In the formative stages of my military career, I had the great good fortune to serve under the command of J.A.O. Leech at Lifford Military Post. During his tour of fifteen months at the old Royal and Prior School, now itself sadly consigned to the pages of history, Joe had exhausted the historical section of the local library. An evening on duty with Joe would often be punctuated by a question and answer session on the library’s latest military history volume, with Joe, puffing on his pipe of Traveller’s Joy, becoming increasingly despairing, as I displayed my absolute ignorance of the wars of the Spanish succession, the regiments of Dillon or Galmoy, Irish Swordsmen in the service of France and inevitably, Cremona and Fontenoy.
Joe’s love of history was infectious and it unlocked a door for me which has remained open ever since. Sadly, Joe has gone to his eternal reward, but if there be a spirit world, I am convinced that his hand guided the setting up of the Soldiers and Chiefs Exhibition at Collin’s Barracks in Dublin, or The Royal Barracks, as Joe would have insisted on calling it.
Strolling through this wonderful exhibition, and particularly the early military section, is like strolling through Joe’s mind on one of those enforced, though enjoyable, historical inquisitions in Lifford. The Fontenoy Exhibit captures the heroic exploits of the Irish Regiments, turning almost certain defeat into victory in that famous battle. Seen at home as a victory over the British and giving hope to those in a hopeless situation in the Ireland of the time, this victory would continue to inspire future generations.
The evolving battle plan and the collage of video clips setting the scene and drawing you back in time works to great effect and, in a short few minutes, you gain some appreciation of the scale of the Irish contribution in the service of France.
The overall impact of the exhibition had the same effect on me as the infectious enthusiasm of J.A.O. Leech thirty odd years ago. The exhibition unlocks a door that leads one to pursue the threads of history. The overwhelming feeling from Soldiers and Chiefs is one of wanting to come back and spend more time. The most satisfying aspect lies in the manner in which the exhibition leads rather than drives you through history
As the Fontenoy Video exhibit drew to a close I could hear Joe’s comment to me..”Cox! did you know that The Regiment of Galmoy was absorbed into the Regiment of Dillon and in that same year Thomas Burgh began to build The Royal Barracks.. of course you didn’t!!!”
The Regiment of Galmoy was fighting in Italy in the War of the Spanish Succession and Pierce Butler, Viscount Galmoy, was one of the Butlers of Ormond but he was a Jacobite. Galmoy, the place, is just inside the Kilkenny Laois border, rich in its own history where the tentacles of The Butlers of Ormond entwine the history of this place and its environs. Joe’s historical legacy is still with me as I delve into the exploits of Owney O’More, Robert Devereaux (Earl of Essex,) and of course, the forebears of Pierce Butler, Black Tom Butler and their part in the Battle of the Pass of the Plumes (1599) – perhaps the Fontenoy of its day in Queens County, if on a somewhat smaller scale.
If I have just begun to unravel another thread from our historical tapestry why not unravel it a little more for yourself? Who knows where it might bring you?