Historical Happenings for December 2017

SANTA CLAUS SLEEPS IN IRELAND

by Mike McCormack, AOH Historian

St. Nicholas was a fourth century native of Patara which, at the time was Greek and is now on the south coast of Turkey. He was very generous and devoted his significant inheritance to works of charity B especially to orphaned children. He became a monk, an abbot, then an Archbishop. In December, 342, he went home to God and was later canonized by the Church. His unselfish life was so inspiring that in his memory people continued his generosity each year on the anniversary of his passing. Thus was kept alive his spirit of giving and the legend of Santa Claus (sant niclaus) was born. As long as his spirit of generosity lives on, so too does Santa Claus as his story spread across Europe and eventually the world. Centuries after his passing, the bones of St. Nicholas were re-interred in Bari, Italy where they are honored to this day. However that is not the end of the story.

Centuries after St. Nicholas passing, the Normans invaded and settled in Ireland. When Pope Urban II called for volunteers to join a crusade to free the Holy Land, Norman knights who had settled in Kilkenny were among those who answered the call, joining Normans from many other lands, including Italy. Upon their return to Ireland in the 1300’s, two of the Normans brought with them all or part of the earthly remains of St. Nicholas and had them re-interred in the Church of St Nicholas in the village of Newtown, according to stories in the 1997 issue of the Co. Kilkenny Review; the December, 2002 issue of the Cork Holly Bough; and website www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/ireland.

Church of St Nicholas

Church of St Nicholas

The church of St. Nicholas fell to ruin by the 17th century. However, it is known that the Normans were keen collectors of religious relics supporting the story that Irish Normans could have bartered all or part of the relics for their own Church of St Nicholas. Further, Newtown was the home of Jerpoint Abbey, a launching point for Irish-Norman crusaders and the ruined church, just west of the Abbey, contains an unusual grave slab dating to the 1300’s. It is carved with an image of a Bishop and two heads. The Bishop is said to be St. Nicholas and the two heads are the two Crusaders who brought his remains to Ireland. We may never know the names of the Crusaders, but this famous poem by Bill Watkins commemorates the story:

Tomb of St. Nicholas

Tomb of St. Nicholas

Where lie the bones of Santa Claus?
To what holy spot each pilgrim draws?
Which crypt conceals his pious remains
safe from the wild wind, snows and rains?
It’s not in Rome his body lies
nor under Egypt’s azure skies;
not in Constantinople nor Madrid
his reliquary and bones are hid.
That saint protector of the child
whose relics pure lie undefiled;
his casket safe within it’s shrine
where shamrocks grow and rose entwine.
Devout wayfarer, cease your search
for in Kilkenny’s ancient church
Saint Nicholas’ sepulcher is found
enshrined in Ireland’s holy ground.
So traveler rest and pray a while
to the patron saint of orphaned child
whose bones were brought to Ireland’s shore
safe from the Vandal, Hun and Moor.
Here lie the bones of Santa Claus
secure beneath these marble floors.
So gentle pilgrim, hear the call
and may Saint Nicholas bless you all.

Historical Happenings for November 2017

The Boys of Kilmichael

By Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

Tom Barry of the Third Cork Brigade

On 21 November 1920, during the Irish War of Independence, Tom Barry O/C of the Third Cork Brigade of the Republican forces, sent word to mobilize for a major attack.  Those mobilized into Barry’s flying column numbered 36 and were armed with an assortment of weapons; Lee Enfield rifles bought or stolen from British troops, Canadian Ross rifles taken from the coast guard, an assortment of revolvers, shotguns and some grenades. They had about 35 rounds per man which, by Flying Column standards at a time when guerrilla tactics were still being defined, was a large, well armed unit.

Their target was a company of the ruthless paramilitary unit of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) known as Auxiliaries – tough veterans of the First World War, sent to Ireland to put down the spreading republican insurrection. Auxiliary ‘C Company’ was based at Macroom Castle and since their arrival in West Cork, they had brutalized much of the local population with their aggressive raiding and arrests of local men. They also shot and killed one local civilian as he fled from one of their sweeps. They were clearly in the sights of the Cork Brigades.

After a day’s marauding, the Auxiliaries had been taking the same road back to Macroom – passing through a townland named Kilmichael. Barry chose Kilmichael for a fight to the death with these Auxiliaries; the positions he chose allowed  no retreat… As Barry said, the alternative was to kill or be killed to see to it that these terrorists die and are broken.  The place selected for the ambush was a bend in a narrow road running through marshy land with no fences but back a bit off the road were fairly large rock formations. This was not to be a hit and run attack. The Flying Squad, poorly armed and barely trained, would surprise the Auxies’ lorries and sweep them with fire at close range. With no getaway route, it was do or die.

Monument in memory of the Kilmichael Ambush site in County Cork

Barry’s force marched in pouring rain through the night to the ambush site.  Barry divided them into squads; one facing the enemy force as they approached and two others pouring in fire from the flanks at each of two expected lorries. Another squad of six riflemen was kept in reserve, at a point from which they could fire on both ambush sites.  Three unarmed scouts nervously kept watch at the approaches to the site. The drenched men had a long and uncomfortable wait in the biting cold. They had  no food since the day before apart from a ‘bucket of tea’ sent down by a local household. They lay in wait all day and were chilled to the bone by the late afternoon. As the gloom of the winter’s night began to draw in at about half past four, two Auxiliary lorries were spotted by the scouts.

What happened next was a remarkably well executed guerrilla action on the part of Tom Barry. Yet the Auxiliaries, commanded by Lt. Francis Crake, who had served in WWI, should have known better than to let their movements become so predictable they could fall into an ambush.  But they fell into a very carefully prepared trap.  Kilmichael was a brutal close-quarters fight, as fierce in intensity as anything in a conventional war. When the first lorry reached the bend in the road, Barry threw a grenade into the cab, killing the driver. Simultaneously, it was blasted at point blank range by the hidden riflemen. The surprised Auxiliaries in the first lorry stood no chance at all. In close range fire and hand to hand combat, all nine Auxiliaries in the first lorry were killed.  Revolvers  at point blank range and at times, rifle butts were used. In less than five minutes they were all dead or dying sprawled around the road.

At the same time the second lorry had been engaged by the other ambush party and was taking heavy fire at close range. The men in this position had let the first lorry pass and opened up on the second. The ‘Auxies’ who survived the initial fusillade flung themselves to the side of the road and were desperately trying to fire back.  Barry had given orders to fix bayonets and charge the road when he gave three blasts on his whistle. Jack Hennessey heard the three blasts and got up from his position, shouting “hands up” to one of the Auxies who had thrown down his rifle as if surrendering.  Suddenly the Auxie drew his revolver; Hennessey shot him dead and got back to cover.  According to Tim Keohane, some of the Auxies faked a surrender only to open fire when Barry’s men emerged from cover to take them prisoner.  Barry called on the enemy to surrender and some of them put up their hands; but when the squad moved on to the road, the Auxiliaries opened fire wounding John Lordan and Jack Hennessy.  Tom Barry in his memoir makes this ‘false surrender trick’ the kernel of his narrative of the fight. According to him, this was a deliberate action on the part of the Auxiliaries and two Volunteers were killed as a result of it. He later wrote that at this point,  I gave the order “rapid fire and do not stop until I tell you!  Several more Auxiliaries were killed, two while trying to flee the scene, before others shouted ‘we surrender’.  But, Having seen more than enough of their surrender tactics, Barry wrote, I shouted the order, “keep firing on them”. ‘ According to Barry, they kept firing until none were left alive.  After brutal hand to hand combat, 3 IRA and 17 Auxiliaries lay dead.

The aftermath of the Kilmichael ambush, were two burnt out Crossley tenders and 16 Auxiliary bodies (the IRA took their slain with them).  The reaction of British troops and Auxiliaries coming on the scene was intense; by way of revenge they burned all the houses in the surrounding area.  The Kilmichael ambush came just a week after Bloody Sunday, in which Michael Collins’ Squad in Dublin had shot dead 14 British spies and the British retaliated by opening fire on a football crowd, killing 14 innocent civilians.  This was a profound escalation of the War of Independence.

Kilmichael sparked a war of words ever since. To the British it was a ‘brutal massacre’; to Irish nationalists it was a well-deserved victory. Popular ballads still sing of The Boys of Kilmichael and the movie The Wind That Shakes the Barley was based on it.   However, Barry’s tactics at Kilmichael  were highly risky and the IRA could not afford to gamble in this way with the lives of its relatively few experienced fighters. It was much more common for ambushes to take place at distance with good escape routes into rugged country. And though there were other cases of the IRA shooting prisoners, it was far more common for them to disarm captured British troops or police and let them go.  Nor was wiping out enemy detachments something that only the IRA did.  At Clonmult in February 1921, an IRA column of 20 men was captured after being surrounded in a farm house. Twelve were killed (at least seven after surrendering) and 8 only survived because a British officer stopped the Auxiliaries from shooting them.  Similarly at Selton Hill in Leitrim in March 1921, an IRA camp was surprised on a hilltop. Six Volunteers were killed. According to IRA leader Ernie O’Malley, two of the dead were beaten to death with rifle butts while wounded.  There were also four bound prisoners shot dead on Killaloe Bridge in November 1920.

The controversy over whether or not there was a ‘false surrender’ at Kilmichael or whether Barry massacred the surrendering Auxiliaries is still being argued, but the fact remains they were an alien force terrorizing a country in which they didn’t belong!

Thanks to John Dorney whose account in The Irish Story provided the basis for this presentation.

Historical Happenings for October 2017

A RIVALRY THAT BECAME A FRIENDSHIP

By Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

On October 30, 1963, Cahirciveen, County Kerry saw the largest outpouring of grief since the loss their favorite son, the great Daniel O’Connell in 1847. This time it was for another one of their own – Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty. Although he was born in Kiskeam, County Cork and grew up in Killarney, Msgr. Hugh retired to Cahirciveen three years before his death and was honored as one of their own. He was also honored with many decorations, including Commander of the British Empire and the US Medal of Freedom for Hugh O’Flaherty was a very special man who was mourned throughout the world, including in a front page tribute in the New York Times.

Young Hugh had a vocation for the priesthood and as a seminarian he was posted to Rome in 1922, the year that Mussolini came to power. He earned a degree in Theology and was ordained in 1925. Continuing his studies, he earned doctorates in Divinity, Canon Law and Philosophy. He became a skilled diplomat and served the Vatican at posts in Egypt, Haiti, San Domingo and Czechoslovakia before being called back to Rome to serve the Holy Office at the Vatican.

Father O’Flaherty was an excellent golfer, having learned at the Killarney Golf Club where his father was employed. While in Rome, he played regularly with Mussolini’s son-in-law and other social luminaries. In 1934, he was elevated to Monsignor and enjoyed a high standing in the social life of Rome which he made use of  after 1937 when Italy joined Germany and Japan as part of the Axis.  The new Monsignor was from an Irish nationalist background and in his youth witnessed atrocities by Black and Tans during which a number of his friends were killed.  When WWII began in 1939, he refused to take sides believing that the Brits were as bad as the Nazis; however, that soon changed.  When the Americans invaded at Salerno on Sept 3, 1943, Italy left the Axis and an armistice was declared on Sept 8 between Italy and the Allies. When Germany learned that the Italians signed an armistice, they took over critical defensive positions in Italy and on Sept 10 they occupied Rome.

The Nazis began to crack down on prominent Jews and aristocratic anti-fascists.  Having socialized with these people before the war, the Monsignor hid them in farms, monasteries, convents and his own residence.  O’Flaherty’s views changed after he saw the violence perpetrated by the Nazis.  He visited Allied prisoners held in harsh conditions in Italian jails and began to offer shelter to Allied servicemen who turned up at the Vatican looking for sanctuary. He expanded his operations to help escaped allied prisoners-of-war and shot-down pilots.  He gradually recruited a group to assist him and set up a network of safe houses.  Allied military who evaded capture made their way to the Vatican or to the Irish Embassy to the Holy See – the only English-speaking embassy open in Rome during the war.  The great Irish singer, Delia Murphy, was the wife of the Irish Ambassador at the time and she was one of Msgr. O’Flaherty’s aids.

By the war’s end the Monsignor and his group had helped more than 6,500 allies escape the Nazis and he was referred to as ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican’.  He became a master of disguises to avoid capture from the Germans when he had to go beyond the ‘White Line’ on his rescue missions.  The line was painted on the streets outside the Vatican on the instructions of Herbert Kappler, the head of the Gestapo, to mark the point where the Vatican’s authority ended and Nazi rule began.  Kappler had learned of O’Flaherty’s operation and reminded O’Flaherty that if he was caught beyond that line he would be executed!  In March 1944, after the Italian Resistance killed 33 German soldiers in a bomb attack Hitler demanded revenge so Kappler drew up plans to kill 10 Italians for each German soldier killed.  His men killed 335 people in the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome.  It was the worst atrocity on Italian soil during the War.  This was the man who tried several times to kidnap and kill O’Flaherty; he even put a bounty of 30,000 Lire on his head.  Meanwhile, O’Flaherty continued to outwit Kappler with fake credentials and documents printed in the Vatican; through his secret communication network and by disguising himself to evade capture by the Gestapo.

At the War Crimes trial after the war, Kappler was sentenced to life imprisonment with no parole for the Ardeatine Caves massacre.  In a surprising move, Italy’s most hated prisoner wrote to his old rival inviting Msgr O’Flaherty to visit him in prison; the Kerry cleric immediately went to meet with his former foe.  Their meetings became regular affairs during which they discussed religion and literature.  The Monsignor joked, “Here I am with this man who a price on my head and now we are sort of pals.”  The feeling was mutual as Kappler described O’Flaherty as “a fatherly friend”. After his sentence Kappler, who was Protestant, called on the Monsignor and the two men prayed together after which Msgr O’Flaherty received Kappler into the Faith.  In what was probably Monsignor O’Flaherty’s greatest victory, Italy’s most notorious Nazi was welcomed into the Catholic Church by the very man he had tried so hard to kill.

Kappler remained in prison in Italy until he contracted cancer in 1975 and was transferred to a military hospital in Rome. In August 1977 his wife dramatically smuggled him out of the hospital into a waiting car and took him back to Germany where he died in 1978.  As for his courageous rival, in October 1963, (54 years ago this month) the village of Caherciveen, County Kerry saw the biggest funeral it had ever seen.  Representatives from the Vatican and officials from the British and Irish governments and friends from his days in Rome were among the mourners.  The 1983 film ‘The Scarlet and the Black’ with Gregory Peck describes his wartime activities, but the rivalry, forged in wartime, which became a friendship created in peacetime remains one of the most fascinating stories to emerge from World War II.

Historical Happenings for September 2017

A MONTH FOR BRAVERY

by AOH Historian Mike McCormack

On September 13, the members of the AOH celebrate one of the major holidays of their Order – Commodore John Barry Day.  It is not a day unique to our Order, for it has been commemorated on the American national calendar more than once.  There were even statues erected in his honor back in the days when Americans remembered with gratitude the contributions of this dedicated man.  Today, few remember his deeds.  The American Heritage dictionary doesn’t even list his name, and his statue in front of Independence Hall, Philadelphia, is just a platform for pigeons unnoticed by passers-by.  It is truly unfortunate that so few remember because, during his lifetime, Barry gave so much to America at a time when she needed it most.  It has even been said that had it not been for John Barry, the American Revolution would have been lost.  Dr. Benjamin Rush said in his eulogy at Barry’s grave side, “He was born in Ireland, but America was the object of his devotion, and the theater of his usefulness.”   A sea captain in colonial America, he seemed destined for a prosperous career in the colonies, but his integrity and sense of justice led him to risk all in the patriot cause.  With nine years’ experience as a seagoing Captain, and five successful commands to his credit, the young Irishman was warmly welcomed, and given command of a ship under the authority of the Continental Congress.  Eight months after the first shots were fired at Lexington, Captain John Barry took the helm of a new 14-gun vessel aptly named, Lexington.  He quickly trained a crew, and began the task of supplying and supporting Washington’s ground forces.

He captured British ships and took their cargo: he captured an armed British vessel when ammunition was scarce, and a supply ship when food was at a premium, he then came to Washington’s aid when the leader was planning to cross the Delaware.  He organized seamen and joined the land forces which crossed the river in boats supplied by his friend, Cavan-born Patrick Colvin.   Barry was held in such high esteem that Lord Howe made a flattering offer to Barry to desert the patriot cause. “Not the value or command of the whole British fleet,” Barry replied, “can lure me from the cause of my country which is liberty and freedom.”  The last sea battle of the Revolution took place as Barry was returning with a shipload of bullion from Havana, and was set upon by three British ships.  He destroyed one and outdistanced the other two, returning with the precious cargo which was used to establish a National Bank for the new nation. Even after the war, this courageous seaman assisted America by transporting Virginia tobacco to Holland to repay America’s war debts.

In recognition of his experience and bravery, Washington asked the popular naval hero to form and train a class of midshipmen, who would form the nucleus of the new American Navy.  Barry himself was named the ranking officer, and granted Commission number one making him Father of the American Navy. He died on Sept 13, 1803.  Today, largely due to the efforts of the AOH, a monument to Barry stands inside Barry Gate at the naval academy at Annapolis.

Years later, in 1920 to be exact, another Barry bravely fought the Brits — this time in Dublin during Ireland’s War of Independence. On Sept 21, a British lorry, heavily guarded by armed soldiers, was being loaded with supplies as a voice from the street called, Drop your rifles and put up your hands.  It was a group of Irish Volunteers.  Suddenly, one of the soldiers fired, then a fusillade erupted as Volunteers and soldiers dueled with revolvers and rifles.  When it was over, one soldier was killed and four wounded, and the Volunteers fled.  The British spotted a young man hiding under their lorry and pulled him out.  They threw him into the back with their wounded and sped off.  An official statement that day from British HQ stated that, One of the aggressors had been arrested.

The aggressor, as it turned out, was an 18-year old medical student named Kevin Barry.  Kevin had joined the Volunteers when he was only 15. His job was to cycle to various parts of the city delivering correspondence between officers of the movement.  As a courier, young Kevin knew all of the leading figures, and the British knew they had a prize catch in young Barry.  Questioning and persuasion began in earnest:  Kevin refused to betray the movement. He was offered amnesty and freedom, yet he refused.  He was tortured for days on end, and still he refused.  Finally, he was charged with murder and sentenced to death by hanging.

Late at night, Kevin was taken to see the scaffold that would end his life the following morning.  With incredible cruelty and mental coercion, he was again pressured to reveal the names of his officers and comrades.  In return he was promised a full pardon and his tuition paid at any Medical school in the world.  Kevin, visibly shaken, listened to the officer in silence, then glanced up at the beam from which hung the noose.  Yes, he said, I think that should hold my weight.

On November 1, at 8 AM, his hands tied behind him, a slender 18-year old boy was led to the gallows at Mountjoy Jail where his short life was ended.  Later Father Albert, one of Kevin’s last visitors, reported that Kevin’s last words were, Hold on to the Republic.

In this month of September, as we are reminded of two Barrys and Bravery, we are also reminded of the courage and bravery of those whose stories, unlike the Barrys, may never be told.  They lie forever in the rubble of the Twin Towers that were destroyed on September 11.  We may never know how many Irish died in that horror with their friends and co-workers, but we do know that in the rubble were found close to five hundred Claddagh Rings.  Remember them all in your prayers.

Historical Happenings for August 2017

THE QUEEN’S VISIT

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

By the mid-1800s, the Irish had become dependent on a crop that could produce the most yield per acre – the potato – since British landlord’s held most of the arable land. Then late on August 20, 1845, Dr. David Moore reported that a potato fungus was discovered at the Dublin Botanical Gardens. The following day, August 21, is a date remembered in Irish history as the first day of An Gorta Mor – the Great Hunger – a tragedy that saw millions lost to emigration, disease, and starvation.  Within a month, reports came from all over Ireland that the potato crop had turned black in the ground.  It was the only crop affected, since everything else grew in abundance, but the other crops belonged to the landlord.

The landlords protected their crops from the Irish until they were exported for profit. Parliament, quoting the economic doctrine of Laissez Faire left the country to the effect of natural forces. Many starved awaiting a better harvest in ‘46, but it didn’t come. The potato crop in ‘46 was almost totally destroyed. People were forced to eat what little seed potato they had to survive, many fell victim to the diseases which attend starvation and, when the sick and starving Irish couldn’t pay their rent, they were evicted. The blight partially returned in 1847, but that year saw the largest death toll in a 5-year period since those who ate their seed potatoes had nothing to plant, those who were evicted had nowhere to plant, and the  victims of disease were unable to plant. The blight returned in 1848 and 1849 and neither landlord nor Parliament provided adequate assistance. Millions died on the roads beside prosperous farms. Some aid was provided but it was too little and soup kitchens were set up, but in some, the cost of receiving food was conversion to the Church of England. It was a price too high for many, and they turned their backs on the food, rather than turn their backs on God.

Parliament was denounced for not helping and they reacted by declaring the crisis over in 1849 when the blight on the potato began to fade, but the blight on the Irish continued. Most historians estimate that the effects of the calamity were not over for another 30 years as food shortage and disease continued. Emigrants sent money back to those they had to leave behind and it helped them climb back to a stable life, but it would be years before many emigrants could establish themselves in their new lands. In the end most victims of the Great Hunger were gone before its effects were. One of the most insensitive events of the Great Hunger was Parliament’s premature declaration of the end of the blight. In order to show that all was well, a massive publicity campaign was mounted, the highlight of which was a visit by Queen Victoria at harvest time in 1849. As the Irish starved and died in the workhouses and on the roads, hundreds of thousands of Pounds were spent to beautify the areas she would visit. Crowds of curious and angry onlookers were kept in check by British soldiers as reports were sent to the world that wherever she went, the Queen was cheered by her adoring subjects and headlines proclaimed that “THE FAMINE IS OVER AS THE QUEEN VISITS IRELAND.”

Ironically that headline, though propaganda in its time, would eventually come true for a most remarkable incident occurred on the exact anniversary of the first day of the hunger, exactly 30 years after the blight had begun to fade!  The date was August 21, 1879, and the place was the Church of St. John the Baptist in the Irish village of Knock in Co. Mayo.  On that evening, a small group witnessed an astonishing vision as three figures, surrounded by a mysterious glowing light, suddenly appeared, beside an altar on which rested a cross and a lamb surrounded by adoring angels.  The witnesses knew that they were in the presence of St. Joseph, St. John and Mary, the mother of God.  They couldn’t believe what they were seeing.  Word spread and others arrived and saw it too.  No such heavenly visitation had ever before been reported in Ireland, and the people fell to their knees and prayed, oblivious of a soaking rain.  The figures remained silent for nearly two hours and vanished. In 1939, after years of investigation, the apparition was granted canonical sanction. Of the hundreds of visions reported, it is one of the few to have received such recognition and it ranks with Lourdes and Fatima as a holy site of pilgrimage, yet during her appearance the Virgin remained silent.

Many have questioned why Mary said nothing and only stood praying; praying for what, for whom?  Any student of Irish history should know the answer for the clues are in the date of the apparition. Consider that the Great Hunger wasn’t really over for 30 years after 1849; Mary appeared in 1879 – exactly 30 years later!   And She appeared on August 21, the exact anniversary of the first day of the Great Hunger!  Is it possible that, since the Irish had suffered so much for their faith that the Lord, in appreciation, sent His beloved mother and that She, as any mourner would, stood in silent prayer for the generation which had just passed away? Think of it, the timing is incredible.  Not only is August 21 significant, but the year 1879 was truly the end of the Great Hunger for the Irish began taking their land back from the landlords.  In Daly’s Hotel, Castlebar on August 16th 1879 the Mayo Land League was founded by Michael Davitt. When MP Charles Stewart Parnell joined it became the National Land League and by the end of 1879, the Land War began. It was only then that it could be truly said that the Great Hunger was over and the Irish began to take back their land.

Yet, while the dates have an uncanny significance, there is another irony.  Since August 1879 marked both the historic end of the Great Hunger and the year in which Our Lady visited Knock, a 30-year old headline had at finally come true: THE FAMINE WAS OVER AND THE QUEEN HAD VISITED IRELAND – but it wasn’t Victoria; it was the only Queen that the Irish had ever recognized!  Millions have visited Knock since 1879 and numerous miracles have been reported at the shrine. The Catholic people of Ireland, who struggled so hard to keep their faith alive, had received a visit from heaven and the Virgin had received a new title – Our Lady of Knock.

Historical Happenings for July 2017

Joyce Kilmer

by Mike McCormack, AOH NYS Historian

When America entered World War I in April 1917, War Department regulations required the NY 69th Regiment to triple its size and its ranks were filled mostly with Irish-Americans and New Yorkers.  It sailed off in late October 1917 to support the allies as part of the 42nd ‘Rainbow’ Division of the American Expeditionary Force, commanded by General John J. Pershing. All National Guard regiments received new “100 series” numbers and the 69th was renumbered the 165th Infantry Regiment.  However, they retained their Irish spirit and every non-Irish member was designated an honorary Irishman by Fighting Father Francis Patrick Duffy, who became the Regimental Chaplain in 1914.  He described them as Irish by adoption, association or conviction.  One of Father Duffy’s closest adoptees was the famous poet, Joyce Kilmer, author of such memorable classics as Trees (I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree).  Determined to join the war, Kilmer enlisted in the Seventh NY Regiment, but seeing no future action, requested a transfer in August to the Fighting Sixty-Ninth, stationed at Camp Mills in Mineola, Long Island.

Kilmer was of  English ancestry, descended from Thomas Kilburn, Church Warden of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Cambridgeshire, who came to America in 1638.  He even told his father that he intended to study for the Episcopal Ministry.  In 1908 he married Aline Murray of Metuchen, NJ and five years later they both converted to the Catholic faith.  He was then  considered America’s premier Catholic poet.  His public writings in support of the 1916 Easter Rising endeared him to the Irish.  He wrote many poems about Ireland including Easter Week in which he criticized William Butler Yeats verse which claimed Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with O’Leary in the grave and in his poem, Apology, he named three poet leaders of the Rising.  Author and editor, Robert C Holliday, speculated in his memoir: It is not at all improbable that had he been an Irishman, born and resident in Ireland, he (Kilmer) would have been among the martyrs of Easter Week.

With Sergeant Joyce Kilmer in their number, the 69th arrived in France in November and saw their first action on 26 February 1918 in the trenches of the Rouge Bouquet where they lost 21 men in a dugout collapse during a severe bombardment.  Kilmer memorialized the event in his poem Rouge Bouquet (In a wood they call the Rouge Bouquet, there is a new-made grave to-day). He also wrote the Prayer of a Soldier in France (My shoulders ache beneath my pack; Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).  Though often recommended for a commission, Kilmer stated that he would rather be a sergeant in the Fighting 69th than an officer in any other regiment.  One companion wrote: He was worshiped by the men about him. I have heard them speak with awe of his coolness and nerve in scouting patrols in No Man’s Land.  On 30 July, during the Second Battle of Marne, Kilmer volunteered to accompany Major William ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan when Donovan’s First Battalion was sent to lead the day’s attack. Kilmer joined Donovan in scouting the Oureq River Battlefield to identify German strong-points and machine gun nests.  The two separated as Kilmer assessed the area. When Donovan returned, he discovered that the poet of the regiment had been killed. According to Father Duffy: A  bullet had pierced his brain. His body was carried in and buried by the side of Lt. Oliver Ames. God rest his dear and gallant soul.  Kilmer died at at the age of 31 and Father Duffy retrieved the rosary that Kilmer always wore around his neck. The 69th led with distinction during that 4-day battle, suffering 264 killed, 150 missing and 1,200 wounded out of their 3,000-man regiment, but they broke the German line.  As the Germans were retreating, the Brigade commander, Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur, wanted to press forward.  He was informed by the other regiments that they were too fatigued, but the decimated 69th replied that they would consider an order to advance as a compliment.  MacArthur exclaimed, By God, it takes the Irish when you want a hard thing done!  For his valor, Kilmer was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) by the French Republic.

Kilmer was buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial, near Picardy, France and a memorial service was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.  Though he sleeps in France, he is not forgotten in America where a memorial stands to him on the Kilmer family plot in Elmwood Cemetery in New Brunswick, NJ.  Memorial Plaques to his memory can also be found at the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Tree in Central Park, NY; in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in North Carolina, in the Joyce Kilmer triangle in Brooklyn and in Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium.  There is also a Kilmer Triangle in Rogers Park, Chicago; a Joyce Kilmer Road in Roscommon, Michigan; a Joyce Kilmer Memorial in Como Park, St. Paul, MN; and countless schools and libraries carry his name. Yet, there is one memorial to this beloved adopted Irishman which is undoubtedly the most sacred.  It is the cross from the rosary that Father Duffy retrieved from the neck of Joyce Kilmer.  It was given in trust to the Commander of the Fighting 69th Regiment and it has been passed down from Commander to Commander since that day.  For a time it was proudly carried in a special leather pouch by the commanding officer on every important occasion where the Fighting 69th was publicly mustered and carried in every St. Patrick’s Day Parade on New York’s Fifth Avenue led by the Fighting 69th

In 2014, it was decided to retire it from active use in muster and better preserve it for future generations. It is now encased in a special framed display box along with Kilmer’s photograph and the final stanza from his Rouge Bouquet poem which is read at the funeral of every member of the Fighting 69th.  The display box hangs in the Battalion Commanders’s office in the Sixty-Ninth Infantry Regiment Armory. According to Bert  Cunningham, 69th Regiment historian, It’s permanently in the case now out of concern for its fragility. It’s in good condition and we want it to be preserved in the best condition possible.  The same can be said of Joyce Kilmer’s memory.

Historical Happenings for June 2017

They Happened in June

by Mike McCormack, AOH NYS Historian

June is a remarkable month in Irish History as so many things occurred in that month over the centuries.  For Example:

On June 1, 1866, a Fenian Army invaded Canada and captured Fort Erie with the intent of seizing all of Canada and trading it back to England for Ireland’s freedom.  They went on to beat a British force at Ridgeway before being stopped by the U.S. closing off the border behind them and cutting off their supply lines.  A trip to the Ridgeway battlefield might be a good idea during the coming New York State convention.

On June 3, 1974, patriot Michael Gaughan, on hunger strike in Parkhurst Prison for political prisoner status, died after force-feeding.  Six guards would restrain him at the top of the bed, stretch his neck over the metal rail, force a block between his teeth and force a feeding tube down his throat through a hole in the block. Michael’s brother described him noting: His throat had been badly cut by force feeding and his teeth loosened. His eyes were sunken, his cheeks hollow and his mouth was gaping open. He weighed about 84 lb.  He’d been force-fed 17 times at the end of his 64-day hunger strike. After he died at age 24, his family stated it was from food lodged in a lung punctured by the force-feeding tube.

On June 4, 1798, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, leader of the United Irishmen, died of wounds received during his capture. He was a Lord, brother of Ireland’s leading peer and tremendously popular with the common people. Since a public trial would be embarrassing and might start the rising they feared, the British decided that although his wounds were not serious, they would not be treated.  The bullets were left in his shoulder, and the wound infected.  Septicaemia spread through his body and tortured his mind.  Mad with fever, he shouted, Dear Ireland, I die for you, and My country, you will be free. Then, after 16 days of intense pain, Lord Edward Fitzgerald died of his wounds.

On June 5, 1646, Owen Roe O’Neill, a brilliant strategist who had returned from Spain to fight for Ireland, defeated the British at the Battle of Benburb.  It was the first major win for the Irish who lost only 300 men to Gen. Munro’s 3,000.

On June 20, 1764, Theobold Wolfe Tone was born to introduce a new Republican concept to Ireland that has been followed to this day.  His idea of  joining Catholics, Protestants and dissenters together to oppose the Crown for Ireland’s freedom became the basis for all the Republican movements from the Young Irelanders to Sinn Fein.

On June 21, 1877, a day remembered as Black Thursday, four members of the AOH accused of being members of an imaginary group called the Molly Maguires, were hanged in Mauch Chunk, PA.  A special gallows had been constructed so that all four lives would be ended at the exact same time.  In 1979, Jack Kehoe, reputed leader of the Mollies was posthumously pardoned and the Governor of PA recognized the group as part of the fledgling mine workers union of that historic period.  On June 21, 1997, 120 years later, a memorial Mass was attended by 100 descendants of those hanged and members of the AOH at the jail where they had been hanged.

On June 28, 1920, after hearing of British atrocities in Dublin, Irish soldiers in the British Army in India engaged in the legally prescribed manner of peaceful military protest. They laid down their arms and declared that they would fight for the Crown no more. They were immediately arrested and confined in brutal conditions.  Private James Daly, who was declared to be the instigator, was sentenced to death and became the last member of the British Army to be executed by firing squad.

On June 22, 1922, the Provisional government of the Irish Free State bombarded the Four Courts which had been seized by anti-treaty IRA forces.  Many count that as the start of the Irish Civil War in which more than 2,000 were killed before it ended in May, 1923 – less than one year later!

On June 29, 1848, leading members of the Young Ireland confederacy, who had been traveling Ireland organizing a rising, were surrounded in Ballingarry, Tipperary.  After a lengthy gun-battle they were defeated and the dreams of another rising died.  James Stephens and John O’Mahony escaped and fled to France while Michael Doheny fled to America.  They would all revisit the dream and later form the Fenian brotherhood.

These are only a few of the historic events we recognize in June.  There are also important births like Edmund Ignatius Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers (June 1, 1762); teacher and author Sinead DeValera (June 3, 1878); James Connolly, Irish Citizen Army leader and 1916 commander (June 5, 1868); Wm Butler Yeats (June 13, 1865); tenor John McCormack (June 14, 1884); and Charles Stewart Parnell (June 27, 1846) among others.  We also lost some great people like Matt Talbot, servant of God (June 6, 1925); Saint Colmcille (June 9, 597); Tenor Frank Patterson (June 10, 2000); Molly Malone, who died of a fever (June 10, 1886); and Journalist Veronica Guerin who was gunned down on a Dublin street (June 26, 1996).  Also, on June 16, 1904, James Joyce had his first date with the love of his live, Nora Barnacle.  It is the date he later memorialized as the day everything takes place in his masterpiece Ulysses and is remembered today as BLOOMSDAY!

These dates and many more which happened, not only in June, but on every day of the year are listed on the 2018 Calendar of Mens & Ladies Irish and Irish-American Historical Events available from Pete Durkee (518) 274-8448. The calendars also provide the opportunity to win more than $10,000 in prizes, so give Pete a call.

Historical Happenings for May 2017

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

Virginia City, Nevada is a tourist mecca in America today for those seeking remnants of the Old West.  In 1859 it was a wild town of 110 saloons catering to a thirsty population of more than 600 miners, most of whom were Irish.

The story of Virginia City began in 1857 when four miners discovered gold.  They were James (Old Virginia) Finney, John Bishop, Aleck Henderson and Jack Yount.  Their discovery was not a main vein, only the rediscovery of earlier mine that had been deserted.  In the Spring of 1859, two Irish miners, Peter O’Riley and Patrick McLaughlin, finding the so-called ‘paying ground’ already claimed, went to the head of Six Mile Canyon and began prospecting under the eastern slope of Mount Davidson, a peak in the Virginia Range of Nevada.

After finding nothing, they were about to abandon their claim when they decided to sink just one more small, deep pit.  At the bottom of this pit was a blue-black material, the bottom of which was covered with a layer of gold.  They had finally found a small bit of gold, but when they brought the mixture to be assayed, the blue-black material that they had to scrape away to get at the gold, turned out to be almost pure silver.  The discovery caused the greatest excitement throughout the entire United States since the California Gold Rush of 1849.  Prospectors swarmed to the area and mining camps soon thrived in the vicinity, giving birth to bustling commercial centers, including Virginia City and Gold Hill.

Another miner, Henry T. P. Comstock filed claims all around the mine and the Comstock Lode as it came to be known, was soon to become the richest silver strike in America.  Dubliner John Mackay bought shares in the Kentuck mine with the few dollars he had and within six months, the shares were worth $22,000 each!  Soon Mackay and his partner James Fair, another Dubliner, bought controlling interest in another mine and made so much money that they were able to buy even more properties.  With partners William O’Brien from Dublin and New York-born Irishman James Flood, they acquired controlling interest in the Virginia City and Gold Hill Water-Works; several quartz mills; the Pacific Wood, Lumber & Flume Company; and several other businesses. 

Their Robert E. Lee Mine produced $3 million by 1882 and was called “The Silver Vault of Fryer Hill”.  The nearby residential town of Stumpton is where Margaret “Unsinkable Molly” Brown lived in the early 1880s before moving to Leadville.  Her husband devised a way of overcoming drainage problems in the mines and was rewarded with 1/8th interest in a mine that had vast quantities of high-grade copper and gold which made his fortune and reputation; Molly made hers by her heroics during the Titanic disaster.

In 1869, John Mackay, James Fair, James Flood and William O’Brien were relative nobodies, but in a few short years, they became the richest men in America, known as ‘The Silver Kings.  A poem about their discovery was written back in the day and it read as follows

There’s a mountain in Nevada, where the shamrocks cannot grow,
where leprechauns hid their treasure three thousand feet below.
But O’Reilly and McLaughlin with a bit of Irish luck
and ‘Old Virginny’ Finney stumbled in the muck.
They found the buried treasure and in Eire the tale was told
and a thousand eager Irishmen arrived to dig for gold.
The West had many heroes courageous, brave and grand,
but the great Bonanza Silver Kings all came from Ireland.
Back among the shamrocks the leprechauns still say
that they up and lost their treasure on a mountain far away!

Historical Happenings for April 2017

IT’S STILL HAPPENING

by Mike McCormack, AOH NYS Historian

National Anti-Defamation Chairman, Neil Cosgrove, alerted me to a NY Times article by Liam Stack published on St. Patrick’s Day. It was the worst example of Paddy Bashing, seen in recent years. I got the article and felt that Stack, a controversial correspondent, who in the past has been accused of selling fear, obviously read an internet posting by Travis Gettys for it is extremely similar. Gettys is an editor for Raw Story – a site only slightly better than the media sold at checkout counters and both quote a Librarian named Liam Hogan who is obviously trying to create an audience for a book he is writing about white racism. Based on select few insensitive Irish-Americans who brought up Irish slavery as a counterpoint to Black Lives Matter arguing We got over it why can’t they! as typical of Irish sentiment, Hogan decided to debunk Irish slavery.

While I know a great many Irish men and women, I know not one who has voiced that or a similar sentiment. The problem with the Stack/Gettys/Hogan argument is that there exists documented evidence of Irish men, women and children being sold into slavery as far back as the Cromwellian wars. They were sent to America, St Kitts, Antigua and Barbados where the Redleg (Redshanks) community is very aware of their historic origins and has even been recorded in interviews. One said, When I was a boy in St. Kitts, we learned about Irish slavery, why doesn’t (sic) Americans? There are even documents of parentage saved from the archives of the Montserrat library, during the June 1977 volcanic eruption. These documents read like animal pedigree papers showing the forced mating of young Irish girls with Mandingo warriors to breed a better slave more capable of working in the burning sun. One document noted that in October 1657, 6 Irish slaves were among a group of 20 captured after running away and were put to death by a British Court which wouldn’t surprise anyone, except that it happened in Bridgetown, Barbados.  The history of Irish slavery even moved a St. Kitts Minister, G.A. Dwyer Astaphan, to introduce legislation in the St. Kitts Parliament to grant land for a monument to remember the 25,000 Irish men and women who were shipped there as slaves.  There is no doubt that the Caribbean islands, Virginia and New England played a role in the original slave trade of Irish banished for political crimes and after the ethnic cleansing of the mid-1600s Confederation War. Montserrat’s nearly 70 percent Irish slaves even earned it the title Emerald Isle of the Caribbean.

Don’t you think that if Irish slavery was a myth, more accredited professors with doctorates in history would be coming out and saying so instead of a few nondescript yellow journalists and bigots? They aren’t because they know you can’t change history. Luminaries such as Aubrey Gwynn, Professor of Medieval History at University College Dublin and President of the Royal Irish Academy in his 1932 work Analecta Hibernica; Richard Dunne, Guggenheim Fellow for Humanities and Director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of PA in his 1972 work Sugar and Slavery; as well as dozens of bibliographic references in Sean O’Callahan’s To Hell or Barbados, all verify the findings in Thurloe’s State Papers of 1742 that King James VI sold thousands of Irish as slaves to the New World. In fact, an earlier proclamation by James I (17 September 1603) For the Due and Speedy Execution of the Statue against Rogues, Vagabonds, Idle, and Dissolute Persons renewed an earlier Elizabethan law that criminalized vagabondage and “idleness” in 1597 authorizing transportation. James VI’s policy of selling Irish political prisoners to English settlers in the West Indies was continued by Charles I and Oliver Cromwell furthered the practice. The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery at Yale University  also uncovered numerous historical documents regarding Irish slavery! They conclude that the number of ‘Barbadosed’ Irish varies from 12,000 to 60,000 (so many were sent to Barbados that the term ‘Barbadosed’ was coined to define them). When our Revolution closed America as a receptacle for England’s unwanted, ask any Australian what happened next!

One point overlooked by Stack and Gettys in Hogan’s writing is that while he calls the Irish only indentured servants (slavery in politically correct terminology), he readily admits that some of indentures were involuntary! That sounds like slavery to me!  However, his main argument is that it was not in as great a number as some proclaim. To this writer, any number is horrible and unjustified brutality. As for those who later unwisely volunteered to become indentured to secure a ticket to America, it is recorded that only about 40% survived to become free men. While Ireland and St. Kitts erect monuments to remember the Irish who were enslaved in  English colonies, one closer to home memorializes Anne Goody Glover.  She was the last supposed witch hanged in Salem, MA, who was in fact an Irish slave who escaped Barbados seeking refuge in that Puritan village.  A monument in Boston commemorates her unjust and tragic end as an Irish slave.

The maddening part of this whole argument is that some insensitive headline hunters are trying to erase the memory of our people who suffered incredibly for no other reason than that they were Irish and in the way of English colonialism. We cannot let them be forgotten.  We wrote to the NY Times asking them to please verify the trash they publish, no matter that it is found on the Internet and in other scurrilous media, especially when it downgrades or demonizes decent people who have contributed so much to earn for them the very right to publish such trash. I also suggested that if they wanted historical Irish opinions on slavery, they should consult the writings of Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet, Daniel O’Connell and Gerry Adams.

 

Historical Happenings for March 2017

THE LITTLEJOHN AFFAIR

By Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

On March 12, 1974, two brothers broke out of Mountjoy Jail in Dublin. A jailbreak would have been little more than local news, but this one had international impact. It was a time when the Republican command in Northern Ireland was losing support due to slanted coverage distributed by the British-controlled press to world-wide media. Even people in the Republic were insulated from the truth and had lost much of their enthusiasm for the cause.  Reports of IRA bombings, violence, and fund-raising bank robberies were everyday news.  It mattered not that the IRA denied all knowledge of some of these incidents; their denial was rarely published.

Then, in August 1972, Kenneth Littlejohn and his younger brother, Keith, were jailed in Dublin for the largest bank robbery in Irish history netting £67,000. When faced with imprisonment, they claimed to be members of British Intelligence sent to Ireland to commit acts in the name of the IRA that would inspire repressive legislation and alienate public support. The British denied the allegations as preposterous, claiming that they never heard of either brother. Then, on March 12 1973, after an unsuccessful attempt by the British government to secure their release, the Littlejohn brothers escaped from Mountjoy by cutting through the bars with tools that no one knew how they had received. Keith was immediately recaptured but Kenneth remained at large. Since the escape was unsuccessful, Kenneth had to secure his brothers release by other means.

Kenneth was not only being sought by the Irish police since two days after his escape, his home in England was mysteriously burglarized. He decided that the only way to protect himself was to make his story public. Sadly, few would hear the story because of the slanted coverage emanating from that part of the world. For example, the day after the breakout, Protestant Senator William Fox was seized by armed men at a house he was visiting and shot to death at Clones. A Loyalist gang called the Ulster Freedom Fighters claimed responsibility, but the police publicly blamed the IRA. The IRA claimed that it had no part in the killing, but their disclaimer was ignored. Then, on 21 March, two British soldiers were killed and two wounded in separate incidents in Armagh by Ulster Constabulary. The soldiers were part of the Counterinsurgency unit of the Special Air Service on plainclothes duty against the IRA. The police saw the men in civilian clothes in a Republican area and assumed that they were IRA men. The incidents underscored the “shoot first” attitude of the police, but they were reported as merely a tragic accident.

Kenneth Littlejohn threatened to reveal the truth unless the Dublin government released his brother, but believing the British denial, they refused, so Kenneth called a press conference! When the story broke publicly, it was a sensation and despite attempts to hush it up, there were many red faces. Authorities were embarrassed as British Agent, Kenneth Littlejohn, revealed accounts of criminal activities performed for British Military Intelligence in the Republic of Ireland in an attempt to discredit the IRA. He and his brother had pulled Ireland’s biggest bank robbery in the name of the IRA to force the Dublin government into more repressive measures and the Dublin government played right into their hands. Littlejohn also revealed he had been assigned to assassinate IRA leader Sean MacStiofain, but failed and that he had permission to shoot British soldiers if they interfered with his mission. He revealed lengthy conversations with British officials as far back as 1972. Finally faced with undeniable evidence, British authorities shamefully admitted that Littlejohn was their agent. British MP Marcus Lipton called for an in-depth investigation of the affair but British Prime Minister Harold Wilson rejected the proposal.  Local news accounts credit former British Security Advisor, Lord Wigg, as the key figure in the decision not to investigate.

Then, to compound matters, Kenneth Lennon was slain in England. Lennon had revealed to Britain’s National Council for Civil Liberties a similar tale of intrigue and deception by Scotland Yard in its fight against the IRA. He charged that the British Special Branch threatened him with prosecution on an earlier incident unless he went undercover and persuaded the IRA to commit crimes for the cause and then to reveal those crimes to Scotland Yard. His death, coming on the heels of the Littlejohn affair, further embarrassed the authorities who, nevertheless, released the story that it was an IRA execution, and called for tougher measures against Republicans.

Northern Ireland has come a long way since those terrible times and news is less controlled thanks to the internet, but the mentality that pursued that conspiracy just 45 years ago still exists among many Loyalists and revisionists who alter the facts for public consumption. That is why we must continue to pray that they do not prevail in the current situation involving power-sharing and Brexit!  Don’t let history repeat itself !