For a small area, my local locality of Monaghan, Cavan, Louth, and South Armagh has produced some remarkably talented sons and daughters who’s ripples can be felt down through the ages of history. Of course, we all know of our Patrick Kavanaghs, Barry McGuigans, and Pierce Brosnans, but what about some of our more forgotten hero’s throughout history who’ve left an indelible mark upon the world.
This column will take a look at these people and show how they’ve made an impact which have crossed borders, oceans, and cultural boundaries to reach the apex of the new worlds in which they found themselves. In countries as diverse as Australia, New Zealand, Chile, USA, you’ll find the hand of difference inspired by a local man or woman.
For example, a Monaghan man became a hero in the Chilean war of independence, a Cavan man emerged as the Bishop of Perth, a Louth native developed into a world renowned explorer, and another local infamously ended up as a notorious cannibal who dined on his fellow prison escapees. These are just a short sample of some of the fascinating and sometimes forgotten people who have emerged from our little corner of the world. In this column I’ll attempt to shine a light upon these people.
The first character we’ll take a look at is someone who emerged as a hero for the pro slavery confederate side during the American Civil war. That man was called, Joseph Finnegan, and he was born to humble beginnings in Clones, Co Monaghan in 1814. In his early twenties Finnegan emigrated to Florida were he quickly displayed his entrepreneurial skills in setting up a saw mill and becoming involved in the railroads.
Whilst his early successes in business were quite remarkable, it would be his later exploits in the American Civil war that would come to define him. When the civil war broke out Finnegan’s political connections, that he cultivated through his marriage, ensured him a plum post as the rank of General in the confederate Army. At the onset of war in 1862, his forces mostly had to deal with mundane internal affairs within the state of Florida, but then a battle occurred that would change all of that.
In 1864 with federal forces massing beside Florida and poised to attack, it fell to the inexperienced Monaghan General to defend his new homeland. So on February the 20th of that year the stage was set for an epic clash between north and south a clash that would forever become associated with the Clones man . In one corner stood Generals Seymours 5,500 federal troops and facing him in the other was Finnegan with his 5,000 confederate soldiers.
After some initial skirmishes, the two sides eventually clashed in a bloody confrontation in what later became known as the Battle of Olustee. When the fighting commenced the action swung back and forth throughout the day with hundreds of wounded and dying lying scattered across the blood soaked battlefield. As the day neared its end, and with victory still hanging in the balance, the Clones man gambled and committed his last reserve to the fight which finally caused the Federal line to break and flee in a panic across the Saint Johns River.
The Monaghan man had emerged victorious, but at a huge cost. When the fighting had ceased Finnegan’s confederates had inflicted some 1,861 casualties on the Federal forces compared to 946 casualties on his own forces. It was one of the highest per capita casualty rates in the entire civil war. Nonetheless the Monaghan native had speared headed a rare, but much needed victory for the beleaguered confederate side.
After the battle was over Finnegan was transferred to serve under Robert E. Lee in his famous Army of Northern Virginia. He distinguished himself under Lee’s command were he fought in a number of engagements, paramount among these the crucial battle of Cold Harbour. Ultimately, with the confederates eventually being defeated, the Monaghan man’s efforts were in vain as he found himself standing on the wrong side of history in what was a titanic clash between slavery and freedom.
But as he looked back on his life, the man who came from humble beginnings in Clones in County Monaghan could be satisfied that he’d come a long way in life as an entrepreneur, state senator, and military general . Joseph Finnegan died in his sleep, aged 71, on October 29, 1885.