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Joseph Wade was born on the 4th of August 1866 at White Hart, Stephenstown, Balbriggan, Co. Dublin. Joseph was the seventh child of eight born to my Gx2 Grandparents John Wade and Thomasina Lindsay.

The Wade family were a well known and respected family. My Great Grandfather Thomas Wade (1864-1932) was an auctioneer and small farmer. He also bred draft horses. In the early 1950’s a local newspaper described them as ‘a well-known nationalist family.’

The Wade name has had a long history in the Balbriggan/Balrothery area. As far back as the 1641 rising a John Wade of Margetstown, Balbriggan is recorded in the 1641 depositions as a rebel. As previously stated, Joseph Wade was born at the White Hart, Stephenstown. The French born British surveyor and cartographer John Rochque created a map of the area in 1760, on this map the White Hart is shown as an inn. Some years ago, an archaeology study showed the foundations were 17th century. The large building is now split between two private dwellings. The Wade family have lived at the White Hart for at least 160 years.

Local legend has it that King James II stayed in the area prior to the battle of the Boyne in 1690. There are two theories, that he stayed at the White Hart or what is now The Balrothery Inn. Coincidentally the Balrothery Inn is also owned by Family members.

There were two close friends of Joseph Wade. They both played an important role in the life of Joseph Wade.

Joseph Kennedy was born on the 4th of March 1875 at Stephenstown, Balbriggan. His Father Thomas Kennedy and Mother Ann Connor.

John McGlue was born on the 11th of December 1867 at Rowans, just a couple of kilometres from the White Hart. His Father James McGlue and his Mother Elizabeth Reynolds.

South Africa - The build up to the Anglo-Boer War

In 1886 gold rich deposits at Langlaagte, Johannesburg in the Transvaal Region were uncovered leading to the Witwatersrand gold rush. Mining in the gold field was tough, gold ore was abundant but contained little gold. The layers ran deep, and mining needed to be intensive to be profitable. For this reason, the Transvaal didn’t attract small scale speculators like previous gold discoveries, instead it required capital on a massive scale. Capitalists who had obtained great wealth from the South African diamond fields, known as the Randlords, were quick to supply the required capital and controlled the gold mines of the Transvaal.

The huge inflow of Uitlanders (foreigners) coming to the region in search of employment and the wealth being generated was concerning to the Boer Government. By 1895 the Uitlanders outnumbered the

Boers. With the majority of newcomers being British fears grew that the Transvaal Region could lose its independence and become a British colony. The Boer Government began heavily taxing the gold mining industry and introduced policies to restrict voting rights to those residing for four years or more. These actions caused resentment among the Uitlanders and an uprising was organised by one the Randlords, Cecil John Rhodes. He began to plan an uprising to overthrow the Boer government of the Transvaal and turn it into a British colony. This uprising was known as the Jameson Raid as it was led by Leander Starr Jameson. It began on the 29th of December 1895 and ended in failure four days later.

South Africa - The formation of the Irish Transvaal Brigade

In 1896 there were around 1,000 Irish living in the mining settlement of Johannesburg, including John MacBride who left Ireland in the same year and worked as an assayer on the J.B. Robinson goldmine at Langlaagte. Not all Irish migrants in the years before the Boer war went to the mines but many did. It was at these mines that some of the men become proficient in the use of dynamite. MacBride, who had taken the secret oath of the Irish Republican Brotherhood stated he was drawn to South Africa after the failed Jameson Raid (29th Dec 1895- 2nd Jan 1896), convinced the English desired to take the country and he wished to organise fellow Irish men to ‘strike a blow at England’s power abroad.’ The Jameson Raid brought attention to the Irish nationalists in South Africa and men like MacBride who were key members of the community organised many gatherings with some taking place in the mine where MacBride worked.

On the 15th August 1898 an Irish parade took place through the streets of Johannesburg where the Uitlanders sang in celebration of the centenary of the 1798 Irish Rebellion which was a major uprising against British rule in Ireland. Irish Uitlanders were joined in the streets by fellow Uitlanders from America, France, Germany, Holland and Scandinavia as well as some Boers.

According to Thomas Byrne, a member of the Irish Transvaal Brigade, the idea of an Irish Commando was put to John MacBride who was in agreement and said that Irish Nationalists on the Rand should get together. Organisers visited mines to recruit Irish Nationalists and meetings were held. In 1899 a brigade was established to fight with the Boers if war was to break out against the British. Permission was sought from the President of the Transvaal Paul Kruger to establish a military unit of Irishmen. In addition, permission was made for the Irish Brigade to be granted citizen status. This was vitally important to the Irish as if captured by the British it would prevent them from being shot as traitors.

In October 1899 an Irish American Colonel John Young Filmore Blake was asked to take command of a group of Irish and Irish Americans of Johannesburg and Pretoria who had assembled. He put their number around 300 strong. Colonel Blake accepted the command on condition ‘that not one of them would expect or accept one cent of money for his services, and that all would fight purely for their love of liberty, and for down-trodden Ireland.’ This condition was unilaterally accepted and the horses, weapons and ammunition were procured and the brigade headed for the border of the British Colony of Natal.

The appointment of Colonel Blake over MacBride was due to Blake being an ex-US Cavalry Officer and MacBride having no military experience. Colonel Blake was born in Missouri in 1856 and graduated from West Point U.S. military academy in 1880. He served in t he 6th U.S. during the apache wars up until him resigning from the military in 1889.

Joe Wade in South Africa 

There is a lack of information and records on Joe Wade from his time in Ireland and his arrival in South Africa. There are probabilities on where he was and what he was doing. In later years Joe Wade gave conflicting information on where he was in the 1880’s and the very early 1900’s. In a 1910 census he states he arrived in the U.S in 1885. In a later census he states 1901. In fact both could be true as Joe may have left Ireland in the 1880’s for America, then he may have given the information of 1901 on his return to the U.S from South Africa. In addition, with dates in historic documents you cannot take these as fact as there are commonly errors of +/- 1 or 2 years. 

With Joe Wade’s arrival in South Africa being uncertain, I wanted to find evidence that he was an original member of the Irish Transvaal Brigade. Joe Wade is identified as a member of the dynamite squad or ‘Wrecking Corps’ and had the position of Sergeant in the Irish Transvaal Brigade. It was my thoughts that it was highly likely that he arrived prior to the start of the Anglo-Boer War and his skill with dynamite learnt in the mines of South Africa. Joseph Kennedy, his friend, and neighbour in Stephenstown, has been identified as a known founding member of Blake’s Commando as was John McGlew who lived a short distance away in Rowans, Balbriggan. This is documented by the historian and author Donal McCracken in his books on the Irish Brigade.

In an article in the Dublin Evening Telegraph, Jan 5th 1907, John MacBride wrote a response to James Laracy, himself a member and Captain of the Irish Brigade. Laracy had claimed MacBride had little involvement in the organising of the Irish Brigade. 

John MacBride‘s response to Laracy:

‘As to the organising of the Brigade, I never claimed to have done more than one man’s part. The fact that Mr Sol Gillingham (who was in close touch with the ‘98’ and other Irish Associations) came first to me with private news of the impending war, and a hint to get the Irish Nationalists together, and that the word, therefore, went around from me, I suppose, gave my name some prominence in the work; but I should be sorry, indeed to take any of the credit due to Solomon Gillingham, Dick MacDonagh, Tom O’Byrne, Tom Connolly, Joe Tully, Joe Wade, Andy Higgins, Jim Gerraghty, Major Mitchell, and Captain P.J Oates.’

I had wanted to establish when Joe Wade joined the Irish Brigade and to my delight, John MacBride was here stating he was also involved in its organising and formation. 

October 6th 1899 The Irish Brigade, which would have included my Great Grandfathers brother Joe Wade, marched through the streets of Johannesburg with the Brigade flag flying over their heads and Martini-Henry and Mauser rifles on their shoulders. Then traveling by train to Volksrust where they waited to receive their orders to advance. There they were addressed by General Joubert, the Commandant General of the South African Republic.

On Oct 9th 1899, Joubert ‘sent a demand to the British Government for the recall of the English troops from the Transvaal border. The British declined, all communications were broken off, and war was declared on the following day, October 11th.’ The Boer offensive began with a cold, and stormy start. The Irish Brigade joined them as they set off on horseback into the Laing’s Nek. 

During one of the first exchanges the Irish advanced on the town of Newcastle. John MacBride describes that the enemy abandoned the town without a shot being fired. The Irish Brigade tore down the Union Jack and replaced it with the Vierkleur, (Flag of the South African Republic) as well as raising the Brigade’s flag. 

The Irish Brigade took part at the Battle of Dundee. They had camped 7 miles outside of Dundee and the following day spotted a column of English across the Valley. They had spotted the highly trained 18th Hussars, a British Cavalry, who were led by Colonel Moller. The Boer and some of the Irish Brigade followed after them. After a few exchanges Colonel Moller and 196 of the 18th Hussars had surrendered to what Colonel Blake described as ‘Forty untrained farmers.’ 

In an article from 1905 John MacBride wrote the following;

‘At the head of the brigade a green flag which had been specially made for the expected rising in Connaught in ’67, was held proudly aloft by Sergeant Joe Wade, of Balbriggan, and the sight of its green folds fluttering in the breeze thrilled every heart with thoughts of what might have been, and still more with hopes of what might be in a not too distant future, when yet another fight for Irish freedom would be waged. During the course of the battle of Dundee the boys had, for the first time, the satisfaction of pouring a few volleys into the enemy’s (The British) ranks.’ 

Around a week later at Modderspruit Colonel Blake had been injured by a pellet from an exploding shell, which meant he had to leave the battle. Under heavy bombardment The Boers fell back as ammunition for the guns began to run out. Volunteers from the Irish Brigade were called for and these men were placed under the command of Joe Wade. ‘Amid showers of bursting bombs, they serviced the guns.’ One of the Boars commented afterwards ‘Allmachta! You Irish fear neither God nor the big guns.‘

Despite the heroism shown they lost that day and a number were wounded and died. One of those first casualties was Hugh Carberry, a friend of Joe Wade. He had been shot in his forehead and taken to the field hospital where the bullet was removed. Remarkably within three days he was able to get onto his feet at the field hospital and was then subsequently moved to recover in Pretoria. It is documented that Joe Wade visited Hugh Carberry in hospital but sadly, despite making progress, died a few months later from a stroke. An impressive monument standing 7ft was erected in Armagh in his memory.

Joe Wade was involved at both Ladysmith and Colenso towards the end of 1899. Both were significant battles in the initial Boer offensive of the Anglo-Boer war. On Dec 14th 1899 Col. Blake was ordered to send 30 men to Colenso. Major John MacBride was to lead these men and chose Joe Wade as one of those to accompany him. The battle of Colenso was a huge victory for the Boer, and it was here that MacBride described Sergeant Joe Wade as carrying shells to the guns which were being fired at the advancing British troops. This Boer victory was the final victory before the British relieved the besieged towns of Ladysmith, Kimberly, and Mafeking. The Irish Brigade were on the retreat, yet were revelling in dare devil tactics of striking the enemy and blowing up bridges. 

May 1900 the Irish Brigade were at the Vet river, it was decided that railways would be targeted as trains full of British infantry were arriving on the opposite ridge. The Irish Brigade volunteered to destroy the bridges and railway lines. Col. Blake said he selected his best men for the job which included ‘the ever to be remembered Joe Wade.’ In blowing up the bridges at Sand River they were exposed to cannon and rifle fire, yet managed to get the job done. When the bridges and railway lines had been destroyed General Botha, who later became the first prime minister of the union of South Africa, ‘sent for Sergeant Wade, Mike Halley and Dick Berry to be given further instruction.’

The last phase of the Anglo-Boer war took place between October 1900 and May 1902. John MacBride and the majority of the Irish brigade had by this time left South Africa. The last few of the Irish Brigade who did remain were known as the ‘bitterenders’. Sergeant Joe Wade and his friends from Balbriggan, Joe Kennedy and John McGlew were included in these bitterenders. They joined the Johannesburg commando of General Ben Viljoen where they conducted a hard-fought guerrilla war against the British who had adopted a scorched earth policy. The British destroyed Boer farms and placed many civilians into concentration camps. It was at these horrific British concentration camps that 26,000 women and children died of malnutrition and disease.

There is an account of Col. Blake that on Jan 8th 1901 Joe Wade, Joe Kennedy and John McGlew were involved in the attack of one of two forts at Monument Hill, Belfast in the Transvaal. Here there was close combat fighting with the enemy and the fort was captured for a few hours. Blake has also documented an incident in June 1901 where the bitterenders along with the Johannesburg commando were involved in capturing around 300 Australians at night while they were sat around their campfires. One of the Irish lads, Mike Hanafin, came across an Australian bugler and threatened him with his rifle to sound ‘cease firing’. The bugler did so, and the Australians ceased firing. The Australian major in command ordered him to sound ‘commence firing’ and according to Col. Blake, either Joe Wade or the other Sergeant Mike Halley ‘rammed the muzzle of his rifle against the major's stomach, and told him that he could have all the fight he wished. The major, in an awful tremble, threw up his hands and said "No, no, no, I don't want to fight any more’

Near Balmoral, the Johannesburg commando, had set about capturing some blockhouses to move a cannon and wagons across the railway line. From ‘a hole in the ground under the blockhouse’ Mike Hanafin was shot at point blank range. Dick Hunt went to help him, but he was already dead. When he attempted to pick him up, he himself was shot. Luckily the bullet had grazed his forehead. Joe Wade and Joe Kennedy came to his assistance and the three of them carried Mike Hanafin’s body away before returning to the blockhouse. ‘They now knew about these holes, and they crept up to one of them, slipped the muzzle of their rifles just over the edge of the hole, without the Tommie knowing it; they fired and the Tommie fell dead. This frightened the other Tommies who were watching at other holes, and the blockhouse was surrendered.’

In Vrieskraal on 16th August 1901 a young Boer said he found a few Irish Americans swapping clothes with the captured British soldiers. One of these men were Joe Wade who was neatly dressed in the uniform of the 19th Hussars who were a British Cavalry Regiment. He was talking to a captured soldier ‘who was wearing in exchange Joe’s tattered trousers patched and torn to ribbons… Where modesty decreed that clothes should be soundest, the trousers were most at fault, and Joe remarked “I suffered much from sunburn and exposure in those parts”… A little distance away stood a young Hussar, wearing the limp and greasy hat of his captor’

The war ended on the 31st May 1902. Joe Wade and the other bitterenders surrendered with the Johannesburg commando at Potloodspruit, his war was done. In August 1902 funds of $3000 were raised in response to an appeal from Col. Blake to enable him and 11 comrades to return back to the United States. Joe Wade, Joe Kennedy and John McGlew were 3 of these remaining 11 who travelled back to the United States. 

Col. John Y.F. Blake lived in New York after the war, in 1907 he died in his apartment of gas asphyxiation in an apparent suicide. 

Major John MacBride travelled to Paris where he married the Irish republican revolutionary Maud Gonne. They had a son Sean MacBride in 1904, who became an Irish politician, before divorcing in 1905. After his divorce he returned to Ireland and was executed by the British in 1916 after the easter rising in Dublin. When facing a firing squad, he refused a blindfold and said, ‘I have looked down the muzzles of too many guns in the South African war to fear death and now please carry out your sentence.’

John McGlew married Margaret Bowden in 1913 in Boston where they lived. They had a son in 1914 who died from traumatic birth. On March 22nd, 1915 he died at age 42. 

Joe Wade is on the 1910 census living in St. Louis with his wife Sabine Jackson who he had married in 1908. At the time he was working for a bank as a bookkeeper. He died in 1924, St. Louis.