Historical Happenings for August 2017

THE QUEEN’S VISIT

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

By the mid-1800s, the Irish had become dependent on a crop that could produce the most yield per acre – the potato – since British landlord’s held most of the arable land. Then late on August 20, 1845, Dr. David Moore reported that a potato fungus was discovered at the Dublin Botanical Gardens. The following day, August 21, is a date remembered in Irish history as the first day of An Gorta Mor – the Great Hunger – a tragedy that saw millions lost to emigration, disease, and starvation.  Within a month, reports came from all over Ireland that the potato crop had turned black in the ground.  It was the only crop affected, since everything else grew in abundance, but the other crops belonged to the landlord.

The landlords protected their crops from the Irish until they were exported for profit. Parliament, quoting the economic doctrine of Laissez Faire left the country to the effect of natural forces. Many starved awaiting a better harvest in ‘46, but it didn’t come. The potato crop in ‘46 was almost totally destroyed. People were forced to eat what little seed potato they had to survive, many fell victim to the diseases which attend starvation and, when the sick and starving Irish couldn’t pay their rent, they were evicted. The blight partially returned in 1847, but that year saw the largest death toll in a 5-year period since those who ate their seed potatoes had nothing to plant, those who were evicted had nowhere to plant, and the  victims of disease were unable to plant. The blight returned in 1848 and 1849 and neither landlord nor Parliament provided adequate assistance. Millions died on the roads beside prosperous farms. Some aid was provided but it was too little and soup kitchens were set up, but in some, the cost of receiving food was conversion to the Church of England. It was a price too high for many, and they turned their backs on the food, rather than turn their backs on God.

Parliament was denounced for not helping and they reacted by declaring the crisis over in 1849 when the blight on the potato began to fade, but the blight on the Irish continued. Most historians estimate that the effects of the calamity were not over for another 30 years as food shortage and disease continued. Emigrants sent money back to those they had to leave behind and it helped them climb back to a stable life, but it would be years before many emigrants could establish themselves in their new lands. In the end most victims of the Great Hunger were gone before its effects were. One of the most insensitive events of the Great Hunger was Parliament’s premature declaration of the end of the blight. In order to show that all was well, a massive publicity campaign was mounted, the highlight of which was a visit by Queen Victoria at harvest time in 1849. As the Irish starved and died in the workhouses and on the roads, hundreds of thousands of Pounds were spent to beautify the areas she would visit. Crowds of curious and angry onlookers were kept in check by British soldiers as reports were sent to the world that wherever she went, the Queen was cheered by her adoring subjects and headlines proclaimed that “THE FAMINE IS OVER AS THE QUEEN VISITS IRELAND.”

Ironically that headline, though propaganda in its time, would eventually come true for a most remarkable incident occurred on the exact anniversary of the first day of the hunger, exactly 30 years after the blight had begun to fade!  The date was August 21, 1879, and the place was the Church of St. John the Baptist in the Irish village of Knock in Co. Mayo.  On that evening, a small group witnessed an astonishing vision as three figures, surrounded by a mysterious glowing light, suddenly appeared, beside an altar on which rested a cross and a lamb surrounded by adoring angels.  The witnesses knew that they were in the presence of St. Joseph, St. John and Mary, the mother of God.  They couldn’t believe what they were seeing.  Word spread and others arrived and saw it too.  No such heavenly visitation had ever before been reported in Ireland, and the people fell to their knees and prayed, oblivious of a soaking rain.  The figures remained silent for nearly two hours and vanished. In 1939, after years of investigation, the apparition was granted canonical sanction. Of the hundreds of visions reported, it is one of the few to have received such recognition and it ranks with Lourdes and Fatima as a holy site of pilgrimage, yet during her appearance the Virgin remained silent.

Many have questioned why Mary said nothing and only stood praying; praying for what, for whom?  Any student of Irish history should know the answer for the clues are in the date of the apparition. Consider that the Great Hunger wasn’t really over for 30 years after 1849; Mary appeared in 1879 – exactly 30 years later!   And She appeared on August 21, the exact anniversary of the first day of the Great Hunger!  Is it possible that, since the Irish had suffered so much for their faith that the Lord, in appreciation, sent His beloved mother and that She, as any mourner would, stood in silent prayer for the generation which had just passed away? Think of it, the timing is incredible.  Not only is August 21 significant, but the year 1879 was truly the end of the Great Hunger for the Irish began taking their land back from the landlords.  In Daly’s Hotel, Castlebar on August 16th 1879 the Mayo Land League was founded by Michael Davitt. When MP Charles Stewart Parnell joined it became the National Land League and by the end of 1879, the Land War began. It was only then that it could be truly said that the Great Hunger was over and the Irish began to take back their land.

Yet, while the dates have an uncanny significance, there is another irony.  Since August 1879 marked both the historic end of the Great Hunger and the year in which Our Lady visited Knock, a 30-year old headline had at finally come true: THE FAMINE WAS OVER AND THE QUEEN HAD VISITED IRELAND – but it wasn’t Victoria; it was the only Queen that the Irish had ever recognized!  Millions have visited Knock since 1879 and numerous miracles have been reported at the shrine. The Catholic people of Ireland, who struggled so hard to keep their faith alive, had received a visit from heaven and the Virgin had received a new title – Our Lady of Knock.

Historical Happenings for July 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

IT’S STILL HAPPENING

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 January 2017

A NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

World War II brought change to Northern Ireland as Loyalists and Nationalists who shared the same bomb shelters broke down the barriers of prejudice erected by the Unionist Ascendancy to keep them divided. The war also created jobs and the small measure of prosperity experienced by the nationalists satisfied many grievances. After the war, England rebuilt the barriers to maintain control of the north. Churchill publicly blasted the Irish Free State for neutrality during the war despite the cooperation extended to the allies by the Irish and the tens of thousands of Irish volunteers in the British military – all of which was well known to the government though not to the general public.

Anger grew in Ireland in an era of post-war high taxes, and unemployment.  In 1948, the Irish Free State abolished its Commonwealth status and passed the Republic of Ireland Act.  The date for it to go into effect was not announced, but it was signed on December 21. On January 20, 1949, northern P.M. Basil Brooke, called a general election for February 10. Southern Prime Minister John Costello urged support for anti-partition candidates in the upcoming northern election and pamphlets describing the discrimination and gerrymandering in the north were published. Unionists retaliated with a torrent of anti-Republic and anti-Catholic propaganda that worked on sectarian fears declaring that if the border went, loyalists would be victims of IRA gunmen urged on by Catholic clergy in an effort to establish the Pope as the ruler of Ireland. The propaganda, as well as years of conditioning by the Orange Order, had the desired effect as record numbers went to the polls to return the Unionists to power!

New Year's Eve

In the south; Dail Eireann brought the Republic of Ireland Act into effect on Easter Monday, April 18, 1949 – 33 years after Pearse’s declaration at the GPO. On May 3, British Prime Minister, Clement Atlee declared, Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom and it is hereby affirmed that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part thereof cease to be part of Her Majesty’s Dominions without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland.  The new Republic of Ireland protested Britain’s continuation of partition, and mass meetings  urged action, but the new Republic was not prepared for anything stronger than a protest. With tempers at a fever pitch, a call for action was heard, and the rebirth of the IRA was underway.

Depleted in assets after the war, the IRA began reorganizing. They gathered support by standing against the mistreatment of Republican prisoners and emerged in their traditional role of spokesmen for the Irish people with the rallying cry: The Border Must Go!  On June 5, 1951, the Derry unit of the new IRA raided Ebrington Barracks and captured a quantity of guns and ammunition. As raids continued, the situation in the north became more tense and nervous B-Special patrols became more violent. The Irish Times urged the northern government to curb its patrols noting that, para-military forces are an anachronism in a democratic society, but to no avail. On August 15, 1955, four men attacked a Royal Artillery Training Camp, but fled as a sentry gave the alarm. Citing the attack, the Minister of War made a special report to the Cabinet, and P.M. Anthony Eden ordered mobilization to deal with the new IRA campaign. It was later abandoned when four British Officers confessed to the raid to make things hotter for the IRA.  An embarrassed War Office sent a communique to the police apologizing for the trouble caused and the matter was dropped. 

Then, on the night of December 12, 1956, IRA volunteers assembled in 10 different areas along the border in an arc from Antrim to Derry. On a signal from the campaign center in Monaghan, the morning quiet of December 13 was broken by numerous explosions. Operation Harvest – the border campaign to retake the six counties – had begun. Reaction was swift! By December 15, the Special Powers Act was revived allowing arrest and internment without warrant or trial, a curfew was imposed and police forces strengthened.  On December 22, the RUC spiked or blew up every border crossing road and bridge that had no customs post. By the end of the year 3,000 RUC and 12,000 B-Specials were called into action, and the north was an armed camp.

On the morning of January 1, 1957, an IRA raiding party set out for the RUC barracks in Brookborough, Co. Fermanagh. They parked their truck in front of the barracks in the town center and opened fire with rifles and a Bren gun while an assault group attempted to set off a land mine against the building. The mine did not explode and the assault group returned through a hail of bullets, for another one. This also misfired. As the raiders began to run out of ammunition, guns from the barracks returned a deadly rain of fire. Misfortune continued to plague the raiders as one threw a grenade toward a barrack window to cover their retreat. The grenade bounced off the building, and rolled under the truck where it exploded, blowing the tires, and damaging the gears. Somehow the raiders made it back to the crippled truck and limped away.

Near the town of Roslea, the truck gave out, and the badly shot up raiding party sought refuge in an abandoned barn. Six of the party were wounded, two were unable to travel – 19-year old Fergal O’Hanlon of Monaghan and 27-year old Sean South of Limerick. Both were unconscious. One of the party, volunteered to stay behind and hold off the pursuing RUC so the others might escape, but it was felt that such an action would endanger the lives of their unconscious comrades. It was decided to leave South and O’Hanlon to be captured so they would at least get the medical attention they needed. The rest of the raiding party retreated toward the border.

 The RUC arrived just after the IRA had left and the retreating IRA men heard a burst of gunfire.  They prayed it was just the warning shots associated with an assault on a military target, but they later learned it was the murder of their two unconscious comrades. This was a source of unforgiving bitterness for years to come. Author Tim Pat Coogan wrote, In a sense the Brookborough ambush explains everything about the IRA, and its hold on Irish tradition. It shows the courage, the self-sacrifice, the blundering, and the emotional appeal that have characterized and kept alive the IRA spirit for centuries. The two young men who lost their lives in the Brookborough affair were given two of the biggest funerals in living memory – but during their lives there was never sufficient public support for their aims for them to receive proper military training or even or even to be correctly briefed on the target that claimed their lives.

The two men killed in the raid, who had resolved to free their countrymen behind the artificial border, now took their place among the martyrs to Ireland’s cause and their memories were kept alive by a monument erected in 1982 at Moane’s Cross between Roslea and Brookborough. It is the site of an annual Republican ceremony.  The memorial has continually been vandalized by suspected hardline unionists.  The shed where South and O’Hanlon were murdered was also pulled down years ago to the distress of locals who used the stone to build this Memorial.  Though the memorial may be defaced or even obliterated regularly, there is yet another memorial that cannot be defaced and that is the strongest memorial of all; the two patriots have entered the world of Republican ballad in the songs Sean South of Garryowen and The Patriot’s Game.

Historical Happenings for November 2016

THANKSGIVING

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

NEW YEAR’S EVE

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 September 2016

John Devoy

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

John DevoyWith the 1916 Rising commemorations behind us, it may be time to reflect on those who played a major part, but were not mentioned many of the ceremonies. One of those was John Devoy, who was called the greatest of the Fenians by Padraic Pearse. Devoy was born near Kill in Co. Kildare, on Sept 3, 1842. When still a small boy, his family moved to Dublin where they enjoyed a modest prosperity. Devoy’s father had been an active nationalist in the 1840’s and John naturally absorbed a nationalist inclination to his character, but of a more advanced kind.

In 1861, he joined the 3-year-old international revolutionary society known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in Ireland and the Fenian Brotherhood in America. Seeking military experience, the 19-year old youth joined the French Foreign Legion and served in Algeria for a year before returning to Ireland to bring his military learning to the brotherhood and work as an IRB organizer in Naas, County Kildare. James Stephens, founder of the IRB, appointed Devoy chief organizer with the important and dangerous assignment of recruiting among the Irish serving in the British Army. Constantly risking arrest, his success was nevertheless considerable. In 1865, the British took action against the IRB and, through spies and informers, identified and arrested many of the leaders including James Stephens. In November, 1865, Devoy led a group which successfully arranged the escape of Stephens from a Dublin jail. Devoy believed that the IRB should rise in arms against the Crown while the organization was at its strongest and began planning for that event. In February 1866, an IRB Council of War called for an immediate uprising, but Stephens refused, much to Devoy’s annoyance since he had calculated the loyal Irish force in the British Army to number 80,000. The British learned of the plan through informers and moved the compromised regiments abroad, replacing them with loyal British regiments from England. Early in 1866, Devoy himself was betrayed, arrested and interned in Mountjoy Jail before being tried for treason and sentenced to 15-years penal servitude. In Portland Prison, Devoy organized prison strikes and was moved to Millbank Prison. While in prison, he learned that the rising he had planned took place in 1867 and had failed.

Freed in January, 1871, under a general amnesty, he sailed to America into an exile that was part of the amnesty agreement. Arriving on the ship CUBA with four other IRB men hailed as the “Cuba Five”, they were met by local and NY State politicians and even received an address of welcome from the House of Representatives. Devoy made his home in the United States where he continued his fight for Irish independence as part of the American counterpart of the IRB – the Fenian Brotherhood. When the Fenians changed their direction and sought to invade Canada and swap it to England for Ireland, those who remained committed to the original Fenian idea of a rising in Ireland broke with them and formed the Napper Tandy club. The Napper Tandy club grew larger in time as the Fenians Canadian invasions failed and adopted the name Clan na Gael. Devoy, living in New York, apart from a short time in Chicago, eventually became the dominant force in Clan na Gael. Under Devoy’s leadership, the Clan became the most important Irish Republican organization in the United States and Ireland. While actively leading Clan na Gael, he became a journalist for the New York Herald and learned the publishing business.

In 1875, Devoy and John Boyle O’Reilly organized the daring rescue of six Fenians from the British Penal Colony at Fremantle in Western Australia aboard the ship Catalpa. In 1878, He financed the development of the first submarine built by Co. Clare-born John Holland to attack British shipping. In 1879, Devoy secretly returned to Ireland to inspect Fenian centres and met Charles Kickham, John O’Leary and Michael Davitt on route in Paris. It was on this trip that he convinced Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell to co-operate in the “New departure” during the growing Land War. In 1877, he had strengthened ties between the Clan and the IRB in Ireland and urged the IRB to subscribe to his ‘New Departure’ and move Irish nationalism into the arena of Parliamentary debate. This position was unpopular with the more militant faction who favored an armed rising and Devoy was severely criticized. Yet he stuck to his position for he realized, like all true revolutionaries, that tactics must change with circumstances and it was his opinion that in a shrinking world the support of other nations could be mustered to pressure England into terms.

Gaelic-AmericanHe operated a newspaper called The Gaelic American which advocated his cause and, unfortunately, engaged in bitter and personal controversies with critics and opponents of his policy within the nationalist camp. He remained however, committed to nationalist principles and returned to militant nationalism as he saw a European conflict on the horizon that would involve Britain. He hired Thomas J. Clarke – the veteran Fenian – as an editor in 1898 and the two raised the consciousness of Irish America to Irish nationalism. In 1907, with Devoy’s approval, Clarke returned to Ireland from his Long Island home to rejuvenate the IRB with Devoy’s support from America. The IRB had grown dormant due to inactivity and poor recruiting and Clarke, the future 1916 leader, and John Devoy were thereafter closely involved with the revival of the IRB and the planning of the Easter Rising. In 1914, Padraic Pearse visited the elderly Devoy in America, and later the same year Roger Casement worked with Devoy in raising money for guns to arm the Irish Volunteers. Devoy even sent a plan to the German Embassy in New York outlining German support against England. In early 1916, he played an important role in the formation of the Clan-dominated Friends of Irish Freedom at the third Irish Race Convention, a funding organization whose membership totaled 275,000. After America entered the war on the British side, discretion proved the better part of valor and such activity would have been interpreted as anti-American so Devoy continued to work his cause as pro-Irish rather than anti-English. In all, Devoy did more than anyone to secure American support for the nationalists before, during and after the Easter Rising of 1916.

Devoy lived long enough to finally see the establishment of an Irish state although, like Michael Collins, he regarded the treaty of 1921-22 as not the end of a struggle but merely another step on the road to total freedom. He supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the formative Irish Free State during the Irish Civil War, and was an honored guest of the new state in 1924 when he visited Ireland for the last time. On September 30, 1928, he died in Atlantic City, New Jersey and his body now rests in Irish soil in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin. His life of struggle, prison, and exile had but one purpose – freedom for the Irish people and his native land. In pursuit of these goals he became one of the most notable revolutionaries in a century of revolution. He dedicated over 60 years of his life to the cause of Irish freedom and is one of the few people to have played a leading role in the rebellion of 1867, the 1916 Rising and the Irish War of Independence (1919 – 1921). In October, 2015, a statue of John Devoy was unveiled in Naas, Co. Kildare, aided primarily by the Kildare Association of New York, which partly funded the monument. The goal to keep his memory alive is a worthy one for he was a worthy Irishman!

Historical Happenings for August 2016

SIR ROGER CASEMENT

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!