Category Archives: Irish History

Postcards from Dublin..while waiting for the train

While waiting for my train this week before returning to Cork, I took advantage of the  lovely Spring sunshine to stroll around the area beside the Irish Rail Dublin terminus at Heuston.

We rush in and rush out of this building, eager to catch a train or a bus or a tram, too busy to appreciate where we are. The magnificent building that is Dublin Heuston train  terminus was originally constructed to conceal the train sheds and platforms.


Dublin Heuston from John’s Road

Dating from 1846, it was designed by an English architect, and designer of many railway stations, Sancton Wood (1815-1866) . It is in the style of an Italian Palazzo and is highly decorated.


Dublin Heuston Station

Constructed on behalf of the Great Southern and Western Railway company it was originally known as Kingsbridge. Our mother, being from a railway family, always referred to this place as Kingsbridge.

It was so named as the terminal is adjacent to a cast iron bridge crossing the Liffey that was known as King’s Bridge which was constructed in 1823 to commemorate the visit in 1821 of King George IV. In 1923  the bridge was renamed Sarsfield Bridge and in 1941 it was renamed Séan Heuston Bridge.

Image result for wikipedia sean heuston

Séan Heuston 1891-1916

Séan Heuston was born in Dublin and joined the Great Southern and Western Railway as a clerk in Limerick at the age of 17. He was transferred to Kingsbridge in 1913. He became one of the leaders of the 1916 rising in Ireland against the British. He was the youngest man executed for his part in the Easter Rising against British Rule. He was shot by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol in May 1916.


Name plaque on Séan Heuston Bridge

The bridge has many very nice ornamental ironwork panels.


The view from the Séan Heuston Bridge down the Liffey is dominated by the famous Guinness James Gate Brewery, seen here on the right bank of the river.  The famous Harp logo can be seen on the darker building, amid the high tech steel structures on the site.


Across the road from Heuston Station is the very impressive Dr Steevens Hospital. Now an administrative building for the health authority,  the hospital was founded in 1720 by the sister of Dr Richard Steevens (1653-1710), under the terms of his will.


The building facing Heuston Station

It’s quite amazing to think that patents accessed the hospital through these impressive doors almost 300 years ago

Guinness Brewery, founded in 1759, donated small bottles of stout to the patients from the brewery next door. The tradition of giving hospital patients a daily stout persisted well into the 20th century in many Irish hospitals.

There is always something interesting  to discover in Dublin!





Filed under Ireland, Irish History

In Rememberance

In 2014, on the 100th Anniversary of the start of World War 1 I went to see the fantastic poppy installation at the Tower of London. The imagery was very powerful and has remained with me ever since. It took a considerable length of time to see all 888,246 of these poppies, each one representing a life lost. The sheer scale of it, the blood-redness of it made a huge impression on me and anyone who saw it.

One of the poppies from that installation has been framed and hangs in my home. 

In memory of those who never came home from that awful conflict, especially those from my own parish of Mevagh in County Donegal and the countless others who suffered horrendous injuries from which they never recovered.


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The original post can be seen here Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red



Filed under Ireland, Irish at War, Irish History

Kindred Spirits: The Choctaw Nation and the Starving Irish 

Those of us who live around Midleton, a small  town in the east of County Cork, Ireland, are very proud of an impressive art installation that marks a very poignant moment in Irish history.

This sculpture honours an extraordinary gift from the Choctaw Native Americans to the starving Irish during the Great Famine that raged through Ireland in the 19th Century. It was created by Alex Pentek at the Sculpture Factory in Cork, Ireland and installed in Bailick Park, Midleton in 2015.

Native Americans of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek and Cherokee tribes lived in traditional tribal lands in parts of Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee.  However, this valuable land was coveted by white settlers who wished to grow cotton.  Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act that authorized forcible eviction from their native land.  In the winter of 1831 under threat of invasion by the U.S.Army, 17,000 Choctaw were first to be expelled from their homelands. They began migrating on foot to Indian Territory, now a part of Oklahoma, along what became known as the ‘trail of tears’.  With no help from the government and often without food and supplies and in dreadful weather conditions, many thousands died along the way.  It is estimated that nearly one third of the Choctaw Nation perished due to starvation, exposure and disease on the 500 mile walk, the ‘trail of tears’.

Several years later the Choctaw Nation, on hearing of the famine that had struck Ireland in 1845, made a donation of  $170 to the Famine Relief Fund of Ireland. Whilst many donations were made for famine relief at that time, what makes the Choctaw donation stand out is that they were living in great hardship and poverty at that time.

It is in recognition of that fantastic gesture that this sculpture, appropriately named ‘Kindred Spirits’ was created.

The sculpture consists of nine 20-foot (6.1 m) stainless steel eagle feathers arranged in a circle, to represent an empty bowl.

No two feathers are the same. 

Although there is no direct connection between Midleton and the Choctaw donation of 1847, we are delighted to have such a wonderful piece of public art in our area. It can be seen from the Cork to Waterford N25  road, when travelling in the direction of  Waterford. It has become something of a tourist attraction and has regular visitors – individuals, small groups  and entire school classes.

Probably one of Ireland’s most impressive public sculptures, it is a fitting tribute to the generosity of the Choctaw Nation who saw themselves as our kindred spirits in our time of need.   I love it and hope you enjoy looking at it as much as I do!




Filed under Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish History

Postcards from Newtownforbes Co. Longford

Newtonwforbes in County Longford  is a small village located  just a few miles outside Longford town, on the busy N4 Dublin to Sligo road.  Originally known as Lisbrack (Lios Breac in Irish), the name was changed to Newtownforbes in the middle of the 18th Century by the Forbes family, who were granted the lands here in the early 1600s. The Forbes family, with the title Earls of Granard, have lived in the village for over 300 years.


The present Castle was constructed in the 19th Century – the original built c.1624  was destroyed by fire. As this is a family home, the entire demesne is private and not open to the public.


Introduced Grey Squirrel (Image Wikipedia)

In 1911, the grey squirrel was introduced here. An indigenous species of North America, several pairs were given as a wedding gift to a member of the Forbes family in 1911. A number escaped and went on to breed prolifically and almost annihilate the native Irish red squirrel. Fortunately the progress of the grey squirrel seems to have finally been halted in recent years, and the red squirrel is again increasing in numbers.

The main street in Newtownforbes has remained largely unchanged over the decades with modern development confined largely to side streets.  Two churches dominate the village, both provided by the Forbes family.  The Church of Ireland church of St. Paul, built  about 1820, replaced an earlier church from 1694.  The graveyard here has been mapped and recorded by a local team of dedicated volunteers lead by Doreen McHugh and Des Mooney. The earliest recorded burial dates to 1698.  The results of their work can be seen on the Historic Graves website. See the link below.


There is a Forbes family crypt in this churchyard and interestingly, and unusually I would think, there is another Forbes family mausoleum attached to the  Roman Catholic Church of St. Mary’s.



The Catholic Church of St Mary’s, where I was baptized, is in the centre of the village. This is the parish church of Clonguish. It has been almost totally remodelled in recent times.


Clonguish RC parish Church

However, it used to look like this:

Original RC Clonguish Parish church in Newtownforbes. (Image retrieved from NLI at

The ‘explanation’ for this dramatic change appears on this plaque at the side of the church. It would appear that the term ‘restoration’ can have a very broad meaning!

Plaque marking the 1974 work on the RC Church in Newtownforbes.

Either side of the main entrance door are two carved heads, which may or may not represent specific people. These are part of the original church, built 1861-1864.


I had hoped that some of the interior survived the renewal, in particular the baptismal font at which I was christened, but I was to be disappointed.  With the possible exception of the brass sanctuary lamp, some stained glass windows and the mosaic memorial to the local nobility, everything else seems to be modern.



The new round stained glass window is very attractive and compliments the interior. The original side aisles have been removed and everything within seems to be very modern.


Returning to this little village in the midlands of Ireland is always poignant. The Station House, in which we were born and where we spent many happy times with our grandparents, was built in the 1860s and closed as a railway station in 1963 . It is now a beautifully maintained private residence. It is always nice to stand on the little bridge and look down to the place where we made many happy memories.


Newtownforbes Station House, where our grandparents lived

The railway line is still in use. I have lovely memories of walking along the line with my grandfather. The main telephone lines ran on poles along the line in those days. and he used to lift me up and place my ear against the poles to hear them ‘singing’.


The Dublin – Sligo line is still in use although the station is closed.

It was always exciting to cross over this little bridge as we knew we had arrived for more adventures!


The railway bridge at Newtownforbes Station

Quite near the Station is the abandoned Lisbrack House. Most recently a nursing home, it was once a school and a bishop’s home. To the best of my recollection our mother was taught to play the piano in this building by a very cranky nun who was also a great pianist!


Former Lisbrack House

Another prominent religious site on the main street is the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy. About 1869 the nuns were invited here by the Earl of Granard who provided the site for the buildings to enable them to educate the children of the estate. An orphanage and industrial school were also established here.  Sadly this site had a role in the tragic legacy of such establishments in Ireland. The school and convent are now closed and I understand that these rather nice buildings are now apartments.


The village has many buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The two storey tudor style house is one of a pair provided for estate workers and it was in these that County Longford’s first flushing toilets were installed.


A Tudor style house built for estate workers – among the first in the county to have flushing toilets!

Many  of the houses would would have originally been thatched and unfortunately many are no longer occupied.


The former RIC Barracks built c. 1900 was burned during the War of Independence. It was later rebuilt for the use of the Garda Siochana (Irish Police) and is now a private residence.


The former Newtownforbes RIC Station

This interesting item is the Famine Pump. It was provided by Lord Granard as a Famine Relief scheme. It sits alongside a building that started life as a shooting range in Longford army barracks.  It was purchased by a local who erected here c.1933 and is known locally as Christy’s Hall.


Famine Water Pump and Christy’s Hall

The hard work of the local tidy towns volunteers is evident throughout the village.



And local junior artists have also been decorating the hoarding surrounding the former school buildings.


A board inside the church lists the townlands in the parish of Clonguish, which derives from the Irish ‘Cluain Geis’ which means The Meadow of the Swans.


Newtownforbes is the last resting place of our grandparents and an uncle and aunt so visits nowadays are to pay respects at their graves in the new cemetery.


One of the great delights of my brief visit discovering a great little restaurant  called Tús Nua right on the main street, so if you happen to be passing through, drop in for a wee wander through this quaint little village and enjoy a fabulous coffee in this delightful coffee house!







Filed under Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Countryside, Irish Heritage, Irish History

The Irish Workhouse Centre


The Women’s building at The Irish Workhouse Centre, Portumna

Yesterday I attended a conference at the Irish Workhouse Centre in Portumna,Co Galway. This was my first visit to this complex of buildings, which date from 1850.  Workhouses were introduced in 19th Century Ireland to provide food and shelter for the destitute. The very name ‘Workhouse’ has terrible connotations to this day because of the awful conditions in which the inmates lived.

Families were split up on arrival with separate wings for men, women, boys aged between 2 and 15 and girls aged between 2 and 15 .  Children under the age of 2 could stay with their mother. Parents were permitted ‘ to have an interview with their child at some time in each day’, other than that, there was total segregation. How cruel for little children who would not understand what was going on.

The rear the building that housed the boys. With piles of rocks in what was the yard .

At the height of the Great Famine that raged from 1845 to 1851 or 1852, the poor were clamoring for admittance. Buildings built to accommodate 600 people could have been packed to overflowing with 1,600 people. The daily food allowance was minimal and of poor nutritional value, and many inmates of these establishments died of disease such as dysentery, cholera and typhus.

Inmates had to work in exchange for food and shelter. Women took care of laundry, scrubbed floors, did the cooking and did sewing and mending while men did often meaningless heavy work such as breaking stones.  The laundry area has some very fine industrial archaeology.

By the end of the Great Famine Ireland had 163 Workhouses. Many of these eventually became local hospitals and still stand today as care centres for the elderly. Many have been demolished and have disappeared without trace.

This wonderful project in Portumna which houses the Irish Workhouse Centre is a credit to those who had the foresight to save these buildings from total dereliction. Steady  progress is being made with restoration and conservation work. The centre is in use  for educational purposes and  there are plans for a Workhouse Museum.  The guided tours of the buildings are a revelation, and are conducted with knowledgeable enthusiasm.

Only a handful of Workhouses remain in their original format. This unique complex of buildings in Portumna  stands testament to the history of the ordinary people of Ireland, the non landed gentry from whom most of us descend. Ordinary people who endured extraordinary hardship –  many of them died, many emigrated, many survived too.  This is a tangible monument to them all and deserves our support.

For more information see



Filed under Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish History

Discovering a Carrigart man on the centenary of his death

Just the other week, I came upon a grave in Trinity Churchyard in Carrigart, my hometown, on which was recorded a World War 1 death. Amazing to think that I grew up in a parish in north Donegal and never heard about a young local man who by the age of 23 had received two bravery awards and had given his life in the 1st World War

The Fisher Family Headstone

This family headstone in the Trinity churchyard in Carrigart records the deaths of three sons, two of whom predeceased their parents. One of these had two bravery awards and was killed in France in 1917.

So what is the story of James Fisher? Who was he?

James was born in Umlagh outside Carrigart on December 10, 1893, the eldest son and third child of James Fisher and his wife Helen McIlwane.

The 1901 census tells us that  parents James and Helen were living in Umlagh with their 7 children, Rachel aged 10, Margaret 9, James 7, Kezie 5, Alexander 4, John 2 and David 6 months and James’ brother John. The census record can be seen here.

By 1911, David, born on October 9, 1900, had died in 1905, Rachel and Margaret were no longer living at home, but the family had 5 new members. The household at that time consisted of father James, mother Helen and John senior as well as  young James, now 17, Kezie who was 16, Alexander who was 14, John who was 12, and new arrivals Annie aged 9, Margery 7, Catherine Susan aged 5, Aaron who was 3 and another David, then only 2 months old, born on January 21, 1911.  The 1911 census record for the family can be seen here.

James enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and then transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, specializing in, as the name suggests, machine gun duties.   In 1916  Lance Corporal James Fisher was awarded the Distinguished  Conduct Medal, (the DCM,) for gallantry and the news was carried in The Derry Journal in September of that year.

From The Derry Journal of September 6, 1916

The citation for this award was as follows:

‘18679 Actg. L/Cpl J Fisher Mach. Gun Corps (LG 22 Sept. 1916)

For conspicuous gallantry in action. When his seniors had become casualties he took command of the gun team and pushed forward. Later he took  his gun into a shell hole, caught the enemy in the open , and drove back their counter attack.’

The Distinguished Conduct Medal



James was a very brave young man as he was again recognized for gallantry winning another Distinguished Conduct Medal or  ‘Bar’.  The 207th Machine Gun Company was attached to the 3rd Australian Division between October 1916 and October 1917 and it was during this time that he won the second award. The citation for his second or ‘bar’ award of the DCM  is as follows:

A/Corpl James Fisher D.C.M. For conspicuous gallantry on the night of 17/18 May 1917, when in charge of a Machine Gun in very exposed position on ?? the enemy attempted a raid of ? Gap at the same time heavily bombarding ? . No 18679 Corporal J Fisher at once opened fire on his S.O.S target ‘D’ Gap(?) and continued to fire although shells were bursting all around his position, and in spite of the fact that he received blows on the head and in the small of the  back from shrapnel. Owing to the protection of his steel helmet and belt respectively, the only injuries received were bruises. His sub-section(?) officer tried to persuade him to be relieved at the gun, but he stuck to his post till the situation became normal, although in a dazed and deafened state. After the raid was over he wanted to stay with his gun, but was ordered by his officer to go to Section Headquarters for the night. Besides materially helping to repel the raid, the example set to the N.C.O.s and men of this Company will have a far reaching effect

This recommendation is recorded is the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Australian Division on 22 May 1917.

However his luck ran out and Sergeant James Fisher, DCM bar Service No. 18679, was killed  on September 25, 1916, probably at the Third Battle of Ypres. At this time it appears that the Machine Gun unit was no longer attached to the Australian forces. James probably died around Polderhoek Chateau Ridge on the morning of September 25, 1917, when the British  were about to launch their own attack.

In a History and memoir of the 33rd Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps, the events of the fateful day are recorded;

By 12 midnight on the 24th-25th September …the 207th Machine Gun Company..was ordered to be in position by 1 a.m on the morning of the 25th, about 159 yards behind our front posts..  About 3.30 on the morning of the 25th, the enemy opened a bombardment of hitherto unparalleled intensity upon our front.

The 207th Company, which…was close behind our front line grouped in batteries, opened fire with sixteen guns at almost point blank range into the massed hordes of the enemy. The enemy was concentrated behind Polderhoek Chateau Ridge… Low flying enemy aeroplanes soon, however, detected  (them) and both by machine gunning and directing artillery upon the 207th Machine Gun Company, the enemy inflicted very severe casualties amongst the gunners’

The body of James Fisher was never found, possibly blown to bits. He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial for the missing as his grave is not known.  He is one of 34,992 young men whose remains were never recovered and whose names are inscribed on this wall.

Tyne Cot Memorial

The Tyne Cot Memorial stands around the eastern boundary of the Tyne Cot Cemetery near Ieper in Belgium, (Image Commonwealth Graves Commission).

At the time of his death, James was owed £45/10/5 plus a war gratuity of £16/10/0 which sum was paid to his father on November 15 1919. Not much consolation for the terrible loss of a beloved son.

When researching this post, I made a table of  the men from our parish of Mevagh, either born there or who had lived there at one time, and was astonished to find so many who had died between 1914 and 1918. This data has been extracted from the County Donegal Book of Honour, The Great War 1914-1918. These records are confined to deaths in the years 1914 to 1918 only and do not include, for example, a Mevagh man who is buried in Clontallagh who died in 1919.


The statistics are quite startling. In 1914, 2 men from  our parish died, 3 died in 1915, 1 in 1916. In 1917, 9 died – 4 of them in a 4 week period alone (and one on the same day as James Fisher) – and 7 died in 1918.

It would be interesting to cross reference the data in the book with the civil records  and census records now online and to include those who died from wounds after the 1918 cut off date. and to find their  military records.

Sergeant James Fisher D.C.M (Bar) of Umlagh is the most decorated of these Mevagh men and he lost his life 100 years ago. He deserves to be remembered as a son of our parish, as indeed, do all of these men who lost their lives in  that conflict.



County Donegal Book of Honour, The Great War 1914-1918. 

Australian War Memorial at https:/,-james/. _of _25- September_1917

https:/ UK Army Registers of Effects 1901-1929

With thanks to Damian Shiels, Military Historian, for his help in sourcing information for this post. 









Filed under Ireland, Irish at War, Irish History, Local History

The greatest propaganda coup in Fenian history

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The Catalpa Memorial Rockingham Western Australia (Image Thesilvervoice)

It is still billed as the most daring escape ever undertaken, yet it happened over 140 years ago! Years in the planning, and months in the execution, the rescue of six Irish Fenians from Fremantle’s Convict Establishment remains a breathtaking and exciting story, and has been called the ‘greatest propaganda coup in Fenian history’. Yet I wonder how many Irish people have ever heard of it!

John Boyle O’Reilly (see previous post here) was one of  62 Fenian Political prisoners aboard the Hougoumont, the last ship to transport convicts from England to Australia in 1867. Some 17 of these, like Boyle O’Reilly, were military personnel who were charged with recruiting Fenians from within the ranks of the British army.
During the voyage of the Hougoumont the Fenians produced seven weekly hand written newspapers entitled ‘The Wild Goose: A Collection of Ocean Waifs’. The title of the publication was inspired by ‘The Wild Geese’ a name given to Irish soldiers who had gone into exile and who had served in European armies from the 17th century.

The first page of The Wild Goose, handwritten by Fenian Convicts while being transported to Western Australia. (Image Wikipedia)

Boyle O’Reilly escaped Western Australia in 1869 and went to live in Boston. Over time some of the other convicts were released or given Tickets of Leave, but about 12 of the military convicts were still held. Meanwhile another Fenian John Devoy, a Kildare man, who had been pardoned in England on condition that he go into exile, made his way to America. It was he who received a letter from convict James Wilson, smuggled out of  the Fremantle Establishment, pleading for help to escape.
Boyle O’Reilly and Devoy were instrumental in producing a plan to effect the escape of their comrades still languishing in Western Australia. Devoy attended a Clan na Gael meeting in New York at which he read Wilson’s letter which ended with ‘We think if you forsake us, then we are friendless indeed.

Wilson wrote that his was ‘a voice from the tomb,..For is not this a living tomb’ and said they were facing ‘the death of a felon in a British dungeon.‘ Devoy read the letter at a meeting of Clan na Gael and shouted. ‘These men are our brothers!

In 1875 with financial assistance from thousands of Irishmen via Clan na Gael (an Irish independence support group) the Catalpa, a three masted whaling bark was purchased for $5,550. The plan was for the ship to appear legitimate and to undertake whaling while making its way to Western Australia. Captain George Smith Anthony, an American sympathetic to the cause of the patriotic Irishmen was the trusted whaling captain who skippered the Catalpa that pulled out of New Bedford, Massachusetts on April 29, 1875.


The Whaling Bark Catalpa (Image Library of Congress)

The Catalpa made her way to the Azores, hunting whales along the way. She dropped off a cargo of whale oil but most of her crew deserted and three got sick. A new crew was recruited.

Meanwhile in September 1875, two Fenian agents, John Breslin and Thomas Desmond arrived in Western Australia. Breslin was a native of Drogheda County Louth and already had credentials in assisting escapes as he had sprung James Stephens the leader of the Fenians from Richmond Prison in 1865. Thomas Desmond was born in Cobh County Cork and emigrated to America at the age of 16. He fought on the Union side of the American Civil War after which he became Deputy Sheriff in San Francisco.

In Western Australia Breslin assumed the identity of a wealthy American Businessman, James Collins. He had a letter of introduction that enabled him to become acquainted with the Governor of Western Australia, who very conveniently took him to the Convict Establishment on a guided tour! Desmond found work as a wheelwright and got to know local Irishmen who agreed to help with the plan. The Catalpa voyage took longer than anticipated as she lost a mast in a storm, but she eventually dropped anchor off Bunbury in Western Australia on March 29, 1876.
Captain Anthony and Breslin met and finalized their plans.  The original escape was scheduled for early April but had to be abandoned due to the arrival of customs officials and Royal Navy ships in the area. The event was reset for Easter Monday when most people, including the Establishment Garrison would be distracted by the annual boating regatta on the Swan river.
On Monday morning April 16 1876, the Catalpa was anchored in International waters. Captain Anthony and a crew rowed a whaleboat ashore to Rockingham, about 20 miles from the prison at Fremantle, and there awaited the arrival of the prisoners.
Breslin and Desmond arrived near the prison with horses and wagons and the 6 prisoners who had all been working outside the walls on that day made their escape. The local helpers cut telegraph wires to ensure that word of the escape could not be spread, and the horses took off at breakneck speed for Rockingham pier. On board the wagons were six Fenians
Robert Cranston, Thomas Darragh, Michael Harrington, Thomas Hassett, Martin Hogan and James Wilson.

The Fenians made it to the pier where Captain Anthony and his crew were waiting in the whaling boat. Because the Catalpa was so far out at sea, they would have to row for a number of hours to reach it. They were however spotted by a local man who raised the alarm. When they were about a half mile offshore they saw mounted police and trackers arriving on the shore. Soon after they saw a steamer and a coast guard cutter that had been appropriated by the Royal Navy to intercept them. They rowed like mad with the armed authorities chasing them. They could see the Catalpa in the distance but the steamer Georgette was closing on them. Darkness fell and a gale blew up causing crashing waves to almost submerge the boat. Captain Anthony ordered them to start bailing and they kept rowing for their lives. The Georgette was unable to locate them due to the heavy seas and the lack of light.

At first light the Georgette reappeared, headed alongside the Catalpa and demanded to go aboard. The 1st mate refused. The Georgette was running low on fuel and had to return to shore to refuel. Captain Anthony decided to make a run for it to the Catalpa so they rowed with all their might with a cutter in hot pursuit, but they made it and scrambled aboard. Captain Anthony immediately got the Catalpa under sail to get away, but the wind dropped and the Catalpa lay powerless. By the following morning, those on board the becalmed Catalpa were alarmed to see the Georgette with a 12 pound cannon and armed militia pull alongside. The Fenians and crew on the Catalpa armed themselves and stood ready to die.


The Georgette (Image Wikimedia Commons)

The Georgette fired a shot across the bow of the Catalpa and ordered them to stop, saying there had escaped prisoners on board. Captain Anthony’s response was that he only had free men on board and the Georgette responded with a threat to fire on the ship. Still becalmed and in danger of drifting back into Australian waters, Captain Anthony pointed to the American Flag and said : ‘This ship is sailing under the American flag and she is on the high seas. If you fire on me, I warn you that you are firing on the American flag’. The wind increased again and Anthony drove his ship towards the Georgette, narrowly missing its rigging!  The Catalpa headed to sea with the Georgette in pursuit but eventually the British retreated and headed back to the coast. The Fenians were free! They arrived back in the USA four months later to a heroes welcome and news of the astonishing rescue was spread worldwide. Devoy, Breslin and Anthony were hailed as heroes

In 2005 a very impressive memorial to these events was unveiled at Rockingham where the Fenians made their escape. The centerpiece of the memorial is 6 bronze Wild Geese flying out to sea to freedom. Perched on a polished local granite base, the Wild Geese Memorial as it is called, can be seen from some distance away on the Rockingham shoreline.

The entire pillar sits on a bed of ballast stones collected from the holds of many ships that transported people to Western Australia. An engraved image and short bio of each of the escapees is etched onto the granite pillar.

In 2014 the memorial was finally completed with the installation of pillars bearing transcribed pages from the onboard newspaper The Wild Goose, including  part of the the image of the actual page shown above.

The shiny surface makes for challenging photography!

Looking towards Garden Island and the horizon where the Catalpa made her way to freedom.
Rockingham 14 April 2014 2014-04-14 057


Robert Cranston was a native of  Stewardstown, Co. Tyrone. He served in the 61st British Infantry. Very little is known about Robert after arriving in New York.

Thomas Darragh was a native of Wicklow. He was a Protestant member of an Orange Lodge and had been decorated for bravery in the British Army.

Michael Harrington was from Macroom, Co. Cork and had been decorated for bravery in the British Army.

Thomas Hassett was a native of Doneraile Co. Cork  and had served in the Papal Brigade in Rome. A previous attempted escape from the Fremantle Establishment failed.

Martin Hogan from Limerick deserted the British Army, was captured and tried. He lay in an unmarked paupers grave until 2014 when a marker was erected by the Fenian Memorial Committee of Chicago.

James Wilson was from Newry Co. Down. He served in the British Army in America, India and Syria he deserted in 1865 but was caught and transported. The last survivor of the Catalpa convicts, he died in 1921 at the age of 85.

In this year when we in Ireland recall the Fenian Rising, it is fitting to recall the events that happened beyond our shores for the same cause.

So come you screw warders and jailers

Remember Perth regatta day

Take care of the rest of your Fenians

Or the Yankees will steal them away 

(Folk song lyrics)



National Museum of Australia

Smithsonian Magazine


San Francisco Sheriff’s Department

‘The Voyage of the Catalpa: A perilous journey and six Irish Rebels’ escape to freedom’ by Peter Stevens. 2003 Weidenfeld & Nicolson History


Filed under Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Convicts, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Transportation