Repatriating the remains of Patrick Sarsfield

Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2020), Letters, Volume 28

Sir,—James O’Neill’s interesting article on the ongoing search for the remains of Red Hugh O’Donnell in Valladolid, Spain (HI 28.4, July/Aug. 2020), brings to mind another heroic Irish leader who is also buried on foreign soil—General Patrick Sarsfield, first earl of Lucan, defender of Limerick, who fought on the Jacobean side in the fateful Williamite conquest and is best remembered as one of the leaders of the herculean but eventually failed defence of Limerick in the sieges of 1690/91. His daring capture and disruption of the Williamite gun train in Ballyneety is the stuff of legend.

Leader of the Wild Geese, the defeated Irish army who declared for France, Sarsfield was fatally wounded fighting for the French in the Battle of Landen in 1693, and legend has it that his dying words were ‘Oh, that this were for Ireland’. He is buried in the grounds of St Martin’s Church in Huy, Belgium, and a plaque there is reputed to mark the approximate location of his grave. Hopefully, a similar excavation will be mounted some day in Belgium to recover the remains of this valiant Irishman. If tradition has it right, Sarsfield’s body will be easily identifiable, as he is reputed to have been 6ft 5in., a giant of a man in the seventeenth century when the average male was 5ft 5in.

The remains of two outstanding Irishmen who died abroad—Roger Casement and W.B. Yeats—have been repatriated and buried at home with great honour. Hopefully, Sarfield’s remains, if recovered, will some day be repatriated and possibly be re-interred in the grounds of St Mary’s Cathedral, an area within the city walls that the great general would have trod in his gallant but eventually tragic defence of Limerick.

I have written to the previously named Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht on the matter, and also to the authorities in Huy, Belgium, on the possibility of excavation, and am hoping there will be favourable replies. According to James O’Neill, there would be complications regarding possible repatriation of Red Hugh’s remains, as in his final wishes he requested to be buried in the church of the monastery of the Lord Saint Francis in Valladolid. There would be no such difficulties regarding repatriation of the earl of Lucan’s remains, as he did not specify where he wanted to be buried. His birthplace is unknown.—Yours etc.,

DENIS O’SHAUGHNESSY
Corbally
Limerick

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