Category Archives: Florida Irish History

The Bishop’s Curse

On a recent rare rainy day here in South Florida, I read the new historical novel “The Bishop’s Curse” by Orlando-based author Raff Ellis. This fascinating book, based upon real people and events, combines an Irish immigrant’s rags-to-riches saga with a unique history of the early Catholic Church in America’s battle for absolute control of its religious and secular assets. This battle is recollected through the sometimes  vicious conflict between the Irish laity of an upstate New York parish and its unpopular, ambitious and avaricious priest and an archbishop determined to break the authority of state laws governing church property and finances.


In St. James Parish, this conflict  between church and state became unhinged. The year was 1860, and while the nation teetered on the brink of the Civil War, another sort of rebellion had broken out in the little town of Carthage, NY.

For the mid-19th Century Irish Catholic church members of St. James Parish, this rebellion against their priest and bishop was a life-changing event that many believed endangered their immortal souls, and that some believed became mortal victims of the Bishop’s curse.


This unique and engaging book is a must-read for fans of Irish-American history and high drama. Raff Ellis, an accomplished historian and talented storyteller, brings back to life a remarkably colorful slice of Irish-American history. I couldn’t put this book down until I’d read it cover to cover.

Video of The Bishop’s Curse.

About the Author, Raff Ellis.

Buy the book online.




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O’Kennedy’s Ireland

O’Kennedy’s Ireland is a 70 minute documentary video on HULU about John F. Kennedy’s 1963 visit to Ireland.

OKennedys Ireland

For four days in 1963, President John F. Kennedy visited Ireland, the home of his ancestors. This film documents Kennedy’s historic trip, following him through Ireland’s countryside and cities as he greeted its people and made some memorable speeches. The vintage film clips in this wonerdful video show Ireland as it was before the Celtic Tiger economy and Eurozone membership changed the landscape of Ireland forever. Learn about the colorful and romantic history of the Emerald Isle and the O’Kennedys.

Watch O’Kennedy’s Ireland on Hulu:

For 62 years, the Kennedys owned a mansion on the ocean in Palm Beach, Florida, where President John F. Kennedy maintained a “Winter White House” during his presidency. Read the article about the Kennedys’ Palm Beach home HERE.

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Irish American Christmas Traditions

Many of the customs that we now associate with a traditional American Christmas are neither traditionally American nor very old. Christmas celebrations were frowned upon in colonial America. In fact, the Puritans of New England considered Christmas celebrations to be pagan and idolatrous, a common view in New England that did not change until the late 19th century. It was not until after the Civil War, when the Irish gained political clout in America, that Christmas became widely celebrated and was made a federal holiday in 1870.

Some of the traditional American Christmas customs that originated in Ireland:

Candle in the window – The custom of placing a candle in the window on Christmas Eve began in Ireland during the time when Catholics were being persecuted by the English in order to denote a safe house for priests to perform a Christmas mass. The candle in the window symbolized a welcome to Mary and Joseph as they looked for shelter on Christmas Eve. In Ireland, the candle was traditionally lit by the youngest member of the household and extinguished only by a female named “Mary”.

Holly Wreath

Christmas wreath on the door – The Christmas custom of placing a holly wreath on the door also originated in Ireland. Holly plants flourished in Ireland around Christmas time, and provided the poor with an ample and colorful source of Christmas decorations. In Ireland, it was considered bad luck to take down the decorations before January 6th, known there as “Little Christmas Day”.

Milk and cookies for Santa Claus – The American custom of leaving a plate of milk and cookies for Santa Claus began in Ireland as the “Laden Table”. After the evening meal on Christmas Eve, the kitchen table was cleared and then set again with a lighted candle, a pitcher of milk and a loaf of sweet bread filled with raisins and caraway seeds. The door to the house was left unlocked, so that Mary and Joseph (or any other travelers in need) could enter and have something to eat. The association with Santa Claus is an American adaptation.

Door to door Christmas caroling – The custom of walking from door to door singing Christmas carols began in Ireland as the celebration of “Wren’s Day” on December 26th, also celebrated as St. Stephen’s Day.  There are several traditions in Ireland linking Jesus and the wren bird. Originally, the celebration involved people carrying either an effigy of a wren or an actual caged wren, travelling from house to house playing music, singing and dancing. These celebrants were called “wren boys” and “mummers”.

“Merry Christmas” – This traditional American Christmas greeting began in Gaelic Ireland as “Nollaig Shona Duit”, pronounced “null-ig hun-a dit”, which literally means “Happy Christmas”.

To help put you in the Irish spirit of Christmas, watch Moya Brennan’s “An Irish Christmas” video:

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Watch “The Irish in America”

Click on the photo above to watch the entire video on Youtube

This powerful, moving and insightful documentary tells this story of the Irish immigrant experience in America from the colonial period of 1650 through the turn of the 20th century, including the Irish involvement in the American Revolution, the age of Jackson, the Mexican and Civil Wars, the Calfornia Gold Rush and the taming of the American West. It is a tale of how resilient people turned poverty into prosperity and changed the American continent forever. Contrasted is the suffering of the Irish living at home under British Rule and their fight for freedom and justice.

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Where are the Irish in America?

The US Census Bureau recently released detailed population, demographic and ancestry estimates for the year 2010. According to the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey for 2010, there were only 124,457 persons born in Ireland living in the United States, but there were 37,926,777 US residents of Irish or Scotch-Irish ancestry.

In 2010, the Irish were the fourth largest ethnic group in the United States, representing 12.26% of the total US population.

Persons of Irish ancestry reside in all 50 states, but the percentage of the population of Irish ancestry varies considerably from state to state. Massachusetts has the highest percentage, with nearly one-in-four residents having Irish ancestry, while Hawaii has the lowest percentage, with fewer than one-in-twenty residents having Irish ancestry. One-in-nine Florida residents have Irish or Scotch Irish ancestry.

 Not surprisingly, California, by far the most populous state, also has the largest number of persons of Irish or Scotch-Irish ancestry (2,820,553). Ten states have over one million persons of Irish or Scotch-Irish ancestry. Florida has the fifth largest population of Irish or Scotch-Irish ancestry (2,068,006).


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My summer in Maine, a great book and an incident in Ireland that changed world history

Like many South Florida Irish-Americans, I spent the summer in Maine, enjoying its soft Ireland-like weather, searching for sea glass on the beach and spending many quiet evenings reading. One of the great books that I read this summer was The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, originally published in 1962 and winner of a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction that year. This amazing story of the politics and persons responsible for the outbreak of World War I, and of the first few weeks of battle, so impressed President John F. Kennedy that he gave copies of the book to his friends as Christmas gifts. 

The Guns of August was a revelation to me, surprised me by revealing how little I really knew about “the war to end all wars”, and provided me with a fresh perspective on events that shaped the history of the 20th century. If you haven’t read this book, I strongly recommend it:

The Guns of August [Mass Market Paperback]

The Guns of August [Hardcover]

The Guns of August [Kindle Edition]

Of particular interest to me was a now little-known incident relating to northern Ireland that paralyzed Britain’s military decision-makers in 1914, and which emboldened Germany to launch its invasion of Belgium and France in August of that year. The Guns of August briefly mentions the so-called “Curragh Mutiny” incident that rocked Britain’s military and political structure to its foundations in the months before the start of World War I, and left the mighty British Empire unprepared and indecisive on the precipice of impending war in Europe.

In January 1913, after over 700 years of England’s colonial oppression of Ireland, a Liberal Party-controlled British Parliament voted to grant “Home Rule” to Ireland, including its own independent Irish Parliament.  Conservative pro-British Unionists in the north of Ireland vehemently opposed “Home Rule” and the prospect of being governed by a liberal Irish Parliament in Dublin. The Ulster Unionists threatened armed rebellion to prevent Irish “Home Rule” in the north, formed their own provisional government at Belfast and established their own paramilitary force with an estimated 100,000 volunteers by 1914.  Faced with the threat of armed opposition to the enforcement of the Home Rule Act, the British Government ordered its military to ready weapons and troops to respond to any armed rebellion in Ulster. In March 1914, the largely pro-Unionist British officer corps in Ireland balked at the prospect of fighting against “its own people” in Ulster, in what became known as the “Curragh Mutiny”. Britain’s Parliament and Government were shaken by the resignation of a large number of its senior Army officers and by the threat that its military might not obey the civilian Government.

Meanwhile, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany was contemplating the imminent invasion of France through Belgium. His decision would be based upon the likelihood of Britain’s not honoring its treaty obligation to defend neutral Belgium. The Kaiser’s close cousin was King George V of England and the mighty British Empire, and Kaiser Wilhelm was afraid of facing a British military response to any German invasion of Belgium. The political chaos and fractured military authority in England, created in large part by the “Curragh Mutiny”, lead the Kaiser to believe that England would either opt to stay out of any Continental war or, at the very least, delay any British military response long enough for Germany to launch a rapid and overwhelming invasion through Belgium and achieve a quick conquest of France.  Upon this wishful and faulty assumption, the Kaiser plunged the world into the greatest and costliest war in human history to that time. World War I killed much of an entire generation, wasted Western Europe and, in its festering ruin, spawned nearly a century of world conflict.  The “Curragh Mutiny” also resulted in nearly a century of unnecessary conflict and terror in northern Ireland.  The following detailed account of the “Curragh Mutiny” was compiled from public domain sources on-line: 

The “Curragh Mutiny”

Events which culminated in the “Curragh Mutiny” of March 1914 had their beginnings at the end of the 18th century when, by the Act of Union, the islands of Great Britain and Ireland were joined administratively. Thereafter, one Parliament would govern both countries. Under­-Secretary Cooke wrote to Prime Minister Mr. Pitt in 1799: “The Union is the only means of preventing Ireland from becoming too great and too powerful.” Repeal of the Act of Union, otherwise known as “Home Rule”, became the objective of every Nationalist Party at Westminster. In the latter half of the 19th century, Mr. Gladstone became the champion of Home Rule. With reference to the Act of Union, he said in 1886: “There is no blacker or fouler transaction in the history of man. We used the whole civil government of Ireland as an engine of whole­sale corruption . . . We obtained that union against the sense of every class of the com­munity, by wholesale bribery and unblushing intimidation.” Gladstone twice sponsored a Home Rule bill in Parliament and was twice defeated. Home Rule was political dynamite, and would have to await a more favorable opportunity for its reintroduction to the House of Commons.

In 1910, the situation at Westminster favored reintroduction of the question of Home Rule. The December elections of that year saw the return to power of the Liberal Party, but with a majority of only one seat. Prime Minister Asquith formed his government and was maintained in power only by the votes of the 84 Irish National­ists in Parliament led by Mr. Redmond. The Home Rule Bill became the topic of the day, and it was evident from the start that it would have a stormy passage through Parliament. Whatever political opposition to Home Rule existed inside the House of Commons, there were also many outside the House prepared to resist the introduction of the bill, by force of arms if necessary.

Anglo-Irish politics have never been simple, so it is useful to examine the various parties involved and where they stood:

1.      The Liberal Party formed the British government. It was headed by Prime Minister Asquith, who believed that, whatever the opposition be to Home Rule outside the House, in the end, the will of Parliament would prevail.

2.      The Irish Nationalist Party supported Asquith’s government. Mr. Redmond defined the Nationalist position when he said: “Ireland today is full of hope and expec­tation. Beware how you dash that hope to the ground. Rebellion is threatened. Rebellion is justified in high quarters. The rebellion of a portion of the population of four counties, because they disapprove of the act of the im­perial parliament before any wrong has been done, and before any oppression has been attempted, would be a crime and a calamity. Rebellion by over three-fourths of a people of a country distracted, tortured and betrayed, de­prived of the rights of freemen, and condemned to a barren policy of coercism, would be too horrible a thing to contemplate; and it is because this is so that I rejoice with all my heart to believe and to know that the future of this bill is safe, and that the future of Ireland is assured.”

3.      The Conservative Party, headed by Mr. Bonar Law, formed the opposition in Parliament. Bonar Law saw in the issue of Home Rule a means of bringing together a Conservative Party divided by dissension.

4.      The Irish Unionist Party, led by Sir Edward Car­son, whose cry of “Home Rule is Rome Rule,” had set Ulster afire. Speaking on the issue in the Commons, he said: “Ulster looms very large in this controversy because Ulster has a strong right arm . . . It will not be my fault if resistance becomes necessary; but, Mr. Speaker, on my con­science, I shall not refuse to join them.”

5.      The Ulster Volunteers were the militant arm of the Unionists. A well organized and dis­ciplined force, they were estimated to number 100,000 in March, 1914. Its leader Mr. Carson declared: “I am told it will be illegal. Of course it will. Drilling is illegal . . . the volunteers are illegal and the government know they are illegal, and the government dare not interfere with them.  Don’t be afraid of illegalities.”

6.      The National Volunteers, formed in 1913, were the Nationalist counterpart of the Ulster Volunteers. They lacked arms, organization and training. Could they be relied upon to assist in enforcing Home Rule in Ulster? Padraic Pearse defined the Nationalist attitude on this point when he said: “Let accursed be the soul of any Nationalist who would dream of firing a shot or drawing a sword against the Ulster Volunteers in con­nection with this Bill.”

7.      The Troops of the Irish Com­mand, to whom would fall the task of main­tenance of law and order and the enforcement of Government policy consisted of two infantry divisions and two cavalry brigades under the General Officer Commanding Ireland, Lieut. Gen. Sir Arthur Paget.

Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Paget is important to the story that follows, as his personality was one of the causes of the “Curragh Mutiny”. He had seen service in Ashanti, Burma, The Sudan and South Africa, and was aged 63 years in 1914.  He was considered: “too out of date, too casual, and intellectually too shallow . . . He could be genial and amusing, and was a great ladies man, but his old-fashioned pomposity was a standing joke. He talked as if he were thinking aloud, and his rambling and often highly colored language betrayed the romantic and even melodramatic current of his thoughts, besides a deeply rooted egotism.” When he died in 1928, his obituary notice in The Times included the following: “Had he only devoted to Military Study a fraction of the time which he gave to the obser­vation of trees and shrubs he might have ranked as a learned soldier.”

Paget’s official residence in 1914 was in the Royal Hospital at Kilmainham, a short distance from the administrative headquarters of his command at Parkgate, Dublin. An imaginary line joining Sligo and Wexford divided Paget’s command in two. One infantry division and one cavalry brigade were located both north and south of this line.

As subsequent events primarily concerned the units north of this line, it is necessary to consider their com­position and deployment. These were the major units located north of the Sligo-Wexford line:

The 5th Infantry Division consisted of three infantry brigades each of four battalions:

1.      Brigadier General Cuthbert’s 13th Infantry Brigade was located in Dublin.

2.      Brigadier General Rolt’s 14th Infantry Bri­gade was located at the Curragh.

3.      Brigadier General Count Gleichen’s 15th In­fantry Brigade was located in Ulster.

All battalions of the 5th Infantry Division were from England. For example, the 14th Brigade at the Curragh consisted of:

  • 2nd Battalion, Manchester Regiment, occupying Keane Barracks, now Pearse Barracks.
  • 2nd Battalion, Suffolk Regiment, occupying Gough Barracks, now MacDonagh Barracks.
  • 1st Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light In­fantry, occupying Beresford Barracks, now Ceannt Barracks.
  • 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, occu­pying Wellington Barracks, Dublin.

Brigadier General Headlam commanded the Division’s artillery, with his headquarters at New-bridge, where the 27th Brigade RFA was also located. The 15th Brigade RFA was located at Kildare and the 28th Brigade RFA was located in Dundalk.

The General Officer Commanding 5th Infantry Division was Major General Sir Charles Fergus­son, aged 49 years at that time. “He was a big dour Scotsman, always cool and not easily provoked,” was how one acquaintance described him. Fergusson had served with Lord Kitchener in The Sudan, and by all accounts, he was a very strict and professional soldier. He had taken over command of the 5th Infantry Division in 1913, and lived at this time some two miles south of the Curragh Camp, at Ballyfair House.

The 3rd Cavalry Brigade, although located in the area of the 5th Infantry Division, was not part of that division, but came directly under the command of the General Officer Commanding Ire­land. Brigadier General Hubert Gough had com­manded the 3rd Cavalry Brigade since 1911. Gough was 43 years old, and wrote afterwards of himself, “I am Irish by blood and upbringing, though I was born in London.” He came from a famous fighting family. His father, uncle, and brother were all recipients of the Victoria Cross, and he felt he had a personal mission to add to this list. “Tough, fiery, energetic, a skilled and passionate horseman,” Fergusson wrote of Gough, “he possessed in every sense, and perhaps rather too much, ‘the cavalry spirit ‘.” “We ladies of the hunting field could always expect Gough to arrive along when we were halted at a fence… ‘What’s the trouble, ladies?’ Gough would say, ‘that fence is easy’… He would then stand off, take a flyer at it, and usually end up on the broad of his back.” During the South African war, Gough was the first officer of Buller’s relieving force to enter Ladysmith. However, he got there by disregarding orders. Ryan records that on the day in question, Gough, when some few miles from Ladysmith, was ordered ‘to retire at once.’ Gough refused to obey orders and continued on into Ladysmith. Gough lived at Brownstown House in 1914, just one mile south of the Curragh. His brigade was comprised of the following units:

  • 4th Hussars, located at Stewart Barracks, Cur­ragh, now Connolly Barracks.
  • 16th Lancers located at Ponsonby Barracks, Curragh, now Plunkett Barracks.
  • 5th Royal Irish Lancers, located at Marlborough Barracks, Dublin, now McKee Barracks.
  • Also attached to the 3rd Cavalry Brigade were D and E Batteries, Royal Horse Artillery, stationed at Newbridge.

There were, of course, a num­ber of depots and stores in various parts of Ireland apart from the units listed above.

In the spring of 1912, the Liberal coalition British government of H. H. Asquith had introduced the Third Home Rule Bill for Ireland, which proposed the creation of an autonomous Irish Parliament in Dublin. A large section of Unionists had objected to potential rule by the proposed Dublin Parliament and had founded the Ulster Volunteers paramilitary group in 1912 to fight if necessary against the British government and/or against a future Irish Home Rule government proposed by the Bill. The Home Rule Bill was introduced into The Commons and was passed in January, 1913. The House of Lords rejected the bill. However, be­cause of new limitations placed on the House of Lords, they could not delay its coming into operation beyond 1914. Opposition to Home Rule mounted in the interim. The Ulster Unionist Council delegated its powers to a Provisional Government which, it was announced, would be set up in Belfast as soon as the Home Rule Bill became law.

Prime Minister Asquith sought vainly for a compromise. “We will not close the Avenue—however unpromising for the moment entrance upon it may appear— which directly or indirectly may hold out the hope of leading to concord and to settlement.” Redmond reached the limit of compromise when he agreed to “County option with a time limit of six years”, but reminded the Government that if these terms were rejected then it was their duty to employ “all the resources at its command to suppress any movement that might arise to over­awe Parliament or subvert the law by menace of force.”  Carson replied to this offer, in the House of Commons on Monday, March 9th: “We do not want sentence of death with a stay of execution for six years.” Also early in March 1914, intelligence reports reaching London suggested that “evil-disposed persons” were plotting to raid stores of arms and ammunition in Ireland, particular reference being made to Armagh, Omagh, Enniskillen and Car­rickfergus. A number of senior officers such as Lord French and Henry H. Wilson had expressed their concerns to the government that the British Army would find it difficult to act against the Volunteers, given that they shared the same basic aim of preserving and defending the British Empire and believed Home Rule would threaten it.

As a result, Asquith set up a special committee to deal with the matter. It was com­prised of: the Marquis of Crewe; Mr. Birrell, Chief Secretary for Ireland; Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, and Mr. Seely, Secretary for War.  On Saturday, March 14th, Churchill, a great believer in Home Rule, delivered a speech at Bradford which caused a sensation throughout England. He declared that there were “worse things than bloodshed even on an extended scale”, described the Ulster Provisional Government as “a self-elected body, composed of persons who, to put it plainly, are engaged in a treasonable con­spiracy.” Was the parliamentary system to break down in the face of this challenge? He ended with these words: “I can only say to you, let us go forward together and put these matters to the proof.” On this day also, Paget received instructions from the War Office, instructing him to take special precautions for safeguarding depots and stores, special reference being made to Armagh, Omagh, Carrickfergus and Enniskillen. On Monday, 16th March, Secretary for War Seely wired Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Paget, asking what steps had been taken by him regard­ing security.

Paget replied on the 17th to state that he was satisfied with the strength of the garrison at Enniskillen, was about to increase the garrison at Carrickfergus, and was taking steps to remove arms and ammunition from Armagh and Omagh. He was reluctant to move troops into Ulster, least it precipitate a crisis. Paget, as requested, then crossed to England that evening and reported to the War Office on Wed­nesday, 18th March. Those present included: Prime Minister Asquith; the members of the special committee referred to earlier; Paget; Field-Marshal Sir John French, Chief of the Imperial General Staff; Sir Spencer Ewart, Adjutant General; and Major General Sir Nevil Macready.  Supposedly, Paget was instructed to move 800 men into Ulster to reinforce depots and arms stores there; preparations for a possible rebellion in the province were discussed; and it was also rumored that Unionist leaders were to be arrested; however, no written record was kept of the discussions which took place at the War Office. From the instructions transmitted by Paget to his headquarters in Dublin, it appears that the following specific decisions were made:

  • A Battalion of the 14th Infantry Brigade would be moved to Newry and Dundalk.
  • Carrickfergus would be reinforced by troops from Dublin.
  • Enniskillen, Omagh and Armagh would be reinforced by troops from Mullingar.
  • The Dorsets Battalion, located in Belfast, would be moved to Holywood, to prevent their being blockaded in their city garrison.
  • General Macready would go to Belfast to take over as military governor when he considered it necessary.

Despite the fact that all these meas­ures were to take place “with all secrecy”, the leader of the opposition in Parliament, Mr. Bonar Law, was kept fully informed of the happening at the war office by Major General Henry Wil­son, Director of Military Operations. The conference resumed on Thursday, March 19th, but without PM Asquith who had an audience with the King. Paget expressed anxiety on three points:

1.      He still felt that the movement of troops into Ulster would excite a disturbance which might take the form of active resistance. On this point he was overruled. He was reminded that as Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, he had “full dis­cretionary powers” to deploy his forces as he saw fit to meet any contingency. Seely told him “You can have as many more men as necessary when you find they are necessary, even to the last man.”

2.      Paget’s second anxiety concerned the trans­portation of troops to Ulster. What if the em­ployees of the Great Northern Railway refused to move them? To obviate such a possibility Churc­hill promised Royal Navy support.

3.      The last of Paget’s anxieties related to the possible behavior of his officers, and that was discussed on Thursday afternoon between Paget, French and Seely. Seely laid down the following prin­ciples for his guidance.

    • That officers ordered to act in support of the civil power should not be permitted to resign their commissions, but must, if they refused to obey orders, be dismissed from the Army.
    • That indulgence might be shown, in cases where it was asked for, to officers who were domi­ciled in Ulster.

On all these matters, Paget received no written orders. He returned to Dublin that night, but not before he wired instructions for his unit commanders to meet him on Friday at his head­quarters at Parkgate. The Cabinet members, who had attended the con­ference at the War Office, hurried to the Com­mons to attend a most important session. Mr. Bonar Law had tabled a vote of censure on the Government and in concluding his address he stated: “What about the army? If it is only a question of disorder, the army will and ought to obey, but if it is a question of civil war, the soldiers are citizens like the rest of the people. The army will be divided, and that force be de­stroyed on which we depend for our national safety.” The vote of censure was rejected by a vote of 345 to 252.

At 0930 hours on Friday, March 20th, seven officers assembled in Paget’s office at Parkgate, Dublin. They were Fergusson, Rolt, Cuthbert, Gough and three officers of the General Staff. Paget forbade the taking of notes early in the conference. There are three accounts available of the happenings. Paget himself wrote the shortest account for the King, five days after the event. Gough made notes immediately after the con­ference, but did not assemble them until much later. Ferguson’s narrative is the fullest and was written seven days after the event. When the officers were seated, Paget strode in, according to Gough, looking “stern and pompous and smoking a cigar.” What thoughts were running through Paget’s mind at this time we shall never know. He may have been carried away by the visions of a vast armada of warships off the coast of Scotland, or of a vast army under his control, all deduced from Seely’s guarantee of support. By all accounts, Paget became very excited and rambled on about “the whole place being ablaze by tomorrow.” “He did not say one word about law and order” said Gough, “and our duty to maintain it when necessary.”

Paget had apparently forgotten that all he had been told to do was to move two Battalions and one company of infantry. The plan was to occupy government buildings and to repel any assaults by the Ulster Volunteers, putting the latter on the wrong foot. Paget misinterpreted his orders for precautionary deployments as an immediate order to march against the Ulstermen. Paget then went on to outline the conditions pertaining to officers, as laid down by Seely in London the previous day. Acting on his own initiative, he offered the officers under his command the choice of resignation rather than fighting against the Ulster Volunteers. This was later to be­come known as “The Ultimatum.” Brigadiers were to go at once and place the alternatives before their officers and notify him forthwith of the out­come. The meeting adjourned. Fergusson, Rolt, Cuthbert and Gough were all agitated. “Come along” said Fergusson, “Let us talk over this. The Army must hold together.” Cough declared bluntly that he would not go. The party broke up.

Fergusson was required to remain in Dublin to attend an afternoon conference, and took the opportunity to put “The Ultimatum” on paper and then send it by his aide-dc-camp to the Curragh, to be placed before the combat, support and service elements of his division. This document is of prime importance, for it is the earliest written document of what Paget had said. Fergusson reproduced the document in full in his book. It stated, in part: “In view of the possibility of active operations in Ulster, the War Office has authorized the fol­lowing communication to officers:

1.      Officers whose homes are actually in the province of Ulster who wish to do so may apply for permission to be absent from duty during the period of operations, and will be allowed to ‘disappear’ from Ireland. Such officers will, subsequently, be reinstated, and will suffer no loss in their career.

2.      Any other officer who from conscientious or other motives is not prepared to carry out his duty as ordered, should say so at once. Such officers will at once be dismissed from the service.”

Cough walked the short distance from Parkgate to Marlborough Barracks and placed the ulti­matum before the assembled officers of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers. All were prepared to accept dismissal in preference to the possibility of taking part in active operations in Ulster.

Rolt arrived by motor car at the Curragh at 11.30 a.m., and outlined the ultimatum to his battalion commanders. The colonels dispersed and each summoned his officers to their mess and put the ultimatum before them. One officer wrote later “Everyone objects to going and nine out of ten refuse under any conditions to go.”

A subaltern, in Dublin, wrote his father: “Can you imagine a subaltern of 22-26 making up his mind in an hour as to whether he should shoot down Loyalists in Ulster or try to start a civil job without a bob? . . . Imagine anything more criminal than making us decide a matter which might affect our whole careers, without giving us time to think or get advice from any­one.”

Cough did not reach the Curragh until about 3.30 p.m., and immediately ordered all officers of the 16th Lancers, 4th Hussars, and Royal Horse Artillery to meet at the Officers’ Mess at Ponsonby Barracks. Cough laid the ultimatum before the assembled officers. “Each must decide for himself;” however, he did tell them that he had chosen the option of dismissal. He requested their decisions by 5.30 p.m., and at that time, all except two opted for dismissal.

The first indication to reach London that all was not well in the Irish Command was a tele­gram from Paget to the War Office at 7 p.m. Word also broke on Fleet Street about the same time. Un­aware of these happenings in the military, some cabinet members were, at this time, assuring the people of the Government’s resolve. Mr. John Burns, President of the Local Government Board, in an address in the National Liberal Club, said: “Home Rule is a question mainly for Ireland itself. Three-fourths of the people there have demanded it persistently for years, and we have no right to listen to the demand for more con­cessions or yield to clamor.” Thomas McKinnon, Secretary of State for Scot­land, also voiced this resolve when he said “We will carry Home Rule by agreement if we possibly can, but without it if we must.”

Fergusson returned to the Curragh at 9 p.m. and went directly to his home. He did not learn of the serious situation within his division until the following morning, when he met Headlam and Rolt at his headquarters, and they made him aware of it. Fergusson was not prepared to leave his officers, least of all the young ones, to face a per­plexing problem by themselves. “It is,” he used to say “the duty of leaders to lead.” Fergusson ordered the Manchesters and Suffolks to parade to the gymnasium at the Curragh, where he addressed them. Then he journeyed to Kildare, Newbridge and Dublin, and in each place, he addressed the assembled units. The contents of his address were the same in each place: the need for discipline and loyalty to King and Govern­ment. One officer of the East Surrey Battalion wrote later: “He reminded us that although we must natur­ally hold private political views, officially we should not be on the side of any one political party. It was our duty to obey orders, to go wherever we were sent and to comply with instructions of any political party that happened to be in power. There was no sloppy sentiment; it was good stuff straight from the shoulder and just what we wanted.”

Matters were far from satisfactory in the 3rd Cavalry Brigade. Word arrived from the War Office on Saturday, directing Cough and the Offi­cers Commanding the 3rd Cavalry Brigade to report to London. Paget determined to put an end to any misunderstanding by travelling to the Curragh and speaking to the cavalry officers. Paget’s address turned out to be a most bizarre episode. The old war horse rambled on in his usual manner, and told the assembled officers that “he was their friend and that they should trust him.” He had no intention of urging war on Ulster, and to prove it, he would divulge some of his plans. To such an extent was he prepared to avoid fighting that he had given orders that if any battalion met with opposition in its march, it was to turn around and go back to barracks. And if fighting took place against Ulster forces, he would order all his men to lie down and not return the fire, and he and his generals would advance alone and parley with the men of Ulster. As far as the Cavalry were concerned, he would put them on a flank, and if they met opposition and cleared it, he would be pleased, but if they took no active part, he would also be content. Paget concluded his address and, prior to de­parting for Dublin, told his audience to make their decision and convey it to Fergusson.

On his return to the Curragh, Fergusson learned of the decision of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade, to the effect that only the officers of the 4th Hussars and Royal Horse Artillery had relented. Out of the 70 British Army officers based at the Curragh Camp, 57, led by Brigadier General Herbert Gough, who, like many of them, had Irish family connections,  accepted Paget’s offer to resign their commissions in the British Army, or to accept being dismissed from it, rather than enforce the Home Rule Act in Ulster. Paget then sent a telegram to the War Office in London:


The 57 officers were not actually guilty of “mutiny”. They had not disobeyed direct orders of any kind. Nonetheless, news of their resignations caused government alarm. Cough, Lieutenant Colonel MacEwen, O.C. 16th Lancers, and Lieu­tenant Colonel Parker, O.C. 5th Royal Irish Lancers, were instructed to report to the War Office in London forthwith.

In London, the weekend of the 2lst-22nd of March was one of considerable political activity and intrigue. The whole question had now be­come a national issue, with the press on one side calling the events “a sinister plot to coerce Ulster” and the Government pleading that only the maintenance of law and order was involved. The Daily Chronicle reported: “For the first time in modern English history a military cabal seeks to dictate to Government the Bills it should carry or not carry into law. We are confronted with a desperate rally of reactionaries to defeat the democratic movement and repeal the Parliamentary Act. This move by a few aristocratic officers is the last throw in the game.” The Daily Express announced in black type that “The Home Rule Bill Is Dead,” and The Daily News queried, “It is a question whether we govern ourselves or are governed by General Cough.”

Speaking on the Irish question, at a meet­ing held at Huddersfield on March 21st, Mr. Lloyd George said: “We are confronted with the greatest issue raised in this country since the days of the Stuarts. Representative government in this land is at stake. In those days our forefathers had to face a claim of the Divine Right of Kings to do what they pleased. Today it is the Divine Right of the aristocracy to do what it pleases. We are not fighting about Ulster. We are not fighting about Home Rule. We are fighting for all that is essential to civil liberty in this land.”

All the forces of “the establishment” were brought to bear on the Government, at this time, with such success that, when Gough reported to the War Office on March 23rd, they were seeking a way out of the impasse. Cough, made aware of the Government’s predicament by Wilson, was interviewed by French, Ewart and Seely. He was told that there had been a misunderstanding and was requested to accept reinstatement. This, Gough was prepared to agree to, provided that the Army Council would furnish certain assurances in writ­ing.

The Cabinet approved a letter acknowledg­ing a misunderstanding, but pointing out that it was the duty of soldiers to support the civil power in the maintenance of law and order. Cough was instructed to return later in the day to collect the document. He consulted Wilson, who pointed out a difficulty that might yet arise, namely that, in the event of Home Rule becoming Law, could not the Army be called upon to enforce it on Ulster under the expression of maintaining law and order. Gough sought clarification on this point in a letter, which he dispatched to Ewart at the War Office. However, this letter did not reach Ewart until the Cabinet had approved the initial document and adjourned. Seely felt licensed to tamper with the Cabinet paper, for he added: “His Majesty’s Government must retain their right to use all the forces of the Crown in Ire­land, or elsewhere, to maintain law and order and to support the civil power in the ordinary execution of its duty. But they have no intention whatever of taking advantage of this right to crush political opposition to the policy or principles of the Home Rule Bill.” To this document, Seely, French, and Ewart appended their initials and it was handed to Cough when he returned to the War Office.

Cough retired and consulted with Wilson, Parker, MacEwen, and his brother. They were worried about the words “crush political opposition” in the final paragraph of the document. Cough wrote, on a sheet of War Office paper, the following: “I understand the reading of the last para­graph to be that troops under our command will not be called upon to enforce the present Home Rule Bill on Ulster, and that we can so assure our officers. Cough handed this paper to French, who, having studied the paper for some minutes, wrote at the foot of the page: “This is how I read it.” The documents, later to be known as “The Guarantee,” were returned to Cough, who im­mediately departed for Ireland.

The events already related were to be the subject of many weeks of heated debate and dis­cussion in both the press and Parliament. The Govern­ment rejected “The Guarantee” on the grounds that the parties, who amended the Cabinet docu­ment, had no authority to tamper with it. Efforts were even made to recover it from Cough, but to no avail. Seely, French and Ewart all resigned because “The Guarantee” was repudiated. There were charges of a Government plot to coerce Ulster and that the reports of possible seizure of arms depots were fabrications. Countercharges of mutiny and subversion of democratic Govern­ment followed. Russian radical Vladimir Lenin cited the incident as an example of the “determined resistance of the British landlords and capitalists in Ireland to the introduction of Home Rule.”

Cough was hailed as a hero: “The plot has been defeated by the courageous stand made by the officers of the Cavalry Brigade . . . We con­gratulate General Cough, whose fearless and honorable conduct has added luster to the laurels of a great Irish family.” Fergusson was denounced as “ a cur.” Even the King was to take him to task for having used his name in addressing the troops on Saturday, March 21. However, he was fixed in his views, for he later wrote “if my conscience were as clear about everything in my life as it is about that incident, I should he very pleased.”

What were the results of the preceding events, which became known collectively as the “Curragh Mutiny”? They were both long and short-term, effecting both Ireland and England:

The most immediate result was the reading, by Prime Minister Asquith in the House of Commons on March 28th, of a New Army Order concerning discipline. The opening paragraph read: “No officer or soldier should, in future, be questioned by his superior officer as to the attitude he will adopt in the event of his being required to obey orders dependent on future or hypothetical contingencies.”

At the highest levels of the Army, the adverse effects of the “Mutiny” were great. It left a legacy of suspicion between Britain’s military and political leaders that would last for years, during the entire long course of World War I. This mutual distrust was to hamper decision-making and operations throughout the War.

In Ireland, the “Mutiny” had major effects upon the course of Anglo-Irish relations. The Home Rule Bill, passed in the Commons on May 25th, found its way into the Statute Books on September 18th, with the proviso that it not come into effect until after the end of the War. Parliament had dodged facing the issue, for it knew that it could not depend upon the Army to implement a Home Rule Bill for the whole of Ireland. As far as the Irish Nationalists were concerned, the damage was done. With all confidence now lost in Parliamentary procedure, it followed that their resorting to arms was unavoidable. On April 24th, the Northern Irish Ulster Volunteers covertly landed about 24,000 rifles at night in the “Larne gun-running” incident, without any of those involved being discovered or arrested. The growing fear of civil war in Ireland led on to the government considering some form of partition of Ireland in July 1914 by an amending bill, and further discussions at the Buckingham Palace Conference, but both it and the main act were suspended soon after the start of World War I in August. On Easter Monday, 1916, under a banner which said “We serve neither King nor Kaiser, but Ireland”, the Irish rose in armed rebellion.

What impact did the “Mutiny” have on the Army’s rank and file to fight, when called upon to do so? The answer became clear five months later. The 5th Infantry Division and the 3rd Cavalry Brigade were amongst the first British units ordered to France at the outbreak of World War I. At 11.15 am, on Saturday, the 22nd of August, 1914, “E” Battery, Royal Horse Artil­lery fired the first British shots of World War I. In the ensuing engagement, these units, which figured so prominently in the events at the Curragh, bore the brunt of the German attack and covered the retreat of the British Forces from Mons. They fought with great courage and endurance.

Significant lessons can be learned from the “Curragh Mutiny” pertaining to the ethics and the behavior of the military in relation to a civil government. Paget, when at the War Office on March 19, sought guidance as to his actions in certain eventualities. This guidance was furnished to him by way of “The Ultimatum.” It was unnecessary, injudicious and improper to place that choice before the officer corps. The blame for the effects that followed lay not with those officers forced to make the choice, but with those who caused it to be offered. To term the results of this folly a “mutiny” is a misnomer. There was no mutiny. In fact, all “orders” given at the time were punctually and implicitly obeyed. The reactions of Fergusson and Cough to “The Ultimatum” provide an excellent case study in leadership. The background of both officers was similar: Royalist, Protestant, exper­ienced and of the same age, and yet they reacted in quite different ways. Which was cor­rect? It is evident that both cannot be so.

  • Fergusson wrote later: “Needless to say what my inclinations were. All personal considerations invited me to do what Cough did; and if anything could strengthen those feelings, it was the “ultimatum” put to me on Friday last.” However, he goes on to say: “we officers have all the responsibility of being able to influence, in a greater or lesser degree, according to rank and position, those serving under us. . . I may be willing to accept dismissal from the service myself, but I am not prepared to draw others into the risk of losing everything because of their loyalty to me . . . Logically, if we officers refuse to fight against our friends, are we prepared to accept the same argument from our men when they are called on to fight their friends in labor disputes, etc?  If the Army break up, and discipline is allowed to become dependent on personal con­siderations, what is there between the country and revolution? . . . Therefore, I will do nothing that will in any way weaken the dis­cipline of the Army, which I hold to be the paramount consideration. Democracies always have exhibited concern over their military establishments because military organizations have the ability, as holders of the instruments and science of violence, to short-circuit the democratic process.”
  • Of Cough, one can understand how he reacted to “The Ultimatum”, and on technical grounds he could never be accused of mutiny. Guided entirely by his emotions, he exercised his pre­rogative when Paget presented the alternatives to him. Of “The Guarantee,” which he later sought and obtained in London, his actions are suspect.

Prime Minister Asquith summed up the whole question of the “Ultimatum” and “Guarantee” when he wrote: “In the view of the Cabinet, it was wrong to demand from the officers any assurance as to what their conduct might be in a contingency which might never arise, and it is at least equally wrong for an officer to demand any such assurance from the Government.” If orders had existed for the repression of the Ulster Unionists and the arrest of their leaders, they were at once withdrawn. Asquith claimed publicly that no such action had been contemplated and that the whole episode had resulted from an “honest misunderstanding”, and the affected officers were reinstated. The War Office in London declared that ministers had no future intention of using the Army to enforce submission to the Home Rule Bill. This assurance may have been given without Cabinet authority, as those responsible for issuing it were subsequently obliged to resign.

Overall, the “Curragh Mutiny” incident greatly increased the confidence of Ulster Unionists. They firmly believed that the government had intended to crush them, but its plan had failed for lack of military support. Thereafter British government ministers were convinced that they could not trust the Army to quell opposition to home rule in the province. For Irish nationalists, the events merely confirmed their increasing doubts about Asquith’s real commitment to granting Irish self-government and about his willingness to ever grapple with Unionist militancy.


Listen to audio clip about the “Curragh Mutiny”.

General Officer Commanding Ireland: Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Henry Fitzroy Paget.

The “Curragh Mutiny”.

The Curragh Camp at Curragh, County Kildare, Ireland.

The Third Home Rule Bill for Ireland.

The Home Rule Act 1914 in Ulster.

The story of the British Army in the Great War of 1914–1918: Field-Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson.

Unionism in Ireland.


1.      The Ulster Crisis by ATQ Stewart; Faber & Faber, London – 1967.

2.      The Green Flag by Kee, Robert; Weidenfeld and Nicolson – 1972.

3.      The Army and the Curragh Incident 1914 by Beckett, Ian F. W.; Bodley Head for the ARS – 1986.

4.      The Curragh Incident by Fergusson, Sir James; London – 1964.

5.      Mutiny at the Curragh by Ryan, A.P.; London – 1956.

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Are you a descendant of Irish King Niall of the Nine Hostages?

Millions of people around the world today are descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages, the legendary 5th century A.D. High King of Ireland. Wherever the Irish settled, also live Niall’s posterity. Niall was a wise, stout and warlike man, fortunate in all his achievements and conquests, and was therefore called “Mór“ (meaning “Great”). He was also called “Niall Naoi-Ghiallach”, meaning “Niall of the Nine Hostages”, from the nine royal hostages held by him from lands and peoples that he had conquered and made tributary: Munster; Leinster; Connacht; Ulster; Britain; the Picts; the Dal Riada; the Saxons and the Morini (a people of France near Calais and Piccardy).

Niall was the son of Eochaid Mugmedón, King of Tara, and Carthan Cais Dubh (also known as Carinna, who was supposedly the daughter of the Celtic King of Britain). According to legend:

“Young Niall had to survive the malice of his wicked stepmother, Mongfhinn, who left him naked upon a hillside to die. He was found and raised by a wandering bard named Torna Eices. In a prophecy, “Sithchenn the Smith” foretold that Niall would eventually become High King. As a young man, Niall encountered an old hag, who demanded that he and his companions give her a kiss; only Niall had the courage to do so; then the hag turned into a beautiful woman named Flaithius (Royalty), the personification of sovereignty and then prophesied that Niall would become the greatest of Ireland’s High Kings.”

Niall succeeded his uncle Crimthann to become the 126th High King of Ireland. The Irish Annals of the Four Masters states that “Niall began to reign in 379. He was not only the paramount king of Ireland, but one of the most powerful to ever hold that office, and was therefore one of the few Irish kings able to mobilize great forces for foreign expeditions.” Niall travelled to Scotland in order to extend his power and to obtain alliances with the Scots and Picts. He supposedly organized the Dal Riada, which became the name for this conglomeration of Irish, Scots and Picts. He marched to Laegria and sent a fleet to Armorica (France) to plunder. Keating, in his History of Ireland, states that “St. Patrick was brought as a captive to Ireland in the ninth year in the reign of Niall” while Niall was on a raiding expedition to Scotland and France. An Irish fleet went to the place where Patrick (then age 16 and known as Mewyn Succat) lived and, as was the custom of Irish raiders, brought a large number of hostages back to Ireland with them, including Patrick, his two sisters, Lupida and Daererca and approximately 200 other children.

Niall married twice. His first queen was Inne, the daughter of Luighdheach; and his second queen was Roigneach. Niall had at least twelve sons:

1. Eoghan – who gave his name to the kingdom of Tir Eoghain (Tyrone), ancestor of the O’Cahan, O’Cane, O’Daly, O’Crean, Grogan, O’Carolan, O’Gormley and O’Luinigh. Eoghan was baptized by St. Patrick at the Grianan Aileach, and his foot was pierced by the Bacchal Iosa during the ceremony. Eoghain’s son and heir Muireadach (Murray) married Earca, daughter of King Loarn of Dal Riada in Scotland, and by her had many sons and daughters; one of whom was Fergus Mór Mac Earca. From this Fergus Mór descended the kings of Scotland, and through his descendant Queen Matilda, the kings of England, including the royal houses of Plantagenet and Stuart.

2. Laeghaire (Leary) – the 128th High King, in the 4th year of whose reign St. Patrick returned to Ireland to spread the Christian faith in A.D. 432;

3. Conall Crimthann – ancestor of the O’Melaghlin kings of Meath;

4. Conall Gulban – ancestor of the O’Donnell princes, lords, and earls of the territory of Tirconnell (Donegal), and of the O’Boyle, O’Dogherty and O’Gallagher;

5. Fiacha – ancestor of the O’Molloy, O’Donechar and Donaher (Dooner), and for whom the territory from Birr to the Hill of Uisneach in Meath is called “Cineal Fiacha” and ancestor of the MacGeoghagan lords of that territory;

6. Main – whose patrimony was all the land from Lochree to Loch Annin, near Mullingar, and from whom are descended the Fox lords of the Muintir Tagan territory, the MacGawley, O’Dugan, O’Mulchonry and O’Henergy;

7. Cairbre – ancestor of the O’Flanagan of Tua Ratha and “Muintir Cathalan” (Cahill);

8. Fergus – ancestor of the “Cineal Fergusa” (Ferguson) and O’Hagan;

9. Enna;

10. Aongus (Æneas);

11. Ualdhearg; and

12. Fergus Altleathan.

During his long reign, High King Niall pillaged Wales, Scotland, England and France. Irish annalist Keating stated that “Niall having taken many captives returned to Ireland and proceeded to assemble additional forces and sent word to the chief of the Dal Riada, requesting him to follow with all his host to France.” Niall set out on this new adventure with Gabhran, chief of the Dal Riada, to plunder France. Also with this group was Eochaida (son of Enna Cinsalach, King of Leinster), who had been banished from Leinster, and who had ambitions to replace Niall as the next High King of Ireland. Niall marched with his victorious army of Irish, Scots, Picts, and Britons into France, in order to aid the Celtic natives expel the Roman Legions, and to conquer that portion of the Roman Empire. Encamped on the River Leor (now called the Lianne) near Boulogne-sur-mer in 405 A.D., as Niall sat by the riverside, he was assassinated by Eochaida, supposedly in revenge for some “wrong” done to him by Niall. The spot on the River Lianne where Niall was murdered is still called the “Ford of Niall.” Niall had been High King of Ireland for twenty-seven years. He played an important role in breaking Roman power in Britain and France. Keating states that “Wales ceased to be controlled by the central government from 380-400 due to Niall.”

Niall died a pagan, but after the spread of Christianity in Ireland, his descendants (the Uí Néill) became foremost in promoting and endowing the early Christian Church in Ireland; and nearly 300 of them were canonized as saints. He was the founding ancestor of the great Uí Néill (O’Neill) royal dynasty that would control most of Ireland for the next 1200 years as kings, chieftains, earls, abbots and bishops. For nearly 700 years, the Uí Néill stronghold was the Grianan Aileach, a massive ring fort still standing atop Greenan Mountain, five miles west of modern day Londonderry (Derry):

Curiously, part of Niall’s story occurred in England in 1919. That year, archeologists discovered a hoard of Roman silver, dating from Emperor Valens (365-378 A.D.) to the early reign of Emperor Honorius (395-423 A.D.). This find was comparable to 1,506 Roman silver coins from a 1854 excavation in County Londonderry, which dated from the reign of Emperors Constantius II to Honorius. The hoard created great debate among English historians as to how these coins came to be in England. These and other hoards had coins from earlier times up to Honorius, but none beyond. There were approximately 13 finds altogether. Who brought these coins to England and Northern Ireland? After Roman Emperor Theodosius I died, Franks, Saxons, Picts, Scots and Irish began to sack the European Continent. Honorius eventually succeeded his father Theodosius as Roman Emperor and then sent the Roman legions, under the command of the Vandal Stilcho north to deal with the raiders. Stilcho was successful in putting down raiders on the Continent, but he could not stop the raiders coming from Ireland. The Roman historian Claudian makes it clear that “the most formidable onslaught had come from Ireland under one powerful leader acting in co-operation with the Picts and Saxons.” Professor Sir William Ridgeway stated that the coins found in the excavations mentioned above were brought back by Niall’s companions after his death and buried. The interest created by the coin hoards helped uncover much that is now known about Niall.

Even 1600 years after the assassination of King Niall, a surprisingly large percentage of the population of northern and western Ireland remain his posterity. A study, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics (February 2006 issue), conducted at Trinity College Dublin, revealed that a striking percentage of men in Ireland and Scotland share the same chromosome, suggesting that one in twelve Irishmen are descendants of Niall. In this study of the Y chromosome, which is passed down only through the male line, scientists found a hotspot in northwest Ireland where 21.5% of the male population carry Niall’s genetic fingerprint, says Brian McEvoy, member of the research team at Trinity College.

This hotspot coincides with the historic stronghold of the Uí Néill.

“The Y chromosome in question appears to trace back to just one person” says McEvoy. “There are certain surnames that seem to have come from the Uí Néill. We studied the association between those surnames and the genetic profile. It is his (Niall’s) family.”

Modern surnames tracing their ancestry back to Niall include (but are not limited to) (O’)Boyle, Bradley, (O’)Cahan, Campbell, (O’)Cane, Cannon, (O’)Carolan, (O’)Connor, (O’)Crean, (O’)Daly, (O’)Devlin, (O’)Dogherty, (O’)Donaher (Dooner), (O’)Donechar, (O’)Donnell, (O’)Dugan, Ferguson, (O’)Flanagan, (O’)Flynn, (Mc)Kee, (O’)Donnelly, Egan, (O’)Gallagher, (Mc)Gawley, (O’)Gormley, (Mc)Geoghagan, Grogan, (O’)Hagan (O’)Henergy, Hynes, (O’)Kane, (O’)Lunney, (Mc)Caul, (Mc)Caully, (Mc)Govern, (Mc)Loughlin, (Mc)Manus, (O’)Melaghlin, (Mc)Menamin, (O’)Molloy, (O’)Mulchonry, (O’)Neill, (O’)Reilly, (O’)Rourke and Quinn.

The study also confirmed the genealogical and oral traditions of Gaelic Ireland, and is a “powerful illustration of the potential link between prolificacy and power.” Though medieval Ireland was Christian, divorce was allowed, people married early and concubinage was practiced. Illegitimate sons were claimed by their fathers and their rights were protected by law. “As in other polygamous societies, the siring of offspring was related to power and prestige.” The study points out that one Uí Néill chieftain, who died in 1423, had 18 sons with 10 different women and counted 59 grandsons in his male line alone.

The “Niall” chromosome has also been found in 16.7% of men in western and central Scotland and has turned up in multiple North American population samples, including 2% of European-American New Yorkers. “Given historically high rates of Irish emigration to North America and other parts of the world, it seems likely that the number of descendants worldwide runs to perhaps two to three million males,” said the study.

The genetic signature of the Uí Néill can be found at

There is a Facebook page, Descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages, at:


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Irish-American bigotry & racism

A recent 2-day train ride on AMTRAK from Florida to Boston gave me good cause to ponder the thorny issue of Irish-American racism and bigotry.

Bigotry and racism have been a blot on the reputation of Irish-Americans for centuries.  The scope and truth of this shameful problem may shock you.

I wrote an article about my too interesting train ride and this problem for my column on at:

Please read this article and pass it along – especially to senior citizens.

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Florida’s 2011 National History Day Prize Winners

A student play about the Irish Potato Famine won the 2011 Florida History Fair competition at Tallahassee, and then earned a silver medal and a $1000 prize at the 2011 National History Day Contest at College Park, Maryland.

Jessica Hamacher and Jaime Kay, two sixth-graders from Dunedin Highland Middle School’s Center for Gifted Students, wrote, produced and performed the one-act play “Starvation in Ireland: An International Diplomatic Crisis.” Their play beat 33 other entries to win the Florida History Fair competition at Tallahassee Community College on May 3, 2011. The state win qualified them to compete at the 2011 National History Day Contest at the University of Maryland, where, on June 16, 2011, their play won a silver medal in the Irish or Irish-American History category.

Best friends Jessica and Jaime wrote, produced and performed their 10-minute original play for teacher Teresa Bergstrom’s gifted class at Dunedin Highland Middle School. Students were required to choose a historical topic, research it extensively and then present a paper, exhibit, performance, documentary or website. Jessica and Jaime researched more than 30 primary sources and conducted interviews with family members of those affected by the Irish potato famine and museum directors in New York and Ireland. They shared the writing, directing, producing and acting responsibilities. Their play won the school-wide competition, then the Pinellas County competition, and then the state-wide competition at Tallahassee. The state-level win qualified them to compete at the 2011 National History Day Contest on June 12-16, 2011 at the University of Maryland at College Park.

“National History Day (NHD) is a highly regarded academic program for elementary and secondary school students”… “Each year, more than half a million students, encouraged by thousands of teachers nationwide participate in the NHD contest. Students choose historical topics related to a theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history interviews and historic sites. After analyzing and interpreting their sources and drawing conclusions about their topics’ significance in history, students present their work in original papers, websites, exhibits, performances and documentaries. These products are entered into competitions in the spring at local, state and national levels where they are evaluated by professional historians and educators. The program culminates in the Kenneth E. Behring National Contest each June held at the University of Maryland at College Park.”:

At the National History Day Contest in Maryland, professional historians and educators judged more than 2,500 student projects. Jessica and Jaime competed against 100 plays in the Junior group, won a silver medal in the Irish or Irish-American History category, and were awarded a $1000 prize by the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Congratulations, Jessica and Jaime!

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April 12, 2011 marked the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. Florida was the location of some of the most compelling events and personal stories of that momentous era.

If you are interested in reading one of the best historical novels about Florida during the Civil War era, Margaret’s Story by author Eugenia Price is Florida’s “Gone With The Wind”. Although technically a novel, it is a meticulously researched and true account of the lives of Colonel Lewis Fleming, his wife Margaret Seton Fleming and their large and aristocratic extended family.

At the start of the Civil War, the Fleming’s lived in a grand mansion at their 1000-acre Hibernia Plantation on Fleming Island on the St. John’s River, northwest of St. Augustine. For 150 years, Hibernia Plantation was the home of the pioneer Fleming family of Florida, who were descendants of the Barons Slane of Ireland, of the wealthy Fatio family of Switzerland, London and Florida, of Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador of Aztec Mexico, and of the famous Seton family of Scotland and Fernandina, Florida. The Fleming’s were noted planters, military officers, lawyers, hoteliers and politicians. For 80 years, up until the 1940’s, the Fleming family operated their Hibernia Plantation as a well-known winter resort.

Today, Hibernia Plantation is a tony, suburban subdivision of 119 homes, but it was once a grand plantation of “Old Florida”.

The seemingly fanciful subdivision sign (above) located at the entrance of today’s Hibernia Plantation is actually an accurate depiction of the plantation “great house” that was built there in 1856-7 by Colonel Lewis Fleming and his second wife Margaret Seton Fleming.

The Hibernia Plantation “great house”

The Fleming ancestors arrived in Ireland with English King Henry II in 1171. On the west side of the Hill of Slane in County Meath are the remains of their original 12th century motte and bailey castle. The Barony of Slane was created in 1370 for Sir Simon Fleming, the 1st Baron Slane, and would stay in the Fleming family for over 350 years.

The family’s links with County Antrim in the North of Ireland began when William Fleming, the 19th Baron Slane, married Anne, the daughter of Sir Randal McDonnell, 1st Earl of Antrim. Their grandson, Colonel Christopher Fleming, the 22nd Baron Slane, became the first Lord Slane to reside at Anticur, County Antrim in what he called Fleming Hall, the name still used for the house today. The 22nd Baron Slane was a supporter of the Jacobite cause, and sat as one of the Peers in the Irish Parliament called by King James II in 1689. He commanded a family regiment in support of James II and, at the head of this regiment, fought at the Siege of Derry and the famous battles of the Boyne and Aughrim. After the defeat of James II, Fleming was attained by King William III, imprisoned, and his estates at Slane were taken from him. When he was eventually released from prison, Fleming followed the exiled James II to France, where he resided with him in great poverty until 1708, when he returned to England. By that time, Queen Anne was on the throne, and she restored Fleming to his honors and titles, but not to his estates. The newly-restored Lord Slane sought the help of his kinsman, Randal MacDonnell, the 4th Earl of Antrim, who settled him on the property in Antrim at Anticur.

Fleming Hall at Anticur, County Antrim

Christopher Fleming, Baron Slane, died at Fleming Hall in 1726. He was buried with the Earls of Antrim in the MacDonnell family vault in Bun-na-Margy friary at Ballycastle.


George Fleming (1760-1821), descendant of the Barons Slane of Ireland,  immigrated to St. Augustine, Spanish East Florida around 1785 from Ireland via Charleston, South Carolina. For his military service in Spanish East Florida, Fleming was granted 1,000 acres on the west side of the St. John’s River northwest of St. Augustine by the Governor of Spanish East Florida on October 29, 1790:  “distinguished and extraordinary service, to which he contributed both his property and person in defense of the said province at different periods, sacrificing and abandoning his property, as a faithful subject, worthy of every recompense for his love, fidelity, and patriotism”. The plantation had previously been cleared and planted, but had been abandoned. Fleming named his new 1000-acre plantation “Hibernia”, the Latin name for Ireland, in honor of the land of his birth.

In 1791, George Fleming married Sophia Philipina Fatio, the daughter of wealthy Swiss immigrant Francis Philipe Fatio, his neighbors across the St. John’s River. Sophia Fatio was born in London in 1765, and her family immigrated to St. Augustine in 1771. Francis Philipe Fatio, a native of Switzerland, established an immense 15,000-acre plantation on the east side of the St. John’s River northwest of St. Augustine, which he named “New Switzerland”, and by 1790 he had become one of the wealthiest planters in Florida.


Following their marriage, George and Sophia Fleming farmed orange groves and other crops on their plantation, and had three children who would live to maturity: Lewis, George, and Mary Jane. George Fleming fell dead while riding his horse at Hibernia in 1821, leaving the plantation to his son Lewis.

Lewis Michael Fleming (1798-1862), the son of George and Sophia Fleming, lived in Cuba for several years as a young man, where he met and married his first wife, Augustina Cortés. Augustina was born in Cuba in 1806, and was a direct descendant of Hernán Cortés.  Don Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro, 1st Marquis of the Oaxaca Valley and Governor of New Spain, was the Spanish conquistador who conquered the Aztec Empire, and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Spain in the early 16th century.


After they married, Lewis and Augustina settled at Hibernia and had three children: George Claudius in 1822, Lewis Isadore “L.I.” in 1825 and Augustina “Tina” in 1832. The young family prospered at Hibernia, but tragically, Augustina Cortés Fleming died in December, 1832, shortly after giving birth to baby “Tina”. Lewis Fleming, devastated by the death of his young wife, stoically carried on, raising and educating his three young children, running his plantation and serving as a Major and then Colonel in the Florida Militia cavalry. Col. Fleming was severely wounded during the Seminole War, which resulted in a severe and permanent limp.

In 1837, 38-year-old Colonel Lewis Fleming married 24-year-old Margaret Seton, daughter of his close friend, the late Charles Seton. Charles Seton was a wealthy timber baron and the former Mayor of Fernandina, Florida, and was a descendant of the high noble Seton’s of Barnes and Parbroath of Scotland, the descendants of Sir Christopher Seton and Lady Christina Bruce, sister of King Robert The Bruce of Scotland.


Lewis and Margaret Fleming had seven children: Charles “Seton” in 1838, and Francis Phillip “Frank” in 1841, Frederic Alexander in 1845, William Seton in 1847, Matilda Caroline “Tissie” in 1849, Margaret Seton “Maggie” in 1851 and Isabel Frances “Belle” in 1856. On August 3, 1862, 64-year-old Lewis Fleming died of heart failure in his bed at Hibernia.

For most the Civil War, Margaret and her daughters were left alone at Hibernia, while the Fleming sons served in the Confederate military. Charles “Seton” Fleming was killed at the Battle of Cold Harbor in Virginia on June 3, 1864, as Margaret and her daughters, falsely accused of being “Confederate spies”, were expelled from Hibernia Plantation by Union troops. Margaret and her daughters spent the remainder of the Civil War nursing the wounded and sick at a Confederate military hospital at Lake City, Florida, and worrying about the fate of the surviving Fleming sons.

After the Civil War, the Fleming’s returned to Hibernia. Their “great house” was still standing, but had been ransacked and stripped of all furnishings.  With the help of the entire extended family, the house was restored, refurnished and reopened as a hotel.  Sons Lewis “L.I.” and Francis “Frank” became prominent attorneys in Jacksonville. Sons Frederic and William stayed on at Hibernia with their mother Margaret and sisters to run the plantation as the successful “Fleming House Hotel”. Margaret Seton Fleming died at Hibernia on April 5, 1878.

In 1889, Margaret’s son, Francis Phillip Fleming of Hibernia and Jacksonville, became the 15th Governor of the State of Florida.

Florida Governor Francis P. Fleming

The Governor’s brother, Frederic Fleming, continued to host hotel guests at Hibernia Plantation until his death in 1917. The youngest brother, William Fleming, led guests on hunting, fishing and boating expeditions along the St. John’s River until his death in 1922. After unhappy marriages, both “Tissie” and “Belle” Fleming remained at Hibernia until their deaths in 1922 and 1934, respectively.

Sadly, all that remains of the original Hibernia Plantation is the family cemetery and Margaret Seton Fleming’s private chapel.

Margaret Seton Fleming’s Chapel and the Fleming Family Cemetery

If you would like to read more about the fascinating lives of the famous Fleming’s of Hibernia Plantation, the full 21-page article is HERE.

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Filed under Florida Irish History