#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 11°C Thursday 15 April 2021
Advertisement

An Irishman led the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, not that you'd ever hear about it

The Duke of Wellington is not well thought of in his homeland.

Battle_of_Waterloo_1815 The Battle of Waterloo by Irish painter William Sadler. Source: Wikimedia

EUROPE IS TODAY remembering one of the most significant events in the recent continent’s history. But even now, European’s are squabbling over what it all means.

Royals, diplomats and about 200,000 spectators today marked the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

To do so, they made their way to the fields surrounding a small town just south of Brussels to the spot where 47,000 people died and Emperor Napoleon’s ill-fated drive was halted.

Ireland is far from isolated from the events with the victorious British, Dutch and Prussian forces being commanded by Dublin-born Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington.

Sir_Arthur_Wellesley,_1st_Duke_of_Wellington The Duke of Wellington was born on Dublin's Merrion Street in 1769. Source: Wikemedia

Britain’s Prince Charles is in attendance and called for unity in a “European project” as the UK prepares to vote on EU membership.

Yesterday, he unveiled a memorial at Hougoumont Farm where allied forces fought off repeated French attacks as Napoleon desperately sought to break their lines.

France and Germany sent only ambassadors to a ceremony that attracted kings and dukes from elsewhere in Europe.

This morning in France though, the battle was declared s “posthumous victory for Napoleon” by Le Parisien newspaper.

In Ireland, a remembrance ceremony was held at Glasnevin Cemetery where a number of headstone plaques were unveiled.

During the ceremony, attendants also paid their respects at the graves of a number of Irish officers who fought at Waterloo.

Last night, RTÉ broadcast a special edition of Nationwide that acknowledged the Irish contribution at Waterloo.

The programme showed that about one third of the Allied army at Waterloo was composed of British soldiers, and of the British soldiers, one third of them were Irish.

It also described how the Irish economy boomed during Britian’s involvement in the Napoleonic Wars. Cork, for example was huge logistics hub, navy base and shipment centre for the army.

Britain Waterloo Service Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla attend a commemoration service. Source: AP/Press Association Images

The programme also looked at why Duke of Wellington, who went on to be the Prime Minister who brought in Catholic Emancipation, is not more favourably thought of in Ireland.

It claims that he never actually said the infamous quote that’s often attribution to him.

“Just because you are born in a stable doesn’t make you a horse,” weren’t his lines at all.

Junior Minister Simon Harris today opened the ’Wellington Exhibition’ in the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre to commemorate the bicentenary of the battle.

A plaque was also unveiled in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham last month to honour Sergeant James Graham described by the Duke of Wellington as ‘The bravest of the brave’ at Hougoumont Farm.

‘European hope’

Waterloo remains a sensitive subject, especially for France which now sees itself as a pillar of the EU alongside Germany, and whose relationship to the diminutive Napoleon remains ambivalent.

Source: BBC Newsnight/YouTube

“History is behind us,” the French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFMTV.

French President Francois Hollande, he noted, was due to attend a minor World War II today.

As for Napoleon, Le Drian said he recognised his great achievements but also “certain failures, this drive for power and extending borders which was not right.”

Belgium angered France this month by minting a special €2.5 Waterloo coin after France forced it to scrap a two-euro coin saying it would cause an “unfavourable reaction in France”.

Battle of Waterloo anniversary Guardsmen dressed in 1815 uniform. Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

The absence of Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel was cause for regret.

“It’s a shame,” Charles Bonaparte, a descendant of Napoleon’s brother Jerome, said Wednesday.

In a symbolic meeting yesterday, Charles Bonaparteshook hands with the current day Duke of Wellington, and Prince Nikolaus Bluecher von Wahlstatt, whose ancestor led the Prussians who saved the day for the allied forces.

The battle was a pivotal moment in European history, when around 93,000 French troops led by Napoleon faced off against 125,000 Allied forces commanded by the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal Bluecher.

Belgium Battle of Waterloo Belgian soldiers fire gun shots to being the ceremony. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Finally defeated by an alliance of monarchies determined to end years of European war following the 1789 French Revolution, Napoleon was exiled to the island of Saint Helena in the south Atlantic Ocean, where he died in 1821.

The victors redrew the map of Europe and the continent enjoyed almost a century of relative peace until the carnage of World War I tore it apart again.

- With reporting by © – AFP 2014

Read: ‘It’s time Constance Markievicz gets the recognition she deserves’ >

Read: Ireland’s largest Norman castle was built by a womaniser who ended up being decapitated >

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

Read next:

COMMENTS (60)