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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Which Bill Chambers are you speaking of?

                                                CLEVELAND'S IRISH CULTURAL FESTIVAL                                     
            or Which Bill Chambers are you speaking of?
    J.C. Sullivan
Copyright, 1997

         Cleveland's West Irish-American Club sports  a  record for picking   wet weekends for their Annual Ohio Irish Festival at their spacious and impressive grounds in North Olmsted. According to Bill Chambers.. well, wait a minute - let's back up a moment. When you talk about Bill Chambers in Cleveland, you'd better apply the right moniker so one knows exactly which Bill you're speaking of.

     A past-Project engineer of the event, supported by a cast of hundreds, is 'Brick 'em' Bill Chambers, who together with his brother Emmett, operate Inland Refractories Company, a supplier of firebrick to the hot metals industry. Not to be confused, of course, with other colorful Cleveland Chambers.

     There's also 'Lay 'em down' Bill, from Chambers Funeral Home, opposite St. Patrick's Church (West Park) on Rocky River Drive. Because a three day Irish  mist visited a recent  Festival, wetting the crowd and grounds for the second year in a row, 'Lay 'em down' Bill said of 'Brick 'em Bill, "He ought to find a country that's suffering from a drought and get hired to stage a festival!"

     Another local, 'Sing 'em ' Bill is a performing artist at the festival and has been seen and  heard throughout Ohio with  various  other local performers.

     The fourth Bill one could speak of in Cleveland is  'Set 'em up' Bill, a tugboat Captain and former owner of the popular Public House, at Kamm's corner, Rocky River Drive and Lorain Avenue. Mayo visitors to Cleveland are always to be seen there. Sean Murray was there lrecently,  in town for his son's wedding. 'Set'em up'  sold  the Public House a few years ago so he’snow been crowned  'Tug 'em Bill.'  A classmate of this writer at St. Vincent DePaul grade School, he'll be the subject of a future story.  We fondly hope this story will  get by censors and moral advisers. I threatened him that I’d tell  Mayo readers how I saved his life after he cut his arm playing Pom-Pom-Poolaway in Jefferson Park. The deal was that if he ever bought a pub I'd drink for free the rest of my life. Maybe he was forced to sell the joint?        

     A visitor to another recent  festival was  former Ohio Congressman Martin Hoke, who claims kinship with Wexford's Ignatius Xavier Rossiter. Rossiter allegedly was a leader in the 1798 rising. Hoke visited the West Side I'A's tent where he purchased a sweater. When he said, "Hi, I'm Martin Hoke, Ann Halloran, recoiled in mock horror and said, "Ohmigod, a Republican!" It's assumed, of course, that to be Irish in America one must be a Democrat. Ten minutes later Hoke encountered a Halloran look-a-like while walking through the parking lot. His greeting brought another, "Ohmigod, a Republican," to which the Congressman replied, "Didn't we just meet?"  Turns out it was Halloran's sister. Ann had told her what had happened earlier and she was having fun too.

    Television Station WEWS TV5 caused a bit of a stir when they changed their tentative plans to interview Congressman Hoke. Wanting to interview him about President Clinton's policies, they'd made arrangements to speak with the Congressman outside the I-A's gates. The I-A has a strict policy of no- politicking on the grounds. However, because of the rain, the TV crew decided to move inside the gates, underneath the overhang by the Clubhouse. Ever-mindful Club President Helen Malloy gently reminded TV5 reporter Bill Shiels that there was to be no mention of the club when they broadcast the political interview later during the evening news. And they didn't! They did

interview Festival Staffer Mary Kay Bomberg and took their cameras around the grounds to show the Greater Cleveland viewing audience how much fun there was to be had by coming out to the Festival.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Shamrock and Sword - The San Patricio Battalion

Shamrock and Sword – Robert Ryal Miller

A Book Review by J.C. Sullivan

A part of Irish-American, or perhaps Irish-North American history, is little known in the U.S. but rather well-known in Mexico. The history of the San Patricio Battalion of the Mexican Army is mythological to many Mexicans and unknown to most American-Irish.

In the 1840s, conflict was occurring when the governments of Mexico and the United States could not agree on peaceful terms to resolve their dispute over land. President Polk moved troops opposite the Mexican border along the Rio Grande River. Among these troops were many foreign born soldiers. 25% of them, to be exact, were Irish. War with Mexico was begun in 1846.

Conditions in the American Army were crude – discipline was meted out horrifically when compared to today’s modern Army. Living in tents in the southern Texas’ environment was brutal. Food was ill-prepared and water was brackish. Given these conditions, when soldiers did get some time off in town, alcohol, handsome women and the promise of land in Mexico lured many Irishmen to desert the American Army and cross over to Mexico. Some were enticed with the promise land of their own if they joined the Mexican Army. Unfortunately, they ended up fighting against the American Army. With the latter victorious in the war, military court martials settled the fate of the San Patricios.

Robert Ryan Miller’s Shamrock and Sword (Oklahoma University Press, Norman, OK) is a masterpiece of scholarly research gleaned from American and Mexican newspaper accounts. Mexican government records were not made available to him in his research;  bribery is a way of life south of our border.

For Mexican readers, Miller, Professor Emeritus of History at California State University, sets the story straight, correcting their popular myths. At the same time he educates Americans about what really happened. More importantly, in this reviewer’s opinion, he devotes a chapter to Why They Defected. The American War with Mexico produced the highest rate of desertion in American military history.

A key figure in the San Patricio story is artillerist John Riley (Reilly), who said he was Galway-born.  According to Miller his home parish might have been Clifden. In 1845, when he joined the American Army, he stated he was thirty-five years old. This would give him a birth date of 1817. Miller indicates that by Riley’s own testimony he was a veteran of the British Army. He had demonstrated previous artillery expertise. Miller surmises that he might have deserted the British Army while he was possibly stationed in Canada.

After hostilities between the two nations ceased, the deserters were sentenced to death. Riley and others were eventually spared. However, in San Angel, sixteen San Patricos were hung.  Two days later the remaining thirty convicted deserters were hung when the American flag was raised over Churubusco, signaling the American victory.

Most American soldiers in Mexico approved of the hangings. As far as they were concerned these men were traitors.  But Why They Defected is ably demonstrated and brought to light by Miller.

 Irish men have long jumped into the military uniform of other nations to escape poverty, for adventure or for what they have perceived to be righteous causes. The same reasons Miller postulates are applicable to Irish men throughout history.  One can conclude many things from Shamrock and Sword. This writer believes Irish men, and men the world over, are perhaps a bit too keen to put on the uniform of another nation for whatever reason. Throughout history we have done so gallantly and honorably. However, in the process, we have created many widows and grieving family. And wars go on and on and on.

 My final conclusion in reading Miller’s story is I have come to believe that war is the natural state, peace is unnatural. Irish men, men everywhere, need to think differently about matters and not take matters at face value, i.e. popular thought.

Miller’s work should be taught in military academies. Why They Defect should be coupled with Why They Fight. Maybe in the process all men will be less apt to stand up for others when they should be standing up for their own nation and write another story, Why Aren’t We Being Friends?


Sullivan is a military veteran and an internationally-published writer residing in northeast Ohio.  He is fifth-generation American-Irish on his maternal side and 4th generation on his paternal side.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

Jimmy Buttimer - Savannah's Irish-American Poet

   J.C. Sullivan

     Throughout our lives we meet 'Irish' people. Some are native-born, some are Irish-Americans'. Some we soon forget, some we can never forget. Savannah's Irish poet laureate, Jimmy Buttimer, falls into this latter category. Currently enrolled in a Masters Program (History), he's always been interested in history. With the death of his grandfather, Patrick Joseph Buttimer, the entire family took care of him the last few years of his life, they talked a great deal about his childhood in Savannah.

     "He knew his grandfather, the original emigrant from Cork, and his name was Patrick Joseph. So I started to research a lot to do with the family and a lot of the records I found intact on his life were his service records in the Confederate Army. I followed his regiment and found a diary of one of the members of the regiment that had some really remarkable passages in there about the Irish soldiers that made up about a third of the regiment. I went ahead from there and added imagination to the facts that I found but my poetry is all based on primary sources and materials.

 He was in a unit called the First Georgia Regulars.  They were a unique regiment, probably the crackerjack regiment. They were sent from Georgia to Virginia early in the war," Buttimer said. He continued. "They had professional discipline; the officers were from the best, well-known families in the State. They were very strict in their discipline and training and so they were much more professional than many other units in existence at the beginning of the war.  They were recruited, a large number of them, from Irish dockworkers here in Savannah.  Instead of a regional pool they were created statewide and sent up to Virginia in service of the Army of Northern Virginia (Confederate)."

    One evening during Savannah's recent Irish Festival he took the stage at Kevin Barry's Pub on River Street. A hush fell over the crowd and a shh went out from them in an attempt to deaden the chatter from the next door bar. "To Have A History," is a tribute to his great-great grandfather. Speaking with a brogue that an American would be hard pressed to discern as not being native to Ireland, he begins.
 "Now I have heard the different camps proclaim their honor and these same men would                                                              seek to find the first wrong on a field of carnage
So as to say that one was Cain, the other Abel.
                 But I was there to live the hate, to smell the fear and heed the
slaughter and here's the Hell of it. We murdered them and they murdered us
                  and that was our war in the Deep South when we were fighting the Negroes.
                    On John's Island we were pressed by a vast host of Negroes.
 They carried the works on our right flank and  murdered the wounded Stono Scouts before our eyes. But their victory was short as we counterattacked and the men went red-eyed mad with rage.

We shot the captives where they stood
   or hunted them down in the tall grass to finish them off
with clubbed rifles and bayonets.

   And we would have killed them all but for our officers
who beat us with their swords."

     Midway through his poem he pauses to catch his breath and compose himself, temporarily overwhelmed by the deep emotions he feels. Flashing eyes reveal the inner passion of his deeply-felt West Cork Irish roots. After a few moments he continues.

   "In quiet moments long removed that hellish day is with me.
'Twas there I heard the sound of blood lapping from throat to earth
   and saw the bodies arch and heave with each fresh gout of blood.
   And now I'm back in the Old Fort
with the Negroes and the Irish as before the war.
   And my neighbor comes from Africa
with ritual scars upon his face as a sign of his people.
   And now his son runs with my son
as two-legged pups through the dusty lanes.
   And I often stop and the quareness of it all.
At times like these my heart is troubled
   and I walk the few blocks to the river.
And I watch its currents moil.
   'Tis a great, muddy beast of a river...
'Tis the lifeblood of God, and it carries the sins of the world.
   What was it drove my hand to murder?
Was it truly the love of one thing and the hatred of another?
   Or did the priest say more than he knew?
We are made in His image. We are made in His image.
   So ye that would seek the first wrong on a field of carnage
   content yourself with what ye find.
But I would tell ye as ye do not know, that murder is murder
   and a history is a hard thing to have."

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Benjamin Sullivan, b. Berwick, Me., ca. 1738. Served as an Officer in the Royal Navy aboard a man-o-war. Was lost at sea before the American Revolution. No marriage mentioned in records. Eldest brother of American Major General John

Rear Admiral Thomas Ball Sulivan (d 1857), had fourteen children; four of his sons were in the British navy. Admiral Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan, eldest son of the foregoing. During the Crimean War in 1854 then-Captain Sulivan, commanding the Lightning, participated in attack on the Russian fortress of Sweaborg in 1855.

 Norton Allen Sulivan, Vice-Admiral, and son of TB Sulivan, took part in the battle of Jutland in 1916.

 John Sullivan, V.C., b. April, 1831, Bantry, County Cork, Ireland. During Crimean War, on 10th of April, 1855, was awarded Victoria Cross. Was created Knight of the Legion of Honour on the 16th of June, 1856, by the Emperor of the French. Received Sardinian, Turkish and Crimean Medals, with clasps for Inkermann and Sebastopol. Also recipient of Silver Medal of Royal Humane Society for saving the life of a drowning man in shark infested waters.

Private John Sullivan, 29th Reg’t of Foot. KIA. Gujrat, 21 Feb 1849, northwest Indian Punjab battle of Anglo-Sikh War.

Gerald Robert O'Sullivan, V.C. - 1915; Gallipoli, Turkey.

Arthur Percy Sullivan , V.C. - 1919; Sheika River, Russia

Admiral George Lydiard Sulivan, another son of Admiral T.B. Sulivan.

Sir Charles Sulivan, Admiral of the Blue. Son of Sir Richard Sullivan, East India Company.

Thomas Hebert, d 1824, son of Colonel John Vera O'Sullivan, served with British and Dutch forces.

Denis Patrick. The Following is part of the letter from The Welch Regiment Museum regarding 25728 Denis Patrick Sullivan 17th and 18th (service) Battalions,The Welsh Regiment ct Medal citations of D.P.Sullivan who was a brave and gallant soldier. His gallantry and leadership at Mory, 23/24 March,1918, was such as to merit a mention in the official history of the regiment. 

The 18th Welsh during four days, surrounded and fighting against great odds, was virtually wiped out. Only the commanding Officer, one officer and twenty other ranks survived to tell the tale, and amongst them was D.P.Sullivan. The remainder died at their posts or were wounded and/or were taken prisoner.

Through their efforts, and the efforts  of others,  the German advance was halted, and thereafter the course of the war turned in our favour. Seargeant Sullivan's decorations for gallantry have often been on display as part of the rotation on display of a large collection of decorations. His other two decorations, the British War and Victory medals were not presented to the regiment.  The citations-
25728 Private Denis Patrick Sullivan, 17th (service)Battalion ,The Welsh Regiment, 1st Glamorgan Bantam Battalion

John O’Sullivan, age 20.  47 Lynsted Road, Liverpool, England. Crew member of Irish-registered City of Limerick, died when the ship was attacked by German aircraft 15 JUL 1940 off the French coast and later sank.

Sullivans in Texas History

Many of the Irish were recruited by the Spanish to come from Ireland to Texas in the 1830s. Ships brought whole villages from Ireland directly to South Texas below Corpus Christi. They settled in San Patricio & Refugio. The poor people didn't know what was in store for them. 

Many died during and after the voyage. The survivors were subjected to the tremendous heat, mosquitoes, poisonous snakes, loneliness, tropical disease and the dreaded hostile Indians. It was a one way ticket. Many survived and eventually moved to Victoria, San Antonio and along the Rio Grande.

The name Sullivan and O'Sullivan occurs very frequently during early Texas history. Cpl. Denis Sullivan name appears before, at and after the Battle of San Jacinto, where Sam Houston and his outnumbered army defeated Santa Ana for Texas Independence. Incidentally, the land that the battle was fought on was owned by the widow McCormick from Ireland.

There were three O'Sullivans from Ireland who fought at the important Battle of Sabine Pass with Dick Dowling and his Irish Davis Guards. Many of the famous Texas Rangers were Sullivan/O'Sullivan. One in particular whose first name was Sullivan, was the famous Sullivan "Sul" Ross. He became governor of Texas and also the first president of the great Texas A & M University.

There is a Cultural Building called the Institute of Texan Cultures in downtown San Antonio (Hemis Fair Plaza ) dedicated to the various groups that settled in Texas. Contact the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau for the Institutes telephone number. I'm sure that they have an 1 ( 800 ) number. You should be able to get the book and/or more information from them.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012