‘I Will Sing the Song of Companionship’: Limerick’s Peter Doyle, the Former Confederate Who Became Walt Whitman’s Muse & Lover

‘I Will Sing the Song of Companionship’: Limerick’s Peter Doyle, the Former Confederate Who Became Walt Whitman’s Muse & Lover

Irish in the American Civil War

I am very pleased today to have a guest post from historian Liam Hogan. Liam has spent may years exploring this history of Limerick City and County, research that has seen the production of resources such as this site, which examines Limerick 100 years ago, and this interactive map that illustrates the locations where Limerick men died in the First World War. Liam is currently engaged in a detailed examination of the history of Irish slave ownership. Today he shares research he has been carrying out into Peter Doyle– Limerick emigrant, Confederate veteran, and ‘intimate friend’ of famed American poet Walt Whitman:

As Ireland has just debated and voted on a same-sex marriage referendum, it seems like an appropriate time to remember Peter Doyle, an immigrant from Limerick who fought on the Confederate side during the American Civil War and afterwards witnessed the assassination of President Lincoln. But his…

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Victory of Faith: George St. Hare, Limerick Artist (1857-1933)

Limerick School of Art Alumnus

George St. Hare was the son of Ella and George Frederick Hare, a Methodist family who once lived at No.2 Pery Square. His father was a dental surgeon from Ipswich and his mother was from Co. Wexford.

The Hare family in the 1911 census
The Hare family home (and business) in the 1911 census

George was educated at the Limerick School of Art in the early 1870’s where he excelled and won a scholarship at the School of Art, Kensington. His most notable works were his portraits and nudist paintings. The most infamous was arguably the “Victory of Faith” (1891) Continue reading “Victory of Faith: George St. Hare, Limerick Artist (1857-1933)”

America’s Gift of Toys (January 1915)

Taken in Limerick City (1917) Source: Imperial War Museum

from the Limerick Chronicle (16th January 1915)

“There was an unusual scene in the Council Chamber of the Town Hall on the morning of Thursday, January 14th, when, by the kind permission of the Mayor of Limerick, and in his presence, nearly 400 wives of soldiers and sailors serving at the front, with the Fleet, or in training, assembled to receive gifts for their children from the children of the United States of America, and from Limerick friends.

The gifts from America had been sent from the Local Government Board, Dublin, to the Mayor and by his approval had been sorted and parceled by the Committee of the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association, Limerick Division, and the following ladies were present to circulate them – Mrs Tidmarsh, Vice President; Mrs Abbott, Miss Barrington, Mrs Cleeve, Mrs de Courcy, Mrs J Egan, Mrs Hamilton, Miss Loughry, Miss Mickie, Mrs McDonnell, Mrs O’Connor, Mrs O’Malley, Miss Betty Russell, Lady Nash and Mrs Bunbury, Hon Secretaries.

Mr Ludlow, the American Consul, came with the Mayor, and both took the kindliest interest in the proceedings, which opened with a few words from the Mayor. He said that the children of the United States had had such a great and generous wish to send such Christmas presents to the children of killed, missing and serving men of all the fighting armies of Europe. That those presents had come across the seas to thousands of towns and millions of children. That 250 had come to Limerick city, and that their Limerick friends had added 756, so that no children of the 1,056 qualified should be disappointed.

The distribution was then systematically and quickly done, the women gratefully accepting the parcels, and leaving in succession.

A cablegram was sent from the Hon Secs. S.S.F.A. through Mr Ludlow to the Chicago Herald  saying that the gifts had been distributed in the Town Hall. The Mayor presiding and the children of Limerick sending grateful thanks.

The gifts to the children in the County of Limerick are also being supplemented, and will be sent to them next week.”

The effects of the ‘Night of the Big Wind’ in Limerick (6th January 1839)

Shields and Fitzgerald (1989)
Shields and Fitzgerald (1989)

The violent hurricane that hit Ireland on the 6-7th of January 1839, became known throughout the country as the “Night of the Big Wind”. This was a classic case of understatement, as the winds on that night are estimated to have reached 100 knots (115mph). Trees were uprooted all over the country, thatched roofs blown from houses, thousands of tonnes of hay scattered, and livestock lost.

In one case, a small pig was apparently lifted from a field in Co. Down and carried a quarter of a mile before coming to rest in the branches of a tree. In Dublin, the Bethesda Chapel, capable of holding 2,000 people, was burnt to the ground as the wind fanned the flames of an earlier fire. Sparks from this fire ignited the adjoining houses and the army had to be called to contain the blaze. The back wall of the Guinness Brewery collapsed killing nine of their best dray horses. In the village of Kilkee, 32 houses were “unroofed” and in Ennis “almost every second house is damaged”. At Newgrove, Tulla, Co. Clare “3,000 trees were blown down including the largest cedar tree in Ireland” along with “thousands of dead rookery.”

An eighteenth century depiction of the The Exchange on Nicholas Street, where so many inhabitants of Irishtown took shelter during the storm.
An eighteenth century depiction of the The Exchange on Nicholas Street, where so many inhabitants of Irishtown took shelter during the storm. (Source: Archiseek)

Limerick did not escape its wrath. There were 16 deaths at Limerick Port as a multitude of ships were torn from their moorings including the schooner, Undine. In Castletroy, Milford House was dismantled, Plassey House damaged. 40 trees torn up at Corbally. 100 trees uprooted at Lisnagry. In Caherguillamore Demesne near Bruff, “200 crows were found dead, having perished by the severity of the night”.

The following quotes are taken from the eyewitness account ‘Awful and Destructive Tempest’ published in the Limerick Chronicle, 9th January 1839.

“..that in the memory of the oldest inhabitant living, such a storm or tempest as that of Sunday night is wholly unknown in Limerick. Sunday evening between four and five o’clock the temperature was quite mild and the atmosphere gave no evidence of the elementary conflict to follow.

One glass, a faithful index of the weather, early that evening showed the quicksilver under the extreme lowest mark of the barometer. At 8.30pm the storm set in, blowing a rough gale, which increased in fury every hour, until midnight when it raged as a perfect Hurricane.

All of the gas lamps were extinguished. The watchmen took refuge, in terror of their lives, under hall-door porticos, no living creature being able to stand the streets. Streaks of lightning, at intervals, illuminated the midnight darkness,as showers of slates at every angle, strewed the ground, in pieces.

Not a public edifice or institution in the City escaped the ravages of the storm, all suffering material damage in the fierce encounter. The best built houses of the New Town, were sadly dismantled in the upper stories…house tops and flues fell prostrate.

The crash of window glass was general and incessant. Whole stacks of chimneys would occasionally tumble down, after struggling with the blast like a drunken man to hold his equilibrium. At Arthur’s Quay, the houses rocked like a cradle, and when the affrighted families hurried from their beds to the vaults below for protection they were repulsed by the rush of water from the inflowing tide, raised to an unusual height by the force of its kindred element.

The English and Irish Towns (the abode of the less affluent), are a scene of ruin and dilapidation. A crowd of people gladly took refuge in the hall of the Exchange, whose gates were thrown open to receive them. Here they remained until daylight, many of them with only a blanket or sheet, for in their anxiety to escape they did not bring clothing.

In some cases entire slated roofs sunk, and sleeping rooms were instantly transformed into a mass of rubbish, terror seizing the occupants. Happily in those cases, no serious casualty occurred, as the impending danger induced most them to quit possession minutes before.”

The list of vessels docked at Limerick that suffered damage in the storm.
The list of vessels docked at Limerick that suffered damage in the storm.

Poverty and Health in Limerick City (1912-14)

There were 3,025 people living in 884 different one room tenements in Limerick City in 1914.
There were 3,025 people living in 884 different one room tenements in Limerick City in 1914.

The annual reports submitted to the Public Health Committee by the Medical Officer, Dr. Michael McGrath, offer a detailed picture of the major health issues affecting Limerick City from 1912 to 1914.

Housing of the Working Classes

This was the single most critical health issue in all the major towns and cities in Ireland. Overcrowded tenement housing and their concomitant poor sanitation aided the spread of contagious diseases; led to an increase in mortality rates and a decrease in life expectancy. At this time an alarming 8% of Limerick City’s population lived in what the Medical officer described as “those wretched tenements.” In 1912 there was an epidemic of measles in Limerick City and this infectious disease claimed the lives of 127 children. Dr. McGrath noted that most of these deaths occurred in the poorer areas of the city.

“This complication arises in every case where the necessary nursing attention cannot be devoted to the patient and its absence was more marked in the poorer classes, amongst whom the disease proved most fatal.”

The cause of death in the majority these cases was due to complications i.e bronchial pneumonia. Whereas measles came in waves, Tuberculosis was the most intransigent disease to affect the working classes in Limerick city. Dr. McGrath lamented that around one hundred people died from tuberculosis in the city each year and that this would not change unless a better class of housing was provided. He wrote

“…this highly undesirable state of things will exist until improved housing accomodation has been provided for the Working Classes and their families, as it is in this section of the community that the ravages of Tuberculosis are most to be deplored.”

The number of deaths caused by Pulmonary Tuberculosis in Limerick City (1900-1914)
The number of deaths caused by Pulmonary Tuberculosis in Limerick City (1900-1914)

Despite the higher rate of mortality among their tenants, tenement blocks were sought after by investors for their profitability. An extreme example of this can be found in Dublin City. According to the 1911 census, 16 houses on Buckingham Street contained 1,273 people. Nevertheless, they were an attractive investment as they were “yielding a large percentage.”

Tenements for Sale on Buckingham Street, Dublin (1913)
Tenements for Sale on Buckingham Street, Dublin (1913)

Mud, Manure, Water

Statistics can often evoke how different life was a century ago more effectively than any photograph. The Medical Officer’s report included details on the number of cartloads of manure and mud removed from the city streets, as well as the amount of water added to wash away the dirt or to prevent the build up of dust during the Summer months.

from Medical Officer's Report (1913)
from Medical Officer’s Report (1913)

Again, the lack of basic sanitary facilities in the tenement houses was noted by the Medical officer who regretted that

“the people in the poorer districts, where most of the houses are without water closests, do not take advantage of the night soil carts to anything like the extent that they should..”

Hence this excrement that was “slopped out” during the night was allowed to dry on these streets and lanes helping propagate a whole range of diseases. Sanitary sub-officers in the city thus condemned nearly one thousand of these houses without water closets as “unfit for human habitation.”


Infant Mortality Rate in Limerick County (per 1,000 births)

Source: Annual Reports of the Registrar-General. Limerick figure for 1912 skewed by Measles epidemic.
Source: Annual Reports of the Registrar-General

Further Reading

Francis Sheehy-Skeffington on WW1 and Irish Independence (February 1916)

A Forgotten Small Nationality

Ireland and the War

By Francis Sheehy-Skeffington

(Century Magazine, 1916)people_sheehy_skeffington

England has so successfully hypnotised the world into regarding the neighbouring conquered island as an integral part of Great Britain that even Americans gasp at the mention of Irish independence. Home rule they understand, but independence! “How could Ireland maintain an independent existence?” they ask. “How could you defend yourselves against all the great nations?” I do not feel under any obligation to answer this question, because that objection, if recognised as valid, would make an end of the existence of any small nationality whatever. All of them, from their very nature, are subject to the perils and disadvantages of independent sovereignty. I neither deny nor minimise these. Continue reading “Francis Sheehy-Skeffington on WW1 and Irish Independence (February 1916)”

Using interactive maps to highlight Limerick’s history

Over the past two years I’ve used various mapping tools to highlight specific aspects of Limerick’s history. The aim was to compress a complex topic into an easy-to-interpret visual.

The Limerick Tornado of 1851

An interactive map based on the writings and research of John Tyrrell, Dept. of Geography, (UCC). This map plots the path of a T4 level tornado as it tore through the centre of Limerick City. The Tornado occurred at 5.20pm on Sunday the 5th October 1851. The weather that day was described as “cold and blowing, with occasional showers” and as “overcast and rather gusty”. Griffin records that the temperature that day varied between 10 and 13 degrees Celsius.

Despite the force of the tornado, and the amount of destruction it caused, there was just one fatality, Thomas Ryan, who was struck on the head by a flying tile. This occurred on Carr Street. The track of the tornado was described as being “zig-zag” and it moved from west to east.

Continue reading “Using interactive maps to highlight Limerick’s history”

Attitudes towards the Travelling Community in Ireland (1911-1913)

Attitudes towards the Travelling Community in Ireland (1911-1913)


6th June 1911: The Freeman’s Journal reported on a meeting of the Athlone Rural District Council. During the proceedings the chairman read out a letter that was sent to the council from Mr. Edward Shirley, who demanded that the labourers’ cottage which had been given by the Council to a “tinker named McDonagh” should be offered to him instead. The Council’s discussion of this case, and the amount of laughter it generated, reveals their attitudes towards the Travelling Community.  Continue reading “Attitudes towards the Travelling Community in Ireland (1911-1913)”

Hallowe’en: Customs, Myths and Messiness

“Customs vary wi’ the times, At Hallowe’en..” So wrote John Mayne in his poem Hallowe’en which was first published in 1780. This work was a major influence on Robert Burns’ more famous poem of the same name which appeared in 1785. Mayne’s wise observation that Halloween customs vary (like all cultures and languages) with the times, has not been widely accepted. Instead Halloween has become a sort of battleground over identity, politics and nationality, with dubious claims thrown into the mix that its origin harks back to the pre-Christian age.

It is perhaps not a surprise that the nation which dominates the present Halloween narrative is Ireland, it being the only one of the four nations to have a massive, influential cultural revolution in the shape of the Gaelic Revival, which merged nationalism, mythology and eventually (after much bloodshed) polity. These customs date back many centuries, spanning the British Isles and transcending the homogeneous “nation”. They pre-date standardised education systems and thus buckle the now coalesced narrative. When they become political, history tends to be the first victim.

All of this means that our understanding of Halloween is blurred. It’s time to focus the lens.

“Snap-apple Night, or All-Hallow Eve in Ireland” by Daniel Maclise (1833)

There are so many unsubstantiated claims and assumptions relating to this festival, it’s difficult to know where to begin. My main research focus has been on the Jack O’Lantern. Let’s start with that…

Continue reading “Hallowe’en: Customs, Myths and Messiness”

Forgotten: The Limerick Dock Strike of 1913

As I walked past the Dockers Monument today, I was reminded of an overlooked aspect of Limerick’s history. Among that blizzard of centenaries that began to fall last year, the 1913 Lockout, and to a lesser extent the bitter strikes in Sligo/Galway, justifiably received vast swathes of media attention and analysis. Yet the first notable industrial dispute in Ireland in 1913 occurred in Limerick City.

The Monument to the Limerick Dockers, sculpted by Michael Duhan. It was unveiled in 2010.

The dispute, which led to several weeks of strike action, was between the dock labourers and their employer, the Limerick Steamship Company. The conflict arose because the dock labourers, who were all members of a union (Limerick Dock Labourers’ Society), objected to working alongside “non-society” men employed by Mullock & Sons, coal merchants. The dockers were concerned that the outsourcing of non-unionised labour by individual employers at the docks, undermined their position and put pressure on their already low wages and job security.

After talks broke down, the labourers took action. Six hundred tons of coal had arrived in the city on the SS Sinainn. The dockers announced that they would only discharge the cargo, if they were also allowed to bag it into Mullock & Sons yard. When this request was denied they began their strike on Friday the 24th January. (Trivia: This ship was detained at Hamburg in 1914 and used as a transport ship by the German Army until it was sunk by mines in 1916)

The Flying Huntsman, Limerick (c. 1910) – Eason Collection (Source: National Library of Ireland)
Flying Huntsman, Limerick Steamship Co. (c. 1910) – Eason Collection (Source: National Library of Ireland)

Imported Strikebreakers from Liverpool

The Limerick Steamship Co. responded by importing labourers from England to complete the work. These men, who numbered around sixty, were all from Liverpool, and they arrived in Limerick with the strike just a few days old. This action was coordinated by the Shipping Federation, which was an association of shipping industry employers, established to curb trade unionism and mitigate the effects of strike action. Limerick Steamship Co. also contacted the constabulary and warned them that there may be unrest because of such a provocative move.

Continue reading “Forgotten: The Limerick Dock Strike of 1913”