man's part in the Fall of the Bastille
How often have we heard the saying "The Fighting Irish".
It has appeared in books, being told in stories, even a
film was made with that name. I suppose there is a certain
amount of truth in the words, for in days long gone, when
the Irish had to emigrate and seek work in different parts
of the world they often got it tough. How often did we hear
the saying, and thousands of Irish see it, No Irish
need apply. It often turned out to be the survival
of the fittest and where a crust was to be earned, Paddy
often was the fittest. But then were we not always a fighting
nation. When we were finished fighting among ourselves we
threw out the Danes or Norsemen whichever you like to call
them. Poor Brian Boru, I wonder was he the last man to lead
a force of United Irishmen in the full meaning of the word.
Again we speculate, did not the men of Leinster fight against
Brian on that faithful day at Clontarf in 1014. Still, it
was as near as we got since and hope springs eternal in
the human breast. Then we had to wait almost 200 years before
the coming of the Normans and we are fighting ever since.
Irishmen have fought on every battlefield in Europe and
on a good many outside it. Legend tells us that, On
far foreign fields from Dunkirk to Belgrade, lie the soldiers
and chiefs of the Irish Brigade. Indeed plains, the
battlefields of the American Civil War, the African deserts
or the rivers of Argentina or the flat lands of Mexico.
The Irish or people of Irish decent became leaders in many
countries and fought for many more. England may have been
the Ould Enemy' but thousands of Irishmen died
fighting under the Union Jack in both World Wars. Some of
England's greatest leaders were Irishmen as indeed
they were of other countries too. Most of them are recorded
for their deeds of bravery and courage but there are some
who took part in great events in the words history and their
names remain almost unknown.
Such a man was Joseph Kavanagh, a cobbler of Lille, a man
who made his way to France in the middle 1700's. He
later transferred his work to Paris where he became involved
in the revolutionary movement. For some time before the
rising of July 14th, 1789 the city of Paris was a hot bed
of intrigue, plots, murders and crime. Of all the government
ministers in the cabinet there was one in whom the people
believed, Minister Necker. He had been on the side of the
people in their efforts to obtain more food supplies and
better living conditions. At this time living conditions
in the back streets of Paris were worse than famine conditions
in Ireland in later years.
This was the time that Marie Antionette was supposed to
have said when told the people had no bread, Let them
eat Cake. Hunger can be a terrible driving force and
the people of Paris were at the last stages by this time
so it was not hard to urge them to rebel against the government.
The final straw that set the country aflame was the fact
that Necker was removed from the cabinet. This news spread
quickly and soon the whole of Paris was in uproar and the
cry was Liberty or Death.
Far from the general conception that it was mob law all
the way there was a certain chain of command among even
the wildest of the mobs roving the streets and as a result
60 paris district representatives met the Hotel de Ville.
Outside in the street things were getting worse and six
citizens were chosen to go into the Hotel and ask the municipal
representatives to form a National Guard. One of the six
was Irishman Joseph Kavanagh.
The meeting told the six to go to their churches and get
200 citizens from each parish to form a bourgeois militia.
Kavanagh realising the need for arms, picked his men and
headed for the centre of the city. He was surrounded by
a mob howling for arms and stating that a large number of
Royal troops were approaching the city. A rumour spread
that there were arms in the Bastille. Kavanagh now, along
with two other horsemen raced through the streets shouting
To the Bastille, To the Bastille. Hundreds of
angry men now reached the Bastille and eventually stormed
it and released the few prisoners within it. Yes, the Bastille
had fallen and the chief organiser of that fall was an Irishman.
Over 100 citizens died in the storming of the Bastille.
After this victory Kavanagh was among those honoured as
a hero. A strange twist to the story of the fall of the
Bastille was the fact that Kavanagh's name never appeared
on the official manuscript of the victory of the Bastille.
Two years after this, Joseph Kavanagh appeared again in
the uniform of a Paris police inspector. Stranger still,
he was one of those who carried out the terrible La Force
Prison massacre of September 1792, when Irish prisoners,
including Arthur Dillon were murdered.
The story of Kavanagh had another twist some years later
with the downfall of Robespierre in July 1794, when those
who had taken part in the prison massacre were taken prisoner
and paid for their cruelty with their lives. Joseph Kavanagh
was one of the few that was not named on the list of the
men who died. Where he went or his ultimate fate will probably
never be known, but then he was not the only Irishman who
vanished after been involved in the fighting for a cause
in another land and ending up on the wrong side.
courtesy of Willie White from the Carlow Nationalist