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


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Birth of John MacKenna, Chilean Military Officer

Brigadier John (Juan) Mackenna, Chilean military officer and hero of the Chilean War of Independence, is born in Monaghan, County Monaghan on October 26, 1771. He is considered to be the creator of the Corps of Military Engineers of the Chilean Army.

He is born John MacKenna, the son of William MacKenna of Willville House near Monaghan and Eleanora O’Reilly and, on his mother’s side, a nephew to Count Alejandro O’Reilly. Count O’Reilly takes an interest in the young Mackenna and takes him to Spain where he studies at the Royal School of Mathematics in Barcelona. He also trains in the Royal Military Academy as a Military Engineer between 1785 and 1791.

In 1787 Mackenna is accepted into the Irish Brigade of the Spanish Army, and joins the army fighting in Ceuta in northern Africa, under Lieutenant Colonel Luis Urbina, and is promoted to Second Lieutenant. In 1791 he resumes his studies in Barcelona and acts as liaison with mercenaries recruited in Europe. The following year he is promoted to Lieutenant in the Royal Regiment of Engineers. In the War of the Pyrenees against the French, he fights in Rosselló under General Ricardos and there meets the future liberator of Argentina, José de San Martín. For his exploits in defence of the Plaza de Rozas, he is promoted to captain in 1795.

For the purpose of a new assignment, in October 1796, Mackenna leaves Spain for South America. He arrives in Buenos Aires and then travels to Mendoza and to Chile across the Andes and then to Peru. Once in Lima, he contacts Ambrosio O’Higgins, another Irishman, at that time Viceroy of Perú, who names him Governor of Osorno and puts him in charge of the reconstruction works for the southern Chilean town.

In this capacity, Mackenna convinces the families of Castro, on Chiloé Island, to move to Osorno to found a colony there. He builds the storehouse and two mills, as well as the road between Osorno and present-day Puerto Montt. His successful administration provokes jealousy from Chile’s captain-general Gabriel de Avilés, who fears that Mackenna and Ambrosio O’Higgins will create an Irish colony in Osorno. Both Irishmen are loyal to the Spanish crown, though Mackenna has good relations with O’Higgins’ son Bernardo, the future emancipator of Chile, and is also connected with the Venezuelan Francisco de Miranda and his group of supporters of South American independence. When Ambrosio O’Higgins dies in 1801, Avilés is appointed viceroy of Peru. It takes him eight years to remove Mackenna, O’Higgins’s protégé, from Osorno.

In 1809 Mackenna marries Josefina Vicuña y Larraín, an eighteen-year-old Chilean woman from a family with revolutionary connections, with whom he has three children. After the Declaration of Chilean Independence in 1810, he adheres to the Patriot side and is commissioned by the first Chilean government to prepare a plan for the defense of the country and oversees the equipment of the new Chilean Army. At this juncture he trains the first military engineers for the new army.

The following year Mackenna is called to the defence committee of the new Republic of Chile, and in 1811 is appointed governor of Valparaíso. Owing to political feuds with José Miguel Carrera and his brothers, he is dismissed from the post and taken prisoner. He is a firm ally of Bernardo O’Higgins, who appoints him as one of the key officers to fight the Spanish army of General José Antonio Pareja. His major military honour is attained in 1814 at the Battle of Membrillar, in which the general assures a temporary collapse of the royal forces.

As a reward for his victory, Mackenna is appointed commandant-general by Bernardo O’Higgins, but after a coup d’état led by Luis Carrera he is exiled to Argentina in 1814, when Carrera comes to power. Mackenna dies in Buenos Aires on November 21, 1814, following a duel with Carrera.

A bust of General Mackenna is publicly presented to Monaghan County Museum on August 5, 2004 by his direct descendant, Luis Valentín Ferrada. At the presentation ceremony, MacKenna, the man “unreservedly regarded as the greatest of County Monaghan’s exiles” is commemorated in speeches by Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Duffy, Bishop of Clogher and by his descendant Senor Ferrada who declares, “In this city of Monaghan, very near to Willville House, the tombs of my ancestors are in the old cemetery. There, my own blood is interred in the sacred earth.”


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Phillip O’Reilly Surrenders to the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland

settlement-of-ireland-1653The last major body of Irish Catholic troops under Phillip O’Reilly surrender to the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland at Cloughoughter in County Cavan on April 27, 1653. This marks the end of the Irish Confederate Wars which began in 1641.

Colonel Philip O’Reilly is a member of parliament (MP) for County Cavan in the Parliament of Ireland from 1639 to 1641, and a leading member of the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

O’Reilly’s father, grandfather and several other ancestors are chiefs of the O’Reilly clan and Lords of Breifne O’Reilly. His mother is Catherine MacMahon. He resides at Bellanacargy Castle in the barony of Tullygarvey, near to present day village of Drung. Bellanacargy castle, anciently referred to as Ballynacarraig because it was built on a carraig (rock island) situated in the middle of the River Annalee, is destroyed in May 1689 by Williamite forces led by Thomas Lloyd.

As a young man O’Reilly serves for some time in the Spanish army but returns to Ireland. He is appointed Commissioner of the Peace in 1625 and High Sheriff of Cavan in 1629. He is elected as MP for County Cavan in 1639.

During the Parliamentary session of 1640 O’Reilly is enlisted by Rory O’Moore in the plot to start a rebellion against English rule in Ireland. O’Moore is a distant relation as his sister Cecilia O’Moore is married to O’Reilly’s first cousin, Tirlagh O’Neill. On the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion in October 1641 he is elected chief of the O’Reillys. As a result, the Irish Parliament expels him on November 16, 1641. On November 6, 1641 he orders a general gathering of his clansmen from 16 to 60 years of age, to be held at Virginia, and on December 11, 1641 he has possession of the whole county, except the Killeshandra castles of Keelagh and Croghan which are defended by Sir Francis Hamilton and Sir James Craig. He raises a brigade of twelve hundred men, composed chiefly of his name and family, and serves with distinction as lieutenant-general in the service of the Confederate Catholics of Ireland. The Assembly of Kilkenny appoints him Lord President of Ulster. His second cousin Myles O’Reilly is High Sheriff of Cavan in 1641 at the outbreak of the Rebellion.

O’Reilly is detained for treason by the English government in 1642. In his diary for June 3, 1644, the historian Sir James Ware II states, “Intelligence came to Dublin that Roger Moore and Philip O’Reilly, two of the first incendiaries were committed to prison at Kilkenny.” O’Reilly is further denounced by the Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652 at the end of the rebellion. Following the collapse of the Irish confederacy, he formally surrenders to Oliver Cromwell at Cloughoughter Castle on April 27, 1653, being the last Irish garrison to do so. He secures favourable terms and is obliged to leave Ireland. He retires with his brigade into Spain and thence to the Netherlands, where he serves in the Spanish army for about two years and dies in 1655. He is buried in the Irish monastery of St. Dominick in Leuven, Belgium.


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Battle of Campo Santo

battle-of-campo-santoDuring the War of Austrian Succession, the Irish Brigade of Spain fights at the Battle of Campo Santo in Camposanto, Italy on February 8, 1743. The regiments of Ultonia, Irlanda, and Hibernia form the Irish Brigade fighting in Italy in a Spanish army, led by Gen. Jean Bonaventure Thierry du Mont, comte de Gages. The Spaniards and their Neapolitan allies are fought to a standstill by the Austrians and their Sardinian allies under Field Marshal Otto Ferdinand Graf von Abensperg und Traun on the Panaro.

In January 1743, General De Gages’ 13,000 strong Spanish army lay at Bologna, south of the Panaro. Count Traun’s Austrian and Piedmont-Sardinian army of 11,000 lay to the north of the river, blocking De Gages’ attempts to cross the formidable barrier. Traun prefers a maneuvering defense to risking his army in a pitched battle with his opponent, but concerns in Madrid are more political than strategic. Needing a victory, Philip V of Spain and his Queen Elisabeth Farnese demand that De Gages launch an offensive or tender his resignation. Accordingly, leaving Bologna on the night of February 3, De Gages slips across the Panaro and enters the Duchy of Modena, seeking a decisive encounter with Traun.

Fortunately for De Gages, Marshal Traun is ready to oblige him. Aware of the criticism leveled at him in Vienna where his enemies are trying to relieve him of his command, and also that Spain’s recent seizure of Savoy might well induce the King of Sardinia to negotiate with the Spanish Crown, the Marshal decides that a victory will quell the uproar and induce Austria’s allies to think twice about negotiating. Gathering up his army, Traun moves to block De Gages’ path and prevent him from advancing further into Modena. The two armies meet at the village of Camposanto.

On the morning of the battle, De Gages draws up his army on the outskirts of the village in the traditional fashion with his infantry in the center and the cavalry on the wings. Traun also draws up his army in the same manner, but being slightly outnumbered, he chooses to gamble with an unorthodox strategy. Instead of aligning himself directly opposite the Spaniards, he shifts his troops to the northwest, which means that the center of Traun’s infantry is directly opposite the gap between Gages’ infantry and the right wing of cavalry. Although this means that Traun would have a greater superiority of numbers on this wing and that he could also deliver a flank attack on the Spanish right, his own right flank would, however, be vulnerable to a Spanish flank attack. Marshall is relying on the troops of that wing to delay the Spanish long enough for the action on his other wing to be decisive.

Matters are helped when De Gages chooses 4:00 in the afternoon to launch the attack, which leaves only a few hours of daylight for a battle. The Spanish are initially successful on both wings, where their cavalry drives off the Austro-Piedmontese cavalry, wounding Count Aspremont in the process and leaving the Austrian infantry vulnerable. However instead of reforming to attack the infantry, the Spanish chase them off the field. Traun stabilises his left flank, and leads his infantry into the attack against the Spanish. Meanwhile, Count Schulenberg regroups the Austrian cavalry on the Austrian right, and launches a counterattack against the Spanish cavalry. On the other flank Aspremont’s replacement, General Leutrum, leads his wing forward as well, smashing the Spanish right wing. Due to darkness it is necessary for both armies to withdraw the field. The Spanish back across the Panaro towards Bologna. Due to the smoke and darkness, many units lose their way. The 1st Guadalaxara marches in the direction of the advancing austro-sardian infantry columns, and it has to surrender after a short defence inside the walls of a farm.

Casualties in the battle are 1,755 dead, 1,307 wounded and 824 prisoners for the Spanish, while the Austro-Piedmontese lose 397 dead and 1,153 wounded or prisoners. Traun himself has two horses shot from under him during the battle.

De Gages retreats to Bologna but on March 26 he is also forced to retreat to Rimini. Despite this, the battle is widely considered a victory in Madrid, and de Gages is awarded a victory title, Count of Campo Santo. Following the battle, France promises support and co-operation with the Spanish, but for the moment Traun has saved North Italy for Maria Theresa.

Once again hundreds of Irishmen die many miles from home for “every cause but their own.”