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!  

Historical Happenings for June 2019

WHO ARE WE?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Recent revelations of a few AOH members dismissing Irish history as unimportant and even Divisions without an active historian, leads us to reflect on who we really are. We are the Irish who chose to be members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), a choice that defines us. The AOH was created to defend a heritage born on a tiny island in the western ocean with the first pre-Celtic inhabitants whose engineering skill produced Newgrange, the oldest still standing man-made structure on the planet, and hundreds just like it – all astronomically aligned. It grew with those who mined and smelted tin with copper to create Bronze and produced artistic treasures so intricate they cannot be duplicated today. It was strengthened by Celtic warriors who discovered iron and were the first use it to rim their chariot wheels. And it was enhanced and formalized by the Christian gospel of St. Patrick and the many missionaries he inspired to make the tiny island renowned throughout the known world as the Isle of Saints and Scholars.
However, that valued heritage was despised by powerful forces that came across the sea from England. As strangers gradually took control of the land, they tried to erase that heritage. They forbid its practice by legislation like the Statutes of Kilkenny and Penal Laws, but the Irish secretly held on to what had been passed to them; for to deny their heritage would have been to deny their ancestors. When legislation failed, brute force was unleashed from Cromwell to William of Orange. Again they failed! And when the Irish fought the Crown to a stalemate and a treaty resulted, perfidious Albion broke trust as with the broken Treaty of Limerick and again assaulted the heritage so boldly defended. When the ancient heritage could not be erased, it became expedient to erase those who practiced it and that opportunity came with a fungus on the potato crop in 1845. The Irish had been forced to rely on that crop as a result of laws enacted by a landlord-dominated Westminster Parliament. There had been earlier failures, but an Irish Parliament eased its impact by thoughtful action. However, Britain eliminated that Irish Parliament 44 years earlier and this time the Irish were at the mercy of Westminster. Then followed the genocidal horror known as An Gorta Mor – the Great Hunger – when starving Irish tenants watched the abundant produce of their country taken under guard to the seaports to be exported for profit while their wives and children cried with hunger. The native Irish were then left with three choices: first, to accept the stranger’s ways and laws; second, to flee their beloved island; and third, to starve. A few did the first, millions did the second and millions more unwillingly did the third!
Through all the years of discord, societies had been formed to protect the values under attack. From the Whiteboys, who fought landlords in white shirts to identify each other on midnight raids, to the Ribbonmen, wore a special ribbon to show their similar goal – protection of a heritage and retribution to those who dared to destroy it. When the millions of Irish refugees who were forced to flee their homes landed in America, they were shocked to find the same bigotry awaiting them in the former British colony. It was manifested by nativists who awakened memories of former violence in riots against them and their church for no other reason than who they were! Repressive legislation similar to that which they faced in Ireland was proposed by nativists of the Native American Party in local and national governments.
Those immigrant Irish who had joined together in local benevolent fraternal societies, not surprisingly assumed the responsibility of protecting the values under attack and became the same type of secret societies that had protected them in Ireland. Then in 1836, the Ribbon Society in Ireland authorized branches of their society among former Ribbon emigrants in New York and Pennsylvania. By 1851, many more merged with the growing number of societies for the same protection of a centuries-old heritage. By that time nativists had replaced the British military as adversaries and employers had replaced landlords as antagonists. The societies morphed into a uniquely American national organization and thus was born, the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Over the years, violence diminished but the bigotry continues in derogatory T-shirts and greeting cards, twisted anglicized versions of Irish history taught in American schools and the disregard of Irish contributions to America and the world. The attacks on our heritage continue and we, as inheritors of the ancient traditions for which our forefathers fought and suffered, are its modern defenders. That is why the Ancient Order of Hibernians exists, that is the reason its members were invited to join and that is what defines us!

TO DEFEND YOUR HERITAGE, YOU MUST LEARN IT!

Historical Happenings for May 2019

THE MASS ROCK (Carraig an Aifrinn)

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

The celebration of the Mass at a “Mass Rock” in Ireland

Rocks and stones have always been special to the Irish. The Stone of Fal, reportedly brought to Ireland by the Tuatha de Dannan, was said to have the power to roar – but only when a man fit to rule Ireland stood upon it.  The Rock of Doone, similarly only roared out under one fit to be a Chieftain of the O’Donnells of Donegal. Although these great rocks ceased to roar when Christ was born, their tales stir a sense of pride for they relate to traditions and great heroes whose courage we can admire, but few can imitate!   However, the most courageous stories in Irish history relate to another rock and the courage and fidelity of the ordinary people who made them so special.

These are the Mass Rocks – large flat-topped boulders found in the woods, hills and glens throughout the Emerald Isle, left over from the receding glaciers that covered Ireland during the Ice Age; or as one old woman told me, they were put there long, long ago in hidden places by God Himself for the people to use when the Mass was forbidden because He knew what was coming!

At any rate, it did come in the 17th century when England tried to usurp Ireland into its empire.  It was decided that the Irish had to become English and denounce their Gaelic culture, customs and traditions. When the Irish fought the theft of their heritage, Penal Laws were imposed to punish any who practiced Irish ways. One of those laws banned the Catholic religion and Bishops were outlawed under penalty of a year in a penal colony. If they returned after release, they would be hanged, drawn and quartered! The law also imposed penalties on priests, but many courageously remained, administering in secret.  The clerics who faced such persecution were heroes indeed, yet equally courageous were the people, whose passion for their faith led them to protect the outlawed clergy. That support made it possible for the priests to exist and administer to the faithful who even risked fine and dungeon just to hear the holy sacrifice of the Mass.  It was then that those natural rocks that God had left for them became altars for the forbidden Mass to be safely celebrated away from watchful eyes.

In sun or rain, sleet or snow, the faithful would trudge into the woods, climb up a hill or gather in a hollow wherever a large flat rock could be found! Exposed to the elements, they knelt as the priest offered the sacrifice of the Mass on that hidden rock.  Priest hunters, who received a bounty for any cleric they captured, were always a danger as was the British military, so sentries were posted to keep watch for any who might seek to arrest the faithful kneeling in prayer – and especially the priest!   Since those who attended the celebration were at risk of imprisonment, the locations of the Mass Rocks were a closely guarded secret.  Many took secret trails known as Mass Paths to worship at their secret stone.  In a glen near Drogheda during one harsh winter, it is recorded that the people even walked barefoot in an icy stream down into the glen so that there would be no footprints left in the snow to betray the location of their Mass Rock.

These are the people whose courage is inspirational. Certainly, the priests and Bishops were heroes for theirs was a difficult role. But it was the people – the mothers, fathers and children who refused to turn away from their faith no matter the cost – who are the unsung heroes. All they had to do was embrace the Church of England and they could have had employment, their children educated, and their bellies full. Some did; some took the soup, but they were very few.

Today the need for secrecy is gone, yet on special occasions the descendants of those courageous faithful of yesterday, will gather around one of the hidden Mass Rocks to hear a commemorative Mass and remember the sacrifices made to preserve the faith for the succeeding generations.  As for the Mass Rocks themselves, they are evocative symbols, reverently preserved as relics of a heroic past and a courageous people who would not surrender their faith, regardless of the persecution they faced if caught.  In 2008, the Kingston, NY AOH Division had a large stone delivered to the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural Center in East Durham as a replica of an Irish Mass Rock. It was placed in care of the local AOH Division who promptly adopted the name: the Mass Rock Division.  It was dedicated in 2009 as a reminder of the incredible courage and devotion of our ancestors who kept the faith alive during the Penal times.  Then, on 5 May 2019, members of the New York State AOH gathered at the Mass Rock replica in East Durham on the 10th anniversary of its dedication to remember our faithful ancestors and the gift of faith that they had left to us.

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.