Turtle traces the story of the Irish abroad from the hazy stories of the first missionaries through the seafarers, warriors and explorers of centuries past. Homing on on a variety of convicts, imperialists, emigrants, famine refugees and political activists, a picture emerges of a truly astonishing legacy that has pushed Ireland to the forefront in the present age.
The Irish have always been a travelling people. Since 1800 an estimated 10 million people have left the Irish shores and today more than 80 million people worldwide claim Irish descent.
Maybe it’s an island thing or perhaps it’s simply the temptation of that vast tract of water that lies along its western shore. In the centuries after the fall of Rome, Irish missionaries carried the word of the Christian god throughout Europe while soldiers and mariners from across the land ventured overseas in all directions.
The advent of the British Empire ignited a slow but extraordinary exodus from Ireland. The pioneering explorers of the Tudor Age were soon overtaken in number by religious refugees, the ‘Wild Geese’ who opted to live outside of the Protestant state that Ireland had become and to take their chances in the Spanish or French empires, or in the fledgling New World of the Americas.
Not surprisingly, the Irish played a pivotal role in the foundation of the United States of America. A mass exodus to Ireland prompted by the Famine is part of the reason why over 200,000 Irish men and women fought in the US Civil War. Other Irish would come to the fore in business, science, engineering and the arts, while yet more were destined for infamy as mobsters and gunslingers.
For many Irish, the British Empire provided the perfect opportunity to see – and exploit – the wider world. Over the centuries, millions of young Irishmen fought in the British Army, or the Royal Navy or, later, the Royal Air Force. Many rose to the very top of their profession and their impact on wars with French, Russian, Zulu and German alike was immeasurable.
Irish merchants prospered from the international commerce opportunities that came with empire, not least the slave trade. Elsewhere the civil service that oiled the imperial machine was thick with Irish men and women throughout its hierarchy; many served as governors of colonies such as India, Australia, Jamaica, New Zealand, Ceylon and such like. Indeed, at least two British prime ministers were born in Ireland while plenty of respectable women from Ireland doubled up as mistresses to British monarchs.
The lives of Irish emigrants wove in and out of the major events of global history, including the Abbé Edgeworth, confessor to King Louis XVI at his execution during the French Revolution; Margaretta Eagar, governess to the daughters of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia; and William Lamport, who travelled from County Wexford to Central America, and became Don Guillén, a martyr for Mexican independence.
In this acclaimed work, Turtle explores the lives of those men and women, great and otherwise, whose journeys – whether driven by faith, a desire for riches and adventure, or purely for survival – have left their mark on the world.
The book was published by Thames & Hudson in 2021.
Introduction: Emerald Exodus
1 Columbanus and the Merovingian Kings
2 Virgilius of Salzburg
3 The Carolingian Irish
4 Brendan the Navigator and the Monks of Iceland
5 Helias of Cologne
6 The Creation of the Irish Saints
7 Jacobo of Ireland and the Mongol Empire
8 Luke Wadding and the Vatican Elite
9 Don Guillén, the Original Zorro
10 Lord Bellomont’s Piratical Venture
11 George Berkeley, the ‘Irish Plato’ and Bermuda College
12 Richard Brew, Slave Trader
13 The Abbé de Firmont
14 Hercules Mulligan, Washington’s Spy
15 James Hoban, Architect of the White House
16 Hugh Gough, Conqueror of the Punjab
17 Pat Watkins, Crusoe of the Galápagos
18 Chile’s Irish Patriots
19 John Field: A Muscovy Nocturne
20 Frederick Young, Father of the Gurkhas
21 Dr James Barry, Caesarean Pioneer
22 The Texas Revolution
23 Sir George Gore, Buffalo Slayer
24 Margaret of New Orleans
25 Children of the Great Hunger
26 Little Al Cashier
27 Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Father of the Canadian Confederation
28 The Railroad Men
29 Eliza Lynch, First Lady of Paraguay
30 John Philip Holland, Father of the Submarine
31 Nellie Cashman, Angel of the Wild West
32 The Grace Brothers: Conquest of Peru
33 Annie Moore, the First Emigrant Through Ellis Island
34 Margaretta Eagar, the Last Tsar’s Governess
35 The Moore Brothers, Hollywood Stars
36 Louis Brennan, the Wizard of Oz
37 Violet Gibson: Killing Mussolini
38 Don Patricio O’Connell, Barça’s Saviour
39 Lord Haw-Haw, the Voice of Nazi Germany
40 Brendan Bracken, Churchill’s Spin Doctor
41 Patrick Gallagher, Vietnam Hero
42 The Irish and the White House
Epilogue: Reflections on Irish Identity
Further Diaspora Tales
The Irish Abroad