‘Irish Soldiers, American Wars – From Buena Vista to Wounded Knee’

Wednesday, 14 January 2015, 8pm, Officers’ Mess, Custume Barracks, Athlone

– talk by Ian Kenneally

Philip Sheridan and George Armstrong Custer

General Philip Sheridan is standing on the far left with George Armstrong Custer seated on the far right (US Library of Congress).

Summary – This talk will examine the role of Irish soldiers in some of the extraordinary events that led to the creation of the modern United States. It will begin with the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. Thousands of Irish soldiers,most of them newly-arrived immigrants, fought for the US army. However, some of those troops remain famous to this day because of the fact that they deserted to join forces with the Mexican army. This talk will explain the role of the ‘San Patricios’ and the wider Irish role in the war.

The society has recently heard an excellent lecture on the Irish in the American Civil War so this talk will give only a very brief recap of the Irish involvement in that war. When the civil war ended in April 1865, there were tens of thousands of well trained and battle hardened Irish soldiers, of whom many had command experience. Most of these soldiers returned to civilian life in the post-war United States but some remained militarily active.

We will then move through the period from 1865 to 1890 and will discuss the less well-covered involvement of the Irish in battles across the North American continent during those years. It will begin with the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the so-called Fenian invasions of Canada in 1866 and 1870. We will also cover the Plains Wars against the Native Americans, detailing such iconic events as the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 and the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890.

The talk will demonstrate some of the many challenges that faced the Irish in their quest to build a new life in a new continent amid confusing and often bloody times. The prolonged struggle to control the vastness of North America had profound consequences for world history. Yet, the rush to create of a new nation left many casualties in its wake. This talk hopes to give listeners a sense of the complexities of life in 19th century America and the important role of Irish soldiers in those remarkable times.


Speaker – Our speaker will be Ian Kenneally who is currently a doctoral student at NUI Galway. He previously completed an MPhil in history at UCC. His publications include ‘The Paper Wall: Newspapers and Propaganda in Ireland, 1919-1921’, ‘From the Earth, a Cry: The Story of John Boyle O’Reilly’, and ‘Courage and Conflict: Forgotten Stories of the Irish at war’ (Collins Press). He has contributed chapters to a wide variety of publications including ‘Irish Journalism before Independence’ (Manchester University Press), ‘Independent Newspapers: A History’ (Four Courts Press), and the recently published Periodicals and Journalism in Twentieth Century Ireland (Four Courts Press). He is a contributor to the forthcoming ‘Atlas of the Irish Revolution’ (Cork University Press) and the Old Athlone Society’s special edition on ‘The Irish Civil War in the Midlands’.

Ian has contributed articles to many newspapers and journals. He is a regular speaker at conferences and events across the country, and abroad, and he has provided research for documentaries on BBC, TG4, and RTE Radio One, among others. Ian recently wrote and produced a radio documentary, in conjunction with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, on the life of John Boyle O’Reilly. This documentary, ‘The Cry of the Dreamer’, has been broadcast in Ireland and Australia, and will be broadcast in the United States. He is currently producing a documentary about the Connaught Rangers entitled ‘You Are to be Shot at Daybreak’, one of a number of radio projects.

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