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Irish In The Boer War

A few years ago I'd researched a screenplay I was going to write. It concerned the Irish struggle for independence from England, at the turn of the last century. It all started when I came across a book in a flea market written by a man who was part of the West Cork Brigade of the IRA. (Remember  - the aims & goals of the IRA at that time were nothing like the muderous acts of  the IRA of the late 20th century). The IRA, or Irish Republican Brotherhood from which they came, (as formed in part by Michael Collins ), was attempting to free itself from the control of England - and become independent. I will not turn this into a history lesson, but I suggest you read up on this subject to get a fuller understanding of Irish history. How important is this piece of history to England? It's not even in schools. Kids don't get to know about the English 'activities' in Ireland at that time. You can't buy any books relating to this subject in England - only the internationally reknown ones.

As I developed the plot for the screenplay, I needed a man who had previous military experience, and an axe to grind with the English. I invented a character who would have previously fought in the Boer Wars, at the end of the 19th century. As I thought he was such a plausible character, I decided to do a cursory search - to see if such a proposition could be true. I was very surprised at what I found..........

Shortly before the onset of the Boer War , some "uitlanders" (foreigners) of Irish descent, who mostly held very strong anti-British but not necessarily pro-Boer sentiments, gathered in Johannesburg to offer their services to the Transvaal's Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek government. Their manifesto of Sept 13th 1899 said :

“The Government of the Transvaal being now threatened with extinction by our ancient foe, England, it is the duty of Irishmen to throw in their lot with the former, and be prepared by force of arms to maintain the independence of the country that has given them a home, at the same time seizing the opportunity to strike a good and effective blow at the merciless tyrannic power that has so long held our people in bondage. The position in the Transvaal to-day is exactly similar to what it was in Ireland at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion.

The memory of the massacre of Drogheda by order of the infamous regicide Cromwell is still darkly remembered in Ireland, and England of that day applauded and justified the cold-blooded butchery as a righteous judgement executed.

With the story of Ireland's wrongs and sufferings before them, no wonder the Boer people refuse to surrender their cherished independence to the hateful sway of Britain. England has been a vampire, and has drained Ireland's life-blood for centuries, and now her difficulty is Ireland's opportunity. The time is at hand to avenge your dead Irish. England's hands are red with blood, and her coffers filled with the spoil of Irish people, and we call upon you to rise as one man and seize upon the present glorious opportunity of retaliating upon your ancient foe. Act together and fight together. Prepare! The end is in view. The day of reckoning is at hand. Long live the republic! Irishmen to the rescue! God save Ireland!”

The newly formed band of men elected Colonel John Y Franklin Blake , an American of Irish descent and a former professional officer, as their commander. Under him served Majors John MacBride and TM Morton, and Captains J Laracey and JJ Mitchell. Thus the so-called Irish Brigade came into existence in September 1899 - not to be confused with the 5th Brigade, the real Irish Brigade in the British forces under the command of the blundering Major-General Fitzroy Hart. About 100 members of the brigade were present at a military parade held in honour of President Kruger's birthday on October 10 1899. Thomas Pakenham writes in The Boer War that when mounted, the group - consisting mainly of miners who apparently had little experience with horses - did not look as though they would stay mounted for long.

The "Irish Brigade" also became known as the Wreckers Corps , putting their mining experience with explosives to good use in the Boer forces' sabotaging efforts to disrupt British communication lines and infrastructure and blowing up strategic points such as railways and telegraph lines.

Of the about 2,000 Boers (and those who fought on their side), who had surrendered to the British by the end of 1900, 100 of the

500 foreigners were Irishmen from MacBride's corps and were repatriated to Europe and America, since quite a few were Americans of Irish descent.

Most notably, the battles they fought in were the battles of Modderspruit, Colenso and Brandfort. After the relief of Ladysmith the brigade consisted of no more than 100 men. With the first unit disbanded for all practical purposes, the "Second Irish Brigade" was formed and consisted of men from various nationalities who fought with General Lucas Meyer. However, this brigade also did not last long and soon disbanded.

There's a lot more to Anglo-Irish relations than meets the eye. Isn't history interesting? To read more about John Macbride go to: Macbride's Brigade: Irish Commandos in the Anglo-Boer War

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