Tradition of French military service

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Features, General, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2008), Volume 16

Bataille de Fontenoy, 11 Mai 1745 by Horace Vernet—the Irish Brigade turned the battle in France’s favour, part of a long tradition of Irish military service for France. (Réunion de Musée Nationaux)

Bataille de Fontenoy, 11 Mai 1745 by Horace Vernet—the Irish Brigade turned the battle in France’s favour, part of a long tradition of Irish military service for France. (Réunion de Musée Nationaux)

Irish service in the armies of France dated back to the ‘Wild Geese’ of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and officially ended in 1792, when the ‘Irish Brigade’ was disbanded. The French Foreign Legion was created 40 years later, in 1831, as a unit for foreign volunteers, primarily to protect and extend France’s overseas empire. Irishmen served with the Legion almost from the start. One of Thomas Moore’s sons died serving in North Africa in 1846, while a Captain Patrick Brangan served with the Legion in the 1850s. Most famously, Marshal MacMahon of France, the descendant of County Limerick ‘Wild Geese’, commanded the Legion during the 1840s and was later responsible for the suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871.

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