SOME of Limerick’s most illustrious Wild Geese could be set for a return during next year’s City of Culture celebrations.
Prof Noel Mulcahy, a former vice-president of the University of Limerick, said that while distinguished Irish-Americans like JFK were rightly feted, the Irish diaspora who made their mark closer to home were “often overlooked”.
Few can have had as distinguished a career as Marshal Maurice MacMahon, a French military hero and president of the Third Republic during the 1870s.
His grandfather had emigrated from Limerick in the early 18th century when the MacMahons of Clare - descendants of Brian Boru - were dispossessed after the Williamite wars. MacMahon’s ancestors lived around present-day Dooradoyle for a period after the Treaty of Limerick.
Prof Mulcahy and former Labour TD Frank Prendergast were among a group from Limerick recently entertained by the Duchesse de Magenta at the French MacMahons family seat, the Chateau de Sully.
“Imagine a duchess walking down the driveway of the third largest chateau in France to open the main gate and welcome us,” said Prof Mulcahy. The Limerick group had been on a Rhone cruise before taking a detour to the chateau, which lies in the heart of Burgundy.
It was Marshal MacMahon’s grandfather who first took up residence in the Chateau de Sully when he married a French noblewoman.
But the title of Duc de Magenta was earned by the marshal himself on the battlefield and has been passed on to his descendants ever since. MacMahon had commanded the French Foreign Legion, led campaigns in the Crimea and Italy and served as governor of Algeria. He was recalled from North Africa when the Prussians invaded France in 1870 but his ragtag army was defeated and MacMahon captured and interned. MacMahon is also remembered as the man who led the military force which crushed the Paris Commune. He served as president of France from 1874 to 1879 and has streets and avenues named after him in cities and towns all over the French-speaking world.
Prof Mulcahy said it was odd that the people of Limerick felt such a great connection with “our American presidential cousins” when somebody like MacMahon had relations who could be directly traced back to the Siege of Limerick.
“During our visit, we gave Duchesse Amelie a greeting letter from Mayor Kathleen Leddin on behalf of the Corporation. As a result our group hopes that the duchess and the young duke will visit Limerick next year for our Year of Culture,” Prof Mulcahy.
It is hoped that the French MacMahons will have a reunion with their Limerick cousins during the visit.
Prof Mulcahy recalled that the duke’s late father Philippe had visited Limerick during the Treaty 300 celebrations and had been awarded an honorary doctorate at UL.
“He invited us to visit the chateau. It took us 23 years to make that visit and while Philippe has passed on, we are delighted his wife the duchess and the young duke Maurice are with us,” Prof Mulcahy said.
To seal the friendship, the Limerick group were presented with a few bottles of “the very special but very expensive Puligny Montrachet” produced at the chateau, “including one bottle, 1991 vintage, the year we commemorated the Treaty of Limerick”.