Historical Happenings for April 2019

Kathleen Daly Clarke

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Kathleen in 1900; photo courtesy of M. Buckley, Limerick

On 11 April 1878, a baby girl was born to Edward and Catherine Daly in Limerick. They named her Kathleen and she was the third daughter in a family of nine girls and one boy, Edward junior (Ned), who was born in 1890, five months after the death of his father. Edward senior and his brother, John, had been involved with the Fenian uprising of 1867 and had spent time in prison. At the time of Kathleen’s birth, her uncle John was serving time in Chatham and then Portland Prisons in England. Kathleen was 16 before her uncle was released and returned home. His stories about his imprisonment included his admiration for a fellow prisoner named Tom Clarke who was defiantly courageous despite torturous treatment. When Tom was released in 1898 he was invited by John Daly to recuperate with his family in Limerick. Little did Tom realize that he already had an ardent admirer in the person of John’s niece, Kathleen. Already intensely nationalist, Kathleen admired Tom’s devotion to Ireland and during his time with the Dalys, Tom and Kathleen fell in love. Tom left for New York in 1899 and began working with John Devoy, Gaelic-American newspaper publisher and head of the revolutionary Clan na Gael. As planned, Kathleen followed him and they were married in 1901 and settled in Brooklyn. They later relocated to Manorville, Long Island.

As war clouds darkened the skies over Europe, Tom knew that England would soon be involved and he saw the chance to take John Mitchel’s advice that ‘Ireland’s opportunity was when England was in difficulty’. He decided to return to Ireland with Devoy’s blessing and rejuvenate the dormant IRB for a rising. Kathleen, who told him that he’d already suffered enough for Ireland, reluctantly agreed to pull up the family’s roots and join her life-long hero in another attempt to free their native land. It is fortunate that she did for she would become the most significant women in Irish history.

Tom rebuilt the IRB, influenced the Irish Volunteers and planned the Easter Rising. Katty, as he affectionately called his wife, co-founded and became President of Cumann na mBan, the Ladies Auxiliary to the Volunteers.  As Tom organized the men, Katty organized the women. When the time for the rising came, it was cancelled, but the leaders reissued the call since the Brits were already planning to arrest them all; the blow had to be struck! Realizing that they might fail and be imprisoned, they needed someone trustworthy to safeguard their assets, contacts and membership lists with the instruction to pass them on to a new leader who would carry on the fight. They chose Kathleen! The New York Clan na Gael, was notified that if anything happened, they were to communicate directly with her. She memorized the names of all local leaders across the country to contact if necessary and was soon the most knowledgeable person in the entire IRB. One lady later wrote, I felt so sorry for Mrs. Clarke; she suffered more than anyone, because she knew in advance what she was going to lose in 1916.

On Easter Monday, Tom his compatriots declared Irish independence and terrible fighting commenced. The British army was held at bay for six full days.  During that chaotic week, Katty remained at home preparing for the worst.  It came on Sunday with news of the surrender. Anxious for the safety of her husband and brother, Ned Daly, she busied herself with plans to support the dependents of those who would be imprisoned. On Wednesday, she was taken to Kilmainham Jail to see her husband. That was when she learned that the leaders were all to be executed and Tom told her that Ned, the brother she had raised from birth, would die with him. Her grief was more than most people know in a lifetime, but she would not let it show lest it make Tom’s end harder. She listened quietly as he assured her that freedom would come as a result of their sacrifice. For the rest of her life, she could recall every detail of that meeting as she concentrated on not breaking down. Then, she left the man who had grown from her childhood hero, to her closest friend and to her husband, without ever telling him that she was pregnant – for she knew that too would make his death harder.

Katty went home and vowed to continue the struggle they had started together. With the assets entrusted to her, she formed a nation-wide network of Republican Prisoners Dependents Fund offices to look after the families of the imprisoned patriots. Still grieving and trying to comfort her mother, Katty worked day and night traveling between Dublin and Limerick, despite her Doctor’s advice to slow down. A few weeks after the rising, she awoke in pain. The Doctor, who came to attend her, delivered what should have been the final blow; the baby she was carrying was dead!  She wanted to die herself and the Doctor told her that for some minutes, she had!  Her heart and vital signs had stopped, but he said she came back because God obviously wasn’t through with her yet.  In truth, Ireland wasn’t through with her.

She remained frail, but continued building her nationwide organization to provide dependent’s relief across Ireland. By year’s end, the government began to release prisoners for lack of evidence.  Many who had not even been involved, had been interned without trial as a preventive measure; they spent 6-12 months in concentration camps with nothing to calm their rage but the hope of revenge. If they weren’t an army when they were arrested, they were when they were released. All that was needed was an organization and a leader.  Katty Clarke provided that organization through her network of Prisoner’s Dependents Fund offices across the land; she also provided the leader when, after interviewing prospects for Secretary of the Fund, she chose a man who would carry on the struggle. She gave  all the assets and intelligence entrusted to her to Michael Collins; the rest is history!

Collins used the network of offices set up by Katty to recruit a new national force and began the War of Independence that fought England to the Treaty table in 1921 and the ultimate creation of the Republic of Ireland.  Katty had done her job; the gospel of freedom had been passed to a new congregation. Through the War of Independence, into the years of the Irish Free State and into the Republic of Ireland, Katty served her country as no other woman had. She had been wife, mother, prisoner and then Judge, Deputy Minister, Senator and the first woman Lord Mayor in Irish history when she was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin. Katty Daly Clarke joined Tom on September 29, 1972 at age 94. She received the rare honor of a state funeral.  Her full story is told in the book Revolutionary Woman. 

Kathleen Daly Clarke was every bit as important to Ireland as each of the men of Easter Week; she gave their dreams a second chance. Her greatest regret however, was refusing to agree to a memorial in honor of her late husband. She said that as long as one person suffered as a result of the Rising, she couldn’t see money being put into cement. Years later, realizing that not even one street in Dublin had been named for Thomas, she lamented that position. In 1987, New York’s Suffolk County Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians corrected that situation when they erected a memorial to Tom and Katty Clarke at their former homestead in Manorville, Long Island where a commemoration ceremony is held each year in memory of all those who fell for Irish freedom. The nearby AOH Tom Clarke Division and LAOH Kathleen Daly Clarke Division 8/9 play an important part in the ceremony.

Historical Happenings for March 2019

Irish-American Heritage Month

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

On 28 February, a team of Suffolk County Hibernians appeared before the Suffolk County Legislature to request that the month of March be declared Irish-American Heritage Month in perpetuity.  As one of the speakers, I was asked to share the words I said with other members of the New York State AOH/LAOH.  The Bill by Legislator Steven J. Flotteron, listed a dozen famous Irish and Irish Americans as evidence of our contributions to America.  The towns I mention are, of course, towns in Suffolk County and I was only allowed three minutes to make my presentation.  As most of my brothers know, I can’t even do opening remarks in three minutes.  However, when it was my turn to address the assembly, I said:

“The bill before you lists only a few of the Irish and Irish-American contributors, if we were to list them all, it would take all day to read their names and all year to describe their deeds.  Suffice to say that at our beginning there were nine Irish who signed the Declaration of Independence and three of them were Irish-born, as was Secretary Charles Thompson who edited it, John Dunlop who printed it and Col Nixon who first read it to a waiting public.

As for contributions to our State, that started with the first Governor of the Province, Irish-born Thomas Dongan whose patents became the model for today’s New York State government and established many Towns including Southampton and Brookhaven. In fact his Charter is on display in the Brookhaven Town Hall on Independence Hill to this day.

As for our County, it was in the shipyards of Mattituck that Irish-born John Holland built the first successful underwater boat which he demonstrated in the waters off New Suffolk to the U.S. Navy who bought it as the first boat in the greatest Submarine Fleet in the world.

From the large number of Irish in Washington’s Army that caused Lord Mountjoy to tell the House of Commons: ”We have lost America through the Irish”, all the way up to Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Michael Murphy of Patchogue, the Irish and their descendants have defended this nation.  In March, 1863, the first Medal of Honor was awarded to Irish-born Bernard Irwin, since then 254 have been received by native-born Irishmen more than twice the number given to any other foreign-born nationality and that’s not counting the number received by Irish-Americans like Audie Murphy and Dan Daly of Glen Cove who received two of them.

The Irish also served in counter intelligence. The Roe brothers were great-grandsons of John Roe the Irish-born shoemaker who settled in Drowned Meadow as Port Jeff was known in 1667.  They were part of the Culper Spy Ring that operated out of Suffolk linked with Irish-born Hercules Mulligan in NY City whose intelligence saved Washington on at least two occasions.  From the Roe brothers to Wild Bill Donovan who developed the Office of Strategic Services in World War II, which became the CIA of which he is considered the founding father, the Irish were there.

Many of these facts are unknown and designating March as Irish-American Heritage Month would give us the opportunity to publicize them and many more.  Each year, the President declares March: Irish Heritage Month. But before March first, when we try to convince the media to share these facts with the public, they say they can’t allocate resources to something that’s not officially designated.  Then when the President designates it as such, as he does every March 1st, we’re told its too late because such promotions must be scheduled a month in advance. Asian-American History month, Hispanic Heritage month, Black History month and others are permanently designated and recognized; we would like to see Irish-American Heritage Month permanently designated as well, so that we may invite others to recognize these contributions in time to prepare a respectful celebration.

Thank you for the gift of your time.”

Historical Happenings for February 2019

John Philip Holland

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Did you know that an Irishman invented the first successful submarine?  His name was John Philip Holland and he was born on the eve of the Great Hunger on 24 February 1841 in Liscannor, Co. Clare.  He lived through An Gorta Mor and suffered poor eyesight as a result.  His father was a member of the Coast Guards and young John inherited a love of the sea, but his poor eyesight prevented him from following in his father’s footsteps.  However, he developed an interest in ship design and attended a Christian Brothers School where he came under the influence of Brother Dominic Burke, a science teacher, who encouraged that interest.  By the end of the 1850’s, John had drawn his first plans for a submersible boat.  When he left school, he joined the Christian Brothers as a teacher and studied the unsuccessful attempts of Bourne, Bushnell and Fulton at underwater sailing.  In 1862, he read an account of the first combat between armored ships: the historic confrontation of the Monitor and Virginia in America’s Civil War and noted English concern since their country’s strength lay in their wooden ship Navy which was now vulnerable.

Then, the Union ship Housatonic was sunk by the Confederate underwater craft Hunley.  Though it too was a failure and sunk with its entire crew, it verified the importance of Holland’s ideas. Unable to promote interest in Ireland, he left the Christian Brothers and emigrated to America in 1872.  He found a job teaching at St. John’s School in Paterson, New Jersey.  In 1875, he offered his plan for a submersible boat to the U.S. Navy, but it was rejected as a “fantastic scheme.”  He was sure if he could raise the money for a prototype vessel, he could convince the sceptics, but money was hard to find.  In 1876, as his brother and other patriotic young Irishmen had done before him, Holland joined the Fenian Brotherhood dedicated to freeing Ireland from British rule.

Here he found interest in his plans for a weapon that could sink the British Navy.  Delighted with the prospect of striking a blow for Ireland, the Fenians financed Holland’s project.  He constructed a prototype vessel and in 1878, a 14-foot, one-man, Holland I slipped beneath the waves of the Passaic river.  Impressed, the Fenians provided $23,000. for a full-sized version.  Earlier attempts had focused on delivering a mine on a boom projecting from the bow of the boat which operated only inches below the surface.  In 1881, Holland completed a completely submersible 31-foot, 3-man boat of 20-tons displacement complete with a torpedo tube and fittings for armaments.  Spectators stared as the sub went through its trials, and newsmen dubbed it ‘the Fenian Ram’ in recognition of its origin and purpose.  Holland continued to test and refine his design.  In 1882, an impatient Fenian leader, John Breslin, stole the Ram and took it to New Haven to be launched; unfortunately, with no knowledge of its operation, it sank and the Fenians abandoned the project.

Holland kept trying the U.S. Government and to maintain secrecy, moved construction to a shipyard at Mattituck, Long Island. In 1895, he finally won a $150,000. U.S. Navy contract to build them a submarine, but the Navy insisted on alterations which Holland said would make it unstable.  But the Navy said no alteration, no contract!  So, while building a sub to their specifications, the headstrong Holland also built the 53-foot, 63-ton, Holland VI to his own specifications.  After the Navy designed boat predictably failed, Holland floated out his alternative vessel.  The trials took place at New Suffolk on Long Island and were a total success.  In 1900, Holland VI became the U.S.S. Holland – the first American submarine, and the Holland Torpedo Boat Company received an order for six more, but Holland was too deep in debt to fulfill the contract.

Financier Isaac Rice and others backed Holland forming the Electric Boat Company in Grotan, Connecticut, later a division of General Dynamics.  The brainchild of the tenacious Irish immigrant became the prototype for the greatest submarine fleet in the world.  However Rice took charge and not only dealt with the U.S. government, but the British government as well, selling them the original patents much to the chagrin of their inventor and the Fenian brotherhood.  Holland spent years in costly litigation trying to reclaim his patents.  On August 12, 1914, he died in Newark, N.J. as the Germans and British were readying their respective Navies for war and the eyes of both fleets were submarines, built with Holland’s principles.  John Holland was soon forgotten.  For 61 years, he lay in an unmarked grave until public attention was focused on the historic oversight and in 1975 a memorial headstone was erected.  Years later, another was erected in its place, and the original stone was transferred to his home town of Liscannor, Co. Clare and dedicated there by the U.S. Navy Submarine Veterans.

As for Holland’s first sub, the Fenian Ram, it would have made Holland proud for it did strike a blow against the Crown; it was salvaged in 1916, and used in a fund-raising campaign for Ireland’s Easter Rising.  After that it was mounted on a pedestal in Paterson Park. Then after the Beatles 1966 record YELLOW SUBMARINE debuted, the Ram was painted Yellow by local teens.  The Paterson Museum put it in a shed behind their museum to protect it from vandals.  In 1988, the AOH National Historian learned of its location and asked the museum its intentions.  The museum responded that they had a plan, but a lack of funds kept them from creating a proper display.  The AOH National Historian’s office sponsored a nationwide fund-raiser and in 1990, presented the museum with a check for $12,000.00.  Today the Fenian Ram can be seen as the centerpiece of an elaborate exhibit to John P. Holland in a special section of the Paterson Museum.

Finally, a long overdue ceremony took place on April 8, 2000, when a monument was also dedicated to the memory of Holland’s accomplishment, at what is now recognized as the first U.S. Submarine Base in New Suffolk, Long Island.  Funding was organized by the U.S. Navy Submarine Veterans.

Historical Happenings for January 2019

Irish Contributions Mark New Year’s Eve

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

I’ll bet you all (or most of you) watched the big ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, but did you know that there is a Celtic Connection with that tradition.  New Year’s Eve in Times Square had been celebrated for many years, but the addition of music came in 1888 and it took an Irishman to do it.  Back then, the triangle of land at the intersection of 7th Avenue, Broadway and 42nd Street was known as the Long Acre and it was there that Galway-born Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, leading what was publicly acclaimed as the greatest Brass Band in America, performed for a large audience on the first New Year’s Eve celebration ever, establishing a tradition.  Then he led them in a countdown, firing two pistols in the air at the stroke of midnight

In 1904 the celebration was expanded with the opening of The New York Times whose owner had the Long Acre renamed Times Square in honor of the new Times Tower which stood thereon, That New Year’s Eve, the celebration began with a street festival and ended in a fireworks display. At midnight came the cheering from more than 200,000 attendees listening to the music that had become part of the tradition thanks to the late Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore.  After Gilmore’s passing, the tune Auld Lang Syne (old long since), became part of New Year’s Eve in 1929 when Guy Lombardo played it on a New Year’s Eve radio broadcast. That song owes it origin to our Celtic cousin – the Scottish poet, Robbie Burns – and became another part of the tradition.

However, the pre-eminent tradition became the dropping of a huge Ball to mark the New Year.  In 1907, the city banned the fireworks display and so a 5-foot diameter, 700-pound Ball made of iron and wood and adorned with a hundred 25-watt bulbs, was lowered from the tower flag pole exactly at midnight to welcome in 1908. A Ball has been lowered every year since, with the exceptions of 1942 and 1943, when a wartime “blackout” was imposed.  Yet, crowds still gathered and greeted the New Year with a minute of silence to the ringing of chimes from sound trucks to ring out the old and ring in the new.

In 1920, a 400-pound wrought-iron Ball replaced the original and in 1955, an aluminum Ball weighing just 150 pounds was used until 1980, when red light bulbs and the addition of a green stem converted the Ball into an apple for an “I Love New York” as the Big Apple marketing campaign. In 1988, after the Big Apple campaign, the traditional Ball with white lights returned. In 1995, the Ball was upgraded with aluminum skin, rhinestones and computer controls, but that was lowered for the last time in 1998. In 1999, for the coming Millennium, something really special was required and the New Year’s celebration returned to its Irish roots!

For the millennium celebration, the Ball was completely redesigned by Ireland’s world-renowned Waterford Crystal company, combining old and new in the most traditional of materials with the latest in lighting technology, to remind us of our past as we faced a new millennium. In 2007, as the 100th anniversary of the original Ball neared, Waterford Crystal crafted a spectacular new LED crystal Ball that increased the brightness and color capabilities. It measured six feet in diameter, weighed 1,070 pounds, and incorporated over 600 halogen bulbs, 504 crystal triangles, 96 strobe lights, and spinning mirrors. The ball went green in 2008, marking the centennial of its first appearance with a fifth design: 6-foot in diameter; 1,212 pounds; lit by 9,567 energy-efficient LED lamps with computerized color patterns; and the same Waterford crystal panels.

The Ball we see today is the sixth one and it was made in 2009.  It is absolutely massive with a 12-foot diameter; a weight of nearly 6-tons; 32,256 LED lamps; and 2,688 Waterford Crystal panels. This kaleidoscopic sphere is twice as large as its predecessor. The Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball is now a year-round attraction sparkling above Times Square in full public view January through December.  As we welcome each new year with the descent of the Waterford Crystal Ball and think of the Celtic connection to that unique tradition and icon that is viewed around the world, we smile at its Irish significance!

Historical Happenings for December 2018

CHRISTMAS IN IRELAND

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

The Christmas season in Ireland was a happy combination of modern and ancient customs that combine to bring a unique meaning to this special time of year.  While Christmas shopping, decorated trees, and Santa Claus are evident everywhere, traditional customs that signify the true meaning of this holy season still remain, especially in the small towns and villages where people still celebrate the holy feast as their ancestors had for generations.

On Christmas eve, the windows of the house were decorated with garlands of holly and ivy, with candles centered in each  – often in a hollowed-out turnip for support.  This holly encircled candle should be familiar since the Christmas Wreath we know today is an outgrowth of an Irish tradition that began back in 16th century, when Penal Laws outlawed the Catholic religion and clergy.  The Irish kept their faith though, and secretly met outlawed priests to celebrate Mass in the woods and mountains whenever they could.  Mass might be celebrated once a month, or even less, but one time they never missed was Christmas.  In spite of persecution, Christmas still brought hope.  An alien power may have controlled the land, but they couldn’t control the hearts of the Irish; they still had their customs, faith, and pride, and by God they would have their Mass.  Some of those customs, by the way, were older than the race that ruled them, originating back to pre-Christian days, like the ringing of doors and windows with holly and ivy.  That came from the ancient Celtic custom of ringing the openings of a dwelling with those magical leaves to ward off the evils of winter.  After all, holly and ivy remained green when all other plants died, so they were deemed immune to the killing force of winter.  The custom carried into the Christian era as a decorative function and the Brits marveled at the hope that still burned in hearts they had tried so hard to discourage. During the Penal days when the Catholic religion was outlawed, the source of that hope was their faith and, in each community, courageous families would risk fine and imprisonment to attend a mid-night Mass celebrated by an outlawed priest. When an especially brave family agreed to host the celebration, the house to be used was kept secret until just before the Mass was to begin, at which time a lighted candle was placed in the window to signal the faithful.  Once the signal was given, candles were lit in windows of every house to confuse any who might try to interfere with the celebration.  To the Irish, the meaning of the candle was clear, but to the stranger, it was merely an extension of the pagan custom of holiday decoration.  The candle, eventually became part of the custom, remaining long after its need as a signal disappeared.  Today’s wreath serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by our ancestors who placed a candle in a holly-encircled window to send out the message “The Lord is in this house tonight“.

In later years, as evening fell over the Irish hills on Christmas eve, the candles in each window cast a magical glow over the hillside like scattered jewels on Erin’s cloak of evening, the largest were the churches dotting the landscape and beckoning the faithful to Midnight Mass.  After Mass people returned home and retired for the night leaving their doors slightly ajar as a sign of hospitality insuring that no wandering couple seeking shelter would be turned away as was Joseph and Mary on that first Christmas eve.  A cup and saucer was placed on the table in each home with home-made soda bread for the wandering souls from Purgatory who were thought to come home for Christmas.  On Christmas morning, the candles would be snuffed out, preferably by someone named Mary.

On Christmas day came the Christmas meal – assorted vegetables and potatoes deliciously prepared to compliment the Christmas goose or turkey, followed by the Christmas pudding.  After dinner, the children would play games while the adults sat about the fire, reminiscing about Christmases past until it was time to cut the Christmas cake amid much excitement.  The reverent celebration of Christmas in Ireland did not conclude with the setting of the sun on Christmas day.  The season would extend for a full twelve days, and any feast that fell within that period was considered a part of the overall Christmas celebration. Saint Stephen’s Day, December 26, is one such feast.

In early times, the children of Ireland would begin December 26th  with a hunt for a small wren which they would kill and place in a little box. Today, a box decorated with feathers simulates the victim satisfying bird-lovers as well as saving the boys the trouble of the hunt.  Dressed in in old clothing and flour sacks with colored ribbons in as many combinations as imagination allows, they set off carrying the `victim’ and musical instruments centering around the Bodhran (a one sided drum) which is beaten with a wooden stick. They make their rounds from door to door, singing the traditional Wren Song and collecting pennies as a reward for their deed, and to `bury the wren’.  They are practicing a ritual that was old in western Europe before the Christian gospel was preached in the hills of Galilee. Originally of Celtic origin, with the coming of Christianity, its meaning was Christianized.  What had the little wren done to be hunted down through history?  The ancient Druidic version is that the wren was condemned to persecution by his fellow birds because, he used trickery to oust the eagle from the kingship of all birds; the story was used as a lesson to children about the virtues of honesty.  The Christian version related that the wren flew from a bush betraying the hiding place of St. Stephen who was captured and martyred as a result, which explains the custom falling on St. Stephen’s day, and why it is the duty of all good men to hunt and kill the little beast.  The tale associated with St. Stephen adds one more measure of religious significance to the season

January 6 is Little Christmas, when the visit of the Magi, or the three wise men, is celebrated by extended family (in-laws etc.) coming to visit. It is also the day for Christmas decorations to come down, not before, or risk bad luck for the rest of the year. Another custom has been formally attached to January 6. In recognition of all the baking, cooking and preparation for Christmas done by the woman of the house, in some small-towns, women would gather on that day in each other’s homes for a few stolen hours of relaxation while the men looked after the home. Today it is recognized as Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas and is becoming more wide-spread to include all women regardless of their effort at Christmas, but for their caring devotion all year long.

Christmas is celebrated in various ways in various countries but nowhere is it more beautiful or meaningful than on God’s emerald Isle where the true meaning of the season is not forgotten.  Nollaig shona dhuit, (Happy Christmas to you).

Historical Happenings for November 2018

The November Ending That Became A Beginning

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Theobold Wolfe Tone and French Fleet in Lough Swilley, County Donegal, Ireland

Inspired by the American Revolution, the United Irishmen, made up of Protestants and Catholics, rose in May, 1798 to free Ireland from England. On 21 June, France was at war with England and sent a force to aid the Irish. On 8 September, General Cornwallis met the Irish and their French allies at Ballinamuck, County Longford. Hopelessly outnumbered by a British army of 30,000, French General Humbert surrendered his 850 troops and 1000 Irish supporters. The French were repatriated back to France while the Irish were slaughtered to a man. Humbert was dismissed to a position in the French colony at New Orleans. Meanwhile, the southern part of the Rising had already been defeated at Vinegar Hill in Wexford on 21 June. Then, on 5 October, Lord Nelson defeated Bonaparte’s fleet in Egypt and Ulster Loyalists celebrated that France must now abandon all military ventures in Ireland. However, on October 12, Theobold Wolfe Tone, leader of the United Irishmen, arrived off Lough Swilly with a fleet of French reinforcements in yet another attempt to jump start the revolution. They ran directly into a waiting British fleet. After a 6-hour battle, the French fleet was destroyed and Tone was captured. On 16 October, James Napper Tandy, arrived with yet another fleet of 270 French reinforcements, and landed on Rutland in Donegal where he learned that Humbert had surrendered and Tone had been taken. He wisely returned to his ship and sailed back to the continent. The four and a half month conflict had ended – or had it?

As Tone was taken to Dublin in chains, he declared, “For the cause which I have embraced, I am prouder to wear these chains than if I were decorated with the Star and Garter of England.” At his court-martial on 10 November, he said, “I have sacrificed all in life; courted poverty; left a beloved wife unprotected and children whom I adore fatherless. After such sacrifice in the cause of justice and freedom – it is no great effort to add the sacrifice of my life.”  Wolfe Tone made that sacrifice on 19 November, 1798. He was buried in Bodenstown, in the grave which Ireland cherishes as a precious possession and which future revolutionary leader Padraic Pearse called ‘the holiest place in Ireland’.

The end of the rising was followed by a brutal pattern of vengeful death and destruction. The streets of Ireland were mobbed with widows and orphans of those who had fallen in battle as Catholic homes were burned to the ground. The violence continued into 1799 with disturbances in Galway, a rising in Clare, and shootings and church burnings in Wexford and Wicklow. Unemployed British yeomen took to robbery and no one prosecuted them as long as their victims were Catholics. A wave of emigration, reaching 50,000, headed for the slums of Glasgow and Liverpool where many fell victim to successive typhus epidemics and their children went to labor in the mills and mines of England. Political prisoners sent to the penal colonies in Australia and the Indies fared even worse as many died on the voyage. Others were pressed into service in the British Navy and Army and spent their lives on foreign battlefields. Those who remained in Ireland fared no better.

As winter came and Atlantic gales lashed the coast, Irish families who’d lost all they possessed huddled together in caves and bogholes as famine followed in the wake of revolution.  The remaining rank and file of the United Irish organization were pursued and eliminated. There was so much anger over British vengeance that Robert Emmet, brother of United Irishman, Thomas Addis Emmet, led another rising five years later, although it too failed miserably. Now with the military threat removed, the British showed their true colors. They demanded a union of Ireland with England, dissolving the Irish parliament completely, even though that parliament had limited ability.  Further, there would be no more talk of concession to Catholics. Author Seumas MacManus wrote: “people were coaxed, threatened, and bribed into signing petitions in favor of Union; under promise of pardon, felons in the jails signed; everyone holding a government job had not only to sign, but was compelled to make his relatives sign.”  British Historian Lecky noted that, “though defeated session after session, the Act of Union would always be reintroduced, and that support for it would hereafter be considered the main test by which all claims to government favor would be determined.”  Finally it passed and the grimmest joke of all, according to MacManus, was that the millions paid for bribes and favors was added to Ireland’s national debt – thus was Ireland made to pay for the razor with which her own throat was cut!

Ireland remained a depressed country for another generation until Daniel O’Connell raised the cry for Catholic emancipation once more, creating an audience for the voice of Thomas Davis and the Young Irelanders who revived the doctrines of Wolfe Tone who was finally recognized as the Father of Modern Irish Republicanism. As Tone’s spirit of nationalism began to beat in Irish hearts once more, a poem by Davis appeared in the April 1843 edition of the nationalist newspaper, The Nation.   It was called the ‘Memory of the Dead’, and it read:

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

And the November 1798 death of Wolfe Tone did not end the message, but only caused it to silently smolder until it burst forth in a new beginning – a beginning that has yet to end! 

Historical Happenings for October 2018

Joseph Poole

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Joseph Poole

The 1800s was a time when Fenian activity was causing both outrage and fear among England’s political establishment.  Charles Stewart Parnell had become active in the Land League and in politics after the 1874 execution of three Fenians  known as the Manchester Martyrs, believing their execution to be a gross injustice.  In October 1881, 137 years ago, the Brits declared the Land League illegal and Parnell and other leaders were arrested prompting widespread violence.  Parnell was released on 2 May 1882 after agreeing to curtail the violence.  He also secured a promise from PM Gladstone to replace the hated Chief Secretary of Ireland and to adjust rents.  Gladstone appointed Lord Cavendish as new Chief Secretary.  However, Cavendish and Under-secretary Thomas Burke were attacked and killed by a splinter group of militants known as the Irish National Invincibles in Phoenix Park, Dublin, only 4 days after Parnell’s release causing major outrage against Parnell and the nationalist cause.  Parnell condemned the murders and brought the radicals in the movement under control, although with a good degree of difficulty.  Five members of the Invincibles were later hanged for the Phoenix Park murders.

Joseph Poole, armorer for a Dublin Fenian circle, was arrested in July 1882 and charged with killing John Kenny, a Fenian, who was suspected of informing on the Invincibles.  It was alleged that Poole was a member of a Fenian group known as the Vigilance Committee, tasked with eliminating informers, though he denied this.  Poole admitted drinking with Kenny on the night of his death but denied any part in his murder and was released for lack of evidence.  However, Poole’s roommate later alleged that Poole returned to his lodgings that night saying, ‘Kenny will tell no more’.  Poole was re-arrested in December 1882 and charged again with Kenny’s murder.  The Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) sought the death penalty as they suspected that Poole also had a hand in shooting dead one of their constables earlier that year. The shooting had occurred as a result of a clash between two rival Fenian factions in a dispute over control of weapons caches in Dublin.  Shots were exchanged but the only casualty was a DMP man who was inadvertently shot when he tried to intervene.  A Fenian named Dowling was later charged with the shooting and served ten years in prison.

When Poole stood trial for the killing of John Kenny, the Crown produced his brother-in-law, William Lamie, a former Fenian, who testified to the factional divisions within the movement and Poole’s role in the ‘Vigilance Committee’.  However, evidence was circumstantial and the jury was unable to reach a verdict.  A second trial was quickly arranged and the jury was ‘packed’ with government supporters to ensure a conviction.  Despite no new evidence being presented, Poole was sentenced to death on 20 November 1883. To his father who wept at the verdict, Joseph said, ‘Keep up father, keep up, I am ready to die’.  He then told the court: ‘I believe it is on account of being an enemy, humble as I am, of the Government under which I have the misfortune to live, that I have been persecuted in the manner I have been. Still I am not afraid to die, or ashamed of what has brought me to the scaffold. It is not for murder, it is for being a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood that has brought me to the scaffold, and I am prepared to die for it’. Then from the dock he called for ‘Three Cheers for the Irish Republic and to Hell with English tyranny!

Poole was hanged in the Richmond Bridewell on 18 December 1883 and Father Donnegan, the priest who attended him, reported that he showed, ‘the utmost fortitude’ on the scaffold.  A black flag was raised over the walls of the prison and the watching crowd gave ‘a wailing cry’, according to the press.  His body was buried in an unmarked grave within the prison.  Poole’s case became a notorious example of injustice in Ireland in the 1880s, as it was believed he was innocent and that the verdict had been achieved by ‘packing’ the jury.  The Irish Parliamentary Party even brought up Poole’s innocence in the House of Commons.  However, public opinion was really aroused when it was learned that Poole’s conviction was attempted by perjury.  Frank Grundy, a Fenian and friend of Poole, on completion of a two year prison sentence in August 1884, claimed that he had been twice approached by authorities and offered freedom if he falsely implicated Poole in the killing of John Kenny.  Grundy refused.  It was also learned that Lizzy Kearns, Grundy’s sweetheart, had also been approached by DMP Superintendent John Mallon and offered her boyfriend’s freedom if she swore falsely; she too refused.

Poole, the last man to be hanged in the Richmond Bridewell, became a potent symbol of misgovernment in 19th century Ireland.  During work on the prison in the 1890s, as part of its conversion into Wellington Barracks, Poole’s body was discovered in a casket marked ‘J.P.’.  His father recently dead, Poole’s mother and sisters petitioned Dublin Castle to reclaim the body and give it a proper burial.  John Mallon of the DMP denied their request and the body was reburied in another anonymous site within the Barracks.  The Poole family maintained their republican tradition and four of his brothers served in the Irish Citizen Army during the Easter Rising.  In 1958, three of Poole’s younger brothers, by that time quite elderly, approached the Irish Army garrison at what was by then Griffith Barracks, with an exhumation order from the Department of Defence to exhume Poole’s remains for a belated decent burial.  However, despite a day of digging, nothing was found.  So, a plaque was erected to his memory in Griffith Barracks in 1968 by the National Graves Association.  Later put in storage, the plaque was re-intalled in 2007, following correspondence between the Poole family and Diarmuid Hegarty, President of Griffith College. Though we may never be able to lay a wreath on his lost resting place, we are not prevented from remembering him in our prayers as one of the patriots of his native land.

Historical Happenings for September 2018

Defensoris Fidei

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

The Irish have always been the primary defenders of the Catholic Church. To understand that, one must understand the devotion of the early Irish to their church.  It was a bond more than a dozen generations in the making.  The Crown had been trying to absorb Ireland since Henry II’s Norman invasion of 1171; they even enacted the Statutes of Kilkenny to ban Irish customs, but it wasn’t until Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1532 that the Catholic religion became one of the denounced customs and an indication of disloyalty to the crown.  When Elizabeth, who the Papacy denounced as illegitimate, took the Crown, she proscribed the Catholic religion altogether.  In 1649, Cromwell took control and brought  anti-Catholicism to a new level as he waged a total war against Catholics.  When William of Orange became William III, Penal Laws made it official in 1691 that Catholics were non-citizens with no rights, their Mass was forbidden and in 1697 outlawed their clergy.

When someone tries to take something you revere away from you, the harder you fight to retain it. This attack on their faith drove the Irish to near fanatical measures to protect it. They lifted their outlawed clergy to the level of heroes for their courage and bravery in defying persecution just to serve them. They defied the law to protect their clergy and to attend Mass in the woods and hills.  In one recorded instance they walked barefoot in an icy stream so that they would leave no footprints in the snow to betray their destination on the way to a forbidden service at a Mass rock in a glen – rocks held sacred to this day.  Each generation passed the obligation to promote, preserve and protect the faith on to the next and after 12 generations, from Henry VIIIs break with Rome in 1532 right up to the time of the Great Hunger in 1845, the faith became in intrinsic part of the Irish character.  No matter what other challenges they might face, the preservation of their faith became paramount

Many Irish immigrants came as exiles from persecution and poured into New York, Boston, New Orleans, Philadelphia and other ports along the eastern seaboard.  Yet they didn’t find the freedom from persecution that they sought.  Instead they found the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant legacy of colonial days still alive in the anti-Catholic Nativist or Know Nothing movement.  At first banned from the colonies, ‘papists’ were grudgingly allowed in but with restrictions, including exclusion from political power unless they swore a Test Oath denouncing their faith. Lies spread through books and pamphlets led to the Ursuline Convent near Boston being burned to the ground. Newspapers and Protestant clergymen, like Lyman Beecher, founder of the American Temperance Society, warned the influx of Irish would spread disease and crime and plot a coup to install the Pope as America’s ruler.  Writers and intellectuals had no hesitation bashing the Catholic Church; Mark Twain noted he was: educated to enmity toward everything that is Catholic. Nativist prejudice grew from intolerance to violence. St. Mary’s Church in New York was burned to the ground in 1831; in 1832, 57 Irish railroad workers seeking medical attention near Malvern, Pennsylvania were not only refused, but were assaulted, killed and dumped into unmarked mass graves; in 1834 and 35, nativist gangs attacked the Irish neighborhood of Five Points in New York resulting in several major street brawls that lasted for days.  When their churches were burned they defiantly built new ones bigger and better and they defended them. In 1841 and 44, Archbishop Hughes in NY called on the AOH to protect old St. Patrick’s Church and the nativist mob turned back, but they weren’t as lucky in Philadelphia where in 1844, two Catholic churches were burned during a series of riots between May 6 and 8 and July 6 and 7.

This was America on the eve of Great Hunger. These new immigrants, who had just suffered tremendous indignity and oppression, were once again set upon for their faith. Though not officially proscribed by the government as it had been in Ireland, there were many Nativist politicians like PA Congressman Lewis Levin who not only blocked legislation to aid Ireland during the Great Hunger, but proposed legislation to prohibit immigrants from citizenship for 21 years.  In 1847 Congress even passed the Passenger Acts to restrict exiles from the Great Hunger from landing at American ports. Prominent historian and author, Kenneth Davis, acknowledged that at this time, There was a very, very deep hatred of Catholics. Yet they persevered.

My nephew, who settled in Montana, alerted me to an old church – apparently abandoned – in a sparsely populated area Gold West Country of the north Boulder Valley. The church stood beside is a graveyard with Irish names on most of the tombstones.  But it was the stone marker that caught his attention and he sent me a photo.  It read St. John the Evangelist Catholic church of the north Bolder valley built in 1880 – 1881 by the early settlers of this valley to practice a simple faith they learned as children in Ireland. This church is one of the oldest in Montana where the original structure remains.  I had to know more so I contacted Catholic Diocese of Helena, Montana and learned that St John’s was not deserted; Due to a decreased parish population, it is now listed as a Mission church and Mass is celebrated on Memorial, Day and once a month during the summer.  I called Mike O’Connor of the Montana AOH and asked if he would make the trip to St John’s on Memorial Day to get some more history of the church. Mike related that when he appeared at the service wearing his Hibernian jacket, he was treated like visiting royalty by the parishioners who were still largely Irish.

A long drawn-out pace of reform ensured that the question of religious discrimination dominated Irish life and was a constant source of division for years.  Even up to the 1920s, the growth of the Ku Klux Klan gave a new impetus to attacks on Catholics. Hugo Black, a KKK member and US senator, gave fiery anti-Catholic speeches before going on to become a so-called defender of our civil liberties on the Supreme Court.  There is even a record of an AOH attack on a KKK meeting in Chicago. Eventually, the growing power of Irish paved Al Smith’s election as governor of New York, but Nativist opposition helped sink his presidential bid in 1928. However, we did succeed with Kennedy who was also a member of the AOH. Today the press is at it again lambasting our clergy for the sins of a few. The Irish have stood as defenders of our faith many times before; it’s time to do it again!

Special Historical Happenings for August 15, 2018

A Day to Remember

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

August 15 is a special day for Catholics around the world because it is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. It is also special for our AOH cousins in Ireland who march that day to show pride in their heritage on ‘Lady’s Day’ as it’s called. However, on that day in 1995 an historic event also took place in Derry as the American AOH and LAOH joined with the AOH Board of Erin (BOE) to march in that parade.  Our National Presidents, Ed Wallace and Kathy Linton led the line of march behind the American and Irish flags alongside Hibernian leaders from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. It was an incredible show of unity, but only part of the reason for the American visit.

It all began at the Louisville, KY National Convention the year before when Ed Wallace was elected.  He authorized a joint project between the two Boards and BOE; BOE Treasurer Frank Kiernan was in attendance to carry the word home to Ireland.  The project was to be the first ever memorial in Ireland to the victims of the Great Hunger of 1845 – 52.  Significantly, it was to be dedicated on August 20th the 150th anniversary of the appearance of the blight that killed countless millions and forced into exile millions more. A committee led by immediate Past President George Clough and Massachusetts AOH leader, Dave Burke liaised with BOE representatives and members of the Clare County Council as it was decided that the memorial should stand across from a deserted workhouse and mass grave on the Road between Ennistymon and Lahinch. The memorial was funded and erected by a combined effort of all three after a Mass in Ennistymon and a parade to the site. After moving speeches by Presidents Wallace and Linton, they unveiled the monument. Minister of State, Donal Carey, representing Dail Eireann, noted that this was the first national monument in all of Ireland to the victims of the Great Hunger and it took the AOH to do it.  It was a proud moment for the AOH, and a visible indication of what can be done when the Irish at home unite with the Irish Diaspora.

The journey to that memorial was long and costly, but the AOH felt that it was worth the effort to erect a meaningful remembrance to those who suffered just as the Jews remember the victims of the Holocaust.  Every Irish person, at home or abroad, lost a relation in that tragedy, whether they knew of them or not, and the story of how their descendants remember their ordeal and commemorate their memory is a moving one, indeed. The monument was created by Alan Ryan Hall from Valencia Island, Co. Kerry, and depicts an account found in Book 4 of the Workhouse papers preserved in the Ennistymon Library. The account centers on a note pinned to the torn shirt of a barefoot orphan boy left at the workhouse door on the freezing morning of February 25, 1848. The note read:

Gentlemen, There is a little boy named Michael Rice of Lahinch aged about 4 years. He is an orphan, his father having died last year and his mother has expired on last Wednesday night, who is now about being buried without a coffin!! Unless ye make some provision for such. The child in question is now at the Workhouse Gate expecting to be admitted, if not it will starve” signed by Constable Robs.S.

One side of the memorial depicts a child standing before the workhouse door, while across from that is the head of an anguished mother and two hands clenched in frustration or anger above the sorrowful text of the pleading note. If you are fortunate enough to visit the memorial, breathe a prayer for the unnamed souls it commemorates and if you are a Hibernian, stand a bit taller!

Historical Happenings for August 2018

Sidney – Another Gifford Girl

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Support for Irish nationalism often ran in families. The Gifford sisters – Sidney, Nellie, Grace, Kate, Muriel, and Ada – were six of the 12 children of Frederick and Isabella Burton Gifford. As was customary in a mixed marriage, the boys were baptized Catholics and the girls were baptized Protestant. However, their mother, Isabella, a domineering woman, raised all of her children as Protestant. The boys retained that Protestantism while the girls, except for Kate, all converted to Catholicism. In a further conversion, while the parents and brothers remained loyal to Britain, the girls became Irish Republicans!

The best known of the girls were: Grace, who married 1916 leader Joseph Plunkett hours before his execution at Kilmainham Jail and remained an active Republican; Nellie, who was active during the Rising and was imprisoned in Mountjoy and Kilmainham jails afterward and Muriel, who married Proclamation signer, Thomas MacDonagh. Muriel, an active member of Maude Gonne’s Inghinidhe na hÉireann (daughters of Ireland) and supporter of women’s suffrage, accidentally drowned in 1917. Ada emigrated to the U.S. and was active in Republican groups there. Sidney, who wrote under the pen name John Brennan, was the youngest born August 3, 1889 and was as notable as any of them. All were members of Cumann na mBan – the Ladies Auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers.

Sidney wrote for the Sinn Fein, Irish Citizen, Irish Freedom and Cumann na mBan newspapers before emigrating to New York in June 1914 where she became involved in working for the Republican cause; the New York Sun even published some of her articles. At the outbreak of WWI, Britain ran a campaign to enlist American support in the war, so Sidney joined a campaign to downplay the Britain campaign and focus on Irish independence instead. During one meeting of Irish Americans, Sidney made an impromptu speech, explaining the situation in Ireland and particularly the need of arms for the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan. As a result, Dr. Gertrude Kelly, a dynamic feminist writer and activist and a prominent member of the Irish Women’s Council, asked Sidney to speak at a meeting she was organizing.

At that meeting, Sidney criticized the AOH. Afterward, the Chairman explained to the audience that Sidney was not referring to the American AOH, but the Board of Erin with whom she had bitter experience since they had broken up Republican rallies for Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party. Sidney saw the error of her remark and learned that the activist audience she was addressing consisted largely of members of the American AOH Ladies Auxiliary and that in America women had a greater influence in public life holding important positions in the professions and commerce. Impressed by the fact that the AOH had an active Ladies Auxiliary and the Clann na Gael did not, it was at this meeting that Sidney Gifford decided to form a branch of Cumann na mBan in America. She later wrote that, ‘the Ladies Auxiliary of the AOH proved to be some of our most valuable workers and the foundation of the first Branch of Cumann na mBan was followed by a second one, also in New York.’ Their chief activity was propaganda and fund-raising and Sidney became Secretary of the first American branch of Cumann na mBan.

In November 1915, James Connolly’s daughter, Nora, arrived in America with a letter from Countess Markievicz asking for Sidney’s aid in contacting the German Ambassador in Washington, which she did. Ever since England had declared war on Germany, Sidney received daily Irish and weekly Sinn Féin papers with news of arrests of prominent Republicans. She brought the papers to Patrick Ford of the Irish World newspaper. He was delighted to get them and published them with headlines and editorial comment. The result was that letters of support for Ireland flooded in from organizations and individuals all over the country. Ford asked Sidney to write on the leaders and organizations in Ireland and the articles that she wrote moved the paper’s aim to complete support for the Volunteer movement. Sidney married a Hungarian lawyer, Arpad Czira, a former POW who had fled to America. Their son, Finian, was born in 1917, but she and Arpad soon parted. When America entered WW1, anti-British propaganda ceased, but not support for the Republican militants right up to the Easter Rising.

After the Rising, the Irish tricolor had yet to be seen in America and at a big demonstration, likely in Carnegie Hall, to support Ireland, her sister Ada, who had spent the night sewing a tricolor, suddenly stood up in the balcony and swung it out over the audience. It received such an ovation that newspapers commented on it the following day. Bernard Shaw, asked to comment on the event, sent a cable which contained the words, ‘It was mad, glorious and republican.’ This also made headlines. The Gifford girls also introduced the tricolor to New York by flying it at the top of a Fifth Avenue bus and reported that it was quite encouraging to see NY Police recognize it and, at every intersection, stand to attention in salute.

In 1922, Sidney returned to Ireland with her son. As a member of Kathleen Clarke’s Women’s Prisoners’ Defence League she fought against the ill-treatment of Republican prisoners during the Civil War and continued to work as a journalist for the anti-Free State side in that conflict. In the 1950s her memoirs were published in The Irish Times and she worked as a broadcaster producing a series of historical programs. She died in Dublin on 15 September 1974 and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery – one of the many Republican Women of Ireland who deserve to be remembered.