officer and recruiter for the Irish Legion in Simón Bolívar's
army, was born in Taghmon, county Wexford, the son of William
Devereux and his wife, Mary, née Dixon. William Devereux
was a resident of Taghmon and owned a distillery and land. He
died in the Wexford gaol after the rising of 1798. His son John
Devereux was also prominent in the rising, and took part in the
Battle of Ross. To escape detention he was hidden by Francis
L'Estrange, a Carmelite friar in Dublin. Because of the
intercession of Lord Cornwallis, John Devereux was granted a
free pardon and his family lands in Taghmon were not forfeited,
but he had to exile a number of years. Probably, Devereux went
to France and served in Napoleon's army.
In the 1810s, Devereux was
living in the United States in voluntary exile and
as a US citizen. He joined a merchant house in Baltimore,
Maryland, and shipped a cargo of coffee from there to France
throughout the British blockade in 1812. Arriving in Cartagena
from the US in 1815 with a cargo of arms, just as Simón Bolívar
was going into exile, Devereux made an offer to the patriots. He
undertook to muster up support for them in Britain, where he
claimed to have many friends in parliament, and to raise an
Irish Legion of 5,000 men with the requisite arms, ammunition,
and military stores. He was to be paid $175 per soldier imported
into Venezuela. Devereux untruthfully boasted that he was a
general in the Irish army and had led the Irish Catholics in the
fight for Emancipation. After a visit to Buenos Aires, where he
endeavoured to convince the authorities that he could raise a
loan of two million pesos backed by the US government, he
arrived in Haiti to stay with Robert Sutherland, a British
merchant in Port au Prince. In July 1817 Sutherland forwarded to
Bolívar 'General' Devereux's offer to raise the Irish Legion,
which he strongly recommended. Bolívar accepted the offer and
Devereux travelled to Ireland in 1818 to commence recruitment
for his legion.
Although many of the
non-commissioned officers and privates recruited by Devereux
were war veterans, little care was exercised in selecting the
best men for the job and nearly all who applied were accepted.
It was a force noted more for its bravery than for its
discipline. Thousands of returned soldiers from the British army
in France enlisted for service in Venezuela. They sought not
only the certainty of an immediate livelihood, but also the
prospect of further excitement and adventure, with the chance of
making their fortunes in South America. With the Irish MP Daniel
O'Connell's support and the aid of the 'Irish Friends of South
American Independence', Devereux sold commissions in his legion
by forging a letter from Bolívar to attach legitimacy to his
project. O'Connell's son Morgan and a near relative from Ennis,
County Clare, Maurice, were among the officers.
The first contingent of John
Devereux's Irish Legion landed in Margarita Island between
September and December 1819 and the rest arrived in Angostura
(present-day Ciudad Bolívar) in April and May 1820. From the
beginning the expedition was plagued with problems as the
soldiers were given meagre food rations and no pay. There were a
number of mutinies, particularly after an attack on the Legion
at Rio Hacha soon after they landed. This left huge casualties
and afterwards most of the Irish were evacuated to Jamaica for
Devereux, as commander of the Irish
Legion, remained in England and Ireland, living sumptuously off
the profits of his subterfuge, until the return of some of those
whom he had cheated exposed him to danger of being arrested or
shot. Devereux was ultimately forced to travel to South America.
He landed on Margarita many months after his Legion had
departed. The Irish blamed the Venezuelan authorities for the
terrible hardships which they had been forced to endure, though
the responsibility should have been placed entirely on Devereux,
who sent his troops off without making any arrangements for
their reception, designated Margarita as their destination
without consultation with, or notification of, the military
authorities of Venezuela, and above all, failed to accompany his
men to cater for their needs.
Devereux was received with great pomp and ceremony by the
governor Arismendi. At a banquet in his honour, Devereux is
reported to have spoken for two hours, promising that all
Ireland was roused to the cause of the South American patriots.
It was an eloquent speech, yet its effect was somewhat marred by
the fact that Devereux spoke in English, a language which no
member of his audience understood. In 1821 Bolívar confirmed
John Devereux in the grade of Major General. He remained in
military service for two more years, and in December 1823, John
Devereux was appointed Colombian envoy extraordinary to the
courts of northern Europe.
In 1825 he was arrested by the
Austrian authorities and imprisoned in Venice. Devereux was
eventually released and, returning to the US, lived there on a
pension which he received from the government of Venezuela. In
the 1840s John Devereux was in Bogotá and Caracas on a business
with J.M. Restrepo. He died on 25 February 1860 at 47, Hertford
St., Mayfair, London (The Times, 28 February 1860).
Revised, 20 March 2007
Adapted from: Jim Byrne, Philip
Coleman and Jason King (eds.), Ireland and the Americas:
Culture, Politics and History (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO,
forthcoming 2006), with kind permission of the publisher.
- Hasbrouck, Alfred, Foreign
Legionaries in the Liberation of Spanish South America (New
York: Columbia University, 1928).
- Lambert, Eric,
británicos e irlandeses en la gesta bolivariana (Caracas,
Vol. 1: Corporación Venezolana de Guayana, 1981 - Vols. 2 and 3:
Ministerio de Defensa, 1993).
- Lambert, Eric,
'Irish soldiers in South America, 1810-30' in The Irish Sword,
16:62 (1984), pp. 22-35.