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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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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.


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The Battle of Blenheim

battle-of-blenheimThe Irish Brigade of France fights at the Battle of Blenheim, a major battle of the War of the Spanish Succession, on August 13, 1704. The overwhelming Allied victory ensures the safety of Vienna from the Franco-Bavarian army, thus preventing the collapse of the Grand Alliance.

Louis XIV of France seeks to knock Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, out of the war by seizing Vienna, the Habsburg capital, and gain a favourable peace settlement. The dangers to Vienna are considerable as Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria and Marshal of France Ferdinand de Marsin‘s forces in Bavaria threaten from the west and Marshal Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme‘s large army in northern Italy poses a serious danger with a potential offensive through the Brenner Pass. Vienna is also under pressure from Francis II Rákóczi‘s Hungarian revolt from its eastern approaches. Realising the danger, the John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough resolves to alleviate the peril to Vienna by marching his forces south from Bedburg and help maintain Emperor Leopold within the Grand Alliance.

A combination of deception and skilled administration, designed to conceal his true destination from friend and foe alike, enables Marlborough to march 250 miles unhindered from the Low Countries to the River Danube in five weeks. After securing Donauwörth on the Danube, Marlborough seeks to engage the Elector’s and Marsin’s army before Marshal Camille d’Hostun, duc de Tallard can bring reinforcements through the Black Forest. However, with the Franco-Bavarian commanders reluctant to fight until their numbers are deemed sufficient, the Duke enacts a policy of plundering in Bavaria designed to force the issue. The tactic proves unsuccessful, but when Tallard arrives to bolster the Elector’s army, and Prince Eugene of Savoy arrives with reinforcements for the Allies, the two armies finally meet on the banks of the Danube in and around the small village of Blindheim, from which the English “Blenheim” is derived.

Blenheim is one of the battles that alters the course of the war, which until then was leaning for Louis’ coalition, and ends French plans of knocking the Emperor out of the war. France suffers as many as 38,000 casualties including the commander-in-chief, Marshal Tallard, who is taken captive to England. Before the 1704 campaign ends, the Allies have taken Landau, and the towns of Trier and Traben-Trarbach on the Moselle in preparation for the following year’s campaign into France itself. The offensive never materialises as the Grand Alliance’s army has to depart the Moselle to defend Liège from a French counteroffensive. The war would rage on for another decade.

(Pictured: The Duke of Marlborough Signing the Despatch at Blenheim. Oil by Robert Alexander Hillingford)