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.

Donation of Books to Library in Honor of 1916 Uprising

(L to R) Thomas Lawrence, AOH VP Ann Moore, SCPL Librarian, James Scott, AOH President, Michael Glenn, AOH Editor, Sean Scanlon, AOH Chairman, FFAI Committee

(L to R) Thomas Lawrence, AOH VP, Ann Moore, SCPL Librarian, James Scott, AOH President, Michael Glenn, AOH Editor, Sean Scanlon, AOH Chairman, FFAI Committee

The Schenectady JFK Division, in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Uprising for Independence in Ireland, has donated a collection of Irish History Books to the Schenectady County Public Library.

The books are a collection of histories written and collected by Michael McCormack, National Historian of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The titles include “Road to Rebellion “, “Echoes of Irish History, Volume 1 through Volume 3”, “Profiles in Patriotism, Volume 1 and Volume 2”, “The Five Points and Shanty Town “, “The Leanhaun Shee and Me “, “A Long Voyage Home “, “Brian Boru, An Irish Hero “, and several others.

Division President James Scott stated “with this donation we can provide to the students and citizens of Schenectady County a legacy of where approximately 15% of its residents descended from, bringing their history to life.” Many of Schenectady’s residents of Irish descent came to America to leave the oppressive conditions in Ireland, but they supported the Irish cause of Independence. One of the 1916 Uprising leaders, James Connolly lived in Troy, NY prior to his activities in the uprising and ultimate execution for that participation. The books detail the historical events of the Uprising as well as the participation of American Irish in support of independence from England.

For further news of the Schenectady Division, please visit our website: www.aohjfk.org

Historical Happenings for April 2016

Leprechaun – Legend or History

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian


Leprechaun Engraving (circa 1900)

Leprechaun Engraving (circa 1900)

Every year around March 17 we get the question: are there really such things as Leprechauns and I thought I’d put the record straight. The truth lies in Ireland’s ancient manuscripts describing her early settlers and since many have been partially corroborated by archeological evidence, we should consider the possible accuracy of the others. Among the early settlers of Ireland, lines of succession and titles depended on births, deaths and battles. Such information had to be preserved and without an alphabet it was committed to memory by those with a capacity for learning. Men were specially trained for that purpose and a learned class called Bards emerged. They were the official historians whose duty it was to retain this information for retelling when called upon. Historian Liam dePaor wrote that, They knew in detail the history of the making of Ireland. Their knowledge was full of colorful and minute detail. Great care was taken to insure the accuracy of these histories by bestowing blessings on those who would memorize and retell them with fidelity, in this form, and not put any other form to it. The feats of memory of these unlettered folk amaze those of us who rely on the printed word.  Historian Alwyn Rees wrote that a crofter-fisherman of Barra maintained that in his youth he went to listen to the same storyteller almost every winter’s night for 15 years and that he hardly ever heard the same story twice.

Told and retold, down through the ages in the form of epic tales and poems, the adventures were recorded for posterity by Irish Christian monks using the Roman alphabet. Although they altered the tales when they contradicted Church teaching, they were otherwise accurate. The monks who performed this work were recruited from the native Irish and were well aware of their obligation to preserve their histories accurately. Consequently, despite the biblical alterations, the scribes did not totally replace their own history and the various settlements described in the ancient manuscripts did take place and the seed of history lies therein. The Historian’s History of the World, volume 21, records that the pedigrees now began to be committed to writing, and, as they could for the first time be compared with one another, a wide field was open to the inventive faculties of the scribes. The result has been the construction of a most extraordinary legendary history which acquired a completeness, fullness, and certain degree of consistency which is wonderful.

The Lebor Gabala Eireann (the Book of the Taking of Ireland) is a collection of Ireland’s most ancient tales and describes her early settlers. Comparing this data with evidence by archeologists and recognized historians, the early history of Ireland emerges as The Historian’s History also noted that, with all their drawbacks, the Irish ethnic legends, when stripped of their elaborate details and biblical and classical loans, express the broad facts of the peopling of Ireland, and are in accordance with the results of archeological investigation. The earliest settlers were the Nemedians who eventually fled the island in the face of marauding pirates. After a few years, their descendants made their way back to Ireland in two separate groups – the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha De Danann. The Fir Bolg are described in the Book of Invasions as a short dark people of Mediterranean stock. They began tunnel mining operations which ultimately led to the manufacture of copper and gold implements and ornaments. Historian Estyn Evans recorded that in nearly every case where a copper deposit has been worked in more recent times, the miners have come across evidence of prehistoric mining. These prehistoric mines reveal that they were indeed excavated by people less than five feet tall which is not that hard to believe when one looks at the tombs they built; the entrance to 5,000-year old Newgrange was built for short men.  In addition, Historian Eleanor Hull wrote that the latest research in ethnology suggests that the earliest race of which remains have been found in Ireland was a short, dark, and long-headed people, correlated with the Mediterranean European stock, long before the arrival of the conquering race of tall, fair-haired people, who became dominant. Neolithic graves in France contained skeletal remains four feet tall and, according to P. Kermode and W. Herdman Scot. D.sc., F.r.s. in a lecture on Manx Antiquities, neolithic man in Britain, calculating from their bones, was no more than 5 ft. tall.  These then are the `short, dark, people of Mediterranean stock’ described in the ancient annals as the Fir Bolg who peopled the country until the arrival of their distant cousins – the Tuatha De Danann.

The De Danann had developed into a society so advanced in skills and crafts that the Fir Bolg, who were indentured by them, considered them god-like and the industrial potential of the island developed with the introduction of bronze.  The country entered a Golden Age (1750 – 1400 BC) and became the focus of Atlantic trade although still plagued by raiding pirates. The last settlers were the Milesians, who conquered the earlier settlers and banished them to a remote section of the country. The ancient manuscripts refer to the division as upper and lower parts, probably meaning north and south. Later generations to whom were handed down the tales of the wonderful people their ancestors had conquered, lifted them into a mystic realm and the great De Danann heroes became Gods and Goddesses immortalized in exciting folklore. The Milesian invaders were physically taller than the Fir Bolg and De Danann and their heroes eventually assumed the role of giants – after all, mortal men could not have dispossessed gods.  And the stories grew into legends which have come down through the generations describing the small, mysterious Fir Bolg, and the God-like Tuatha De Danann, whose magical powers were matched only by the strength and valor of the Milesian giants.

Putting folklore aside isn’t it possible that the Milesians and the raiding pirates, also larger in size, sought the gold being mined by these short, dark people, and that the Fir Bolg fled to the safety of their mine tunnels where the big guys couldn’t follow them. Would the raiders have carried the tale of a race of little people who lived under the ground protecting their pots of gold?  Add to that the fact that ancient tales told of the division of Ireland as the upper and lower parts and later generations interpreted that as above and below ground since after the arrival of the Milesians, couldn’t the vanquished people have hidden in caves far from Milesian tribal centers and were only occasionally seen?  Today, we recognize that as the basis of the legend of the Leprechaun, but it is an excellent argument for the theory that behind every legend is a germ of historical fact, though I would definitely discount the green top hat and tails!  Some say the name leprechaun comes from the old Irish leath bhrogan (shoemaker), but it could also derive from the old Irish luacharma’n which translates pygmy. As for the question, are there any left; well, there are plenty of caves in Ireland.  It is highly unlikely, but who knows?  At any rate, these stories provide Irish literature with enchanting tales of a magical fairy people and majestic sagas of a race of heroic giants. But, they also contain the key to Ireland’s past, for although they have been flavored through the centuries, most of these tales or legends may be based on fact!  The wonderful part is not that we have such fascinating stories, but that once upon a time, they might have really been true!

Join Us in Observing the 1916 Rising

Proclamation_of_1916Join us for an historical day beginning with a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue and 50th St. where immediately following the Mass there will be a Grand Procession to the Irish Consulate located on Park Ave. and 51st Street. The Consulate will be the site of the commemorative reading of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Tim McSweeney, NYAOH President has requested that all AOH Divisions, who plan on attending this event, come in “full regalia” which includes the wearing of ceremonial sashes and the display of division, county and state officer medallions. Division and county board banners are encouraged along with US and Irish national flags for the procession through the streets of Manhattan.

There will be a reception at the Irish Consulate which is by invitation only. However, the NY County Board will arrange several “after party” locations for AOH members at participating restaurants and pubs in the immediate area.  Further details will be shared as they become available. Please contact Tom Beirne, NYAOH District 4 Director and Event Coordinator at tombeirne4@hotmail.com with questions and to provide approximate numbers for those attending the Mass.


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.

Historical Happenings for January – Spirit of The Occasion


by Mike McCormack AOH NY State Historian

     In 1798, the United Irishmen attempted to free their native land. Upon the stage of that rebellion, several characters played out their parts little knowing that they would meet again, with different results.

General Jean Humbert
The successful start to the rebellion took place in Wexford, but was brutally crushed by British forces. Theobold Wolfe Tone, one of the primary leaders of the United Irishmen, had secured the promise of French aid, but the French forces, under General Humbert, arrived too late and too far north to help Wexford. Their landing in Mayo however, rekindled the fire of rebellion and the Irish and their French allies began to again to capture town after town – this time in Ireland’s west. The British decided to give their recently disgraced Lord Cornwallis one more attempt at redeeming the reputation he had lost in 1781 to General George Washington’s revolutionary forces in America. Cornwallis came to Ireland with a huge army, determined to win. One of his staff of officers was a Captain Packenham. By sheer force of numbers, Packenham overwhelmed the French and Irish at a place called Ballinamuck, where he ceremoniously tore off General Humbert’s epaulets and took his sword on the field of battle. He then separated the Irish from their French allies and put the Irish to the sword, while the French looked on in horror. Then Humbert and his French army were expatriated back to France in disgrace. Humbert reported his failure to a furious Napoleon and eventually was retired. He left for one of France’s distant colonies – thus came General Jean Humbert to New Orleans, Louisiana.

Five years later, in 1803, America purchased Louisiana from France, and Humbert, who had ended up in a French section of the city, decided to remain. Less than 10 years later, America found herself fighting England once again in the War of 1812. America again emerged successful, but this time one of the leading British Generals was none other than former Captain Packenham. As the second son of an English peer, Packenham was not entitled to share in the family estate, so he chose the military as a career. This was an acceptable course since it was customary for Generals to amass their fortunes from the spoils of vanquished cities. When it seemed that England was losing the war before Packenham had been able to loot a prosperous American city, he sailed his army toward the prize of America’s south – New Orleans – hoping to make his fortune there. England surrendered before Packenham’s army reached the Crescent City, but that didn’t stop Packenham. He was as determined as he had been 14 years earlier at Ballinamuck and he attacked New Orleans.


Battle of New Orleans with General Andrew Jackson

America’s military commander learned of the plans and set to oppose him. Unknown to Packenham, the American General he would face, was the son of Irish immigrants who had been forced to flee Ireland by the Crown – General Andrew Jackson. Also unknown, but equally significant, was that one of the Aides that General Jackson had enlisted in his Campaign was none other than retired General Humbert, whose sword Packenham had taken at Ballinamuck. Jackson had given Humbert a chance to redeem his honor.

Gen. Edward Packenham
The Battle of New Orleans was fought on January 8, 1815, and resulted in a sound defeat of the British. However, Packenham himself was killed in the action. In celebrating their victory, Jackson and his Aides de Camp toasted their fallen enemy and decided to expatriate the British soldiers, as the French had been expatriated after their defeat in Ireland, but what to do with the remains of General Packenham. It was too late to disgrace him for he was dead; and since they were all honorable men, they would have to ship his remains home unmolested. It was then that Jean Lafitte, a local pirate who also served as an Aide to General Jackson, came up with the idea that made General Humbert smile. They packed his corpse, for the trip home, in a cask of New Orleans Brandy so that it could never be said that the general was not returned home in good spirits.



Copies of “The Road to Rebellion” Donated to Library

Goshen Library DonationOn December 4th, ten copies of the book entitled “The Road to Rebellion” by AOH Historian Mike McCormack were donated to the Goshen Public Library and Historical Society by the Orange County Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The Road to Rebellion is an illustrated account of the causes leading to and the events during the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland. The AOH will be celebrating the upcoming centennial of the Easter Rising which led to Ireland’s independence.

Accepting the donation was (center) Matthew Gomm – Director of the Library. Presenting the books were (left) Thomas McDonald President of the Orange County AOH and (right) Patrick Lahiff, Orange County AOH Freedom for All Ireland Chairman. The library is part of the Ramapo Catskill Library System, serving public libraries in Orange, Rockland, Sullivan, and Southern Ulster Counties, New York. The books will be available to 51 libraries within the system.

The gifts were made possible by a donation from NY State AOH Freedom for All Ireland Chairman – Ciaran Geraghty.

Trinity College Begins Free Online Lecture Series About the Making of Modern Ireland


TCD Logo

Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has begun a free online history course to explain the Easter Rising and its origins. The 14 week course, which is available on YouTube and iTunes, is aimed at both the general public and teachers and students.  It is hosted by Professor Patrick Geoghegan and involves experts within the college on the various formative events of Irish history.

The first week features a lecture on the 1641 rebellion, a largely-forgotten event which soured relations between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland for centuries.

Other videos released this week include one on the significance of the Proclamation, the influence of Trinity College Dublin graduate Edmund Burke and TCD’s role in the Easter Rising.

Each week will feature a different theme around Ireland’s struggle for independence.

View the series here.


Source: The Irish Times