March/April 2007


The Smith O'Brien Rebellion

Begorrah — a March folklore column without a visit to the Emerald Isle?

The divvil, says I — not while there's a single blade of grass for these aging celtic hands to grab hold of!

Once again, faithful readers, to Ireland, then — specifically, the Ireland of mid 1848. A grim time for the Irish, to be sure. They were in the midst of the great potato famine, which decimated the population, drove countless others oversea, and was, to a large extent, preventable.

It was a good time for the centuries-old enmity between the native Irish and their British conquerors to flare up again. This time around, the flaring was centered around something called the Smith O'Brien Rebellion.

Smith O'Brien was a middle-aged Member of Parliament who had become leader of a rebel group called Young Ireland, whose goal was nothing less than freedom and Self Rule for the Emerald Isle.
This grand cause culminated in a single Great Battle, called variously the "Rising at Slievenaman", or the "Battle of the Widow McCormack's Cabbage Patch". A great and glorious cause, a romantic history, and those with more pride than humor who wish to remember the romance and glory unmarred would be wise to skip the next paragraph.

Essentially, Smith O'Brien exhorted his poorly-armed followers to attack a police barrack, whereupon one of said followers is supposed to have replied, "Is it what your honor wants — us to go up there to be shot?" As the story goes, his followers then promptly deserted the luckless leader.

At any rate, farce though the whole thing was, the British wanted to make an example out of the rebels. Smith O'Brien was captured and sentenced to be hanged and quartered (a sentence never carried out), and certain others prominent in the group became Wanted Men, and likely candidates for the gallows as well.

One of these Wanted Men fled what was assumed to be almost certain death at the hands of the British for the New World - New Orleans, specifically.

He fell in with several others who had heard rumors of a prosperous Irish Settlement up the river a ways. They set off to find this settlement, inquiring as to its whereabouts from those they passed along the way, and were always told "just a little bit further"...

By the time they got to what is now Iowa, they looked at each other and realized that THEY were the colony, and with said realization left the river behind and put down roots in the fabled Heartland.

Our Wanted Man who undertook this journey (with those who would prove to be his future in-laws) was my great great grandfather, Adam Walsh.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day to you all, and a health to your enemies' enemies...

—Joe Nolte