins justified the killings saying, ‘My one intention was the destruction of the undesirables who continued to make miserable the lives of ordinary decent citizens.  I have proof enough to assure myself of the atrocities which this gang of spies and informers have committed.  If I had a second motive it was no more than a feeling such as I would have for a dangerous reptile.  By their destruction the very air is made sweeter. For myself, my conscience is clear. There is no crime in detecting in wartime the spy and the informer. They have destroyed without trial. I have paid them back in their own coin.

Afterward, Collins advised the GAA to cancel the afternoon Dublin vs Tipperary football match at Croke Park fearing retaliation.  It was denied since profits of the day were for families of imprisoned Republicans.  About 5,000 spectators attended the game which began at 3:15 PM.   Outside the park, unseen by the crowd, convoys containing a mixed force of military, Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Auxiliaries and Black and Tans and police  drove in from the northwest and the south.  The Auxiliaries and Black & Tans were ex-military from WWI sent to help the RIC defeat the Irish.  They had orders to guard the exits and search every man as he left.  However, as soon as they reached the stadium at 3:25 PM, they began shooting.  Some claimed they were fired on first, but that was proven untrue.  Actually, those in the convoy’s lead cars jumped out and chased the ticket sellers down the passage into the Park firing at them.  Meanwhile, a gate opened and a Lorry of troops rode onto the field as scenes of wild confusion erupted.  Spectators made a rush for the far end of the Park as shots were randomly fired into them for a full minute and a half.  Auxiliary Commander, Major Mills, later admitted that his men were ‘excited and out of hand.’ RIC outside the park opened fire at spectators climbing over the wall to escape.  At the other end of the park, soldiers were startled to see panicked people fleeing the grounds and opened fire with their armored car machine gun to halt them.  By the time Major Mills got his men under control, 12 people had been shot dead, 60 were wounded and 2 had been trampled to death in the stampede.  Tipperary player, Michael Hogan, was killed on the field as was a man who bent over him to whisper an Act of Contrition.  Today’s Hogan Stand in Croke Park is named for him.

At first, Castle authorities issued a press release which claimed that a number of gunmen from the morning attack were in Croke Park and Crown forces went to arrest them.  However, they were fired on by armed pickets to warn the wanted men, causing a stampede.  Strongly denied by the thousands in attendance who refuted that bogus claim, when the stands were searched for arms or spent shells, none were found.  British Brigadier Frank Crozier, in command that day, resigned in protest over the official condoning of the unjustified actions of the troops after one of his officers told him that, ‘Black and Tans fired into the crowd without any provocation whatsoever.’  Two military courts of inquiry were held.  One found that ‘the fire of the RIC was carried out without orders and exceeded the demands of the situation’; the other found that ‘the firing on the crowd was carried out without orders, was indiscriminate and unjustifiable.’  These findings were suppressed by the British Government for 80 years and only came to light in 2000 revealing that a total of 228 rounds of ammunition were fired by the RIC and  auxiliaries and that the army machine-gun at the St James’s Avenue exit fired a total of 50 rounds. 

Further, the first victims were two boys watching the game without paying.  William Robinson, 11, was shot as he sat in a tree that gave him a view over the wall and Jerry O’Leary, 10, was shot as he sat on a wall at the southwest end of the field.  They were shot before the Tans and Auxiliaries ever entered the park, suggesting that whatever their orders had been that day, the RIC had other ideas.  It was an act of mass murder by trigger-happy Black and Tans and Auxiliaries bent on avenging the morning’s losses.  Later that day, two Republican officers, Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy, together with Conor Clune (a nephew of the Archbishop of Perth, Australia), who were being held in Dublin Castle, were tortured and shot by the Brits who said they were killed trying to escape!  McKee and Clancy later had Irish Army military barracks in Dublin named for them.

Overall Bloody Sunday was a victory for Collins whose operation severely damaged British intelligence, while the British reprisals increased support for Republican forces at home and abroad.  Bloody Sunday was one of the most significant events to take place during the Irish War of Independence and it happened just 100 years ago.

Historical Happenings for September 2020

Who Fears To Speak Of ’98

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

The 1700’s was a Century of Revolution.  When England’s American colonies struck for independence in 1775 during an age of the Divine Right of Kings, it was an unheard of act.  Yet it not only succeeded, it inspired France to revolt in 1789 and 1792 and they too succeeded.  Another attempt inspired by America took place in 1798 as the Irish rose to break the shackles of Empire.   Yet, that one’s not in our history books because it failed, though it was equally justified.  It didn’t even earn the term revolution; if mentioned at all, it is called a rebellion.  Revolution is defined as the forcible overthrow of a social order in favor of a new system while rebellion is defined as an act of defying the authority of an established government.  After King William defeated King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, a century of oppression drove the Irish into a depressed rage.  By that time, the religious prejudice, long a factor in English-Irish relations, had changed.  William offered a fair treaty in 1691 to end the fighting, but it was broken by England’s Irish administrators to insure power to their own class by the subjugation of all others. The basis of that power was a privileged position accorded to Church of Ireland members.  All others were subjected to Penal Laws that restricted their economic existence, including Presbyterians and other dissenting Protestant sects, though not as severely as Catholics.  Then came Theobold Wolfe Tone.

A Protestant graduate of Trinity College, he returned to Ireland after two years as a Lawyer in London and, influenced by Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, he developed a philosophy of national independence based on religious suffrage.  In September 1791, he wrote his greatest pamphlet: An Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland.  Aimed at non-Church of Ireland Protestants, it urged support of Catholic emancipation and was praised by Catholic and Dissenter alike.  He was invited to Belfast and helped organize the Society of United Irishmen. They called for a union of all Irish to peacefully block English influence by parliamentary reform. They even chose a color to symbolize their new Union; it was a blend of St. Patrick’s Blue for the Catholic tradition with Orange for the Protestant tradition. The blended green became identified with Irish nationalism ever since.  Tone then formed a second branch of the United Irishmen in Dublin with patriot Napper Tandy. 

Meanwhile, exaggerated reports of their activities were coming in from informers seeking favor with the Brits.  However, there was no evidence on which to arrest anyone.  Then in 1795, a representative of France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs called on Tone to determine the chances of success for a French invasion.  France had been fighting England ever since they supported the Americans in their Revolution.  France’s representative was arrested as a spy and Tone was exiled to America.  That turned Tone from a parliamentary reformer to a military advocate.  In America, he contacted the French Minister in Philadelphia to determine if the French were serious in aiding a full scale rising of the United Irishmen.  He went to France and secured that aid and in December 1796, a French invasion force sailed for Ireland.  On board, in the uniform of a French Adjutant General, was Theobald Wolfe Tone.

On December 21, a French fleet with 12,000 troops arrived at Bantry Bay, but the ship carrying the invasion commanders had separated from the fleet.  The landing was delayed until their arrival, but as they waited, a full scale hurricane scattered the French fleet.  One by one the ships returned to France.  It was later revealed by a British Admiralty official, that the captain of the commanders’ ship had accepted a bribe to take the Commanders on an alternate route.  Tone returned to France to plead for another expedition.  Meanwhile in Ireland, the United Irishmen were defined as disloyal and had become targets of a new group formed among Church of Ireland men who felt that not enough was being done to exterminate ‘Catholic troublemakers’.  They called themselves the Orange Order; they raided homes d businesses, murdered Catholic tenants and burned their homes to the ground.

Society headquarters shifted to Dublin where men like Lawyer Thomas A. Emmet, Doctor William McNevin and Lord Edward Fitzgerald were involved.  Fitzgerald had served in a British regiment in the American colonies and felt that the guerrilla tactics of the colonists should be used.  Under his influence, the Society grew from a reform movement to an underground army. The leaders argued to wait for French aid, but Lord Edward urged a general rising across the country.  An informer gave the names of the leaders and location of their meeting to Dublin Police who arrested them all except Fitzgerald.  On March 30, the Brits put the country under Martial Law and there followed brutal methods of interrogation – a wooden triangle to hold a man for flogging with a cat o’ nine tails; a portable traveling gallows to half-hang a man and pitch-capping by massaging a mixture of tar and gunpowder into the hair and setting it alight with agonizing effect.  Fear of pitch-capping caused many to crop their hair short even though they ran the risk of being identified as United Irish supporters; they earned the name Croppys.  The song The Croppy Boy may now have more meaning for you.

On May 23, 1798, individual groups of United Irishmen rose in several counties but  were put down by soldiers billeted there.  With no central command to the rising, government successes soon led frenzied Orangemen to engage in ‘croppy hunts’ causing entire villages to flee before them.  The once well-planned reform movement had degenerated into clashes between leaderless mobs and the Brits easily won control.  General Cornwallis, recently defeated by an American army made up primarily of Irish emigrants, was given a chance to redeem himself by a furious King George III.  In June he sailed for Dublin.  Meanwhile, the Brits drove the largest group of rebels in Wexford back to a final stand on a hill near Enniscorthy.  That hill, once covered with wild berrys, had the old local Gaelic name of Fidh naGcaer (Fidh – the Hill; na – of; Caer – the Berrys); it was now covered with people.  Unable to pronounce the Irish, the Brits called it Vinegar Hill, which was also appropriate for what happened there was bitter wine indeed.  On June 21, 10,000 British troops, with 20 pieces of artillery, opened a bombardment on the 20,000 men, women, and children herded together on the summit.  After a day and night of assault, the Irish were massacred.  By August 20 it was over.  The rebellion lasted three months and cost more than 25,000 lives of which only 2,000 were loyalists.  But what happened to the French aid?

That answer came 2 days later on August 22 as General Humbert and a force of 1,000 French troops arrived at the wrong time and at the wrong place – Killala Bay in County Mayo on Ireland’s west coast.  Tone was following with a larger force and behind him the indomitable Napper Tandy with yet more troops.  Could the rising begin again?  The word went out: The West’s Awake!  Humbert recruited a thousand local Irish and marched on the English at Castlebar.  He routed them and marched inland.  Cornwallis consolidated the powerful British army and split his forces to surround Humbert and the Irish.  On September 8, he closed the net at Ballinamuck, County Longford.  Humbert was hopelessly outnumbered.  After a half-hour battle, he surrendered his 850 troops and 1000 Irish allies to the British army of 30,000.  The Irish were slaughtered to a man while Humbert and his forces were repatriated back to France as honorable foes, but not before British Captain Packenham disgraced Humbert on the field of battle by taking his sword and stripping his epaulets.  An angry Napoleon dismissed Humbert to a position in the French colony at New Orleans where he later retired.  However, he and Packenham would meet again 14 years later as now General Packenham led the British forces in an attack on New Orleans in the American War of 1812 and Humbert came out of retirement to fight by Andy Jackson’s side to defeat his old enemy; but that’s another story.

On October 12, Wolfe Tone and reinforcements arrived in yet another disjointed piece of the overall revolution.  They ran directly into a waiting British fleet.  Tone commanded a battery of ships guns, but after 6 hours the French fleet was destroyed, and Tone was captured.  On October 16, Napper Tandy, with yet another fleet, landed in Donegal and learned of Humbert’s surrender and Tone’s capture.  He wisely sailed back to the continent.  Wolfe Tone was taken to Dublin and sentenced to be hanged as a traitor.  He requested to be afforded the death of a soldier, to be shot, rather than hanged, but his request was denied.  He died in prison of a neck wound at the age of 35.  History records his death as a suicide but there remains some doubt.  The rank and file of the United Irish society were pursued and eliminated.  Loyalists, believing that all Catholics had all been part of a conspiracy to slaughter them, intimidated the majority of the population into a slave-mentality that crippled the spirit of resistance for a whole generation.  Ireland remained a most depressed country until Daniel O’Connell began raising the cause of Catholic emancipation once again in the 1840s and the Irish began to raise their heads.  When they did, they heard the voice of Thomas Davis and the Young Irelanders resurrecting the doctrines of Wolfe Tone who was now recognized as the Father of Irish Republicanism.  Tone’s revolution was, in fact, the very first thrust for National independence.  Previous risings were merely attempts at reconfiguring relations with the Crown.  The 1569 and 79 Desmond rebellions; the 1593-1603 Nine Years War of O’Neill, O’Donnell and Maguire; the 1640-42 Confederation War in support of Charles II; the 1690 Rising in support of the Jacobite claim to the Crown would all have left Ireland still a colony of England.  As the spirit of true independence once more began to beat in Irish hearts, a verse appeared in the April 1843 edition of the rebel newspaper, The Nation.   It read:

“Who fears to speak of ‘98?  Who blushes at the name?
When cowards mock the patriot’s fate, who hangs his head for shame?
He’s all a knave, or half a slave who slights his country thus;
But true men, like you men, come fill your glass with us.

Historical Happenings for August 2020

UTICA NY GIFTS A HERO TO CHICAGO

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian


On 31 May 1885 a monument was unveiled at Calvary cemetery in Chicago to honor the memory of Colonel Jamdes A. Mulligan, the hero of Lexington, Missouri.  He was born 30 June 1830 in Utica, New York to Irish immigrant parents.  When his father died, his mother remarried and moved the family to Chicago, Illinois. James studied law there, supported local Catholic activities and joined a military company in Chicago named
The Shields Guards and reached the rank of Captain.  The Shield Guards were formed in 1854 in honor of Irish-born James Shields, a veteran of the Black Hawk War, a breveted Major General in the Mexican War and Brigadier General in the eastern theater of the Civil War; he was also the only man to serve as Senator from three states (but that’s another story).

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Mulligan raised the 23rd Illinois Infantry Regiment, known locally as the Chicago Irish Brigade, which included the Shield Guards.  The term Brigade was used by many Irish units of less than Brigade strength in memory of Ireland’s Wild Geese forced into exile to become the Irish Brigades in European armies after the faithless 1691 Treaty of Limerick.

In September 1861, Mulligan led his troops to Lexington, Missouri, as that vital river town faced attack by the Confederate army under Gen. Sterling Price.  In one of those brother vs brother moments, Price’s forces included Kelly’s Irish Brigade, a St. Louis-based Irish militia unit whose colors proclaimed ‘What Washington did for America – We will do for Ireland.’   On 13 September, Price’s army of approximately 18,000 men began an all-out assault on Mulligan’s 3,500-man command.  Mulligan and his men held their own against the overwhelming odds, even pushing Price’s force back once.  Confederate cannon fire rained down for seven days during ‘attack and defend’ battles.  However, by 2PM on the 20th, Mulligan had no choice but to surrender when no relief arrived and his men ran out of ammunition. General Price was so impressed by Mulligan’s courage and conduct during and after the battle that he offered his own horse and carriage and ordered him safely escorted back to Union lines with his Brigade’s colors: a green flag with a golden harp in the center.

His men were exchanged later and continued to distinguish themselves in battle.  In 1864, around Leetown, Virginia, during the Second Shenandoah Valley Campaign, they faced Confederate General Jubal Early. Federal troops were retreating in the face of Early’s relentless advance down the Shenandoah Valley. Hoping to buy time to concentrate Union forces and supplies, Union Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel ordered Mulligan to hold at Leestown for as long as possible to allow other Union forces to safely withdraw. Being vastly outnumbered by the Confederates again, Mulligan bought them the valuable time needed, but on 24 July, he was mortally wounded. When his men attempted to carry him from the battlefield  he ordered, “Boys, don’t lose the colors of the Irish Brigade”; as they tried to lift him he said, “Lay me down and save the flag”. They regretfully did as he ordered and Mulligan was captured by General Early’s forces, he died from his wounds two days later.

Twenty-one years later, Chicago’s Daily Inter Ocean newspaper for 31 May 1885 reported that several hundred mourners were carried by special train to Calvary Cemetery in Chicago to see the dedication of a monument to the courageous Irish-American from Utica, NY. It was erected, they reported, ‘by the people, for the preservation of whose liberties he fought and yielded up his life.’  As the train arrived, a procession formed up led by the Hibernian Rifles of the AOH followed by 40 members of his old regiment wearing black and silver badges provided by Mrs. Mulligan, delegates from the Mulligan Post of the Grand Army of the Republic and Sons of Veterans Chicago Post Number One, all behind a Brass Band playing a dirge as they marched to the monument situated just inside the Main Gate.  The monument was described as ‘richly carved of eastern granite and in design is modern gothic.  It comprises a massive base nine feet square from which arises four sides.  On one face is a fine likeness in bold relief of Colonel Mulligan, two other faces have raised laurel wreaths; on the west face is carved, ‘This monument has been erected by the State of Illinois and the citizens of Chicago, July 26, 1884.’  A 35-foot column rises from the base surmounted by a richly molded Celtic Cross.’  Just west of the monument a platform was erected for the dignitaries and Mrs. Marian Mulligan, their three daughters and other family members. The ceremony included many remembrances of Col Mulligan and ended with a song written for the occasion entitled Lay me down and save the Flag!  The newspaper article concluded with the editorial comment that, ‘His Brigade proved that the Irish were as ready to fight and die, if necessary, for their adopted country as the native-born citizens were.  Colonel Mulligan’s chief idea was to raise an Irish Division commanded by an Irish general. He said, “Give Shields a Division, make it Irish and Fontenoy will live again.” It was men like Colonel Mulligan that defeated the biased treatment of Irish immigrants in early America – and that was their greatest victory!

Thanks to Paul Winslow, Historian of AOH Father Tim Dempsey Div 1, St. Louis, MO, for some of the information in this story.