On This Day- 25 March 1840 – Birth of Myles Keogh




The Little Bighorn, which sounds like a bit of a contradiction in terms, is a river in the American state of Montana. It flows through mainly flat or gently undulating plains. As a river it is unremarkable. But it is not famous for the qualities of its drainage. It is infamous for what happened there on 25 & 26 June 1876 when a flamboyant, egotistical Cavalry officer, George Armstrong Custer, led his Seventh Cavalry to the worst, and last, military defeat ever inflicted on the US Army by the Plains Indian tribes, the Lakota and Cheyenne, at what they called The Battle of the Greasy Grass. No prizes for guessing what it was that greased the grass of the river’s banks.


Five of the twelve companies of the 7th cavalry were wiped out on 25 June, including ‘I’ Company, led by Carlow-born Captain Myles Keogh, the most senior of thirty-two Irish-born fatalities in the battle.


Keogh, from Leighlinbridge, had found his way to his date with destiny by a circuitous route. He had, in 1860, as a twenty year old from a relatively prosperous Catholic family, volunteered for service in the army of the Pope. He wasn’t dressed in a striped uniform guarding the Vatican city, he was fighting, unsuccessfully, to save the Pope’s last remaining landed possessions in Italy. When the American Civil War broke out the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, John Hughes, recruited Keogh and a number of his colleagues, to join the Union Army. He served with distinction through most of the American Civil War as a cavalry officer, fighting at Fredericksburg and Gettysburg and rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.


After the Civil War the American Army was greatly reduced in size but Keogh wanted to stay on. Like most other officers he lost his exalted war-time rank but was not demobilized. He was sent west to join Custer’s 7th Cavalry charged with keeping the peace on the great American Plains and ensuring that nations like the Lakota – better known as the Sioux – the Cheyenne, and the Blackfeet, behaved themselves and remained on the relatively useless patches of land that had been set aside for them as ‘reservations’.


Keogh was undoubtedly handsome, dynamic, vigorous and physically courageous. However, he was also described by some colleagues as intemperate, drunken and violent. Although he respected the Native Americans of the Plains as military opponents he had no time for their culture or way of life. He viewed them, quite simply, as savages who needed to be kept permanently in check.


He was part of an Army that had a huge Irish element. 10,000 soldiers were stationed in the American West, a quarter of whom were born in Ireland. The Irish influence can clearly be seen in Custer’s 7th Cavalry. The muster roll in 1876 included 126 Irish-born soldiers out of 822 members of the regiment. Keogh was the only officer. The regiments two marching tunes were the Irish airs ‘Garryowen’ and ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’.


The story of Custer’s massive miscalculation in sending his six hundred strong force against an Indian village that contained up to 5,000 fighting men, has become the stuff of legend. He made things even worse for himself by dividing his command. Everyone who fought with Custer, died with Custer. The only survivor was Keogh’s horse Comanche. Keogh himself was killed a few hundred yards away from Last Stand Hill where his Colonel died. Although he is buried in New York state a gravestone bearing his name marks the spot where he perished, surrounded by the other members of Company ‘I’. For some reason Keogh’s body was one of the few not to have been mutilated by the victorious Sioux and Cheyenne. He wore a Papal medal, awarded in 1860 by a grateful Pope. This token may have been what saved his corpse from evisceration. The Lakota and Cheyenne, who wore pendants of all kinds to ward off evil spirits, may have been wary of the Pontiff’s decoration.


Captain Myles Walter Keogh, commanding officer of Company ‘I’ of the Seventh Cavalry was one of two hundred and sixty eight US cavalrymen to die at the Battle of the Greasy Grass or the Little Bighorn, he was born one hundred and seventy-six ago, on this day.











That was O’Connell Street last Easer Monday when RTE celebrated The Road to the Rising. That massive event will pale into insignificance when compared to RTE / Reflecting the Rising which begins at 11.00 on Easter Monday. Three quarters of a million people are expected to take part un hundreds of events – lectures, childrens events,  music, re-enactments, walks etc.

RTE Reflecting the Rising is taking over the city centre of Dublin for the day. There are events taking place in Trinity College, DIT, the Four Courts, St. Stephen’s Green, Merrion Square and many other venues.

Come along and join the fun.

I’ll be doing a three hour History Show  (10.00-1.00)from the Supreme Court (my one and only chance to be in such august surroundings) and I’ll also be giving two talks on Monday afternoon in the Four Courts, on the Courts Martial & executions of 1916 and on the Rising and the Four Courts.


On this day – 18 March 1847 Choctaw donation to Irish Famine victims



Although there was a respite from potato blight in 1847 the year is still remembered in Irish famine history as ‘Black ‘47’. So few potatoes had been planted that the absence of blight made little difference to a starving, diseased and demoralized people. Thousands more died or hunger and disease or chose the emigrant ship as the only possibility of escape. However, the plight of eight million Irish people was not being ignored, except, arguably, by the Liberal government of Lord John Russell in London. Money poured in from Britain, the continent of Europe, the USA and as far away as Australia.


In March of 1847 an unexpected donation arrived from the USA. While America had been the source of much of the famine relief funds that found their way to Ireland this particular charitable gift was different. It didn’t come from Irish-American migrants on the east coast of the USA. It didn’t even come from smaller pockets of Irish migrants in the MidWest or the West. It came from the state of Oklahoma, not a region generally favoured for settlement by the Irish diaspora.


The donation amounted to $170 and it was collected by members of the Choctaw Native American nation. Some sources give the sum involved as $710, but the amount actually donated is immaterial. Either way it was a huge sum of money for a nation of impoverished Native Americans consigned more than a decade before, to life on the comfortably sounding but demonically devised, reservation. The Choctaw probably empathized with the starving Irish because their own history had much of the tragic about it.


In the war of 1812, fought against the British, the Choctaws had aided the forces led by General Andrew Jackson in the struggle against the former colonial masters. Abject defeat could well have led to the end of the great American Democratic experiment – not that democracy proved to be of much use to the Choctaw. Their reward, in 1831, had been expulsion from their homes in the south-eastern USA during the self-same Andrew Jackson’s presidency, and banishment to the bad lands of Oklahoma. This forced transportation, known as the Trail of Tears had caused the deaths of almost half of the 20,000 or so Choctaw obliged to decamp to the mid-west. Their fate was later shared by the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole nations, all forced into exile, starvation and cultural suppression. The white man wanted their land, and what the white man wanted he got. The punitive Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek signed in 1830, attended to the detail of the wholesale dispossession of the Choctaw. Similar barbed treaties achieved the same result with the other four so called ‘Civilised Tribes’.


1831 was one of the coldest winters on record and the Federal government was not about to waste valuable taxpayers money on providing adequate food, clothing and transportation to mere Indians to protect them from the elements during such an arduous trip westwards into the even colder interior.


So it’s not hard to see why the Choctaw, having heard of the Great Famine, empathised with the Irish people. What must have been more difficult was raising such a significant sum. Only in recent years has their generosity been recognized in Ireland but today, former president Mary Robinson is an honorary chieftain of the Choctaw nation and a plaque commemorating their charity has been erected outside Dublin’s Mansion House. Other monuments around the country recognize their immensely charitable gesture.


The Choctaw, originally from the modern state of Mississippi, more than earned their designation as one of the Five ‘Civilised’ tribes, when they set about collecting a charitable donation worth at least $100,000 in today’s money, to the relief of famine in Ireland, one hundred and sixty-nine years ago, on this day.



On This Day – 11.3.1858 The birth of Thomas Clarke


When it comes to the issue of the organization of the 1916 insurrection we have to look well beyond the esoteric, if palpably sincere, philosophizing of Pearse and even the military nous and pragmatism of Connolly and look to the quiet man in the midst of the fury.

Thomas Clarke, the self effacing tobacconist, was the spine, the heart and the genius of the Easter Rising. While he was surrounded by capable and resourceful allies it was Clarke who drove the rebellion.

The first oddity associated with the life of Tom Clarke is his place of birth. He was actually born in England, in the Isle of Wight. The second was his association with the British Army. His father was a serving soldier. At the age of 20 Clarke made the decision that was to inform the rest of his life when he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Dungannon, Co.Tyrone. Two years later he was forced to flee to the USA to avoid arrest.

For fifteen years of his life he was someone else. Clarke was sent from America to London in 1883 to lead the bombing campaign masterminded by O’Donovan Rossa. He did so under the alias Henry Wilson and it was under that name that he served fifteen years in British prisons after his arrest and conviction. While in jail he met the old Republican John Daly. After his release Clarke married Daly’s niece Kathleen. The family didn’t approve. She was twenty-one years younger than her husband and marriage to a felon, albeit a jailed Republican, was not exactly what they had in mind for their girl. In addition Clarke, after a tough decade and a half in prison, looked far older than his years.

After spending almost a decade in the USA the Clarkes returned to Ireland in 1907 and Tom opened a humble tobacconist’s shop in Dublin. While outwardly settled and legitimate in fact Clarke continued his work with the Irish Republican Brotherhood, most notably as a member of that organisation’s Military Council. He became a sort of mentor to the likes of Denis McCullough, Bulmer Hobson and, in particular, Sean McDermott. Because of his background as a convicted felon, however, Clarke steered clear of overt political involvement. He left it to others to infiltrate, at the highest level, organisations like the GAA, the Gaelic League and, from 1913, the Irish Volunteers.

In 1916 Clarke essentially became the link to the ‘old’ Fenians who had risen in 1867, although he himself was only a child at that time. Acting on the Republican axiom that ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’ he was determined to take advantage of the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. He worked assiduously to make plans for a rising around the country with the IRB at its core using the Volunteers as their battering ram. A reluctant Hobson and McCullough were jettisoned along the way, the likes of Pearse, Connolly, Plunkett and McDonagh were recruited.

The seven members of the Military Council – Eamon Ceannt being the one often ignored – became signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. Clarke should probably have become President of the Provisional Government but preferred to leave that honour to the more flamboyant and better known Pearse. Clarke himself was an anonymous figure, familiar only to fellow revolutionaries and ‘G’ Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

Clarke was stationed in the GPO during the Rising and was the second leader, after Pearse, to be executed. His last message to Kathleen ended with the words ‘we die happy’. Familiar photographs of Clarke depict a thin, bespectacled, old man. He was actually only fifty-nine years of age at the time of his death.

Thomas Clarke, conspirator, Republican, tobacconist and victim of a 1916 firing squad, was born one hundred and fifty-eight years ago, on this day.








On This Day – 4 March 1978 Death of Emmet Dalton



James Emmet Dalton, known to his friends as Emmet, might have ended up being better known for the distinguished company he kept rather than for anything he did himself, but he managed to avoid that unfortunate fate. Nonetheless the story of his life is dominated by two events in which he witnessed the deaths of two of this country’s most significant 20th century figures.


Dalton was born in America in 1898 to an Irish-American father and an Irish mother but the family moved back to Dublin when the young Emmet was just two years old.


His remarkable military career began in 1913 when he joined the Irish Volunteers. Note the date. He was fifteen years old at the time. He was still underage when he joined the British Army in 1915 as a second lieutenant in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. He saw action at the Somme in September 1916 and it was here that he crossed paths with the first of those two great Irishmen, the poet, economist and politician Thomas Kettle. Kettle, a fellow officer, was a good friend of Dalton’s father. In an RTE radio interview given in the 1960s Dalton recalled how Kettle had read to him his most famous poem, the poignant sonnet ‘To My Daughter Betty a Gift From God’ a couple of days before the Battle of Ginchy. Kettle’s death in the battle was witnessed by Dalton, who himself won a Military Cross and was promoted to Major.


In an RTE television interview with Cathal O’Shannon, which took place in the year of his death, Dalton admitted to having been taken completely by surprise by the 1916 Rising and to have believed, as he put it himself, that ‘we thought it was madness’. He was, however, to become closely associated with one of the minor figures being swept up by the British Army in Dublin and transported to Frongoch camp in North Wales, a previously obscure London based IRB man by the name of Michael Collins.


Despite his opposition to the Rising when Dalton was demobilised in 1919 he quickly threw in his lot with the IRA. Putting his war experience to good use he became director of training. He also earned his corn by talking his way into Mountjoy Prison in an outrageous but ultimately failed attempt to spring the IRA leader Sean MacEoin.


His association with Collins brought him to London for the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations in late 1921 and, unsurprisingly given his huge admiration for Collins he took the pro-Treaty side in the Civil War. It was Dalton who commanded the artillery bombardment of Rory O’Connor’s rebel garrison in the Four Courts, the event that, in effect, precipitated the bitter fraternal conflict.


It was against Dalton’s advice that Collins made his final fateful journey to Cork in 1922. The killing of his mentor at Bealnablath on 22 August traumatised the young man, who, despite his seniority in military terms – he was a Major General – was still only twenty-four years old.


What do you do when you have been through eight years at the sharp end of continual warfare. In the case of Dalton you get into the film industry and eventually you set up Ardmore studios. This he did at the age of sixty, a time when most men would be thinking of slowing down. In this capacity he brought films like The Blue Max, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and The Lion in Winter to the Co.Wicklow studio facility.


An interesting footnote, the Slievenamon, the ill-fated armoured car against which a desperate Dalton propped Collins as he tried to save his life at Bealnablath, later featured in an Ardmore based Hollywood movie, Shake Hands with the Devil, which starred James Cagney.






Emmet Dalton died on his eightieth birthday – he was born one hundred and eighteen years ago on this day