St. Patrick's Day in Peru, 1824
By Brian McGinn

Published by www.irishdiaspora.net. An earlier version of this article originally appeared in Irish Roots magazine, N° 1, 1995, pp. 26-27.

Page 1

As Irish emigrants have scattered across the globe, St. Patrick has been honoured in unexpected ways and places. But a Peruvian celebration of 1824 was unique. Indeed, it is doubtful that Ireland's patron saint was feted before - or since - in the Andean mountain village of Huamachuco. And if he was, it is unlikely that the celebration had such fateful effects on the lives of its participants.

The three Irishmen who gathered that cold summer [1] night in Peru were soldiers in the army of Simón Bolívar, the hero of South America's war for independence. Bolívar's struggle against Spain had won sympathy and support in Ireland. At least 2,500 Irish soldiers and sailors joined Bolívar's cause. [2] Daniel O'Connell sent his teenage son Morgan to fight in Venezuela [3], and in 1826 O'Connell borrowed for himself the title originally bestowed on Bolívar in 1813: The Liberator. [4]

Simón Bolívar (1783-1830)

The stage for this 1824 gathering had been set some months earlier, when Colonel Francis Burdett O'Connor [5], a Cork-born battalion commander, had landed in Peru. O'Connor was handed two bottles of Irish whiskey by the captain of his transport ship, an Irishman named Simpson. 'When you meet up with some of our fellow countrymen,' the skipper told O'Connor, 'these will help you celebrate the feast of our patron saint'. [6]

Packed carefully in straw, the whiskey had followed O'Connor from the tropical coast to the frigid mountains. Busy with urgent military missions, O'Connor had let March 17 slip by uncelebrated. Some weeks later, Bolívar provided the opportunity for a belated observance when he called all his officers to a council-of-war at his highland camp. [7]

O'Connor rode to Huamachuco in the company of Bolívar's favourite general, a dashing young Venezuelan named Antonio José de Sucre. Two years before, Sucre had liberated Ecuador when he routed the Spanish army on the outskirts of Quito, the capital. [8] But the twenty-nine year old Sucre now had love rather than war on his mind. During celebrations of his great victory in Quito, Sucre had met and been smitten by a seventeen year old Ecuadorean heiress, Mariana Carcelén y Larrea. [9]

As the eldest daughter of a wealthy and pretentious aristocrat, Mariana inherited the grandiose title of Marchioness of Solanda. The teenager had little interest in settling down, and it was her father who engineered her betrothal to Sucre before he left Quito to liberate Peru. In an age when young women were always chaperoned, Mariana's father plotted to find Sucre alone in Mariana's company. Feigning shock, the father demanded that Sucre immediately ask for the hand of the daughter whose honour he had compromised, and the flustered hero agreed. [10]


Mariana Carcelén

Mariana however, did not feel bound by such conventions. With Sucre back at war, and her father dead, the flirtatious marchioness [11] soon caught the eye of another visiting hero, Colonel Arthur Sandes. The second of six sons of Alicia Browne and Henry Sandes of Glenfield, County Kerry, [12] Arthur was a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars before joining Bolívar in 1817. [13] By May 1819, the Kerryman was commanding Bolívar's Rifles Battalion, and three months later received a field promotion to Lieutenant Colonel after leading a charge against Spanish cannon. [14]

Arthur Sandes
(From The Irish Sword, Vol. XII N° 47, p. 139)

Sandes, apparently unaware of Mariana's prior engagement to Sucre, was not shy about popping the question. And the whimsical quiteńa promptly agreed to marry the handsome Irishman. Word of this turn of events soon reached Sucre, but the general had held his tongue, waiting for an opportune moment to confront his Irish subordinate. [15]

On reaching Huamachuco, Bolívar's Irish officers wasted no time in finding each other. The night after he arrived, O'Connor was visited by Sandes. The two Irish colonels were soon joined by Captain William Owens Ferguson, the eldest son of John Ferguson of Ballinderry, County Antrim and Agnes Knox, his wife. Problems with his family and finances at home drove the headstrong Ulster youth to South America, where he joined Bolívar's forces at the age of eighteen. [16]

Ferguson's younger brother, Samuel, had a more settled disposition, and achieved fame as a distinguished poet - he wrote 'The Lark in the Clear Air' and 'Lament for Thomas Davis' - and as president of the Royal Irish Academy. [17]

William, only twenty-four years old at Huamachuco, was destined to achieve his own measure of immortality before reaching the age of thirty.

The reminiscences of the trio were abruptly interrupted when Sucre strode into their hut. 'Sandes,' said the general, 'I know that you are planning to marry the daughter of the Marquis of Solanda. But I also wish to marry this girl.' [18]


1 - 2 - 3


1. Since Huamachuco is in the Southern Hemisphere, St. Patrick's Day falls in the summer rather than winter, as in the Northern Hemisphere. Despite the season, the weather in the mountain village (3180 m) would have been cold.

2. Alfred Hasbrouck, 'Foreign Legionaries in the Liberation of South America' (New York: Columbia University Press, 1928; London: P. S. King, 1928; rpt. New York: Octagon Books, 1969), p. 388, 29-30. Eric Lambert, 'Irish Soldiers in South America, 1818-1830' in The Irish Sword, Vol. XVI, N° 62 (Summer 1984) p. 27. Hasbrouck has 1,729 men in the Irish Legion of John Devereux, plus an additional 387 in the Irish contingent of Colonel Gore. Irish-born soldiers also served in Bolívar's British Legion. Lambert has fifty-three ships leaving the coasts of Britain and Ireland 'carrying some 5,500 officers and men, of whom about 5,000-more than half of them Irish-set foot on the shores of South America.'

3. Maurice R. O'Connell (ed.) 'The Correspondence of Daniel O'Connell', Vol. II (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1973), p. 257-58: Letter N° 837, Daniel O'Connell to General Bolívar, Dublin, Ireland, 17 April 1820. According to Maurice R. O'Connell (personal correspondence to author, 23 December 1991), O'Connell's support for Bolívar's liberation campaign did not contradict his well-known antipathy to bloodshed at home: 'O'Connell was not a pacifist. He believed that most wars are unnecessary-as a great many Liberals did in the nineteenth century. He would have justified aid to the South Americans against Spain on the ground that the King of Spain was a tyrant who destroyed the Liberales in Spain, restored absolute monarchy and reestablished the Inquisition..... his reasons for supporting intervention were not a denial of his non-violent principles. I don't think he would agree for a moment that the Spanish monarchy as restored after the fall of Napoleon was a legitimate government.'

4. Oliver MacDonagh, 'The Hereditary Bondsman: Daniel O'Connell, 1775-1829' (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988), p. 171.

5. The O'Connors were descended from an English family of Protestant merchants named Conner that settled in Cork during the seventeenth century. Francis' father Roger, who along with his better-known brother Arthur became United Irishmen, Gaelicized the surname to O'Connor, while the rest retained the original Conner. See Laurence M. Geary, 'Fraternally Yours: Roderic and Francis Burdett O'Conner' in Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, Vol. XCV., N° 254 (January-December 1990), p. 120. Francisco Burdett started out as William, while his brother Feargus Edward was originally named Edward Bowen; both forenames were changed by their father in early life, the former in honor of Roger's friend and patron Sir Francis Burdett, a Baronet and radical member of the English Parliament. See Richard Robert Madden, 'The United Irishmen: Their Lives and Times' (New York: Tandy Publishing Company, 1911), p. 160; Eric Lambert, 'General Francis Burdett O'Connor' in The Irish Sword, Vol. XIII, N° 51 (Winter 1977), p. 128. This imaginative rewriting of family history led later generations of the faux-Irish family to claim descent from Rory O'Connor, last of the Irish High Kings; Mulhall reports that Francisco Burdett adopted the coat of arms of the Royal O'Connors as his own. See Michael G. Mulhall, 'The English in South America' (Buenos Aires: Standard Printing Office, 1878), pp. 263-64. The consequences of such genealogical delusions can be seen in the words of Tomas O'Connor d'Arlach, who arranged for the publication of the memoirs of Francisco Burdett: 'My grandfather was the last representative of that ancient royal house of Ireland that has nurtured in its bosom so many distinguished men who have brought imperishable glory to the fatherland, some in the halls of Parliament, others in the forum, in letters, in diplomacy, and on the field of battle, and still others in sacrificing their lives as martyrs for the Catholic faith and to their religious belief, which the family has preserved intact through the centuries'; see Enrique Naranjo M(artinez), 'Irish Participation in Bolívar's Campaigns' (Washington, D.C., 1927; rpt. from the Bulletin of the Pan American Union, October, 1925), p. 5. The claim to martyrdom is especially ironic in light of the fact that Roger and his son Arthur were lifelong atheists; Francis Burdett apparently shared their beliefs while in Ireland, but became a devout Catholic in South America and died with the Last Rites. James Dunkerley provides a theoretical explanation of the motives for this claim (royal descent) in the sons' attitude to the contrast between their father Roger, 'a sportsman and spectacular spendthrift' and their uncle Arthur, a 'renegade MP, hardline leader of the United Irishmen and convicted traitor to the British crown, who was idolized by his nephews as a persecuted and heroic patriot. The imbalance between their father and uncle in terms of public profile and achievement possibly helps to explain why both Frank and Feargus maintained throughout their lives that the family descended from the kings of Connaught, thereby providing some dynastic compensation -perhaps even excuse- for the fact that Roger was, in the words of Graham Wallas, 'a semi-lunatic'; see James Dunkerley, 'The Third Man: Francisco Burdett O'Connor and the Emancipation of the Americas' (University of London: Institute of Latin American Studies, Occasional Papers N° 20; 1999) pp. 2-3.

6. Francisco Burdett O'Connor, 'Un Irlandés con Bolívar' (Caracas: El Cid Editor, 1977), pp. 69-70. All citations in the above article are taken from this, the third edition. O'Connors' memoirs were not published during his lifetime, but later appeared under various titles and dates. The first edition, titled 'Recuerdos', was published in Tarija, Bolivia: Talleres de La Estrella, 1895. The second edition, titled 'Independencia Americana: Recuerdos de Francisco Burdett O'Connor, colonel del Ejército, libertador de Colombia y general de división del Perú y Bolivia', was published in Madrid by Biblioteca Ayacucho, 'dirigida por el escritor venezuelano Rufino Blanco-Fombona' in 1916. The second edition was also published in La Paz, Cochabamba, Oruro and Potosi (Gonzalez y Medina, 1915). O'Connor's grandson Tomás (often erroneously referred to as Francisco) O'Connor d'Arlach was responsible for publication of the second edition. His prologue appears in the second and third (1977) editions. See 'Breve Noticia Sobre La Obra' in 'O'Connor, Un Irlandés con Bolívar'; James Dunkerley, 'The Third Man', p. 7; The National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints (London: Mansell, 1968-1981) Vol. 426, pp. 329-330.

7. Bolívar's Cork-born aide-de-camp, Daniel O'Leary, gives the date of Bolívar's council-of-war at Huamachuco as 22 April 1824. See 'Memorias del General Daniel Florencio O'Leary: Narración', Tomo Segundo (Caracas: Imprenta Nacional, 1952), p. 251.

8. Martha Gil-Montero, 'The Liberator's Noble Match' in Americas, May-June 1993, p. 11.

9. Martha Gil-Montero, 'The Marchioness and the Marshall' in Americas, March-April, 1994, p. 7.

10. Martha Gil-Montero, 'The Liberator's Noble Match', p. 11

11. Martha Gil-Montero, 'The Marchioness and the Marshall', p. 9.

12. Sir Bernard Burke, 'A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Ireland' (London: Harrison & Sons, 1912), p. 623. All six sons choose military careers and served overseas. Only one (Goodman) of Arthur's brothers survived to return to Ireland, the others dying in South Africa (John), Trinidad (Henry and George) and on a ship returning from India (Thomas).

13. Arthur was present at The Battle of Waterloo. See Eric Lambert: 'Arthur Sandes of Kerry' in The Irish Sword, Vol. XII, N° 47 (Winter 1975), p. 139. There is credible evidence that Arthur Sandes was a fluent Irish speaker; Maurice R. O'Connell, op. cit. p. 410, n. 1. See also Eric Lambert, 'Voluntarios Británicos e Irlandeses en la Gesta Bolívariana' (Caracas: Ministerio de Defensa, 1993) Tomo III, pp. 266-267, where the author relates a fascinating tale of an Irish family named Collins settled at San Carlos, near Santa Marta in modern-day Colombia. According to the author, they were part of a colony of 'free English' (ingleses libres) founded by Spain's King Carlos III. In this case, the term 'English' seems to have loosely applied. The Collins father and one of his daughters were presented to the Spanish commander, who could not understand a single word of what they were saying. O'Connor was next called upon to try in English, which also met with failure. Shortly thereafter, Sandes was observed conversing with the Collins family in Irish.

14. Lambert, 'Arthur Sandes of Kerry', p. 141.

15. Martha Gil-Montero, 'The Liberator's Noble Match', p. 14

16. Hasbrouck, op. cit, pp. 333-34. Michael G. Mulhall, 'The English in South America' (Buenos Aires: The Standard Office, 1878; London: E. Stanford, 1878; rpt. New York: Arno Press, 1977), pp. 283. 'Journal from Lima to Caracas, Commencing Sept. 4, 1826' by Colonel William O. Ferguson (unpublished thirteen-page manuscript that was sent home after Ferguson's death, presently held by his grand-nephew in Canada), introduction by anonymous grand-nephew, p. 1.

17. Henry Boylan (ed.) 'A Dictionary of Irish Biography', Third Edition (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan Ltd., 1998), p. 129.

Robert Welch (ed.) 'The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature' (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), p. 185-86.

'Dictionary of National Biography', Vol. VI (London: Oxford University Press, 1953), pp. 1219-20.

18. Francisco Burdett O'Connor, op. cit., p. 69; Martha Gil-Montero, 'The Liberator's Noble match', p.p. 14-15; Eric Lambert, 'Arthur Sandes of Kerry', p. 145.



1 - 2 - 3

Last Update: January 2005


Please contact us if you have a question or wish to suggest changes