Five of the most famous Irish Revolutionaries who travelled the world
Ireland is well known for its diaspora; those who down through the centuries have travelled the world in order to make a better life for themselves and their children.
We all are aware of the world leaders of both politics and commerce who are either Irish or of Irish descent. In this feature, journalist Ger Leddin looks at another grouping, those who travelled the world and helped bring about political change — five Irish revolutionaries.
1. Che Guevara (June 14, 1928 – October 9, 1967)
A major figure of the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara’s stylized visage has become probably the widest known countercultural symbol of rebellion and global insignia in popular culture.
Che was the eldest of five children in a middle-class Argentine family of Spanish descent, as well as Irish, by means of his patrilineal ancestor Patrick Lynch who was an Irish immigrant who became a wealthy landowner in Rio de la Plata, which is now part of Argentina.
The Spanish have very unique naming customs, Che’s full name, Ernesto Guevara will sometimes appear with “de la Serna” and/or “Lynch” accompanying it. While living in Mexico City, Guevara met Raúl and Fidel Castro in Mexico and joined their 26th of July Movement later sailing to Cuba in order to overthrow the U.S. backed Cuban dictator Batista.
Guevara played a pivotal role in the victorious two-year guerrilla campaign that deposed the Batista regime and subsequently held a number of key roles in Castro’s new government.
Che’s father has been quoted as saying “the first thing to note is that in my son’s veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels.”
2. Éamon de Valera (14 October 1882 – 29 August 1975)
Most Irish people are aware of the role played by Éamon de Valera as a revolutionary and later as both Taoiseach and President of Ireland but not many are aware of the significant role his American heritage and an eighteen-month visit to the United States played in his career.
de Valera had been imprisoned in Lincoln Gaol England during 1918 and managed to escape in February 1919. Returning to Ireland he replaced Cathal Brugha as Príomh Aire in the April session of Dáil Éireann.
In May 1919, de Valera decided to visit the United States in order to seek official recognition for the Irish Republic and to float a loan to finance the work of the Government and by extension, the Irish Republican Army. The visit lasted from June 1919 to December 1920 and had mixed success.
While De Valera managed to raise $5,500,000 from American supporters, one negative outcome was the splitting of the Irish-American organisations into pro and anti-de Valera factions and the mission failed to gain Ireland the recognition it sought on the world’s political stage.
Another negative outcome for de Valera was that during his eighteen-month absence in the United States, Michael Collins who was left handling the day to day running of the country as Minister for Finance achieved tremendous popularity, a popularity which de Valera would later come to regret when he and Collins became opponents during the Irish Civil War.
3. Eoin O’Duffy ( 28 January 1890 – 30 November 1944)
Eoin was an Irish nationalist political activist, soldier and police commissioner and the leader of the Monaghan Brigade of the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and he became Chief of Staff of the IRA in 1922.
After a split with Sinn Fein in 1923 he became associated with Cumann na nGaedheal and led that movement then known as the Blueshirts. This organisation later merged with other pro-Treaty factions and evolved into the Fine Gael political party. O’Duffy was the party leader for a short time.
Staunchly anti-communist, O’Duffy was involved with various anti-communist movements in Europe and founded the Irish Brigade which fought for Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. O’Duffy was driven by a strong belief in Catholic solidarity.
In 1936 he organised an Irish Brigade to fight for Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War.
O’Duffy’s brought a contingent of 700 men to Spain These men, however, saw very little fighting and were sent home by Franco who had not been impressed by the Brigade’s lack of military expertise and were sent back to Ireland in June 1937, along with a somewhat chastened and embarrassed O’Duffy.
During World War II, he approached the Nazi Party in Germany and offered to raise an Irish Brigade to participate in the fight against the Soviet Union, but this was not taken up by the Germans.
4. Stephen Moylan (1737 – April 11, 1811)
Stephen Moylan was born into a Catholic family in Cork and then moved to and settled in Philadelphia in 1768.
He organized his own shipping firm and was one of the organizers of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, an Irish-American fraternal organization.
Moylan joined the American Continental Army in 1775 during the American War for Independence. He used his experience to help fit out the first ships of the Continental Navy.
On March 5, 1776, he became secretary to General George Washington and continued to serve on Washington’s staff through to December 1776.
In 1777 Moylan was appointed to command the 4th Continental Light Dragoons, also known as Moylan’s Horse. The regiment would be noted for taking the field in captured British Red Coats. Moylan’s Horse Regiment also saw action at the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778.
In January 1776, Moylan wrote a letter using the term “United States of America”, reputed to be the earliest known use of that phrase.
5. Thomas Francis Meagher (3 August 1823 – 1 July 1867)
Thomas Francis Meagher born in Waterford city was a leader of the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848. After being convicted of sedition, Meagher was sentenced to death, but later the sentence was commuted to transportation for life to Australia.
In 1852 he escaped and made his way to the United States and settled in New York City where he worked as a journalist and was active in promoting the Irish cause. At the beginning of the American Civil War, Meagher joined the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of brigadier general.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Meagher was appointed the acting governor of the Montana Territory. In 1867, he drowned in the Missouri River after falling from a steamboat at Fort Benton.
During his time in Ireland (1848,) Meagher went to France to study revolutionary events there. He is said to have returned to Ireland with a new Flag of Ireland, a tricolour of green, white and orange made by and given to them by French women sympathetic to the Irish cause.