TODAY THE FRENCH LANDED TO HELP THE IRISH THROW OFF THE ENGLISH YOKE.

Diarmuid Breatnach

On the 22nd of August 1798, almost 1,100 troops under the command of General Humbert landed at Cill Chuimín Strand, Bádh Cill Ala (Killala Bay), Co. Mayo.

Painting said to be depicting French landing at Kilalla

 The events are covered in six songs that I know of: Na Franncaigh Bhána; An Spailpín Fánach (Mayo version); Mise ‘gus Tusa agus Hielan Aindí; The West’s Awake by Thomas Davis; Men of the West and its Irish translation, Fir an Iarthair.

 Some of the songs, especially the traditional ones from this area, are in Irish, which was the commonly-spoken language of the area (unlike parts of Dublin, Wexford and Antrim, where most of the songs from the period were in English).

The French troops on this occasion — unlike the numbers sent by Napoleon in 1796 but which failed to land at Bantry Bay due to stormy conditions — were insufficient to change the overall insurrectionary situation and though they and the Irish fought bravely, the Rising in the West failed.  Most of the French who surrendered were treated as prisoners of war but the Irish who rose were butchered or taken prisoner and hanged.  Matthew Tone and Bartholomew Teeling, both Irish but holding commissions as officers in the French Army, were taken to Dublin, tried and hung.  Their bodies are reputed to lie in Croppies’ Acre.

Portrait of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert

Nevertheless the Rising is remembered with pride and General Humbert’s memory held in affection.  Sixteen years later he fought the English again at the Battle of New Orleans, taking place between December 14, 1814 and January 18, 1815, this time as a private soldier in the American Army — and successfully.  He had settled in New Orleans already and remained there after the war, working as a schoolteacher until his final days.

There is a French military former officer character in Mel Gibson’s film The Patriot (2000), Major Jean Villeneuve (played by Tcheky Karyo).  A film commentary on line says his character was suggested by the Marquis de Lafayette, of the French military and Baron Von Steubon, a Prussian mercenary (http://www.patriotresource.com/thepatriot/characters/villeneuve.html.).

But might the character not have been suggested by Humbert?  Anyone who knew his story would be eager to put him in the film, one would think.  In the film, he fights in his French officer’s uniform at the final battle (unnamed but probably based that on at Cowpens); Humbert, though he fought at the rank of private, also fought in his Napoleonic Officer’s Army uniform at the Battle of New Orleans.

Still photo from the film, with Tchéky Karyo to the right in the role of the French Major Villeneuve. His character could have been based in part on that of Jean Joseph Amable Humbert.

Robert Roda of New Hampshire is listed as the writer of the screenplay.  New Hampshire is not known as an Irish-American stronghold and Roda does not sound like an Irish name.  But then, it is not only Irish and French people who are interested in Irish and French history.

 

End

 

 

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