Joseph Brenan, Young Irelander

The Young Ireland movement was started by young Irish revolutionaries who believed Daniel O’Connell was not doing enough. The Young Irelanders advocated the use of force if necessary, a step Daniel O’Connell long resisted. In 1846, the Young Irelanders seceded from O’Connell’s Repeal Association. Among those early rebels were William Smith O’Brien, Thomas Francis Meagher, future commander of the New York 69th Irish Brigade and John Mitchel, future Confederate States of America supporter. I have previously written about Mitchel here.

Joseph Brenan, born in Cork city in 1828, also supported the Young Ireland movement. Brenan found inspiration in John Mitchel’s writings. The Young Irelanders organized a brief uprising in 1848. It was short-lived, but it scared the British authorities immeasurably. The firefight at Widow McCormack’s house occurred on July 29, 1848. Michael Nolan, an Irish native who had emigrated to New Orleans, then returned to his former home County Tipperary in August, 1848. 118 Young Irelanders were arrested in the days after the fight at McCormack’s house. Joseph Brenan was one of those arrested. Upon his release in 1849, he returned to his work for the Dublin Irishman, a militant nationalist newspaper. It was the Irishman that later published a lengthy obituary for Michael Nolan when he was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. See my prior post on Michael Nolan here.


In September, 1848, some of the Young Irelanders, including Brenan, made plans to launch an uprising in Cappoquin, County Waterford. Brenan and Michal Cavanaugh, launched an attack with pikes and firearms on the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks. One of the rebels was killed and one of the constables was piked to death. The rebels were repulsed, after which they retreated. The band then proceeded to Dungarvan, where the constables were cooperative. The British then sent the 7th Fusiliers Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers to Cappoquin. The rebels remained active for another two weeks, at which time they abandoned their efforts. The leaders were not arrested. The British only managed to arrest some of the participants. Brenan and Cavanaugh and others fled to America. [1]

An Exile’s

Brenan first came to New York and worked for Horace Greeley on the Tribune. In October, 1851, now married, he moved to New Orleans to work on the New Orleans Daily/Weekly Delta, published by Denis Corcoran. He published one of his poems titled “An Exile’s Dream.” That poem ends with this stanza:

I will seize my pilgrim staff and cheerily wander forth

From the smiling face of the South to the black frown of the North;

And in some hour of twilight, I will mount the tall Slievebloom,

And weave me a picture-vision in the evening’s pleasant gloom;

I will call up the buried leaders of the ancient Celtic race,

And gaze with a filial fondness on each sternly noble face –

The masters of the mind, and the chieftains of the steel,

Young Carolan and Grattan, the McCaura and O’Neill;

I will learn from their voices, with a student’s love and pride,

To live as they lived, and to die as they died.

Oh, I’ll sail from the West, and never more will part

From the ancient home of my people – the land of the loving heart.

The Slieve Bloom mountains are in central Ireland.

Escape from Van Dieman’s Land

Brenan became one of the leading Irishmen in New Orleans. He was President of a Committee that organized a welcome reception for John Mitchel after he escaped the penal colony in Australia. Mitchel came to New Orleans in 1853. Brenan helped organize a similar reception for Thomas Francis Meagher when he also escaped the same penal colony. Meagher came to New Orleans in 1852. Meagher was received by the leading persons in New Orleans at the time: W.C.C. Claiborne, Barnard Marigny, Judah Benjamin, and by the leading Irishmen of the day: Maunsel White, J.C. Prendergast, and others.[3]

An Ardent Secessionist

In 1853, Brenan contracted the yellow fever in one of the worst epidemics to hit the Crescent City. The treatment for the illness left him partially blind. Brenan loved the South. In March, 1857, he stated a new newspaper, to be known as the Daily Times. The journal would focus on Southern interests, literature, and criticisms. Walter Hopkins, another former editor for the Delta assisted him. Brenan by this time had become an ardent secessionist. [4]

Brenan published a poem titled “A Ballad for the Young South.” The first stanzas went as follows:

Men of the South! Our foes are up

In fierce and grim array;

Their sable banner laps the air

An insult to the day!

The saints of Cromwell rise again,

In sanctimonious hordes,

Hiding behind the garb of peace

A million ruthless swords


In early May, 1857, he became ill. The treating physician reported that he would not recover. On May 28, 1857, the eloquent Irish patriot died of “consumption.” Joseph Brenan was described as an “esteemed friend” by the redoubtable J.C. Prendergast, Irish editor of the Daily Orleanian. Prendergast remarked that those best loved by God often die young. Prendergast lamented the loss of one so intelligent and so skilled with words. The young Brenan was buried in the old cemetery known as St. Louis. [6]

Brenan appears to have had some connection to the Crescent Dramatic Association. That amateur theater group put on a performance to raise money for Brenan’s widow and four children. The performance was held in a large venue, the Gaiety Theater. [7]

See Brenan’s entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography here.


[1] Anthony M. Breen, “Cappoquin and the 1849 Movement, History Ireland Issue 2 (Summer, 1999), vol. 7

[2] New Orleans Weekly Delta, Dec. 28, 1851, p. 6, col. 4; Dictionary of Irish Biography, entry regarding Joseph Brenan

[3] New Orleans Daily Picayune, Dec. 11, 1853, p. 4, col. 3; New Orleans Weekly Delta, July 4, 1852, p. 7, col. 1

[4] Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, March 19, 1857, p. 2, col. 3

[5] Bryan McGovern, “Young Ireland and Southern Nationalism” Irish Studies Issue 2, Article 5 (Celtic Studies, Kennesaw State Univ. 2016)

[6] Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, May 11, 1857, p. 2, col. 3; New Orleans Daily True Delta, May 29, 1957, p. 1, col. 2; New Orleans Daily Orleanian, May 29, 1857, p. 1, col. 1

[7] New Orleans Sunday Delta, June 14, 1857, p. 4, col. 1

Michael Nolan, Part II: Young Irelander

I wrote about Michael Nolan’s background as a young man here. Now, let’s talk about his older years.

In 1848, Michael Nolan heard news of the rebellion in Ireland. The rebellion in 1848 was somewhat accidental and almost unplanned. But, Michael knew something. He left his business – probably a grocery store – took his rifle and boarded a ship bound for County Tipperary, Ireland.  The New Orleans newspaper says Michael was arrested upon his arrival. But, in reality, some time passed before he was arrested. He arrived in August, 1848 in County Tipperary. This was the same county in which occurred the well-known fire fight at the Widow McCormack’s house. This rebellion was almost accidental. Its leaders agonized over strategy. The rebels were quickly put down after the brief fight at the McCormack house on July 29, 1848.  The young Michael Nolan arrived in Tipperary just days later. Michael came to the town of Thurles, which was just 25 kilometers from the Widow McCormack’s house. Thurles was the large cross roads town near where Michael grew up.


Michael was arrested in Thurles, a major cross-roads village in County Tipperary. He came under the observation of the British authorities and was watched. He arrived wearing a “large pair of whiskers.” He soon lost the whiskers. He was arrested during the evening of Aug. 8. He told the constable he had returned to Tipperary to visit family and friends. There were indeed many Nolans in County Tipperary. On his person was found a letter of introduction identifying Michael as a “real gentleman.”

Another “stranger” was arrested that same night. It is not clear if the second stranger had some connection to Nolan. The second person identified himself as Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick. He was a “good looking young man.”  He said he formerly worked for the Dublin firm of Tierney, McGrath and Co. at 3 Christchurch place, Dublin. There was indeed a drug company known as Tierney Brothers for many years at that address. The company was indeed known as Tierney, McGrath and Co. in 1848. But, whatever his real name, the second stranger must have had a sense of humor. Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick was a person known in political circles as a dedicated supporter of Daniel O’Connell since 1828. By 1848, the real Patrick V. Fitzpatrick would have been 56 years old, not a young man. It is not apparent from the news report whether the British authorities actually believed the “good looking young man” was truly Patrick Vincent Fitzgerald. Vincent was not a common name in 1840’s Ireland. The British must have known the name Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick.


Michael Nolan was charged with buying guns and distributing them in the Roscrea and Birr districts, apparently meaning the civil parish of Roscrea, which includes the Goldengrove townland.  The erstwhile rebel was released after three months in the Thurles jail, based on his promise to leave the country and return to New Orleans. In 1863, Michael will be killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. The Dublin nationalist newspaper,  Irishman, will publish a touching tribute to Michael. He was clearly well-known to the Young Irelanders in Dublin.

Michael returned to New Orleans and re-married in October, 1850. He married Ellen Hackett, a native of King’s County, now known as County Offaly. Michael signed his own name, as did his surety and friend, Patrick McDonald.  It does not appear that Michael and Ellen had any children.


On April 8, 1856, in New Orleans, about 11:30 a.m., Michael Nolan encountered a reporter for the Daily Delta. He ran into one David L. Crowley crossing Canal Street with a man named D.C. Jenkins, one of the editors of the Daily Delta. Nolan demanded an apology for an article Crowley had written about Nolan’s contract to provide supplies to the Marine Hospital. The Daily Delta article had described Nolan as “heartless” and questioned the quality of the goods he sold to the hospital.  Newspaper accounts differ. One says Crowley drew his pistol first, while others say Nolan attacked Crowley with his cane first. In any event, Nolan struck Crowley with his cane several times. Crowley fell to the banquette (sidewalk), and shot at Nolan several times while laying on the banquette. Michael wrenched the pistol from Crowley’s grasp and tossed it away.

Meanwhile, Michael’s brother, Thomas, came on the scene. He pulled out his own revolver and fired a few shots into the air, to keep bystanders away. Jenkins drew his pistol, but was arrested by a nearby citizen.  Jenkins was taken to jail and charged with carrying a concealed weapon. A passing policeman, who knew Thomas Nolan, rushed up to take away Thomas’ pistol. In so doing, Thomas accidentally shot the policeman, named Gustave Laferranderie. All the persons involved were arrested and then released on bail.

The U.S. Marine Hospitals were a system of hospitals set up to provide care to the merchant marine seamen. Eventually, that system evolved into the U.S. Public Health Service. The Daily True Delta article described Michael as a “well known resident of the seventh precinct,” meaning the Seventh Ward.

A couple of weeks later, a hearing was held regarding the charges against Michael Nolan,  Thomas Nolan and David L. Crowley. The Recorder (a criminal court judge) found Michael and Thomas should be committed to jail or pay a bail of $100 each. The two brothers paid the bail and were released. David Crowley was discharged. From then, Michael disappears from public record until April, 1862. In April, Michael is the elected captain of the Montgomery Guards, the most prestigious Irish militia in New Orleans. That year, he and the Guards go to war.


Cork Examiner, Aug. 9, 1848, p. 3, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 30, 1879, p. 4, col. 5

Dublin  Irishman, Oct. 24, 1863, p. 4, col. 1

Laura Kelley, The Irish in New Orleans (Lafayette, La.: Univ. of La. at Lafayette Press 2014), p. 48, 51, 55.

New Orleans Daily Picayune, May 20, 1847, p. 2, col. 6

Dublin  Irishman, Oct. 24, 1863, p. 4, col. 1

Jo Anne Corrigan, “Yellow Fever in New Orleans, 1853, Abstraction and Realities,” Journal of Southern History, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Aug, 1959), p. 342

New Orleans Daily Crescent, p. 1, col. 3

Brendan O’Cathaoir, “The Rising of 1848,” History Ireland, Issue 3 (Autumn 1998), Vol. 6

King’s County Chronicle, Aug. 9, 1848, p. 2, col. 2

Tipperary Vindicator, Sept. 6, 1848, p. 2, col. 4

Louisiana Marriages, 1816-1906, Orleans Parish, Oct. 17, 1850; La. Death Records, vol. 168, p. 777

New Orleans Daily Crescent, April 9, 1856, p. 1, col. 3

Plaquemines Southern Sentinel, April 12, 1856, p. 1, col. 2

New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 9, 1856, p. 3, col. 1

Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, April 10, 1856, p. 2, col. 3

New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 9, 1856, p. 3, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 24, 1856, p. 1, col. 7

John Mitchel, Twice a Rebel

One of the remarkable persons in Irish history was John Mitchel. He was born in northern Ireland in 1815, son of Unitarian clergyman. His father had been a United Irishman, meaning he supported the rebellion in 1798. John attended Trinity University in Dublin. He practiced as a solicitor until he became editor of the Nation, a newspaper in Dublin. He supported the repeal movement, which advocated repealing the union between Ireland and Britain. He became one of those young men who surrounded the Great Liberator, Daniel O’Connell. Mr. O’Connell’s overarching goal was to repeal the union, so Ireland would once again have its own parliament.

In 1846, Mitchel, Thomas Meagher, and others, separated themselves from Mr. O’Connell, believing his more peaceful methods were too slow.  They formed the Irish Confederation. Soon, Mitchel withdrew from that group, as well. He started a new newspaper, the United Irishmen. Issuing flaming rhetoric, he advocated violent change in Ireland. He called for a holy war to wipe the English name from the Irish isle. Within weeks, he was arrested. He was sentenced to 14 years transportation – meaning he would be exiled to the Australian colony.

Soon, Thomas Meagher and other members of Young Ireland were also sentenced to Australia. They were allowed to live in the community on parole. Meagher, Mitchel and the other Young Irelanders became fast friends. With help from a friend from New York, Mitchel escaped and came to the U.S. He arrived in New York to a hero’s welcome. Bands played, crowds cheered, the Napper Tandy Light Artillery gave him a 31-gun salute. Within weeks, however, Mr. Mitchel offended his hosts. Mr. Mitchel never shrunk from controversy. He alienated the Irish born Archbishop, John Hughes for his support of the papacy’s temporal powers. He grievously offended abolitionists with his open support of slavery. Abolitionists tended to be Evangelical and puritan, which was antithetical to his Presbyterian views. And, many Abolitionists tended to be nativists who disliked the Irish. A friend suggested he be more judicious with his public pronouncements. He responded, “they might as well whistle jigs to a milestone.” Milestones were (and still are) those stones on English and Irish roadways marking the distance traveled.

Mr. Mitchel visited the South. He found their views on slavery consistent with his. He settled in Tennessee in 1855 and bought a farm. By 1857, he and his family were living in Knoxville, where Mitchel started a newspaper and earned money giving lectures. Mitchel’s views on slavery strengthened. He believed the Negro race was inferior, as did many so-called learned men of the day. He believed slavery was good for the slaves, as much for society in general. He started a newspaper advocating slavery and seeking to re-open the African slave trade. Even in the South at the time, most educated Southerners opposed the African slave trade on moral grounds. Some Southern newspapers denounced him and his views. They believed he was playing into the hands of the northern abolitionists. Mitchel believed the North was trying to impose its views on the South, just as England imposed its views on the Irish.

Mitchel went to Europe in 1859, thinking a breach between England and France might help Ireland. That hope did not materialize. He stayed in Paris. As the states began to secede in 1861, he approved. When war broke out in May, 1861, his two oldest sons enlisted. Mitchel returned to American in 1862 with his youngest son, Willie. Willie also wanted to join the Confederate cause.

They crossed over near Baltimore, evading Federal patrol boats. Willie immediately joined the First Virginia Infantry with one of his brothers, James. Mr. Mitchel himself tried to enlist, but was turned away due to near-sightedness. He did serve with an ambulance unit and performed occasional guard duty. John Mitchel then became the editor of the Richmond Daily Enquirer. He wrote scathing editorials of the Emancipation Proclamation and about Lincoln. He believed the proclamation would incite slaves to rebel, which would get them killed. He denounced Lincoln as the common enemy of “both black and white.”

When some generals, such as Robert E. Lee and Patrick Cleburne (another native of Ireland) supported making slaves soldiers in return for their freedom, Mitchel opposed the move. He noted, ironically we would say today, that if blacks could serve as soldiers, then Southern society had been wrong about slavery from the start. “Duh,” we might add today.

Mitchel’s old friend, Thomas Francis Meagher, became commander of the famed New York 69th Regiment, the Irish Brigade. At the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, the Federal 69th Regiment faced off against the 1st Virginia Regiment with Willie and his brother, James. John Mitchel visited his sons and cursed his inability to participate. The Irish Brigade advanced over and over, lead often by Meagher himself, and were mown down. The 1st Virginia fell under Gen. Pickett. Pickett wrote his wife that as he watched their green flag advance again and again, “his heart almost stood still as he watched those sons of Erin . . . My darling, we forgot they were fighting us, and cheer after cheer at their fearlessness went up along our lines.” Meagher watched as some 90% of his brigade was killed or wounded.

In subsequent battles, Willie Mitchel was killed. The 1st Virginia under Gen. Pickett was there at the Battle of Gettysburg and suffered its own horrendous charge. Willie died bravely, seizing the colors as its bearer was about to fall. Although wounded, he carried the Regimental flag forward until he was cut down himself. John Mitchel wrote that Willie died in honorable company and could have asked for no more an enviable fate. Upon learning that a son of John Mitchel had fallen, Irish soldiers on the Union side made particular effort to look for his body, but did not locate it.

As the war dragged on, Mitchel became increasingly disillusioned with Jefferson Davis’ leadership, as did many Southerners. Moving to a second newspaper in 1863, Mitchel became a regular critic of Jeff Davis. He also wrote for some Irish newspapers. In a letter to the Nation in Dublin, he applauded the bravery of Irish soldiers fighting for the Union army. But, he added, they were dupes, fooled by false promises of land in the South and said they were fighting for a government that despised them.

As U.S. Grant assumed control of the Federal army, casualties mounted. John Mitchel’s ambulance unit saw carnage and horror. He observed the horror, but noted that he never saw cowardice and found delight as people were roused in this way, determined to meet their fate. He denounced Grant as a butcher willing to sacrifice four Federal soldiers to kill one Confederate.

In 1864, John Mitchel learned that his eldest son, John, was killed at Ft. Sumter. James was now the only son still alive and he had lost an arm. Probably to spare the family further grief, James was transferred to a staff post in Richmond.

After the war, James moved to New York and become a city fire marshal. His son, James Purroy Mitchel will be elected mayor of New York in 1913.

When Lee surrenders, Mitchel will be one of those die-hards who refuse to admit the war is over. He evacuates to Danville, Georgia with some members of the Confederate government. After the last Confederate force surrendered in May, 1864, Mitchel returned to New York, where he thought he could earn a living. Many New Yorkers insisted John Mitchel be arrested. Some claimed Mitchel had advocated mis-treatment of Union prisoners. Mitchel responded by denouncing the harsh conditions in which Jeff Davis was then being kept. He was arrested in June for an allegedly seditious article he had written.

His prison cell was damp, which made his asthma much worse. The food was not edible and he could not exercise. He could not write. The prison doctor warned that Mitchel’s prison conditions were not improved, he would die. The authorities relented and let him walk, have materials with which to write, and gave him better food. Mitchel was now stooped, haggard and looked much older than his 50 years. Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis praised him as a gallant gentlemen. Many leading Irish-Americans and Fenian veterans from the Union army complained about his treatment. He was released in October, 1865. His lawyers told him that he if said anything offensive, he would likely be arrested, again. They recommended that he move to Europe until passions cooled in the U.S. John Mitchel responded that he had now been imprisoned for expressing his views by the two states in the western world that most prided themselves on progressive and liberal ideals. “They are both in the wrong; but then, if I am able to put them in the wrong, they are able to put me in the dungeon.”

To get him out of the U.S., the Fenians made him their financial agent in Paris. In the remaining ten years of his life, he was more subdued and contemplative. He acknowledged that his support of the Confederacy, while a good cause, had cost him two sons, for a country that was not theirs. Like many Irish rebels, he gave the best part of his life to the cause of another country. Shortly before his death in 1875, he was elected to Parliament from his old home town in northern Ireland, without opposition.

Today, John Mitchel is often the forgotten revolutionary. His views lead directly to the Fenian movement, which in turn lead to the IRA in 1916. But, his views on slavery have become hard to swallow in a country, where the Irish Catholics themselves were enslaved at times. See here for a biography of John Mitchel.

Source: “Southern Citizen: John Mitchel, the Confederacy and slavery,History Ireland, Vol. 15, Issue 3, May/June 2007.


Some Irish Immigrants Tolerated Slavery

So, what did the Irish immigrants to the Southern U.S. think about slavery? We know from numerous sources that many Irish laborers saw themselves as competing against slaves and free African-Americans. Most immigrants were not “fire-eaters” – that is, they were not ardent secessionists. Some wealthier Irish did purchase slaves. This author’s own Irish immigrant ancestor owned a slave for a few years. Even the well-respected Father Mullon in New Orleans owned two slaves. Father Mullon was pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in New Orleans and helped face down the Know Nothings. He was said to be a friend to Jews and Protestants in a time when that was a rare quality.

Some immigrants wrote home about slavery. At about the same time that the Great Liberator, Daniel O’Connell, was publicly criticizing the “peculiar institution,” Irish in the Southern U.S. were distancing themselves him. Maria McLaughlin wrote to her Irish brother in Savannah, Georgia criticizing him for questioning Daniel O’Connell’s right to criticize slavery. Maria believed the Great Liberator was right to question the “enemies of liberty.” But, her brother worked as a clerk for men involved in the slave and cotton business.

William McElderry and his brother, Robert, Irish immigrants and now living in the South defended their new home against criticisms by their sister back In Ireland. They insisted the black slaves were contented. William added that the slaves were well dressed and often have money of their own. William said he had seen some slaves who had been whipped, but, he assured his sister, they “deserved it.”

Moses Paul, also writing home to his sister in Ireland, took offense at his sister’s charge that they were “savages” for owning slaves. Mr. Paul admitted many Southerners owned slaves, so they could earn money. But, he insisted the slaves were contented and lived better than the poor back in Ireland. He did point out that unlike the Irish landlord, no slave owner would ever deliberately starve his slaves.

Dennis Corcoran, a New Orleans newspaper man, wrote Daniel O’Connell on behalf of the New Orleans Repeal Association that any attempt to subvert slavery now, as the abolitionists contemplate, would start a civil war. Mr. Corcoran argued that Mr. O’Connell’s advocacy against slavery was hurting the Irish immigrants. He pointed out that the Louisiana Native American Association (a society that advocated more stringent requirements for naturalization and which opposed immigrants) used O’Connell’s advocacy to attack all New Orleans Irish immigrants. The newspaperman pointed out that the slave-owning Southerners had accepted Irish immigrants and that acceptance should not be jeopardized.

Daniel O’Connell accepted funds from the Southern Repeal Associations. But, many Irish in the South abandoned O’Connell’s Repeal Association because of his opposition to slavery. The Charleston Repeal Association closed due to O’Connell’s advocacy.

It is ironic that the Irish, often accused of being racially inferior, would themselves see the black man as racially inferior. But, such was the tenor of the times.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of N.C. Press 2001), pp. 121, 122, 126, 129, 130