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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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Death of Justin McCarthy, Jacobite General

justin-mccarthy-lord-mountcashelJustin MacCarthy, Viscount Mountcashel, a Jacobite general in the Williamite War in Ireland and a personal friend of James II of England, dies in France of complications from previous battle wounds on July 1, 1694.

McCarthy, born about 1643, is the younger son of Donough MacCarty, 1st Earl of Clancarty, head of the MacCarthy of Muskerry dynasty who holds extensive lands in the former Kingdom of Desmond. His mother is Lady Eleanor Butler, sister of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde. The family has their property confiscated under Oliver Cromwell‘s regime, but it is restored to them at the Restoration of Charles II of England. McCarthy is made Viscount Mount Cashel with the subsidiary title of Baron Castleinch on May 1, 1689 and becomes a Lieutenant-General.

McCarthy becomes a professional soldier and shows great skill in his profession, but poor eyesight hampers his career. He enters the French army in 1671 and then transfers to James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth‘s regiment, then in French pay, and serves against the Dutch.

McCarthy comes to England in 1678 and is befriended by the future James II, who generally chooses soldiers, especially Irish soldiers, as his boon companions. Charles II decides to use his services in Ireland and makes him a colonel in Sir Thomas Dongan‘s regiment. On the outbreak of the Popish Plot, however, the discovery of McCarthy’s presence at Whitehall causes uproar. He flees the country and the Secretary of State for the Northern Department, Sir Joseph Williamson, who had issued his commission, is sent to the Tower of London.

Under the Catholic King James II, McCarthy becomes both Major General and a member of the Privy Council of Ireland. He quarrels with the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, and probably intrigues to secure his recall.

In 1689 McCarthy takes Castlemartyr and Bandon for James. At Bandon there is a massacre called “Black Monday,” but he persuades the King to issue a general pardon to his defeated opponents. He meets James at his landing at Kinsale, and is commanded to raise seven regiments. He sits in the Irish House of Lords in the Parliament of Ireland of 1689.

With 3,000 men McCarthy advances from Dublin towards Enniskillen, which with Derry is the remaining resistance to James II. He is met by 2,000 Protestant “Inniskillingers” at the Battle of Newtownbutler on July 31, 1689. His forces are routed, he is wounded and then captured. Allowed out on parole he breaks parole and escapes to Dublin. Frederick Schomberg, 1st Duke of Schomberg, remarks that he had thought McCarthy was a man of honour, but on the other hand he expected no better from an Irishman.

McCarthy goes into exile in France and commands the first Irish Brigade of Louis XIV. His later career is hampered by his near-blindness. He dies at Barèges on July 1, 1694 and is buried there.


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Death of Justin McCarthy, Novelist & Politician

justin-mccarthyJustin McCarthy, Irish nationalist and Liberal historian, novelist and politician, dies on April 24, 1912. He is a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1879 to 1900, taking his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

McCarthy is born in Cork, County Cork on November 22, 1830, and is educated there. He begins his career as a journalist at the age of 18 in Cork. From 1853 to 1859 he is in Liverpool, on the staff of the Northern Daily Times. In March 1855, he marries Charlotte Ailman. In 1860 he moves to London, as parliamentary reporter to the Morning Star, of which he becomes editor in 1864. He gives up his post in 1868 and, after a lecturing tour in the United States, joins the staff of The Daily News as leader-writer in 1870. In this capacity he becomes one of the most useful and respected upholders of the liberal politics of the time. He lectures again in America in 1870–71 and in 1886–87.

McCarthy is first elected to Parliament at a by-election on April 4, 1879, when he is returned unopposed as a Home Rule League MP for County Longford. He is re-elected unopposed as a Parnellite Home Ruler in 1880, and when the two-seat Longford constituency is split into two divisions under the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885, he is elected as an Irish Parliamentary Party member for the new single-seat Northern division of Longford. His sole opponent, a Conservative, wins only 6% of the votes.

At the 1886 general election, he is returned unopposed in North Longford, but also stands in Londonderry City, where he is declared the loser to the Irish Unionist Alliance candidate by the narrow margin of 1778 votes to 1781. However, the result is later overturned on petition and McCarthy opts to sit for Derry City. During the divorce controversy surrounding Charles Stewart Parnell in November 1890, the British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone expresses a warning, given to McCarthy as intermediary, that if Parnell retains leadership of the Irish Parliamentary Party it will mean the loss of the next election, the end of their alliance and Home Rule. When the annual party leadership election meeting is called later that month, the threat is somehow not conveyed to the members, who re-elect Parnell leader of the Party.

After a further historical meeting of the Irish Party MPs in early December, Parnell refuses to retire and the Party divides. McCarthy becomes chairman of the Anti-Parnellite group, the Irish National Federation, for a year in 1891–1892. His nationalism is of a temperate and orderly kind, and though his personal distinction singles him out for the chairmanship during the party dissensions of this period, he is in no active sense the political leader.

At the 1892 general election, McCarthy again stands both in North Longford and in Derry City. In each seat there is a two-way contest between the Anti-Parnellite McCarthy and a Unionist candidate, but the narrow Unionist victory in Derry is not overturned, and McCarthy sits for North Longford, where he wins over 93% of the votes. He is returned unopposed for North Longford in 1895 general election, and stands down from Parliament at the 1900 general election.

It is claimed that McCarthy’s true vocation is literature. His earliest publications are novels, some of which, such as A Fair Saxon (1873), Dear Lady Disdain (1875), Miss Misanthrope (1878), and Donna Quixote (1879), attain considerable popularity. His most important work is his History of Our Own Times, which treats of the period between Queen Victoria‘s accession and her Diamond Jubilee. He begins a History of the Four Georges (1884–1901) and the latter half is written by his son, Justin Huntly McCarthy.

Justin McCarthy dies at the age of 81 in Folkestone, Kent, England on April 24, 1912.