On This Day – 24  August 1803 – Death of James Napper Tandy

 

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If you type the words ‘I met with’ into a Google search, in Ireland at least, an obliging or very prescriptive algorithm will add the words ‘Napper Tandy’ immediately. I haven’t tried this in the UK, the USA, Uzbekistan or the Falklands so I’m not quite sure if it works there as well. Maybe if you’re listening on the web you might give it a try and get back to us.

All of which goes to show that Google has obviously engaged the services of a number of Irish Republican algorithms, because the phrase ‘I met with Napper Tandy’ comes from one of the great rebel tunes The Wearing of the Green. The song starts with the patently ridiculous assertion that ‘the shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground’, goes on to claim that there is a law against ‘the wearing of the green’ – presumably it was just out of fashion at the time – and goes on to observe that ‘I met with Napper Tandy and he took me by the hand and he said ‘How’s poor old Ireland and how does she stand’ – which scans very badly indeed as you have to extend the ‘how’ to a ‘how-ow’ to make it work.

The song was a Dublin street ballad about the failure of the 1798 rebellion and the bloodletting that followed. The version that includes the reference to Napper Tandy was written by the playwright Dion Boucicault for his 1864 play Arrah na Pogue, set in Wicklow during the United Irishmen’s insurrection of 1798.

But who was the remarkable Mr. Tandy?

Well, like a lot of the United Irishmen, James Napper Tandy was a Protestant, Irish Republican revolutionary, born in 1739 who went to the same Quaker school as Edmund Burke. He became a Dublin City councillor, railed and fought against municipal corruption, and advocated an Irish boycott of British goods in retaliation for tariffs and restrictions imposed by the British government on Irish products. Except, of course, they didn’t call it a boycott back then because he didn’t happen for another century or so.

In 1784 he became involved in a major spat with the powerful Irish Attorney General John Fitzgibbon. Fitzgibbon, provoked by Tandy’s support for parliamentary reform, accused him of being unable to pay his debts and of being responsible for riots in Dublin . Tandy, in response, took out an advertisement accusing Fitzgibbon of lying. It was tantamount to challenging the Attorney General to a duel. Just in case Fitzgibbon didn’t get the message Tandy strapped on his sword and paraded up and down College Green, in front of the Irish parliament building. Fitzgibbon haughtily chose to ignore the challenge on the basis that Tandy was ‘not a gentleman’. Ouch!

Tandy was always to the fore when it came to radical causes, he was, for example, strongly influenced  by the ideas of the French Revolution, and equally supportive of the American colonists in their struggle for independence. In 1791 he, along with Theobald Wolfe Tone, became one of the founding members of the Society of the United Irishmen. None of this endeared him to the authorities and in 1792 he fell foul of his second top lawyer, John Toler, the Solicitor General. Toler made a reference in a parliamentary debate to the fact that only Tandy’s own mother would have found him physically attractive. [Based on the attached portraits you can decide for yourselves!] Rather than issue a challenge, which Toler indicated in advance that he would be happy to accept, Tandy sought an explanation for the derogatory remarks. His fear was that, as the insult had been made under parliamentary privilege, if he fought and won a duel against Toler, he would be sentenced to death for murder. The episode did little for his reputation until the issuing of a challenge led to Tandy’s arrest. He ended up spending barely an hour in jail but his brief inacareration went some way towards rehabilitating his reputation as a radical firebrand.

He also had a short career as an architectural critic, albeit more muscular than the current Prince Charles, when he led a mob against the building works taking place at the new Custom House, designed by James Gandon. This particular riot was conducted on behalf of the inhabitants of the area around the older model whose trade would be affected when the new building was finally commissioned. Later, fearing arrest for having taken the oath of the Catholic secret society, the Defenders, Tandy fled to the USA. When he fetched up in Boston the Freeman’s Journal waspishly noted the fact and warned the people of the city of the imminent threat from Tandy of ‘plague, pestilence and sedition’, suggesting that he was capable of some primitive form of germ warfare while rousing a mob to violence.

Tandy returned to Europe in 1798 and was all at sea during the United Irishmen’s rebellion, having been given command of a French ship which landed in Donegal. It left rather hurriedly, without achieving very much, after the defeat of General Humbert’s invading French force in Mayo. He was later arrested in Hamburg and handed over to the British authorities. He was sentenced to death for his brief Donegal vacation but was freed under pressure from Napoleon Bonaparte himself, and fled to France.

Radical United Irishman, James Napper Tandy, who never quite managed to fight a duel with anyone very interesting, died of dysentery in Bordeaux two hundred and fifteen years ago, on this day.

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On This Day – 3 August 1868 Death of Charles Graham Halpine

 

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One of the great Irishmen of the American Civil War came from the town of Oldcastle, [Co.Meath.] Miles O’Reilly of the 47thNew York regiment, was twice reduced to the ranks for acts of insubordination but, otherwise, served the Union Army with distinction.

Except, of course, that he didn’t.

In reality Miles O’Reilly was a fictional character, created by a genuine Oldcastle man, the journalist, poet and soldier Charles Graham Halpine. But to the Union troops Miles was one of them, as real as General Ulysees Grant. And, on foot of his creation, for a brief period Halpine became one of the most read satirists in the USA, needling his own side in the Civil War and later, lampooning the corruption of New York City politics. He also risked his life to allow African Americans to assume a more meaningful role in the conflict.

Halpine was born in 1829. He was the son of Rev. Nicholas John Halpin a Church of Ireland curate in Oldcastle, Co.Meath who doubled as editor of the militantly unionist and Protestant Dublin Evening Mail who might not have been happy that his son was born in the year of Catholic Emancipation. Halpine flunked out of Trinity College at an early age and tried his luck, first in London, and then in New York. In the latter, his talent as a writer quickly emerged and had then to be set aside when the American civil war began in 1861.

Halpine possessed a wicked sense of humour. He was an accomplished literary hoaxer. A case in point, his most outrageous coup, involved a notorious pirate named Albert W.Hicks, who was the last man executed for piracy in the USA. He was hanged on Bedloe’s Island – where the statue of Liberty now stands – on 13 July 1860.

Halpine, bored with the news of the day, invented a story claiming that Hicks had been resuscitated after his hanging, and was making ready to exact retribution on the people of New York. Like Orson Welles and his infamous War of the Worldsbroadcast, the report caused consternation. For years afterwards there were people who believed that Hicks had actually made his escape, post mortem, from Bedloe’s Island.

After enlisting in the Union army in 1861 Halpine found himself operating as adjutant general in the staff of the maverick Union general David Hunter in South Carolina. Hunter, unilaterally and without Federal approval, began to recruit black soldiers around South Carolina and formed the first black unit in the Union army, the 1stCarolina (Africa descent). When this was challenged in Congress, and the black soldiers were described as ‘fugitive slaves’ Halpine was recruited to write a riposte to Hunter’s opponents. He rose to the occasion in style, describing Hunter’s recruits as:

 

A fine regiment of loyal persons whose late masters are ‘fugitive                 rebels’ … they are now, one and all, endeavouring with                                     commendable zeal to acquire the drill and discipline required to  place them in a position to go in full and effective pursuit of their  … traitorous proprietors

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For that, and related offences, Halpine and Hunter were placed on a Confederate death list, to be hanged immediately upon capture.

But his signature contribution to the war effort was the creation of the entirely fictional, but thoroughly believable, Private Miles O’Reilly, whose military career was avidly followed by readers of the New York Herald.

O’Reilly was a bad poet given to sarcastic gibes on the course of the war and the complete uselessness of the generals who were fighting it.  Halpine had him ‘clapped in irons’ for a poem about an overcautious Union Admiral, Rear Admiral John A.Dahlgren, or Dahlgreen as Miles labelled him for rhyming purposes. Dahlgren liked to preserve the integrity of his ships by never actually sending them into battle.

Miles was cashiered for writing this little ditty.

 

Oh! Dahlgreen,

It’s aisy to be seen

You like dry land so well

That seasick you’ve never been

I’ll not keep score

Your fleet is built for speed

What a pity that it never leaves the shore’

 

Halpine then has Miles pardoned by the President himself who immediately summons the Bard of Oldcastle to the White House to discuss policy. There Miles addresses Lincoln in the following terms.

 

Private O Reilly says that he was born at a place they call Ouldcastle . . .       and he is emphatic in declaring that he and seventeen of his O’Reilly          cousins, sixty-four Murphy cousins, thirty-seven Kelly cousins, twenty-        three Lanigan cousins. together with a small army of Raffertys,    Caffertys, Fogartys, Flanigans, Bradys, O’Rourkes, Dooligans, Oulahans,          Quinns, Flynns, Kellys, Murphys, O’Connors, O’Donnells, O’Driscolls,         O’Mearas, O’Tooles, McCartys, McConkeys, and McConnells— all his         own blood relations, many of them now in the service, and all decent   boys—would be both proud and happy to enlist or re-enlist for twenty years, if his Reverence’s Excellency the President would only oblige         them by declaring war . . .  against England.’

 

As it happens Halpine himself had met Lincoln on many occasions when he was assigned to work with the general staff in Washington. He regularly visited the White House with documents requiring Lincoln’s signature. The President had actually discussed with Halpine the possibility of being assassinated and described how easy it would be to murder him.

After the war Halpine continued to operate behind his alter-ego and turned Miles  on the corrupt machine politicians of New York. Sadly a burgeoning political career – Halpine’s not O’Reilly’s – ended when he died prematurely at the age of only thirty-eight. Had he lived he was set fair to become a significant figure in post-war American politics or letters, whichever he chose.

Charles Graham Halpine, creator of the pugnacious Meathman, Miles O’Reilly, died one hundred and fifty years ago, on this day.

 

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