Glimpses of the Irish in Nineteenth-Century Bogotá



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(l)                   Irish Legion Commemorative Medal

Sello Conmemorativo de la Legión Irlandesa. Nineteenth-century bronze medal made in England. c.1819. Reg. No. 700. Inscription: 'Dios y Nuestra Cause [sic] La Legión Irlandesa' (God and Our Cause The Irish Legion). (Brown and Alonso Roa reproduction p. 229). Mentioned in the Nueva Guía descriptiva del Museo de Bogotá (1886).

(m)               Tomás Carlos Wright [27]

Oil on cloth portrait by Antonio Salas. [28] c.1824. Copy from the Juan José Flores Archive, Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador [29]

(n)                 Tomás Murray [30]

Oil on cloth portrait by Constancio Franco Vargas, José Eugenio Montoya and Julián Rubiano. [31] c.1880. Reg. No. 268. (Brown and Alonso Roa reproduction p. 238). Mentioned in the Nueva Guía descriptiva del Museo Nacional de Bogotá (1886).

Jeremías O'Leary Burke [?], ca. 1835
(Catálogo de Miniaturas, 1993)

The miniatures of Jeremias and Daniel O’Leary are of more than passing interest. [32] They are described as being of the 'English school' and while that may be so, it is this writer’s belief that they are the work of the prolific Cork miniaturist Frederick Buck. [33] Buck was renowned for 'the famous pink complexion […] in its worst manifestation, this is an overall pinkness, not merely rosy cheeks, and can be bestowed on man or woman.' He was a 'man of habit. Having found his ideal background, he stuck to it. He also stuck to his favourite pose, which was three-quarter face, with the setter looking to the right. He used this position whenever possible, sometimes even when painting husband and wife as a pair […] He eschewed profiles, in contrast to his brother Adam who specialised in them…' [34] All of these characteristics are clearly evident in these three O’Leary miniatures. Buck may well have painted Daniel Florence O’Leary when the latter visited Cork in 1834.

The O’Leary family is an interesting one. Daniel Florence married Soledad Soublette, the sister of Bolívar’s Chief of Staff, and the future president of Venezuela, General Soublette. They had a large family of five sons and four daughters. Four of the children were educated in Europe and a grandson, also named Daniel Florence O’Leary, settled in Great Britain and established a branch of the family there. [35] Some of O’Leary’s letters were at one time on display at the Museo Nacional in Bogotá. On returning to Colombia after living for a time in Jamaica and at Puerto Cabello in Venezuela, O’Leary lived quietly with his wife and children at his estate ‘El Chocho’ near Fusagasuga on the savannah of Bogotá. [36] In March 2005, Michael O’Leary of Cork, his cousin Peter O’Leary, a great grandson of Daniel Florence O’Leary, accompanied by a five-member group from Cork, gathered at the Panteón de los Heroes in Caracas to lay a wreath in honour of the memory of a revered hero. [37]

Richard Vawell, [38] a Cambridge graduate from Cork, is a chronicler who did not possess O’Leary’s talent. O’Leary’s memoirs are the best contemporary account of the South American revolutions by Latin American or European authors such as O’Connor, Millar or Cochrane. Varwell has however left one marvellous description of an unexpected encounter with a compatriot. 'El propietario de la plantación era un irlandés de nacimiento, llamado FitzPatrick, establecido desde hacía mucho tiempo en el país; estaba casado con una criolla que le había dado numerosa descendencia. Era la primera visita que hubiese recibido de compatriotas, en aquel país, y pareció muy asombrado del singular azar que se le procuraba. […] y era ostensible su mucha satisfacción al conversar con nosotros en su lengua materna, que no hablaba hacía años. (The owner of the plantation was an Irish-born man named FitzPatrick who had been settled in the country for a long time; he was married to a Creole woman with whom he had many children. It was the first visit of compatriots that he had received in that country, and he seemed quite astonished by the singular chance which had resulted in the meeting. [...] and his deep satisfaction was evident in conversing with us in his native tongue which he had not spoken for years.)' [39]


The British Cemetery, Bogotá

Central archway at the British Cemetery of Bogotá
(Photo: Edward Walsh 2005)

The British Cemetery in Bogotá [40] is located on Calle 26, next to the sprawling central cemetery. [41] In 1825 the British community was given a burial plot on the road to Zipaquirá. Two years later this plot was exchanged for another at San Victorino and finally the existing property located in the suburb of San Diego was obtained in 1829. In 1835 this land was surrounded by a wall. The first burial registered at the British Embassy is dated 1830. Some soldiers of the British Legion and their descendants are buried in the cemetery. The British Consul was responsible for burials and for maintaining the relevant registers. In 1994 responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the cemetery was passed from the British Consulate to the resident British community. [42]

Just inside the gate from the street and close to the main entrance there is a bungalow-style gate lodge with listed building status which has been declared national patrimony. A resident caretaker lives in this house. The gate from the street is kept locked and access is restricted to prevent theft, vandalism and desecration of graves. The front garden section is separated from the inner burial area by metal railings made from canons and bayonets from the Colombian War of Independence. [43] A tree-lined avenue leads to a formal gateway and the actual burial area. [44] There are identical engraved stone plaques on both pillars and among the three inscriptions there is one which reads 'Captain Charles Smith of Ireland, who died at Bogotá on 3rd April 1853 aged 63 years.' Among the tombs and gravestones, some with faded and illegible inscriptions, there are two further inscriptions of Irish interest: 'Agnes Conley, Lissnafillan, [45] Ireland 1868 - Bogotá 1945' and 'Marie Carrick O´Connor, 26 March 1912 - 10 March 2003.'

A la memoria ... del capitán Charles Smith, natural de Irlanda, muerto a los 63 años en Bogotá, el 3 de Abril de 1853'
(Photo: Edward Walsh 2005)'

Little is known concerning Irishman Thomas Fallon, [46] medical doctor and naturalist. He was called by the government to work at the silver mines of Santa Ana, near Mariquita. Here he met Marcela Carrión y León by whom he had three children - Diego [47] the celebrated poet, Tomasa and Cornelia.


Edward Walsh



I am indebted to María Cristina Cortés Sierra and Cathy Wilson of the Royal Institute of British Architects Information Centre, London; Edmundo Murray, Geneva; Flemming Skude, Copenhagen; Edgar Arrevalo, Peter Simon, Luis Enrique Velásquez, Don Jorge Guillermo Cortés Cuéllar, Doctor Felipe Zapata of the Fundación Beatriz Osorio and Magda Martínez Roberto, Casa Museo Mercedes Sierra de Pérez 'El Chico', all of Bogotá, for their assistance with precise details. The writer would particularly like to thank Cristina Lleras, curator of the art and history collections at the Museo Nacional, Bogotá, for permission to reproduce illustrations of the three miniatures pertaining to Daniel Florence O'Leary which appear in the Catálogo de las Fundaciones de Beatriz Osorio.



Since writing this article I have been advised by Cristina Lleras that a new and exhaustive study about Danish architect Thomas Reed [48] has been published which changes much of what was written about him by Silvia Arango. [49] The new study is: Saldarriaga Roa, Alberto, Alfonso Ortíz Crespo and José Alexander Pinzón Rivera, En Busca de Thomas Reed, Arquitectura y Política en el Siglo XIX (Bogotá: Panamericana Formas e Impresos, 2005).

Note of the Editor

We are grateful to Daniel Pedrazzoli for his permission to publish the illustration 'British Legion Private, 1821' in the last page of this article.


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2006

Online published: 1 March 2006
Edited: 07 May 2009

Walsh, Edward, 'Glimpses of the Irish in 19th-Century Bogotá' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 2006. Available online (, accessed .


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