A few weeks back we featured some great heroines of ancient and contemporary Ireland. In the interests of balance and fairness we now present to you some notable Irish men of historical note. While many people are aware of JFK and other presidential Irish connections, we thought it only right to reveal some less famous, but noteworthy Irishmen.
John Dunlap – Declaration of Independence
“…all men are created equal….with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
These words in the US declaration of Independence may have been written by Thomas Jefferson, but it was Irishman John Dunlap who printed them, at his printing works in Philadelphia.
Born in Strabane, Co. Tyrone, Dunlap had taken part in the War of Independence and served as bodyguard to Washington at the battles of Princeton and Trent. However, we’re not sure if we’re too proud of his role in leading the militia to help put down the ‘Whiskey Rebellion’ in western Pennsylvania in 1794!
He evolved from being a printer to publisher, to property developer, buying cheap land seized from colonists who refused to recognise the newly independent State.
Apparently poor John developed a fondness for the whiskey himself in middle age, and he died in 1812, aged 65 years, and is buried at Christ Church, Philadelphia.
Gen. Phil Sheridan – Irishman yay or neigh?
‘Little Phil’ – all 5’ 5” of him, was born in…. who knows where really? Where he first saw the light of day is the subject of some debate. Officially he’s noted as being from Albany, New York, of Irish parentage. Many claim his birthplace is County Cavan in Ireland.
So why the controversy? Well, if the latter birthplace is correct, it’s rumoured that he changed it, as he had aspirations of becoming US President. This he would not have been able to achieve without being US born.
He is quoted in one interview as stating he thought his parents were from Co. Westmeath, but unlike many past (and present) Irish Americans, he tended to completely play down his Irishness. It is also speculated that he may have been born aboard ship en route to the United States from Ireland.
Wherever his place of birth may have been – and it does seem rather strange that he wouldn’t know his own heritage – he is remembered in US history for his Civil War role and rising to become commander of the entire US army.
He and his trusty steed Winchester are immortalised in Sheridan’s Ride – a poetic account of the Battle of Cedar Creek. “Here is the steed that saved the day, By carrying Sheridan into the fight, From Winchester–twenty miles away”
Under Atlantic Waves
“I’d like to be, under the sea, in an Octopus’s garden in the shade”. Whatever about the Beatles underwater wants, it was thanks to the West of Ireland that underwater exploration became a reality.
Many Irish people, as they stand on the west coast looking out over the Atlantic, have notions of sailing across the oceans. But John Holland didn’t want to sail over seas – he wanted to sail under them.
Holland was born in the tiny village of Liscannor, Co. Clare, just minutes from the famous Cliffs of Moher.
In 1873, Holland went to the US where he found employment as a teacher in Paterson, New Jersey. But he never let go of his dreams and worked continuously to realise them – work that culminated in the invention of the modern submarine. Unbelievably, he was so ahead of his time that his diving principle used in the first submarine he sold (at a loss) to the US Navy, still applies to today’s vessels.
John Holland died in 1914, just around the outbreak of WWI. He never lived to see how effectively his invention would evolve (for better or worse).
P.S.- we know all knowledgeable US Naval people will claim the civil war era Hunley as being the first – but in fairness, its one engagement did see it sink with all hands, off Charleston, SC.
Naval Gazing and Philly connections
Anyone from, or who has visited, Argentina, may be struck by numerous school, streets and squares named after Admiral Guillermo Browne. He was in fact – William Brown, from Foxford in Co. Mayo, who emigrated to Philadelphia as a boy in 1778. Starting his sea-faring career as a cabin boy, he was later press-ganged by the British and forced to fight in the Napoleonic wars. It is said he scuttled his ship, but ‘malheureusement’ – the French didn’t believe him. He was imprisoned but escaped at the second attempt. After marrying, he went to Argentina via Uruguay and Chile, becoming a successful businessman with his own ship. He was appointed to lead the fledgling Argentine Navy which had been hastily formed to counter Spanish blockades of parts of the Argentine coast. Brown died in Buenos Aires in 1857, and is honoured not just with place names, but a succession of ships named after him and statues in his home town and Dublin
We also lay claim to the father of the US Navy – Commodore John Barry, from County Wexford, the son of a poor tenant farmer who was evicted by his British landlord.
Arriving in Philadelphia aged 17, he eventually became senior commander of the entire United States fleet. Barry’s war contributions are unparalleled. During the American Revolution he captured over 20 British ships, and fought the last naval battle of the American Revolution aboard the frigate Alliance in 1783. He remained head of the American Navy until his death in 1803, and is buried in Philadelphia’s Old St. Mary’s Churchyard.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some possibly lesser know Irish historical figures. And we hope it gives you some flavour of the historical side of our 6 day Sojourn of Southwest Ireland and 7 Day Northern Ireland and Best of the West. And check out our Special Offers page for some great bargains for Frontline workers, shoulder season and more.