Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Irishmen in The German Army

James Brady- A Roscommon man in the German Army

Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

While the activities of William Joyce and Francis Stuart have been well documented over the years, very little is known about the handful of Irishmen who fought on the German side in the Second World War. These men were not part of the Legion of St George, a group of English men in the Waffen SS, as is often believed, but more specialised commandos. The most prominent of these were James Brady of Strokestown, Co Roscommon and Frank Stringer from Gravelstown, County Meath. It is also believed that one Patrick O’Neill served as a doctor with a SS penal battalion though this has never been satisfactorily confirmed.

Brady was born in Strokestown in 1920. His mother died when he was very young and in 1938 he went to Liverpool and enlisted in the Royal Irish Fusiliers. He was stationed on the Island of Guernsey, where he and Frank Stringer were involved in a fracas in a pub. After hitting the policeman who had come to arrest them they were both sentenced to a term in the local jail. When the regiment pulled out of Guernsey it seemingly forgot about Brady and Stringer. They were still in jail when the Germans took possession of the island in July 1940 and were subsequently transferred from the prison to a prisoner of war camp in France.
In May 1941, about fifty Irish POW's including Brady and Stringer were segregated from the other prisoners and sent to a camp at Friesack in Northern Germany under the supervision of the Abwehr or the German counterintelligence. It was intended that they were to form the nucleus of an Irish Brigade. It was not a new idea and just as Roger Casement had sought to form an Irish Brigade in the First World War so too did Seán Russell. He was not alone with this idea. Eoin O’Duffy also wanted to raise a brigade from Ireland to fight to Russia as he had done in Spain, though his plan was not taken seriously by the German authorities.
Other Irish men to receive specialised training in bomb making at Friesack included Sergeant John Codd from Dublin, William Murphy from Enniscorthy, Patrick O'Brien from Nenagh and Andrew Walsh from Fethard, County Tipperary.

The brigade was intended to appeal to Irish Nationalists, but as with the previous German Irish brigade it met with very limited success and it was decided to train them as spies instead. Helmut Clissmann, who later dropped into Ireland, was involved in their training.
That was not entirely successful either. They had been told that they were being transferred to a camp with better conditions for the Irish. This is all some of them wanted and had no intention in serving the Germans. The men were put under immense psychological pressure to cooperate and when the idea of dropping them into Ireland was deemed unworkable those unwilling to further cooperate were sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

The espionage side of things had little appeal for Brady and Stringer and in September of 1943 they both transferred to the Waffen SS where they received further training along with other European volunteers at Sennheim in Alsace. Brady adapted the alias De lacy and would reach the rank of SS-Unterscharfuehrer (Sergeant) before the war was out, while Stringer who became known as Le Page never rose above the rank of private.
It was in France that they received their blood groups tattooed on their left arms, which was common to all members of the SS. Their in-depth training there lasted until March of 1944. They were not satisfied being normal infantry men and sought more of a challenge. They were sent to a special camp at Friedenthal, near Berlin and became part of the elite commando SS-Jaegerbatallion 502, which had been set up by the Otto Skorzeny. Skorzeny was famous all over Europe for his daring rescue of Mussolini and would move to Ireland after the war. From there they were then posted to SS-Jagdverbande Mitte.
It was this unit that infiltrated the American lines dressed as Americans during the battle of the Bulge which spread panic through the American lines. While Brady and Stringer didn’t participate in this operation they did take part in Operation Mickey Mouse. The operation was a cunning plan to kidnap the son of Hungary’s regent Admiral Horthy, who had been planning to surrender to the Russians. The regent did not initially sway when his son was kidnapped but did when the SS kidnapped him as well and the operation in October 1944 was a success.
In spite of this success the Third Reich was collapsing. In January 1945 Brady was wounded during a Russian attack on the river Oder and had to be hospitalised. He fled from the hospital shortly before the Russians overran. At the war’s end he avoided captivity by going underground with other SS men. He did not seem content with a life on the run however and he turned himself into the British Authorities in Berlin in September of 1946. From there he was brought to London where in Mayfair in December of that year he was court –martialled and received a 12 year sentence.
Stringer had surrendered to the Americans, who handed him over to the British. He too faced court martial; when it was proven that he was that he had been a serving member of the British army when he had joined the German army. He was released from prison in 1950.What became of Brady after his prison sentence or indeed any of the Irish men mentioned in this article is not known.



Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

The following tale has been adapted from an 8th century epic Táin Bó Fraech, but it is probably much older. Fraech of Connacht was the most handsome man in all of Ireland and Scotland. He was the son of Béfinn, who was the sister of Boann. It was after Boann that the river Boyne got his name. He spent seven years without a woman at his side, not because he did not want one or because he could not get one, but because he was looking for the right one and he knew that this would take time. How long it would take, he did not know but he was prepared to wait for his true love. The fame of this handsome bachelor was soon known throughout the island. Finnabair, whose name means fair eyebrows, daughter of Ailill and Medhbh of Connacht, heard of him and she expressed a desire to meet him. When he heard this he decided to seek the girl out, but first he went to his mother for advice and she advised him to head to the royal palace at Cruachain with all his fine cattle, servants and dressed in his finest clothes and this is what he did.
Fraech’s procession to Cruachain was a mighty one and a great crowd came out to meet him and his entourage. Ailill and Medhbh also welcomed him. A feast that lasted three days and three nights followed. Next morning he turned his attention to the purpose of his visit and went looking for Finnabair. He met her at a spring where she had stopped to wash her hands. It was the first time she had laid eyes on him and she liked what she saw. He asked her if she would elope with him. She refused, for she was the daughter of a king and he should pay a dowry and she knew Fraech was wealthy enough to pay her dowry.
As a sign of her affection for him, she gave him a thumb ring, which her own mother had given her.
Fraech went back to the palace and announced his intentions towards Finnabair. Ailill did not want to give up his daughter that easily and demanded an exorbitant dowry- sixty black grey horses with gold and silver bits, twelve milk cows as well as a white calf with red ears. Fraech knew this was too much and he refused to pay the dowry and walked out in disgust. Ailill and Medhbh had noticed the thumb ring he wore and knew their daughter was interested in Fraech. If she was interested in him, she might try to elope and Ailill thought of a way to get rid of him.

One day after a hunt, Ailill asked Fraech to show him how well he could swim. While Fraech was in the water Ailill opened the purse on Fraech’s belt, removed the thumb ring and threw in into the water. The loss of the ring would surely break up the intended union. A salmon swallowed the ring and Ailill walked away.

Fraech had seen what had happened and caught the salmon. That evening when they were at table Ailill was served with salmon and to his irritation saw that it contained the ring.
Aillil knew he would have to find another way of getting rid of Fraech and the chance arose when Medhbh fell ill. Now they were many cures for sickness at the time, but a definite cure was the fruit of a rowan tree that grew on the opposite side of a lake near Cruachain. Whoever ate the berries from this tree automatically gained another year to their life and whoever was sick or wounded was automatically healed.
Ailill told Fraech of this and the young man accepted the challenge without any hesitation. What Ailill conveniently forgot to tell Fraech was that a lake monster protected the tree and many young men had been killed trying to get the berries.
Fraech went into the water and swam towards the tree, which he reached without any difficulty. On the way back however, the monster became aware of his presence and went after the unsuspecting Fraech. He took a bite out of Fraech, who after overcoming his initial shock of the monster’s attack, frantically wrestled with it.
He shouted out for his sword. Ailill watching from the shore did not react. Finnabair was also on the shore and when she saw that her father was not doing anything to save him ran to where his sword was and threw it to Fraech. By this stage, the monster had bitten away his arm but the young hero chopped off its head and dragged it on shore where he himself collapsed. As he lay there, the wailing of women was heard and when they were asked why they wailed they said it was for Fraech who was soon to die. Finnabair embraced her lover but he did not survive his wounds and died in her arms. He was lamented by 150 women of the sídh who carried his body into the mound at Cruachain. This was the only time the beautiful Finnabair really loved someone and a poem from the twelfth century survives where she mourns the loss of her beloved Fraech. In The Cattle Raid of Cooley she is depicted as a heartless femme fatal who sends warriors, the most famous being Ferdia, competing for her affections, to take on the invincible Cú Chulainn.

Today near Tulsk in County Roscommon there is a mound known as Carnfree (Carn Fraoich), which was also the inauguration site for the O’Connors. In a nearby cave called Uaimh na gCat at Rathcrogan, one of three entrances in Ireland to the Otherworld, there is a sixth century inscription on a stone pillar, possible marking a grave, which reads ‘Fraech…son of Medhbh’.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Rebel Sons of Erin

The Rebel Sons of Erin

Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

While the Irish who fought for the Northern states are often written about less is known about the estimated 50,000 Irish who fought for the South. When the Southerners looked upon the North as something of an aggressive bully, trying to dictate how they should live their lives, it was a sentiment with which the Irish could readily identify.

Unlike other regiments that were Irish in name only, the Tenth Tennessee Infantry Regiment was made up entirely of Irishmen and was one of only two confederate regiments made up of Irish Catholics, the others being comprised mostly of Ulster Protestants. Its officers were for the most Northern Irish Protestants, the most famous being Randall McGavock.

The regiment was set up at Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River, in May of 1861, a few weeks after war breaking out and colonel Heiman assumed command. It soon numbered 720 men armed with flintlock muskets. The Regimental flag, which is currently hangs on display in Nashville Museum, was made up of a golden harp with a maroon trim on a green background. Over the harp in white lettering was written "Sons of Erin" and underneath "Where glory await you". The regiment became locally known as The Rebel Sons of Erin but as later the war took a horrific toll on its numbers, they were christened The Bloody Tenth.
One of the regiment`s youngest soldiers was seventeen year old Patrick Griffin, who was born on St. Patrick's Day, 1844, in County Galway. His parents Michael and Honora Griffin decided left Ireland in 1847 when The Famine was at its worst, and in their desperation, they had to leave three of their children behind. When they landed in Baltimore, Patrick’s father worked laying train tracks, a job that would take the family to Nashville.
This regiment stayed at Fort Henry to drill and to train. It first saw action in February 1862 when the Union army bombarded the fort. It was ordered to fall back to Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River where they thought they would be safe. After wadding a number of streams swollen by rain and snow, and being constantly harassed by Union cavalry they eventually reached the fort late that night. They soon found themselves under attack again when Union soldiers attacked the fort. Weary and outnumbered the 10th Tennessee held them at bay for four days before being compelled to surrender.
Their time in captivity was to prove harsh and they suffered under the atrocious conditions in the Union prison at Fort Warren in Boston Harbour. Five months later they were exchanged for Union prisoners and the regiment was reformed again at Clinton, Mississippi in October of 1862. When Colonel Heiman died in November, 1862 he was succeeded by Colonel Randall W. McGavock. He was a highly regarded figure in Tennessee, where he had been a former mayor of Nashville .
Near the end of December, 1862 the regiment was ordered to Vicksburg and helped defeat General Sherman's forces at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou. In January 1863 the 10th Tennessee was 349 strong and was serving General Gregg at Port Hudson, Louisiana, where the Union navy bombarded them. They later engaged with Union troops at Jackson, Mississippi, and repulsed them. The 10th Tennessee then marched to Raymond, Mississippi, where, on May 12th, they fought in the Battle of Raymond, suffering 52 casualties.

At Raymond the confederate General John Gregg faced General Ulysses S. Grant. The confederates were trying to prevent the Union troops from reaching the Southern Railroad and isolating Vicksburg, Mississippi from reinforcement and resupply. It was a small but important battle in the Vicksburg campaign that thwarted Union plans.

In the midst of the battle as the regiment awaited orders to move forward, McGavock sent a courier to find General Gregg. The courier returned, not with orders from General Gregg, but with news that the Confederate centre had been routed. McGavock then ordered his regiment into an impetuous and ill conceived assault on the centre to repel the Union soldiers. He threw back his cape and rallied his men. The red lining of his cape made him a perfect target and he was riddled with more than twelve bullets. His men carried on, only to realise that they were now being fired upon from all sides and were forced into a retreat.

Ever loyal to his commander, the young Patrick Griffin took McGavock`s body from the field which led to his capture. The officer who captured him, a man by the name of McGuire, was also from Galway. Impressed by the young soldier’s courage and at finding a fellow Galwegian he ordered his men to place McGavock's body in one of the Union army wagons for transport into town, where after a coffin was hastily put together he was buried with full honours.
After the battle of Raymond the regiment now numbering 328 took part with remnants of other Tennessee regiments in the Battle of Chickamauga fighting mainly as sharpshooters. The combined regiment suffered 224 killed and wounded at Chickamauga. Their last major battle was at Bentonville, North Carolina in March of 1865
By the time they surrendered at Greensboro, North Carolina, in April of that year they numbered less than 100, all of whom had been wounded several times.
The war had taken its toll on the 21 year old Griffin who had been wounded and taken prisoner three times as well as taking part in twenty-four engagements with the enemy. It was these engagements with which he would later regal future generations. By the time he died in 1921 he had ensured that the contribution of the confederate Irish would not be forgotten.

Gottfried von Banfield

The Austrian Military Academy at Wiener-Neustadt has a room, a monument to former Imperial glory. Oil paintings of the great generals of Imperial Austria adorn the walls, all of whom were recipients of Imperial Austria’s highest order The Maria Theresa Order. Introduced in 1757 by Empress Maria Theresa, the prestigious award honoured exceptional courage in wartime. Many recipients such as Browne, Macquire, O’Donell and Lacy were Irish. One painting, depicting a young man in naval uniform stands out from the rest, that of Gottfried von Banfield, the empire’s greatest air ace.
He was born in 1890 in Castelnuovo, then part of The Austro-Hungarian Empire, in present day Italy, as the youngest of five children, near the homeport of the now nonexistent Austrian Navy in Pola.
His father was Richard von Banfield of Clonmel and Castlelyons. The von Banfields were by no means the only Irish in Trieste. With the establishment of the Austrian Imperial navy in 1720, Georg Forbes of Granard (it is interesting that most of the Wild Geese, while retaining Irish surnames took on German Christian names) became the first grand admiral and set up the naval base at Trieste. Admiral Richard Barry who also served in the area organised the naval defence of Venice in 1859.
Richard von Banfield made his name in 1886 in the Austro-Italian war during the battle of Lissa in the Adriatic, when he sank the Italian flagship the “Re d’Italia”. Years later his son Gottfried would fight the same foe, and as the most highly decorated air ace of The Austro-Hungarian Empire on a par with Baron von Richthofen, become even more famous than his father.
The young Gottfried was sent to military school at the age of eleven. Before he would be accepted, however he had to take Austrian citizenship. He would later attend the naval academy at Fiume and graduated in 1909. After a brief spell as a frigate-lieutenant, he began pilot training. He perfected his training under the Frenchman Jean Louis Conneau, a famous pilot known throughout Europe at the time. He would later meet his teacher as an adversary over the skies over the Adriatic.
He was posted to Pola, where he began his training in seaplanes, and assumed command of the seaplane station there, which was named after him and where he would soon become something of a living legend. He flew a Lohner biplane seaplane and it was in this plane that he scored his first victories against the Italians and their French allies in June of 1915.
He later led a highly successful attack on the Italian flotilla at the central Italian port of Ancona on the Adriatic. His prowess soon earned him the title “The Eagle of Trieste”. In total, he would fly 400 sorties against the enemy and was the first imperial Austria pilot to score a victory at night.
Just how many victories he scored is a matter of dispute. Some sources say twenty, though some of these were unconfirmed. Naval pilots had the disadvantage over other aviators in that the planes they shot down were generally over water, making it more difficult to confirm a kill. His sorties were not without danger and he was lightly wounded three times and quite seriously in 1918.
In 1917, von Banfield was summoned to meet with Kaiser Karl, son of Franz-Josef who had died the previous year. He was to receive The Maria Theresa Order, the highest decoration the emperor could bestow. He was one of only 1,135 recipients of the award and the only Imperial Austrian pilot to receive such a distinction. As part of the award, von Banfield was raised to the status of Freiherr (Baron). It was the 180th time the order was bestowed, and it would be the last time in Imperial Austria. Imperial Austria collapsed in 1918 as did many other empires and when Austria became a republic titles such as ‘von’ and ‘baron’ were outlawed for Austrians citizens.
With the war over von Banfield like thousands of others now faced an uncertain future. Italy annexed Trieste and he was for a time imprisoned by the Italian authorities. After his release, he worked for Skoda in Prague before immigrating to England in 1920 where he married Countess Maria Tripcovich of Trieste. They lived in Newscastle and had one son, Raphael Douglas, who was born in 1922. He would grow up to become a composer under the name Raffaello de Banfield Tripcovich and die in 2008 leaving no heirs.
In 1926, von Banfield returned to Trieste and took over his late father-in-law’s salvage business. He also took on Italian citizenship and soon became a well-known and well-liked figure in the area with the locals referring to him as ‘il nostro Barone’ or ‘Our Baron’.
His salvage business turned out to be highly lucrative. Once the Second World War started, he had plenty of work in the Adriatic and Mediterranean. His maxim was ‘if it’s easy it doesn’t interest me’. He won international acclaim when he cleared the Suez Canal of mines and debris in record time following The Suez Crisis.
He visited Ireland on several occasions. The French honoured him with the Legion d’Honnnuer in 1977 and although now based on land he retained a passion for sailing, which he carried out until he was 90.
His died in 1986, aged 96. His passing brought about not only the death of the Austria’s most well known fighter ace, but also the last knight of the Maria Theresa Order, ending a 230 year old tradition. For the Irish it signalled the end of 300 years of Irish military service to Austria as von Banfield was also the last of the wild Geese. In honour of his achievements, the graduating class of 1990 at Austria’s Military academy bore his name.

The Limerick Germans

The Limerick Germans
Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

One beautiful fair’s day as I went through Baile Uí Shíoda
Who should I meet on the way only a Palatine’s daughter
She asked me my name and where I was from. Said she:
‘If you abandon The Mass you will get my hand in marriage
And have a pretty girl by your side if you want a Palatine’.

The above words are an English translation from a charming folksong song Iníon an Phalaitinigh and recall an all but forgotten time when Germans lived in Ireland.
Eighteenth century Europe was a turbulent place and Western Germany particularly the area along the French border now known Rhineland-Pfalz was ravaged by war. The Lutheran Palatines inhabiting the area suffered greatly from French attacks and Queen Anne, a champion of Protestantism offered them refuge in Britain. In 1709 Eight thousand moved to Rotterdam, where English ships were to convey them to a safe haven. It turned out that there were two thousand Catholics in the group and they were turned away. Three thousand of the group sailed to The New World while the remaining three thousand Palatines were brought first of all to England, which was ill equipped to deal with them and then on to Dublin, where in the autumn of 1709, 871 families, numbering 3073 arrived. It was hoped they would augment the Protestant population of rural Ireland.
Their time in Dublin was not happy one. They were overcharged for food, were sold watered down milk and given counterfeit money in change. This was so rife that the Lord Mayor of Dublin issued a proclamation promising to deal severely with the culprits.
From Dublin the Palatines were dispatched to sympathetic landlords in Gorey on the Abel Ram estate and also Carlow. By far the biggest colony however would turn out to be in Rathkeale County Limerick on the Southwell estate. Sir John Southwell, a Catholic landlord warmly embraced the concept of the colony and by 1714 over 130 families were living on Southwells lands.
Each Palatine received eight acres of land at a nominal rent of five shillings per acre and at leases of three lives. Each family was also allowed forty shillings a year for seven years to buy stock and utensils. This was quite generous, considering that the Irish tenants at the time were paying rents of thirty five shillings per acre. Such generosity did not prevail and in the 1740s many landlords increased the rent considerably, so much so that many Palatines left the country in favour of America. It was around this time that the colony in Gorey and Carlow all but vanished.
In addition to the land, every Palatine household received a musket to protect themselves from the Irish. The Palatine men joined a local Yeomanry calling themselves "True Blues" or "German Fusiliers". It turned out to be unnecessary as the native Irish left them in peace.
To earn a living they farmed the land and were known to grown hemp and flax as well as raise cattle. Their agricultural practices differed to that of the locals. While the Irish were wont to plant potatoes using the spade, the Palatines used horses and ploughs. They ploughed the land in spring, planted the potatoes in the furrows and covered it over again with the plough. Again at harvest they used the plough to dig out the potatoes. They were also renowned for their cider production.
They had a distinctive Germanic lifestyle until the 19th century. While their Christian names such as Adam, Ebenezer, Ernest, Frederick, Jacob, Jasper, Julius, Ethel, Rebecca Julius, were distinctly German they tended to adopt more Irish names in the 19th century.
One of their customs was to be buried with their bibles, which accounts for the fact that while they spoke German, they had no bibles in the German language. They maintained their dialect until 1880 when the last speaker Long Anne Teskey from Rathkeale, who was also a fluent Irish speaker, passed away at the age of 115. The name Teskey is still common in the Rathkeale area.
While it was expected that the Palatines join the Anglican Church many turned to Methodism. They built a Methodist church at Ballingrane near Rathkeale in 1766 which was dedicated to the memory of Philip Embury and his cousin Barbara Heck. Both were from the area and when they left for America they became leading figures in the Methodist church. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, made several missionary trips to Ireland and always made a point of visiting the Palatine communities of Co. Limerick. The small cemetery in the churchyard still bears the graves of the Palatine community. The church had no bell so a cow horn, which still survives, was used to summon the faithful to service.
Largely due to their varied diet they were not greatly afflicted by the Great Famine of 1845. The dire state of the country however, encouraged many to emigrate to America, which furthered reduced the colony.
While in the eighteenth century they tended to marry only within the Palatine community their reduced numbers forced them to marry outside the colony and as time went by they became more integrated with the Irish and their settlements diminished. Little remains of their settlement today although in Killaheen there is still an old Palatine well.It consists of a trench cut into the ground deeper than the water table. The sides and the top are lined with stone and 18 stone steps lead down the clear cold water.
The colony failed to spread the Protestant faith to any large extent in the area and they failed to make linguistic impact. Consequently no Palatine words survive in the locality today. Their ancestors however, are eager to keep their memory alive. Many Irish surnames such as Cole, Crowe, Young, Cooke, St. John, Bowen, Laurence, Lowe, Miller, Everett, Ross, and Switzer have Palatine origins. The latter family became famous in the retail business.
The Irish Palatine association was formed in 1989. At an old disused railway building just off the N21 Limerick to Tralee road in Rathkeale they have a heritage centre where more information can be acquired.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Saint Virgil of Salzburg
Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

Ireland’s contribution to the cultural renaissance that followed The Dark Ages has largely been forgotten outside of Central Europe. One of the lesser well known saints, but a major contributor to this renaissance was St Virgil, Virgil or Virgilius being the Latin form of Fergal. He was a man very much ahead of his time, who would go on to become the patron saint of Salzburg, in Austria, where he is still revered to this day.
He was born of noble birth around 700, where exactly is not known, though some sources suggest Trim, County Meath, and educated at the monastery of Iona. After becoming a monk and a priest he became the abbot of a monastery at Aghaboe in County Laois in the late 730's.

He decided to travel to the Holy land and this decision marked a turning point in his life.
It was not unusual at the time for Irish monks to go abroad. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 4th century and the ensuing Barbarian invasions, Europe was plunged into a cultural void known as The Dark Ages and the spread of Christianity as well as cultural development in general came to a halt. Ireland was spared this terrible period and the island of saints and scholars sent hundreds of missionaries to Southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The missionary work was not without its risks and St. Cillian from Mullagh, Co Cavan was martyred in Würzburg in 689. It was largely due to these missionaries that Christianity not only flourished once more, but Central Europe experienced a cultural renaissance not seen since the Roman Empire.
En route to Jerusalem Virgil came to the court of Pipin at Compaigne in 741. Pipin was the father of the emperor Charlemagne and both men were champions of the faith. Pipin welcomed Virgil and his followers and employed them as consultants. In 744, Pipin sent Virgil and his companions to the court of his brother-in-law, Ottilo, Duke of Bavaria, whose dukedom was only partly Christian. While Southern Germany and Austria are today strongly Catholic areas, in the 8th century and it was on the edge of the Christian world and in desperate need of missionaries.
From there Virgil was sent to Salzburg where he founded a monastery and became abbot-bishop of St. Peter’s Monastery, while his companion Sidonius became bishop of Passau. It was in Salzburg, that Virgil was to remain for the next forty years spreading the word of God. Virgil, however, was the only saint operating in the area. St. Boniface, a Saxon missionary who was primate of Germany controlled the diocese of Bavaria, to which Salzburg belonged and the two saints soon became rivals.
Part of the problem was that Virgil was doing things ‘the Irish way’. Boniface had structured the church so that it looked towards Rome. The early Irish church or the ‘Celtic church as it was also known, however, saw itself more independent of Rome and was not hierarchical, the abbots being regarded as independent authorities.
The first dispute arose over baptisms. Priest at the time were poorly trained and ill educated. Their Latin was equally poor and when Boniface learnt that their Latin grammar was weak he declared baptisms in Virgil’s diocese to be invalid. Virgil disagreed and the matter came before Pope Zachary, who supported Virgil stating that ignorance of Latin did not invalidate baptisms.
Apart from being a holy man, Virgil was one of the most learned men of his age. As well as being a brilliant theologist and philosopher Virgil was a renowned mathematician and astronomist. His knowledge of geography earned him the nickname ‘geometer’. This was in a time when very little was known of the physical world. He believed that the world was round as opposed to flat. This was nothing new at the time. The Ancient Greeks such as Pythagoras and Aristotle had argued this centuries before, but Virgil was among the first Christians to believe and propagate this. In any case very few people had access to the ancient Greek manuscripts and as a result they were not widely known. Other theologians such as St. Augustine and his Virgil’s compatriot Dungal, astronomer to the Emperor Charlemagne also believed in a spherical earth but refuted the notion of the antipodes.
Virgil did believe in the antipodes, the theory that people lived on the other side of the world. The Irish, influenced by Saint Brendan the Navigator and the earlier pagan eachtra stories, believed that people lived on the other side of the world. This was of course several centuries before Columbus and mediaeval depictions of such people portrayed them as deformed creatures, with legs growing upwards out of their heads.
Boniface interpreted Virgil’s teachings that these people were not of the ‘race of Adam’ and therefore not in need of salvation. Boniface, perhaps stinging from the previous year’s baptismal humiliation, seized his opportunity to report him to Pope Zachary in 748, who ordered him to set up a church council to investigate Virgil.
It was a charge that would have to be proven and few knew more about the antipodes than Virgil. The pope was not expected to rule in his favour and excommunication loomed. Fortunately for Virgil the Pope died and the matter was apparently forgotten. It did not appear to stain his career as he was made bishop of Salzburg, though when exactly is not known. The area was not big enough for both saints and Boniface went to Frisia, in present day Holland, where he was martyred in 754. From Salzburg Virgil dispatched missionaries to what is now the Czech Republic and Hungry and acquiring land, set about buildings churches.
In 774 he laid the foundation stone of Salzburg’s cathedral and dedicated it to Saint Rupert.
He died in 784 and was canonized in 1233. In 1288 his remains were interred under the altar of Salzburg Cathedral, where they still remain. Unfortunately, all of his writings disappeared with his passing. He is commemorated in Germany and Austria on 24 September and in the rest of the world on 27 November.
The Battle of Fredericksburg
Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill
The Battle of Fredericksburg fought in December 1862 was one of the bloodiest battles in The American Civil War that costs thousands of lives, many of them Irish. It was one of the few battles where the Irish faced each other, on opposing sides, and this will be the main focus of this article.
The Irish fighting for the North have always received more attention, chiefly because unlike the South they were organised into a large brigades, such as the Irish brigade, while the South had 45 different Irish regiments, all fighting independently of each other. It has been estimated that over 40,000 Irish fought for the South, making up 10% of the Confederate Army. The Irish supported the South for a number of reasons. There was less anti-Irish discrimination than in the North and they understood the Southerners desire for freedom. In both the North and the South the Irish were opposed to the abolition of slavery as freed slaves meant increased competition in the job market.
The two main Irish regiments fighting for the North were the 69th and the 116th. The 69th from New York was already famous before Fredericksburg. Shortly before the conflict had erupted they had refused to parade for the Prince of Wales, resulting in court martial for their commander Colonel Michael Corcoran, from Carrowkeel, County Sligo. The outbreak of the war meant that this court martial never took place. He had been taken prisoner the previous year leaving Waterford born Brigadier–General Thomas Meagher to assume command of the brigade. The regiment 69th was easily distinguishable by the Green Flag they carried and the sprig of shamrock they wore in their hats. A hundred years later JFK would present this Green standard to the Dáil when he visited Ireland. The 116th Pennsylvanian Infantry also partook in the assault as part of the Irish Brigade. It was led by Colonel St. Clair Mulholland, from Lisburn, Country Antrim. He was wounded in the assault and was later to receive the Congressional Medal of Honour. Meagher was also injured when a cannonball struck him in the leg. The disaster at Fredericksburg signalled the end of his career and he resigned his commission in 1863.
The Union army moved south towards Richmond and intended to cross the Potomac at Fredericksburg. The union army under General Burnside, numbering 114,000, was much larger the confederate army of 72,000 under General Robert E. Lee. The confederates were however fighting on home ground and more determined. The Union Army was also under pressure from the Northern public to quell the rebellion. Burnside made several mistakes. Although his army arrived on the banks of the Potomac while the confederates were ill prepared, he had to wait until pontoon bridges arrived. This procrastination gave the confederates ample time to fortify their position and prepare for the Union assault. The assault began on 13 December and having crossed the Potomac the Union army entered the town and ransacked it. This outraged southerners and only served to strengthen their opposition to the North.
The Irish Brigade was given the order to attack the confederate positions at Marye’s Heights just outside the town. Not only would it mean attacking uphill but also across open fields, giving them absolutely no cover. The Irish Brigade’s chaplain, Father William Corby remarked in disbelief “the Generals could not be so foolish as to order us up that hill”. He was wrong.
Overlooking the Irish Brigade in the confederate lines was General Thomas R. R. Cobb’s brigade which included the 24th Georgia Infantry regiment which was largely comprised of Irishmen. It was 660 strong and suffered 36 casualties at Fredericksburg. In later battles they were less fortunate and only 65 survived the war. Cobb was mortally wounded in the battle and replaced by Antrim-born Colonel Robert McMillan. The regiment had taken up position behind a stone wall, located at the crest of the ridge, which still stands today. The wall gave them excellent cover. The confederates were confident that they would be able to repeal any assault on their positions. Indeed, the confederate artillery commander Edward Porter Alexander commented "A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it." Unfortunately for the Irish this would prove to be the case.
The attacking 69th had to file in columns when crossing over two small bridges that spanned a drainage ditch, making them a massed target, before entering the open ground. It was a suicidal assault, doomed to fail. Nevertheless they stormed the hill shouting their war cry ‘Faugh an Ballagh’.
Watching the Union assault the Robert E. Lee wondered if Irish troops would fire on their own countrymen and sent non-Irish troops to reinforce them. It turned out to be unnecessary. When the confederates saw the green flag come up the hill they knew it was the Irish Brigade. They knew that approaching them were men who had come over from Ireland with them and men who only a year previously had been in the same army. MacMillan also saw the green colours and shouted out "Give it to them now, boys! Now's the time! Give it to them!” He never wrote any regret about his decision. They may have been fellow countrymen, but now they were the enemy who were trying to kill them. It was kill or be killed. The assault was repelled and the Irish Brigade massacred, although they did get closer to the confederate position than any other brigade that day. Wave after wave was repulsed by the confederate Irish. McMillan urged his men on, walking along the line exposing himself to enemy fire, apparently immune to the fear his men felt. A bullet did strike him on the neck, but he calmly picked it up and put it in his pocket.
The citizens of Fredericksburg must have thought it somewhat ironic that in 1847 when the fields below Marye’s Heights had yielded a good corn crop it was donated to help relieve the famine in Ireland. The people this crop had helped now lay dead and dying on those same fields. The Irish Brigade saw its strength reduced from 1600 to 256 men. The total losses the Union army suffered was 12,653 casualties while the confederates suffered 5,377 casulties.
While the South was jubilant with the result of the battle in the North both President Lincoln and the army came in for criticism. The Cincinnati Commercial commented "It can hardly be in human nature for men to show more valour or generals to manifest less judgment, than were perceptible on our side that day."
Fredericksburg sent shockwaves through the Irish population in the North. In January 1863 a grand requiem was held at St. Patricks Cathedral in New York. Grief soon turned to outrage and many believed that the Irish were being needlessly sacrificed. As a result the Irish stopped enlisting. The next major battle at Gettysburg would however turn the tables for the Union.

The Battle of Knockdoe
Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

Knockdoe, in the parish of Lackagh, four miles north east of Claregalway, just outside Galway city was the scene of was one of the bloodiest battles in Irish history. It is believed that up to 5,000 people lost their lives during the course of the battle, which only lasted a few hours.
The battle was the result of a clash of interests between two Norman families, the Burkes of Clanrickard in South Galway and the Fitzgerald’s of Kildare, both of whom had by the 16th century become more Irish than the Irish themselves. The War of the Roses had kept King Henry VII out of Irish affairs, and this enabled the king’s representative Gearóid Mór Fitzgerald, eighth Earl of Kildare, to consolidate his power. His influence however was weakest in the West.
Ulick Finn Burke of Clanrickard, who had been elected as chieftain in 1485, had emerged as the most powerful chieftain in the West and was unwilling to accept Gearóid Mór’s authority. Subsequently, he formed an alliance with O'Brien of Thomond and the Munster clans. In an effort to win over Burke, Gearóid Mór offered him his daughter Eustacia in marriage. While Burke took her as his wife he mistreated her and this according to The Book of Howth was the cause of the conflict. There was however other factors that caused Gearóid Mór to march against his son-in-law.
Burke had attacked and destroyed the Castles of O'Kelly, Lord of Hymany, at Monivea, Garbally and Castleblakeney. Furthermore, Burke was living in open adultery with the wife of O'Kelly. The O'Kelly went to Gearóid Mór to complain of these outrages and thus an army was gathered. The Burkes of Mayo and most of the northern clans also declared their support for Gearóid Mór.
Gearóid Mór was also supported by approximately eighty English soldiers from The Pale, which was at odds with a law the English had passed in 1498, declaring that English soldiers were not to be used in private wars between Irish chieftains. It was a law he was supposed to uphold but he also realised he needed all the support he could get if he were to check Burke’s challenge to his ambitions of becoming the dominating figure in Ireland.
In the summer of 1504 Ulick Burke entered Galway, which was in breach on the town’s charter. His presence in Galway disrupted trade and the freedom the Galwegians had been granted by the English kings. Thus the fuse for battle had been lit and Gearóid Mór marched his army west.

News of his march west reached Burke who marched out to where the hostile army had taken up position. The two armies faced each other a mile to the North of where the parish church of Lackagh now stands. In all about 10,000 people took part in the battle, with 6,000 supporting Gearóid Mór and 4,000 supporting Ulick Burke.
The galloglass formed the backbone of both armies. They were mercenary soldiers from the western isles of Scotland, hence their name gall óglaigh (foreign soldiers). The MacSweeneys were the most famous galloglasses of the times and at Knockdoe they fought on opposing sides, with one branch serving the O Donnells of Donegal and another Burke of Clanrickard. They were famous for their use of the razor sharp axe which accounted for the large number of casualties. Indeed, this is probably where the name Knockdoe comes from, Cnoc Tua meaning Hill of the Axes.
Gearóid Mór deployed his troops in such a way that their right flank was protected by a stone wall and his left by archers. Ulick formed his army into a solid block with his two flanks protected by the galloglass. Accounts of the battle, most notably The Annals of the Fours Masters and The Book of Howth are somewhat sketchy as to what went wrong, but at some stage the tide of battle turned against Burke. Ballybrone on the banks of the River Clare was the scene of the greatest slaughter. Of the nine battalions of galloglass that had taken part, only one left the field.
It is said of Knockdoe that it was the first time gunpowder was used in Ireland and one of Ulick Burke’s men was beaten to death by a new weapon called a gun, when he strayed into the wrong camp. Burke’s troops fled the field and despite attempts to regroup for another battle his troops went their separate ways. Gearóid Mór held the field and the next day he ransacked Claregalway Castle, taking two of Ulick’s sons and a daughter prisoner. From there he marched unopposed into Galway where he rewarded his men with thirty large barrels of wine.
As a result of his victory, the pinnacle of his career, according to the Fitzgerald chroniclers, Gearóid Mór was able to extend English influence into the West, while Ulick Burke’s power was destroyed and he himself faded into obscurity. The Burkes of Mayo prospered at his expense and three branches of the O Kellys west of the river Suck were established at Moylough, Galagh and Mullaghmore, where they would retain power until the end of Gaelic Ireland. Today a number of cairns still adorn the summit of the 130 metre high hill where the dead are said to be buried.

Lugs Branigan

Lugs Branigan-Dublin’s most famous Garda
Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

Lugs Branigan was a tough but fair guard, who worked the streets of Dublin, becoming part of Dublin folklore. Even today, he is often mentioned in conversations about how safe it was to walk the streets back then when he was on the beat.
He was born as Jim Branigan in 1910 in the South Dublin Union as St. James’ was called back then, but was better known as ‘Branno’ or ‘the Bran’ to his colleagues and ‘Lugs’ to the people of Dublin. His fame as a boxer gave rise to the latter nickname.

William T. Cosgrave was a friend of the family and the young Branigan bore witness to the Easter Rising and saw a British soldier get shot outside the family home. At the age of fourteen, he went to work as a fitter for The Great Southern Railways, which he left at twenty-one. It was a wise career move. Not only was his heart not in his job, but the company tended to dismiss workers when they reached twenty-one in favour of younger employees.
He went to the Garda Depot in the Phoenix Park in 1931 to train as a guard, a job that would turn out to be a vocation. Interestingly the training only lasted six months, much shorter than it is today. After a brief spell outside the capital, he was posted back to his beloved Dublin.
Sport was encouraged among the guards at the time and Lugs soon started boxing. Boxing would make him famous, both inside and outside of the ring. He saw it as a way for the Guards to reach the working class youth of Dublin, the people he had to deal with on a daily basis, and by training them in boxing, he got know them.
In a time with little cooperation between North and South Lugs regularly went north to box against the RUC, first as a boxer and later as a trainer. He became the Leinster heavy weight boxing championship in 1937. He also boxed further afield in Britain, Germany and Sweden. He was in Leipzig in 1938 when he boxed against a German called Pietch. Although he realised he had no chance of winning the match he refused to give up and by the end of the fight, he had the respect of the audience. It was a fight that the Germans spoke about until the 1950s.
Dublin of the thirties and forties was a dangerous place to be and the city had several gangs. It was not long before Lugs was taking on these gangs single-handedly. Over the years, he would build up a collection of offensive weapons, which he had personally confiscated, a collection that is now in The Garda Depot. It was at ‘The Battle of Baldoyle’ in 1940 ‘The Battle of Tolka Park’ in 1942, where Branigan distinguished himself and where the Media, began to write about him.
Lugs was quick to recognise that ‘gougers’ respected him. Unlike other guards, he realised that if he stopped one of them to search or question them they did not insult him or try to assault him. His reputation as a boxer was well known and while he never used a baton, he was not afraid to use his fists. He always said that he only used as much force as was necessary and never hid the fact that he gave delinquents the odd ‘clip’. His ability with his fists was however not his only trait. He arrested criminals as was his duty, but if he believed there was any good in the person he would speak on their behalf. The court respected what he had to say. Thus, many of those he arrested avoided custodial sentences and this increased his respect on the streets of Dublin.
He was very much a community policeman and it was not long before people were going to Kevin Street Garda station and asking for him personally. At times, there would be a queue of people all waiting for help from him.
On the streets, he had a tendency to be in the right place at the right time and his singular presence tended to diffuse potentially hostile situations, not just with individuals, but also with larger groups. At the height of his career, if a riot or other large-scale disturbance was in progress, the cry of “lugs is here” was enough to make even hardened criminals run.
In 1964 when Lugs was a detective sergeant, the riot squad, also known as ‘Branno 5’ a mobile unit, which drove around the city in a Bedford stamping out disturbances, was set up. It proved to be highly effective and as people became accustomed to the sight of the van, crime decreased.
When the stars came to Dublin Lugs was usually allocated to them as their personal bodyguard and his charges included Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who were in Dublin for the filming of “The Spy who came in from the Cold”, as well as George Best and Cliff Richard. They were impressed at how well he could deal with people and some even tried to win him over as his personal bodyguard, but to avail. Lugs would never leave Dublin.
He worked his last beat in 1973 and tributes poured in, not only from the national media, but also international, with The Washington Daily Post referring to him as ‘Dublin’s most famous cop’. Ordinary Dubliners also paid tribute to him. Several women around the Liberties said it was Lugs who had saved their marriages after he had had a word with their abusive husbands.
Following his retirement, he spent ten years as head of Security at the Zhivago Nite Club in Baggot Street. A biography by Bernard Neary entitled ‘Lugs The Life and Times of Jim Branigan’ appeared in 1985. A deeply religious man he became ill in the 1980s, but remained philosophical about it saying, “We’ll have to go when the man above decides”. It was decided in 1986.