Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Bronx Cheers for New York Mayor as Sligo Dedicates Monument to 'Fighting 69th'

By TheWildGeese.com

BALLYMOTE, County Sligo, Ireland - Dozens of anti-war demonstrators provided a counterpoint to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's keynote address helping dedicate a monument here to New York's famed "Fighting 69th" regiment and its most famous commander.

Left: Demonstrators express their anger at the presence in Sligo of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Joe McGowan photo

"Today, we remember with gratitude all those members of the Fighting 69th whose sacrifices over the past 150 years helped dig a well deep enough to quench the natural human thirst for freedom, not only in America, but throughout the world," Bloomberg said in prepared remarks at the Aug. 22 unveiling of the memorial.

There were as many as 300 in attendance, along with another 40 or so anti-war protesters demonstrating against the presence of the mayor, an avowed supporter of last month's Israeli incursion into Lebanon and U.S. policy in Iraq. Gardai cordoned off the demonstrators, who were out of sight of the mayor, about 100 yards from the monument. They carried signs, with messages such as "Bush is a warmonger," and "Bloomberg, go home!"

The monument honors both Michael Corcoran, born in Carrowkeel, five miles from Ballymote, and the 69th, the regiment he heroically led during the first few months of America's Civil War. The monument's base mentions significant places in Corcoran's 36 years, including Carrowkeel; Creeslough, County Donegal, where he served in the revenue police; Bull Run, Va., where Corcoran led the 69th regiment in battle until his capture; and New York, his adopted home.

Billed as "Ireland's national monument" to native son Michael Corcoran and New York's famed "Fighting 69th" regiment, the Ballymote monument, seen below, ignores Corcoran's fierce resolve to overturn British rule in Ireland.

Designed by Fermanagh artist Philip Flanagan, the 7.5-ton column is made of limestone and bronze. According to Sligo-North Leitrim TD John Perry, who guided the four-year monument effort, the project cost $200,000, with about $12,000 coming from U.S. sources, and the balance from Ballymote Enterprise Co., a local nonprofit. Though he billed it as "Ireland's national monument," he said in a Sept. 7 interview that the Irish government provided little financial assistance, without offering specifics.

At the unveiling, in prepared remarks, Perry stated: "Today's occasion is all about the centuries-old relationship between Ireland and the United States. That relationship has been nurtured and nourished over the years by the millions of Irish who left this country to make their home in America. They brought with them their love of their native culture, language and arts. One of the most profound features of the Irish American story is the way that the love of Irish culture and heritage has been passed from one generation to the next."

With that Perry acknowledged the presence of dancer and choreographer Michael Flatley, whom Perry called "one of the great exemplars of that tradition in Irish America."

Corcoran and Tipperary native Michael Doheny helped found the 69th in 1851, and it became part of New York State's militia force. The 69th recruited heavily from the tide of Famine refugees teeming into Manhattan's newly minted Irish neighborhoods. Part of the regiment's draw was its explicit promise that recruits' military experience could be used to strike a blow for Ireland's freedom.

The mayor arrived in Knock Airport in the morning and left from there in the afternoon. Security was extremely tight as the protestors, including local Sligo County Councillor Declan Bree, demonstrated by the unveiling site. No such security had ever before been seen in Sligo, with road closures adding significant time to local travel, locals said.

Those demonstrating were equally dismayed. “It’s not just about knowing in your heart that the slaughter of innocents in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine is wrong – it’s about expressing these sentiments in public,” said Tim Mulcahy, of the Sligo Anti-War Group, in a news release. ... "The destruction visited upon Lebanon, supported by Mayor Bloomberg, cannot be justified. In this context we in Ireland must show the strength of our opposition to those vested interests who have promoted war.”

The monument – and the day's activities avoided reference to Corcoran's dedication to physical-force revolution to free Ireland from British rule. Corcoran, while serving as a revenue policeman in Donegal before he immigrated in 1849, reputedly joined the insurgent Ribbonmen. In America, he became a founder and leading military figure of the Fenian Brotherhood, an organization that in 1866 invaded British North America, today known as Canada, in an attempt to secure Ireland's freedom.

In October 1860, Corcoran refused an order to march the 69th for the Prince of Wales, who was visiting the city. Corcoran, a Famine refugee himself, explained in a letter to his commander that he "could not in good conscience order out a regiment composed of Irish-born citizens to parade in honor of a sovereign under whose reign Ireland was made a desert and her sons forced into exile."

At Corcoran's death by stroke in December 1863, he was renowned throughout the United States and Ireland as a courageous and undoubted American military hero. Less well-known, he was ranked first on a Fenian Brotherhood military roster compiled during the Civil War, and a likely candidate to command an anticipated rising against British rule, supported by thousands of Irish-American Civil War veterans. In 1867, the Fenians, by then in considerable disarray, did lead a failed uprising in Ireland.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg holds Alaska, a bald eagle from a local bird sanctuary, accompanied by Fine Gael TD John Perry, left, and Perry's young son. Photo courtesy of nyc.gov

In the phone interview, Perry acknowledged the omission of Corcoran's Fenian activities from the commemoration, suggesting that "North-South relations" in Ireland might make them a sensitive topic. "There's a whole new Ireland here now," he said. "The tone (of the project and monument) was getting it right, getting it delivered, getting it unveiled," he added. "There's all the time in the world to analyze Corcoran, if they want. This monument is only a start."

It was unclear that Bloomberg was aware of the rebel roots and history of Corcoran and the 69th, though he did quote in his prepared remarks from "The Memory of the Dead," a poem by John Kells Ingram. “And I’ve brought with me, too, a poem that a contemporary of Corcoran and (Irish Brigade commander Thomas Francis) Meagher wrote in honor of those United Irishmen," the mayor said. "I think it’s appropriate to read a verse of it today in their honor."

The mayor selected the poem's second verse, which, unlike the poem's first, avoids direct reference to the United Irishmen's bloody struggle against British rule of Ireland. He read as follows:

“We drink the memory of the brave,
The faithful and the few;
Some lie far off beyond the wave,
Some sleep in Ireland too.
All—all are gone—but still lives on
The fame of those who died;
All true men, like you, men,
Remember them with pride.

The U.S. charge d’affaires to Ireland, Jonathan Benton, reminded the gathering that President John F. Kennedy, when he visited Ireland in 1963, presented one of the flags of the 69th to the Dail, where it still hangs. The 69th was one of the first military units to respond to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and also served a year in Iraq. In acknowledgement, steel from the ruins of the World Trade Center is encased in the base of the new monument. The steel's acquisition was facilitated by Jack and Kathleen Lynch, whose son Michael, died in the towers on Sept. 11, 2001, when 2,819 people, from 91 different countries, perished. Kathleen Lynch's family hails from Sligo.

Present at Tuesday's dedication were Jack and Kathleen Lynch; Sharon Engeldrum, wife of Sgt. Christian Engeldrum, who was one of 19 soldiers from the 69th slain in Iraq, where the unit served for a year; and Michael Drew, a sergeant in the New York Police Department who served in Iraq with the 69th. Also attending were former European Union Commissioner Ray McSharry; his nephew Tom McSharry, Mayor of Sligo; Bishop of Achonry, Dr. Thomas Flynn; Irish army Chief of Staff, Lieut. General James Sreenan; Garda Chief Supt. Martin McLoughlin; New York-based Irish consul Tim O’Connor; the Irish army's 58th Infantry Reserve; and the band of the Irish army's 4th Western Command. Flatley was with fellow dancer Niamh O˚Brien, and drew enthusiastic applause from the crowd in announcing their engagement. Chieftains' flutist Matt Molloy, whose father hails from Ballymote, performed several tunes, while the U.S. and Irish anthems were sung by Michael Lang.

Drawn from news accounts and the reporting of WGT correspondent Joe McGowan from Ballymote and producer Gerry Regan from New York. To learn more about Michael Corcoran and the epic history and heritage of the Irish, visit TheWildGeese.com.


Anonymous said...

hi my name is michael brodie and i servedin the fighting 69th new york national guard from 1962 --1968 until i was honorably discharged.i was not aware of the dedication in ballymote as i would love to have been present at same.i wonder am i the only ex member of the 69th living in ireland.if there are others i would like to contact same

Gerry Regan and Joe Gannon said...

Hi Michael,

The best way to keep in touch with what is happening with the 69th as well as your old buddies is to be a member of the 69th Veteran Corps.

We have over 600 members around the globe - none in Ireland as far as I know - and we are a most supportive group for the Active Battalion. The primary mission is to exist for the social information re all 69th Veterans.

If you will give me your mailing address I will send you an application - dues are only $10 per year and you receive a monthly bulletin. The last bulletins had all the info re the Sligo Monument.

Garryowen and Glory!

Vic Olney
HHC 2/69 1965-1971
Veteran Corps from 1971 to date.

Gerry Regan wrote:

-----Original Message-----
From: anonymous-comment@blogger.com [mailto:anonymous-comment@blogger.com]
Sent: Saturday, September 23, 2006 5:52 PM
To: ger@garmedia.com
Subject: [Hell's Kitchen] 9/23/2006 05:51:47 PM

hi my name is michael brodie and i servedin the fighting 69th new york national guard from 1962 --1968 until i was honorably discharged.i was not aware of the dedication in ballymote as i would love to have been present at same.i wonder am i the only ex member of the 69th living in ireland.if there are others i would like to contact same

Posted by to Hell's Kitchen at 9/23/2006 05:51:47 PM

Anonymous said...

bout ye,northern irish protestant by the name of lally deriving from the original lallys mullallys so on and so forth from tuam galway,never mind the 69th, dont forget about the ulster defence regiment and royal irish regiments

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