Service in Foreign Armies
fter Cromwell's assault on Ireland in 1649 many able men of fighting age left for Europe to serve as mercenaries in the armies of France, Spain, Austria and Russia. Several thousand more Irish men were added to the European armies after the Treaty of Limerick in 1691.
Because of their renown for valour they were much sought after on the Continent. Spain accorded them equal rights to Spanish citizens and many with the blood of the chieftains in their veins were accepted into the Spanish nobility. The Irish Brigade covered itself with glory over the following years in many of the battlefields of Europe - Namur, Steenkirk, Staffardo, Ramillies, Blenheim, Landen and more. Their bold enterprises were celebrated in song and story in Ireland for generations.
The Surprise Of Cremona
In February 1702, MacAuliffe fighting men earned distinction and a place in history when they took part in an event which ranks with the defence of the Pass of Thermopylae by the Greeks or the heroic stand of Horatius at the Tiber Bridge as one of the most daring deeds in history.
All through the winter the walled city of Cremona, in what is now Italy, had been in the hands of the French and as the winter was drawing to a close they had become lax, thinking that their foe, the Austrians, were still in winter quarters. In a surprise dawn attack, after a German spy had opened a gate, the Austrians succeeded in entering the city with a force about equal in number to the defending garrison. By mid-morning the attackers had taken all the city gates except two which were still held by a handful of Irishmen from the regiments of Burke and Dillon - all together about six hundred men. So sure were the Germans and Austrians of victory that the German Prince Eugene had already set up his headquarters in the town hall. The Irish were called on to surrender but refused. Their tenacity and bravery in holding the gates inspired the French to rally and drive the Austrians out of the city.
Their triumph was hailed in France and Spain and when news of their deed reached Ireland it gave heart to their people bowed down under the harsh Penal Laws, and caused consternation to the English.
News, news, in Vienna! - King Leopold's sad.
News, news, in St. James, King William is mad.
News, news, in Versailles! - "Let the Irish Brigade
Be loyally honoured and royally paid."
News, news, in old Ireland! - high rises her pride,
And high rises her wail for her children who died;
And deep is her prayer; "God send I may see
Mac Donnell and Mahoney fighting for me."
Among those who received special mention in dispatches were two MacAuliffes - one a captain, the other a lieutenant in Burke's Regiment. Unfortunately their first names are not mentioned, and their pedigree is not known, so we must be content to know that two representatives of the clan were there at that stirring event in history known as "The Surprise of Cremona."
The Wild Geese
The Irish Brigade continued to serve for the next one hundred years, being continually recruited from Ireland. Despite it being made illegal under pain of death for able men, who might fight in foreign armies or train as priests, to travel overseas, hundreds of men were smuggled out under the noses of the English, the ships' logs showing them as "wild geese,' an approved export. The name stuck and the men of the Irish Brigade became known as the Wild Geese. The original meaning of the term applied to those who left Ireland to serve in European armies of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but eventually it took on a wider meaning and was applied to all those Irish who had established themselves in Europe. More latterly, some have applied the term to all who became part of the Irish diaspora.
The Battle of Fontenoy
As England was at war with France and Spain during this period, the men of the Irish Brigade, which included MacAuliffes, found themselves facing their English foes on the battlefield. In the service of Louis XIV, the Wild Geese helped the French to win many a victory over the English. Most memorable for the Irish was the battle fought at Fontenoy on 11th May 1745. The French had besieged Tournay and a strong force of English and Dutch troops under the Duke of Cumberland advanced to break the siege. Several attacks were beaten back by the French until the Duke placed his best regiments of veteran English soldiers in a single column with cannon at its head and flanks.
The French failed to halt this advance and the English assault looked like succeeding until the French commander brought up the Irish Brigade under Lord Clare, an O'Brien. Eager to face the English and urged on by the call " Cuimhnigidh ar Liumneac" ("Remember Limerick"), the Irish charged in with such ferocity that the English, stunned by the attack, broke and fled.
The Irish Brigade had saved the day and were personally thanked by King Louis. Exiled from their homeland and angered by the news of the harsh treatment being inflicted on their people at home after the English treachery of Limerick, the Irish fought with particular ferocity when they found themselves facing English forces. That feeling is portrayed in the following verse from a poem by Davis about the Battle of Fontenoy:-
"Lord Clare,' he says, 'you have your wish:
there are your Saxon foes!'
The Marshal almost smiles to see,
so furiously he goes!
How fierce the smile these exiles wear, who're
wont to look so gay;
The treasured wrongs of fifty years are
in their hearts today.
The treaty broken ere the ink wherewith
'twas writ could dry,
Their plundered homes, their ruined shrines,
their women's parting cry,
Their priesthood hunted down like wolves,
their country overthrown!
Each looks as if revenge for all were
staked on him alone.
On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, nor ever
Pushed on to fight a nobler band than those
proud exiles were."
It is ironic that only in the service of others were the Irish able to put aside historic tribal differences and unite against their common foe, the English - firstly in the army of Sarsfield raised in the service of James, and afterwards as the Irish Brigade in the service of France, and Irish regiments in the army of Spain. This irony must not have been lost on Sarsfield himself whose last words after being mortally wounded at the battle of Landen while leading a victorious charge of the Brigade were said to be "Oh, that this were for Ireland."
MacAuliffes continued to feature prominently in European armies over the following decades. For a long time the Spanish Army included a MacAuliffe Regiment.
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"The contest on our side is not one of rivalry or vengeance, but of endurance. It is not those who can inflict the most, but those who can suffer the most who will conquer.
There are seven huge stone forts on the Aran Islands: Dun Aonghasa, Dun Ducathair, Dun Eoghanachta and Dun Eochla on Inishmore; Dun Chonchuir and Dun Fearbhai on Inishmaan, and Dun Formna on Inisheer. The preface "Dun" means "fort of a chieftain.".
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Some of the information on this page is derived from
D.H Allen 'The McAuliffes of Clanawley'1991.
MacAuliffe in Foreign Wars
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This page last updated 13 May 2011
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