18 March 2005


Venezuela celebrates Irish liberation hero

18/03/2005 - 07:05:28

Flower wreaths adorned the tomb of an Irishman who fought alongside South American independence hero Simon Bolivar as Irish descendants and admirers held a ceremony yesterday to remember the foreigner who helped Venezuela win independence from Spain.

Daniel Florence O’Leary became Bolivar’s aide-de-camp and rose to the rank of general before Venezuela became independent in 1821. O’Leary lived out much of the rest of his life in present-day Colombia, and his tomb lies near Bolivar’s remains in Venezuela’s National Pantheon.

“There are not many descendants, if any, left in Venezuela,” said Peter O’Leary, a 79-year-old great-great-grandson who lives in the general’s home city of Cork.

He and another descendant, 82-year-old Michael O’Leary, were treated as guests-of-honour by top officials including Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez.

Any such links to “The Liberator” are held in high regard in Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez, a history buff, frequently praises Bolivar and his vision of a united South America, and in 1999 a national assembly formally changed the country’s name from Venezuela to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

The Irish delegation invited Chavez and Rodriguez to visit Cork, where they aim to erect a bust in honour of O’Leary.

He belonged to the British Legion, battalions of mostly Irish volunteers sent by Britain to South America in the early 1800s to support rebel troops fighting against the Spanish.

O’Leary was among thousands of Irish who joined Bolivar in his decades-long fight to free several South American colonies from Spanish rule. Those colonies became the independent republics of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Panama.

In 1821, at the Battle of Carabobo on the outskirts of Caracas, the British Legion played a key role in routing royalists who had pinned down Bolivar’s calvary. Hundreds of English, Irish and Welsh soldiers were killed in that decisive battle.

“Our motivation is to maintain the rich heritage and culture that the legacy of O’Leary has given us,” said Gearoid O’Mannan, another member of the delegation and a co-founder of the General Daniel Florence O’Leary Society. He said the group is planning to make a documentary film on O’Leary.

Rodriguez called the Irishman “one of Bolivar’s most loyal companions” and said “the visit by family so close to the general is an honour.”

Maria Lucia Jimenez, a descendant of O’Leary’s oldest daughter, who lives in Colombia, said he was a skilled diplomat, naturalist and historian in addition to being a decorated officer in Bolivar’s army.

The 32-volume “Memories of General O’Leary” are considered one of the most accurate and complete accounts of Bolivar’s independence campaigns.

Before his death in 1854, O’Leary wrote the first three volumes. The remaining 29 volumes were compiled by his eldest son, Simon, who referred to notes and correspondence between his father and “The Liberator”.

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