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


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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)


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Death of Thomas Butler, 6th Earl of Ossory

Vice Admiral Thomas Butler, 6th Earl of Ossory, KG, PC, PC (Ire), Irish soldier and politician, dies in London on July 30, 1680.

Thomas is born on July 8, 1634 at Kilkenny Castle, the eldest son and one of ten siblings of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond and his wife Elizabeth Preston. His father is then the 12th Earl of Ormond but would be raised to marquess and duke. His family, the Butler dynasty, is Old English and descends from Theobald Walter, who had been appointed Chief Butler of Ireland by Henry II of England in 1177. His mother is a second cousin once removed of his father as she is a granddaughter of Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormond. Her father, however, is Scottish, Richard Preston, 1st Earl of Desmond, a favourite of James I. Both parents are Protestants.

As the eldest living son, he is the heir apparent and is styled with the corresponding courtesy title, which at first is Viscount Thurles but changed to Earl of Ossory when his father becomes marquess in 1642. His early years are spent in Ireland until 1647 when he accompanies his father to England. In 1648 his father renews his support for the royalist cause and he and his son have to flee to France, arriving in Caen in February 1648. Lady Ormond also moves to Caen, where she arrives on June 23, 1648 with his siblings.

Butler is an accomplished athlete and a good scholar. Having come to London in 1652 he is rightly suspected of sympathising with the exiled royalists, and in 1655 is jailed by Oliver Cromwell. After his release about a year later he goes into exile to the Netherlands where Charles II has his exile court at the time.

On November 17, 1659, while in exile, Butler marries Emilia van Nassau, the second daughter of Louis of Nassau, Lord of De Lek and Beverweerd. They have eleven children.

Butler accompanies Charles II back to England in 1660. In 1661 he becomes a member of both the English and the Irish houses of commons, representing in the former Bristol and Dublin University in the latter.

In 1662 Butler is called to the Irish House of Lords under a writ of acceleration as the Earl of Ossory. His father holds the title “5th Earl of Ossory” as one of his subsidiary titles. The acceleration makes Thomas Butler the 6th Earl of Ossory. This is the only substantive title he ever holds, as he predeceases his father and therefore never succeeds to his father’s titles.

Butler holds several military appointments including lieutenant-general of the army in Ireland, created an English peer as Lord Butler in 1666, and Lord of the Bedchamber to Charles II (appointed in 1660 and held until his death).

In 1665 a fortunate accident allows Butler to take part in the Battle of Lowestoft against the Dutch, and in May 1672, being now in command of a ship, he fights against the same enemies in the Battle of Solebay, serving with great distinction on both occasions. While visiting France in 1672 he rejects the liberal offers made by Louis XIV to induce him to enter the service of France, and returning to England he adds to his high reputation by his conduct during the Battle of Texel in August 1673. From 1677 until 1679, he serves alongside his father as a Lord of the Admiralty.

Butler is intimate with William II, Prince of Orange, and in 1677 he joins the allied army in the Netherlands, commanding the British contingent and winning great fame at the siege of Mons in 1678. He acts as deputy for his father, who is Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1680 he is appointed governor of English Tangier, but his death prevents him from taking up his new duties.

Butler dies on July 30, 1680 at Arlington House in London. He is buried provisionally in Westminster Abbey on July 31, 1680. The ceremony of burial is performed belatedly on November 13, 1680. Some say his body is later taken to Ireland and reburied in the family vault in St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. James, his eldest son, succeeds him as the 7th Earl of Ossory and becomes the 2nd Duke of Ormond in 1688.

(Pictured: “Thomas Butler, Earl of Ossory,” painting by Peter Lely, circa 1678, Source: National Portrait Gallery)


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The Battle of Cremona

The Irish Brigade of France adds to its growing reputation as elements of the Brigade fight at the Battle of Cremona on February 1, 1702 during the War of the Spanish Succession between a French force under François de Neufville, duc de Villeroy, and an Imperial/Austrian army led by Prince Eugene of Savoy.

The Duchies of Milan and Mantua are strategically important as the key to southern Austria. The French take possession of both in early 1701 but Emperor Leopold then sends Prince Eugene to recapture them. He is an extremely capable general who easily out manoeuvres his French counterparts, winning battles at Carpi and Chieri, after which his army takes up winter quarters in the pro-French Duchy of Mantua. Lack of funds and supplies from Vienna means Eugene has to improvise; since campaigning in the winter months is not usually done, he hopes to take the French by surprise.

Eugene has a contact inside Cremona, a priest named Cuzzoli. On the night of January 31, 1702, he admits a party of Imperial grenadiers by means of a hidden culvert and they seize control of the St. Margaret Gate. Once open, approximately 4,000 troops led by Prince Eugene in person take the French by surprise, many being killed as they emerge from their barracks, and François de Neufville captured in his quarters.

A second and larger force under Charles Thomas, Prince of Vaudémont intends to storm the Po gate and the Citadel but is late in arriving. This gives the garrison time to destroy a vital bridge and prepare, the assault being repulsed by two units of the Irish Brigade, the Régiment de Dillon and the Régiment de Bourke. The defenders now regroup and counter-attack. With daylight and a French relief force arriving, Prince Eugene orders his troops to withdraw, the Austrians having suffered an estimated 1,600 casualties, the French around 1,100.

The two Irish units lose an estimated 350 out of 600 men engaged. Their commander, Major Daniel O’Mahoney, is later presented to Louis XIV and knighted by the Stuart exile James III. He goes on to have a distinguished career, fighting in Spain and Sicily. He ends as a Lieutenant-General and dies in Ocaña, Spain in 1714.

François de Neufville is soon released but his capture is commemorated in verse; Par la faveur de Bellone, et par un bonheur sans égal, nous avons conservé Crémone et perdu notre général (By the favour of Bellone, and a happiness without equal, we saved Crémone and lost our general).

The battle is also commemorated as a march entitled ‘The Battle of Cremona’ later used in the Irish Brigade.


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The Battle of Castelfidardo

Elements of the St. Patrick’s Battalion of the Papal army fight in the Battle of Castelfidardo on September 18, 1860.

The battle takes place at Castelfidardo, a small town in the Marche region of Italy. It is fought between the Sardinian army, acting as the driving force in the war for Italian unification, against the Papal States.

On September 7, Camillo Benso, Prime Minister of Piedmont, sends an ultimatum to the Pope Pius IX demanding that he dismiss his foreign troops. When he fails to do this, 35,000 troops cross the border on September 11, with General Enrico Cialdini advancing along the Adriatic coast and General Enrico Morozzo Della Rocca leading another troop across Umbria. Papal troops are caught by surprise and thrown into confusion. Some of the Papal troops surrender the same day and some retreat to Ancona, which falls on September 29, 1860 after a short siege.

As a result of this battle, the Marches and Umbria enter in the Kingdom of Italy and the extent of the Papal States is reduced to the area of what is today known as Lazio.

The battle is remembered for being bloody and for the highly disparate numbers of troops — less than 10,000 papal soldiers to 39,000 Sardinians. The papal army is composed of volunteers from many European countries, amongst whom the French and Belgian nationals constitute a Franco-Belgian battalion. Among the French volunteers are a notable number of nobles from western France. After the battle, while consulting the list of dead and wounded members of the papal army, the Sardinian general Cialdini is reported to say in an example of rather black humor, “You would think this was a list of invites for a ball given by Louis XIV!”

The Franco-Belgian, Austrian and Irish battalions later join the Papal Zouaves corps, an infantry regiment of international composition that pledges to aid Pope Pius IX in the protection of the Papacy for the remainder of the Italian unificationist Risorgimento. The battle is commemorated by the Italian ironclad Castelfidardo, built in the 1860s and the 26th Bersaglieri Battalion “Castelfidardo.”