Historical Happenings for June 2018

From Dublin Drunk to Servant of God

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

In June the world celebrates Bloomsday, a day in the life of James Joyce’s fictional character, Leopold Bloom, as he walked the back streets of Dublin – an exercise in self indulgence which most do for the craic (merriment). Incredible as it may seem, in 1856, a man was born into those very same dirty Dublin streets who deserves more to be honored and revered than all the characters in Joyce’s book; more than even Joyce himself. His name was Matthew Talbot. One of 12 children he was reared in absolute poverty in north central Dublin at a time when there were no social services, and even water was fetched from public horse troughs. Semi-educated by the Christian Brothers who put him in a class for poor boys not likely to attend school for long; they were right for his schooling ended as soon as he found a job. A 12-year-old illiterate is lucky to find work at all, but young Matt took a job as a messenger for a wine and beer bottling company. He soon learned it was easy to help himself to a drink whenever he wanted, and by age 13, Matt Talbot was a confirmed alcoholic!

He earned a reputation as a hard worker, and for the next 15 years went from dock worker to brick layer and through it all he never stopped drinking. Alcohol claimed most of his wages, and he resorted to stealing and pawning to support his addiction. Then in 1884, Matt stayed away from work for an entire week, drinking heavily. Penniless and in debt to the local Pubs, he waited for his friends after work; surely they would buy him a drink as he had bought them many times before. But they didn’t want to know him. He found himself physically, mentally and spiritually bankrupt. He went home sober for the first time in years. He reflected on his life and concluded that it was out of control because of drink. He remembered his early religious teaching and a Pledge of Sobriety offered by the Temperance preacher, Father Theobold Matthew, a few years earlier; he decided to attempt it for three months to regain control of his life. It was a battle he was not ready for. The terrifying withdrawal symptoms of Alcoholism were not understood in those days, and Matt battled nausea, hallucination, and depression. Lost for a place to spend his non-working hours, he turned to the Church. It was the beginning of an intimacy that would last his entire life. He attended daily Mass and communion before work. When his parish changed its first Mass from 5 A.M. to 6:30, he quit his job and got a new one so that he could still start his day with a Mass. With great effort, he completed three months of sobriety. He immediately renewed the pledge for six more months, and then renewed it for life.

His willingness to work hard, assured him of work when there wasn’t much around. His spare time was spent in church or religious reading. The heavy drinking of his father and brothers showed him a side of drink he had never seen, and he left home to live alone in a one-room flat. When work and church were done for the day, Matt would retire to his room to read and pray. His sister Susan recalled that in his free time he was never off his knees. Though privately he was a very serious and penitent person, at work he was pleasant and outgoing. Co-workers remember him as a conscientious, strong, yet gentle man who smiled at everything except an off-color joke.

His work habits earned him above-average wages, which he gave away to his poor neighbors and to charities as far away as Father Drumgoole’s Catholic Orphanage in New York. He kept only 50 pence a week for his needs were few. As history was being recorded around him, Matt Talbot prayed for his fellow man. During the violent Tramworkers Strike of 1913, he shared his wages with the families of the men on strike, and during the Easter Rising of 1916, he made his way through the bombs, bullets and barricades to attend daily Mass.

In 1920, at age 67, he was hospitalized with a heart condition. Placed on light work through the intercession of friends, he continued sharing his wages until June 7, 1925. On his way to Mass, Matt Talbot suffered a massive heart attack and died on a Dublin street. While undressing his body, hospital attendants found a heavy chain around his waist, another around his arm, and yet another around his leg; he had worn them beneath his clothes as a reminder that he was a slave to Jesus. This remarkable discovery prompted an inquiry which disclosed a secret life of devotion and penance. His room had no more than the bare necessities of a monastic cell: an iron bed, a slab of wood for a mattress, covered with a half-blanket, a chair, table and crucifix. His meals consisted of dry bread and cold tea or cocoa taken three times a day, with some cold fish added for dinner; he spent his leisure time in prayer and study. Had he died at home, he may have remained unknown; instead, he became an inspiration to those who feel too weak to turn their backs on earthly pleasures. As his story spread, he became an icon for Ireland’s Pioneer Total Abstinence Association and soon became known to Irish communities and addiction clinics, youth hostels and more, from Nebraska to Warsaw to Sydney, have been named after him.

Today, there is a Matt Talbot Movement, under the direction of the Redemptorists, which consists of more than 144,000 people in Ireland, America, and Canada. And the source of that inspiration is Matt Talbot, a drunk who grew up in Leopold Bloom’s Dublin. A leader of Ireland’s Transport and General Workers Union, Stephen McGonagle, describes him as a beacon of light to Irish workers. A statue of Matt Talbot now stands at the south end of the Liffey by the bridge named after him. In 1931, a sworn inquiry was opened into claims of holiness; in 1947 the Apostolic Process at the Vatican began; in 1952 his remains were reinterred in a vault beneath the O’Connell monument at Glasnevin cemetery; and on October 3, 1975 Pope Paul VI declared him Venerable Matt Talbot, the first step on the road to sainthood – not bad for a one-time drunken Dublin dock walloper who finally found God.

Historical Happenings for May 2018

It Happened in May

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

On 16 May 1997, Brit Prime Minister, Tony Blair, visited Northern Ireland and gave the go ahead for exploratory contacts between government officials and Sinn Féin.  Working alongside US Special Envoy George Mitchell, Martin McGuinness was one of the main architects of an agreement that would bring peace to Northern Ireland.  A year later, in May 1998, on a visit to Dublin, members of our National Board, including Ed Wallace, George Clough, Dave Burke, Bob Collins and myself were invited to the State House for a discussion on that new agreement, which had just been reached the month earlier on Good Friday, 10 April.  They requested the AOH to organize Irish-American support for the agreement that would come to be known as The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) for it called for an honorable end to 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland. The month of May was also significant for it was ratified in a referendum on 10 May 1998, as members of Sinn Féin voted to accept that peace agreement, effectively acknowledging the north-south border. The agreement set up a power-sharing assembly to govern Northern Ireland by cross-community consent.  It also called for a number of institutions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. The agreement was made between the British and Irish governments and eight political parties or groupings from Northern Ireland; the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was the only major political group in Northern Ireland to oppose the GFA.

The agreement recognized that Northern Ireland was part of the United Kingdom and would remain so until a majority of the people both of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland wished otherwise. Should that happen, then the British and Irish governments are under “a binding obligation” to implement that choice.  The agreement also confirmed a commitment to “the mutual respect, the civil rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community”. The multi-party agreement specifically recognized “the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity”, especially in relation to the Irish language, Ulster Scots, and the languages of other ethnic minorities, “all of which are part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland”.

On 19 May 1998, SDLP leader John Hume and his Unionist counterpart, David Trimble, joined U2 on stage at a concert in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall to drum up support for a massive Yes vote in an upcoming referendum on the agreement.  On 22 May, the Good Friday Agreement was overwhelmingly endorsed in two referendums: North (71%) and South (94%).  On 24 May, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams signaled that the war was over and that the gun could finally be removed from Irish politics.

A date of May 2000 was set for total disarming of all paramilitary groups. This was not achieved leading the assembly to be suspended on a number of occasions as a consequence of unionist objections. A series of rounds of decommissioning by the IRA took place in October 2001, April 2002, October 2003 and in July 2005 the IRA finally announced the formal end of its campaign. Loyalist decommissioning did not immediately follow.

The deal proved difficult to implement and was amended by the St Andrew’s Agreement in 2006.  Key elements of that agreement included the full acceptance of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) by Sinn Féin, restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly and a commitment by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to power-sharing with Irish republicans in the Northern Ireland Executive.

On 8 May 2007 the Rev Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness marked the end of almost four decades of conflict as they were formally appointed First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, British prime minister Tony Blair and other dignitaries, including former US president Bill Clinton and US Senator Ted Kennedy, witnessed the creation of a power-sharing government led by political polar opposites of the DUP and Sinn Féin. This was the first time that Northern Ireland was run by a government in which the main nationalist and unionist parties agreed to operate together.

In June 2009, the UVF announced it had completed decommissioning and the UDA said it had started to decommission its arsenal.  However after the death of Ian Paisley a number of scandals regarding DUP leaders led to Party resignations and on 17 December 2015, Arlene Foster became leader of the DUP and served as First Minister with Martin McGuinness.  Another round of DUP scandals led to McGuinness resigning as Deputy First Minister on 9 January 2017 in a protest over a DUP debacle in which businesses were given a financial incentive to burn resources needlessly and power-sharing collapsed.  It has been 20 years since AOH leaders sat with Dublin politicians and promised to support the GFA.  God knows, we are still trying.

Historical Happenings for April 2018

Paddy

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

By Nheyob - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39732088The name Patrick is one of the most popular names in Ireland, and that is quite understandable that parents would name their offspring after our patron saint.  In the Irish language, the name is spelled Padraic, which accounts for the nickname Paddy, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as Paddy Noonan and Paddy Moloney will tell you.  However, when an otherwise innocent word is used as a derogatory term to denigrate an entire race or nationality, it becomes a racial slur.

There is nothing wrong with `negro‘, the French word for black; and not all of our black brethren came from Nigeria, but the collective term, derived from either or both of those words, which was used to denote an entire race is an example of prejudice at its worst and insults our God-given intelligence.  Even sadder is when some members of the insulted nationality use that term themselves in ignorance of its meaning, or to impress those who employ them or for their own economic benefit.

Thankfully, anti-defamation groups within many nationalities have eliminated most of those terms from our national vocabulary by voicing objections to their use, whenever and wherever they appear, even when it’s not intended as an insult.  It was simply a process of education.

There was a time when all Irish were collectively referred to as Paddies, and it wasn’t always a nickname for Patrick used by a friend.  Just ask any Irishman who emigrated to England.  Mick is another term that was used.  It originated because so many Irish carried Mc (a Gaelic term meaning `son of ) as a preface to their names.  Even though the words, Paddy and Mick, are not unusual, the use of those terms in a derogatory manner made them a racial slur that carried the connotation that those whom it described were inferior.  It was associated with a stereo-typical character, unskilled, unlettered, and alcoholic.  As in most cases it was not the word that offended, but the stereotype that it represented.

Here in America, we are many years and many miles from the source of those terms, but that stereotypical `stage Irishman’ crossed the seas and almost became a part of our American culture.  In the early 1800s Irishmen were regularly portrayed with monkey-like features in Harper’s Magazine.  Fortunately, that has changed, and I dare say that no one intends an insult when they refer to March 17 as Paddy’s Day, nor do they know that it originally meant a day celebrated by the Paddies.  Otherwise who would advertise a Paddy’s Day Dance and expect a good attendance by the Irish.  Like other races that have fought the use of such terms, the Irish defeated the derogatory meaning by proving their worth in the lands where they settled, as well as in Ireland after Independence.  As for the unskilled, unlettered, alcoholic stage Irish image: museums around the world, hosting exhibitions of creative Celtic and Irish art, have helped to defeat the notion of unskilled; the fact that one Irish city has produced more Nobel Prizewinners in literature than most other countries, has defeated the impression of illiteracy; and recent EEC surveys show Ireland to have not only the highest percentage non-drinking population in Europe, but the second lowest nation for alcohol consumption with only 2.2 gallons per year.  Maybe we can document that we never deserved to be known as Paddies, but the stereotypical Stage Irishman unfortunately can still be found from time to time, often on St. Patrick’s Day cards.

While we have altered the meaning of Paddy as it is applied to Irishmen, there are still two issues we should oppose — and oppose vehemently.  One is the use of that stereotypical stage Irish image on signs, posters, and greeting cards; the other is the application of the term Paddy to our Patron Saint.  Even if no malicious meaning is intended, our patron saint should not be referred to by a nickname.  Our Italian brethren never call St. Anthony, St. Tony, nor do our Scottish cousins refer to St. Andy or St. Maggie.

To avoid sounding paranoid, I hasten to add that this practice is done more through ignorance than malice, so it calls for education.  If we hold St. Patrick in the reverent honor to which he is entitled, then let us protect his name, and let those who designate him as St. Paddy hear from us by mail or phone or in person.  Educate them to our feelings, and they will avoid that mistake in the future.  If we are effective, we shall never again see the insulting image of a bumbling drunk to represent us and our families, and we shall never hear the term St. Paddy’s Day again. . . As for the term Paddies itself, it should be a source of pride that we were able to change its meaning simply by exhibiting our true character.  It’s like the term Narrowback: originally a derogatory term to signify American-born Irish who were not as strong and as broad-shouldered as their immigrant fathers.  Today, it signifies the proud combination of American by birth and Irish by the Grace of God.

Historical Happenings for March 2018

MARCH’S SIBLINGS FOR FREEDOM

By Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Terence James MacSwiney (McSweeney) was born on 28 March 1879.  Playwright, author and politician, in 1901 he helped found the Celtic Literary Society and in 1908 the Cork Dramatic Society and wrote several plays. He also wrote pamphlets on Irish history. His writings in Irish Freedom brought him to the attention of the IRB and he became a founder of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and President of the Cork branch of Sinn Féin. He founded a newspaper, Fianna Fáil, in 1914, but it was suppressed after 11 issues. In 1916, he was to be second in command of the Easter Rising locally, but stood down on the order of Eoin MacNeill. In the internment sweep following the rising, he was imprisoned in Wakefield, moved to Frongoch, called ‘The University of Revolution’ and finally to Reading Jail, where he remained until December 1916. On his release, he resumed activity with the Volunteers and was again lifted in February 1917.  He was in internment camps until in June 1917. He returned to Cork and in November 1917, was arrested for wearing an Irish Republican Army uniform. Inspired by Thomas Ashe, he went on a hunger strike and was released four days later. In the December, 1918 general election at the end of WWI, he was elected unopposed as TD for Mid-Cork and took an active part in the formation of the first Dáil Eireann serving on the Foreign Affairs committee organizing the Dáil loan to finance the Republican government. His friend Tomás MacCurtain was elected Lord Mayor of Cork on March 20, 1920, but was murdered in his home by disguised members of the Royal Irish Constabulary. MacSwiney was then elected Lord Mayor of Cork to succeed him.

On 12 August 1920, he was arrested for possessing seditious documents, court martialed and sentenced to two years’ in Brixton Prison. He immediately started a hunger strike to protest being tried by a military court. Eleven Republican prisoners in Cork Jail went on hunger strike with him. On the 39th day of his hunger strike, he wrote in a letter to Cathal Brugha, If I die I know the fruit will exceed the cost a thousand fold. The thought of it makes me happy. I thank God for it. Ah, Cathal, the pain of Easter week is properly dead at last. The pain he referred to was his anguish at not having played a part in the 1916 Easter Rising. He also wrote, It is not those who can inflict the most, but those that can suffer the most who will conquer. On 26 August, as Thomas starved, the British felt that the release of the Lord Mayor would probably lead to a mutiny of both military and police in Ireland. MacSwiney’s hunger strike gained world-wide attention. The British government was threatened with a boycott of British goods by America, while four countries in South America appealed to the Pope to intervene; protests were also held in Germany and France. An Australian member of Parliament, Hugh Mahon, was expelled from the Australian parliament after condemning the actions of the British.

MacSwiney died on 25 October 1920 after 74 days on hunger strike. His death brought him and the Irish struggle to international attention. India’s Jawaharlal Nehru took inspiration from MacSwiney’s example and Mahatma Gandhi counted him among his influences. Even future North Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh, who was working in London at the time of MacSwiney’s death, said of him, A nation that has such citizens will never surrender.

Nine years his senior, Terence’s sister Mary had also been born in March; on the 21st in 1872.  After the death of their mother, she became the maternal caretaker of her baby brothers and sister and was as much a patriot as they were in later life sharing MacSwiney values and courage. Educated in the Ursuline Convent, she trained as a teacher at Cambridge University. She taught in Cork where she became a founding member of the suffragist Munster Women’s Franchise League and a member of the Gaelic League. In 1914, she helped found Cumann na mBan and became President of the Cork branch and National Vice-President of the organization for which she was also interned after the 1916 Rising. As a result of her imprisonment, Mary lost her teaching job and in 1917 she and her sister Annie founded St. Ita’s School for girls in Cork City, a sister-school to Padraic Pearse’s St. Enda’s in Dublin, where all subjects were taught in Irish. In 1917, she joined Sinn Féin and in 1918 was elected to the First Dáil for Cork. She was Vice-President of Cumann na mBan when they voted against supporting the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty. She was also appointed to the Cabinet of the Second Dáil in 1922 and was twice imprisoned during the Civil War fighting on the side of a full independent 32-county Ireland. Like her brother, she underwent a 21-day hunger-strike in Mountjoy Jail. On 21 November 1922, her younger sister, Annie, was refused permission to see Mary so she  encamped at the prison gates and went on hunger strike as well!  Mary was released, but retaken again and held in Kilmainham Jail where this time she went on a 24-day hunger-strike. After her release she continued to maintain a republican position until her death on 8 March 1942; by then she was vice-president of Sinn Féin and Cumann na mBan.

Their brother Seán, also born in March, on the 19th in 1878, was an officer in the IRA and Sinn Féin politician. During the Irish War of Independence, he served as an officer in Cork No 1 Brigade. Captured in 1921, he was sentenced to death, later commuted to 15 years’ penal servitude, but in April 1921, he escaped. He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty and during the Irish Civil War, was quartermaster for the 1st Southern Division of the anti-Treaty IRA and served on the IRA executive. He evaded capture until after the IRA called a cease fire. In 1933, standing on a Republican ticket, he was elected to the Cork Corporation and died at Glenvera hospital, Cork on 22 January, 1942.  The month of March was a big month for birthdays in the MacSwiney household and they all had a part in Ireland’s birthday.

Historical Happenings for February 2018

A PROMISE FULFILLED

By Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Stagg Grave

Republican Plot Memorial, Leigue Cemetery, Ballina, Co. Mayo

On 12 February, 1976, Ireland lost a patriot son.  His name was Frank Stagg of County Mayo.  He was from a long line of Irish patriots as his father had fought in both the War of Independence and the Civil War.  In the 1970s, Frank emigrated to London, where he worked as a bus conductor.  He joined Sinn Féin in 1972 and shortly thereafter joined the IRA.  In April 1973, he was arrested in Coventry and, under archaic Conspiracy Laws used to convict IRA members when there was a lack of hard evidence, Frank Stagg, Father Patrick Fell, and five others were convicted of conspiracy to commit arson and given 10-year sentences.  Taken to Albany Prison, Frank was frequently punished with solitary confinement for claiming political prisoner status and refusing to don the uniform or do the work assigned to criminals.

In March 1974, he was moved to Parkhurst Prison, with fellow Mayo man Michael Gaughan.  Together, they joined a hunger strike in support of the fight begun by Marion and Dolores Price in Brixton prison demanding political prisoner status and repatriation to Ireland to be near family.  All were force fed by authorities, despite the fact that such methods had been condemned by Amnesty International and the Court of Human Rights.  Eventually, the strikers were repatriated to Northern Ireland except for a few that included Stagg and Gaughan.  Both men continued to suffer forced feeding.  According to the National Hunger Strike Commemoration Committee, six to eight guards would restrain the prisoner and drag him or her by the hair to the top of the bed, where they would stretch the (back of the) prisoner’s neck over the metal rail, force a block between his or her teeth and then pass a feeding tube, which extended down the throat, through a hole in the block.  After 64 days of this torture, Michael Gaughan died on June 3 at age 24 weighing just 84 pounds.  The Brits said he died of pneumonia, but it was found that he died from infection by food lodged in a lung punctured by a feeding tube.

His coffin, draped in the same Tricolor that was used for hunger-strike Mayor Terence McSwiney’s funeral 54 years earlier, was carried in solemn procession across Ireland to Leigue Cemetery in Ballina where he was given a full military burial and laid to rest in the Republican plot.  Thousands turned out to pay their respects in Dublin and along the route to his final resting place in Mayo.

Following Gaughan’s death, negotiations began and the hunger strike was called off.  But the talks were a ruse just to halt the strike and prevent more deaths which were being highly publicized.  Instead of meeting the prisoner’s demands, the authorities moved Frank Stagg to a solitary confinement punishment cell in Wakefield Prison, where he remained under 23-hour lockdown with no furniture, radio, newspapers nor cigarettes, and was prevented from sleeping by a bright light in his cell day and night.  On 14 December 1975, a worn Frank Stagg began his final hunger strike for repatriation.  He battled starvation for 62 days before he died on 12 February 1976 – again from forced feeding.  His last request was to be buried next to my republican colleagues and comrade, Michael Gaughan. Embarrassed by the public demonstration at Gaughan’s funeral, the Fine Gael/Labour Government moved to avoid the prospect of another high-profile funeral of an IRA Volunteer.

As Stagg’s widow and friends waited at Dublin airport to receive his remains as instructed, the plane carrying Frank’s body home flew right over them.  It had been diverted to Shannon where Gardaí Special Branch seized the coffin.  It was removed by helicopter to a small cemetery near Ballina and buried far from the Republican Plot under massive state security, on Feb 21, 1976.  1,600 police and soldiers couldn’t stop the IRA from firing a volley of shots over the grave in Frank’s honor as 6 to 7 thousand people threw rocks at the police and soldiers at the funeral.  As far away as America, 3,000 people marched through New York City and over 1,000 attended a special mass in Boston for the martyred patriot.

In Ballina, the grave was filled with six feet of concrete and a 24-hour guard was posted to prevent the removal of the coffin and the fulfillment of Stagg’s last wish.   A Requiem Mass was allowed to the family, but they boycotted it in protest.  The following Sunday, the Republican Movement held its own ceremony at the republican Plot, despite a massive police presence.  A volley was fired following an oration by the late Joe Cahill who made an emotional promise to the fallen patriot.  He said: I pledge that we will assemble here again in the near future when we have taken your body from where it lies.  Let there be no mistake about it, we will take it, Frank, and we will leave it resting side by side with your great comrade, Michael Gaughan.

For six months, all was quiet and the government, finding it hard to justify the expense of a 24-hour guard on a dead IRA volunteer, removed the guard.  Then, on the night of November 6th, 1976, a group came to dig a grave in the plot next to the Stagg grave, presumably preparing for a new burial.  The plot had actually been purchased months earlier by Frank’s brother, George.  When the grave was deep enough, they tunneled horizontally, beneath the concrete covering Frank Stagg’s coffin, and quietly removed it.  Frank Stagg was re-buried as he had wished, next to Michael Gaughan in the Republican plot, where a Catholic Priest led a litany of prayers and his comrades fired a volley of shots over him.  In his honor, Seamus Robinson of Belfast, who had written the song TAKE ME HOME TO MAYO for Michael Gaughan, composed a song BRAVE FRANK STAGG. Today there are 3 graves with the Stagg name on them: The empty concreted grave with the original tombstone, an empty grave bought by his brother, and a Republican grave next to that of Michael Gaughan where Frank now rests and where Sinn Fein annually makes pilgrimages.  Joe Cahill had kept his promise.

Historical Happenings for January 2018

JOHN O’NEILL

by Mike McCormack, AOH Historian

On 8 January, 1878 – 140 years ago – General John O’Neill breathed his last in Omaha, Nebraska.  Today, his memorial is greater than a tombstone and even greater than a monument – it’s an entire City!  O’Neill, Nebraska is the county seat of Holt County and Nebraska’s Irish Capital; it also has the world’s largest permanent shamrock, made of green-tinted concrete, covering the entire main intersection of the city. Who was this man that he be remembered so proudly?

John O’Neill was born in Drumgallon, Co. Monaghan, on 9 March 1834 to John and Mary O’Neill. His father died six weeks before he was born. His mother, unable to make a living in Ireland, emigrated to the United States in 1835 with two children, settling in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  John stayed with his grandfather, a staunch supporter of Irish Nationalism with a deep hatred of Englands presence in Ireland.  The grandfather saw to it that his grandson received a good education and made sure that he knew Irish history.  In December 1848, at 14, filled with his grandfather’s views on England, John left to join his mother.  After arriving in New Jersey he completed his education and took a job with a Catholic publishing company as a salesman.  He traveled throughout New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. 

In 1855, he settled in Richmond, Virginia and opened a bookstore.  To meet other Irish exiles who shared his antipathy toward England, he joined the local branch of the Emmet Monument Association founded to train men who would free Ireland.  In 1857, he enlisted in the 2nd U.S. Dragoons and served in the Utah War (May 1857 – July 1858), afterward moving to California where he met his future wife Mary Crow, an Australian of Irish parentage.  He later joined the 1st Cavalry and from March to July of 1862 served as a sergeant in the American Civil War’s Peninsular Campaign.  On 27 June, O’Neill was promoted from sergeant to second lieutenant for gallantry.  In 1863 he was promoted to first lieutenant in the Fifth Indiana Cavalry for his courageous leadership.  In December, he received a citation for bravery at Walker’s Ford, where he was wounded in the leg.  In the summer of 1864 he was appointed Captain in the 17th United States Colored Infantry, but was forced to resign due to the wound received the previous year.  Later that year he married Mary and settled in Nashville where they had three children over a span of ten years.

While in Tennessee, O’Neill reconnected with the Emmet Monument Association which had now become the Fenian Brotherhood.  When the Fenians split over the best way to free Ireland, he aligned himself with the group who wanted to invade Canada and hold it hostage for Ireland’s freedom.  He said, I have always believed in striking at England wherever we could reach her, and wherever the English flag floats and the English government is recognized and there are English soldiers in arms to defend the flag and maintain the government.  I hold that the Irish people, particularly the Irish Exiles whom her oppressive laws have driven from their native land, have a right to go there and make war on England.

General Tom Sweeny, a native of County Cork, was in charge of a plan which included a series of co-coordinated raids from Chicago, Buffalo and Maine.  Command of the Buffalo expedition was entrusted to O’Neill who crossed the Niagara River at the head of 800 men on the night of 31 May 1866 and captured Fort Erie.  He moved to Ridgeway where he defeated a British and Canadian force.  In the end the invasion was stopped by U.S. authorities who blocked supplies and reinforcements at the border.  The other crossings were also stopped.  Ridgeway made O’Neill a Fenian hero as it was the only success in the many Fenian campaigns against Canada.  The Brotherhood appointed him ‘General of the Irish Republican Army.’ and he became president at the end of 1867.  After two more failed attempts in May 1870 and October 1871, he turned his attention to his other great passion – the resettlement of Irish families from the slums of eastern cities.

He traveled throughout the west in search of the best place to settle and decided on Nebraska as it possessed an abundance of pure water, fertile land and millions of acres of free government land.  In 1874, O’Neill embarked on a lecture tour along the east coast, offering his impoverished countrymen a better standard of living if they would resettle with him in Nebraska.  He was convinced they could succeed in rural America better than in the poverty of the miserable slums in which they then resided.  In his lectures, he quoted from the writing of the Reverend Stephen Byrne, OSD, Let the crowded tenement houses of eastern cities, where the very atmosphere is poisoned by the occupancy in one house of 20 to 40 families and where morality itself is greatly endangered on account of association that cannot be avoided, answer.  Let the unnamed and unnumbered graves along the canals and railroads of the United States, answer.  Let the forlorn and forgotten creatures who, having neither homes nor friends, lie down and die in the common hospitals of the country, answer.  The response comes home to us in a hundred forms that as a people, while doing more than any other to build up this great Republic, we have been negligent, not to say reckless, in regard to our individual interests.

O’Neill set up the first Irish colony in Nebraska in Holt County in the city that today bears his name – O’Neill, Nebraska. His second colony in Greenley County was seen by him as just the start of many that would cover America’s plains with Irish families.  His legacy still exists in those successful farming communities especially in the spirit of Irish generosity that is part of their culture today.  In 1877 while on a speaking tour, John O’Neill the consummate Irish and American patriot, became ill and returned home to Nebraska.  His condition continued to deteriorate and after being admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital, Omaha in November, he suffered a stroke and died on 8 January 1878.

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.