John Philip Holland

His name was John Philip Holland and he was born in Liscannor, Co. Clare, Ireland, on February 24, 1841. He was only three when the potato failure devastated his country and though he survived, he suffered poor eyesight for the rest of his life. His father was a member of the Coast Guards and young John inherited a love of the sea. Although his poor eyesight prevented him from following in his father’s footsteps, he developed an interest in ship design.

John attended St. Macreehy’s School during his youth and later, perhaps, the Christian Brothers School in Ennistymon. His mother, Mary Scanlon, moved the family to Limerick in 1853 and here he came under the influence of Brother Burke, a science teacher, who greatly encouraged his interest in ships. By the end of the 1850’s, John had drawn his first plans for a submarine, which he never radically changed. When he left school, he joined the Christian Brothers as a school teacher.

His love of ships led him to study the unsuccessful attempts of Bourne, Bushnell, and Fulton at underwater sailing. At the end of 1862, he read an account of the first combat between armored ships: the historic confrontation of the Monitor and Virginia in the American Civil War. He noted at the time that the English were nervous because their country’s strength lay in their wooden ship Navy which was now vulnerable. In his spare time young John began to design an ironclad that would sail beneath the waves, undetected by surface ships.

Then, in another action, the Union ship Housatonic was sunk by the underwater craft Huntley. Though the Confederate sub was dangerously unstable, and eventually sank with its entire crew, it verified the importance of Holland’s ideas. Unable to promote interest in Ireland, he left the Christian Brothers, and came to America in 1872. After a short stay in Boston, he found employment in St. John’s School, Paterson, New Jersey. In 1875, he offered his plan for a submersible boat to the U.S. Navy, but it was rejected as a fantastic scheme. He was sure if he could raise the money for a prototype vessel, he could convince the skeptics, but money was hard to find.

In 1876, as his brother and other patriotic young Irishmen had done before him, Holland joined the Fenian Brotherhood, a rebel organization dedicated to freeing Ireland from British rule. Here he found interest in his plans for a weapon that could sink the British Navy. Delighted with the prospect of striking a blow for Ireland, the Fenians financed Holland’s project. He constructed a prototype to demonstrate his theories, and in 1878 the 14-foot, one-man, Holland I slipped beneath the waves of the Passaic river in New Jersey. Impressed, the Fenians provided $23,000. for a full-sized version along with a mother vessel for launch and retrieval. In 1881, Holland completed a 31-foot, 3-man submarine of 20-tons displacement complete with a torpedo tube and fittings for armaments. Spectators stared as the sub went through its trials, and newsmen dubbed it the Fenian Ram in recognition of its origin and purpose. The British nervously watched the subs progress. Holland continued to test and refine his design when, in 1882, an impatient Fenian leader, John Breslin, stole the Ram and Holland’s third hull which was then under construction. They were taken to New Haven to be launched; unfortunately, with no knowledge of their operation, they sank and the project was abandoned.

Holland again tried the U.S. Government, and again was rejected. With his own limited assets and borrowed money, he continued his designs, trying to interest financiers in his invention. In 1895, he finally won a $150,000. U.S. Navy contract to build a submarine, but the Navy insisted on alterations which Holland said would make it a failure. So, while building a sub with their modifications, the headstrong inventor also built the 53-foot, 63-ton, Holland VI to his own specifications. After the predicted failure of the Navy design, Holland floated out his alternative vessel. The trials took place at New Suffolk on Long Island, NY and were a total success. In 1900, Holland VI became the U.S.S. Holland – the first American submarine, and the Holland Torpedo Boat Company received an order for six more.

Although the brainchild of the tenacious Irish immigrant became the prototype for the greatest submarine fleet in the world, success came too late. He was deeply in debt and couldn’t finance the order. Financier Isaac Rice and others backed Holland’s successful Company and it became the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut and later a division of General Dynamics. Holland was moved ever lower in the company, ending up as only one of a staff of designers. In 1904, his financiers tried to retire him, but he refused. Instead, he tried to form a rival company, but litigation brought against him by the Electric Boat Company over patent rights, prevented him from raising capital. Rice and the others dealt with both the U.S. and British governments, selling them the original patents much to the chagrin of their inventor and the Fenian brotherhood.

Holland spent his remaining years in costly, but unsuccessful, litigation trying to reclaim his patents. On August 12, 1914, he died in obscure poverty in Newark, N.J., leaving his wife Margaret with five children. As he lay dying, the Germans and British were readying their respective Navies for war and the eyes of both fleets were submarines, built with Holland’s principles.

John P Holland was soon forgotten. For 61 years, he lay in an unmarked grave until public attention was focused on the historic oversight in 1975 and a memorial headstone was erected. Years later, another was erected in its place, and the original memorial stone was transferred to his home town of Liscannor in his native Co. Clare and rededicated by the U.S. Navy Submarine Force.

As for Holland’s first big sub, the lost Fenian Ram, it would have made Holland to learn that it did strike a blow against the Crown; it was salvaged in 1916, and used in a fund-raising campaign for Ireland’s Easter Rising. After that, it was placed on a concrete base as a monument to Holland in Westside Park in Paterson, NJ. When the Beatles recorded Yellow Submarine, vandals painted the sub a bright yellow; and it was moved to the protection of a shed at the rear of the Paterson Museum. In 1988, the office of National Historian for the Ancient Order of Hibernians learned of its location, and queried the museum regarding its intentions. The museum responded that a plan had been in the works, but a lack of funds kept them from creating a proper display for the Ram. The AOH Historian sponsored a nationwide fund-raiser, and in 1990, presented the museum with a check for $12,000.00. Today the Fenian Ram can be seen along with Holland I, salvaged in 1927, as the centerpiece of an elaborate exhibit to Holland in a special section of the Paterson Museum partially financed by the AOH.

Finally, a long overdue ceremony took place on April 8, 2000, when a monument was dedicated to the memory of Holland’s accomplishment, at what is now recognized as the first U.S. Submarine Base in New Suffolk, Long Island. Funding was organized by the U.S. Navy Submarine Veterans. Thankfully, John Holland’s memory has been resurrected, for he was truly one of Ireland’s sons who helped to make America great. Now if we can only get his name in our school’s history books!

A Rose By Any Other Name

148 years ago, on January 17, 1861, Marie Gilbert passed away. You may think that you never heard of her, but you have. Born in Limerick in 1818, her father was in the military, and Marie and her mother accompanied him to India where he was posted. When he died in 1825, Mrs. Gilbert remarried an officer from Scotland, but young Marie was unhappy. A rebellious and independent child, she was sent to boarding school in Scotland to continue her education, and improve her manners. She later studied in Paris. At the age of 18, she eloped with a young officer named Capt. James, and they were married in Ireland. When her new husband was posted to India, Marie accompanied him there, but the marriage didn’t last. During her schooling, Marie had studied drama and ballet, and she decided to try a dancing career. She took a refresher course in ballet and after a brief visit to Spain, decided to make her dancing debut in London. And what a debut it was!

On June 3, 1843, at Her Majesty’s Theater, a new performer calling herself Lola Montez – the Spanish Sensation, made her debut. It was none other than Marie Gilbert. Her beauty and her skimpy, but dazzling, costumes caught the eyes of the men of London more than her dancing. She choreographed her own performance called the Spider Dance – a sort of tarantella which involved shaking rubber tarantulas out of her clothing in such a way as to provide generous views of her body. She was showered with flowers and applause and became the Toast of the Theater.

She went to Berlin and even greater success. On a trip to Russia, she was showered with gifts by Emperor Nicholas himself; in Warsaw she got involved with politics, and was asked to leave the country; and in France, two notable individuals fought a duel over her. She was now the Toast of Europe. In 1847, she danced before the King of Bavaria. The old King was captivated, and she consented to become his mistress. He had a great mansion built for her, granted her a pension, and conferred on her two Titles: Baroness of Rosenthal and Countess of Lansfield. She entertained heads of State and actually ruled over Bavaria. She was only 28 years old. However, she was still the selfish person she had always been, and her ambition made her many enemies. She was opposed by the Jesuits and ousted by revolution in 1848. Banished from Bavaria, she returned to London.

Perhaps due to her tarnished reputation, she did not enjoy the success she had known before. She married again and a month later was charged with bigamy; it seems she had forgotten all about Capt. James, but he hadn’t forgotten her. She fled to Spain, and by 1851 was in New York, starring in a ballet on Broadway. American audiences gave the so-called Spanish Sensation’s career a fresh start, and she packed houses in New York, Philadelphia, and California. She even married again, but as usual, it didn’t last long. She toured Australia, where she horsewhipped the editor of a newspaper that printed an article reflecting on her risque character. She returned to Broadway and after several successful plays, began a lecturing tour. She headed for a while to the gold fields of California where she earned more nuggets with her sensual Spider Dance, than many of the miners did with pick and shovel. An article in a California newspaper on May 28, 1853, read: Seldom is actress or artist greeted with such a house as was the renowned Countess of Landsfeldt last evening at the American. The performances commenced with the farce of Damon and Pythias, but the people had no patience to watch and listen to that. They came to see Lola Montez, and were impatient till she appeared. The dance was what all had come to see, and there was an anxious flutter and an intense interest at the moment approached which would bring her before the house. She was greeted with a storm of applause, and then she executed the dance, which is said to be her favorite, and has won for her much notoriety. The Spider Dance is a very remarkable affair. It cannot be denied that it is a most attractive performance.

She settled in California for a while, and built a beautiful and extravagant mansion. She lectured on a wide range of subjects from Heroines in History, to Religion, and even to Marriage. She wrote Anecdotes of Love, Arts of Beauty and the Lectures of Lola Montez, which included her autobiography, and were published in America and Europe. They brought her a considerable fortune, which she spent on her wild life style, leaving herself near broke.

In 1859, she ran into an old school friend from Scotland, who berated her for the sinful waste she had made of her life. Whatever her friend said should certainly have been written down, for this spoiled, selfish, and arrogant imposter made a dramatic about face in her life style. She began to assist her old friend at the Magdalen Asylum of New York, caring for the poor and destitute women of the streets. She performed charitable works among the prostitutes of the city, even lectured them on the word of God, and came back to the Church that she spurned so many years before. She was no longer Lola Montez, the toast of three continents, she was Marie Gilbert, the girl from Limerick, when she contracted a paralyzing sickness from the destitute among whom she worked. On Jan 17, 1861, she passed away in a sanitarium in Astoria, New York, at the age of 40. She had lived a more adventurous life than women twice her age, had earned and spent larger fortunes than most men see in a lifetime, and explored the dark and shameful side of life to its depths. But perhaps in her final day, she managed to balance the scales, for she had finally found the one thing that eluded her all her life – true compassion.

She is buried in Green Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn and those who think they never heard of her can refer to the film Lola Montes (1955) with Peter Ustinov, Oscar Werner and Martina Carol as Lola. She was also the inspiration for the saying Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets which, in turn, became the title of a song in the popular musical Damn Yankees. While this musical was not based on her life, the female lead in that play was named ‘Lola’ and, like Lola Montez, was portrayed as a lady who would stop at little to get what she wanted. Lola Montez also has a lake named after her in California’s Tahoe National Forest and there is even a Mount Lola named in her honor. At 9,148′, it is the highest point in Nevada County, California. Not a bad legacy for a Spanish Dancer who, by any other name, would still be a Limerick Lady.


He called her Katty. That was the name Thomas J Clarke had for Kathleen Daly, niece of a fellow prisoner with whom he had been incarcerated for Fenian activities against England. She was a member of an Irish nationalist family, niece of patriot John Daly and sister of executed 1916 leader Edward Daly. She later became the wife of Tom Clarke and guardian of the dreams and plans held sacred by a whole generation of Irish patriots. This is her story.

She was born on April 11, 1878. By the time her uncle John was released from British prison in 1895, 17-year old Kathleen already knew the man she would marry, though they had never met. She knew him through her uncle’s letters praising the courage, determination, and tenacity of his fellow prisoner, Tom Clarke. When Clarke was released three years later, he came to the Daly home in Limerick to recuperate. Little did her uncle realize the awe in which young Kathleen held his old friend, until years’ end when they announced their engagement. Tom left for New York in 1900 to secure a job, and in 1901, his Katty joined him there. They married, and settled in the Bronx. A year later, they moved to Brooklyn, and eventually bought a farm in Manorville, Long Island.

When war between England and Germany seemed inevitable, Tom and other high-ranking members of Clan na Gael felt that Ireland’s day of liberation was at hand. He was asked to return to Ireland and reorganize the outdated and inactive Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), but Katty would not hear of it. She remembered the frail and battered figure that had limped to her home in 1898, nearly dead from starvation and torture. She pleaded that he had done as much as any man could be expected to do for his country, and reminded him that he was still a parolee, subject to arrest if the authorities even suspected what he was up to.

Tom, reminded her of the premature death of her father, the torture endured by her uncle, and the grief imposed on her mother and grandmother by a cruel and reckless alien force in their homeland. In his own persuasive way, Tom had fanned the smoldering coals of Katty’s nationalist soul, and rekindled her passion for Ireland. Together,they sailed to Ireland,and into the pages of Irish history.

Kathleen’s strong nationalist sentiment made her invaluable to Tom’s re-organizing activities. Together, they started a nationalist newspaper, and, as Tom organized the men of Ireland into the Irish Volunteers, Katty joined the Daughters of Ireland, and Cumann na mBan – the ladies auxiliary to the Volunteers – and did likewise with the women. Together,they prepared an army of men and women to strike at Easter, 1916, for Ireland’s freedom. Her patriotism, as well as that of her family was well known to the IRB Supreme Council. As evidence of their confidence in her, Kathleen was chosen to safeguard the details of the entire Volunteer network with the names of secondary and tertiary leaders throughout the country. She was also entrusted with the plans, property and funds of the organization with the instructions that if they were arrested after the rising, she was to pass them on to an individual of her choosing who could organize a new generation of leaders and fulfill their dream of a free Ireland. “It was to my mind great foresight on the part of the IRB to have done this,” she said, “as I was in a position after the Rising, when all the key men whose names I had were arrested, of knowing where to take hold and keep things going.”

Thus it was, that when Tom Clarke and the other leaders were executed after the 1916 Easter Rising, their dream did not die with them. After the Rising, England rounded up and interned many of Ireland’s men of military age, whether they were members of the Volunteers or not. Katty Clarke used the funds left her to set up an Irish Republican Prisoners Dependant’s Fund with offices around the country, based on the Volunteers Network the IRB had given her. She staffed them primarily with women of Cumann na mBan, which grew from 63 to 800 branches nationwide by 1921. These offices cared for the families of the men who were interned until they were released in December for lack of evidence. Later, those offices helped settle returning prisoners, many of whom had not been active Volunteers when they were incarcerated, but who certainly were upon release. She interviewed many of the returning men and decided who would be the new leader; it was a wise decision when she turned over the organization’s files and assets to Michael Collins. Collins used the network of offices set up by Katty Clarke to reorganize a national liberation force and began the War of Independence that fought England to the Treaty table in 1921 and the ultimate creation of the Republic of Ireland.

Through the War of Independence, into the years of the Irish Free State and to the creation of the Republic of Ireland, Mrs. Tom Clarke, as she preferred to be called, served her country as no other woman had. In addition to being a loyal wife and mother, she had been prisoner, Judge, Deputy Minister, Senator, and became the first woman Lord Mayor in Irish history as Lord Mayor of Dublin. After her death at 94 in 1972, she received the rare honor of a state funeral.

Remembered for her many deeds, she is perhaps best remembered for her statement to Cumann na mBan after the execution of her husband Thomas J. Clarke. She said, “Without the efforts of the women of Cumann na mBan, the Rising would have been for nothing.” She told them, “Our men are nearly all in prison, some are dead, and it is up to us to carry on their work . . . Let us show our enemy what Irish women can do!”