Roanoke Island
By Brian McGinn  

   Sheltered behind the Outer Banks of present-day North Carolina, Roanoke Island was the site of Sir Walter Raleigh’s attempts to establish the first English colony within the boundaries of the modern United States. Among the sailors, soldiers and servants in Raleigh’s expeditions were five documented Irishmen, and several others whose surnames suggest Irish origins.

   Richard Butler, a Waterford-born sailor in Raleigh’s service, was a member of the reconnaissance expedition that discovered and explored Roanoke Island in 1584. Three others--Darby Glavin, Edward Nugent and an unnamed Irish servant--reached Roanoke in 1585 as members of a 108-man colony. During nine months on the island, they were under the command of Captain Ralph Lane, an English officer who had previously served as Sheriff of Kerry.

   English demands soon alienated the local Indians. When Lane attacked an Indian village on the mainland in 1586, his Irish servant shot the Indian chief Wingina in the buttocks with a cavalry pistol.  Nugent, an Irish soldier under Lane, pursued and beheaded the wounded chief.

   Along with Glavin, an Irish sailor pressed into Raleigh’s service, Nugent and the anonymous servant returned to England in 1586. Raleigh’s second attempt to plant a settlement ended with the disappearance of all 117 men, women and children who landed on Roanoke in 1587. Two Irishmen narrowly avoided becoming part of this legendary Lost Colony. Dennis Carroll and his shipmate Darby Glavin, the 1585 veteran, deserted the ill-fated expedition in the West Indies. Carroll’s later history is not recorded. Glavin reappeared in 1595 as a soldier in Spanish Florida.  

Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony (Totowa, New Jersey, 1984)

David Beers Quinn, ed., The Roanoke Voyages: 1584-1590. 2 Vols. (London, 1955)

Back to the bibliography

Irish on the Wall

Irish in the Korean War

The Irish in WWII

Irish in Other Wars and Armies