1798 Ireland

Extracts from A Biographical Dictionary of Irishmen in France. By Richard Hayes. Published by MH Gill & Sons Ltd. Dublin 1949.

Miles Byrne | William Corbet | Lord Edward Fitzgerald | Charles Edward Jennings (Kilmaine) | Nicholas Madgett | Arthur O’Connor | William Theobald Tone
BYRNE, MILES: Soldier and author. Born at Monaseed, Co Wexford, in 1798. A United Irishman, he took an active part in organising Wexford and showed much gallantry and courage at Vinegar Hill and other engagements during the Insurrection of 1798. After the defeat of the insurgents in his native county he joined Holt and Dywer in the Wicklow mountains, where resistance was kept up for a considerable time in the hope of French aid. In 1803 he was one of Robert Emmet's most trusted lieutenants. On the night of the outbreak in Dublin, Byrne was to lead the Wexford and Wicklow men in an attack on the Ship Street entrance of the Castle, and lay ready with them to do so some distance away. But the attack by Emmet on the main entrance did not take place, and the attempted insurrection failed. Byrne, acting on Emmet's advice, proceeded to France to seek for French aid and, with Arthur O'Connor, Doctor MacNevin, Thomas Addis Emmet and others, presented a petition to Napoleon. At the end of 1803 the latter ordered the establishment of an Irish Legion in the French army, which was to be the vanguard of a new French expedition to Ireland. Byrne became an officer of the Legion, in which he began his long career of military service under Napoleon in Spain, the Low Countries and Germany. Promoted Captain at an earlier period, he was chosen in 1810 to command in Spain a bataillon d'elite of Irish troops. In 1813 he was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour for distinguished service, and after the Revolution of 1830 was appointed chef de battalion in the 56th regiment of the line.

In 1835 Byrne resigned his commission and settled in Paris. There he wrote his Memoirs, which, though somewhat lacking in order, is a fascinating and valuable narrative of his experiences during the Insurrection of 1798 and of his subsequent career in the French army. In almost every page the book mirrors the rare modesty, nobility and quiet heroism that marked its author's splendid character. During his years of retirement he was a notable figure in the French capital. John Mitchel has left a vivid picture of him, "walking on bright winter days along the Avenue of the Champs Elysées, a tall erect figure, magnificent in old age . . . memories clouding at times his clear grey eyes; and through and beyond the battle-smoke and thunder of all Napoleon's fields he has a vision of the pikemen of New Ross and hears the fierce hurrah on Oulart Hill." Miles Byrne died at his residence in Paris on the 24th January, 1862. At his burial in the cemetery of Mounmartre, Colonel Daumer, an old comrade-in-arms, delivered a funeral oration.
(From A Biographical Dictionary of Irishmen in France. By Richard Hayes. Published by MH Gill & Sons Ltd. Dublin 1949.)

CORBET, WILLIAM: Soldier. Born at Ballythomas, County Cork, on 17th August, 1779. In 1798, while a student at Trinity College, he, with Robert Emmet and 18 others, was expelled for treasonable activities. He went to Paris and, with the rank of captain, formed part of the small French expedition which sailed from Dunkirk in September 1798 under Napper Tandy with arms and ammunition for Ireland. Landing on the Donegal coast and hearing there of General Humbert's defeat at Ballinamuck, they re-embarked and arrived at Hamburg on their journey back to France. Through the information of the English spy Samuel Turner, they were arrested by the senate of that city, which handed them over to the British consul who had them conveyed to Kilmainham prison in Dublin. Napoleon inveighed strongly against the action of the senate and inflicted on it a fine of four and a half million francs. (In 1807 Corbet published at Paris a brochure entitled The Conduct of the Senate at Hamburg revealed.)

Escaping from Kilmainham in 1803, Corbet again went to Paris where for a short time he was employed as professor of English at the military college of St Cyr. (His escape forms the main theme of Maria Edgeworth's novel Ormond.) Towards the end of 1803 he got a commission as captain in the Irish Legion, in which his brother Thomas was also an officer. The death of the latter in a duel with Captain Sweeney of the Irish Legion led to the transfer of William Corbet to the 70th regiment of the line. With it he served in Massena's expedition to Portugal, where he distinguished himself in the retreat from Torres Vedras and especially at the battle of Sabugal. When Marmont succeeded Massene he took Corbet on his staff and, after the battle of Salamanca, Clausel made him chef de bataillon of the 47th regiment. With this he served till 1813, when Marmont summoned him to Germany to join his staff. He served with the latter through the campaigns of 1813 and 1814 at Lutzen, Bautzen, Dresden, etc, and he was made a commander of the Legion of Honour. After the first abdication of Napoleon he was, in January, 1815, promoted colonel and acted as chief-of-staff to General d'Aumont at Caen.

After the second restoration of the Bourbons, Corbet was officially regarded with disfavour because of his friendship with General Foy, the leader of the opposition, whose acquaintance he had made in Spain. But in 1828, in spite of the opposition of the English ambassador in Paris, he was selected by Marshal Maison to accompany him on his expedition to the Morea. In Greece he showed marked distinction both as soldier and administrator, was made a knight of the Order of St Louis and of the Redeemer of Greece, and was as well promoted to be General of Brigade. In 1831 he received the appointment of Commander-in-Chief to the French forces in Greece. Returning to France in the following year with the rank of General of Division, he commanded for some years at Caen and died at Saint Denis near Paris in August, 1842.
(From A Biographical Dictionary of Irishmen in France. By Richard Hayes. Published by MH Gill & Sons Ltd. Dublin 1949.)

FITZGERALD, LORD EDWARD: Soldier and United Irishman. Born 1763. He spent a considerable part of his boyhood in France where his uncle, the Duke of Richmond, had a château at Aubigny. He probably imbibed there the sentimental love of France which later characterised him -- "you and I," he wrote to his mother from Paris in the midst of the ferment of the Revolution, "had always a proper liking for the true French character." As early as 1792 his sister wrote of Lord Edward that he was entirely engrossed by French affairs; in the same year he was a leading figure at the famous meeting at Paris of English-speaking sympathisers with the Revolution, and at a banquet in the evening he proposed "the abolition of hereditary titles" as a toast. While in the French capital he became a member of the Jacobin club, where he met many of the popular leaders. All the Masonic clubs of France were then revolutionary centres and Lord Edward, who was initiated a member, had many interviews with the Duke of Orleans (Philippe Egalité), the king's brother, who was then grandmaster of the French Masonic order. At this time, too, he became intimate with Talleyrand.

According to a document in the archives of the French Foreign Office, Lord Edward had come to France for a very specific object. "At the end of 1792," it states, "an Irishman of considerable eminence (whose name is on the margin) came to Paris for the sole purpose of seeing Paine (Thomas) in order to tell him that, if enough money could be given to keep 40,000 Volunteers in Ireland (who now assemble ordinarily for one day only) going for three months, a revolution there would be certain." It was this proposal which induced the French foreign minister to send Colonel Oswald on a secret mission to Ireland in 1793. From Paris at this time Lord Edward wrote to his mother: "In the coffee-houses and playhouses every man calls the other 'camarade', 'frére', and with a stranger immediately begins: 'Ah! nous sommes tous fréres, tous hommes, nos victoires sont pour tous, pour tout le monde.' " In December, 1792, he was married to Pamela, daughter of Madame de Genlis and Philippe Egalité. The ceremony took place on the 28th of the month at Tournai, the headquarters of General O'Moran, and that gallant officer of the Revolutionary army (who was guillotined a year later) was, with Louis Philippe, the future king of France, a signatory of the marriage. Immediately afterwards Lord Edward returned with his wife to Ireland, where he was active as a leader of the movement for independence up to his tragic death in May, 1798.
(From A Biographical Dictionary of Irishmen in France. By Richard Hayes. Published by MH Gill & Sons Ltd. Dublin 1949.)

JENNINGS, CHARLES EDWARD (KILMAINE): General Kilmaine. From a contemporary portrait. Soldier. Son of Dr Theobald Jennings and Eleanor Saul, he was born on 19th October, 1751 at his mother’s residence at Saul’s Court, Dublin. His father, a physician, belonging to the old Catholic family of MacJonins of Ironpool, Tuam, County Galway, left Ireland in 1738 and settled in the town of Tonnay-Charente in the south of France with his wife. The latter, finding that she was about to become a mother, left France for Dublin in 1751 in order that her child might be born in his native land. Young Jennings (he was better known in France as Kilmaine from the territory in County Mayo which had been the ancient patrimony of his family) was reared in Dublin with his relatives till 1762 when his father brought him, then in his 11th year, to Tonnay-Charente. In his 23rd year he entered the French army as a cadet, and in 1780 he became a lieutenant in the famous Hussar regiment of Lauzun, the first cavalry regiment in France. This corps formed part of the French expeditionary force sent to assist the Americans in the War of Independence. Returning at its close with the rank of captain, Kilmaine became in France after the outbreak of the Revolution a zealous supporter of the new ideas of liberty. A growing military reputation brought him promotion as "chef d’escadron", a rank which he held when war broke out in 1792 between France and monarchic Europe. His first great conflict was at Valmy in September of that year. A notable part in that brilliant victory for France was played by Kilmaine with some squadrons of the splendid cavalry regiment to which he belonged, and during the day a body of hussars under his command saved a whole French division from annihilation. A few months later at Jemappes, when that battle seemed lost, Kilmaine and the Duke of Chartres (the future king of France as Louis Philippe) turned apparent defeat into victory. On the field he was raised to the rank of colonel, and from that day was ever afterwards known as "le brave Kilmaine". Rapid promotion followed, and in August, 1793, he became Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the North. Immediately afterwards he was entrenched with his troops in a position known as Caesar’s Camp near Valenciennes. The enemy in much superior numbers was threatening it on all sides, and only 40 leagues lay between it and Paris, so that, if any defeat befell Kilmaine, there would be a clear road for the enemy to the capital. The Irish officer accordingly carried out a masterly retreat, which was described as "the most glorious exploit in his career". In Paris, however, there was consternation at the news. As a result he was deprived of his command and dismissed from the army. The extreme Jacobin faction assailed him as Irish and a foreigner. Kilmaine accepted it all with calm dignity. "I am ready," he said, "to serve the cause of the Republic in whatever rank I am placed, and wherever set I shall do my duty." A few months later, however, when the Reign of Terror began, he was imprisoned as a foreigner – an act of injustice which weighed heavily on an officer who had given 30 years of unselfish devotion to France, had gone through nine campaigns and had fought in 46 battles. He was, however, released within a few months on an order signed by Carnot, and was restored to the army. In 1795 he played a leading part in defending the National Convention against the insurgents in the insurrection of Prairial. Early in 1796 he set out with Bonaparte on the Italian campaign, and at Lodi contributed to the great victory by a brilliant cavalry charge. Later in September of the same year (1796) he was appointed to the onerous position of commander of all northern Italy. This campaign increased his high reputation as a brilliant officer, and in 1798, after Bonaparte left France on new conquests, Kilmaine was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Armée d’Angleterre destined for the invasion of Britain and Ireland. The Directory, however, abandoned the project, and its decision shattered Kilmaine’s dream of helping to achieve the independence of his native land. An intimate friendship existed between him and Wolfe Tone. On hearing of the latter’s arrest in Ireland, he strongly urged the French government to intervene in his case and to hold for Tone’s safety hostages of equal rank chosen from the British military prisoners then in France. The appeal was strangely ignored.

Kilmaine’s health had been seriously affected by his strenuous labours in the Italian campaign. In addition, domestic troubles helped to weaken a delicate constitution, and in 1799 he was compelled to retire from active service. On 11th December of that year he died at Paris. A superb tactician, a dashing cavalry officer, he was described by Captain Landrieux, his aide-de-camp, as "the only officer in whom Napoleon ever placed complete confidence". There is a portrait of General Kilmaine in the Hotel de Ville at Tonnay-Charente, where his father practised as a physician.
(From A Biographical Dictionary of Irishmen in France. By Richard Hayes. Published by MH Gill & Sons Ltd. Dublin 1949.)

MADGETT, NICHOLAS: French official and United Irishman. Born at Kinsale, County Cork, in 1740, he was educated at Paris, where he became an official in the French Foreign Office. In that capacity he laboured all his life to achieve the independence of Ireland with the aid of France. From the outbreak of the Revolution he was preoccupied with negotiations between the French government and the United Irish leaders for a French invasion of Ireland. Thus, in 1794, he gave the Rev William Jackson (the emissary to Ireland from the Committee of Public Safety) his instructions before leaving Paris for Dublin. While Jackson was in Newgate prison and his execution seemed certain, he wrote to Madgett informing him that he was about to lose his life in the cause of liberty and requesting him to procure assistance from the French nation for his wife. When Wolfe Tone arrived in Paris he was told by De La Croix, the French Foreign Minister, to speak without reserve to Madgett. Many of Tone's memorials to the Directory were translated into French by Madgett, continuous references to whom in the Irish patriot's autobiography readers of that book will remember. The informer Samuel Turner, in his correspondence with Castlereagh, states that Madgett was "one of the most active instruments of the French Directory in everything that respects Ireland". In Lettres officielle et confidentielles de Napoléon Bonaparte (Vol III) there is a memo, signed by Madgett and addressed to De La Croix, informing that minister that George III had funds in the Bank of Venice amounting to £10,000,000 sterling, and requesting him to represent to Bonaparte the importance of seizing them. Madgett's name is frequently met in the archives of the French Foreign Office, where he is described as "chef du bureau de traduction". As such he writes in March, 1793, to Le Brun, the Foreign Minister, calling attention to the measures the English government is taking to prevent the spread of what is called "the French epidemic" and stating that he had reason to know that there is an English espionage committee in Paris. In the same letter he suggests that emissaries should be sent to Ireland to spread the doctrines of the Revolution. His name occurs sometimes, too, in the Castlereagh Correspondence. Thus, under the heading "Secret information relative to Ireland" an English agent in France writes: "There is in Paris a person whom I believe I have not mentioned to you; his name is Madgett, who appeared in part of the correspondence on Jackson’s trial." After the failure of the Irish expeditions Madgett’s political activities ceased, and he was preoccupied with his official duties at the French Foreign Office till his death.

Another Nicholas Madgett, his cousin, is frequently confounded with the Irish patriot. Their uncle, also of the same name, was bishop of Kerry. The family seems now to be extinct. Their ancient patrimony was in the barony of Corcaguiny, among whose papist proprietors the name of Nicholas Madgett appears in the Civil Survey of 1656.
(From A Biographical Dictionary of Irishmen in France. By Richard Hayes. Published by MH Gill & Sons Ltd. Dublin 1949.)

O’CONNOR, ARTHUR: Soldier and United Irish leader. Born on July 4, 1763, near Bandon, County Cork. Son of Roger O’Connor, landed proprietor, by Anne Longfield, sister of Lord Longueville. From early he held republican principles which he imbibed during the American Revolution. From 1791 to 1796 he was a member of the colonial parliament in College Green, and in the latter year he joined the Society of United Irishmen. Immediately afterwards he and Lord Edward Fitzgerald had an interview with Hoche in France, where they solicited French help for the Irish independence movement. He was arrested in 1797, and imprisoned for six months in Dublin Castle; and in the following year he was again arrested on his way to France with Father James Coigly, was tried and acquitted. Re-arrested immediately afterwards he was, with other Irish leaders, kept in confinement at Fort George in Scotland till June, 1802. He then went to Paris, where he was regarded as the accredited representative of the United Irishmen by Napoleon who, in February, 1804, appointed him General of Division in the French army. His letters of service, which were signed by General Berthier, Minister of War, directed that he was to join at Brest the expeditionary army intended for the invasion of Ireland. When all hope of the materialisation of this project disappeared, O’Connor left the army and retired into private life. In 1815, however, he offered his services to Napoleon to defend the independence of France against the Bourbons. This offer occasioned a reproachful letter to him from Henry Clarke, Duke of Feltre.

In 1807 O’Connor married Eliza, only daughter of Condorcet, the French philosopher and mathematician, and in the following year he settled at Bignon on a property which once belonged to Mirabeau. He was permitted by the British government to return to Ireland for two months in 1834, to arrange for the sale of his Irish properties. A prolific writer, most of his life after retiring from the army was devoted to literary work. He published many pamphlets on social and political subjects, and he helped to edit the works of Condorcet in 12 volumes (Paris, 1847-1849). He died at his château in Bignon on 25th April, 1852. Several of his direct descendants have been officers in the French army up to recent times.
(From A Biographical Dictionary of Irishmen in France. By Richard Hayes. Published by MH Gill & Sons Ltd. Dublin 1949.)

TONE, WILLIAM THEOBALD: Soldier. Son of the Irish patriot, Theobald Wolfe Tone, he was born at Dublin in 1791. After his father’s death several distinguished Frenchmen – Talleyrand, Bruix, the Minister of Marine etc – as well as Kilmaine, the Franco-Irish general, offered to adopt him, but their proposals were not accepted by his mother. With a view to a military career he was declared an adopted child of the French Republic and educated at the national expense in the Prytaneum and Lyceum. On leaving the Imperial School of Cavalry in 1810, he was gazatted a lieutenant to the 8th Chasseurs in the Grand Army. He saw active service in Germany from 1813-1815, and fought at the battles of Lowenberg, Goldberg, Dresden and Leipzig. During these engagements he was wounded ten times, and for his heroic conduct at Leipzig he was created a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. At that battle he was attacked by a squad of lancers, whom he fought till he fell apparently dead from his horse.

Upon the abdication of Napoleon, Tone retired from the army and went to the United States, in whose military forces he became a captain. He died in 1828. He was author of Etat civil et politique de l’Italie sous la domination des Goths (Paris, 1813); Essai sur la composition de la force armée aux différentes époques de l’historie (Paris, 1814); and he edited Life, Works and Journal of Theobald Wolfe Tone (Washington, 1826).
(From A Biographical Dictionary of Irishmen in France. By Richard Hayes. Published by MH Gill & Sons Ltd. Dublin 1949.)

1798 Homepage