Thursday, 19 June 2014

A Matter Of Class - Sure Aren't We All Irish!

* Our former Glorious Leader - the Taoiseach who oversaw the crash with a pint in his hand on a song on his lips, Mr Brian "What Just Happened!?" Cowen told the banking enquiry that Ireland "does not have a class system".

Which is, as the Great English philosopher and social thinker Bertrand Russell would have termed it, "complete and utter bollix".

 I've long been fascinated by that peculiarly Irish National Myth - that unlike, say, the English, we don't really have a class system.

And this piece was initially prompted by a a story that blew up in Dublin awhile ago - some rich kid entrepreneur/social media maven  made a few disaparaging remarks about his fellow Dubs - the ones who didn't have a daddy who could afford a €40k a year private education for their little darlings.

Brian Cowen - bad cess to him -  got me thinking about this again.....

Blackrock College Boys - On Tour 

The Irish! Sure we've suffered a terrible time altogether down the years, mostly at the hands of our nearest neighbours. Perfidious Albion! But if there's one thing we can be sure of, we're all in the same boat. We don't have a class system like those snobby Saxons just across the water. Oh no! Millionaire or road-mender, Cabinet Minister or Cabbie, we can all sit down together in our local, enjoy a pint and talk about the football.

Which is, of course, as the noted 19th century German sociologist and philosopher Max Weber famously observed; "Total and utter bollix".

We do this, lie to ourselves, partly because we need to define ourselves by looking to the British and saying; "That's not us!". We would never be "oppressors" (bollix), we would never go out into the world and lie, steal and tax everybody's sheep (more bollix) and we would never develop the kind of rigidly defined, almost neurotic class system which has been in place in Britain since the Norman Conquest (thundering bollix).

We have very clearly marked class lines in Ireland. But unlike our much-maligned neighbours, we lack their admirable honesty and refuse to face up to this fact. We need to pretend that high or low, we're all the same. We're all ....Irish!

The asinine (with the accent on ASS) comments made on a Dublin food blog this week - about knackers in wetsuits swimming in the canal (I'm paraphrasing - but only a bit) kicked up a bit of a storm. And this Class War! kerfuffle was, for me, very revealing in a number of ways. 

* And by the way - if you are not familiar with Dublin - there's a tradition that once the sun starts shining - kids from the inner city don cheap wetsuits and improvise some extreme water-sports - using the old industrial remnants of cranes, warehouse roofs and canals. See vid below for a quick taste.

Now - let's get past the fact that these "Aren't Dubs just the WORST!" comments were made on a blog called "Lovin' Dublin!" - presumably that's only Lovin! the bits around "leafy" Dublin 4 - the bay area (but Not Dun Laoghaire, obvs) and South William Street (which really needs some gates to keep the chavs out, loike, seriously).

The comments in themselves, were pretty dumb and offensive. But they did express very commonly held sentiments. Hell, I've even made comments along those lines myself (but not in writing or online, obviously, I'm not a total spanner). I do think there is a lot wrong with life in the city centre of Dublin, and I lived there for 15 years.

But the reaction to Lovin' Dublin's casual class hatred - was far more interesting than the actual comments themselves. I think they showed up the weird fear we have of talking about class, prejudice, division and difference when it comes to ourselves. 

Ireland has a clearly defined class system. We have private schools, posh colleges. From the bars we drink in to the sports clubs we play in, our holiday destinations, our fashion choices, our friends, our social media and our tastes in music, movies and TV - it's always a class thing.

Try this for a quick test - you meet somebody and they tell you they're in Coppers every weekend - what do you immediately assume about them? (for those not in the know, Coppers is Dublin's infamous, can't-fail-to-score nightclub/tractor-enthusiasts-nirvana) 

You only have to open your mouth for people to (sometimes subconsciously) start judging and categorising you. Another Irishman, George Bernard Shaw, in his "Preface to Pygmalion" (a work, lest we forget, which was about class) observed;  "It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him".

In Ireland, it is as simple as your choice of blue or red. The perceptions and tribal identities/stereotypes proclaim that Muster rugby fans are salt-of-the-earth types, Leinster fans are effete estate-agents who shop in Brown Thomas and wouldn't be seen dead outside SoCoDo (that's south county Dublin, like).

So could you take a Munster Rugby fan from darkest Limerick and - with the help of a Professor Henry Higgins - used extensive speech and deportment therapy to turn him into a Leinster fan? Funny you should ask - I'm developing a reality TV show on that idea as we speak, working title "From Snack Box To Corporate Box" ™.

Seriously, loike, would you look at the state of these Utter Oiks?

Want an example of how it works? Just look at Robbie Keane and Brian O'Driscoll, two Irish captains, sporting heroes. One feted and congratulated (and well rewarded with major advertising & media contracts) for his solid middle-class values and fragrant film-star partner, the other derided, often openly for what is perceived as his bling lifestyle, his Tallaght working class roots and his WAG wife. By the way, I'm talking about perceptions and stereotypes here, not the actual real-life human beings. Shouldn't need to be said but unfortunately, people will jump to conclusions. 

Why is Brian O'Driscoll fronting ad campaigns for pillar banks while you will never seen Robbie Keane in the same role? A few reasons, to do with profile, the fact that Corporate Ireland loves rugby and BOD's in-bred ease with the media and the business world. Brian's Their Kind of People. Robbie, most definitely, is not. 

The Hard Sell
You watch TV, listen to the radio or read newspapers in Ireland and you notice the strict class divisions, or at least the glaring absence of working class voices. And many liberals will believe that the Irish Times, for instance, should be made compulsory for all, in the way the working classes of the 19th Cent. had cod liver oil forced down their throats to prevent Rickets. 

Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Maybe. But then again I'm no longer sure what class I am myself. I was brought up on a terraced street in the city centre of Cork, but my dad was a self employed Small Builder (he was around 4'5''), later a taxi driver, who always had cash and gave us a pretty comfortable upbringing.

When we were kids, our mother wanted to give us every opportunity to progress - so she paid for what were then called Elocution Lessons - basically to make sure we didn't have a "flat Cork accent". I'm glad she did. Because speaking like many of my neighbours would have been a disadvantage for me in the media (even my relatively light Cork accent has caused some problems down the years). 

Since the age of 19, I've worked in (occasionally) well-paid newspaper and TV gigs. I've travelled far and been lucky to experience a lot. So I was working class. Now I'm not? It's confusing.  

Anyhow - have a think about it. Ya posh fecker. Owning a laptop like you're the Big Man.

And while you are - have a look at this excellent short film from Motherland Films in Dublin about inner city Dublin's long tradition of Extreme Watersports.

See it here Becoming Men

Thanks for reading - Joe 

Friday, 13 June 2014

The New London Irish - The Latest Wave - But This Time It's Different

Some Come From Ireland - Some From Deepest, Darkest Peru

* HI - as you may know, I've recently moved from Dublin to London. I'll be aiming to work between the two, but for the moment, London is where I'm at and I really like the city. It's one of the world's greatest and you could spend years exploring it.

I did live here briefly a good few years ago. And back then, there had been a wave of emigration thanks to the crippling recession that hit Ireland in the '80s.

They had joined the Irish who came here after the second world war - the '50s generation who colonised Camden & Kilburn and raised kids like George O'Dowd - AKA Boy George - as tough a London Irish kid as you'll ever find. They were working class, rough, tough, close-knit, with strong connections to Ireland. Most gave their kids the best education they could afford, and planned for them to get on in the world.

·      And Second and third generation Irish are still making their mark felt in Britain. The incoming director of GCHQ, the UK’s secretive cyber-spying agency, is Robert Hannigan, the son of Irish parents who settled in Yorkshire. Not much is known about the career civil servant, beyond the role he played in the Good Friday peace talks. But Hannigan is said to be a GAA fan who regularly watches hurling and football games on TV and he is married with two children.  

The UK's top spy - Robert Hannigan - The Man Who Came In From Kilcoe

The numbers of Irish living in the city and the rest of the UK had actually started to decline sharply in the noughties, as those who came after the war died off and many of those who came in the '80s moved back to Ireland, drawn by our Celtic Tiger, economic miracle. Which, of course, turned out to be a lie, told by thieves, morons and spivs. Or in the case of Bertie Ahern, our former Great Leader, a deeply strange, strange man.

Now that I'm in London, I cannot believe the amount of Irish people that are here. You see them everywhere, hear them everywhere. I'm constantly running into my fellow countrymen and women. But this is a different generation from the ones that came before. They are mostly bright, confident, well educated and have high expectations. They value themselves and their skills. But they also do their best to help out other Irish, newer arrivals, friends of friends. There is still a major Irish network, or series of networks all over the city.

I think that's great - but we should worry that for Ireland - many of the best and brightest - those who got sick of the corruption, the dysfunction, the rank stupidity and paralysis in much of the way Ireland is run, well, they voted with their feet. The young people with get up and go have got up and gone.

Anyhow! I talked to some of the New London Irish and wrote a piece about it for The Irish Independent Newspaper.

And if you click the link below - you can read it....

The New London Irish - Irish Independent


Sunday, 8 June 2014

The Night We Burnt Down Rio - 2,500 Munster Farmers Against the Emperor of Brazil (PART 2!)

* Hi - this is the second part of a cut-down chapter from my last book - Murder, Mutiny & Mayhem - The Blackest Hearted Villains from Irish History.

The book is available on Amazon/Kindle etc - it's got 11 stories like this - have a look here Murder, Mutiny & Mayhem

This particular story is about a long-forgotten, frankly bizarre episode in Irish history, when the Emperor of Brazil tried to import thousands of farming families from Munster in Southern Ireland, to be used as soldiers and colonists in his wars and territorial struggles with Argentina.

An Irish mercenary soldier called Col William Cotter was sent to Ireland in 1827 by the emperor to recruit over 2,500 farmers and their families. Cotter told them they were going to a new life on free farms in a land of milk and honey - what they found on their arrival after sailing in an armada of ten ships out of Cork - was very different........

Street Scene from Rio - 1820s

**** The Irish settlers arrived in Rio de Janeiro between December 1827 and January 1828.

They were arriving into a city already seething with resentment against the ‘Irish mercenaries’
brought across the sea to fight a deeply unpopular war.  Brazilian newspapers, politicians and businessmen opposed to the war against the Argentines to the south had poisoned local opinion against the Irish. The German soldiers and settlers who had preceded them were already pariahs in the city and had fought running battles in the streets with the nativists and African slaves.

One English resident of Rio recorded the sight of the bedraggled Irish landing on, what must have been for peasant farmers from Waterford and Cork, a very foreign shore.

‘Mothers with their infants at their breast, young girls approaching womanhood, and athletic labourers in the prime of life were all landed in a state of almost utter nudity’.

And almost as soon as the gang-planks had lowered, the Irish settlers discovered that Colonel William Cotter had sold them a pack of lies; the agents of Dom Pedro tried to immediately press gang them into regiments that were shipping out for the still-smouldering border regions in the

Their women and children would have been left stranded on the docks and William Cotter, their only mediator with the Brazilian authorities, was nowhere to be seen.

After much confusion, the Irish were marched between files of local militia to the barracks at Barbonos Street ‘amid the taunts of the populace and the jeers of multitudes of negroes, shouting
and clapping their hands at the unexpected apparition of the “white slaves", as they pleased to denominate the unfortunate Irish’, was how one contemporary witness described the scene.

After a welcome like that, William Cotter’s promises of great opportunities in a new land of plenty must have started to ring hollow. When they reached the overcrowded, squalid barracks, they found that their living quarters and food fell far short of the standard promised by William Cotter. Their new life in Brazil had started badly and it was about to get a lot worse.

The Irish violently resisted attempts to put them into the imperial army uniform and sought help from the British ambassador, Robert Gordon. Gordon was an ‘ill-mannered and obstinate Scot’ in the view of Dom Pedro, but the British minister in Rio knew his duty and Dom Pedro was dependent on British goodwill for his plans for both Brazil and Portugal. Gordon immediately lodged a strongly-worded protest with the Brazilian court and after further pressure from the British, the Imperial army backed down on plans to press-gang every Munsterman who could shoulder a musket.

Dom Pedro of Brazil - Not A Munster Fan

Fewer than four hundred Irishmen eventually joined the Imperial army and any plans for creating an Irish Legion had to be abandoned. As they were too few to become a separate unit, the Irishmen were integrated into the Third (German) Battalion of Grenadiers and found themselves sharing the ranks with that equally-disgruntled band of recent arrivals. Who did not speak their language - but hated the Portuguese.

Meanwhile, the war on the Argentine frontier was fizzling out, thanks largely to their countryman William Brown and his destruction of Brazilian naval forces, so the Irish who did sign up never made it to the front.

The Munster settlers were now stranded in Rio with no real protectors and little or no help from
the authorities who no longer needed them to fight their war. Nothing was done to move them to the farmlands they had been promised. They lived in squalid, disease-ridden barracks and shacks and depended on the help of two British doctors, Dixon and Coates, for medicines and food relief.

The enslaved Africans – called ‘moleques’ – were in the majority in the Imperial capital, and they had their reasons for harbouring a violent antipathy towards the Irish and German settlers and mercenaries. As the poorest class of people in Brazil, the moleques took a ‘fiendish delight in tormenting the destitute Irish’, according to the Irish-born churchman Robert Walsh, calling them the ‘escravos brancos’ or ‘white slaves’ and brawling with them in the street. Abandoned, starving and unarmed, the Corkmen responded by forming ad hoc street gangs and fighting the Africans with sticks and stones through the back allays of Rio.

After six months of escalating tensions, the Brazilian government, under increasing pressure from the British and concerned about the gangs of Irish that were now threatening civil order started to look for ways to ship them out. Colonel William Cotter made a brief reappearance on the scene, charged with chastising his rebellions Irish recruits, but his presence only served to inflame the Irish migrants who felt they had been cheated and lied to.

On 15 March 1828, 101 families of Cork and Waterford emigrants left Rio on the Victoria for Salvador, a town further up the Atlantic coast of Brazil. They arrived in early August and settled as farm labourers in Taperoa, near Valença. Some struggled on to build a new life for themselves, others kept travelling northwards towards the United States.

Rio In The 1820s - Sugarloaf in the Background 

In June, the remaining eighty or so Irish serving in the Grenadier Battalion decided to join a large band of their German comrades in a violent mutiny: on the morning of 11 June, a party of fourteen mutinous German grenadiers left their barracks at Sao Cristovao to capture their hated Brazilian commander on the streets of Rio. The Brazilian major, tipped off to their approach, managed to barricade himself into a police station. The Germans stormed the police station, but the major escaped on a fast horse. The soldiers were spotted by a large party Irish soldiers and the two forces joined up and started rampaging through the streets of downtown Rio.

Their ranks swelled by Irish civilians, the mob started looting shops and bars, burning houses and terrorising the indigenous poor people of Rio, the cariocas. The Irish mob included women and children, who helped to burn up to a hundred houses and businesses, killing or maiming many of the occupants; within hours, ferocious street battles involving the Munstermen, Germans, local militias and black African slaves had erupted across Rio. The Irish soldiers and their families raged through the streets, shouting ‘Death to the Brazilians!’ and ‘Death to the Portuguese!’

Resentment had broken into the worst communal violence seen in Rio. The Irish mob shouted that they would drag Dom Pedro from his palace and string him from the nearest tree.

The Emperor’s Minister of War, Barroso responded by telling his troops; ‘Kill them all. Give no quarter to anybody. Kill the Irish! Kill those foreigners!’

Some Irish civilians and soldiers did hold back from the rampage; at Praia Vermelha, today the popular ‘Red Beach’ of Rio, underneath the Sugar Loaf mountain, an officer called Colonel MacGregor managed to restrain his Irish/German infantry battalion, but he could not persuade his men to help put down the rioting and the battalion stayed out of the street battles that went through the night and into the following days.

The Irish from the Third Battalion took the lead in the rioting and went after Colonel Cotter.

After months of hardship and lies, they wanted a reckoning with the Irish soldier of fortune they accused of selling them into slavery. The mob chased Cotter and his officers out of the Campo de Santana area of downtown Rio and attacked a police post, killing six policemen. In desperation, the authorities issued arms to the civilian population, including the slaves (an unprecedented measure - who could say they would not turn the weapons on their masters?). For the first time ever, the African population of Rio was allowed to practise their secret capoeira form of unarmed combat on the streets as they went up against the Irish mob that was armed with muskets, sticks, stones, machetes and bottles. After forty-eight hours of pitched battles, the Cork and Waterford men withdrew to their barracks and barricaded themselves in.

Brazilian troops were rushed to the capital and Dom Pedro appealed to local British and French naval commanders to land sailors and marines to help them. On 12 and 13 June, the rebel barracks were put under siege by a multinational, multi-coloured force of slaves, soldiers, sailors and marines. British and French forces, stationed on ships in the harbour, had agreed to act as holding troops at strategic points around the city to allow Imperial forces to be freed up to take on the Irish and Germans. The mutineers and their families were told to surrender; some did, but many decided to fight to the end. The episode ended in carnage, with as many as a hundred and fifty soldiers of fortune, both German and Irish, cornered and killed in their barracks. Hundreds of Brazilian  soldiers and hundreds more local civilians also died.

The surviving Irish and German mutineers were marched through the streets, back to the harbour where they had arrived earlier that year, and crammed into disease-ridden prison hulks. By this stage, Emperor Dom Pedro was desperate to rid himself of his rebellious Munster subjects and in July 1828 and with the help of the British, arranged for around 1,400 of the immigrants to be put on boats for Ireland and Britain. Perhaps as many as four hundred other Irish remained in Brazil as farmers and eventually settled in the southern provinces of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul.

This leaves some six hundred Irish immigrants unaccounted for, most of whom probably met their death in Rio, in the surrounding regions or on ships bound for some sort of sanctuary.

The emperor Dom Pedro blamed the entire incident on the minister for war, Barroso, whom he accused of inciting the mutiny and doing nothing to suppress it.

Large parts of Rio were devastated, hundreds were dead and mutilated bodies littered the streets. The Emperor’s best regiments had been battered by the mutineers and his plans to bring thousands more settlers from Ireland were in ruins. His forces, assaulted on land by Irish farmers-turned-mutineers and on sea by their countryman Admiral Brown, were in no shape to carry on the war. Dom Pedro was soon forced into a humiliating and costly concession to the French, who were looking for compensation for ships and cargoes blockaded in Rio harbour during the Napoleonic wars. And there was further humiliation for the Emperor when he was forced to concede the loss of the provinces that made up Uruguay, which became the independent state it is today.

Dom Pedro’s gamble on Irish and German mercenaries and his trust in unscrupulous men like Colonel William Cotter had backfired in grand style. There are no further accounts of Colonel William Cotter in Brazilian history. In the style befitting the man, he slipped out of the story, almost certainly weighed down with a large commission for selling out his countrymen.

****** Thanks for Reading - Joe O'Shea

Friday, 6 June 2014

We'll Always Have Rio! The 2,500 Munster Farmers Who Took A Wrong Turn - And Fought The Emperor of Brazil (Pt 1)

* Did you know that an army of our forefathers went out to Brazil many years ago. And had a crazy time in the old Ciudad Maravillosa. In fact, they burnt it to the ground.

You may be surprised to learn that Brazil once had an emperor - and even more surprised to learn that the most dangerous forces he ever faced were 2,500 blood-thirsty farmers from Cork and Waterford - in the Irish province known as Munster - and an Irish Admiral who took, sank or destroyed his Imperial Navy........

I thought I would tell their long-forgotten story.....

Emperor Dom Pedro I - No Friend Of The Irish - The Fecker

We don’t know much about Colonel William Cotter, beyond the fact that he was a con-man, a killer and a right bad bastard. 

In the early nineteenth century, Col. Cotter managed to trick more than two and a half thousand Cork and Waterford farmers into leaving their homes and crossing the broad Atlantic to fight for the Emperor of Brazil. 

In one of the more bizarre episodes in Irish history, Cotter, an Irish soldier of fortune in the service of Emperor Dom Pedro I of Brazil, was responsible for luring the Irish men, women and children to South America with the promise of a new life. When they arrived, they discovered that, far from farming, they were to form an ‘Irish Legion’ to fight against Argentinean-backed rebels in the war of the ‘Banda Oriental’ in present-day Uruguay. 

In the end, the only fighting most of them saw was with German immigrants, African slaves and Imperial soldiers on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. The Irish-led rioting in the hot summer of 1828 left hundreds dead and a large part of Brazil’s Cidade Maravilhosa – marvellous city – a smoking ruin; their murderous rampage, together with shattering naval victories won by a legendary Mayo man fighting for the Argentine nation, redrew the map of South America. 

It’s strange to think that for all of the violence and social upheaval it has seen, the single worst episode of communal violence ever to hit Rio was caused by a couple of thousand Munster farmers who took a wrong turn. Hundreds of them would never leave Rio again and would fall victim to violence, disease and destitution. Those that survived would be scattered to the four winds, ending up as refugees in Britain or in isolated pockets in South America and the West Indies.

Irish people travelled in their thousands to South America at the end of the eighteenth and start of the nineteenth centuries. Some found fame and considerable fortune, from the Irish who established rancher dynasties on the prairie-lands of Argentina to soldiers and statesmen like Admiral William Brown and Bernardo O’Higgins. But as well as these successes, there were also the ‘forgotten’ Irish of South America, mostly land-hungry Catholics looking for a better life. 

Under the Sugar Loaf of Rio de Janeiro in 1827, some of these forgotten Irish men and women became known as ‘escravos brancos’ – the ‘white slaves’.

The reasons for the ‘white slaves’ presence in Brazil date back several years to 1825. The newly-
crowned emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro I (who would become King of Portugal in 1826), was facing a manpower problem, war with his neighbours to the south and dynastic battles with his relations amongst the ruling family of the mother country, Portugal. 

In the lingering turmoil of post-Napoleonic Europe, he was fighting to assert his right to the throne of faraway Portugal while striving to build an empire in the vast, fractious territories of Brazil. 

The war for the Banda Oriental, modern-day Uruguay, had started well for Dom Pedro thanks to his largely Portuguese troops, who were hardened by years of fighting alongside the British (led by the Irish-born Duke of Wellington) in the brutal Peninsular War against Napoleon. 

In the dispute over the territory bordered by the Rio del Plata and the Uruguay River, the Brazilians were fighting against ill-trained and irregular forces of Argentine gauchos who received little or no backing from the government in Buenos Aires. However, the long conflict had worn down the Brazilian forces and many of the Portuguese veterans had returned home, leaving native-born Brazilian soldiers from tropical regions to fight in a desolate and cold wasteland, so by early 1827, the war was not going well for Dom Pedro.

In addition to the problems on land, the Brazilian navy was being pressured by the Argentines, under the command of Mayo-born Admiral William Brown, one of the great heroes of Argentine history. Brown, already a legend of the Argentine war of independence had long warned of the danger posed to Buenos Aires by the Brazilian navy, but had been ignored by the politicians who, forgetting the great service he had already done for their country, dismissed him as ‘a foreigner’.

Admiral William Brown - The Ginger Ninja of The Seas
When the Brazilians began a menacing blockade of the Argentine coast, those same politicians came ‘cap in hand’ to the Irish admiral and begged him to come out of retirement and organise a naval force. Brown sprang into action and hastily pulled together a scratch squadron of ships; in early February 1827 he prepared to take on the Brazilian forces at the mouth of the Uruguay River, within cannon shot of the now fearful city of Buenos Aires. At the hard-fought Battle of Juncal in February 1827, with just seven ships and eight single gun launches, Brown sank, took or disabled twelve of the opposing Brazilian squadron of seventeen ships. He also took its commander, Sena Pereira, prisoner. 

Before the battle, the Mayo Man addressed his officers and men, declaring ‘Comrades: confidence in victory, discipline, and three hails to the motherland!’ 

And as the Brazilian ships came within cannon shot, and thousands of Argentines watched from the shore, the indefatigable Brown shouted; ‘Open fire! The people are watching us!’ 

After his shattering victories, Brown effectively forced the Brazilians to sue for peace. 

When the Irish admiral returned to Buenos Aires, he was greeted by bonfires and wild street 
celebrations from a relieved and thankful populace. The Irishman a "foreigner" no more.

Some months before Brown’s victory at sea over Brazil, Dom Pedro realised the tide of the war had started to turn against him; running short of men, material and loyal subjects to colonise the disputed lands, he made plans to encourage European immigration and put a premium on tradesmen, farmers and mercenary soldiers. 

After plans to import 5,000 German peasent farmers fell through, Dom Pedro turned to the era’s favoured source for cheap cannon-fodder and expendable colonists – the Irish.

Waterford-born Robert Walsh, was a prominent anti-slavery activist in the US and chaplain to the British embassy in Rio at the time and later wrote that Dom Pedro decided on; ‘the Irish, who from the redundancy of population at home, might be easily procured.’ 

William Cotter, an Irish-born colonel in the service of the Brazilian army, was despatched to Ireland in October 1826 to start the recruitment process.

Cotter sent out advertising bills across Munster, promising free passage, provisions (including free clothes) and a grant of land in the exciting new country of Brazil for those brave enough to take the opportunity of a lifetime. Advertisements were placed in Irish newsheets and recruitment pitches were read out in Churches and tacked to the walls of country courthouses.

Ominously, a stipulation that some light military service may also be involved was relegated to the small print. Many of the recruiting posters made no mention at all of possible service in the army of the Emperor of Brazil.

Contemporary sources say that many of the men who signed up understood that there would be an obligation to train as militiamen to defend their settlements while others ‘whose idle habits led them to prefer a military life’, freely volunteered for the army.

British embassy chaplain Robert Walsh, who interviewed many of his fellow Irishmen in Rio shortly after their uprising, recorded that many of them had hoped to find a new life in Brazil. 

The Irish American Diplomat & Anti-Slavery Campaigner Robert Walsh

‘The notifications were received with great joy by the people,’ Walsh recorded in his Notices of 
Brazil in 1828 and 1829, published in London shortly after his return from South America. 

‘The exceeding distress of the poor peasantry of that part of Ireland, as well from exuberant population as want of employment, is notorious, and they were eager to avail themselves of the proposal.

‘Land was the great object of their competition at home, and they who thought themselves fortunate in obtaining a few acres at an exorbitant rent in Ireland, were transported at the idea of receiving a grant of fifty acres, rent free, in Brazil."

‘Many, therefore, as they told me, sold their farms at home, and laid out the small portion of money they could raise, in purchasing agricultural implements, conceiving that their military service was to be merely local, and would no more prevent their attending to their land, than if they were members of yeomanry corps in their own country.

‘Some of them, as was to be expected, were of indifferent characters and dissolute manners; but 
the majority decent, respectable people, who brought out with them their wives and families, and
who would be an acquisition to any country as settlers, but particularly to Brazil.’

Colonel William Cotter was a natural born salesman and the ground was more than fertile for his promises of paradise in the New World.

He quickly signed up between 2,400 and 2,500 farmers and their families, almost none of whom had military experience of any kind. 

A small armada of ten ships would eventually set sail from Cork to Brazil (for the ports of Rio, 
Espirito Santo and Sao Paulo) carrying a total of 3,169 passengers, comprising 2,450 men, 335 women, 123 young boys and girls and 230 children. One ship, the Charlotte Maria, left Cork on 9 September 1827, with two hundred and fifty men, twenty-six women, and nine children on board, arriving in Rio de Janeiro 22 December. A man called William Herbert, perhaps sensing which way the wind was blowing, jumped ship in Tenerife. Thirteen died on board and of the other families, familiar Irish names like Welsh, Leahy, Maher, Hartnett, Daly, McCarthy, O’Leary, Sullivan, Power, Mills and O’Shea (and at this point, a quick howya to the great-great-great-grandad!) were recorded in the ship’s manifest. 

The contracts they had signed (even if, in many cases, not fully understood) promised them pay and allowances equal to one shilling per day plus victuals, as well as a grant of forty acres of land after five years of service to the Emperor. The key point was that their military service would be limited to four hours of training each day and while they would be ready to act as a kind of army reserve, the Irish would ‘not be sent out of the province of Rio unless in time of war or invasion’. 

They did not know of the bitter, intermittent and drawn-out war that was already being fought on the disputed border between the Argentine and Brazil.

But both parties were about to get a shock. The Irish, on their arrival in Rio and Dom Pedro, who would soon learn that he needed more Munster Men like Custer needed more Indians. 

******* Thanks for Reading - The Second and Final Part of Munster Men Go Mad In Rio - is Here