Admiral William Brown of County Mayo

We love to tell stories of people who left Ireland, and then went on to achieve amazing things during their lives. In County Mayo, you will find the village of Foxford. Out of that village came one Admiral William Brown. This is his story.

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Admiral William Brown of County Mayo

Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to this week’s Letter from Ireland. I’ve got to say, we’re heading into my favourite time of year here in this corner of Ireland. The grass is growing by the inch every day, there’s an optimism around the place and the light is staying past 10.00pm at night – followed by a wonderful dawn chorus about 5.00am. How are things in your part of the world?

I’m settling into a nicely brewed cup of Barry’s tea as I write, and do hope you’ll join me with a cup of whatever you fancy yourself as we settle into today’s letter! For all of our friends in the USA, I hope you are having a great Memorial day weekend – and our thoughts are especially with you if you have lost a family member or friend while serving in the armed forces over the last years. May 25th is also a holiday in another country with a large proportion of Irish descendants – Argentina.

Last year, I asked our readers “Do you see yourself as being Irish?” and was overwhelmed with the response! The reply was unanimously “Yes” – but also accompanied by so many different perspectives and stories.

An example came from Virginia Anaya McGrath from Argentina:

In 2012 I visited Ireland . I don t know if they considered me as Irish, but I really felt at home and I felt Irish , so I don’t care if they don t see me like one of them. What really matters is how you feel , so as you said I consider myself one of our own . Thanks for your letter . Best wishes Virginia from Argentina.

Since then, many of our Argentinian readers have sent me photographs of a small village called Foxford in County Mayo. I notice that a visit to Foxford is often on their Irish Ancestry Wishlist (Go here to see what is on other people’s Irish Ancestry Wishlist).

You see, Foxford is a County Mayo village with special ties to the origin of the state of Argentina.

The Incredible Story of Admiral William Brown of County May.

A few weeks back, we made our way to North County Mayo – and stopped off in the tidy and pretty village of Foxford. Perhaps you know of it? Maybe you have even traveled there? Today, it’s mostly a fishing village, located on the banks of the Moy and near Lough Conn.

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From the people of Argentina to the people of Foxford

Our reason for stopping was to visit the Admiral William Brown museum that was located in the village centre. It was full of memorabilia and pictures – all associated with one particular son of Foxford. We stayed for an hour as we were given a great tour by the museum guide – one Margaret Henry (hello Margaret!)

Let me briefly recount the story of William Brown by starting with an extract from “Admiral William Brown: Liberator of the South Atlantic” – by Marcos Aguinis:

On the 15th of March, 1814, South America’s future hung in the balance as Brown led a rebel fleet into battle against the Spanish Royal Navy. His ship holed eighty times, a quarter of his men dead or wounded, brown ordered his piper to play Saint Patrick’s Day in the morning as he led a final, desperate assault…

Gripping and heroic stuff! William Brown was born into poor Catholic family in the village of Foxford in 1777. I mention his religion as this was the time of the Penal laws – a time when all Irish Catholics were stripped of their right to participate in society at a meaningful level. Over the next few paragraphs, I will attempt to condense the incredible life events and achievements of this man:

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Argentinian Stamp with Brown

When William was 10, he traveled to the US with his father to get work with a fathers friend. However, within a month, both his father and his friend died from a fever. William was alone in the world. He was taken on as a cabin boy on a river steamer, and over the following decade he learned his seacraft. He rose to become a captain in the US merchant navy. He was then press-ganged by the British navy – and forced to serve for the British Crown.

He eventually escaped, was imprisoned by the French – escaped again – married and emigrated to Argentina where he started a mail-boat business. Shortly after the Spanish navy destroyed his ship, he was appointed Commander-in-chief of the newly-formed Argentine Navy.

Brown led from the front – achieving many notable victories over the much more powerful Spanish fleet. When he retired from the Navy, he began 14 years of settled farming life – often surprising visitors by the fact that he worked the land directly with his own hands.

Brown was called out of retirement and came back into active duty in wars against both Brazil and Uruguay – leading with his ship “25 de Mayo”. I’m sure that he was quite proud of this “double-entendre” – carrying both a patriotic declaration and the name of his home Irish county on the stern of his ship!

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© Copyright Oliver Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

In his later years, William Brown visited Foxford in County Mayo in 1847. This would have been at the height of the Irish famine – God knows what he thought of the scenes around him. Brown died in his home in Argentina in March, 1857 with a full state funeral.

Today, a statue of Admiral William Brown stands in the village of Foxford, County Mayo. A similar statue has been added to a street in Dublin city in 2002.

By comparison, in Argentina there are about 500 statues, 1000 streets, two towns, a city and a number of football clubs all named in his honour. William Brown, native of Foxford, County Mayo, lost as a young boy in the USA and hero of the Argentinian war of Independence.

So, Virginia – thank you for reminding us of the 1 million people of Irish descent in Argentina today – and as you say, you are indeed “one of our own”.

If you would like to say hello – or ask a question – please feel free to leave a comment below.

Slán for this week,

Mike and Carina.

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