Cuimnidh ar Luimneach agus ar Feall na Sasanach!
As part of the Treaty of Limerick in 1691, the Irish forces of Patrick Sarsfield, who had fought the army of William of Orange to a standstill, were given the option of sailing to France to join the Stuart King, James II, in exile.
Shortly after Sarsfield signed the Treaty of Limerick a French fleet arrived with reinforcements and many urged Sarsfield to tear up the Treaty and fight on. This he would not do; having given his word of honor, he kept it. Believing they had negotiated a treaty that guaranteed the rights of their people, perhaps as many as twenty thousand Irish soldiers sailed with Sarsfield to France. The treaty that Sarsfield had honored would never be honored by the British. With cruel irony they would tear up the treaty and replace it with the Penal Laws, stripping Irish Catholics of their land, persecuting them for their religion and removing every right of citizenship. On this note of dishonor and betrayal began the saga of "The Wild Geese."
Tom was born in Dublin in October 1779. By the age of 24 he stood 6' 3", 16 stone of solid bone and muscle. A United Irishman, he took part in Robert Emmet's unsuccessful rising on Saturday 23 July 1803. Armed with a pike, he assembled at the depot in Marshalsea Lane. The Rising failed and he went into hiding, escaping after 2 weeks as a Merchant Seaman. In the early days of 1804 his ship docked in Murmansk, Russia. Whilst enjoying some glasses of Vodka in a local, some criminals tried to rob him. He threw both of them through the window and was arrested and jailed. His ship sailed without him, but the innkeeper appeared as his witness and Tom was released and employed by the Inn as a bouncer. Later he moved to Ukraine and worked on a farm, where he learnt Russian and was taught to ride by Cossacks. The war between Napoleon and Russia had broken out and Tom was encouraged to join a Cossack cavalry unit. By December 1805, Tom was promoted to Captain and saw action at the battle of Austerlitz. In 1809 he was fighting Turks in Sillistria and was highly decorated for his part in a rear guard action. In June 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia and Captain McCormack fought at Smolensk and Borodino. At Smolensk in August 1812 he was badly wounded in the right leg. He was in danger of being trampled under foot by the enemy cavalry when a horseman French ranks dashed out and pull him to safety. His rescuer, it transpired, was another Irishman serving in the French Army. Tom healed and 12 months later was in action at Liepzig. He retired from the Army in 1817 and with his pension and bounty opened a business in St Petersburg. Three year he had made a fortune, but he sold it determined to return to Ireland. In June 1820 he arrived back in Dublin and used his money to help poor neighbours, impoverishing himself in doing so. In 1855 he was found dead, at the hallway of an old tenement building by neighbors going to mass at the Franciscan Church in Cook Street.
Captain Tom "The Cossack" McCormack passed unnoticed in to history.
For the next hundred years the French Army would include an Irish Brigade which began with Sarsfield's soldiers, and the men of Justine MacCarthy (Lord Mountcashel) who preceded them, was fed by a continual stream of young men from Ireland. "Cuimnidh ar Luimneach agus ar Feall na Sasanach!" -- Remember Limerick and the Saxon Faith (i.e., English betrayal) -- became a battle cry of the Irish Brigade in the service of France.
Though some may have joined foreign armies looking for adventure, others to make a living, many were looking to fight the ancient enemy, England. It has been estimated that as many as half a million or more Irishmen died fighting for France in the century after Limerick. The majority of the recruits came from the counties of Clare, Limerick, Cork, Kerry and Galway. French ships which arrived on the west coast smuggling in brandy and wine would depart with recruits for the Irish Brigade. In the paper work of the ships, the recruits would be listed as "Wild Geese," thus the origin of the name. In 1745, after France's Irish Brigade was so instrumental in the famous victory over the British at Fontenoy, England's King George II would express a sentiment many British soldiers would have reason to second over the years: "Cursed be the laws which deprive me of such subjects."
Though the term "Wild Geese" is usually used for the men of the France's Irish Brigade, France was not the only destination of these "Wild Geese. " Many went to Spain, where Irishmen had actually been serving for many years in great numbers, forming a number of regiments in the Spanish army. Irishmen served in the Armies of Austria, Russian, Poland and the various German Kingdoms.
Many of the "Wild Geese" rose to prominence in the Armies of Europe. George Brown of the Austrian Army, was made a Field Marshal by Emperor Charles IV and 11 different men named Walsh became Field Marshals or Generals there. Francis Maurice Lacy, was a Field Marshall in the Austrian and Russian Armies and many reached high commands in France and Spain. A McMahon became Minister of War and President of France. These "Wild Geese" fought in battles all over Europe and the world through the years.
In South America Bernardo O'Higgins became the Liberator of Chile and Admiral William Brown, from Mayo, became the Father of the Argentine Navy. Members of the Irish Brigade of France served as Marines with John Paul Jones on the "Bonhomme Richard" and others were at Yorktown with Rochambeau. The Hibernia regiment of Spain fought the English at Pensacola, Florida in 1781. And many thousands of Irishmen were already here in America, 17 of them rose to be generals in the Revolutionary army, no less "Wild Geese" than the others, fighting in great numbers to do in America what they and their fathers could not do in Ireland: Throw off the oppressive yoke of England.
During the American Civil War, six grandsons of George McCook, a United Irishmen, were Union Generals and another six were field officers. Irish-born Meagher, Corcoran and Shields were Union Generals and for the Confederacy, Corkman Patrick Cleburne was one of their finest commanders. More that 150,000 Irishmen served in the US army, most notably with the Irish Brigade, and some 50,000 more worn the grey of the Confederacy. Fifty three percent of the 600 Nuns who served as nurses during the War were born in Ireland, and no doubt many more were Irish-American.
They were truly, as poet Emily Lawless said: "Fighters in every clime --- Every cause but our own."5
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