Links between Brazil & Ireland




Irish mercenaries in 19th century Brazil


By Dr. Eileen A Sullivan, Director, the Irish Educational Association, Inc., Gainesville, FL 



While never a large community in Brazil, the Irish have a distinctive cultural mark there as evidenced by current St. Patrick's Day celebrations and Bloomsday readings, and the extraordinary publication of FINNEGANS WAKE which is being produced over a four- year period. Intergovernmental embassies, trade and tourist functions, and Irish missionary work are further evidences of connections between Ireland and Brazil.  The Irish Studies Programme at the University of São Paulo, initiated by Professor Munira H. Mutran and supported by her former doctoral student, Laura Patricia Z. de Izarra, and other colleagues, is the golden link in the chain, which ties the two countries together.


Brian McGinn in the 1998-99 LINKS publication records an Irish presence in Brazil as early as 1577 with Father Thomas Field, S.J.  He also wrote of the 300 Irish soldiers in the Portuguese military service in 1604; tobacco planters, O'Brien and the Purcell brothers, in the 1620s and 30s; the presence of the Hibernian regiment in the Spanish Army in southern Brazil in 1777; and Colonel William Cotter's disastrous attempt to settle Irish emigrants in 1828.  Other emigrants arrived, McGinn noted, between 1850 and 1892.  They were absorbed into the Portuguese communities, as were twentieth century Irishmen and women.


Professor Yi-Fu Tuan in TOPOPHILIA (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974, 1990) equates the name Brazil with an Irish word for “blessed." If such were the case, the Irish would predate the appearance of the Spanish Vicente Yanez Pinzon in January of 1500, the first European to land near Recife and in April of the same year the Portuguese Pedro Alvarres Cabral.  He claimed the land for his country according to the amended Line of Demarcation established by Pope Alexander VI in 1493.  Cabral called the new territory Terra de Vera Cruz (Land of the True Cross).  Following Amerigo Vespucci's explorations in 1501, the territory was called Brazil after the brazil wood which was exported to Portugal.


Voyages of the sixth century St Brendan from Kerry and medieval tales such as THE VOYAGE OF MAILDUN attest to the sea travels of the early Irish, but it does not prove that they explored the south Atlantic coastline.  However, an association may exist.  The surname, Brazeal or Breazeale, in Ireland and its variants, Brazil, Brassill, Breassell, and Breasal are anglicised versions of the Gaelic, O'Breasail, common during the reigns of the old Irish kings. The coat of arms is a cross which denotes Christian faith (Tim Brazeal).  One now has only to relate the naming of the wood.


No conjecture exists about the Irish presence in Brazil during the 17th century. Another Jesuit, Father Aubrey Gwynn, wrote in ANALECTA HIBERNIA (Volume 4, October 1932, pp 139-326) on a topic, which is of great interest to anyone looking for information on the Irish in Brazil. He titled this extraordinary body of information, "Documents Relating to the Irish in the West Indies."  Yet within this study is data about the Irish in Virginia and settlements along the north west Amazon River between Brazil and French Guiana, 1612-1623.  This was the post Elizabethan conquest period of Ireland during the reign of the Stuart King James I, 1603-1625 when any hope for advancement existed in the colonies.


From a French diary, which Gwynn found at the British Museum (Sloane Mss.179 B), he reprinted untranslated excerpts with the assistance of Dr. Louis Roche of the National Library in Dublin. Gwynn stated that a complete translation of the diary was published by Mrs. Robert de Forest, A WALLOON FAMILY IN AMERICA, Boston, N.Y., 1914.  However, it did not always follow the diary, which was in poor condition. His publication includes only the legible diary wherein the writer describes a voyage made in 1623 to the mouth of the Amazon where both English and Irish settlements were found.  The inhabitants were growing tobacco, and the expedition had no intention of joining either English or Irish settlements and sailed on to other areas. The Walloon diary does without a doubt attest to the Irish presence along the Amazon River.


Captain Roger North had earlier discovered the Irish colony in 1620, and Father Gwynn in another article believed that the colony arrived with Sir Thomas Roe in 1612 on the second of three voyages which Roe organised to the Amazon region.  At any rate, the Irish were there when the French were looking for settlements in 1623. The Irish emigration during the Stuart reign of James I could have easily been in response to transplanted English in Ireland requesting from the Crown that rebellious Irish be sent to the new world to relieve the stress on English rule in Ireland. (Lansdowne Mss Vol. 156, Dec 19.1607).


Fernando  L. B. Basto in EX-COMBATENTES IRLANDESES EM TAPEROA, Rio de Janeiro, 1971, covers a later period, 1828-1830 during the reign of Emperor Pedro I.  He needed troops to fight the rebels in the Cisplatine Province that had been annexed to Brazil in 1821 by his father, King John VI by crushing a rebellion in the region then called Banda Oriental. Argentina was now supporting another rebellion against Portuguese rule, and in 1825 Brazil was fighting the rebels and the Argentineans. Emperor Pedro asked Colonel William Cotter, an Irishman in the Brazilian Army to recruit Irishmen for the war against Argentina and the Province.  It meant, of course, that he would have to return to Ireland for mercenary soldiers.


According to Basto, Cotter successfully recruited 2,686 men who departed from Cork in 1827.  Some men were accompanied by their wives and expected to establish roots in the country, which Cotter assured them, was a distinct possibility.  On September 9, 1827, with 250 men, 26 women, and 9 children, the ''Charlotte Maria" left the Cork harbour and reached Rio de Janeiro on the 22 of December.  William Herbert deserted in Tenerife.  Thirteen people died on board:  Ian Welsh, James Welsh, Daniel J. Welsh, Pat Welsh, Michael Sullivan, John Sullivan, John Reagan, M. Murphy, Jenny Leahy, John Maher, James Hartnett, Daniel Daly, and John Cotten.  However, seventeen births occurred: John Guinenann, U. Mackrenhan, Pat  McCarthy, Dan Murphy,  John Bynn,  James Nagle,  John Thomas,  John Sullivan,  James Wright,  John Mills, Ned Power,  Lawrence Clancy,  Martin Welsh,  William Minnagne,  Tade Shea,  John Burke, and  Owen Ryan. Only the 250 names of the men are listed.


Other passenger surnames listed for the "Charlotte Maria" include Candan, Odell, Duggan, Kenny, Reilly, Corkeny, Dill, Connell, Quirk, Mahony, Brooks, Heffernan, Farrell, Higgins, Harrington, Linehan, Hanlahan, Pawen, Pratt, McNamara, Manville, Driscoll, Hegarty, Twany, Harris, Hanly, Geran, Smith, Connors, Hayes, Keefe, Claney, Coghlan, Cody, Cannell, Quinn, McDonnell, Daolan, Conway, Sheehan, Wade, Egan, Dinine, Carey, Dwine, Dannelson, Flyn, Doherty, Barnes, Cannelly, Bradly, Casmody, Twahy, Casey, Gaggin, Crowly, Gibbings, Stanton, Conwell, Bayle, Ranan, Griffin, Gradt, Hennessy, Lannane, Leary, White, Montgomery, Pibann, Hickey, O'Donnell, Hawhasy, Dore,  Crotty, Reardon, Woods, Brien, Danegan, Daran, Cleary, and Brown.


The remaining surnames are Kenny, Lyons, O'Brien, Moriarth, Leany, Pelham, Clifford, Carthy, Barry, Kean, Mullawny, Mac,  Haley, Guinea, Lynes, Mullany, Morrissy, Buckey, Keily, Brady, Fitzgerald, Lane, Corjoran, Aherne, Murray, Foley,  Williams, Dunn,  Finnucane,  Nowlan,  Hurly,  Condan,  Rensiowen,  Cashel,  Conny,  Calnane,  Crawford, Mulcahy, Corbett, Lowrey, Boyle, Gilbert, Langley, Scott, and Michael Hurly who is identified as the piper.  All other passengers have no identity.  The name spelling reveals a lack of conformity, and no mention is given of the language of the group. Undoubtedly, some were Irish speakers, which could add a note of confusion to the identification process.


Aboard the "Elisa", 260 men, 39 women, and 7 children left Cork on the 7th of August, 1827. Basto does not mention when and where the ship docked or if deaths and births took place, but he lists the 260 male names.  Sullivan is the most common name: Michael, 2 Williams, Bat, 4 Johns, Owen, Denis, James, 2 Timothys, Patrick, David, 2 Jeremiahs, and Peter; 18 in all which is not surprising for the Munster area with all the descendants of O'Sullivan Beare and O'Sullivan More remaining in Cork and Kerry.  The presence of Mat Neil, Denis Nail, Michael, Owen, James, Thomas, and Daniel O' Neil is surprising. O'Neill is the greatest Ulster family, associated with Shane (died in 1569) and Hugh, his nephew. In 1601 he joined O'Sullivan Beare and their Spanish allies at the Battle of Kinsale, County Cork, and the unsuccessful attempt to defeat the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland.


Basto states that the "Reward" under the command of Captain Robert Raddem arrived in Rio de Janeiro on January 28, 1828 but does not include a passenger list.  Colonel Cotter now had the impossible task of organising thousands of mercenary soldiers at a cost of 51.293, 18, 11 Libras to the Brazilian government for a war that no longer existed.  In 1827, Argentina and the rebellious Cisplatine Province, formerly Banda Oriental where Pedro's father, King John VI, crushed an earlier uprising, defeated the Brazilian forces. The British mediated the conclusion of the conflict, and the Province became independent Uruguay. Obviously, the Irish emigrants were not to serve in the army.


They were, however, served alcohol in the drinking establishments. Conflict in Camp Santa Anna between the Irish and the Germans arose, as well as Irish fights with local inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro at which the men were joined by their women. Colonel Cotter in the name of the Imperial Governor punished the Irish fighters, which led to a revolt against Brazilian authority.  A decision was reached to remove the emigrants to another location as farmers, but not before the storming of Santa Anna by the Brazilian Army to restore peace.  A thousand men, 600 French and 400 English, joined in the quelling of the riot. The British were used to protect Pedro's palace.


An agreement was reached, and on March 15, 1828, men, women, and children, 101 families in all, left Rio on the "Victoria" for Salvador, a town on the Atlantic Ocean just north east of Brasilia.  They arrived on March 28th to an uncertain future.  They were not to remain in a port town but to be settled as farm labourers at a considerable cost to the Brazilian government.  Taperoa was the selected site, near Valenca where the population consisted of Portuguese, Brazilians, Africans, and native Indians.  On August 3, 1828, the Irish families left Salvador for Valenca where they arrived on August 11th, transported on two ships, " Tres de Maio" and  "Imperial Pedro." From Valenca the Irish families were taken overland to Taperoa and to a very different life style than anticipated. Basto accounts for only a small percentage of the 2,686 Irish emigrants who left Cork in 1828. Some returned to Ireland and others hopefully found a better existence in the new world than in the old world.  Oddly enough, current Brazilian and Irish emigrants to the United States are being helped in the same Boston building.