THE REASONS WHY
IRELAND – CLOSER TO BOSTON OR BERLIN?
Are you a “jump around” Boston-Irish M.C. or are you an
über-cool Berliner? Mary Harney, as Tánaiste in an address a few
years ago sided spiritually with Boston for us all. Was she right?
I believe that it is more accurate to say that Ireland is a natural
bridge and magnet between the EU and the U.S. and that Ireland
is equally spiritually close to both. It is time that we celebrate
our Diaspora in the U.S. but we have an equivalent Diaspora in
Europe that is less known and less celebrated. Are we as aware
of our extremely strong historical, cultural and spiritual links to
the European Kingdoms, Continent and European Community
throughout the Ages where we joined ranks with the continent’s
royalty, papacy, empires, presidents and army generals and
achieved prominence as diplomats, merchants, academics,
religious and military men?
Well it goes without saying that we are also spiritually close to the
United States. We are linked spiritually through our common people
and ancestral ties; economically through invaluable inter-linked
two-way trade, foreign investment and employment; politically
Although Minister Harney’s statement was not intended to be
defining, it did nonetheless end up viral in the media, in our
vernacular and in our cultural psyche. And no wonder, it filled a
huge communication vacuum on Ireland’s connection and place
in Europe as no-one was putting forward the reasons why Europe
mattered to the Nation. It is certainly a welcome debate point.
Ireland and the Irish long before the queues at Ellis Island was
What of the Irish men and women who befriended the Spanish
Court and Rome’s Pope Paul V? What of a Kerryman who was
appointed Spanish diplomatic envoy to Kings Charles I and
II, Popes Innocent X and Alexander VIII? Yet another son to a
Limerick family of refugees in France who was appointed Spanish
Ambassador to London and Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs?
And what of one of the most influential Irish lady of her era who
would become “Ireland’s first Ambassador” in exile?
What about the great Irish entrepreneurs of Cognac and Bordeaux
who have created world-recognised brands of Cognac Hennessy
and Michel Lynch wine? What of Irish military exploits learned
in action on the continent and effectively used against English
colonialists at home? What of a Limerick man who was appointed
Marquis by King Louis VI and whose grandson would go on to
become the third President of France?
What about a third Limerick man who was recruited by Tsar Peter
I and served under Catherine the Great? What of the Irish born
Duke of Wellington who led a British army, made up of a majority
of Irishmen to victory over the infamous Napoleon at Waterloo,
some kilometres south of Brussels? What of the legacy of the Irish
monks and Celtic missionaries who throughout the Middle Ages
travelled across Europe from the illuminated monastic powerhouse
of Ireland, carrying Irish manuscripts, spreading Christianity
and Celtic art and who in the 17th century would set up 34 Irish
colleges to preserve our Catholicism and our language and nurture
our Irish identity in exile? Finally and most importantly, what of the
thousands of Irish men who laid down their lives to protect the
freedom of fellow small nations such as Belgium during World War
I and II?
Background to the Movement East – ‘The Flight of
When we think of emigration from Ireland, the majority of our
minds will automatically turn to images, thousands of miles west
of Ireland to Ellis Island. The first emigration to the U.S. first
commenced around 1790, more than 140,000 leaving the island
We do not so automatically think of the arduous journey east of
Irish emigrants to the European Continent, hundreds of years
earlier. Thousands of Irish emigrated eastwards as refugees, due
to land confiscation, the Plantations, the persecution of Catholics
and the search for education by Catholics on the Continent. The
waves of emigration eastwards took place well in advance of the
queues of Ellis Island.
Emigration from Ireland from the early modern period, to the
continent commencing from 1605, had an immediate impact on
Ireland itself. The first major wave, ‘The Flight of the Earls” marked
the end of the Old Gaelic power system and consequentially total
English control of Irish land. The power of the Gaelic Chieftains
outside of Ulster had subsided in the 1570s and 1580s despite
rebellions against Elizabethan troops. Ireland during these decades
was ravaged by war and even famine, with estimates of a third
of Munster’s population dead through war, famine and sickness.
In addition, Gaelic life changed dramatically with the outlawing
of Brehon law, Gaelic dress, private armies and the poetry of
the bards under royal control. Brehon law was the system of law
used by the Irish dating from Celtic times. Under this system, the
Celtic Druids were succeeded by Brithem or judges who acted as
arbitrators. This custom was passed down from generations orally
and in later years was recorded. Interestingly, Irish women under
this law had more rights in terms of property and divorce than
women in other European societies.
The Nine Years War which had begun in 1594, leading to the
defeat of the Ulster Chiefs joined by the Gaelic Chiefs at the Battle
of Kinsale in 1601 was a sharp finale. Some clans had marched
their armies of 5,000 men over 300 miles in winter for this battle.
Catholic Spain2 came to our aid under the command of Aguila
following the request of Hugh O’Neill one of the famous Ulster
chieftains in 1600 with an estimated 3,000 troops. Ireland was
very much a central focal point of European politics even then.
The Spanish empire that had taken over present day Belgium and
the Netherlands came to Catholic Ireland’s assistance to weaken
English protestant influence in Spanish Netherlands by pulling
English soldiers back from the continent.
The Spanish successfully held Kinsale for 12 weeks but on seeing
the reality and strength of royal troops, signed an accord and
departed. The Gaelic chiefs also departed. Ulster became the last
province to be planted by Elizabethan settlers. Without property or
authority, the Chieftains agreed to depart with their families as part
of a group of around a 100 to the European Continent.
The Flight of the Earls, 1607
Who were these characters and what was to become of them
and more importantly what was to be their impact on European
The Irish College of Louvain3, just a few miles from the European
political centre of Brussels, houses a wonderfully detailed and
illustrated exhibition which has formed the basis of the following
chapter depicting character profiles that impacted Europe.
The College itself, which has just celebrated its 400th year
anniversary, has been central to the Irish experience of Europe. The
Irish College was founded in 1607, with the financial assistance of
King Phillip III of Spain, by a Franciscan Brother Flaithrí Ó Maoil
Chonaire, a theologian and spiritual advisor to the Flight of the
Earl leaders Hugh O’Neill and Rory O’Donnell two famous Ulster
Chieftains. The entourage of 99 who departed Lough Swilly, due for
Spain, landed in France instead due to bad weather and moved on
to the town of Louvain then located in the Spanish Netherlands.
The Irish College of Louvain is one of 34 Irish Colleges set up in
European University towns to address the Catholic educational
needs of the Irish abroad. Other Irish colleges include those
established in Aachen, Prague and Rome. Interestingly, four
hundred years on, the College continues to host Irish students
and Irish officials on study trips and courses to learn about the
European Union in addition to American students mainly of
Irish heritage, who study in Louvain and go on to undertake an
internship in the European Parliament.
Red Hugh O’Donnell, (Hugh Rua O’Donnell), son of Sir Hugh
O’Donnell and son-in law of Hugh O’Neill was born in 1572. The
English, afraid of a strong alliance between the O’Donnell’s and
the O’Neill’s kidnapped Hugh when he was 15 and imprisoned
him in Dublin Castle. Following a second attempt to escape, he
and his colleague Art O’Neill escaped from Dublin Castle into the
Dublin mountains in the dead of winter. Art O’Neill did not survive
the winter and Hugh lost two toes to frostbite. Following his return
to Ulster, Hugh became Chief of the O’Donnells in 1592 and was
Lord of Sligo and Connaught. He successfully with Hugh O’Neill
defeated the English at the Battle of Yellow Ford in 1598.
This battle could have been the start of the driving of the English out of
Ireland but reinforcements from England usurped their plan.
Following the Kinsale defeat of the allied troops of Hugh O’Neill,
Lord Richard Tyrell, Donal Cam O’Sullivan Bere, the O’Driscoll’s
clan and O’Connor’s of Kerry at Kinsale, Red Hugh left Ireland.
He sailed to La Coruna, Galicia, Northwest Spain where many
chieftains were already arriving with their families. He was received
with great honours by the Governor and the Archbishop there. An
Irish College was founded there. He plotted a return to Ireland
and was promised assistance from King Philip III. On his second
journey to Valladolid to lobby Philip he died, many believe from
poisoning, organised by the English in July 1602. He was buried in
the Franciscan monastery in Valladolid but following its demolition
the location of his tomb is now unknown.
Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare a powerful Gaelic lord in the
southwest of Ireland who had also been defeated in Kinsale
departed for Spain. He had joined with the O’Neills and the
O’Donnells years previously, in the Nine Years War against the
English. He is famous in Ireland for his epic march northwards with
1,000 of his clan who became starving refugees. At the end of the
march, which had included women and children, only 35 remained
alive. He pleaded with Spain for assistance but to no avail.
In 1605 O’Sullivan Beare also fled to La Coruna accompanied
by several hundred followers. He helped found a college for Irish
students in Santiago de Compostella. He became a Spanish
courtier, recognised as an Irish prince and was admitted to the
Order of Santiago in 1607. This Order was the Military Order of
Saint James of the Sword, which was formed originally to protect
pilgrims from Moorish bandits who would travel to and from the
tomb of Saint James at Santiago de Compostella. The rules of
the Order were similar to Templar rules and the Order itself very
He was killed in 1618 in Madrid – it is unclear whether this was as
a result of a duel or if he was assassinated.
Hugh O’Neill or “Hugh the Great O’Neill” was born to the O’Neill
clan and eventually received the Title of 2nd Earl of Tyrone. He and
O’Donnell had made overtures to the Catholic King of Spain as to
their allegiance to the Catholic Church to garner armed assistance.
Following the Battle of Kinsale, O’Neill and Rory O’Donnell (chief
of the O’Donnell clan following Hugh Rua O’Donnell’s departure to
Spain) departed Ireland as a Group of ninety nine from Rathmullen
on Lough Swilly in September 1607. O’Neill, O’Donnell and their
entourage stopped off for the winter in the Irish College in Louvain
and then headed on to Rome where they were welcomed by Pope
In the interim, like Hugh Rua before them in Spain, O’Neill spent
his time in Rome trying to secure Spanish armed assistance from
King Phillip III. The bigger picture was to return to Ireland and
overthrow the English. Meanwhile however, the Spanish economy
was weak following a war with the Dutch at Gibraltar and Phillip
III was in the throes of making peace with James I, successor to
Elizabeth I. Hugh O’Neill died in Rome in 1616 not having had
the opportunity to return to Ireland and was buried in the Spanish
Franciscan church of San Pietro, Montorio.
An example of a revered woman in exile is Rosa O’Doherty,
whose remains are in Louvain, buried with two of her sons from
her marriage to Caffer O’Donnell, brother of Rory O’Donnell.
Rosa provides a natural bridge between two of the waves
of emigration east. She herself was part of the Flight of the
Earls first wave in 1607 following the failure to stop English
colonisation in Ireland. She was originally married to Caffer
O’Donnell, brother of Hugh O’Neill. She lived in Louvain with
her two sons. Following Caffer’s death in exile, Rosa married
Eoghan Rua O’Neill, a nephew of Hugh O’Neill and an officer in
the Irish regiment of the Spanish army in the Spanish Netherlands
for 40 years.
Eoghan Rua returned to Ireland as one of the leaders in a nationwide
uprising in which the Gaelic Irish and Old English joined
together in the Confederation defending the monarchy of Charles
II against the Parliamentarians led by Cromwell and against further
plantations. Rosa returned to Ireland in 1648 and following the
death of her husband by poisoning or disease, she escaped out
of Ireland on the second wave in 1649. While in exile, she held
court in Brussels and is described as “Ireland’s first ambassador”4
because throughout her life in Louvain, she provided Irish people
with papers to facilitate their travel across Europe.
Hugh Dubh O’Neill, a nephew of Eoghan Rua, who had been born
in the Spanish Netherlands and had gained enormous insight into
strategic war-fare there, returned to Ireland with his uncle. Hugh
Dubh is famous for having led the greatest military coup against
Cromwell during the Siege of Clonmel. It is said that in one day,
3,000 of Cromwell’s men lay dead and wounded, more casualties
than in years of English civil war. It was the biggest defeat that
Cromwell had endured in Ireland or England. O’Neill had sent Irish
agents to Brussels for assistance from the ardent Catholic Duke
of Lorraine but by his surrender in 1651, it had not materialised.
Hugh Dubh was imprisoned in the Tower of London and spent his
remaining days in Spain.
Another character during this period was Thomas Preston. Born
in 1605 to an old English family, he joined an Irish regiment in
the Spanish Netherlands which defended Louvain against a vastly
superior French and Dutch force in 1635. He returned to Ireland
to support the 1641 uprising as Confederate general and fought
against Cromwell. In 1650, King Charles II created him Viscount
Tara. Preston was governor of Galway when, in April 1652, it
became the last Irish town to surrender to the Parliamentarians.
He then left for France to join the exiled Royalist court and died in
Paris in 1655.
The defeat of the remaining Gaelic clan families who had
supported Charles II in exile prior to his return in 1660 against the
Parliamentarians resulted in huge confiscations of land from
Catholics and the further suppression of their religion. Conditions
were horrific for Irish natives and combined with the outbreak of
The Plague in 1649 slums, low food supplies and hunger were
prevalent. Irish land and agriculture had been slashed and burned,
cattle had been stolen and farmhouse inhabitants evicted. The
Irish population has been successfully uprooted to the West of the
Shannon through the Act of Settlement, the most radically effected
plan of the British Isles. As a consequence, thousands of catholic
women and children in the 1650s were shipped off as slaves to the
Caribbean, some estimate up to 50,000 in total. Historians claim
that in those last 4 years before Cromwell’s suppression of the
Rebellion (1645-49) more that a quarter of the Irish population died
through hunger, disease and battle. Thousands left for exile to Spain
and France following an agreement between the Confederation
and the Parliamentarians. Some historians approximate this
number at 40,000 who were never to see Ireland again.
Influence of the Irish Friars on Irish History and
As Irish people, particularly when travelling to any corner of the
globe, we become more and more aware of the clear brand of Irish
people and Ireland. Ironically, it was in the Irish College of Louvain,
just outside Brussels, where this cultural identity both at home and
in exile was first instigated and formed.
Up until the 17th century, our island as we have seen above was a
nation of clans. We were made up of clans of Celtic Irish and Old
English families such as the Butlers of Ormonde and Fitzgeralds
of Desmond who were part of the original failed attempt of
Ireland’s conquest in the 16th century under the Tudor Conquest.
They maintained independence from the monarchy and the New
English. Life on all levels was based upon local allegiance.
The Louvain friars cared for the Irish emigrants and refugees
as they passed through the Gateway of the Irish College in the
Spanish Netherlands. In addition, they launched an ambitious
plan known as the “grand project” to forge a national identity.
One of their achievements was to compile the first dictionary in
the Irish language. They also created a simplified grammar and
developed the first lead fonts for printing books in Irish, basing the
design on the handwriting of one of the friars at Louvain.
The friars also took it upon themselves to organise the writing
of the first history of Ireland. This was an extremely visionary
step and long-term means to create a common sense of identity
amongst Irish folk which would naturally evolve from a common
sense of history.
In order to gather up historical facts, a chronicler and his two
assistants were sent from Louvain to Ireland to collect cultural and
historical documents, some ancient and to make copies of them.
This was to form the basis of our Annals of the Four Masters or
Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland which chronicles Irish history from
the biblical flood to AD 1616 documenting the births, dates and
activities of the Gaelic Irish nobility.
A colourful personality amongst the friars was Dominic De
Rosario O’Daly from Kerry, born in 1595 to the Desmond branch
of the Fitzgerald family or Geraldines on his mother’s side and
the Ó Dálaigh from his father’s side. He became a Dominican in
Tralee, Co. Kerry and travelled throughout Europe studying in
Spain and Bordeaux. In 1627, he was sent to teach theology in
the Catholic University of Louvain. Two years later he travelled
to Madrid on business and with three Irish friars established the
Irish Dominican College in Lisbon, supported by Phillip of Spain.
Womens’ education was not forgotten and O’Daly constructed
a convent of Irish Dominican Nuns in Lisbon. In 1650, he was
appointed Spanish diplomatic envoy to Kings Charles I and
Charles II and Pope Innocent X. The Portuguese queen appointed
him envoy to Pope Alexander VIII. He worked as the Queen’s
Confessor. Later, he accepted the title of Bishop of Coimbra on
the condition that he could finance a larger Irish college building.
He was appointed by King John IV of Portugal to conclude a
Treaty and forge alliances between the kingdoms of Portugal and
France. In addition, O’Daly had recognized that the Portuguese
would have to obtain English support to avoid domination by
Spain or France. He played a significant role in negotiating the
marriage of the English king, Charles II, to Catherine of Braganza,
daughter of the Portuguese king in 1661. O’Daly died in Lisbon
the following year.
The Wild Geese – the Treaty of Limerick 1691 -the Third Wave
The next wave of migrants which left for Europe from Ireland were
part of ‘The Flight of the Wild Geese’ following an agreement
under The Treaty of Limerick 1691 for James II supporters, who
were defeated by William of Orange and his supporters in the
Williamite War that concluded at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
Again, the Irish had become embroiled in an external struggle, this
time between Catholicism and Protestantism.
Under the Treaty, some families were allowed emigrate from
Ireland. They were marched down to Cork and the boat-trip to
exile was labelled “The Flight of the Wild Geese” a reference to the
lonely call of such wild fowl. It is said that 14,000 took this option
to go to France and to become part of the Irish Brigade there
under James II. The term “Wild Geese” later broadened to include
all those who had left Ireland for Europe during the late 17th and
18th centuries as a consequence of the Penal Laws imposed on
Catholics, many of whom went into further battle. In fact life would
not be easy for those in exile either, particularly those who went
on to become involved in European wars. In a letter in 1732 written
to Dean Swift, a Sir Charles Wagan stated that in the preceding
40 years, more than 120,000 Irish had been killed or wounded in
battle in Foreign Service.
In truth, we have paid for our EU position through the blood sweat
and tears of our ancestors, lest we forget.
Some of the personalities in exile have had an immensely positive
impact on European and even world life. Long before the Smurfits,
the O’Reillys, and the Dunnes business families, Irish entrepreneurial
families were establishing themselves in exile. The label and brand
of being Irish does inevitably lead to conversations regarding Irish
stout and whiskeys. I bet you never thought of Ireland vis-à-vis
wine routes and cognac? Well it’s true and here’s why.
Richard Hennessy, Cognac Hennessy
One major example of a world brand is that created and nurtured
by Richard Hennessy, an aristocrat who was born in County Cork
in 1724. The Hennessy family are said to have suffered under the
Cromwellian and Williamite regimes. When Richard was about
twenty, he left for the west of France following family members
who had already moved there. He spent some time serving in
the French army. In 1765 he set up a brandy business from the
Chateau de Bangle, in the town of Cognac, exporting the Hennessy
brand to England and Ireland. In 1794, the first order came in from
Following Richard’s death in 1800, his son James Hennessy who
married into the Martell family took over. Orders were flooding in
from King George IV of England, Russia in 1818, China in 1859 and
Japan in 1868. In 1856, the Hennessy coat of arms became the
official brand for Hennessy Cognac.5 In 1865, Maurice Hennessy
created a classification system for cognac worldwide. Since
Richard’s creation, some eight generations have nurtured and
expanded the Hennessy tradition and in 2001, Hennessy broke
the record for having sold 35 million bottles worldwide. Hennessy
is famous for its marketing of eaux de vie (“water of life”), how
wonderful that an uisce beatha travelled so far!
Michel Lynch, Bordeaux Wines
In Ireland, a traditional trading route emerged in the 17th century
between the port of Galway and the port of Bordeaux. John Lynch
fought with James II at the Battle of the Boyne and in 1691 fled
Ireland to Bordeaux following the Treaty of Limerick. He went on to
establish the Château Lynch-Bages winery which was retained by
the Lynch family for three quarters of a century.6 During this time in
the 18th century, Count Jean-Baptiste Lynch, who was also mayor
of Bordeaux, inherited the estate and handed over management
of it to his brother Michel Lynch.
Interestingly, Michel was also mayor of Pauillac during the French
Revolution. Michel Lynch7 was a knowledgeable winegrower and
in the 18th century was one of the main forces in the progress
made in the wine sector through conducting first trials of destemming
(separating the stalk and the berries) before fermentation,
a method that was to become widespread during the 19th century
in the Médoc region. The lynx on the Michel Lynch label can also
be found on the Irish Lynch family coat of arms.
Over the centuries, developing on from the natural trading routes
and the Flight of the ‘Winegeese’, the Bordeaux region has become
synonymous with Irish names in viticulture and politics claiming
fourteen chateaux, 10 streets, 2 wine communes and 1 public
monument to an Irish/French President of France, Patrice
By the middle of the eighteenth century in Bordeaux, the Irish
Merchant Community had become the most powerful of the
expatriate minorities. Abraham Lawton from Cork had become
the most important winebroker of the time. Thomas Barton from
Fermanagh soon became the leading wine shipper in Bordeaux
and Nathaniel Johnston from Armagh had cellars that held the
equivalent of six million bottles.
From winemakers to befriending Kings and Emperors, on the
battlefields and in the arenas of politics and aristocratic diplomacy,
the Irish were certainly talented.
Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan and signatory to the Treaty of
Limerick was one of the most famous of the Wild Geese and
excelled militarily and diplomatically. Born in Lucan in 1650 of
mixed Old English and Gaelic Irish descent, he was educated
at a French military academy. He then went onto serve in the
army of Catholic James II in England. In 1689, he was made
Member of Parliament for County Dublin in Westminister and in
the same year guarded Athlone from attack from the Orangites.
During the first siege of Limerick, he forced William of Orange’s
withdrawal following a daring raid on Williams artillery in 1690.
William of Orange was not to be defeated however and when it
became obvious for Sarsfield that defeat was inevitable during
the second siege, he led the peace negotiations. He negotiated
permission for his army of 11,000 to go into exile in France. He
marched his army of 11,000 to Cork and they sailed onto France
on 22 December 1691.
Upon his arrival in France, Sarsfield was given a senior position
in the French army. Less than two years later however, he was
seriously wounded at the Battle of Landen in July 1693 in Flanders,
Belgium and died a few days later from his wounds. Patrick
Sarsfield is buried at Huy in Belgium.
Another famous Irish-French family in the Burgundy region is that of
John Baptiste MacMahon and his grand-son Patrice McMahon
who excelled on the battlefields and politically. As a child, John
Baptiste MacMahon and his family emigrated from Toorodile
County Limerick as the penal laws severely curtailed their chances
of making successful careers in Ireland. He became a doctor and
married into French aristocracy. He was appointed Marquis d’Eguilly
by King Louis XV.
Patrice MacMahon, a grandson of John Baptiste born in 1808,
was number 16 of 17 children. He took up a military career,
leading the Foreign Legion from 1843 and serving in Algeria and
the Crimean and Franco-Prussian wars. He stayed in Algeria from
1834 – 1854. Following his stint in Algeria, he secured a crucial
victory for France and Sardinia against the Austrians at Magenta
in 1854 in the Second Italian War of Independence following which
Emperor Napolean III created him Duc de Magenta.
He was appointed to the French Senate in 1856 and went on to
become the third President of France from 1873 to 1879. He died
fourteen years later in 1893. His descendants continue to live in
the family home, the Chateau de Sully in Burgundy. He is also
commemorated in Bordeaux by a public memorial amongst the Irish
stronghold of ‘winegeese’ such was their influence on vitaculture.
Richard Wall (Ricardo Wall) was born into an Irish Jacobite
refugee family originally from County Limerick in France and went
on to become Spanish Foreign Minister. He joined the Spanish
navy in or around 1716 and transferred to the Spanish navy. He
was asked to go on diplomatic mission to Russia in 1727 and
travelled widely in Europe. In 1747, The Spanish King appointed
Wall Spanish Ambassador to London in 1747 following an injury
from battle. He was recalled back to Spain to become Minister of
Foreign Affairs in 1754. He died in 1777.
A friend of the Russian Tsars, Peter Lacy, born in 1678 in
Killeady near Limerick was born into an Irish noble family of
Norman origin, De Lacy. At the age of 13 he fought to defend
Limerick with the Jacobites. Following the Irish defeat, he
and his family travelled as part of the Flight of the Wild Geese
from Limerick to France where he, his father and his brother
joined the Irish Brigade. His family lost their lives fighting
for Louis XIV in Italy. Peter moved to work with the Austrian Army and
then onto Tsar Peter I Russian Army following his former Austrian
Commander at the age of 22. The Tsar recruited experienced
soldiers from Western Europe to improve his armies and to
increase their chances against enemies such as the Swedes.
Lacy was rapidly promoted and found favour with Peter’s
successors, including Catherine the Great. In the mid 1730s
Lacy fought in Russia’s war against the Turks. When the Russo-
Swedish war broke out in 1741, Lacy was appointed Commander
in Chief of the Russian Army where he successfully ended Finnish
and Swedish hostilities. In 1743 he retired to his estates in Livonia,
on the eastern coast of the Baltic, now North Latvia and South
Estonia where he died in 1751. His doctor recalled that the citizens
of Riga, now Latvia mourned his death so much that they tolled
their bells for eight days. He is remembered in Russian history as
one of the most successful Russian imperial commanders and his
son Franz Motitz von Lacy became one of the most successful
imperial commanders of the 18th century.
From one empire and emperor to the next, Laval Nugent, born
in County Westmeath in 1777 served in the Austrian Army. Five
members of his family also served in the armies of the Hapsburgs.
He was rapidly promoted within the Austrian army and became
a major general at the age of 25 and Chief of Staff of the Army
corps of Archduke Johann of Austria at the age of 32. In 1813, he
captured Trieste from the French and drove them out of Italy. In
1816 he received a title from the Pope and in 1817 he entered the
service of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies. In 1848, at the age of 71,
Nugent campaigned in the war between Austria and Savoy and was
promoted to Field Marshal by Emperor Franz Joseph. His full title
was Count Nugent of Westmeath. Like other Austrian-Irish soldiers
who were given titles, Nugent was proud of his Irish connections
and kept them alive in his title. Laval Nugent died in 1862.
We have seen some Irishmen’s contribution to wars in Austria, Italy,
Russia, Spain and France. One point that is less well known in Irish
history is the major Irish contribution to the Battle of Waterloo,
18th June 1815 both with and against Napoleon.
Battle of Waterloo
Irishmen frequently fought on opposing sides on the European
continent. They joined armies as individuals or in whole units, and
special sections of continental armies were established. One clear
example is that of the Battle of Waterloo, just south of Brussels.
Irish soldiers fought as the Legion Irlandaise in Napoleon’s Army
and as the Royal Irish Brigade in the Anglo-German allied forces
under the command of the Irish born Allied Commander in Chief,
the Duke of Wellington. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
was born in Ireland in either Dublin or Meath in 1769. He was
a Member of Parliament representing Trim in the Irish House of
Commons and was Commander in Chief of the English-German-
Dutch army allied with the Prussians who defeated Napoleon.
It is documented in an extremely valuable source9 that the 27th
Inniskilling Fusiliers/Royal Irish Brigade, in the course of Ney’s
cavalry attacks was bombarded by a French horse battery. By the
end of the battle the battalion had suffered 478 casualties from
a pre-battle strength of 750. An officer from a nearby battalion,
Captain Kincaid, commented that the 27th seemed to be lying
dead in its square. Kincaid, a veteran of the Peninsular War, said
“I had never thought there would be a battle where everyone was
killed. This seemed to be it.”
During my research, I found this poignant letter in the New York
Times, January 4, 1904.10 In it, Major Rudolph Fitzpatrick claims that
of the 32,000 English troops who fought under Wellington, over
20,000 were Irish. He goes on to quote the distinguished French
General-wounded at Waterloo-Maxamillan, Sebastian Foy whose
oration captured the valor and courage of the English and Irishmen,
who fought to their death “Wounded, vehicles, reserve ammunition
trained auxiliary troops were hurrying in confusion toward Brussels.
The Angel of Death was ever before their eyes and busy in their
ranks. Disgrace was behind them. In these terrible circumstances
neither the bullets of the Imperial Guard fired at point blank range
nor the victorious French cavalry, could break the immovable
The Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, the champion at the
Battle of Waterloo went on to become Prime Minister of England a
decade later in 1828-1830 and caretaker Prime Minister 1834-35.
The Irish would even become involved in European national wars
such as Italian unification and the Spanish Civil War. For example,
1,000 Irish volunteers organised and funded by the Catholic
Church in Ireland to fight in defence of the Papal States
unsuccessfully.11 Not only were the Irish involved in the continent’s
military battles in pre-world war times, but we were right in the
thick of it during the World Wars also.
When two bullets were fired assassinating Archduke Franz
Ferdinand and his wife on 28 June, 1914, Sarajevo, in an attempt by
Southern Slavs to release themselves from the Austro-Hungarian
Empire, a chain of events commenced which would directly affect
Irish people in every part of Ireland and some of those living in
Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.12
During World War One approximately 210,000 Irishmen served in
the British Army many of them on the battlefields of Flanders and
in Northwest France in the Somme. It is estimated that 140,000
joined during the war as volunteers having enlisted for various
reasons such as for the cause, and for the freedom of fellow small
nations such as Belgium, in anticipation of Home Rule.13 During the
Battle of the Somme alone, the number of casualties exceeded one
million including the deaths of some 3,500 Irishmen. Nationalists
and Unionists sometimes fought side by side, an example being
the 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) Divisions fighting together at
Messines Ridge, 1917, south of Ypres in Belgium.
Tom Kettle, a lawyer and Irish nationalist MP, was killed in battle
at the Somme in September 1916. In January 1915, Kettle wrote
of the war: “Used with the wisdom which is sown in tears and
blood, this tragedy of Europe may be and must be the prologue
to the two reconciliations of which all statesmen have dreamed,
the reconciliation of Protestant Ulster with Ireland, and the
reconciliation of Ireland with Great Britain.”
In between World Wars, the Irish were drawn into the Spanish War
in 1936 voluntarily and on both sides. This war was perceived
to be a worldwide struggle between capitalism and communism.
Many fought on the side of General Franco in his military revolt
against the Centre Left Government spurned on by Irish bishops,
by the majority of Irish press and political parties and particularly
by Eoin O’Duffy’s Blueshirts. Irishmen fought on the socialist side
also. For example, The last surviving Irish volunteer, Bob Doyle,
who passed away in January 200914 fought with the International
Brigade against fascism on the socialist side.
As the Spanish Civil war was nearing its end, Hitler was galvanising
his troops to the east. By January 1942, records show that 23,549
Irish-born soldiers and 28,287 Northern Ireland soldiers fought
with the English Army in World War II with figures increasing in
later years to 27,840 from the Republic.
It was De Gaulle who suggested that Ireland is an island behind
an island on the periphery of Europe. On the contrary, De Gaulle
had underestimated the spirit of the Irish notwithstanding our
geographical position to become a world identity and brand.
Commencing with the Celts, moving forward to the dissemination
of Christianity via Irish missionaries and the impact on the European
continent since the Flight of the Earls, Ireland has had a massive
impact on Europe culturally, politically and spiritually.
Many of our Irish aristocracy and military champions looked
naturally to the Continent for formal alliances and military support.
During many waves of forced emigration, we left the island as
refugees and as ‘outsiders’ to the European continent. The Irish
spirit within us however brought us to Europe with a vibrancy
and ambition to become ‘insiders’.
As we have seen, we were accepted as ‘insiders’ and joined ranks
with the continent’s royalty, papacy, empires, presidents and army
generals and achieved prominence as diplomats, merchants,
academics, religious and military men. The Irish tradition of military
action in Europe continued from the 16th century right through to
the latter part of 20th century.
The inhabitants of an island on the periphery of Europe have always
been enmeshed at the core of the European Continental tapestry of
wars, politics, business, religion and diplomatic alliances without
forgetting the land they had left behind.
The clear link between Ireland with the European continent was
formally and legally established in 1973. The European Union
supplied Ireland with a counterweight to completely dilute our
economic dependence on Britain. Prior to our independence,
Ireland’s spirit had been suppressed by England for far too long,
even as emigrants abroad, Protestant England controlled the
hiring and firing of Irish Catholics for example on the east coast
Post 1922, we were tied to Britain economically and were closed
as a market economy. Ireland needed formally to come out from
behind the shadow of Britain historically and to take its place as a
World nation. Membership of the European Economic Community
would provide Ireland with this opportunity to continue our talent
of becoming ‘insiders’ of a very influential club.
Through Ireland’s joining of the European Union, we have not only
safeguarded centuries of our connection to Europe but in addition
we have successfully nurtured our connection to America. Our
membership of this prestigious organisation provides our American
friends with a natural and very effective Gateway to Europe.
Of course it is not all one-sided. Without Ireland, Europe and the
EU is missing out on one of Europe’s X factors one which
has enriched the Continent historically, spiritually, artistically,
politically and economically.
As to our exiled forefathers across the Continent and the world,
let us not forget them or their influence, but let us remember them
and celebrate them and continue the noble tradition of leadership
as they have left us.