On this day – Connaught Rangers mutiny – execution of James Daly 2.11.1920




Most people are familiar with the notorious Indian army rebellion of 1857 – less well known is a more recent mutiny, this one  by Irish soldiers, members of the Connaught Rangers regiment, in India in 1920.

It began in June of that year in Jullundur barracks in the Punjab when a number of Irish soldiers refused to perform their duties while Ireland was governed by martial law and subject to the ravages of the Black and Tans. The soldiers had been getting reports of atrocities being committed by this new RIC force, largely recruited, ironically, from demobilized Great War veterans like the many of the Rangers themselves.

The mutiny quickly spread to other Rangers’ units. The protest escalated when a number of soldiers, led by James Daly, whose brother William was also a Connaught Ranger, stormed the armoury in their barracks at Solan near the Tibetan border. The attempt to seize the weaponry failed, and two of the mutineers, Patrick Smyth from Drogheda and Peter Sears from Mayo, were killed.

In a highly symbolic gesture, on 28 June the union jack was lowered in the garrison at Jullundur and replaced by the tricolor. The rebellion, however, only lasted three days before the mutineers were outnumbered and overpowered. Eighty-eight of those who surrendered were court-martialled. Nineteen were sentenced to death, but only James Daly actually faced a firing squad. The lessons of the 1916 rising had been well learned. The 21 year old from Tyrellspass, Co.Westmeath was the last British solider to be executed for mutiny.

In 1922, after the creation of the Irish Free State the Connaught Rangers regiment, whose origins went back to 1793, was disbanded. The imprisoned mutineers were amnestied.  Many of the regiment’s former members went on to join the Free State Army.

In the 1936 the government of Eamon de Valera offered pensions to the surviving mutineers, thus equating them with soldiers of the War of Independence.

On the 50th anniversary of the mutiny, in 1970 the bodies of Daly, Smyth and Sears were repatriated to Ireland and a memorial to the mutineers was erected in Glasnevin cemetery. A stained glass window in Galway cathedral also commemorates the event.

Private James Daly, mutineer and Connaught Ranger, was executed by firing squad 93 years ago, on this day.


The Death of Buck Whaley, 2.11.1800






Dublin is a city well used to rakes – those of the gambling, womanizing and carousing kind rather than the garden variety.

One of the most accomplished of the breed was Thomas ‘Buck’ Whaley, born in 1766 and son of Richard Chapell Whaley. Buck’s father, an affiliate of the infamous Hellfire Club, earned himself the nickname Burn-Chapel Whaley because one of his favourite forms of amusement was to set fire to Catholic churches.

When it came to the exploits of his son Thomas the apple did not fall far from the tree.

In 1788 he accepted a £15,000 bet from William Fitzgerald, Duke of Leinster, that he would not make the perilous journey to Jerusalem and return with evidence of his success in reaching the holy city. The sum of money involved would be worth about £2m today. He set off in October and was back in Dublin by the following summer to collect his winnings and earn himself the nickname ‘Jerusalem’ Whaley.

Whaley once rode a horse out of a third floor window to win a bet. The buck survived with a mere broken leg. The colt wasn’t so lucky.

A member of the Irish parliament for Newcastle, Co.Dublin at the age 18 of his gambling debts forced him to leave the country in 1790. He built a house for himself on the Isle of Man but did so using soil transported from Ireland. This allowed him to claim on another wager that he could ‘live upon Irish ground without residing in Ireland.’

His fortunes improved in 1798, he returned to Ireland and was elected to the House of Commons for the borough of Enniscorthy. He is said to have accepted bribes to vote both for and against the Act of Union. However, he was hardly unique in that respect.

Whaley passed away in 1800. The cause of his death has been ascribed to liver failure brought on by excessive drinking, a knife wound administered by a woman he had ‘won’ in a  bet with the Prince of Wales or the more prosaic rheumatic fever. Before he went to his reward, whatever that might have been, he wrote his highly entertaining memoirs. These were, however, seized by concerned family members and didn’t see the light of day until 1906.

Buck Whaley, bon viveur, gambler, rake and a chip off the old block, died 213 years ago, on this day.


Review of David Gleeson’s book on the Irish in the Confederacy

The Green and the Gray: the Irish in the Confederate States of America

By David T. Gleeson

University of North Carolina Press

307 pp,  $35.00


It’s the song most associated with the brief existence of the Confederate States of America. Dixie tells the unlikely tale of a freed slave pining for the South (‘I wish I was in the land of cotton/Old times they are not forgotten’). Although a particular favourite of Abraham Lincoln it became the unofficial anthem of the Southern insurgency. It was, however, written by an Irish-American northerner, the composer and ‘blackface’ troupe leader Daniel Emmett, as the closing song of a minstrel show run by the New York Irish O’Neill brothers. As a faux Irish contribution to that traumatic conflict, known south of the Mason-Dixon line as ‘The War between the States’, it has little place in David T.Gleeson’s admirable survey of the Irish contribution to Confederate war effort. There are more than enough vrai Irish Confederates to populate this splendid and absorbing narrative.


Given the lowly status of Irish diaspora history in this country Gleeson’s volume is a welcome addition to a paltry Irish-originated corpus of literature on the topic. This scanty oeuvre has recently been augmented and enhanced by Damien Shiels in his The Irish in the American Civil War (and on http://irishamericancivilwar.com), Ian Kenneally in sections of his Courage and Conflict: Forgotten Stories of the Irish at War and webmasters like Robbie Doyle in www.myleskeogh.org.


Gleeson goes well beyond the merely anecdotal in conveying a sense of what it was to be an Irish immigrant in the southern states that formed the Confederacy between 1861-65. With the 150th anniversaries of all the major set-piece confrontations of the US Civil War being currently marked in an American half-decade of commemoration, this is a timely and superior addition by an Irish scholar to a field normally the preserve of Americans, as the extensive bibliography illustrates. 


Gleeson peels back layers of received wisdom and reveals the complexities as well as the banalities of the Irish experience of the American South. He points out, for example, that some Irish immigrants actually settled in southern cities like Charleston and Savannah in order to escape the nativist Know Nothing bigotry of the rapidly expanding northern conurbations. In the 1840s for example, a freshman Congressman from Mississippi felt compelled to speak out forcefully against nativist attempts to curtail the naturalization of Irish immigrants as American citizens. His name was Jefferson Davis and he went on to assume the Presidency of the Confederacy in 1861.



But Gleeson also acknowledges an ambiguity on the part of many Irish in the South to the ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery. While some, like the Roman Catholic Bishop of Charleston, Patrick Lynch, acquired slaves and others, like John Mitchel, approved of the practice, still more, like Jack McGuigan of Vicksburg, aided the escape of slaves at great cost to themselves. Ten years hard labour in the case of McGuigan.


Some of the southern Irish rationalised the practice of slavery on the dubious basis that slaves were better treated than the Irish peasant or agricultural labourer. In the rubric of the truly ’Confederate’ Irish the crusading ‘Yankee’ morphed into the despised ‘British abolitionist’ and offered further justification for the keeping of human beings as slaves.


John Mitchel had brought with him to the USA notions of Irish exceptionalism characteristic of the Nation newspaper and the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s. The Lord Haw Haw of the Confederacy, through his journalistic work on the Richmond Enquirer, adapted his ideas on race to encompass the validation of slavery. He managed to conclude, in the process, that the South was actually more ‘Celtic’ than the North (although 95% of Irish emigrants settled north of the Mason-Dixon line). Mitchel wrote in 1858 that ‘the South is Ireland’ – by which he meant a beleaguered, agrarian community oppressed by a larger and more powerful industrial neighbour


Gleeson records the departure from New Ross, Co.Wexford in the 1850s of one Patrick Murphy. Murphy moved to Natchez and purchased slaves. The Wexfordman left behind an impressive archive in which he recorded that he was prone to whipping any of his charges who ‘deserved punishment’.  It is chastening stuff for Irish readers who might well prefer to remember his namesake Bridget Murphy. She abandoned Wexford in 1849 in favour of Massachusetts. There she met – or was re-united with – another native of her home county, Patrick Kennedy. In 1963 their great-grandson, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, set about tackling the abiding legacy of slavery with civil rights legislation he never managed to bring to fruition before his assassination.


It appears that the employment of Irish nationalist sloganeering, by recruiters like General Thomas Francis Meagher, was not just a Union phenomenon. Conveniently ignoring the tacit Confederate alliance with Britain, Charleston slave dealer Thomas Ryan deployed some emotive rheortic to recruit Irishmen to the Confederate cause. Seeking to ‘raise a company of IRISH REBELS to enter into Confederate service’ Ryan went for the resonant, claiming that ‘Oliver Cromwell lives again in the person of Abraham Lincoln. Should they succeed in capturing Charleston the butcheries of Drogheda will be repeated on our streets.’  


The most celebrated Irish Confederate military figure, Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, the Cork-born ‘Stonewall of the West’, is given his due. A guest of Her Majesty on Spike Island at around the same time as John Mitchel – Cleburne as a serving soldier, the Young Irelander awaiting transportation – Cleburne was the highest-ranking and probably the most effective Irish-born commander on either side in the Civil War. Robert E. Lee himself said of the Corkman that he ‘shone like a meteor in a clouded sky’. At the age of 21 he emigrated to the USA and settled down in Helena, Arkansas. Like most Irish combatants he did not own slaves and professed to see the issue of slavery as a distraction. To Cleburne the cause of the Confederacy was that of ‘independence’.


He was an unfortunate fatality of the conflict in more ways than one. He was killed at the Battle of Franklin in 1864 but long before that he had originated a proposition to recruit slaves into the Confederate army. Their reward was to be a highly circumscribed form of post-war emancipation. Cleburne’s petition to this effect, signed by a number of other senior officers, was forwarded to Richmond where President Davis curtly rejected the proposal. Cleburne, who had risen through the ranks from private to major general received no further promotions before his death.


This volume is a valuable addition to American Civil War studies.The only vague disappointment is a failure to satisfy this particular reader’s curiosity about the extent of Fenian inflitration of the Confederate army, though the role of the IRB in the immediate post-war environment is well covered.  Such a trivial reservation does not detract one iota from the comprehensive nature of Gleeson’s research and the excellence of his pioneering narrative.