Historical Happenings for September 2018

Defensoris Fidei

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Happenings for July 2017

Joyce Kilmer

by Mike McCormack, AOH NYS Historian

When America entered World War I in April 1917, War Department regulations required the NY 69th Regiment to triple its size and its ranks were filled mostly with Irish-Americans and New Yorkers.  It sailed off in late October 1917 to support the allies as part of the 42nd ‘Rainbow’ Division of the American Expeditionary Force, commanded by General John J. Pershing. All National Guard regiments received new “100 series” numbers and the 69th was renumbered the 165th Infantry Regiment.  However, they retained their Irish spirit and every non-Irish member was designated an honorary Irishman by Fighting Father Francis Patrick Duffy, who became the Regimental Chaplain in 1914.  He described them as Irish by adoption, association or conviction.  One of Father Duffy’s closest adoptees was the famous poet, Joyce Kilmer, author of such memorable classics as Trees (I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree).  Determined to join the war, Kilmer enlisted in the Seventh NY Regiment, but seeing no future action, requested a transfer in August to the Fighting Sixty-Ninth, stationed at Camp Mills in Mineola, Long Island.

Kilmer was of  English ancestry, descended from Thomas Kilburn, Church Warden of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Cambridgeshire, who came to America in 1638.  He even told his father that he intended to study for the Episcopal Ministry.  In 1908 he married Aline Murray of Metuchen, NJ and five years later they both converted to the Catholic faith.  He was then  considered America’s premier Catholic poet.  His public writings in support of the 1916 Easter Rising endeared him to the Irish.  He wrote many poems about Ireland including Easter Week in which he criticized William Butler Yeats verse which claimed Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with O’Leary in the grave and in his poem, Apology, he named three poet leaders of the Rising.  Author and editor, Robert C Holliday, speculated in his memoir: It is not at all improbable that had he been an Irishman, born and resident in Ireland, he (Kilmer) would have been among the martyrs of Easter Week.

With Sergeant Joyce Kilmer in their number, the 69th arrived in France in November and saw their first action on 26 February 1918 in the trenches of the Rouge Bouquet where they lost 21 men in a dugout collapse during a severe bombardment.  Kilmer memorialized the event in his poem Rouge Bouquet (In a wood they call the Rouge Bouquet, there is a new-made grave to-day). He also wrote the Prayer of a Soldier in France (My shoulders ache beneath my pack; Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).  Though often recommended for a commission, Kilmer stated that he would rather be a sergeant in the Fighting 69th than an officer in any other regiment.  One companion wrote: He was worshiped by the men about him. I have heard them speak with awe of his coolness and nerve in scouting patrols in No Man’s Land.  On 30 July, during the Second Battle of Marne, Kilmer volunteered to accompany Major William ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan when Donovan’s First Battalion was sent to lead the day’s attack. Kilmer joined Donovan in scouting the Oureq River Battlefield to identify German strong-points and machine gun nests.  The two separated as Kilmer assessed the area. When Donovan returned, he discovered that the poet of the regiment had been killed. According to Father Duffy: A  bullet had pierced his brain. His body was carried in and buried by the side of Lt. Oliver Ames. God rest his dear and gallant soul.  Kilmer died at at the age of 31 and Father Duffy retrieved the rosary that Kilmer always wore around his neck. The 69th led with distinction during that 4-day battle, suffering 264 killed, 150 missing and 1,200 wounded out of their 3,000-man regiment, but they broke the German line.  As the Germans were retreating, the Brigade commander, Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur, wanted to press forward.  He was informed by the other regiments that they were too fatigued, but the decimated 69th replied that they would consider an order to advance as a compliment.  MacArthur exclaimed, By God, it takes the Irish when you want a hard thing done!  For his valor, Kilmer was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) by the French Republic.

Kilmer was buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial, near Picardy, France and a memorial service was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.  Though he sleeps in France, he is not forgotten in America where a memorial stands to him on the Kilmer family plot in Elmwood Cemetery in New Brunswick, NJ.  Memorial Plaques to his memory can also be found at the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Tree in Central Park, NY; in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in North Carolina, in the Joyce Kilmer triangle in Brooklyn and in Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium.  There is also a Kilmer Triangle in Rogers Park, Chicago; a Joyce Kilmer Road in Roscommon, Michigan; a Joyce Kilmer Memorial in Como Park, St. Paul, MN; and countless schools and libraries carry his name. Yet, there is one memorial to this beloved adopted Irishman which is undoubtedly the most sacred.  It is the cross from the rosary that Father Duffy retrieved from the neck of Joyce Kilmer.  It was given in trust to the Commander of the Fighting 69th Regiment and it has been passed down from Commander to Commander since that day.  For a time it was proudly carried in a special leather pouch by the commanding officer on every important occasion where the Fighting 69th was publicly mustered and carried in every St. Patrick’s Day Parade on New York’s Fifth Avenue led by the Fighting 69th

In 2014, it was decided to retire it from active use in muster and better preserve it for future generations. It is now encased in a special framed display box along with Kilmer’s photograph and the final stanza from his Rouge Bouquet poem which is read at the funeral of every member of the Fighting 69th.  The display box hangs in the Battalion Commanders’s office in the Sixty-Ninth Infantry Regiment Armory. According to Bert  Cunningham, 69th Regiment historian, It’s permanently in the case now out of concern for its fragility. It’s in good condition and we want it to be preserved in the best condition possible.  The same can be said of Joyce Kilmer’s memory.

Historical Happenings for June 2017

They Happened in June

by Mike McCormack, AOH NYS Historian

June is a remarkable month in Irish History as so many things occurred in that month over the centuries.  For Example:

On June 1, 1866, a Fenian Army invaded Canada and captured Fort Erie with the intent of seizing all of Canada and trading it back to England for Ireland’s freedom.  They went on to beat a British force at Ridgeway before being stopped by the U.S. closing off the border behind them and cutting off their supply lines.  A trip to the Ridgeway battlefield might be a good idea during the coming New York State convention.

On June 3, 1974, patriot Michael Gaughan, on hunger strike in Parkhurst Prison for political prisoner status, died after force-feeding.  Six guards would restrain him at the top of the bed, stretch his neck over the metal rail, force a block between his teeth and force a feeding tube down his throat through a hole in the block. Michael’s brother described him noting: His throat had been badly cut by force feeding and his teeth loosened. His eyes were sunken, his cheeks hollow and his mouth was gaping open. He weighed about 84 lb.  He’d been force-fed 17 times at the end of his 64-day hunger strike. After he died at age 24, his family stated it was from food lodged in a lung punctured by the force-feeding tube.

On June 4, 1798, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, leader of the United Irishmen, died of wounds received during his capture. He was a Lord, brother of Ireland’s leading peer and tremendously popular with the common people. Since a public trial would be embarrassing and might start the rising they feared, the British decided that although his wounds were not serious, they would not be treated.  The bullets were left in his shoulder, and the wound infected.  Septicaemia spread through his body and tortured his mind.  Mad with fever, he shouted, Dear Ireland, I die for you, and My country, you will be free. Then, after 16 days of intense pain, Lord Edward Fitzgerald died of his wounds.

On June 5, 1646, Owen Roe O’Neill, a brilliant strategist who had returned from Spain to fight for Ireland, defeated the British at the Battle of Benburb.  It was the first major win for the Irish who lost only 300 men to Gen. Munro’s 3,000.

On June 20, 1764, Theobold Wolfe Tone was born to introduce a new Republican concept to Ireland that has been followed to this day.  His idea of  joining Catholics, Protestants and dissenters together to oppose the Crown for Ireland’s freedom became the basis for all the Republican movements from the Young Irelanders to Sinn Fein.

On June 21, 1877, a day remembered as Black Thursday, four members of the AOH accused of being members of an imaginary group called the Molly Maguires, were hanged in Mauch Chunk, PA.  A special gallows had been constructed so that all four lives would be ended at the exact same time.  In 1979, Jack Kehoe, reputed leader of the Mollies was posthumously pardoned and the Governor of PA recognized the group as part of the fledgling mine workers union of that historic period.  On June 21, 1997, 120 years later, a memorial Mass was attended by 100 descendants of those hanged and members of the AOH at the jail where they had been hanged.

On June 28, 1920, after hearing of British atrocities in Dublin, Irish soldiers in the British Army in India engaged in the legally prescribed manner of peaceful military protest. They laid down their arms and declared that they would fight for the Crown no more. They were immediately arrested and confined in brutal conditions.  Private James Daly, who was declared to be the instigator, was sentenced to death and became the last member of the British Army to be executed by firing squad.

On June 22, 1922, the Provisional government of the Irish Free State bombarded the Four Courts which had been seized by anti-treaty IRA forces.  Many count that as the start of the Irish Civil War in which more than 2,000 were killed before it ended in May, 1923 – less than one year later!

On June 29, 1848, leading members of the Young Ireland confederacy, who had been traveling Ireland organizing a rising, were surrounded in Ballingarry, Tipperary.  After a lengthy gun-battle they were defeated and the dreams of another rising died.  James Stephens and John O’Mahony escaped and fled to France while Michael Doheny fled to America.  They would all revisit the dream and later form the Fenian brotherhood.

These are only a few of the historic events we recognize in June.  There are also important births like Edmund Ignatius Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers (June 1, 1762); teacher and author Sinead DeValera (June 3, 1878); James Connolly, Irish Citizen Army leader and 1916 commander (June 5, 1868); Wm Butler Yeats (June 13, 1865); tenor John McCormack (June 14, 1884); and Charles Stewart Parnell (June 27, 1846) among others.  We also lost some great people like Matt Talbot, servant of God (June 6, 1925); Saint Colmcille (June 9, 597); Tenor Frank Patterson (June 10, 2000); Molly Malone, who died of a fever (June 10, 1886); and Journalist Veronica Guerin who was gunned down on a Dublin street (June 26, 1996).  Also, on June 16, 1904, James Joyce had his first date with the love of his live, Nora Barnacle.  It is the date he later memorialized as the day everything takes place in his masterpiece Ulysses and is remembered today as BLOOMSDAY!

These dates and many more which happened, not only in June, but on every day of the year are listed on the 2018 Calendar of Mens & Ladies Irish and Irish-American Historical Events available from Pete Durkee (518) 274-8448. The calendars also provide the opportunity to win more than $10,000 in prizes, so give Pete a call.

Historical Happenings for May 2017

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

Virginia City, Nevada is a tourist mecca in America today for those seeking remnants of the Old West.  In 1859 it was a wild town of 110 saloons catering to a thirsty population of more than 600 miners, most of whom were Irish.

The story of Virginia City began in 1857 when four miners discovered gold.  They were James (Old Virginia) Finney, John Bishop, Aleck Henderson and Jack Yount.  Their discovery was not a main vein, only the rediscovery of earlier mine that had been deserted.  In the Spring of 1859, two Irish miners, Peter O’Riley and Patrick McLaughlin, finding the so-called ‘paying ground’ already claimed, went to the head of Six Mile Canyon and began prospecting under the eastern slope of Mount Davidson, a peak in the Virginia Range of Nevada.

After finding nothing, they were about to abandon their claim when they decided to sink just one more small, deep pit.  At the bottom of this pit was a blue-black material, the bottom of which was covered with a layer of gold.  They had finally found a small bit of gold, but when they brought the mixture to be assayed, the blue-black material that they had to scrape away to get at the gold, turned out to be almost pure silver.  The discovery caused the greatest excitement throughout the entire United States since the California Gold Rush of 1849.  Prospectors swarmed to the area and mining camps soon thrived in the vicinity, giving birth to bustling commercial centers, including Virginia City and Gold Hill.

Another miner, Henry T. P. Comstock filed claims all around the mine and the Comstock Lode as it came to be known, was soon to become the richest silver strike in America.  Dubliner John Mackay bought shares in the Kentuck mine with the few dollars he had and within six months, the shares were worth $22,000 each!  Soon Mackay and his partner James Fair, another Dubliner, bought controlling interest in another mine and made so much money that they were able to buy even more properties.  With partners William O’Brien from Dublin and New York-born Irishman James Flood, they acquired controlling interest in the Virginia City and Gold Hill Water-Works; several quartz mills; the Pacific Wood, Lumber & Flume Company; and several other businesses. 

Their Robert E. Lee Mine produced $3 million by 1882 and was called “The Silver Vault of Fryer Hill”.  The nearby residential town of Stumpton is where Margaret “Unsinkable Molly” Brown lived in the early 1880s before moving to Leadville.  Her husband devised a way of overcoming drainage problems in the mines and was rewarded with 1/8th interest in a mine that had vast quantities of high-grade copper and gold which made his fortune and reputation; Molly made hers by her heroics during the Titanic disaster.

In 1869, John Mackay, James Fair, James Flood and William O’Brien were relative nobodies, but in a few short years, they became the richest men in America, known as ‘The Silver Kings.  A poem about their discovery was written back in the day and it read as follows

There’s a mountain in Nevada, where the shamrocks cannot grow,
where leprechauns hid their treasure three thousand feet below.
But O’Reilly and McLaughlin with a bit of Irish luck
and ‘Old Virginny’ Finney stumbled in the muck.
They found the buried treasure and in Eire the tale was told
and a thousand eager Irishmen arrived to dig for gold.
The West had many heroes courageous, brave and grand,
but the great Bonanza Silver Kings all came from Ireland.
Back among the shamrocks the leprechauns still say
that they up and lost their treasure on a mountain far away!

Historical Happenings for April 2017


by Mike McCormack, AOH NYS Historian

National Anti-Defamation Chairman, Neil Cosgrove, alerted me to a NY Times article by Liam Stack published on St. Patrick’s Day. It was the worst example of Paddy Bashing, seen in recent years. I got the article and felt that Stack, a controversial correspondent, who in the past has been accused of selling fear, obviously read an internet posting by Travis Gettys for it is extremely similar. Gettys is an editor for Raw Story – a site only slightly better than the media sold at checkout counters and both quote a Librarian named Liam Hogan who is obviously trying to create an audience for a book he is writing about white racism. Based on select few insensitive Irish-Americans who brought up Irish slavery as a counterpoint to Black Lives Matter arguing We got over it why can’t they! as typical of Irish sentiment, Hogan decided to debunk Irish slavery.

While I know a great many Irish men and women, I know not one who has voiced that or a similar sentiment. The problem with the Stack/Gettys/Hogan argument is that there exists documented evidence of Irish men, women and children being sold into slavery as far back as the Cromwellian wars. They were sent to America, St Kitts, Antigua and Barbados where the Redleg (Redshanks) community is very aware of their historic origins and has even been recorded in interviews. One said, When I was a boy in St. Kitts, we learned about Irish slavery, why doesn’t (sic) Americans? There are even documents of parentage saved from the archives of the Montserrat library, during the June 1977 volcanic eruption. These documents read like animal pedigree papers showing the forced mating of young Irish girls with Mandingo warriors to breed a better slave more capable of working in the burning sun. One document noted that in October 1657, 6 Irish slaves were among a group of 20 captured after running away and were put to death by a British Court which wouldn’t surprise anyone, except that it happened in Bridgetown, Barbados.  The history of Irish slavery even moved a St. Kitts Minister, G.A. Dwyer Astaphan, to introduce legislation in the St. Kitts Parliament to grant land for a monument to remember the 25,000 Irish men and women who were shipped there as slaves.  There is no doubt that the Caribbean islands, Virginia and New England played a role in the original slave trade of Irish banished for political crimes and after the ethnic cleansing of the mid-1600s Confederation War. Montserrat’s nearly 70 percent Irish slaves even earned it the title Emerald Isle of the Caribbean.

Don’t you think that if Irish slavery was a myth, more accredited professors with doctorates in history would be coming out and saying so instead of a few nondescript yellow journalists and bigots? They aren’t because they know you can’t change history. Luminaries such as Aubrey Gwynn, Professor of Medieval History at University College Dublin and President of the Royal Irish Academy in his 1932 work Analecta Hibernica; Richard Dunne, Guggenheim Fellow for Humanities and Director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of PA in his 1972 work Sugar and Slavery; as well as dozens of bibliographic references in Sean O’Callahan’s To Hell or Barbados, all verify the findings in Thurloe’s State Papers of 1742 that King James VI sold thousands of Irish as slaves to the New World. In fact, an earlier proclamation by James I (17 September 1603) For the Due and Speedy Execution of the Statue against Rogues, Vagabonds, Idle, and Dissolute Persons renewed an earlier Elizabethan law that criminalized vagabondage and “idleness” in 1597 authorizing transportation. James VI’s policy of selling Irish political prisoners to English settlers in the West Indies was continued by Charles I and Oliver Cromwell furthered the practice. The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery at Yale University  also uncovered numerous historical documents regarding Irish slavery! They conclude that the number of ‘Barbadosed’ Irish varies from 12,000 to 60,000 (so many were sent to Barbados that the term ‘Barbadosed’ was coined to define them). When our Revolution closed America as a receptacle for England’s unwanted, ask any Australian what happened next!

One point overlooked by Stack and Gettys in Hogan’s writing is that while he calls the Irish only indentured servants (slavery in politically correct terminology), he readily admits that some of indentures were involuntary! That sounds like slavery to me!  However, his main argument is that it was not in as great a number as some proclaim. To this writer, any number is horrible and unjustified brutality. As for those who later unwisely volunteered to become indentured to secure a ticket to America, it is recorded that only about 40% survived to become free men. While Ireland and St. Kitts erect monuments to remember the Irish who were enslaved in  English colonies, one closer to home memorializes Anne Goody Glover.  She was the last supposed witch hanged in Salem, MA, who was in fact an Irish slave who escaped Barbados seeking refuge in that Puritan village.  A monument in Boston commemorates her unjust and tragic end as an Irish slave.

The maddening part of this whole argument is that some insensitive headline hunters are trying to erase the memory of our people who suffered incredibly for no other reason than that they were Irish and in the way of English colonialism. We cannot let them be forgotten.  We wrote to the NY Times asking them to please verify the trash they publish, no matter that it is found on the Internet and in other scurrilous media, especially when it downgrades or demonizes decent people who have contributed so much to earn for them the very right to publish such trash. I also suggested that if they wanted historical Irish opinions on slavery, they should consult the writings of Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet, Daniel O’Connell and Gerry Adams.


Historical Happenings for November 2016


by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

thanksgivingThis story was offered several years ago, but in view of recent news it deserves repeating.  History is written by the winner, which accounts for revised versions of past events.  Some rewrite history to support a specific agenda, quoting facts out of context, citing only those which support conclusions they’ve already reached and exaggerating, minimizing or omitting those that don’t.  Some revise history to glorify or inspire support for a cause or to cover up transgressions of their predecessors.  A study of recent politics can provide some striking examples.  In recent years several books have exposed some revisionist history, but sadly much is still presented as fact in our school texts.  One of the most revised is how the discovery and conquest of America was slanted to portray Europeans as the natural inheritors of the earth and justify colonization.  From the war with Mexico and the massacre at Wounded Knee to the very beginning of our nation, facts have been altered.

One example, particularly appropriate at this time of year, is the holiday known as Thanksgiving.  According to the popular story, heroic Christian pilgrims arrived in America and shared what little they had with their poor Indian neighbors in thanksgiving for their successful arrival and harvest. The truth of the matter is that the Indians weren’t poor, and if they hadn’t shared their bounty with the pilgrims, the pilgrims might not have survived. After all, yams, corn, and the rest were all Indian dietary staples and the turkey was an American bird. It was Chief Massasoit and the Wampanoag tribe who taught the newcomers how to plant, grow, and harvest the strange foods they hadn’t seen before. As for the feast, it wasn’t new; it was in thanks for a bountiful harvest and harvest festivals were celebrated in many lands for centuries before the pilgrims ever buttered their first corn on the cob. But, who were the pilgrims and why do they get the credit for originating Thanksgiving?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines pilgrim as one who makes a journey for a religious purpose.  The religious purpose of their trip was to escape persecution, for they advocated a strict discipline according to their own interpretation of the bible.  Their aim was to purify not only the church, but individual conduct.  They were tolerated for their anti-Catholic bias, but when they demanded reforms to purify the Church of England, they were hunted out of the country!  We use the term Pilgrim to identify the group who arrived at Plymouth in 1620 on the Mayflower, and Puritans to define the larger group, led by John Winthrop, who arrived ten years later to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Both groups wanted to purify the church, yet they differed about the changes.  Some who stayed in England favored Presbyterianism, already strong in Scotland.  Those who came to Plymouth considered the congregation the ultimate authority while those who came to Massachusetts considered a hierarchy elected by the congregation as the ultimate authority.  Despite these minor differences they all had one thing in common: they were among the most unreasonable bigoted groups in history.  In 1649 – less than 30 years later – the Puritans who remained in England successfully fomented a civil-war under Oliver Cromwell, beheaded King Charles, and then turned their army of zealots toward Ireland.  British Major-Gen Frank Kitson in his book, Low Intensity Operations, wrote of this army, that two of its main reasons for existing were defense of their religion and suppression of Irish Catholics.

In Ireland, the Puritan Army is remembered for its brutal indiscriminate slaughtering of defenseless civilians.  After recording that at Drogheda, for five days men, women, and children were hunted down and butchered, Cromwell recorded that “In this very place (Saint Peter’s Church) a thousand of them were put to the sword, fleeing thither for safety.”  On October 2nd, 1649, he declared a national day of thanksgiving in celebration of the deed – thanksgiving was becoming more than a harvest festival with these people.  Meanwhile, in America in 1675, the sons of the Pilgrims who dined with the Wampanoag tribe that harvest day in 1621, began an 11-year war over land grabs and defeated them.  At the same time, Ann Glover, who had fled the turmoil in Ireland, took up residence in the Puritan colony in Massachusetts.  Under suspicion by false accusations, one night, Ann was overheard saying her evening prayers in her native Irish and was accused by Cotton Mather of conversing with the devil.  When it was learned that she was an Irish Catholic, she was told to denounce her religion; she refused and was hanged as a witch.  The year was 1688 – 39 years after the thanksgiving at Drogheda, and 68 years after the Puritan’s thanksgiving in America.

Fortunately, the concept of the congregation as ultimate authority allowed the election of more moderate leaders as time progressed and most of today’s religious Congregationalists are more docile.  The idea of giving thanks to God remains a fundamental duty, be it for a bountiful harvest or a blessing bestowed, but the cruel, un-compromising, witch-burning Puritans of the 1600s are hardly the example to hold up to our children as role models for Thanksgiving.

Let us instead look to America’s first official national day of Thanksgiving proclaimed by the Continental Congress on December 18, 1777, “as a day of solemn thanksgiving and praise” for the “signal success” of our forces at the Battle of Saratoga – a turning point in the Revolution.  And the turning point in that battle was the killing of General Frazier by Irish marksman, Timothy Murphy of General Charles (Co. Meath) Thompson’s Pennsylvania Rifle Battalion.

In 1846 annual days of Thanksgiving were being celebrated in at least 14 states when author Sarah Hale began a campaign to make the last Thursday in November a national day of Thanksgiving.  In the 1860s, she wrote to every state and territorial governor urging the idea as one of national unity in a country torn by civil war.  On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln finally declared the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day bringing together all the past elements of the harvest festival, national patriotism, and religious observance.

This is the real story behind Thanksgiving day and the message it should convey is one of thanks for all our blessings, both civil and religious.  This year, instead of just food and football, let us remember give thanks to the Almighty for the blessings bestowed on our families and on this great nation . . . and forget the guys in the funny hats with buckles on their shoes!

Historical Happenings for October 2016


by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

SamhainThe last day of October is New Year’s Eve! At least it was to the ancient Celts.  Like their economy which was based on planting, growing and harvesting, the Celtic Calendar was centered on the Sun and agriculture. The four major feasts were Imbolc on February 1 which introduced the season of planting; Bealtine on May 1 which honored the god of cattle and crops and was associated with growth; Lughnasad on August 1 which signaled the harvest; and the final and most important feast of the year: Samhain (SAH-win) on November 1.  Samhain observed the end of one pastoral year and the beginning of another.  To the Celts, Samhain was the point where the power of the sun began to wane, and fall under the growing power of the gods of darkness, winter, and the underworld. It was a day of bonfires lit to encourage the return of the sun, and to celebrate the fact that Oiche Samhain (EE-ha SOW-na), or the eve of Samhain – October 31 – had passed for another 12 months, for Oiche Samhain was a dangerous night indeed.

It was on that night that the veil between the natural and supernatural worlds was lowered, and residents of the underworld, both good and evil, were free to roam the earth.  It was the holiday of the dead and the sidh (shee): the supernatural residents of the fairy kingdom, both fun-loving and fearful.  It was a time sacred to the moon, and called for sacrifices to Crom Cruagh, Lord of the Mound, a golden idol surrounded by 12 stones on the plain of Moy Slecht in Cavan.  Any who wandered out that night were in danger of being accosted by spirits, so most remained indoors.  However, if one had to go out, he or she was advised to wear the skin of a sacrificed animal to disguise themselves from the spirits.  If an animal skin was not available, then the traveler would be wise to carry a candle in a hollowed-out turnip so that they would be mistaken for a Will-o-the-Wisp and be left alone.

With so many things to fear, the obvious question is why would anyone venture out at all, and the answer lies in the very same lowering of the veil.  It’s a night when supernatural things are possible; when hidden things are visible; and, if one knew how to read the signs, a night when the future can be read si–nce omens are clearest on Oiche Samhain.  If, for example, a maiden were to wash her dress in a stream on Oiche Samhain and hang it on a bush to dry, the image of her future husband will appear beside it.  It’s also a time when one can catch a glimpse of recently-departed loved ones, and perhaps secure some information from them – like where did they hide the money!

In spite of the temptation to see the future, the curious are cautioned, if you must venture out, be wary.  You might hear the most beautiful music ever to come from fiddle or flute, but do not investigate, for the spirits will entice you away to the dance and keep you entertained until dawn breaks and you will be trapped behind the veil.  Tales are told of those lost behind the veil, who were not seen again until the following year when the veil lowered again and they were seen on the other side. Some have been enticed back to tell their stories, but they are few and usually came to a violent end shortly after their return.

Another custom associated with Oiche Samhain was the leaving of food and drink on a doorstep to appease the wandering spirits so that they would trespass no further into a dwelling.  If the offering was gone in the morning, it was a good sign that the spirits had accepted it, for no mortal man would dare steal a gift left for the dead.  It was also a fortunate time for the hungry and homeless who wandered the roads and were willing to take that chance.  Needless to say, there was great rejoicing when dawn broke, and the threat of Oiche Samhain had passed for another 12 months.  The fear and the celebration associated with Samhain made it one of the hardest of the old Druidic feasts for the young Irish Church to dispel in the early centuries of Christianity, so it was decided to sanctify its meaning.

Henceforth, November 1 would be All Hallows Day – a day to honor the souls that had achieved heaven, followed by All Souls Day, a time to pray for the deceased who were still awaiting redemption.  To the Irish however, All Hallows evening retained the connotation of a time dedicated to the spirits and many of the ancient customs lived on.  In time, the Christian meaning became accepted, at least on the surface.  In many areas, the parish priest was given a polite nod of the head in acquiescence to the Church’s definition, while a wink of the eye signified that the ancient traditions were still being observed, just in case.

Stories of witches, goblins, and fairies persisted and the cautions proscribed as protection against the spirits of the netherworld remained as All Hallows Evening became Halloween – the only Celtic feast still observed on the modern calendar.  Costumes are still much in evidence, only they are the dime store variety instead of animal skins; pumpkins have replaced turnips as the Jack o Lantern; and the token food or candy given to visiting ‘ghosts and goblins’, who shout Trick or Treat, is a reminder of the food and drink freely given as a ransom against harm.  I’d say the spirit of the occasion (no pun intended) is still intact.  In recent years, a heightened awareness of the origins of Halloween has led to Celtic New Year celebrations in some areas, but there are still many who are not aware of the rich cultural heritage of our ancestors, who based their pastoral activities on a sophisticated celestial calendar fostered by knowledge of astronomy unequalled in their time.  As for the traditions associated with Halloween, well, think about it.

What happens after the demons in the dime-store costumes are tucked safely in bed with their treasure of candy bars and pennies secure in plastic pumpkins?  What happens late at night when the streets are silent? What are those strange sounds carried on the wind each year and what of the eerie occurrences reported each Halloween.  Of all the Celtic feasts, why is it that only Oiche Samhain has survived.  Is it because there is some substance to it after all?  I can’t say for certain, but I know I’m staying at home.  And if you must go out, please, whatever you do, be careful.

Historical Happenings for August 2016


by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Roger_CasementAugust is a significant month in Irish history for not only did Our Lady appear at Knock, but the Land League was formed and Padraic Pearse was born. While those happy events mark our August calendar, so too does the sad reminder of the hanging death of Roger Casement.  Born in Antrim on September 1, 1864 to a Protestant father and a Catholic mother, at 17 he went to work for a Shipping Company in Liverpool. Three years later he was sent to West Africa where he joined the British Colonial Service and was gradually advanced to a position in the Consulate there. Always a fair and honorable man, he was horrified at the inhumane treatment of native workers and wrote a report exposing those conditions. The story was published and when Casement returned to England in 1904 he was celebrated. He met historian Alice Green who denounced England’s similar exploitation of the Irish. She impressed Casement and in Ireland he looked up her friends: Bulmer Hobson, Eoin MacNeill, and Erskine Childers. He soon became a confident of these men and other nationalists as well.

Casement’s service earned him the post of Consul General at Rio de Janeiro and he sailed off to that enviable post, but even there his sense of fair play was to guide his actions. He wrote a scathing report on the cruelties practiced by whites on native workers on the rubber plantations there. It became an international sensation. He returned to England in 1911 and was Knighted for his public service. He retired from public service in 1912 and returned to Ireland where his sense of fair play was again aroused – this time by the conditions of his own people under the rule of the Crown. A man of strong nationalist sympathies, he joined the National Volunteers in 1913. He visited London in 1914, but on a different mission – to arrange for 1500 German guns to be brought into Howth. History shows just how successful he was for many a man marched into Dublin on Easter Monday morning shouldering his old Howth gun. When more money was needed for arms, Casement went to New York to see John Devoy who had been raising funds among the American Irish. While there, World War I broke out and he immediately contacted the German ambassador to America seeking aid to win Irish independence. On October 15, 1914 Casement sailed to Germany, carrying a small fortune to purchase more arms.

In 1916, the Germans dispatched the ship AUD with a cargo of arms to land in Co Kerry for the Easter Rising. However, they were half the amount ordered and Casement followed in a submarine, landing on Banna Strand in Tralee Bay on Good Friday, April 21, 1916. He hoped to warn the Volunteers to cancel the Rising as the shipment was inadequate. The British, alerted to the plans, intercepted the AUD and captured Casement. John Devoy stated that American President Wilson knew of Casement’s intentions and warned the British. (New York Times, April 27, 1916, pp. 1 & 4.) After his capture, Casement pleaded to be allowed to communicate with Volunteer leaders to prevent the Rising in which his comrades would be slaughtered. According to Michael McDowell in the Sunday Business Post, March 27, 2016, Casement’s interrogators intimated to him that they thought it better to allow a rising to happen so that its perpetrators could be excised from the British body politic. There, if you want to find it, was perfidious Albion at its most cynical. Found guilty of high treason, he was sentenced to be hanged. A world-wide furor erupted over the severity of the sentence.

Casement_GraveHere was a just man, recently praised and knighted by the Crown for his efforts on behalf of persecuted natives in far corners of the world, sentenced to death by that same Crown for daring to challenge the exploitation of his own downtrodden people. In an effort to reverse public opinion, the British government circulated copies of diaries alleged to be Casement’s, which recorded homosexual practices. Much controversy surrounded these Black Diaries, but coming so soon after the public condemnation of Oscar Wilde for similar actions, they had the desired effect. The public furor died down and Casement was hanged in Pentonville Prison on August 3, 1916 – the last of the Easter Executions. For many years after the Irish government finally won its limited freedom from England, official requests were made to have Sir Roger’s remains returned to Ireland. It was not until 1965, that England finally relented, but only after circulating the questionable Black Diaries once more. This time they didn’t reckon on modern analytical methodology, and the diaries were declared to be forgeries. In spite of English efforts to sully the name of this dedicated Irish patriot, Casement’s remains were respectfully received by the Irish people, given a huge State Funeral and re-interred with Ireland’s Republican heroes in Glasnevin Cemetery on March 1, 1965 – just one year before the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. However it was not in accordance with his last wishes; he had requested to be buried in his home county of Antrim, but the government of Northern Ireland refused to accept his remains!

Editors Note: Years later, in conversation with another great patriot, Joe Cahill, who had once been apprehended bringing arms into the IRA, he asked if I knew the name of the ship he was caught on.  I replied ‘Yes, it was the CLAUDIA’.  He asked what was historically significant about that and I replied, Nothing that I could think of.  He just smiled and said “drop the first two and last two letters and what have you?”  He loved the irony!

Historical Happenings for May 2016

The Sorrows of May

 by Mike McCormack, NYS AOH Historian

British firing squads executed leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916 in Kilmainham Gaol (on this spot above). Executions took place here on : – 3 May: Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh and Thomas Clarke – 4 May: Joseph Plunkett, William Pearse, Edward Daly and Michael O’Hanrahan – 5 May: John MacBride – 8 May: Éamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, Seán Heuston and Con Colbert – 12 May: James Connolly and Sean MacDiarmada


The month of May is a special month in the roster of Ireland’s heroes.  It was in that month, in 1916, that some of Ireland’s greatest patriots were murdered by a British firing squad.  They had come together in a dream; a dream eloquently articulated by Padraic Pearse; skillfully organized by Tom Clarke; expertly planned by Joseph Mary Plunkett and Thomas McDonagh: brilliantly guided by James Connolly; and courageously executed by Sean McDermott, Ed Daly, Micheal O’Hanrahan, Willie Pearse, John MacBride, Michael Mallin, Eamonn Ceannt, Con Colbert, Sean Heuston , Eamon deValera and the men under their commands.  The dream was for an independent Ireland and Pearse passionately wrote of that dream in his poem, The Fool:

The Lawyers have sat in Council, the men with the keen long faces,
and said This man is a fool, and others have said he blasphemeth;
and the wise have pitied the fool who strove to give a life to a dream
that was dreamed in the heart and that only the heart can hold.
O Wise Men, riddle me this: What if the dream come true,
What if the dream come true and millions unborn shall dwell
in the house that I shaped in my heart?

To bring that dream to reality, brave men joined the IRB, Irish Volunteers, Hibernian Rifles, and Fianna Éireann while equally brave ladies joined The Citizen Army and Cumann na mBan.  Following the formation of the Provisional Government, as outlined in the Proclamation, these organizations became the Army of the Irish Republic under the command of James Connolly.  The organization mustered into five commands: Ned Daly’s 1st battalion, Tomas MacDonagh’s 2nd battalion, Eamon deValera’s 3rd battalion and Eamonn Ceannt’s 4th battalion.  The 5th command was a joint force of Volunteers, Citizen Army and Cumann na mBan under James Connolly as part of the headquarters command which, in addition to Connolly, included four other members of the Military Council: President Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke, Seán MacDiarmada and Joseph Mary Plunkett.

Last minute misfortunes upset the timetable of the Rising and after 6 days of fighting it became evident that the British had successfully isolated communications from Dublin and nationwide support would not materialize. In order to stop the killing of civilians in the scattered British shelling, Pearse ordered the surrender. Though only 1600 were involved in the Rising, the British arrested a total of 3,430 men and 79 women and General Maxwell, in secret Court Martial sentenced 90 to be executed.  One attempt to arrest members of the nationalist Kent family in County Cork on 2 May led to a Constable being shot dead in a gun battle. Thomas Kent was arrested and became one of only two rebel leaders to be executed outside of Dublin. The other was Roger Casement.

The Sorrows of May began on May 3 with the murder of Pearse, Clarke and McDonagh.  On May 4, Daly, Willie Pearse, O’Hanrahan, and Plunkett were shot and May 5 saw the killing of Maj. John MacBride.  Since May 6 and 7 were a Saturday and Sunday, the Brits gave their executioners the weekend off. On Monday, May 8 the slaughter commenced again with the homicides of Mallin, Ceannt, Colbert, and Heuston. Then, on May 9, Thomas Kent was slain at Cork Detention Barracks. A manuscript recently found in the Capuchin Archives in Church Street, Dublin revealed that Fathers  Murphy, Augustine, Albert, and Sebastian OFM Cap were allowed only a short time to administer to the prisoners. Father Murphy described the process as callously informal. The governor said a name and gave a signal. The prisoner’s hands were then tied behind his back, and a bandage placed over his eyes.  Two soldiers, one on either side, guided the prisoner, and the priest went in front. When the prisoner reached the outer door another soldier pinned a piece of white paper over his heart.  The procession went along one yard, then through a gate leading to the stonebreaker’s yard.  Here the firing squad of 12 soldiers was waiting, rifles loaded. An officer stood to the left; on the right were the governor and the doctor.  The prisoner was led to the front wall and was turned to face the firing-squad. The two soldiers guiding him withdrew quickly to one side.  There was a silent signal from the officer; then a deafening volley.  The prisoner fell in a heap on the ground — dead.  After the executions the priests were driven back to the friary where they celebrated Mass for the repose of the souls of those executed. The public were horrified at the slaughter.

In the House of Commons, MP John Dillon, demanded an end to the killing.  He intervened with Lloyd George to halt the remaining executions authorized by General Maxwell during the courts-martial. Prime Minister Asquith sent a telegram to Maxwell to halt the executions until he arrived on May 12 to investigate for himself.  On the morning of May 12, Maxwell defied the order and had Sean MacDermott brought to the Stonebreaker’s Yard at Kilmainham and shot. Then, after demands from the anti-labor employers whom he had fought during the Great Dublin Lockout, the wounded James Connolly was brought from hospital. His shoulder wounded and ankle, shattered by a bullet, had gangrened from a lack of treatment, he was carried, in great pain, into the yard on a stretcher, placed on a chair against the back wall which tipped over twice.  He was then tied to a stretcher and leaned against the wall nearest the entry gate to receive His Majesty’s lead for sharing a dream.  When Asquith arrived, he commuted the remaining death sentences to terms of imprisonment since Irish-Americans were opposing his overtures for America’s assistance in WWI, but it was too late; the fuse had been lit.

Following the Rising, the manner in which the trials and executions were carried out in secret, changed public opinion to sympathy for the rebels. The self-sacrifice of the leaders for the dream of a free Ireland, the bravery of the rank-and-file and the nauseating manner in which Connolly had been killed at last moved even the most liberal among the public to intense anti-British sentiment. Meanwhile, the 3,000 ‘rebels’ who had been picked up in the military sweep ordered by Maxwell, had been deported to Britain and consolidated in Frongoch POW camp which served as virtual academy of sedition.  When the government realized they could not afford to house and feed all those interned, the declared a general amnesty secure in the belief that the Irish had once again been duly spanked into submission.  On their return home, the Irishmen immediately set about building an army of opposition; it was called the Irish Republican Army and it would eventually fight the Brits to the treaty table after a brutal War of Independence.  The leaders may have died, but the dream did not.  And true to Pearse’s words, millions have dwelt in the house that he shaped in his heart in spite of the fact that the landlord still holds a small piece of the property!

Historical Happenings for March 2016

Saint Patrick’s Escape


by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

Tripartite Life of St. Patrick

Tripartite Life of St. Patrick

Many versions of the life of St. Patrick exist.  This includes The Tripartite Life of St. Patrick in the Book of Armagh which is made up of three homilies on St. Patrick by St. Fiacc, former Bard and Bishop of Leinster; Tirechan, a 7th century Bishop in Mayo; and Muirchu, a 7th century monastic historian as well as biographies by St, Evin and many others.  However taking facts from his own autobiographical Confessio, more than the writings of those who venerated him in later years and tried to glorify his reputation, we get a more intimate picture of the remarkable man behind the saint.

From reliable sources, we know that our patron Saint was named Maewyn Succat when raiders of Irish High King Niall of the Nine Hostages kidnapped him, at about age 16, from his home on the west coast of Wales.  He was sold to a Chieftain named Miluic near Ballymena in County Antrim.  As St. Patrick, Succat later wrote that he had worked as a slave, tending flocks on Mount Slemish (from the Irish: Sliabh Mis), sleeping in the cold, and often going hungry.  We know that he came from a Christian family for his father was a deacon and during his captivity, he turned to God, praying night and day.  One night, in a dream he heard the voice of God tell him that a ship was ready to take him away and, after six long years of penance, prayer and suffering, he escaped.  He wrote that God had humbled him in captivity and under His special guidance was able to return to his own country.  The details of his escape are sketchy and there has been a difference of opinion regarding the port from which he made his escape however, in his own later writings, St. Patrick tells us that the port from which he sailed was about 200 (Roman) miles from Slemish.

St. Patrick's Confessio

   St. Patrick’s Confessio

When writing his Confessio many years later, St. Patrick was well acquainted with distances in Ireland, especially between Antrim and Mayo, which in his mission he had traveled many times.  Further, 200 Roman miles is about 185 English miles, and the port of Killala in Mayo happens to be about that distance from Mount Slemish.  Wicklow is also that distance but he wouldn’t be likely to head south for that would bring him along the east coast through the most populated part of the country where a runaway slave would almost certainly be re-captured.  The Tripartite states that Miliuc pursued Succat to bring him back, but the light-footed youth was able to evade his pursuers.

Killala, Mayo Round Tower

Killala, Mayo Round Tower

Another reason to favor Killala is that the Wood of Focluth was there along the shore of the western sea.  The Saint tells us more than once that it was from that Wood of Focluth that a youth (angel?) named Victoricus brought him  letters calling him back to Ireland and it was the voice of those who dwelt by the Wood of Focluth that invited him, holy youth come once more and walk among us as before.  These words imply that he stayed among people who lived by Focluth Wood for a while and that can only have been when he was escaping.  We don’t know how long he stayed at Focluth Wood before he found a ship, but he must have lodged a while  with those who took him in after his escape.  Seemingly, he was received with genuine hospitality – a tradition among the Irish.  He was a fugitive, hungry, foot-sore, and friendless, when he came seeking food and shelter.  It may have been in return for work performed, but either way it was most likely here that the runaway slave befriended the children whose voices afterwards called him back to Erin.  Still full of religious fervor and gratitude to God who was guiding his escape, he was moved by the fact that these children would grow up without knowing the true God and it is likely that here the idea first came to him of one day returning to rescue those young souls from spiritual exile by teaching them about the true God.  Gratitude was a striking trait in the character of St. Patrick, and it is most evident here.  Ever after, they were on his mind and he never rested until he turned his steps back toward the western sea, to lead them into the light of the Gospel.  It is one of the most touching incidents in the whole history of our great Apostle. Focluth Wood is one of the most interesting places referred to in the biographies of St. Patrick and its name is reflected in the modern town land of Foghill, just south of Lackan Bay.  In olden times Focluth Wood extended from the head of Lackan Bay to Killala.  Killala was, and still is, a great harbor with many quiet coves where the lighter craft of the time could easily glide in and out with the tide.  The trees of Focluth Wood surrounded these quiet coves, for as yet there was no Killala until St. Patrick later founded a church there.  It was in one of those coves, that the ship was waiting, by Divine providence, to carry the most precious passenger ever to sail from the shores of holy Ireland.

The Life and Writings of St. Patrick

The Life and Writings of St. Patrick

About two miles north, near the point where the Rathfran River enters the bay; there is a low-lying ridge of rocks, still referred to as St. Patrick’s Rocks.  Just above these rocks is the small bay where French ships, under General Humbert, landed in 1798 and that may have been where Patrick’s ship was drawn up on the sandy beach.  The Most Rev. Dr. Healy, Archbishop of Tuam, in his Life of St Patrick in 1905, wrote that his research led him to believe that the place where the ship docked was in the inner harbor of Killala, close to the spot where St. Patrick long after built a church, a remnant of which still stands.  Either way, the coast around Killala seems to fit the bill.  St. Patrick wrote that on the day the ship was about to start on her voyage, he asked to be taken on board as a passenger, but the captain angrily rebuffed him.   He left to return to the hut where he was staying and on the way, began to pray and before his prayer was finished he heard one of the crew shouting, Come back quickly, they are calling you.  St. Patrick later wrote, I immediately returned and they said to me: ‘Come with us, we will take thee in good faith,’ which Archbishop Healy interprets as meaning on credit.  In St. Patrick’s writings he refers to an unexplained tradition of servitude which he refused to do but his prayerful plea must have touched them for he wrote, I had some hope that they might come to the faith of Christ; therefore I kept with them, and forthwith we set sail.  Much of the account of the incident is obscure for the original text is corrupt.

The Tripartite states that he was bound for the Roman Province of Britain in a 3-day voyage.  Any craft of the time could easily make the western coast of Scotland or Wales (then called Britain) in three days.  Though we don’t know exactly where they landed, we do know that they had many dogs with them.  It is possible they were a hunting party heading for the Scottish highlands and the great Caledonian Forest.  We know from the bardic tales of Finn MacCool that Irish warriors often hunted in Caledonia.  Another reason for the trip could have been the sale of wolfhounds which were valued by the Romans in Britain as combat animals in games.

In his Confessio, St. Patrick wrote, After three days we made land, and then for twenty-eight days traveled through a desert.  They had no food, and were sorely pressed with hunger.  Then one day the captain said to me ‘Well, now, Christian, you say your God is great and omnipotent.  Why can you not then pray for us, for we are in danger of perishing from hunger, and we can hardly see anywhere a single human being’.  Thereupon I plainly said to them, ‘Be ye truly converted to the Lord my God, to whom nothing is impossible, that He may send food in your way and you may be filled for He hath abundance everywhere’.  And so, through God’s help, it came to pass.  A herd of swine appeared on the road before their eyes, and they killed many of them, and remained there for two nights until they were well refreshed.  Then they gave great thanks to God, and I was honored in their eyes.

Chronical of the Picts and Scots

Chronicle of the Picts and Scots

Such is St. Patrick’s account of his journey.  The story is consistent with hunters losing their way in a great forest and, seeing neither game nor men, being reduced to the verge of starvation, but St. Patrick called it a desert!  There is no great desert anywhere on the west coast from Scotland to Wales.  However, in the early fifth century, the Caledonian Forest was not a forest of tall trees as we know a forest, but rather an immense extent of scrub and bush.  It was, in truth, a barren land, as the Tripartite calls it: empty and deserted.  The question was answered by an ancient description of Scotland found in the Chronicle of the Picts and Scots published by H.M. General Register House in 1867; it mentions the mountains and deserts of Argyle!   And Succat was on his way home.

Patrick tells us no more in his Confessio about his friends from Killala. We don’t know what became of them although it is significant that he did return, not only to walk among them once more, but to build them a church.