Historical Happenings for April 2020

THEY WENT TO SPAIN

by Mike McCormack AOH Historian

Napoleon’s failed invasion of Russia in 1812 was a turning point in the Napoleonic Wars, leading to his abdication and restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. Russia then played a central role at the post-war Vienna Congress of 1814 as a leader of anti-revolutionary forces. This suited the Bourbon kings who once again ruled and allowed the formation of the French Communist Party (PCF). Then, in 1920, after the death of Lenin, his successor Josef Stalin established a new ideology for the Communist International. He called it Marxist-Leninism and redefined the theories of both Lenin and Marx to establish a new meaning to benefit establishing a global Communist world.  It reformed civil law, made marriage secular between social-and-legal equals, facilitated divorce, legalized abortion and voided the political power of the upper and middle class and  privately owned businesses. The Marxist–Leninist world view was totally atheist denying religion in the affairs of human society. The PCF as the French Section of the Communist International adopted the new ideology.  In 1921, they spread it to Spain where the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) was founded. The PCE was legalized by the Second Spanish Republic in April 1931 and  gained much support.  Soon the Republic began introducing the atheistic doctrines of the new Communist ideology. In May 1931, anti-clerical violence broke out all over Madrid and south-west Spain. The government’s slow response disillusioned the population and reinforced their view that the Republic was determined to persecute the Catholic church.  In December a new reformist, liberal democratic constitution was declared and included strong provisions to secularize the previously Catholic country by abolishing Catholic schools and charities; many committed Catholics strongly opposed.   Churches were closed down, unspeakable atrocities were committed against priests and nuns and sacred artifacts were destroyed or stolen.  Then in July 1936, a rebellion was led by General Francisco Franco which marked the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.

Due to  international politics at the time, some saw it as either a class struggle, a religious war, a struggle between dictatorship and  democracy or between fascism and anarchism. In reality it was the result a polarization of Spanish life and politics that had developed since the introduction of communism. On one side, the Nationalists were mostly Roman Catholics, ranking members of the military, middle-class landowners and businessmen. On the other side, the Republic was supported by urban workers, agricultural laborers and members of a newly educated lower class.

The war became notable for the passionate political division it inspired and for the many atrocities that occurred, on both sides. Organized purges occurred in Republican areas to eliminate suspected opposition and revenge killings took place in areas controlled by Franco’s Nationalists.  As the execution of thousands of priests and nuns took place, New York’s Archbishop Cardinal Hayes asked New Yorkers to cry for Spain.  The Church hailed Franco as a deliverer but never sanctioned violence in retribution for the atrocities against his followers.  While Stalin sent volunteers and weapons to the Republicans, many nations officially took a neutral stance.  That neutrality faced serious opposition from sympathizers in the U.S. and other European countries leading to International Brigades.  Thousands from all nations voluntarily went to Spain to aid in the fight on either side.

The new Irish Free State joined an International Committee for Non-Intervention and passed The Spanish Civil War (Non-Intervention) Act in 1937 making it a punishable offence to travel from Ireland to Spain for any who would volunteer to serve in Franco’s cause.  However, while the IRA sent 300 men to support the Republicans, former IRA General Eoin O’Duffy led 700 Irishmen to fight for Franco as a result of the violence being perpetrated against Catholics and clergy.  By the end of the war, more than 6,000 Irish had volunteered in the Christian cause creating unofficial Irish involvement in the Spanish Civil War on both sides.  County Councils passed resolutions of support for Franco and requiem Masses were said for the fallen showing the support of the Irish people for the cause of Spain’s persecuted Catholics though today’s Irish government will not recognize that. Of 500,000 deaths in the War, 200,000 were combat-related: 110,000 Republicans and 90,000 of Franco’s Nationalists, the rest were civilians, but the destruction of a world-famous library’s priceless manuscript collection is lamented by historians to this day.  Another Irish Free State legislation, the Merchant Shipping Act of 1937 restricting Irish shipping to Spain was finally repealed on 27 April 1939 after Franco’s forces defeated the Republicans.  Franco set up a military government under which the PCE was repressed with specific laws banning Communists.  General Franco ruled anti-communist Spain until his death in November 1975 and was always grateful to the Irish who followed O’Duffy and were proud to claim, “We went to Spain!” which had a special meaning in the 1940s; it wasn’t just for a holiday!  The Irish volunteers who were ready to fight Communism in Spain were convinced that the cause of Franco was the cause of their Church and rose to its defense; every Hibernian should be able to relate to that.

Historical Happenings for March 2020

MARCH 17
Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

March 17 is a special day on our calendar because it marks the return to God of our beloved patron saint in the year 461 AD.  It was in that year that a humble missionary passed to his eternal reward.  Today he is revered around the world as Saint Patrick, patron Saint of Ireland, the Archdiocese of New York, the nation of Guiana, and hundreds of towns and parishes across the globe. But there are many other events which occurred on this day throughout history which also make it memorable; for example on March 17:

1014, High King of Ireland, Brian Boru, marched from Kincora, his stronghold at Killaloe, Co Clare, bound for Clontarf, and the battle that would break Viking power in Ireland;

1737, the first St Patrick’s celebration in America took place sponsored by the Charitable Irish Society of Boston;

1763, before the United States was even established, the first St Patrick’s Day celebration was held in New York City;

1766, it is recorded that a Saint Patrick’s Day Dinner in New York featured twenty toasts, the nineteenth of which declared “may the enemies of Ireland be tormented with itching, without the benefit of scratching“;

1776, the British evacuated Boston leaving the city to the American patriot army. General George Washington made the password of the day “Saint Patrick”;

1804, Jim Bridger, American scout, fur trader, and mountain man, was born;

1858, in a Dublin back room, James Stevens and Thomas Luby founded the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which was supported by the Fenian Brotherhood in America;

1871, the first professional baseball league – the National Association of Professional Baseball Players  was founded at Collin’s Saloon on Broadway and 13th Street in New York;

1889, Harry Clarke, the most celebrated stained glass artist of the age, was born in Dublin;

1899, An Claideamh Soluis (The Sword of Light), the official newspaper of the Gaelic League first appeared;

Many past march readings have discussed our Patron Saint, so this month we will focus on another great and glorious character from the pages of Ireland’s history and that is the first one listed above: the Emperor of the Irish: High King Brian Boru.  Brian mac Cennetig was the youngest son born to Cennetig (Kennedy) mac Lorcáin, King of Thomond, and a prince of the Dal Cais Clan.  His birthplace was near Killaloe, Co. Clare at about 940 AD.  At the time, Ireland was besieged by Viking warriors who raided up and down Ireland’s rivers from their strongholds at Dublin, Waterford, Limerick and other seaside settlements.  The tribal structure of the Irish provided no unified opposition  and, as a result, some clans sided with the Norse out of fear, some clans fought the invaders, but only when they were threatened.  Some clans even ignored the threat and continued to fight among themselves over local disputes. 

Brian’s brother, Mahon, became King of Thomond following the death of their father in 959 AD and attempted to cement relations with the Vikings and establish a lasting peace, but his younger brother Brian shared no such desire.  In fact, ever since Brian had learned of the death of his mother in a Viking raid when he was just a boy, he harbored a hatred against the Vikings that guided the rest of his life.  Too young to participate in Clan activities at the time and too old to be treated as a child, he was sent to be educated – most likely at Clonmacnoise.  There he studied Greek and Latin, but the parts he studied hardest were the battle tactics of Greek and Roman generals.  When he returned to the Dal Cais, he urged the study of Viking weapons and battle methods with the idea of waging war on the invaders, but Mahon could not be convinced.  When he was old enough, Brian broke away from his brother and with a band of followers, waged a guerrilla war on Viking settlements.  A skilled tactician, he made use of mounted cavalry, which had never been used by the Irish before.  He won many decisive victories and instilled fear in the enemy as well as the Irish clans who had allied with them.

Brian’s campaign gained popular support and many joined him, including his Brother Mahon, who finally renounced his truce with the Vikings. Their combined forces drove most of the Norse from Southern Ireland, including their leader Ivar.  Eager for revenge, Ivar returned ten years later and captured and killed Mahon. Brian succeeded his brother to the throne of Munster, bringing with him a re-fueled hatred of the Vikings.  Soon after, his forces met and defeated Ivar’s army, killing Ivar, and striking Viking influence in Southern Ireland a serious blow.  Brian returned to his boyhood home at Killaloe and in 1002 built his fortress stronghold.  It was called Kincora, deriving its name from the Irish Ceann Coradh, meaning ‘the head of the weir’.  It was located on a hill overlooking the Shannon – a site now occupied by the Catholic Church.  It guarded a part of the river that was wide enough to hinder an attack, yet shallow enough to drive cattle across.  Brian ruled from Kincora and exacted a tribute from the Munster Clans in return for his protection.  The cattle tribute was driven across that shallow part of the Shannon in the shadow of Kincora.  Tribute in Irish is Boroimhe, and from this, Brian became known as Brian of the Tributes or Brian Boru.  With this value from tribute, he paved new toads across the province, erected churches and rebuilt monasteries and monuments destroyed by raiding Vikings.

In the northern part of Ireland, Malachy the Second, followed Boru’s lead when his forces defeated a Norse army to take Dublin in 980 and Malachy became King of Meath. About the year 987, Brian was undisputed ruler of southern Ireland, yet he had no official title.  In Ossory, in Leinster, and in Connaught, his voice and his arm were felt everywhere. But a divided authority is favorable to invasion, so the Viking power began to loom up to its old proportions. Sitrick ‘silken beard’ one of the ablest of Viking leaders, was then at Dublin, and his constant raids were so formidable, that they produced an alliance between Brian and Malachy.  The alliance lasted three years, and in 997, with reinforcements  from the North, the Vikings were routed by Brian and Malachy in Wicklow, with the loss of 6,000 men and all their chief captains. Immediately after this victory the two kings, according to the Annals, entered into Dublin, and the fort thereof, and there remained seven nights, burnt the town, broke down the fort, and banished Sitrick from thence.

Finding Brian’s influence still on the rise west of the Shannon, Malachy, having vainly endeavored to secure the alliance of the Northern Hy-Nial, submitted to Brian allowing Boru to peacefully take over his lands.  Boru was granted the title “Ard Ri”, meaning “High King”. This made him one of the first – and last – kings to effectively unite Ireland under one monarch. The rivals to Brian Boru’s rule were numerous, however, both among the native Irish and the remaining Norse. In 1013, Maelmordha, King of Leinster, revolted and allied with the Vikings. They summoned reinforcements from Boru’s other Irish rivals and the Viking nations, as far away as Normandy and Iceland.  On March 17, 1014, Brian Boru led his forces out of Kincora headed for Dublin and the pages of Irish history.  The two forces met on Good Friday, April 23, 1014 on the field of Clontarf. Nearly 4,000 Irishmen were killed at the Battle, including Brian’s son Murrough, but the Viking/Leinster forces suffered even heavier losses.  At the end of the battle, what little remained of the Norse forces retreated to their ships. But before all the invaders fled, a fleeing Norse leader, Brodar, came upon Brian’s tent and attacked the Irish leader in prayer thanking God for the victory.  Then in his late seventies or early eighties, Brian was able to wound Brodar who struck Brian a mortal wound.  Brodar was captured by Brians attendants and left tied to a tree by his own intestines.

With Boru gone and his strong influence absent, Ireland soon fell into chaos and anarchy. There would never be another king powerful enough to rule all of Ireland.  In 1016, Connaught men raided and destroyed Kincora. As his descendants feuded among themselves in 1062 for the crown, Aodh O’Connor burned Killaloe and destroyed the rebuilt Kincora.  He claimed it for himself and feasted on the two sacred salmon kept in a pool within the walls of the palace

Historical Happenings for February 2020

FATHER TOM O’REILLY

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

On a trip to Atlanta some years ago, I met Father Thomas O’Reilly – figuratively, of course, – since Father Tom passed away back in 1872. Yet in March 2007, he was honored with the City of Atlanta’s Phoenix Award in appreciation of his heroism and outstanding contributions to the City and citizens of Atlanta. It simply just begged the question: who was this remarkable man?
Born in Drumgora, Co. Cavan, in 1831, Thomas O’Reilly graduated All Hallows seminary in Dublin and was sent to the American south as a missionary priest in the area of Atlanta where Masses were held in private homes. In 1848, a wooden-frame church was built by a fellow Irish missionary, Father John Barry. The people named it the Church of the Immaculate Conception. That was remarkable since it was dedicated in 1849, six years before the Church had even defined its official dogma that Mary had been conceived without original sin. During the 1850’s prosperity abounded in Georgia; cotton was king and new factories were the order of the day as well as a new influx of Catholics. In 1861 Father Thomas O’Reilly was appointed pastor of Atlanta’s first Church and its missions. 

                   Father Thomas O’Reilly

Then came the Civil War and Atlanta became the military manufacturing and supply depot for the South. The city also became a main medical center with at least ten hospitals where thousands of wounded were treated. These hospitals occupied much of Father O’Reilly’s time. In 1864, the Union Army, led by General Sherman, laid siege to Atlanta during which Father O’Reilly ministered to both Union and Confederate wounded. He became a hero to both sides, hearing confessions, answering letters, saying Mass and performing last rites. On 2 September, 1864, the city fell to General Sherman who evicted many residents to allow housing for his army. Many were Father O’Reilly’s parishioners, but Catholics among the boys in blue now crowded his church on Sunday.
In the autumn of 1864, General Sherman, planning his ‘total war’ march to the sea at Savannah, ordered the entire city burned. An outraged Father O’Reilly sent word to Sherman that burning homes and churches was beyond the normal rules of warfare. Sherman was unresponsive. Father O’Reilly pleaded for a compromise that would spare his church. Sherman rejected the request. Father O’Reilly sent word that a number of Atlanta’s merchants and tradesmen who had not gone to war stood ready to defend their churches and among them were an Irish group known as The Hibernian Rifles. Further, he warned Sherman that the Union army had a high number of Irish Catholics and stated, ‘If you burn the Catholic church, all Catholics in the Union army will mutiny and if not, they will be excommunicated’. Sherman considered having Father O’Reilly executed, but feared mutiny among his Irish troops and finally relented. Then, an emboldened Father O’Reilly asked that the other churches be spared, as well as City Hall and the Court House since they were in close proximity to his church and the fire might spread. Sherman changed his orders to spare City Hall, the Court House and five churches including Immaculate Conception, Central Presbyterian, St. Phillip’s Episcopal, Second Baptist and Trinity Methodist. As the Federal Army moved out on its infamous march to the sea, only one-third of Atlanta survived with about 500 brave people and Father Tom O’Reilly. From this they would rebuild.
Feeling that their old church would be out of place in the new city going up around it, the parishioners built a new church on the same spot which stands to this day. Sadly, Father O’Reilly did not live to see it completed. In 1872, the ravages of war which had ruined his health, caused his death at 41 in a Virginia sanitarium. His remains were brought back to his beloved parish for the largest funeral ever held up to that time. Father O’Reilly was buried in a vault prepared beneath the altar of the rising new Church. As a result of Father O’Reilly’s heroic stand, and the bravery of the Hibernian Rifles, the City of Atlanta deeded the Hibernians a burial plot in Oakland Cemetery in 1873. The five churches and the City also erected a monument to Father O’Reilly on the grounds of City Hall. On 10 December, 1873, the new Church of the Immaculate Conception was formally dedicated and local newspapers described it as one of the most handsome in the South and an ornament to our city.

In 1879, General Sherman returned on an inspection tour of Atlanta’s Fort McPherson. He was surprised at the progress of the city, to which he gave a toast at a local reception. Surely, as he rode through the re-born city, he noticed the new church and the memory of the gentle but persistent Father O’Reilly had to come to his mind, for religion had finally won in his own life as well ─ at the time his son was studying for the priesthood! Although never a religious man, Sherman’s foster mother, Maria Ewing, was a devout Catholic of Irish ancestry as was his wife, Ellen. Sherman now lies in the Roman Catholic Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.

On 18 October 1945, eighty-one years after his brave and defiant intercession, the Atlanta Historical Society erected a monument to Father O’Reilly in gratitude for saving the churches and City Hall in 1864. In truth he was like so many other courageous clerics from Father Murphy of Boolavogue to Archbishop ‘Dagger John’ Hughes of New York, but he was not as well known outside Atlanta. Ironically, his burial place was soon forgotten as the memory of this heroic priest began to fade especially with the new arrivals in the bustle of a growing metropolis. Then, in 1982, the Church of The Immaculate Conception caught fire and the roof fell in. It broke through the concrete floor of the church to reveal a long-forgotten crypt. In it were the coffins of Father O’Reilly and his successor Father Cleary. The discovery resurrected the story of this hero of Atlanta and the crypt was made accessible to pilgrims. A small adjacent room contains museum-style glass cases with artifacts of the Church’s history and the resurrection of Atlanta from the ashes of the Civil War. In one of those cases, beside a portrait of Father O’Reilly, lies his membership ribbon from Atlanta AOH Division 1!

Historical Happenings for January 2020

WASHINGTON AND HIS MONUMENT

By Mike McCormack, AOH Historian

George Washington held a special place in Irish hearts. No, he was not Irish, but he did have an Irish cousin named McCarthy by marriage.  However, he did appreciate the contributions of the Irish in his Colonial Army. During the revolution, he even issued a proclamation in honor of the high percentage of Irish under his command, declaring March 17, 1780 a holiday for the Army. It was their first holiday in two years and he wrote it was “an act of solidarity with the Irish in their fight for independence“. He also had two Irish-born Aides-de-Camp: Lt. Colonels John Fitzgerald and Stephen Moylan.  When the Revolution ended, no man commanded more respect than he. After building a fighting force that won independence from the most powerful kingdom on earth, in 1789 he was unanimously elected President and defined the new office. He denied the trappings of power by refusing a kingship and, despite considerable pressure to do otherwise, gave up his most powerful position after two terms since he felt that a President could never become as powerful as the king they just fought. Though many wanted him for a third term, in 1797 he retired and went home to build a business with Irish-born Lt. Col. Fitzgerald.

Progress towards a memorial in his honor began in 1833 – the 100th anniversary of his birth – as the Washington National Monument Society began collecting donations.  By the mid-1830s, they had more than $28,000 and they started construction believing that the appearance of the Monument would spur further donations. In 1848 a cornerstone was laid in an elaborate Fourth of July ceremony and construction continued until 1854, when donations ran out. The next year, Congress voted to appropriate $200,000 to continue the work but, they halted it before the money was allocated. The reversal came because of a series of shameful events.

The Society had also encouraged the donation of memorial stones to be used on the inside walls and organizations, societies, businesses and foreign nations donated blocks of marble, granite and sandstone. However, one stone stopped not only the Congressional appropriation but construction altogether.  In 1854, Pope Pius IX contributed a block of costly variegated marble from the Temple of Peace in Rome built in 366 B.C.  It bore the inscription, ‘From Rome to America’.  The stone, 3 feet long, 18 inches high and 10 inches thick was stored with other gift stones from across the States and the world, waiting to be installed.

On the night of 5 March 1854, several anti-Catholic Know Nothing nativists tied up the night watchman, stole the Papal stone, broke it with sledge hammers and threw it into the Potomac to insure that the monument would fit their definition of ‘American.’ Two stones donated by Ireland were also lost. The watchman was fired and the Society put up a $500. reward for the thieves.  They were never caught.  Know-Nothings then ran a fraudulent election and took over the Society whereby Congress rescinded its $200,000 contribution.  Know-Nothings added 13 parts to the Monument – all of which were of such poor quality they were later removed.  Unable to fund the project, they returned all records to the original Society in 1858. 

In 1876, the Centennial of the Declaration of Independence, Congress appropriated another $200,000 and the partial monument, which stood as a public embarrassment for 18 years, was now ready for completion.  Construction resumed in 1879 under Irish-American Lt. Col. Thomas Casey of the Army Corps of Engineers.  He strengthened the foundation to support more than 40,000 tons, followed the original plans and even incorporated the 170-foot tall pile of memorial stones which had been a target of ridicule by the media.  Casey recognized that the donors wanted them to be a part of the memorial, so he installed all 193 stones as part of the interior walls. However, he was unable to find the same quarry stone used earlier, resulting in the bottom third of the monument being a slightly different color than the rest.  On 6 December 1884, a 100 ounce aluminum capstone was put in place during an elaborate dedication ceremony. In the 1880s, aluminum was a rare metal, selling for $1.10 an ounce and used mostly for jewelry. All four faces of the pyramid-shaped capstone are engraved with related information and the words Laus Deo (Praise be to God) are prominently engraved on the east face. At the time, a 55.5 foot base and a height of 555.5 feet made it the tallest building in the world; it is still the tallest free-standing stone structure in the world and was, by law, the tallest building in Washington D.C.

I wrote this story in the Hibernian Digest and in conversation with our NY State Treasurer, Tommy Beirne, he informed me that the Pope’s stone had eventually been found and I should check out that part of the story.  Knowing that Tommy is well informed in Irish and American history, I did just that.  I learned that in June 1892, divers digging foundations for a new pier discovered the corner of a large stone.  It was a sharply cut and beautifully polished piece of variegated marble about six inches thick, a foot and a half high by three feet long.  One side had the damaged inscription: Ro—t—merica, cut deep in Gothic characters.  In the crowd of spectators was an elderly gentleman who struck the stone with his cane. Shouting, Where did that thing come from?  It’s the Devil’s own work and it’s come back from hell where it belongs, at which point the old man ran off.  He was obviously an old Know-Nothing leftover!  The stone was stored in a small shed nearby for safekeeping until it could be donated to the Smithsonian.  However, on the night of 19 June, the crew locked the shed door and left for a supper. When they returned, the stone was gone.  Nobody ever found out what had happened, although in May 1959, the local Evening Star printed an urban legend that the stone was buried under 21st and R Streets, N.W.  Our thanks to Tommy for the ‘rest of the story’.

Memorial stones are now accepted only in very rare circumstances, such as the admission of a new state to the union or replacement of a previously donated stone.  At any rate, a new “Pope’s Stone” was commissioned by a priest in Spokane, Washington and installed in the monument by the National Park Service in 1982. Later that same year, the Vatican did indeed donate another stone to replace the first.  It is made of shiny white marble and is now inside the Monument, at the 340 foot level, on the west wall of the stairway. The inscription is “A ROMA AMERICAE” (Latin for From Rome to America.) Although it’s not the original, it’s a good reminder of the resilience of those it represents.  Then on March 17, 2016 it was announced that the offer of a plaque from Ireland was accepted by the director of the National Park Service. The presentation was made in May 2016 by Senator Mark Daly of the Irish Seanad Éireann, Irish Spokesman for the Irish Diaspora.  After 183 years, the monument is now complete!

Historical Happenings for December 2019

GEORGE WASHINGTON’S CHRISTMAS IRISH

by Mike McCormack, AOH National Historian

There were a few Irishmen living in and around Trenton, NJ prior to the Revolutionary War. Among them were Paddy Colvin and Sam McConkey, who ran two Delaware River ferries; Paddy Lamb, who resided near Quaker Bridge on Assunpink Creek; and John Honeyman, a retired British soldier, now a butcher and cattle-dealer in nearby Griggstown. They were all there during a very special Christmas.

Toward the end of 1776, George Washington’s patriot army retreated from New York through New Jersey, headed for the Delaware River with the British army in hot pursuit. On 1 December, he sent a message to Congress in Philadelphia to quickly line up a fleet of boats at Trenton to get him across the Delaware into Pennsylvania. Wexford-born Captain John Barry contacted his friend Cavan-born Paddy Colvin who set to the task. No bridges spanned the river and yet it had to be crossed quickly or the patriot army could be trapped on its banks. Colvin owned the closest ferry to Trenton and knew all the fords and obstacles of the river and how to avoid them. He also knew who owned other ferries and boats and where they could be found. He placed all this valuable information, as well as his ferry, at the service of Washington’s patriot army. On 3 December, Washington’s advance guard reached Trenton, and Colvin began ferrying them across the Delaware. Early on December 8, Washington crossed with the rear guard. Colvin was at his post continually and with his fellow ferrymen, got the army safely across, just as the British entered Trenton. A disappointed Cornwallis found all boats safely moored on the Pennsylvania side of the river, which was now an impassable barrier between him and the disorganized patriot army he had hoped to capture on the Jersey shore. Cornwallis left a force to hold Trenton and re-located to Princeton. Washington set up headquarters in Pennsylvania about half a mile north of Colvin’s Ferry.
Concerned that the British would build their own boats or bring them over land to attack him, Washington decided to cross the Delaware on Christmas and surprise them first, but he needed to know the disposition of the British in Trenton. He met with Armagh-born John Honeyman, a local butcher and cattle dealer who had retired from the British army, but was now supporting the patriot’s cause. As a butcher, Honeyman had traded with and was familiar to the British and their Hessian allies. From him, Washington learned of the meager force of Hessians left by Cornwallis to guard Trenton. Under the pretense of having escaped from Washington’s camp, he was sent back to the Hessian camp to inform their commander, Col. Johann Rall, that the colonials were in no shape to attack. He told Col. Rall that Washington’s men were demoralized, suffering dreadfully from the cold and hunger and that many were even unshod. Hoping that the Hessians had been lulled into a false sense of security, Washington chose that bitingly cold Christmas night to cross the ice-choked Delaware River and surprise the unprepared Hessian force who would likely have spent the previous night celebrating Christmas. Like most of Washington’s clandestine operators, few formal records exist of Honeyman’s activities, but his actions were recognized and celebrated by friends and family after the revolution.

Washington then arranged with Paddy Colvin to cross at a few ferries since Colvin knew the river better than anyone and was trusted as a friend of Capt. John Barry. Like Honeyman, Paddy Colvin’s name would have been forgotten were it not for Rev. A. Lambing who, in 1885, found a mention of him in an old Trenton paper. He resolved to know more about him, and made him a subject of investigation.1 Fortunately he did, for were it not for Lambing’s research, Colvin may have suffered undeserved anonymity in history just like Honeyman. From Lambing we learned that Patrick Colvin of Co. Cavan, bought a ferry on the Delaware River in 1772 and for 20 years, Morrisville, PA was known as Colvin’s Ferry. Considering the number of times that Washington’s forces were transported across the Delaware, it was most fortunate that the ferry was in the hands of a patriot like Colvin. Colvin’s Ferry – the oldest ferry on the Delaware – was less than 2 miles from Trenton. Other ferries were McConkey’s Ferry 9 miles above Trenton, Howell’s ferry 4 miles above and Dunk’s ferry 10 miles below.
So it was that on Christmas night and the morning of St. Stephen’s Day, 1776, Washington quietly crossed the Delaware into New Jersey in a biting wind and snow storm, successfully surprised the Hessians and captured Trenton. Washington knew the importance of holding Trenton and that Cornwallis would soon be on his way back to recapture it. He decided to stand and fight, but the rest of his army was still on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware. Furthermore, he had about 1,000 prisoners to lock up. W.H. Davis in his History of Morrisville wrote: A long fatiguing march to McConkey’s Ferry would have been a great hardship to men so severely tried. There seems to be no escaping the conclusion that they crossed at Colvin’s Ferry. Thus, Washington re-crossed the river and mustered the rest of his forces to cross and fortify Trenton before Cornwallis could arrive. On 30 December, Washington crossed back into New Jersey at McKonkey’s Ferry, with his troops crossing simultaneously at several Ferries.2 All the necessary boats were waiting, but the river was still choked with large masses of floating ice being carried rapidly by the swift current and extending out from both shores. Navigation was near impossible but Colvin supervised the crossing with great skill.

Meanwhile, Cornwallis, hearing of the fall of Trenton, left two regiments to fortify Princeton and marched back to Trenton. Washington sent out small units, under Co. Offaly-born Col. Edward Hand, to harass the oncoming British. These small bands succeeded in slowing Cornwallis down, inflicting heavy casualties, but the British force still arrived in force by late afternoon on 2 January. Washington was ready. The Second Battle of Trenton began with the armies facing each other, only 200 yards apart at a small bridge on either side of Assunpink Creek. Cornwallis made three attempts to take the bridge, but each one failed and Cornwallis withdrew for the night. Hundreds of British dead and wounded were recovered from the bridge and Cornwallis told his army, Rest now, we’ll bag the fox in the morning.

That night, Washington’s army built up their campfires to burn all night and silently slipped away. A small group was left behind to noisily build fortifications as if they were planning to defend at dawn, but also to cover the sound of the rest of the army slipping away. Washington and his force led by General John Sullivan, son of Co. Kerry immigrants, snuck away in the night. Another local Irishman, Paddy Lamb, guided them along back roads around the British forces to launch a surprise attack on the British force left in Princeton. Cornwallis awoke in the morning to distant cannon fire as the attack on Princeton had begun. He quickly divided his army and sent a force to relieve Princeton but they were too late to prevent another American victory. Meanwhile, darkness put an end to the second battle of Trenton. The British were driven back everywhere. Assunpink creek ran red with British blood as the entire campaign was decided in the patriot’s favor. As Washington went into winter quarters, he was master of New Jersey. The war had finally turned in his favor and new recruits poured in thanks to a courageous group of Irishmen who helped Washington’s army when they needed it most.

McConkey, the owner of other ferry where Washington crossed some troops was also an Irishman by birth. Historian John D McCormack, editor of the Potter’s Journal whose painstaking research into the early history of New Jersey brought many obscure records of the Colonial period to light, was a native of Ballingarry, Co. Tipperary and no stranger to conflict. As a boy, he had been held by a British Police Squad that commandeered his family home during the Young Irelander uprising in 1848. McCormack wrote, Colvin was a Catholic and McConkey was a Presbyterian in religion. Yet I find that these two Irishmen, holding religious beliefs so divergent, laid their theological differences upon the altar of their country, and made common cause to secure our independence. It is a rule that has but few exceptions 3 and also a story that has few more laudable heroes. Washington’s army endured a bitterly painful Christmas so that we might enjoy a peaceful one. Let us remember their saving sacrifice this year as we celebrate the birth of our heavenly savior.

1 Catholic Historical Researches, edited by Rev. A.A. Lambing, July 1885, Page 19
2 Extract of Lawrence H. Hale letter written to Theodore W. Bozarth:
3 History of Bucks Co. PA, Chapter XLII & XLIII, 1804:

Historical Happenings for November 2019

THE IRISH BRIGADE COMES HOME TO NEW YORK

By Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Prior to the American Civil War, the regular Army was small reflecting the logic that America was best defended by hundreds of volunteer militia units. Many were little more than glorified fraternal organizations, filled with men who liked to parade, drink, and sometimes drill.  New York had the Continental Guards, German Black Sharp-shooters and Hungarian Kossuth Rifles among others.  Not to be outdone, the Irish formed the O’Connell Guards, Irish Rifles and Irish Zouaves.  The more serious of these units were mustered into a formal state militia.  On October 12, 1851, the 69th New York State Militia Regiment was officially organized.  It consisted of eight companies of 643 men each, most of Irish birth or parentage. Within a year it topped 1,000. The regiment would go on to earn fame and glory during the Civil War as a key part of the Irish Brigade. The heroic sacrifice of the Irish in battle boosted the reputation of the Irish in America and provided a new and more ennobling meaning to the term “fighting Irish.”

When the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in April 1861, Regimental Colonel Sligo-born Michael Corcoran called for the American Irish to join the 69th.   More than 5,000 applied for only 1,500 billets and 11 days later, Corcoran and his regiment marched down Broadway and steamed away to defend the Union capital in D.C.  The first test for the 69th was the Battle of Bull Run.  In their first battle, the inexperienced Union army cut and ran back to D.C., but one unit that earned praise was the 69th Regiment who stayed to provide cover for the fleeing troops.  They were the last to leave the field suffering 97 casualties and 95 captured, including Colonel Corcoran.  The 69th returned to NY to rebuild their tattered ranks. Acting Commander, Captain Thomas Francis Meagher, began recruiting from the Hibernian House on Prince Street. When thousands of Irish responded, Meagher requested permission to form a Brigade. The Army was against forming ethnic brigades, but since England was trading with the Confederacy, they felt that fielding an Irish unit might just give the British pause and so they agreed and the Irish Brigade was born. It included the 69th, 88th and 63rd NY regiments and, later, the 28th Mass and 116th Pennsylvania.  Some joined for the $300 signing bonus which was sent to family in Ireland, some out of a sense of duty toward their adopted land and some because of British support for the Confederacy. 

The Irish Brigade saw some of the war’s harshest battles and they earned a reputation as the most courageous unit in the Army of the Potomac. After one battle, President Lincoln visiting the troops lifted a corner of the Irish battle flag, kissed it and said, God Bless the Irish Flag.  Meagher had ordered 69-caliber smoothbore muskets for his men.  They were considered obsolete, but very effective at close range which was the style of fighting he wanted because they fired the more deadly buck and ball ammunition and could take down 3 men at a time.  Close up fighting made the Brigade fearsome, but also produced heavy casualties since they had to get up close to be effective.  The Brigade fought in every campaign of the Army of the Potomac, from the peninsular campaign in 1862 to the surrender of Lee at Appomattox in 1865.  At Fair Oaks, Gaines Mill, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and every major battle fought by the Army of the Potomac, the figure of General Meagher was seen leading his men into battle.  Between campaigns new Irish were recruited to replace the fallen.  Among all their battles the three most costly were Antietam, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg.  The Sept, 1862 battle of Antietam was the deadliest day in American history, with 23,000 killed and wounded. The Brigade suffered 540 casualties and Gen McClelland later wrote, The Irish Brigade sustained their well-earned reputation, suffering terribly in officers and men, and strewing the ground with their enemies, as they drove them back.  Three months later, the Brigade assaulted Confederate entrenchments along Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg achieving international fame with the tenacity of their attack and eliciting cheers from their rebel adversaries, many of whom were Irish themselves.  The next day, only 280 of 1,300 men were able to report for duty. Gen. Robert E. Lee later wrote, Never were men so brave. They ennobled their race by their splendid gallantry.  In July 1863 at Gettysburg they successfully countered a Confederate offensive near Little Round Top losing 202 men killed out of 530. When Lee finally surrendered to Grant at Appomattox in April 1865, the Brigade was there.  One rebel officer told a Union officer, the only reason you won was because you had more Irish than we had!  On May 23 and 24, 1865 they paraded in review in Washington D.C. and in the following months, they returned to their homes to celebrate the new national holiday declared by President Lincoln two years earlier — Thanksgiving.  Returning  to New York, they received a tumultuous welcome from not only the Irish citizens, but from all who had followed their courageous history.

In post-war America, the Irish still faced poverty but discrimination had diminished. Many Americans accorded the Irish a new level of respect since many thousands had made the ultimate sacrifice defending the Union and, as a testament to their bravery, 7 were presented with the Medal of Honor.  Soon it became unfashionable to discriminate against the Irish and the NO IRISH NEED APPLY signs began to disappear from Help Wanted ads.  And that was perhaps the greatest victory for the Irish Brigade.  Of the 7,715 men who served in its ranks, 961 were killed and more than 3,000 were wounded – more than ever served in its ranks at any one time. The 69th NY suffered 75 per cent casualties while the British Light Brigade memorialized by Alfred Lord Tennyson for riding into the ‘Valley of Death’ lost less than 37 per cent.  There is no famous verse for the Irish, but author Joseph Bilby in his book Remember Fontenoy wrote, The Irish Brigade was, many said, the best brigade in the Army of the Potomac. Some said it was the best brigade in the whole Union army and perhaps the best infantry brigade on either side. Today, others with the perspective of history have come to believe it may have been the best infantry brigade that ever was!

Historical Happenings for October 2019

CHARLES STEWART PARNELL

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

On October 6, 1891, Ireland lost her uncrowned king.  His name was Charles Stewart Parnell, a Protestant Squire from Avondale in Co. Wicklow, the son of an English father and an American mother. The maternal grandfather for whom he was named was Charles Stewart: Commanding Officer of U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides) during the War of 1812; the U.S. Navy’s first Rear Admiral (an appointment made by President Lincoln in 1862); and a genuine hero. On February 20 1815, with a strategy described by James Fenimore Cooper as, the most brilliant maneuvering in naval annals, Stewart, heavily outmanned and outgunned, soundly defeated and captured two British ships off the coast of Spain. He was awarded the freedom of the city of New York and the thanks of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who presented him with a gold sword.

Young Squire Parnell was indeed of respectable stock and in 1875 was elected to the House of Commons where, it was expected; he would serve dutifully and create no great sensation.  Parnell however, inherited his grandfather’s strong sense of moral justice and he took up the cause of Home Rule ─ a program calling for an end to the British Parliament in Ireland and the establishment of an Irish Parliament with full control of Ireland’s domestic affairs.  In taking up the cause, Parnell became the champion of the Irish people.

Landlords in Ireland, reacting to the changing European economy, were turning their holdings from farming to cattle grazing and thousands of tenant farmers were being dispossessed.  Parnell supported Michael Davitt’s Land League against the rack-renting landlords, and eventually became its President.  He urged tenant opposition to landlords through boycotts and rent refusal, and in 1879, sailed to America to address the U.S. Congress on the problem.  His sister, Fanny, set up an American Land League to raise and channel relief funds to the Irish League in order to defend the tenant farmers in court, making dispossession at least costly for the landlord.  The significance of this action is evident from British statistics which show that between 1849 and 1882, 482,000 families had been evicted.

In spite of the League’s limited success, a virtual land war continued between landlords and tenants.  The Crown reacted with arrests, but the situation remained tense. In order to avert open rebellion, the Land Act of 1881 was passed. It was a weak law, but it defused the situation until the government could act.  The Land League was declared illegal and its leaders arrested.  In the House of Commons, Parnell was accused of fomenting rebellion, but refused to answer the charge declaring that he drew his support from the people and he would only allow the people to judge him; he saw no need to defend his actions to England.  Referred to as the uncrowned King of Ireland, Parnell was at the height of his popularity, though his health was beginning to fail.  He threw his support to Gladstone in the 1886 British election, and engineered the defeat of the Tories.  He was now at the height of his power as well.  Gladstone fulfilled his promise to Parnell and introduced a Home Rule Bill, but it was defeated by the House of Lords.  Parnell demanded another; in the eyes of many he was becoming too powerful. 

Soon, a series of articles appeared in the British press accusing Parnell of instigating a crime-wave against the landlords and a special commission was appointed to investigate.  In spite of perjury and bribery, Parnell defeated his detractors but he made many enemies in Parliament, even though they dared not act against him.  Their opportunity came when an MP named Capt O’Shea filed for divorce from his wife naming Parnell as co-respondent.  Parnell, in typical fashion, gave no defense to Parliament. Instead of feeding the scandal, he chose to save his career by working harder than he had ever worked in his life despite his failing health.  Gladstone used the incident as an excuse to rid himself of Parnell and agitated against him.  The Catholic Church joined the detractors and publicly condemned him as an adulterer for his affair with Kitty O’Shea.  Parnell began to lose support among the Irish for the first time since he devoted his life to their welfare.

On Sept 27 1891, he attended a public meeting in Galway against the advice of his doctors.  He had promised to speak, and would not disappoint those who had remained loyal to him.  It was his last appearance; on October 6, he died. He was buried at Glasnevin beside Daniel O’Connell after a funeral procession that could only be termed magnificent.  In the eyes of some he had erred and was punished.  The tragedy of Parnell is that, in spite of his dedication and superhuman efforts, England was able to sow division among the Irish.  Parnell shall nevertheless be eternally remembered for the words he defiantly spoke in Parliament which are now engraved on his monument in O’Connell St, Dublin: No man has a right to fix a boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say thus far shalt thou go and no further. We have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland’s nationhood and we never shall! 

Historical Happenings for September 2019

ANNE DEVLIN

by Mike McCormack, AOH Historian

Ireland’s history is filled with the names of noble souls who fought and died to break her chains of bondage. Some who suffered and died for that cause are less known than others.  They led no insurrection; they made no memorable speech from the dock; they held no position of power; but theirs was a martyr’s role nonetheless. They were the common Irish whose quiet sacrifice nurtured and preserved the dream of freedom.  On September 18th 1851, Ireland lost one of her most courageous and dedicated daughters whose name should be as well-known as that of Emmet, Pearse, and Tone.  Her name was Anne Devlin.

Born in 1778, she was a cousin of two United Irish rebel leaders, Arthur Devlin and Michael Dwyer; she was also a devoted Aide to the bold Robert Emmet, leader of the second rising of the United Irishmen in 1803.  Posing as his housekeeper, she helped him plan the rising and carried correspondence between him and other leaders associated with the failed rebellion.  She was a proud and dedicated woman and Ireland’s freedom was her only dream.  When the rising was crushed, Emmet went on the run into the Wicklow Mountains and Anne saw to his well-being as arrangements were being made to smuggle him to France.  The Brits were aware that Anne knew the hiding places of Emmet and other escaped leaders, so she was arrested and tortured to get her to reveal their locations.  She refused and was locked in solitary confinement in Kilmainham Jail.

For three years, Anne was subjected to torture, bribes and the brutal indecencies that only women prisoners can suffer at the hands of depraved jailers.  Yet she was never broken. She remained loyal to the cause and betrayed not one of the men her jailers sought to capture.  In their efforts to make her talk, members of her family were incarcerated with her, including her 12-year-old brother who contracted prison fever and died in a cell near her own.  Her body and her heart were broken yet still she refused to betray Ireland’s heroes.  When Prime Minister Pitt died in 1806, there was a change in the British Administration in Ireland and Anne Devlin was finally released.  By then, she appeared like a broken old woman at just 28 years of age!  She had contracted a debilitating case of Erysipelas, which left her limbs numb and feeble and which plagued her for the rest of her life.  She disappeared into the slums of Dublin’s Liberties and married a man named Campbell who died in 1845 on the cusp of the Great Hunger, leaving her with a son and an invalid daughter.  She managed a meager existence by taking in wash.

In the 1840s, Dr. Richard Madden, researching the history of the United Irishmen, was directed to a poor old washerwoman living in a miserable hovel in a stable-yard in the Dublin Liberties.  He learned of Anne’s sacrifice and became an admirer, occasionally helping her with donations.  Unfortunately, Dr. Madden worked on government assignment and was transferred to Cuba, spending many years away from Ireland.  Upon his return, in September, 1851, he went straight to the Liberties to see Anne where he learned the sad story of her final days and death just two days earlier.  According to his writings, a woman in whose room Anne Devlin had once lodged, told him, The poor creature, God rest her, it’s well for her, she’s dead.  There was a coffin got from the Society for her and she was buried yesterday.  To his inquiry of what she died from, the answer was, She was old and weak, indeed, but she died mostly of want . . . She was very badly off, not only for food, but for bedclothes.  Nearly all the rags she had to cover her went, at one time or another, to get a morsel of bread.

Dr. Madden was heartbroken and found her grave in the pauper’s section of Glasnevin cemetery.  It was an incredibly tragic end to a most noble lady.  He had her remains exhumed and re-buried in the patriot’s section of the cemetery known as the Circle, right near Daniel O’Connell, and erected a memorial over her.  He left this account in volume III of his monumental history of the United Irishmen: The extraordinary sufferings endured, and the courage and fidelity displayed, by this young woman have few parallels.  She was tortured, frightfully maltreated, her person goaded and pricked with bayonets, hung up by the neck, and was only spared to be exposed to temptations, to be subjected to new and worse horrors than any she had undergone, to suffer solitary confinement, to be daily tormented with threats of further privations, till her health broke down and her mind shattered, and after years of suffering in the same prison, when others of her family were confined without any communication with them, she was turned adrift on the world, without a house to return to, or friends or relations to succor or shelter her.  The day will come when the name of Anne Devlin, the poor neglected creature who, when I knew her, was dragging out a miserable existence, struggling with infirmity and poverty, will be spoken of with feelings of kindness not unmixed with admiration.

 

But thankfully, the times are changing. In 2003 on the bicentennial of the 1803 Rising, Anne was remembered on one of three commemorative Irish postage stamps and in February, 2004, the South Dublin County Council proudly unveiled a statue of Anne in the village of Rathfarnam, just a few yards from the house in Butterfield lane where she served Robert Emmet and Ireland.  The statue caused some controversy as some historians wanted a statue of Emmet, but saner heads prevailed,  This beautiful statue of Anne Devlin not only adds character to Rathfarnham village, it highlights the significance of its history.  Irish-Canadian poet, Paul Potts, dedicated an entire chapter in his book of essays, Invitation to a Sacrament to all who helped her  and he wrote that, it is true that she was a servant girl; it is equally true that she was one of the glories of the world.  Because of her a light shines out, from the slums around the Coombe and from the ploughs on a Wicklow hillside, to equal the brightness of any star.  This Wicklow peasant working girl beat the British Empire.  They had been beaten by the spirit of an unconquered Ireland, housed in the heart and mind of a simple Irish girl.  Anne Devlin is an inspiration to all who hold freedom dear.

Historical Happenings for August 2019

THE QUEEN’S VISIT

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

By the mid-1800s, landlords held most of the fertile land in Ireland renting to native Irish tenants. The land was subdivided and rented in smaller plots to more tenants for larger profit.  The smaller plots forced the Irish to survive on a crop that could produce the most yield per acre – the potato.  It was a difficult life, but at least they weren’t starving, for potatoes are a remarkable source of vitamins and minerals.  Then late on August 20, 1845, a potato fungus was discovered at the Dublin Botanical Gardens.  The following day, August 21, is a date remembered in Irish history as the first day of An Gorta Mor (the Great Hunger) a tragedy that saw millions lost to emigration, disease, and starvation.  Within the week, reports came in from other eastern counties that the potato crop had turned black in the ground.  It was the only crop affected, since everything else grew in abundance, but the other crops belonged to the landlords who protected them from the hungry Irish until they were harvested and exported for profit.

Parliament did little to help, quoting the economic doctrine of Laissez Faire and saying that the country was to be left to the effect of natural forces.  Many suffered in ‘45 awaiting a better harvest in ‘46, but it didn’t come.  The potato crop in ‘46 was totally destroyed across Ireland.  People were forced to eat what little seed potato they had with the result that when 1847 came, they had nothing to plant.  Many, on the verge of starvation, fell victim to the diseases which attend hunger.  When the sick and starving Irish couldn’t pay their rent, they were evicted and their property confiscated.  Blight continued until 1849 and neither Parliament nor most landlords provided assistance.  Millions died of starvation and hunger-related disease on the roads, alongside prosperous farms.  A limited amount of aid was provided by charitable groups, but the tragedy was too vast to control. For two years, some soup kitchens were opened, but the cost of food was the conversion to the Church of Ireland.  It was a price too high for many and they turned their backs on the food, rather than turn their backs on their faith.

Parliament, denounced for not intervening in the tragedy, reacted by declaring the crisis over in 1849 since a few acres of potatoes had grown that year without blight.  After millions died and millions more had fled into exile, it was little good to those who had been evicted.  Although the blight slowly abated, the blight on the Irish continued.  Most historians estimate that the effects of the great hunger were not over for another 30 years as the lack of land or a living wage, food shortage and disease continued.  Emigrants sent money back to loved ones they were forced to leave behind and it helped them climb back to a stable life, but it would be a generation before many of the emigrants could establish themselves in the lands to which they fled.  In the end, most of the generation who suffered the Great Hunger, were gone before its effects were.

A benchmark event that marked that turn in history was the formation of the Mayo Land League in 1879. Founder Michael Davitt convinced MP Charles Stewart Parnell to join the land agitation and the Mayo Land League became the National Land League with Parnell as President and Davitt, as Secretary.  By the end of 1879 there was a formidable organization in place and a Land War began.to plan what became known as the Land War and it could be truly said that the Great Hunger was over for the Irish began to take back their land.

One of the most insensitive incidents to come out of the Great Hunger was the British government’s premature declaration of the end of the blight in 1849.  In conjunction with that declaration and in order to show that all was well, a massive publicity campaign was mounted, the highlight of which was a visit by Queen Victoria at harvest time.  As the Irish starved and died in the workhouses and on the roads, hundreds of thousands of Pounds were spent to beautify the roads on which she would travel.  Crowds of curious and angry onlookers were kept in check by British soldiers as reports were sent to the world that wherever she went, the Queen was cheered by her adoring subjects and headlines proclaimed that “THE FAMINE IS OVER AS THE QUEEN VISITS IRELAND.”  Ironically that report, although propaganda at the time, would eventually come true.

The truth of that statement lies in a most remarkable incident that occurred on the exact anniversary of the first day of the hunger, exactly 30 years after the blight had been declared over!  The date was August 21, 1879, and the place was the Church of St. John the Baptist in the Irish village of Knock in Co. Mayo.  On that evening, a small group witnessed an astonishing vision as three figures suddenly appeared beside an altar on which rested a cross and a lamb surrounded by adoring angels.  The witnesses knew that they were in the presence of St. Joseph, St. John and Mary, the mother of God.  Word spread, and shortly, others from the area arrived and saw it too.  No such heavenly visitation had ever before been reported in Ireland, and the people fell to their knees and prayed, oblivious of a soaking rain.  The figures remained, silent for nearly two hours, and then vanished as suddenly as they had appeared.  In 1939, after many years of intense investigation, the apparition at Knock was granted canonical sanction by the Church.  Of the hundreds of visions reported, it is one of only ten to have received such recognition, and it ranks with Lourdes and Fatima as a holy site of pilgrimage, yet it is the only appearance of the Virgin during which She remained silent.

Many have questioned why Mary said nothing, and only stood praying.  Praying for what, for whom?  Any student of Irish history should know the answer for there are clues in the date of the apparition.  Consider that the Great Hunger wasn’t really over for 30 years after 1849; Mary appeared in 1879 – exactly 30 years later!  And She appeared on August 21, the exact anniversary of the first day of the Great Hunger!  Is it possible that, since the Irish had suffered so much for their faith, that the Lord, in appreciation, sent His beloved mother and that She, as any mourner would, stood in silent prayer for the generation which had just passed away.  Think of it, the timing is incredible.  Not only is August 21 significant, but the year 1879 was truly the end of the great hunger for the Irish began taking their land back from the landlords through the Land League.  While the dates have an uncanny significance, there is yet another irony.  Since August 1879 marked both the historic end of the Great Hunger and the year in which Our Lady visited Knock, a 30-year old newspaper headline had at last come true: THE FAMINE WAS FINALLY OVER AND THE QUEEN HAD VISITED IRELAND – the only Queen that the Irish ever recognized!  The Catholic people of Ireland, who struggled so hard to keep their faith alive, had received a visit from heaven, and the Virgin had received a new title – Our Lady of Knock.

Historical Happenings for July 2019

HERCULES MULLIGAN

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

When celebrating this country’s independence, there is an almost forgotten hero who must be called to public attention.  He was born on 25 September 1740 in Coleraine, County Derry.  He came to New York City in 1746 where he became a major contributor to America’s Irish immigrant story. His name was Hercules Mulligan. He graduated King’s College and became a haberdasher, tailoring clothes for colonial aristocrats and British officers; he even married Elizabeth Sanders, a British admiral’s niece.  Yet, when a bankrupt Crown exploited its colonies with taxes he opposed them and in 1765 became a leader of the secret Sons of Liberty. He was a member of the Committee of Correspondence, a group that rallied opposition to the Crown through written media.  In August 1775, he and his militia captured four British cannons from the Battery; in 1776, he and the Sons of Liberty toppled a statue of King George III and melted the lead into bullets to return it to the Brits.

Earlier, in 1773, a penniless teen had arrived with a letter of introduction to Mulligan’s brother Hugh from a family he knew in St. Croix for whom the teen had clerked. Hercules took him into his home at 23 Queen St (now 218 Pearl Street) in lower Manhattan and sent him to King’s College. Mulligan’s anger over British oppression was contagious and his house-guest soon joined him in the Sons of Liberty and in 1775, even wrote a popular essay denouncing the British.  The boy’s name was Alexander Hamilton.

As violence intensified, Mulligan quietly endured the British occupation of New York since, while outfitting their officers, he engaged them in seemingly meaningless conversation and, asking the right questions, gained valuable insight into their plans. He would then put it in a note and sew it into the hem of a new shirt, pack it in a box and send his servant, Cato, off as if her were simply delivering an order. Cato was his equally patriotic African servant who served as a spy together with Mulligan. Acting the role of courier, he would pass through British lines by posing as a slave on an errand for his master; he was also known to the British sentries who frequented Mulligan’s shop.  As a result, Cato passed unchallenged and delivered the information to none other than Alexander Hamilton, who by now had become George Washington’s aide de camp.  On at least two occasions their information saved Washington from a planned ambush.

After a few years of freelancing as a spy, Mulligan was recruited into the Culper Spy Ring by Robert Townsend, a member of the ring and a successful merchant who traveled back and forth between the City and the Setauket, Long Island center of the spy ring. Mulligan often rode the 65 miles to Setauket to deliver information that couldn’t wait. In 1781, after Benedict Arnold betrayed West Point, he betrayed Mulligan by outing him as a spy. With no evidence to verify his accusation, the British who despised Arnold as a turncoat, weren’t about to give up their favorite Irish tailor and ignored the charge!  Mulligan continued collecting data.

When the Revolution was won, Mulligan, who outwardly appeared to be like all the other Loyalists, feared an act of patriotic revenge, but George Washington remembered his confidential informant. On November 26, 1783, Washington led an ‘Evacuation Day’ parade celebrating his return to New York. The next morning, the triumphant general stopped at 23 Queen Street and enjoyed breakfast with Mulligan announcing his savior as ‘a true friend of liberty.’ Washington then ordered a full civilian wardrobe.  Mulligan hung a sign outside his shop: Clothier to General Washington and his business boomed. After Washington’s Presidential inauguration in 1789, he went back to Mulligan’s Clothing Emporium where he hired him as the official Presidential Tailor.   Mulligan hung out a new sign and became wildly popular!

Mulligan eventually bought a large home off of the Bowery where he retired comfortably until 1825 when he died at eighty-five.  He is buried with his family in Trinity Churchyard at Broadway and Wall Street.  Time covered up the remnants of his life and since 1970 there is a 24-story building at 218 Pearl Street and it is not known what happened to Cato. However, on January 25, 1785, Mulligan and Hamilton became two of the founders of the New York Manumission Society to promote the abolition of slavery.

Finally, in 2016, Hercules Mulligan was given a page of his own on the U.S. CIA website and there is now talk of naming a small bridge in lower Manhattan as the Hercules Mulligan Bridge.  However, many may still not learn the truth because in 2015 a Broadway musical HAMILTON revised the history of this trio of conspirators. Sadly, they combined the characters of Mulligan and Cato into one; showing Mulligan as an African patriot thereby robbing Mulligan of his Irish heritage and the true African patriot, Cato, of his very existence.  How sad!