Irish clans O’Neill: French Military records

For centuries Irish soldiers served in various armies in Europe, particularly France and Spain, establishing a formidable reputation as able and loyal fighting men. Some of them rose to the highest military ranks in Europe and beyond. In 2012 an exhibition ‘1689-2011, The Irish and France: Three Centuries of Military Relations’ was held at the Military Museum, Les Invalides in Paris. It aimed to highlight the strong links that exist between Ireland and France, bringing it to the attention of a wider public, particularly the younger generation.*
The French military archives at Chateau de Vincennes store files on Irish regiments, on Irish officers and also on Irish soldiers. Archives at the Hotel Royal des Invalides (H.R.I.), or old soldiers’ home, record details of many of the veterans together with information about their regiments and service, region and county of origin, and lists have been published in various local historical journals. The names of three Irishmen are engraved on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Irish clans O’Neill
An article by Eoghan O hannrachain on O’Neills in the Invalides, with sources and bibliography, appears in The Irish Sword, The Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland, vol. XXV111, Summer 2011, No. 111. It is concerned with veterans of the O’Neill family name, nineteen of whom were found on a trawl through the registers of the H.R.I. It includes a translation of their biographical notices together with information about their regiments and service, county of origin. The theme of the article was the subject of a lecture given by the author at the gathering of the Association of O’Neill Clans in Paris, 24-27 June 2010.
These O’Neills in the service of France between 1670 and 1745 consisted of one ‘half-pay’ officer, six sergeants, three corporals, one trooper and eight soldiers, a typical breakdown for Irish military men seeking admission to the old soldiers’ home. The nineteen veterans had served in many regiments, both Irish and foreign. Their medical condition, personal and other information was recorded in detail at time of entry to H.R.I.
When their services ended, officers tended to remain in small Irish communities at places such as Aire-sur-la-Lys, Arras, Haguenau or Nantes, where they lived frugally on a pension, sometimes with spouses. Five of the O’Neills in the H.R.I. records were married. One declared that his wife was in Ireland. The others said that their spouses resided in Brittany, Douai, Paris and Tournay.
The nineteen veterans had served in many regiments, both Irish and foreign. Some admissions were temporary, others permanent while some also died in the old soldier’s home. If the rule of thumb that about one per cent of all recruits were eventually received into the H.R.I. is applied, it would suggest that some nineteen hundred O’Neills served under Louis XIV and Louis XV.
Ita Marguet, October 2012
Note: Acknowlegement is given to sources used in preparation of this text. *It follows a text on Ireland and France: 300 Years of Military Relations, April 2012, by Ita Marguet.