A Letter from Ireland:
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The Wine Geese of France

All about the Irish “Wine Geese of France”. When you think of the beverages of Ireland maybe a spot of tea comes to mind, a drop of whiskey, or a pint of Guinness…but how about a glass of wine? Ireland has a long history of trading wine that starts with a friendship with France. In this letter we talk about the surprising links between families of Ireland and the wines of France.

Céad Míle Fáilte – and you are very welcome to this week’s Letter from Ireland. How are things going in your part of the world? A very important occasion has just occurred here in Ireland  – the first of the early potatoes have just been harvested. They have a taste like no other – and, as you probably realise, it is a vegetable that has special significance in Irish history.

I wrote in an earlier letter about the link between the mid-summers celebration here in Ireland (often called “Meitheamh” – pronounced “Meh-hev”) – and the digging of these first new potatoes. Click here to read all about Meitheamh in Ireland.

Right – on with the rest of the letter! I’m having a nice glass of water from the well, and I do hope you’ll have a cup of whatever you fancy as we start into today’s letter. Let’s now move on from the midsummer potato to a little Goose and a glass of wine.

The Wine Geese of France.

James Burns, one of our Green Room members, has a very interesting address at the end of his communications. It shows: James Burns, “Chateau Byrne Gascoigne”. It turns out that James lives in Washington State, and enthusiastically tends to his own personal vineyard (and a few lucky friends benefiting along the way I should guess).

His note had me remembering the link between Ireland and some of the great wines of France and beyond – you will find Irish surnames on the labels of some of the great wines and cognacs around the world. Names such as Lynch, Hennessy, McCarthy, Phelan and so on. So, how did this all come about?

The Flight of the Wild Geese.

On December 22nd, 1691 – Patrick Sarsfield, the Earl of Lucan, sailed to France with almost 15,000 soldiers and a further 6,000 women and children. He was leading an Irish Catholic army that had recently surrendered to the English. One of the terms of this surrender was the removal of his army from Irish soil. France was the ascendent military power in Europe at the time – and the arrival of a trained and experienced force was most welcome. This event has become known in Irish history as “The Flight of The Wild Geese”.

Young men from Ireland continued to be recruited into this, and other continental, armies, all the way to 1745. It is estimated that up to 120,000 Irish men were killed, or wounded, while in active service to continental armies over those decades. But, as you might imagine, the Irish of the time did not only offer themselves to military campaigns – there were also many commercial opportunities along the way.

One of the first cities to receive these “Wild Geese” was the port city of Bordeaux to the west of the country. Wine had already been exported from the city to many ports in Ireland over the past centuries. In fact, there was even a well established Irish college within the city boundaries.

The Growth of “The Wine Geese”.

By the mid 1700s, wine from Bordeaux had become an everyday drink across Britain and Ireland. In fact, Dublin was was taking in more casks from Bordeaux than anywhere else on the British isles. Many of the Wild Geese in Bordeaux – and their families and descendants – had the connections in both France and Ireland to control much of this “flow” of wine from Bordeaux to Ireland and Britain.

Names of the leading Wine merchants of the day included Lynch, Barton, Kirwan, Coppinger, Lawton, Johnston, Foster, McCarthy – all families from Ireland. Over time, the descendants of these families bought properties of their own and established many of houses that still persist to this day: Château Clarke, Château Kirwan, Château Phelan-Ségur, Château Dillon, Château Lynch-Bages and many more.

We even managed to find a connection for our own John Burns. You see, while his Burns surname might sounds like a Scottish name, his own family came from north County Wexford originally. One of the leading Gaelic families of the area were the O’Byrnes (pronounced “Oh Burns”). As you might guess, this name “migrated’ to other spellings as it spread across the world.

There is a little winery in Bordeaux today that goes by the name of “Château Brande Bergere“. It was founded by an Irish priest (enterprising man!) who came from one of the Wild Geese Irish families. His name was Richard O’Byrne – and he acquired the estate in the late 1700s.

The present owners celebrate those early connections to the Wild Geese founders, and have called their main offering “Cuvée O’Byrne” to commemorate that important connection. So, James Burns/O’Byrne – it might be time to pick up a bottle of “Cuvée O’Byrne” to add to your own collection!

How about all of our other readers? Have you ever come across a bottle of wine with an Irish surname on the front? Maybe even with your own surname up front for all to see? Maybe you have come across one of the original Irish “Wine Geese”!

That’s it for this week. As always, do feel free to leave a comment below if you would like share a story or the Irish surnames in your family.

Slán for now,

Mike and Carina 🙂

  • G Lawrence says:

    Could the name O’Byrne be connected to the name Barnes?

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