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 March 2019

Irish-American Heritage Month

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for the gift of your time.”

Historical Happenings for February 2019

John Philip Holland

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Happenings for January 2019

Irish Contributions Mark New Year’s Eve

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Happenings for December 2018

CHRISTMAS IN IRELAND

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Happenings for November 2018

The November Ending That Became A Beginning

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Happenings for October 2018

Joseph Poole

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Joseph Poole

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Happenings for July 2018 – “America’s Irish”

AMERICA’S IRISH

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

Signing of the Declaration of Independence – 1776

Independence Day, July 4, is America’s biggest holiday. It’s her birthday; but it doesn’t mark the day she won her independence, it marks the day when it was declared. And the Irish were there! We’ve often heard of the Irish in America’s Patriot Army, but there were also those who were unable to suffer the hardship of a colonial soldier yet contributed in other ways. The military won the war, but who supported the march to the battlefield? It was the settlers, merchants and community leaders who were the real shapers of our destiny, for they dreamed the dream, organized its creation, and financed its success.

In the late 1700s, England’s American colonies suffered increased Crown exploitation driving them to protest; among the loudest were the Irish who had no great love for the Crown to begin with. And there were many Irish in the American colonies; they had been coming since the 1650s. The first major influx came to New England in 1652 with the arrival of 400 Irish children sent by Cromwell to be sold as servants. From then on, the shipment of men, women and children as indentured servants was common practice. Among the first to come of their own volition were those who fought the English theft of their lands and ended up hunted men. They were followed by Catholics and Presbyterians who fled discrimination by the Church of England and lastly, by businessmen escaping the economic oppression fostered on them by the Crown to benefit their British competitors. The destruction of the Irish wool trade ruined countless families all over Ireland, while destruction of the Irish linen trade reduced the population of Ulster by tens of thousands. They came to America with their looms and spinning wheels, before the start of the American Revolution, bringing an industry that would be important to the nation awaiting birth.

In the beginning, they came in such large numbers that one Massachusetts Court, fearing the “malignant spirit that has from time to time been manifest by the Irish against the English,” prohibited the Irish from its jurisdiction and fined anyone who should buy an Irishman and bring him in. But they came anyway. Some altered their names and settled in outlying areas like the ancestor of John Hancock who came from Co Down. They also settled in New Hampshire, where they founded the town of Concord and where Capt. Maginnis commanded the militia; in Vermont, where their sons would lend strength to the Green Mountain Boys led by Irish-American John Stark and Wicklow-born Matthew Lyon; in Maine, home of the O’Briens, who would capture the first British ship in the war that was yet to come; and in Pennsylvania, founded by Wm Penn who grew up in Co. Cork and where Thompson’s Rifle Battalion became the First Regiment of the new Continental Army as Wexford-born William Thompson was appointed its first Brigadier-General on 1 March 1776.

They became the majority in many communities in Pennsylvania where a 1729 table of immigrants shows: 267 English, 43 Scots, 243 Germans, and 5,655 Irish. In 1728, it was reported that most of the 4,500 who landed at New Castle, Delaware were Irish. Philadelphia likewise reported that 3,500 people from Ireland had arrived in the first two weeks of August, 1772. The city had a Hibernian Club as early as 1729; it later became the Friendly Sons of St Patrick, whose first President was Stephen Moylan of Co Cork ─ soon to be one of Washington’s top Generals. In 1772 and 1773, Irish immigration to the American colonies was more than 18,500 and most were anxious to be rid of British colonialism.

There was no shortage of leaders either and men like Patrick Henry, Thomas McKean and other Irish-American orators used their eloquence to urge separation from England. When confrontations became frequent, it seemed that the Irish were always in the middle of it. Among those killed in the Boston Massacre in 1770 was Irish-born Patrick Carr; Boston Tea Party participants met at an inn owned by man named Duggan; and the tea was dumped at Griffin’s Wharf by a group dressed as Indians, some of whom had a notably Irish accents. While young Irishmen rushed to arms in support of Washington, Irish civilians, businessmen, and merchants participated in the deliberations of Councils and in Congress, raised money to feed and clothe the army and advance the credit of the new government. Tyrone-born Oliver Pollack personally donated more than $300,000. (close to 4.5 million today), only France and Holland gave more.

On July 1, 1776 after a year of hostilities, the leaders met to discuss their options. Some wanted to settle grievances and resume amicable relations with the Crown; others opposed them, including four Irish-born members of the Constitutional Convention and six members of Irish descent. A resolution was presented which read, “Be it resolved, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.” After much heated debate, the vote was indecisive. They met again on July 2 to continue the debate and finally the ayes carried the question. On July 3, John Adams wrote to his wife that: July second was the most memorable day in the history of America and would be celebrated forever. However, approval of the final draft of the document did not occur until two days later. On 4 July, the Philadelphia State House was packed, despite a sweltering heat, as Secretary Charles Thomson of Co, Derry read the formal document that Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and Livingston had composed, and that he (Thomson) had drafted. It was a declaration explaining why their action was justified. After a full day of debate, modifying copy and amendments, Secretary Thomson recorded the changes, and America’s Declaration of Independence was complete.

The formal copy would not be ready for signature until August, but the public first heard that document read on 8 July 1776 by Col. John Nixon, son of a Co. Wexford immigrant. Philadelphia printer Charles Dunlap of Co. Tyrone rolled out copies that were snatched up before the ink was dry. And that is the event marked by the 4th of July ─ not the winning, but the declaring of our independence on a document. There would be many more years of struggle and sacrifice before the last battle was fought on 10 March 1783, but America had made her stand. That last battle, by the way, saw Wexford-born Commodore John Barry defeat the British ship Sybil. He had been carrying a cargo of gold with which Congress would establish the new Bank of North America with the help of Wicklow-born Thomas Fitzsimmons.

Yes the Irish were there, and the fact that that they made loyal Americans was evidenced by François Jean de Beauvoir, Marquis de Chastellux, a Major General in the French expeditionary force led by general Comte de Rochambeau. After the Revolution, Marquis de Chastellux wrote: An Irishman, the instant he sets foot on American soil, becomes an American. During the whole of the war, English and Scots were treated with distrust even with the best of attachment for the cause, but the native of Ireland stood in need of no other certificate than his accent. While the Irish emigrant was fighting for America on land and sea, Irish merchant’s purses were always open and their persons devoted to the country’s cause, and on more than one imminent occasion Congress itself, and the very existence of America, owed its preservation to the fidelity and firmness of the Irish.

It was perhaps best said by George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of the beloved first President and Martha Washington at a St Patrick’s Day dinner in 1828. He said: Ireland’s generous sons, alike in the day of our gloom, and of our glory, shared in our misfortunes and joined in our successes; With undaunted courage (they) breasted the storm which once threatened to overwhelm us; and with aspirations deep and fervent for our cause, whether in the shock of liberty’s battles, or in the feeble expiring accents of famine and misery, cried from their hearts ‘God Save America’. Then honored be the good old service of the sons of Erin in the war of Independence. Let the shamrock be entwined with the laurels of the Revolution, and truth and justice, guiding the pen of history, inscribe on the tablets of American remembrance ‘Eternal Gratitude to Irishmen.’ GWP Custis also asked the favor that when St Patrick’s Day is annually celebrated, that some generous Irishman would place a shamrock on his grave and say, God Bless Him. Up to a few years ago, a sprig of shamrock was planted on his grave by the Washington DC AOH as they said in chorus, God Bless Him!

Historical Happenings for June 2018

From Dublin Drunk to Servant of God

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Happenings for March 2018

MARCH’S SIBLINGS FOR FREEDOM

By Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

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

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

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

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

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