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


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Birth of Morgan O’Connell, Soldier & Politician

Morgan O’Connell, soldier, politician and son of the Irish Nationalist leader Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator of Ireland, is born in Dublin on October 31, 1804. He serves in the Irish South American legion and the Imperial Austrian Army. He is MP for Meath from 1832 until 1840 and afterwards assistant-registrar of deeds for Ireland from 1840 until 1868.

O’Connell, one of seven children (and the second of four sons) of Daniel and Mary O’Connell, is born at 30 Merrion Square, Dublin. His brothers Maurice, John and Daniel are also MPs.

In 1819, self-styled General John Devereux comes to Dublin to enlist military aid for Simón Bolívar‘s army to liberate Venezuela from Spanish rule. He succeeds in forming an Irish Legion, to be part of Bolivar’s British Legions. O’Connell, encouraged by his father, is one of the officers who purchases a commission in it even though he is only 15 years old. The enterprise is mismanaged; there is no commissariat organisation on board the ships, and a part of the force die on the voyage. The remainder are disembarked on the Spanish Main at Margarita Island, where many deaths take place from starvation eight days after the Irish mutineers leave for Jamaica.

Bolivar, who had noted his pleasure at the departure of “these vile mercenaries,” is too astute a diplomat to offend the son of his Irish counterpart. O’Connell is accorded the appropriate privileges of his rank, and toasts are drunk to the health of his father, the “most enlightened man in all Europe.” A portion of the expedition, under Francis O’ Connor, effects an alliance with Bolivar, and to the energy of these allies the republican successes are chiefly due.

Bolivar makes sure that the untrained Irish lad stays out of danger. “I have numberless hardships to go through,” said Bolivar, “which I would not bring him into, for the character of his father is well known to me.” But ceremonial duties soon bore the restless young Irishman. After a year at Bolivar’s headquarters Morgan leaves for Ireland.

If South America did not satisfy O’Connell’s taste for adventure, he has more than his fill on the return journey. He survives a bout of tropical fever and is shipwrecked twice in succession, ending up stranded in Cuba. A schooner captain, who turns out to be a long-lost Irish cousin, rescues him. After the captain is killed in a fight with his boatswain, he hitches a ride to Jamaica on a Danish ship commanded by a skipper from Cork. From Jamaica, another Irish officer offers Morgan passage home.

Arriving in January 1822, O’Connell is greeted by his proud father as a prodigal son returned. His South American adventure, declares Daniel O’Connell, has made a man of Morgan. Otherwise, said O’Connell, “it would have been difficult to tame him down to the sobriety of business.” After his return to Ireland, he again seeks foreign service in the Austrian army.

On December 19, 1832 O’Connell enters parliament in the Liberal interest, as one of the members for Meath, and continues to represent that constituency until January 1840, when he is appointed first assistant-registrar of deeds for Ireland, at a salary of £1,200 a year, a position he holds until 1868. In politics he is never in perfect accord with his father, and his retirement from parliament is probably caused by his inability to accept the Repeal movement.

During his parliamentary career O’Connell fights a duel with Lord William Arden, 2nd Baron Alvanley, a captain in the British Army, at Chalk Farm, on May 4, 1835. A challenge had been sent by Alvanley to O’Connell’s father, who, in accordance with a vow he had made after shooting John D’Esterre, declines the meeting. The younger O’Connell thereupon takes up the challenge on his father’s account. Two shots each are exchanged, but no one is hurt. Afterwards, in December 1835, he receives a challenge from Benjamin Disraeli, in consequence of an attack made on Disraeli by O’Connell’s father. He declines to meet Disraeli.

On July 23, 1840, O’Connell marries Kate Mary, youngest daughter of Michael Balfe of South Park, County Roscommon.

Morgan O’Connell dies at 12 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, on January 20, 1885. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin on January 23.

(Pictured: Morgan O’Connell, oil on canvas, artist unknown, c. 1819/20)


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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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Death of General Daniel Florence O’Leary

daniel-florence-olearyDaniel Florence O’Leary (Irish: Dónall Fínín Ó Laoghaire), a military general and aide-de-camp under Simón Bolívar, dies in Bogotá, Colombia on February 24, 1854.

O’Leary is born around 1800 in Cork, County Cork. His father is Jeremiah O’Leary, a butter merchant. Little is known of his early life.

In 1817, O’Leary travels to London to enlist in a regiment being formed by Henry Wilson. Wilson is recruiting officers and NCOs to go to South America and form a Hussar regiment in service to Simón Bolívar, who goes on to liberate much of South America from Spanish rule.

O’Leary sails for Venezuela with Wilson near the end of 1817, arriving in March 1818. Unlike many of the Irish who fight for Simón Bolívar in his many campaigns to win South American independence, he has not served in the Napoleonic Wars. He first meets Bolívar away from the front shortly his arrival and Bolívar is apparently impressed with the young Irish officer.

In March 1819, O’Leary sees his first action and is promoted to captain. In July, after Bolívar’s famous crossing through the Casanare Swamps and over the Andes, he receives a saber wound in the battle of Pantano de Vargas but he quickly recovers and takes part in the Battle of Boyacá on August 9. Shortly after this, he becomes aide-de-camp to Bolívar. Two years later, after much more fighting, Venezuela is freed.

During the next few years, as the fight continues to free the rest of South American from Spanish domination, O’Leary performs many dangerous missions for “The Liberator,” rising ever higher in his esteem. He continues to serve Bolívar well through the political and military intrigues that follow the freeing of South America from the Spanish.

After Bolívar’s death in December 1830, O’Leary disobeys orders to burn the general’s personal documents and is exiled to Jamaica by the new Venezuelan government. There he writes extensive memoirs that are later edited by his son, Simon Bolivar O’Leary, and published in the 1870s and 1880s. Simon is the eldest of six children O’Leary has with his South American wife. He also writes his own very extensive memoirs, spanning thirty-four volumes, of his time fighting in the revolutionary wars with Bolívar.

In 1833, O’Leary is able to return to Venezuela. He holds a number of diplomatic posts for the Venezuelan government for the next 20 years, and on at least two occasions is able to visit his boyhood home of Cork.

Daniel O’Leary dies in Bogotá on February 24, 1854. The Venezuelans name a plaza after him in Caracas. In 1882, they obtain permission to take O’Leary’s body from Bogotá to Caracas, where it is laid to rest in the National Pantheon of Venezuela to lie forever in death next to the man he had served so faithfully in life, Don Simón Bolívar. A bust and plaque honouring O’Leary are presented by the Venezuelan Government to the people of Cork and unveiled on May 12, 2010 by the Venezuelan Ambassador to Ireland, Dr. Samuel Moncada.