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The day Cork policemen resigned to help fight for the Pope 

Hundreds of Irishmen, together with dozens of serving policemen — 20 from Cork — flocked to Italy in 1860 to guard Pope Pius IX towards the rebel nationalist forces of Cavour and Garibaldi.

The Munster News reported in May 1860 that some 6,000 of the Irish Constabulary in Cork, Clare, Kerry and Limerick had been able to give up their posts to be able to “join the cause of His Holiness”. All who truly tendered their resignations and sailed for Italy had been Catholics, handed over for promotion by the British authorities, and “not, generally speaking, the most contented individuals in the world”, commented The Cork Examiner (30 May 1860).

Any man over five-foot-seven inches tall might enrol within the infantry of the Papal States, which coated the fashionable areas of Lazio, Marche, Umbria, Romagna and elements of Emilia. The institution of a cavalry brigade of “tall, muscular young Irishmen” was additionally into consideration.

Headline in The Cork Examiner, 30 May 1860, announcing the exodus of young men from Cork to join the Papal Brigade in Italy
Headline in The Cork Examiner, 30 May 1860, asserting the exodus of younger males from Cork to hitch the Papal Brigade in Italy

About 1,300 younger males left Ireland, many giving up “comfortable homes” and resigning from “lucrative employments” to turn out to be unpaid troopers. Apprentices broke the phrases of their indentures, and manufacturing unit fingers left their employers. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the sons of farmers, attorneys and docs, they eagerly waited to board ship at Cobh to “rally round the Chair of Peter”.

The recruits would obtain inexperienced uniforms with caps incorporating a shamrock motif, and had been assured of each army fame and the “highest promises of future prosperity”. Known because the Battalion of St Patrick, the ‘Irish Brigade’ can be supported by donations to the Catholic Church in Europe and America. As troopers of God, they might struggle beneath the safety of “a kind and benevolent ruler”, whose dominions they might safeguard “against the attack of his unscrupulous assailants”, Italy’s nationalist armies, the troopers of the Devil. But the English press claimed the Irishmen had been mercenaries, motivated solely by “pay and plunder”.

As they stepped into the unknown, would the prepared recruits discover fame and fortune; or had been they destined to return to Ireland in disappointment? Travelling furtively in small teams of 20-40, some calling themselves pilgrims, they reached Rome late in June. There they joined troopers of eight extra nationalities — together with Italians, Austrians, French and Belgians — who didn’t know each other’s languages.

Furthermore, the promised uniforms had by no means been made, and so they had been issued as a substitute with surplus Austrian package previous to receiving some rushed coaching from Louth-born Major Myles O’Reilly. Disillusioned, a number of Irishmen returned residence.

 Irish postage stamp (1995), showing a splendidly dressed Irish papal bodyguard (Zouave) in 1860
Irish postage stamp (1995), displaying a wonderfully dressed Irish papal bodyguard (Zouave) in 1860

During the following few months, beneath the general command of General Christophe Lamoricière, the Papal Brigade confronted “a desperate struggle against overwhelming odds”, reported The Cork Examiner (5 November 1860). Although solely Garibaldi and his redshirts had been anticipated, the Pope’s military got here up towards the complete Piedmont-Sardinia forces.

The Irish all the time fought “like lions”: On 13 September, Patrick Clooney of Waterford and his males inflicted severe casualties on the Piedmontese within the slender streets of Perugia, Umbria, and criticised their commander, General Schmidt, for surrendering so quickly.

Four days later at Spoleto, the Irish Brigade managed to defend the gatehouse for fourteen hours. Their solely weapons had been two cannon, sixty rifles, and out of date muskets that grew to become so scorching when fired that the boys needed to wrap their handkerchiefs across the barrels. So profitable at first had been Irish riflemen {that a} Sardinian captain praised their ‘sharpshooting’. But the numbers had been stacked towards them, and their Italian comrades in arms supposedly “ran away from their posts as soon as the engagement commenced”.

On 18 September, at Castelfidardo in Marche, 105 Irishmen put up a spirited defence beneath the command of Roscommon’s Captain Martin Kirwan. However, the 39,000 Sardinians rapidly overwhelmed the ten,000-strong Papal Brigade.

 Battle of Castelfidardo, 18 September 1860, by Giovanni Gallucci
Battle of Castelfidardo, 18 September 1860, by Giovanni Gallucci

In the ultimate encounter at Ancona, Irishmen apparently defied surgeons and went again to their posts inside a few days of being injured, “so eager was their anxiety to return to the fray”.

Rounded up and disarmed, they had been marched to Genoa, all of the whereas being insulted “in every possible way”, spat upon and jeered at.

Fears arose that they had been to be transported to Malta to serve within the British Army. Therefore they had been relieved to listen to {that a} vessel had arrived to take them to France. In Paris they had been handled like heroes: gents offered them with shirts, and ladies are stated to have requested for a button from their uniforms as a memento.

On Saturday 3 November 1860, about 960 of the Irish Papal Brigade arrived again in Cobh to a heat and hearty reception, with temperance bands placing up “Cheer boys, cheer” and “Patrick’s Day”.

Giuseppe Garibaldi, 1807-1882, who worked for the unification of Italy by conquering Sicily and Naples 
Giuseppe Garibaldi, 1807-1882, who labored for the unification of Italy by conquering Sicily and Naples 

Locals turned out in crowds to greet them, and the cliffs had been “thickly dotted with groups of men, women and children”, cheering enthusiastically and waving handkerchiefs. Vessels at anchor within the harbour sounded their whistles, and several other women and gents had been heard cheering on the balcony of the Victoria Baths Hotel, the place they’d hoisted a inexperienced flag. Navvies constructing the Cork and Youghal Railway threw down their shovels and pickaxes, “and shouted and waved their hats most vehemently”.

John Francis Maguire, M.P., founding father of the Cork Examiner, praised the boys for abandoning their properties and buddies, and risking their lives to struggle for the Holy Father. All had been awarded a commemorative service medal in recognition.

With the exception of 1 — who had notably suffered by the hands of the Sardinians — the boys had been in “good health and buoyant spirits”. They got a “substantial and comfortable breakfast” of bread and ham, and huge mugs of espresso. After that, every man obtained a brand new swimsuit of garments made by Cork City tailors and paid for by public subscription.

None had dreamt of getting such an enthusiastic reception: “I would sooner have that welcome than if they gave me twenty pounds”, declared a former police constable.

Had he and his comrades returned from the Pope’s wars, weary and dissatisfied? Not one little bit of it. 

“We will fight for him again tomorrow” shouted one soldier.



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