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


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The Battle of Fontenoy

battle-of-fontenoyThe Irish Brigade of France, a brigade in the French Royal Army composed of Irish exiles most commonly identified in Irish history as The Wild Geese, achieve its most glorious victory at the Battle of Fontenoy on May 11, 1745 during the War of the Austrian Succession.

The battle takes place in the Belgian municipality of Antoing, near Tournai. A French army of 50,000 commanded by Marshal Maurice de Saxe defeats a slightly larger Pragmatic Army of 52,000 consisting of the Dutch Republic, Great Britain, Hanover and the Holy Roman Empire, led by Prince William, Duke of Cumberland. The Irish Brigade is led by Justin McCarthy, Viscount Mountcashel and is comprised of six regiments.

Despite setbacks elsewhere, at the end of 1744 the French hold the initiative in the Austrian Netherlands, and their leaders consider this theatre offers the best opportunity for a decisive victory. In late April, they besiege Tournai, which controls access to the upper Scheldt basin, which makes it a vital link in the North European trading network and the Allies march to its relief.

Leaving 22,000 men in front of Tournai, Saxe places his main force five miles away in the villages of St. Antoine, Vezin and Fontenoy, along a naturally strong feature which he strengthens with defensive works. After a series of unsuccessful flank assaults, the Allies attack the French centre with a column of 15,000 men.

Colonel Arthur Dillon‘s regiment, which had already been badly shot up earlier in the fight, along with the brigade’s other five, charge the British as they seem on the verge of breaking the French line. Fifty years of Irish frustration and British betrayal now come back to haunt the British. As the men of the Irish Brigade close through a hail of British bullets, their shouts are heard above the din: “Cuimhnígí ar Luimneach agus ar fheall na Sasanach!” (Remember Limerick and the Saxon Faith).

Nothing can withstand the wave of hatred and revenge that breaks on the hapless British line that day. The victory is won but the cost is high. Colonel Dillon is dead and Lord Clare is wounded twice. The brigade suffers 656 casualties in all, the highest percentage of all the French units.

Although the Allies retreat in good order, Tournai falls shortly afterwards, followed by Ghent, Oudenaarde, Bruges and Dendermonde. The withdrawal of British forces in October to deal with the Jacobite Rising facilitates the capture of Ostend and Nieuwpoort. By the end of 1745, France controls much of the Austrian Netherlands, threatening British links with Europe.

However, by early 1746, France is struggling to finance the war and begins peace talks at the Congress of Breda in May. Despite victories at Rocoux in October 1746 and Lauffeld in July 1747, the war continues until the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.

It is a day never to be forgotten by the Irish worldwide. At Manassas, Virginia, 116 years later, Thomas Francis Meagher cries out to the 69th New York, another regiment of Irishmen, “Remember Fontenoy!”

(Pictured: The Irish Brigade, presenting a captured British colour to Louis XV and the Dauphin)


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Birth of Thomas Arthur, comte de Lally, baron de Tollendal

thomas-arthur-lallyThomas Arthur, comte de Lally, baron de Tollendal, French General of Irish Jacobite ancestry, is born on January 13, 1702. Lally commands French forces in India during the Seven Years’ War, including two battalions of his own red-coated Regiment of Lally of the Irish Brigade.

Lally is born at Romans-sur-Isère, Dauphiné, the son of Sir Gerald Lally, one of the original “Wild Geese” of 1691 and an Irish Jacobite from Tuam, County Galway, who married a French lady of noble family. His title is derived from the Lally’s ancestral home, Castel Tullendally in County Galway where the Lally’s, originally called O’Mullallys, are prominent members of the Gaelic Aristocracy who can trace their ancestry back to the second century High King of Ireland, Conn of the Hundred Battles.

Entering the French army in 1721 he serves in the war of 1734 against Austria. He is present at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, and commands the regiment de Lally in the famous Irish brigade in the Battle of Fontenoy in May 1745. He is made a brigadier on the field by Louis XV of France.

Lally is a staunch Jacobite and in 1745 accompanies Charles Edward Stuart to Scotland, serving as aide-de-camp at the Battle of Falkirk Muir in January 1746. Escaping to France, he serves with Marshal Maurice de Saxe in the Low Countries. At the Siege of Maastricht in 1748 he is made a maréchal de camp.

When war breaks out with Britain in 1756 Lally is appointed governor-general of French India and commands a French expedition to India, made up of four battalions, two of whom are from his own Regiment of Lally of the Irish Brigade. He reaches Pondicherry in April 1758, and within six weeks has pushed the British back from the coast to Madras, the headquarters of the British East India Company.

He is a man of courage and a capable general, but his pride and ferocity make him unpopular with his officers and men. He is unsuccessful in an attack on Tanjore, and as he lacks French naval support he has to retire from the Siege of Madras in 1758, owing to the timely arrival of the British fleet. He is defeated by Sir Eyre Coote at the Battle of Wandiwash in 1760, and besieged in Pondicherry, where he is forced to capitulate in 1761.

Lally is sent to England as a prisoner of war. Public opinion in France is very hostile, blaming him for the defeat by the British, and there are widespread calls for Lally to be put on trial. While in London, he hears that he is accused of treason in France, and insists, against advice, on returning on parole to stand trial. He is kept prisoner for nearly two years before the trial begins in 1764. When the Advocate General of the Paris Parlement Joseph Omer Joly de Fleury begins the prosecution, Lally has not received any documentation of the charges and is not allowed a defence lawyer. Throughout the trial, which lasts for two years, Lally fights against Joly de Fleury’s charges but on May 6, 1766 he is convicted and sentenced to death.

Lally makes an unsuccessful attempt at suicide in prison after his sentencing. On May 9, 1766, three days after his conviction, he is gagged to prevent him from protesting his innocence further and is transported in a garbage cart to the Place de Grève to be beheaded. The executioner’s first blow only slices open his skull and it takes a second blow to kill him.


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Birth of Patrick d’Arcy, Scientist & Soldier

patrick-darcyPatrick d’Arcy, scientist and soldier in the Irish Brigade of France, is born in Kitulla, County Galway, on September 27, 1725.

The d’Arcy family, who are Catholics, suffer under the Penal Laws. In 1739 d’Arcy is sent to Paris for his education. He is tutored in mathematics by Jean-Baptiste Clairaut, and becomes a friend of Jean-Baptiste’s son, Alexis-Claude Clairaut, who is a brilliant young mathematician. d’Arcy makes original contributions to dynamics. He is best known for his part in the discovery of the principle of angular momentum, in a form which is known as “the principle of areas,” which he announces in 1746.

Perhaps seeking more adventure than an academic life can provide, d’Arcy enlists in the French army. He fights in Germany in the regiment of Condé, and serves as an aide-de-camp to Marshal Saxe at the Battle of Fontenoy. He obtains the title of “Count” in the French nobility and is a generous patron of Irish refugees in France. He sails for Scotland in 1745, attempting to fight in “Bonnie” Prince Charlie‘s rising, but his ship is captured and he is taken prisoner.

After his release, d’Arcy returns to France where he continues both his scientific and military careers. In addition to his contributions to dynamics, he performs research on artillery and electricity. One of his experiments on visual perception, reported in 1765, is often referenced. It involves a rotating disk on which a burning coal ember is placed. When the disk is spun at an angular velocity exceeding seven revolutions per second, a full circle of light is perceived. This and other experiments make d’Arcy the first person to demonstrate the illusion of a moving image, although Joseph Plateau greatly elaborates on this initial finding.

Patrick d’Arcy is elected to the Academie Royale des Sciences in 1749. He died from cholera in Paris on October 18, 1779.