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The sinking of the USS Maine

James Durney

As the revolution against Spanish rule in Cuba dragged on at the end of the 1890s, American sympathy for the Cubans grew. American investments in the island’s economy were increasingly threatened, and the Spanish atrocities inflamed the American public. In January 1898 the United States sent the battleship Maine to Cuba to protect American lives and property and to evacuate U.S. citizens if the situation there collapsed into chaos. On 15 February, while the Maine lay in Havana harbour, the ship was sunk in an explosion. Of the crew’s 350 men and officers, 252 were killed in the explosion and eight others subsequently died. Among those casualties – dead, missing or injured – sixty-four men bore distinctively Irish surnames, or were natives of Ireland. Two of the uninjured also bore Irish surnames. This large percentage of casualties among those of Irish birth or descent made such a profound impression upon the poet Joseph Clarke that he penned ‘The Fighting Race.’ This poem – his most famous – appeared in the New York Sun on St. Patrick’s Day 1898.

Two of the list of Irish dead and missing were from Co. Kildare:  fireman First Class Joseph Seery and Coal Passer Patrick Grady. Seery was confirmed as dead, while Grady was listed as missing, presumed dead. Among the survivors was a First Class Seaman, Michael T. Flynn, whose 'home' is listed as Philadelphia. It is known that Flynn was not born in Philadelphia, but was a native of Co. Kildare. He enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen in 1890, served three years therein, went to the United States in 1893, and joined the US Navy in 1894 (he was still living in 1958).

The sinking of the Maine, while later deemed to be an accident, led to a brief war between the United States and Spain. The war ended with the complete defeat of Spain and made the USA a colonial power. The Treaty of Paris ceded the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico to the USA; Cuba became independent. Thus ended Spain’s colonial presence in the Americas.

The Fighting Race
by Joseph Clarke

“Read out the names!” Burke said and sat back,

And Kelly drooped his head.

While Shea – they called him Scholar Jack –

Went down the list of dead.

Officers, seamen, gunners, mariners,

The crews of the gig and yawl,

The bearded man and the lad in his teens,

Carpenters, coal passers – all.

Then knocking the ashes from out his pipe,

Said Burke in an offhand way:

“We’re all in that dead man’s list, by Cripe!

Kelly and Burke and Shea.”

“Well here’s to the Maine, and I’m sorry for ,”

Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.


When the USS Maine sank in Havana harbour in 1898 two of the fatal casualties were Co. Kildare natives.

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