The Irish in Europe, 1580-1815, Thomas O’Connor (ed.). (Four Courts Press, £35.44) ISBN 1851825797 La emigración irlandesa en siglo xviii [Irish emigration in the eighteenth century] María Begoña Villar García (ed.) (Universidad de Málaga) I

Published in Book Reviews, Early Modern History (1500–1700), Issue 3 (Autumn 2001), Reviews, Volume 9

These two collections of essays expand on works such as Micheline Kerney-Walsh’s An exile of Ireland, Hugh O’Neill, Prince of Ulster, emphasising that there was much more to Irish continental migration than dispossessed aristocracy and unemployed soldiery looking to new horizons. Both books also hint at a great deal of research waiting to be done in Europe’s archives, more angles from which to examine the subject, more cameos of both the successful and not so successful Irish in Europe to be uncovered.
The Irish in Europe comprises eleven essays and Thomas O’Connor’s introduction which draws the various strands together and sets the theme in its wider context. Otherwise the various chapters seem rather disparate. We have (amongst others) ‘Irish Colleges in Spain and Portugal’; ‘the Irish at the Jacobite court in exile’; ‘piracy and poverty in France’; ‘Irish Catholic thought in ancien régime France’; and a discussion on the influence of Suárez’s philosophy on O’Sullivan Beare.
After reading in the introduction that ‘wild goose’ (sic) [ocas salvajes] was the somewhat derogatory term used in British historiography for Irish emigrants enlisted in European armies I started into La emigración irlandesa en siglo xviii (ten essays in Spanish and two in French) with misgiving. But when I finished I had a better impression of the insights which their authors had provided on Irish emigrant activity, and in particular on the Irish families, both military and mercantile, who became established in Spain from 1600 onwards and who, over time, became Spanish.
Both books make a valuable contribution in shifting the focus away from the careers of Irish soldiers in continental European armies. Four of the Villar García-essays deal with the theme, although only two exclusively. Military matters are of course examined in the O’Connor collection, particularly in Ó Ciosáin’s overview of Irish seventeenth-century migration to France and Corp’s discussion of the role of the Irish at James II’s court in exile, but otherwise both publications concentrate on Irish commercial and intellectual activity in Europe, and to a lesser extent on the Irish college network and intellectual efforts to sustain Catholic Ireland from abroad. Also Irish religious life on the continent is presented as part of wider Irish expatriate society, not as some isolated phenomenon of training centres for Counter-Reformation shock troops. We have Irish priests who, once ordained, understandably have no wish to return to Ireland, lively discussion on discipline and student revolts in the Iberian colleges, priests acting as legal advisors, translators, ad hoc bankers and purveyors of certificates of nobility and birth.
The essays on O’Sullivan Beare and Pedro Sinnot, two Irishmen separated by almost 150 years but both for similar reasons exiles in Spain, were among my favourites. Both set out with the clear purpose of discussing one individual’s intellectual work and so are well-structured and sustain the reader’s interest. Philip O’Sullivan Beare’s attempt with his Historiae Catholicae Hiberniae Compendium (1621) to undermine any ‘intellectual justification’ for English colonisation of Ireland, to establish on the basis of ‘custom’ that Ireland already had its own constitution and using natural law to convince the lukewarm Spanish monarchy and other European powers that it was their duty to intervene in Ireland, although ultimately in vain, makes fascinating reading. O’Sullivan relied on the radical natural law philosophy of Francisco Suárez and was effectively lining up with Bartolomé de las Casas, the first European to take a stand against colonisation and slavery in the Americas.
Pedro Sinnot ran into difficulties when he tried to publish his Spanish translation of John Barrow’s New and Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (1751). Banished in 1697 like many other priests Sinnot had to make a career for himself in Europe. The success of his project seemed assured. He already had one book published in Spain—the king and council of state were convinced that publishing this encyclopaedia of contemporary English knowledge could only benefit Enlightenment Spain and the Royal Academy of History, appointed to oversee the work, considered it was ‘absolutely indispensable in Spain’. Sinnot worked on the translation from late 1762 to 1765. His contribution to the Spanish Enlightenment was never published because of the Academy’s obsession with correcting, improving or questioning the ‘facts’ or ‘discoveries’ (especially on physics and astronomy) presented by Barrow—a task which proved interminable.
The above essays contrast with other contributions which in parts read like lists, are quite heavy-going and give a bare minimum of analysis or insight, for example López-Guadalupe’s essay on successful Irish (and later hispanicised Irish) soldiers and administrators gaining entry to the various Spanish military orders founded during the Reconquista but which by the eighteenth century had a pure prestige and patronage role. One interesting question he does bring up is whether the relative success of the ‘Spanish Irish’ in military orders was an acknowledgement of their nobility or their merit. Logically they must have advanced in the Spanish military and in society in general on merit. The question of why the Spanish monarchy at times favoured Irish military men and administrators over Spaniards and what this tells us about Spain and its empire deserves more attention.
The commercial activity of Irish merchants in eighteenth-century Andalusia is the mainstay of the Villar- Garcia essays. We have Guillermo White and Hercules Plunket, hailing from Waterford, and availing of their chief disadvantage in Ireland, their Catholic faith, to take part in Seville’s trade with the Americas; Tomás Quilty in 1779 moving from pure commerce to renovating a sugar refinery in the Málaga area which he sought to improve by importing coal from Asturias—clearly a man ahead of his time; and Lorenzo Ley (or Lee) ensuring the continuity of his enterprise through a web of marriage alliances, strategically invested dowries and generally astute planning: in all four essays on Irish merchant migrants in Cadiz, Seville, Málaga and Huelva. The impression is that their migration was not entirely enforced but that they were also taking advantage of a more dynamic eighteenth-century Spanish economy.
The Villar García compilation could have done with an index of proper names—frequently individuals are mentioned in more than one essay. There seems to be no consensus or consistency among Spanish historians on how to treat foreign names. Individuals born or families established in Spain (hispanicised Irish) should surely be referred to by their Spanish names (e.g. Alejandro O’Reilly and not Alexander O’Reilly) but Hugo O’Neill and Hugo O’Donnell will not do—especially when the same writer reverts to the correct spelling on the next page. We also have an instance of Hugh O’Neill clearly confused with his nephew Owen Roe; a reference to Tomás Stukeley, the English adventurer, in Galicia promoting an invasion of Ireland a few lines above Thomas Strong, bishop of Ossory; an inability to spell Fitzmaurice or Fitzgerald. The term angloirlandés is also used inconsistently. Some of the contributors use it (I think correctly) to distinguish the Old English from the Gaelic Irish when making the point that the former were more likely to be involved in trade and were consequently more financially independent.
Villar Garcia applies it as a rather indiscriminate label for Irish merchants in Andalusia, and also unfortunately refers to them as part of the community of británicos, when their presence trading in the Spanish empire was surely in many cases explained by their not feeling part of the emerging British empire. Likewise, no one attempts to give an approximate value for currencies when discussing the turnovers and profits of the various merchant houses. And, annoyingly, once you have grasped that with an annual profit over 10,000 pesos a Seville-based Irish merchant is moving into the big league, on the next page we are told about a contemporary in Málaga is turning an annual profits of 85,000 reales!
In the O’Connor compilation I found the three essays (chapters 6, 7 and 8) on seventeenth-century Irish migration to France and Brittany particularly enjoyable. Mary Ann Lyons gives a racy account of how Munster refugees arrived in Britanny as begrudgingly welcome guests, gradually established themselves in St Malo society, in some cases becoming respected privateers and slave traders (the Walshes and Geraldines), and from there making the logical jump into politics—Antoine-Vincent Walsh, involved in founding the Compagnie de l’Angola set up to trade slaves, was in 1740 appointed sécretaire-conseiller du roi.
Overall the O’Connor essays are better written and provide the reader with more analysis and context than their Spanish and French counterparts. I found the language of Beaurepaire’s essay on the Irish in French freemason lodges simply opaque —not the French language itself but the esoteric freemason-speak. At least I could conclude that Irish migrants in Europe were once again quite successful in using whatever was available to their advantage—in this case freemason lodges.

Brendan Morgan


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