seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

The Battle of Ramillies

The Irish Brigade of France fights at the Battle of Ramillies in the War of the Spanish Succession on May 23, 1706. For one hundred years Irishmen are smuggled from Ireland to France, where their rights are stripped by foreign invaders to fill the ranks of the famous Irish Brigade. During those one hundred years they fight all over Europe, in North America, the Caribbean, and even India. They shed their blood freely on several hundred fields “from Dunkirk to Belgrade,” in the words of Thomas Davis.

For the Grand AllianceAustria, England, and the Dutch Republic – the Battle of Ramillies follows an indecisive campaign against the Bourbon armies of King Louis XIV of France in 1705. Although the Allies capture Barcelona that year, they are forced to abandon their campaign on the Moselle, stall in the Spanish Netherlands and suffer defeat in northern Italy. Yet despite his opponents’ setbacks Louis XIV wants peace, but on reasonable terms. Because of this, as well as to maintain their momentum, the French and their allies take the offensive in 1706.

The campaign begins well for Louis XIV’s generals. In Italy, Marshal of France Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme, defeats the Austrians at the Battle of Calcinato in April, while in Alsace Marshal Claude Louis Hector de Villars forces Louis William, Margrave of Baden-Baden, back across the Rhine. Encouraged by these early gains Louis XIV urges Marshal François de Neufville, Duke of Villeroy, to go over to the offensive in the Spanish Netherlands and, with victory, gain a ‘fair’ peace. Accordingly, the French Marshal sets off from Leuven at the head of 60,000 men and marches toward Tienen, as if to threaten Zoutleeuw. Also determined to fight a major engagement, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, commander-in-chief of Anglo-Dutch forces, assembles his army of some 62,000 men near Maastricht, and marches past Zoutleeuw. With both sides seeking battle, they soon encounter each other on the dry ground between the rivers Mehaigne and Gete, close to the small village of Ramillies, Belgium.

In less than four hours Marlborough’s Dutch, English, and Danish forces overwhelm Villeroi’s and Maximilian II Emanuel‘s Franco-Spanish-Bavarian army. The Duke’s subtle moves and changes in emphasis during the battle, something his opponents fail to realise until it is too late, catches the French in a tactical vice. With their foe broken and routed, the Allies are able to fully exploit their victory. Town after town falls, including Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp. By the end of the campaign Villeroi’s army has been driven from most of the Spanish Netherlands. With Prince Eugene of Savoy‘s subsequent success at the Siege of Turin in northern Italy, the Allies impose the greatest loss of territory and resources that Louis XIV would suffer during the war. Thus, the year 1706 proves, for the Allies, to be an annus mirabilis.

(Pictured: “The Battle of Ramillies between the French and the English, 23 May 1706” by Jan van Huchtenburgh, oil on canvas painted between 1706 and 1710)


Leave a comment

Birth of Count Daniel Charles O’Connell, French General & Uncle of “The Liberator”

Count Daniel Charles O’Connell, French general and count in the French nobility, is born on May 21, 1745 in Derrynane, County Kerry, twenty-first among twenty-two children of Donal Mor O’Connell, a Catholic landowner, and his wife Mary, daughter of Daniel O’Donoghue of Glenflesk, near Killarney.

O’Connell is tutored at home in Latin and Greek, and before he is sixteen he leaves with his cousin, Murty O’Connell, to join the French army. On February 13, 1760 he becomes a cadet in the Régiment de Royal Suédois. He spends almost his entire career in France or serving abroad with French regiments, but remains in close contact with his family, being in constant correspondence with the head of the clan, his brother Maurice O’Connell, who is almost twenty years his senior, and later arranging army appointments for a host of young nephews and cousins.

O’Connell serves with the Royal Suédois in the last two campaigns of the Seven Years’ War and is made assistant adjutant (sous-aide-major) of the regiment. At the close of the war, he is recommended for the military academy of Strasbourg (1765–66). He has a talent for self-advancement and is well regarded by his seniors, being tall, strong, handsome, disciplined, industrious, and sober. He has an almost morbid horror of drink, and his great boast is that he has never wasted a moment of his time or a farthing of his money.

Appointed to Col. Meade’s regiment of Lord Clare’s Irish Brigade with the rank of captain in October 1769, he sets sail immediately for Mauritius. Two years later he is allowed a visit home to Kerry for the first time in eleven years. In 1775 the death of Lord Clare’s son and the extinction of the title results in the reduction of the Irish Brigade, and destroys O’Connell’s chance of promotion. He devotes himself to the study of chemistry, literature, and the military. A published study, Discipline of the army, comes under the notice of the military authorities, who obtain for him a Cross of Saint Louis, a pension of 2,000 livres a year, and the rank of lieutenant-colonel with which he is posted to his old regiment, the Royal Suédois, in 1778. With them he serves at the taking of Menorca in 1781 and is severely wounded at the Great Siege of Gibraltar in 1782 but manages to save the life of Charles Philippe, Count of Artois, the future Charles X. For these services he is made a count, one of only twenty-two people outside the royal family to receive this honour, and is made colonel of the German regiment of Salm-Salm in French pay, which at a grand review of 30,000 French troops in Alsace in 1785 is pronounced the best regiment. He begins to move in court circles and in 1788 kisses the hand of Marie Antoinette and rides in the king’s coach.

In 1788 O’Connell recommends to his brother Maurice the college of Saint-Omer as a suitable school for his nephews, Maurice and Daniel O’Connell, but taking belated notice of the gathering revolutionary storm, tries unsuccessfully to dissuade them. During the French Revolution of 1789 he allegedly announces his readiness to move his regiment into the capital to disperse revolutionary mobs, but is not able to obtain the king’s permission. In 1790 his men mutiny, leaving him in the anomalous position of a colonel without a regiment. A protégé of the Ancien Régime, he nevertheless remains in Paris in 1790–91, serving the nouveau régime as a member of a commission engaged in revising army regulations.

In 1792 O’Connell joins Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick‘s émigré army at Koblenz and takes part in the disastrous Battle of Valmy in Berchini’s regiment. Ever cautious, he serves as a private, refusing any command so that his name would not be mentioned in France. In November 1792 he is in London, almost penniless and bent on concealing that he had served against the republic. An alibi is procured and attested at Tralee to the effect that O’Connell had been in Ireland all the time, and was forwarded to Paris to prevent the confiscation of property.

In London O’Connell petitions William Pitt the Younger to reconstruct the Irish Brigade in the service of George III. Six regiments are raised, with O’Connell appointed colonel of the 4th, but the scheme is only partially realised as three of the regiments are sent to the West Indies and Nova Scotia, where they succumb to pestilence. By 1798 the brigade has entirely ceased to exist, though he retains his full pay as a British colonel, which he draws to the end of his life. At this period his name is mooted by Gen. Henry Clarke and Theobald Wolfe Tone as a possible commander of their troops. Clarke gives his opinion that O’Connell is a good parade officer but has no genius in command, to which Wolfe Tone replies that he “was in favour of his being employed for I know he hates England.”

In 1796, O’Connell marries Martha, comtesse de Bellevue (née Drouillard de Lamarre; d. 1807), a young widow with three children, at the French chapel in Covent Garden. In 1802 he takes advantage of the peace of Amiens to return to France. On the renewal of war the couple is detained by Napoleon as British subjects, and remain virtual prisoners in France until the restoration of the Bourbons in 1814. Back in favour, O’Connell receives the rank of lieutenant-general in the French army and commander of the Order of Saint Louis. His fortunes revive, he advances a large sum to his nephew Daniel to save him from bankruptcy in 1815 and comes to his rescue again in 1818, though by this date he has already settled the bulk of his fortune on his great-nephews. He follows his namesake’s career with keen interest, but his advice is invariably cautious and is not much heeded. After the French Revolution of 1830 he refuses to take the oath of allegiance to Louis Philippe I and is struck off the military list, though he becomes a naturalised French citizen in 1831.

O’Connell dies on July 9, 1833 at the Château de Bellevue at Meudon, near Blois, and is buried at the cemetery at Coudé. He has no children and his title, though not his fortune, descends to his godson, the Baron d’Eschegoyen’s second son, who takes the name O’Connell. A portrait by Paul Guérin hangs in Derrynane House.

(From: “O’Connell, Count Daniel Charles” by Bridget Hourican, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


Leave a comment

Patrice de MacMahon Resigns As President of France

Patrice de MacMahon, a descendant of an Irish family, resigns as president of France on January 30, 1879, and retires to private life. His resignation comes after he dissolves the Chamber of Deputies, resulting in public outrage and a Republican electoral victory earlier in the month.

Born Marie Edme Patrice Maurice de MacMahon on July 13, 1808, in Sully, France, he serves as Marshal of France and second president of the French Third Republic. During his presidency the Third Republic takes shape, the new constitutional laws of 1875 are adopted, and important precedents are established affecting the relationship between executive and legislative powers.

The MacMahon family is of Irish origin. They were Lords of Corcu Baiscind in Ireland and descended from Mahon, the son of Muirchertach Ua Briain, High King of Ireland. After losing much of their land in the Cromwellian confiscations, a branch moved to Limerick for a time before settling in France during the reign of William III of England because of their support of the deposed King James II in the Glorious Revolution. They applied for French citizenship in 1749. After the definitive installation of the family in France, their nobility was recognised by the patent letter of King Louis XV of France.

MacMahon begins his army career in 1827 in Algeria and distinguishes himself during the Siege of Constantine (1837) and in the Crimean War (1853–56). The climax of his military career comes in the Italian campaign of 1859, when his victory at Magenta results in his being created Duke of Magenta. In 1864 he becomes Governor General of Algeria. Commanding the I Army Corps in Alsace during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), he is wounded and defeated at the Battle of Wörth. After a short convalescence at Sedan, he is appointed head of the army of the French Third Republic, which defeats the Paris Commune revolt in May 1871.

When Adolphe Thiers resigns as president of the republic on May 24, 1873, French rightists turn to MacMahon as his successor. He is elected president the same day. On November 20, 1873, the National Assembly passes the Law of the Septennate, conferring upon him presidential power for seven years. He assumes his presidential duties somewhat reluctantly, for he dislikes publicity and lacks an understanding of the complex political issues of his day.

During MacMahon’s term the French Constitutional Laws of 1875 are promulgated. The National Assembly dissolves itself, and the elections of 1876 returns a large majority of republicans to the new chamber. The first crisis comes in December 1876, when the republican chamber compels him to invite the moderate republican Jules Simon to form a government. The conservative Senate disapproves of Simon because he had purged some rightist officials, and, on May 16, 1877, MacMahon posts a letter to Simon that is tantamount to dismissal. Premier Simon’s resignation precipitates the crise du seize mai. When MacMahon commissions conservative Albert de Broglie to form a ministry and wins the Senate’s assent to dissolve the chamber on June 25, 1877, the question of whether the President or Parliament would control the government is squarely posed.

The new elections to the chamber return a majority of republicans, and the de Broglie ministry is given a vote of “no confidence.” The succeeding ministry, headed by Gaëtan de Rochebouët, also collapses. By December 13, 1877, MacMahon gives in to the extent of accepting a ministry led by conservative republican Jules Dufaure and composed mostly of republicans. On January 5, 1879, the republicans gain a majority in the Senate, and MacMahon resigns on January 30. The constitutional crisis during his presidency is resolved in favour of parliamentary as against presidential control, and thereafter during the Third Republic the office of president becomes largely an honorific post.

From 1887 to 1893, MacMahon directs the Société de secours aux blessés militaires (S.S.B.M) – Rescue Society of Wounded Military, which in 1940 becomes the French Red Cross.

MacMahon dies on October 17, 1893, at the Château de la Forêt at Montcresson, after having written his memoirs. He is buried on October 22 at the Hôtel des Invalides after a state funeral and a religious mass at La Madeleine, Paris.