Historical Happenings for October 2019

CHARLES STEWART PARNELL

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

On October 6, 1891, Ireland lost her uncrowned king.  His name was Charles Stewart Parnell, a Protestant Squire from Avondale in Co. Wicklow, the son of an English father and an American mother. The maternal grandfather for whom he was named was Charles Stewart: Commanding Officer of U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides) during the War of 1812; the U.S. Navy’s first Rear Admiral (an appointment made by President Lincoln in 1862); and a genuine hero. On February 20 1815, with a strategy described by James Fenimore Cooper as, the most brilliant maneuvering in naval annals, Stewart, heavily outmanned and outgunned, soundly defeated and captured two British ships off the coast of Spain. He was awarded the freedom of the city of New York and the thanks of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who presented him with a gold sword.

Young Squire Parnell was indeed of respectable stock and in 1875 was elected to the House of Commons where, it was expected; he would serve dutifully and create no great sensation.  Parnell however, inherited his grandfather’s strong sense of moral justice and he took up the cause of Home Rule ─ a program calling for an end to the British Parliament in Ireland and the establishment of an Irish Parliament with full control of Ireland’s domestic affairs.  In taking up the cause, Parnell became the champion of the Irish people.

Landlords in Ireland, reacting to the changing European economy, were turning their holdings from farming to cattle grazing and thousands of tenant farmers were being dispossessed.  Parnell supported Michael Davitt’s Land League against the rack-renting landlords, and eventually became its President.  He urged tenant opposition to landlords through boycotts and rent refusal, and in 1879, sailed to America to address the U.S. Congress on the problem.  His sister, Fanny, set up an American Land League to raise and channel relief funds to the Irish League in order to defend the tenant farmers in court, making dispossession at least costly for the landlord.  The significance of this action is evident from British statistics which show that between 1849 and 1882, 482,000 families had been evicted.

In spite of the League’s limited success, a virtual land war continued between landlords and tenants.  The Crown reacted with arrests, but the situation remained tense. In order to avert open rebellion, the Land Act of 1881 was passed. It was a weak law, but it defused the situation until the government could act.  The Land League was declared illegal and its leaders arrested.  In the House of Commons, Parnell was accused of fomenting rebellion, but refused to answer the charge declaring that he drew his support from the people and he would only allow the people to judge him; he saw no need to defend his actions to England.  Referred to as the uncrowned King of Ireland, Parnell was at the height of his popularity, though his health was beginning to fail.  He threw his support to Gladstone in the 1886 British election, and engineered the defeat of the Tories.  He was now at the height of his power as well.  Gladstone fulfilled his promise to Parnell and introduced a Home Rule Bill, but it was defeated by the House of Lords.  Parnell demanded another; in the eyes of many he was becoming too powerful. 

Soon, a series of articles appeared in the British press accusing Parnell of instigating a crime-wave against the landlords and a special commission was appointed to investigate.  In spite of perjury and bribery, Parnell defeated his detractors but he made many enemies in Parliament, even though they dared not act against him.  Their opportunity came when an MP named Capt O’Shea filed for divorce from his wife naming Parnell as co-respondent.  Parnell, in typical fashion, gave no defense to Parliament. Instead of feeding the scandal, he chose to save his career by working harder than he had ever worked in his life despite his failing health.  Gladstone used the incident as an excuse to rid himself of Parnell and agitated against him.  The Catholic Church joined the detractors and publicly condemned him as an adulterer for his affair with Kitty O’Shea.  Parnell began to lose support among the Irish for the first time since he devoted his life to their welfare.

On Sept 27 1891, he attended a public meeting in Galway against the advice of his doctors.  He had promised to speak, and would not disappoint those who had remained loyal to him.  It was his last appearance; on October 6, he died. He was buried at Glasnevin beside Daniel O’Connell after a funeral procession that could only be termed magnificent.  In the eyes of some he had erred and was punished.  The tragedy of Parnell is that, in spite of his dedication and superhuman efforts, England was able to sow division among the Irish.  Parnell shall nevertheless be eternally remembered for the words he defiantly spoke in Parliament which are now engraved on his monument in O’Connell St, Dublin: No man has a right to fix a boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say thus far shalt thou go and no further. We have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland’s nationhood and we never shall! 

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 February 2017

 THE BOB AND MOLLIE MONTEITH STORY (Part II)

For Part I of this story, go to AOH.COM and link to Historical Happenings

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

On the run in the hills of Kerry since the ill-fated AUD debacle, Volunteer Captain Robert ‘Bob’ Monteith reflected on the failure of the arms shipment. He blamed Devoy for the coolness of the German Staff to Casement since Devoy told the German ambassador in New York that Clan na Gael was to be the only contact. The militants in Dublin also kept Casement uninformed since they felt that he was opposed to an insurrection without significant German assistance and the German Admiralty’s plans differed from theirs. The Admiralty planned that AUD would arrive on one of four nights from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, allowing for storm, flood or  English patrols. They requested a pilot boat to be in position each of those nights and that two green lights be shone periodically to guide AUD into Fenit. The plan was sent to Dublin, but the militants insisted that the ship should come on schedule on Sunday night. Casement felt that was foolish and when AUD arrived off the Kerry coast on the night of Holy Thursday, 1916, there were no lights and no pilot boat!  Kerry Volunteer leader Austin Stack had also been ordered that there was to be no shooting before Easter Sunday night.

Stack knew nothing of the ship’s winches and unloading gear nor how to operate them. This was the information Casement wanted to bring in advance. Every stevedore needs such data before he starts to work cargo; men unused to ships cannot be turned into dock workers at a moment’s notice. Stack would need 300 men for the job: a 150-man working party and a 150-man armed covering party since the police would arrive in short order. On AUD were 4,000 cases of rifles, 2,000 cases of ammunition and other material. Stack would need every Volunteer in Kerry and a supervisory staff capable of directing them. Casement’s request to come ahead was denied. The Military Council knew that the landing of arms would have touched off the Rising and they insisted that the Proclamation of the Republic must be read first in Dublin to make the landing of arms a legitimate act of a nation at war rather than a rebel act.  Monteith felt that the Military Council’s ignorance of the logistics of dock work led to their decision that the Proclamation be read first. Although it wouldn’t have frightened the British as much as 20,000 rifles in Irish hands, it made ‘great theater’ and most of the rebel leaders were poets and playwrights!

After eight months in the hills, Monteith was given a false name and fireman’s papers to work on the ship, ADRIATIC, bound for New York.  However, he was so weak that he was unable to endure the work of stoking boilers and carrying coal; he suffered a burst blood vessel in his stomach and severely blistered hands; carrying false papers, he was unable to seek a doctor and so suffered until they docked in New York in mid-December, 1916. The freezing cold after the heat of the boiler room brought on chills and fever. He jumped ship as it docked at 14th Street, walked across town to catch the Third Avenue elevated train to the 116th Street address he learned from Clan members. He barely made it to the third floor.  The children opened the door and Mollie ran to catch him as he fell forward. The wandering patriot was home!  She put him to bed and contacted John Devoy who sent a Clan na Gael doctor to attend the returned patriot. That night, Devoy came to see him and they talked for hours to reconcile their differences.

When Bob was well enough to travel, Mollie rented a house on 120th Street off Lexington Ave with no stairs to climb.  When the word got out that Monteith was in New York, a mass of newsmen wanted the story of the survivors of the submarine landing. One man called it Three men in a boat, the smallest invasion in history. Monteith gave no interviews as it might endanger men in Ireland. They rented a three-storey house with tenants at 157 East 119th Street to provide an income but the block was condemned by the city for garages and they relocated again, this time to 117th Street.

Meanwhile Republican Sinn Fein won a majority of seats in the December 1918 election and established their own dissident parliament called Dáil Eireann and set up a Bond Drive to support the new government. Eamon deValera, as President of the Dail, asked Bob to campaign for the Drive in America.  Bob agreed and took off on a nation-wide fund drive. When Bob was out west raising funds, the children suffered several  bouts with whooping cough and had their tonsils removed.  The doctor told Mollie that if young Patricia were to survive, she needed fresh air. Mollie relocated once more, this time to Schooleys Mountain, New Jersey where she rented a 5-room house on a 3-acre farm. Bob returned on weekends whenever he could but by 1922, his health was failing and he spent a month recuperating in the mountains with the family. Anxious to get some work, Bob moved to Detroit – a boom town at the time.  He found a nearly finished bungalow and sent for the family. They joined the Gaelic League and were popular among the many Irish in Detroit.  Bob worked at the Ford Motor Company. The financial crisis of 1929 hit and the WPA assigned him to a road gang.  Mollie worked at a cleaning plant and then as a teacher.  When the economy recovered, Bob was rehired by Ford and joined the Gaelic League’s Irish Rifle Association as an instructor. With retirement on their mind, Mollie found a small 2-1/2 room house in Goodells, Michigan and sold the house in Detroit. Bob retired in 1943 and in May 1947, they returned to Ireland settling in a house in, Donneycarney, Dublin.

Mollie attended the opening of Roger Casement Stadium in Belfast in June 1953 as Bob was too ill to attend.  He published a book, Casement’s Last Adventure in 1953 and they both agreed to return to Detroit in December 1953 to be with their children. As Bob and Millie grew older, they became progressively ill. One night in February 1956, as Bob tended to Mollie, he tripped on a rug beside their bed. Mollie jumped out of bed but couldn’t lift him. He asked to be left there and Mollie covered him with blanket and pillowed his head. The following day daughter Patricia helped lift him into bed. He refused to let them call a doctor saying he’d be fine after a rest. On February 18 he turned his head and asked, Where are you, Mollie?  She replied, I’m right here, by your side.  He muttered, You would be, and turned his head back toward the wall and fell into eternal sleep. General MacArthur said that Old soldiers never die, they just fade away and Captain Monteith did just that after a life spent in service to the Ireland he was converted to love. He was buried in Holy Sepulchre cemetery in Southfield Michigan after a massive procession of Gaelic League and other Irish societies.

Later in Nov 15, 1956, the Long Island Advance newspaper carried the notice that Mrs. Mollie Florence Burke Monteith, the widow of Captain Robert Monteith, flew here recently from Detroit and is spending several weeks visiting her daughter, Mrs. Florence Lynch of Blue Point Avenue in Blue Point, New York. She returned to Detroit and joined Captain Bob on May 7, 1966, three weeks before her 95th birthday.

No mention was made of Captain Bob and Mollie during the official ceremonies commemorating the recent Easter Rising, except by the Gaelic League and AOH in Detroit, Michigan, but they belong right up there in Republican memory with Tom and Kathleen Daly Clarke for few couples gave more to Ireland than they!

Historical Happenings for December 2016

NEWGRANGE

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

 

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     On a hill in County Meath stands a monument to the early settlers of Ireland, and their civilization. It is a remarkable structure built more than 5000 years ago. At first it appears to be just a huge mound on a hilltop in the Boyne Valley, but closer investigation reveals a man-made structure surrounded by enormous standing boulders. A magnificently carved kerbstone lies before the entrance to a 65-foot passage which runs to the center of the mound and three chambers of interlacing stones. The passage is the most interesting part for it is positioned and inclined at precisely the proper angle to align astronomically with the rays of the rising sun at one specific time of the year – the winter solstice. At dawn on December 21, the shortest day of the year and the point at which the power of the sun begins its annual return, the rising sun’s rays shine through a portal above the entrance, travel along the inclined passage and illuminate the central chambers. This only happens on December 21. The mound was called Bru na Boinne by the ancient Irish; today it is called Newgrange.

     According to carbon dating, the structure was built between 3700 and 3200 BC making it the oldest, still-standing, man-made building on the planet. Ancient Irish manuscripts say it was built by the Tuatha De Danann, early settlers of Ireland who were so advanced that Celtic settlers who followed them considered them possessed of magical powers and guided by the heavens. Today, we know that their “guidance” came in their advanced knowledge of astronomy — a knowledge unsurpassed in the known world at that time. To the Celts, Bru na Boinne was a domain of the gods, a palace of the otherworld, and a place of festivals.

     Reinforcing this belief was the fact that approximately 1 kilometer on either side are two slightly smaller mounds, Knowth and Dowth, which are also astronomically aligned with celestial events. Knowth, the oldest mound of the three was built some 500 years before Newgrange and is aligned with the setting sun on the solstice.

     With the coming of Christianity, many pagan forts and monuments fell into disrepair, were eventually overgrown, or eroded by time and weather. In 1142, the land on which Bru na Boinne stood became part of the Cistercian Abbey at Mellifont. Fields were called granges and Bru na Boinne simply became the new grange. During the Williamite confiscation of church property, the land was given to a Charles Campbell who used the mound as a source of stones for fences. In 1699, as workers were carting stones from the base of the mound, they discovered the magnificent entrance stone with its carved spiral designs. Further digging revealed the opening to a long narrow passage which led to the center of the mound and its three chambers. Authorities were notified and Welsh Naturalist Edward Lhuyd came to investigate. It is he who is credited with the discovery of Newgrange despite the fact that the Irish had been telling of Bru na Boinne for centuries. The locals were ignored and Mr. Lhuyd and several of his colleagues concluded that the great monument was the work of visiting Danes since nothing requiring such skill and intelligence could ever be attributed to the Irish.

     In 1750, General Charles Vallencey, a British Army Engineer and professional surveyor, discovered its astronomical alignment with the sun, moon, and planets and first advanced the theory that Newgrange was an astronomical observatory. He explained the standing stones in front of the entrance as sun stones positioned to cast shadows on the carved entrance stone to indicate the seasons. He ascribed considerable astronomical skill to its early Irish architects, but was ridiculed by his colleagues who had never even seen the mound. In spite of local tales which verified this phenomenon, references to the solstice lighting of Newgrange in the writings of George (AE) Russell, the writings of astronomer Norman Lockyer and anthropologist Evans Wentz, no archaeologist took the time to investigate it until 1969, when Michael O’Kelly entered the chamber before sunrise on the winter solstice and became the first modern archaeologist to witness that exciting event.

     In spite of the amount of verifiable information available on this historic site, some still stand with their backs to Newgrange, and stare at Stonehenge, marveling at the antiquity of a site constructed 1,000 years later. Or they wonder at the pyramids which were only started hundreds of years after Newgrange was completed. Finally, in 1989, the New York Times, which is ever slow to credit Irish accomplishments, noted that a British journal had announced that the astrological alignment of Newgrange appeared to be “by design rather than by accident.” Welcome aboard! It’s now December and on the 21st, the mound at Bru na Boinne will again receive its annual message from the heavens telling man that the days will now get longer and the long night of winter is coming to an end. Hopefully the long night of ignorance about Irish accomplishments is ending as well. So, this year as you are decorating the tree with lights for Christmas, consider that the Almighty is lighting up Newgrange for the same reason and wishing a Happy Christmas to all.

 

 

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!

Historical Happenings for February 2016

SAINTS PRESERVE US (or vice versa)

by Mike McCormack, AOH Historian

 

May the Saints preserve us is an old saying among the Irish, but it is conversely true that Ireland preserves the remains of many Saints. At this time of year, we can reflect on such Saints as Brigid (Feb 1) and Patrick (Mar 17), who rest in Erin’s soil, but there are two who aren’t even Irish and sleep in the Isle of Saints and Scholars.

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The final resting place of St. Nicholas?

The first is St. Nicholas, a generous native of Turkey who devoted his significant inheritance to works of charity. He became a monk, then an abbot, and then an Archbishop. He died in Myra, Turkey, in December 342 and his feast day is December 6. The enhanced legend of Santa Claus (sant niclaus) grew from the life of this generous Saint and spread across Europe and eventually the world. According to tradition, centuries after his death, a band of Irish-Norman knights traveled to the Holy Land as part of the Crusades, and upon their return to Ireland, they brought with them the earthly remains of St Nicholas. They had them re-interred in the Church of St Nicholas in the village of Newtown, Co. Kilkenny according to a story by John Fitzgerald in the December 2002 issue of the Cork Holly Bough. Today, the Church of Saint Nicholas lie in ruins in the medieval village of Newtown, which itself fell to ruin by the 17th century. Among the facts supporting the tradition are that the Normans were keen collectors of religious relics, and that Newtown was home to the Cistercian Jerpoint Abbey, which served as a launching point for Irish-Norman Crusaders. The abbey, founded in 1183, was dissolved in 1540, but its remains today attract many tourists. The ruined church, now on private land west of the abbey, contains an unusual grave slab dating to the 1300s. It is carved with an image of a cleric, thought to be a bishop, and two other heads. The cleric is said to be St Nicholas and the heads, the two crusaders who brought St. Nicholas’ remains back to Ireland. Hibernian Historian Malcolm Rogers (AOH Div 61 Philadelphia) writes that, several Norman noblemen owned land in the locality of Richard de Clare. “William de Dene had half an acre at Ogensy, the district around Thomastown, ‘Barony of Gowran’, William Archid (le Archer), had a quarter acre at Archerstown, in the ‘parish of St Patrick’s . . . Today it’s difficult to glean much information about these Norman knights, although some reports describe both William de Dene and William Archid as ‘bellicose and pious’. . . William de Dene and William Archid must have felt very at home in their new environment – sharing a great religious faith with their new neighbors along with a readiness to fight all comers for their beliefs. In fact, just the sort of men we are looking for. Could the two Williams be the Crusaders who brought Santa to Kilkenny?” We may never know, but the Church remains a place of pilgrimage every Christmas.

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St. Nicholas Church in County Kilkenny

Kathy Collins, on VirtualTourist.com, noted that Jerpoint Abbey has “ruins from the 14th and 15th century including the outlines of the cloister. . . It is said that the remains of St.Nicholas, the ancient Bishop of Myra in Turkey who was the original Santa Claus, were moved to Jerpoint Abbey by Crusaders who re-buried him here in a tomb that now is marked by a broken slab decorated with the carving of a monk.”

 

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St. Valentine

The second Saint of foreign birth who sleeps in Ireland is more historically documented and that is the renowned St. Valentine, whose feast on February 14 is honored worldwide by lovers, who use the occasion to send messages of undying affection to their sweethearts. It’s also a day known to postmen (though not as eagerly) who are burdened with carrying those messages on hundreds of thousands of cards decorated with hearts and flowers. The exchange of affectionate messages has been a custom since Roman times, and cards have been used since the 16th century. Although the name of St. Valentine (a third century Christian martyr beheaded in Rome about 269 AD) has become attached to this ritual, little is known about the man. What is known, however, is that St. Valentine’s feast day on the Church calendar happens to coincide with the old pagan celebrations of spring, perhaps explaining why the amorous rites associated with those celebrations have become attached to his name.

 

According to an article in Ireland’s Eye magazine, in 1836, Pope Gregory XVI sent a gift to the Carmelite Church on Whitefriar Street, Dublin, in recognition of the work of the church’s former prior, Father John Spratt, who was widely recognized as a very holy man. The gift was a relic of a Christian martyr – a small gold-bound casket containing the earthly remains of St. Valentine. The relic had been exhumed from the cemetery of St. Hyppolytus on the Tiburtine Way in Rome, placed in a special casket, and brought to Dublin where it was enshrined in the little Church with great ceremony.

Remains of St. Valentine in Dublin

Each year, on February 14, the casket containing the Saint’s mortal remains is carried in solemn procession to the high altar of the Carmelite Church for a special Young People’s Mass. This little known Dublin church also sells Valentine’s Day cards, and those that can be purchased there can truly be said to be the genuine article!

Historical Happenings for January – Spirit of The Occasion

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.

 

 

Historical Happenings for October 2015 – Charles Stewart Parnell

CHARLES STEWART PARNELL

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

Monument to Parnel which stands at the top of O'Connell Street in Dublin

Monument to Parnell which stands at the top of O’Connell Street in Dublin

      On October 6, 1891 the Uncrowned King of Ireland died. That unofficial title belonged to Charles Stewart Parnell, a Protestant Squire in Avondale in Co. Wicklow. He was the son of an English father and an American mother. The maternal grandfather for whom he was named was Charles Stewart: Commanding Officer of U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides) during the War of 1812; the U.S. Navy’s first Rear Admiral (an appointment made by President Lincoln in 1862); and a genuine hero. Stewart began his naval career with the best of tutors for he served under Wexford-born Commodore John Barry, Father of the American Navy, on the U.S.S. United States. Years later, on February 20 1815, with a strategy described by James F. Cooper as the most brilliant maneuvering in naval annals, Stewart — out-manned and outgunned — soundly defeated and captured two British ships off the coast of Spain. He was awarded the freedom of the city of New York and the thanks of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who presented him with a golden sword.

      Young Squire Parnell was indeed of respectable stock, and in 1875 was elected to the House of Commons where, it was expected, he would serve dutifully and create no great sensation. Parnell however, inherited his grandfather’s strong sense of moral justice and he took up the cause of Home Rule – a program calling for an end to the British Parliament in Ireland and the establishment of an Irish Parliament with full control of Ireland’s domestic affairs. In taking up the cause, Parnell became the champion of the Irish people.

Republic of Ireland 100 Pound Note

Republic of Ireland 100 Pound Note

      Landlords in Ireland, reacting to the changing European economy, were turning their holdings from farming to cattle grazing and thousands of tenant farmers were being dispossessed. Parnell supported Michael Davitt’s Land League against the rack-renting landlords and eventually became its President. He urged tenant opposition to landlords through boycotts and rent refusal, and in 1879, sailed to America to address the U.S. Congress on the problem. He set up an American Land League to raise and channel relief funds to the Irish League in order to defend the tenant farmers in court, making dispossession at least costly for the landlord. The need for this action is evident from British statistics which show that between 1849 and 1882, 482,000 families had been evicted across Ireland.

      In spite of the League’s limited success, a virtual land war continued between landlords and tenants. The Crown reacted with arrests, but the situation remained tense. In order to avert open rebellion, the Land Act of 1881 was passed. It was a weak law, but it defused the situation until the government could act. The government acted by declaring the Land League illegal and having its leaders arrested. In the House of Commons, Parnell was accused of fomenting rebellion, but refused to answer the charge declaring that he drew his support from the people and he would only allow the people to judge him; he saw no need to defend his actions to England. Referred to as the uncrowned King of Ireland, Parnell was at the height of his popularity, though his health was beginning to fail. He threw his support to Gladstone in the 1886 British election, and engineered the defeat of the Tories. He was now at the height of his power as well. Gladstone fulfilled his promise to Parnell and introduced a Home Rule Bill, but it was defeated by the House of Commons. Parnell demanded another; in the eyes of many he was becoming too powerful.

Political Illustration Entitled "Gladston & The Land League"

Political Illustration Entitled “Gladston & The Land League”

      Soon, a series of articles appeared in the British press accusing Parnell of instigating a crime-wave against the landlords and a special commission was appointed to investigate. In spite of perjury and bribery, Parnell defeated his detractors but he made many enemies in Parliament, even though they dared not act against him. Their opportunity came when an MP named Capt O’Shea filed for divorce from his wife naming Parnell as co-respondent. Parnell, in typical fashion, gave no defense to Parliament. Instead of feeding the scandal, he chose to save his career by working harder than he had ever worked in his life despite his failing health. Gladstone used the incident as an excuse to rid himself of Parnell and agitated against him. Although he wasn’t even Catholic, the Catholic Church joined the detractors and publicly condemned him as an adulterer for his affair with Kitty O’Shea. One Priest went as far as telling his parishioners, If you support Parnell, you support adultery! Parnell began to lose support among the Irish for the first time since he devoted his life to their welfare.

Kitty O'Shea

Parnell Married Kitty O’Shea in 1891

     On Sept 27 1891, he attended a public meeting in Galway against the advice of his doctors. He had promised to speak, and would not disappoint those who had remained loyal to him. It was his last appearance; on Oct 6, he died. He was buried at Glasnevin beside Daniel O’Connell after a funeral procession that could only be termed magnificent. In the eyes of some he had erred and was punished. The tragedy of Parnell is that, in spite of his dedication and superhuman efforts, England was able to sow division among the Irish. Parnell shall nevertheless be eternally remembered for the words he defiantly spoke in Parliament which are now engraved on his monument in O’Connell St, Dublin: No man has a right to fix a boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say thus far shalt thou go and no further. We have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland’s nationhood and we never shall.

Charles Stewart Parnell is removed from The House of Commons for obstruction in 1881.

Charles Stewart Parnell is removed from The House of Commons for obstruction in 1881.

      Stirring words indeed, but near the end of his life, when all who loved him begged that he defend himself against the villains who dragged his personal life into the press, he spoke a sentence that should live as his epitaph. He said, I don’t pretend that I had no moments of trial and temptation, but I do claim that never in thought, word, or deed have I been false to the trust Irishmen have confided in me’. So passed away the Uncrowned King of Ireland; time has proven that history has been kinder to him than his constituents were.

Michael Davitt

MICHAEL DAVITT

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

index

 

Many brave Irishmen died in May, from the heroes of Easter Week to the patriots in Long Kesh who hunger struck for their rights. Yet, one who is rarely remembered is in their company today along with all of Ireland’s heroes in Tir na nOg. His name is Michael Davitt. He was born in Straide, Co.Mayo on March 25, 1846, the second of five children. His parents, Martin and Sabina Davitt (nee Kielty), were tenants. As was the case for many tenants at the time, they were evicted for non-payment of an excessive rent when Michael was only six years old.

As Martin emigrated to England seeking employment, Sabina refused shelter in the workhouse, which would break up her family. They were given accommodation by the parish priest, Fr. John McHugh. In 1845, Sabina and the children joined Martin who found work in a small mill town in Lancashire. Martin was also a teacher of Irish music and language, so it was only natural that young Michael grew up an Irish speaker.

The family barely made ends meet and in 1856, at the age of 10, young Michael had to take a job in a nearby cotton mill operating heavy machinery. Hours were long, working conditions were atrocious, and worker’s safety was the last consideration of the mill owner. Consequently, at the age of 12, Michael was caught in the machine on which he was working and his right arm was severed. Unable to work any longer, he was dismissed with no compensation. He subsequently attended a Wesleyan school for two years, after which he worked for a printing firm.

To say that the young man was bitter about the treatment his family had received, and that he subsequently endured, would be an understatement. In 1865, he joined the Fenian Brotherhood, an organization dedicated to removing the English collar from the neck of Ireland. Two years later he was its’ organizing secretary in Northern England and Scotland. He was arrested in London in 1870 while awaiting a delivery of arms and was sentenced to 15 years hard labor. He spent the next seven years in prison isolation, compelled to work under inhuman conditions. Intercession on his behalf by Isaac Butt and Charles Stewart Parnell of the Irish Parliamentary Party convinced the British that Davitt was effectively broken, and he was released on parole on December 19, 1877.

But Michael was not broken. He had too many reminders of oppression to ever forget, from the frail old man that had once been his father, to the prematurely old woman that had been his mother, to his own empty sleeve. He knew that the cause of his people’s troubles was that they were prohibited from owning land. He knew the landlord class for the leeches that they were, and was determined to undermine and eliminate them. After his release from prison, he toured America with the active assistance of the great Irish patriot John Devoy, gaining the support of Irish Americans for a policy called “The New Departure” which was based in the slogan “The Land for the People.” He proposed non-violent action and parliamentary reform to bring about changes in the law. This approach did not have the official approval of the Fenian leadership and many were against his methods. Nevertheless, he subsequently became a member of the Supreme Council of the IRB.

In early 1879, Davitt returned to an Ireland which was again experiencing near starvation. After a series of wet years, the potato crop had failed for a third successive year and the traditional escape route of emigration was virtually closed due to a world wide economic depression stretching from America to Europe. There was no choice but to stay at home and fight to change the system. Plans were made for a gathering at Irishtown on April 20, to demonstrate for reduced rents. The gathering was huge and the first target was land owned by a Canon Ulick Burke. The result was an astounding success when the Canon was forced to reduce rents by 25%. Davitt took his idea to Irish Parliamentary leader Charles Stewart Parnell and on August 16, 1879, the Land League of Mayo was formally founded in Castlebar. On October 21, the National Land League was formed in Dublin with Parnell as President, and Davitt as Secretary. From that time on, the Land War was fought in earnest. British Prime Minister Gladstone at first replied with coercion, but with financial and moral support from the American Irish, the Land League fought back. At one demonstration in 1881, they even added a new word to the dictionary when they defeated a landlord’s agent by ostracizing him from all services – his name was Captain Boycott.

The crown passed the Land Act of 1881 to defuse the situation. It promised fair rent, fixed tenure, and free sale, but the Land League wanted more. The government reacted by arresting the leaders in an attempt to suppress the organization, but they could not stop the momentum. Miss Anna Parnell formed the Ladies Land League and took over the agitation where the men left off. The leaders were soon released.

After his release Davitt traveled widely, campaigning ceaselessly and his power was such that in 1885, the British government began the process of eliminating the evils of landlordism. In 1892 Davitt was elected MP for Mayo but was impatient with Parliament’s unwillingness to right obvious injustices swiftly. He left the House of Commons in 1896 with the prophetic prediction that “no just cause could succeed there unless backed by physical force.” He had verified his beliefs that while force might be necessary to bring opposing parties to the table; it was only at the table that permanent changes could be made. It is a tribute to men like John Devoy, Charles Stewart Parnell, and most especially Michael Davitt, that these peaceful methods are again being tried – for these are the ways of civilized men, and the only ways that have ever worked.

Michael Davitt remained a fighter for justice until his death in Dublin on May 31, 1906. By that time, the land of Ireland for the people of Ireland had become a reality, and Michael himself had become an international champion of liberty. To mark the centenary of his birth in 1946, a major demonstrating was held in Straide, with an attendance of more than 12,000, included Eamonn De Valera. The occasion was even covered live by the BBC. In 1996, ground was broken for a new museum in Straide dedicated to the life and accomplishments of one of Mayo’s most historic and best loved figures. It is near the monument that covers his grave. Michael Davitt was the first to successfully rescue his people from tyranny, and set Ireland on the road to becoming the proud and accomplished member of the international community that she is today. For this, every Irish man owes him a debt of thanks.

President Boyle Addreses AOH on the 175th

The 2011 President’s Dinner was held in Philadelphia on October 8, and all who attended raved about the grand event. Also at the dinner, the presentation of the Sean MacBride Award was made to the highly deserving Clara Reilly.

National AOH President Seamus Boyle addressed the dinner’s participants, and his speech is reprinted here.

 

“Rev. Clergy, distinguished guests, National, State, County and Division officers of the AOH and LAOH, family and friends, and especially our recipient of the prestigious Sean MacBride award, Clara Reilly, thank you for attending this evening’s festivities.

I know many of you have traveled quite a distance, both from here in the States and Ireland so I hope you enjoy your night and have a safe trip home. (It’s not over yet, that is usually said at the end of the speech).

As most of you know, this year is our 175 Anniversary of the formation of the AOH in America and we did have a great celebration in New York City in May, which many of you attended. This Anniversary celebration that has been ongoing throughout 2011, took over a year of hard work on the part of many people to accomplish. I would like to single out two people, Ed Wallace, chairman of the Anniversary Committee, and Mike McCormack, who was responsible for the beautiful Souvenir Journal that is on your table tonight. I think we owe a round of applause to both of these gentlemen.

It is almost 14 years since I was elected to the National Board of the AOH and I must say it has been one hell of a ride. Although I have had many great times, there were also some sad times that came with the positions I held. Some great friends in the organization have passed on, as have some of my own family, and it is at times like this that I miss them most.

Tom Gilligan, Past National President, who encouraged me to get involved and run for office, told me it was a piece of cake, but Tom always did exaggerate. And my brother, Mike, told me I was nuts, but he meant it. The people I have met on my travels throughout this great country of ours have treated me with the utmost respect, whether they agreed with my policies or not, and I have remained friends with many of them.

The Board that I have worked with over the past 4 years has supported me in all my decisions, and I have always included them in making these decisions because I have learned that one man cannot run a ship by himself. Your Board has made great strides and has made many decisions that may not have been popular but it is easy for one to make popular decisions, but a lot harder to make the right decisions, and as far as I am concerned we have made the right decisions over the past 4 years.

For 174 years, our organization has had no registered Trademark or Copyrights to our name or logo. But today, thanks to our Legal Counsel George Clough, we are now registered. We have contracted with Harris Connect, at no cost to us, to do a history of the AOH, by the AOH members themselves, telling their story about their state, county or division or their own personal story of how they came to be in the area where they now reside. Our online edition of the Hibernian Digest has been a great source of information to our members. We are now in the process of gathering emails and updating our membership list so as to save time and money on communications. There are so many other things that we have done as a board but most of you know what has been accomplished and I will leave it at that. The board we have today is one of the best boards I have ever worked with and they continue to serve you in a most effective way.

Tonight is a night to celebrate. Celebrate our heritage with the music from the Willie Lynch Band. Celebrate our Religion, which we just did at our beautiful Mass celebrated by our National Chaplain Fr. Tom O’Donnell and our two Deputy Chaplains Fr. Reid and Fr. Pearce, not to forget the beautiful voice of Louise Donnelly, our vocalist.

Celebrate a woman who has fought for many years for peace and justice in Ireland, Clara Reilly. Celebrate our history by reading the history in our Anniversary Journal and educating our friends, family and especially our children of the history of our ancestors. Celebrate our health by being able to be here tonight with our friends and family and celebrate our peace in Ireland, fragile as it might be but much better than it was even 15 years ago.

I would like to thank all of you for attending the festivities tonight, especially all of my family from here in the States and from Ireland. My relatives from Ireland who came here for the wedding last week, about 12 of them, are like grandchildren: I like to see them come but I love to see them go back — and that works both ways when I go back they feel the same, here he comes when is he leaving. My children, Mike and Tara, Bronagh who was married last Saturday and is on her honeymoon and opted to miss this affair, but most of all my wife, Berna, who puts up with me all of the time but especially when I ask her, can you pack a bag for me quick, I forgot to tell you I am going to Montana or Georgia or someplace else in the morning. Thank you all especially you, Berna, have a great night, enjoy the band and have a safe trip home.

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