The Blue Blot

notes, finds & fragments of research

The Ball of the Wild Geese – St. Patrick’s Day 1766 in Habsburg Austria

Not nearly as green clovered.

Most definitely none of those figurative decorations,
bearing outrageously smiling leprechauns.
A complete lack of ale and stout.
No traditional meals with cabbage.
And in comparison few guests of the pure Irish blood.

n other words: It is most likely to have been a celebration incomparable to the celebrations known today. Nevertheless, it is known as one of the first recorded St. Patrick’s Day celebrations abroad and given by El Excelentísimo Señor el Embajador de Su Majestad Carlos III de España, Demetrio Conde Mahoni (1702-1777). The Spanish ambassador in Austria gave this dinner party and (presumably) ball two hundred and fifty years ago, on the evening of Monday March 17th, 1766.

Let me repeat that last bit: The Spanish Ambassador in Vienna gave a party in honour of the Irish Saint Patrick in 1766. The first time I read it, I found it mind boggling and did not believe it; moreover because it has just sunken in that the good man is a son, brother, uncle to some of my ancestors. Me, member of a family which has made a motto out of being fully European were it not for the lack of both Irish and Finnish blood. Granted, this Irish lineage comes via the most far-fetched historical route one could possibly think of: It starts, of course, in south-west Ireland, travels into exile to France, enters military service in Spain, makes a diplomatic visit to Vienna, sinks south into the splendour of Papal Rome, turns back to Vienna, and finally comes to rest in rural Hungary. Of course I have more Irish blood, but that is to be found in the ancestral lines of a Anglo-Dutch grandmother.

Those with a sharp eye already spotted the Irish link: The aforementioned Spanish Ambassador, the Count Mahoni, was actually of Irish descent, from the Irish clan O’Mahon(e)y of County Kerry.
And the occurrence of his party has, mostly because of the high profile curiosity of it, been recorded in many writings. For instance a book about Irish songs, dating from 1839, makes mention of it:

Merry-making in honour of St. Patrick is, by no means, confined to Ireland. Wherever Irishmen have penetrated – and where is the quarter of the globe in which they are not to be found? Or where is the nation in which they are not distinguished? – the fame of St. Patrick cannot be unknown. For instance it is recorded in the ‘Annual Register’, that ‘on the 17th March 1766, His Excellency Count Mahony, ambassador from Spain to the Court of Vienna, gave a grand entertainment in honour of St. Patrick, to which were invited all persons of condition whom were of Irish descent; being himself a descendant of an illustrious family of that kingdom. Among many others present were Count Lacy, president of the council of war, the generals O’Donnel, McGuire, O’Kelly, Browne, Plunket, and McEligot, four chiefs of the Grand Cross, two governors, several knights military, six staff officers, four privy counsellors, with the principal officers of state, who, to show their respect to the Irish nation, wore crosses in honour of the day, as did the whole court.


Martin van Meytens, The Holy Roman Emperor Franz I and his wife, the Empress-Queen Maria Theresia, surrounded by their children. Collection Schloss Schönbrunn.

ome sources even state the presence of members of the Imperial family, the Habsburgs. Although I do wonder about that; as the family and the higher echelons of the court were most likely still in mourning over the death of Franz I, the Holy Roman Emperor and husband of Empress-Queen Maria Theresia, which happened just seven months before in August 1765. A great pity; for had he still been alive he would have surely attended Mahoni’s party. The Irish were very much favoured by the Habsburg army, both as officers and soldiers. Various sources state that the Emperor Franz I was most impressed by their conduct, and that he wrote:

The more Irish officers in the Austrian service the better; our troops will always be disciplined; an Irish coward is an uncommon character; and what the natives of Ireland even dislike from principle, they generally will perform through a desire for glory.

This could perhaps be considered one of the greatest historical compliments, given to the Irish people.

What were all these officers doing in Vienna? Most of them were first or second generation Irish. Some had left Ireland in search of better prospects, and this was most obviously to be found in military service. Others were children and grandchildren of exiled Irishmen. One thing all of them have in common: They are generally called the Wild Geese; the result of a sheer exodus of over twelve to fourteen thousand soldiers with their families after the Treaty of Limerick in 1691, when the Irish Jacobites were defeated and allowed to leave Ireland in exile. It had as a result that, for years to come, young Irishmen were entering continental armies and often gaining fame in the various wars that took place in the eighteenth century.

Turning back to the dinner party of Ambassador Mahoni we find some of those mentioned. Of course there was a Lacy present. There could not have been a celebration of standing (let alone an Irish one) in Vienna without one of the illustrious Lacy’s present. Field-Marshall Franz Moritz Graf von Lacy (1725-1801) is proudly wearing the sash and breast star, worn only by the holders of the Grand Cross of the Militär-Maria-Theresien-Orden (the Military Order of Maria Theresia, founded in 1757), which he had only just received last year. He had been awarded this high honour by Maria-Theresia herself for his successful plan for the Battle of Hochkirch (1758). Lacy was recently appointed Field-Marshal at the coronation of his close friend Joseph II as the new Holy Roman Emperor. A heavy task lies ahead of him as he is now responsible for reforming the Austrian army, both in organisation and administration. Rumour has it an investment as knight of the Golden Fleece is pending. The family resides in the beautiful castle of Neuwaldegg, near Vienna.


Another distinguished officer wearing the Grand Cross is General Karl Claudius Graf O’Donell von Tyrconell (1715-1771), who returned two years ago after having been Governor of Antwerpen in the Austrian Netherlands. This man, second generation Irish in Austria, is considered to be invincible, having entered the cavalry as a young boy, quickly made a career for himself being a colonel at the age of twenty-seven. O’Donell, wounded and captured a number of times, excelled in bravery on the battlefield in various wars. His most honourable return to Vienna with a standard captured at the glorious Battle of Piacenza (1746) is still remembered; as are his resounding successes during the heavy battles of Seven Year’s War, especially the Battle of Torgau (1760) where he had to take over command and was granted the Grand Cross of the Maria-Theresien-Orden he is wearing tonight. He is currently in Vienna as Inspector-General of the cavalry, but it is expected that he will be appointed soon as the new governor of Transylvania.

It is quite the crowd; one would not have expected to see so many Irish in Austria. This does however explain why the esteemed ambassador of Spain decided to organize his party. We also see General Johann Sigismund Graf Macquire von Inniskillen (1710/11-1767), more correctly called Maguire as he was born in County Kerry. He is a distant relation of the attainted 2nd Baron of Enniskillen, who took part in the Irish Rebellion of 1641, for which the latter was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn. After this event many of the sons of the Maguires went into exile and (or) entered foreign military service.
Macquire was only a child when his parents exchanged Ireland for the Continent. He is now in his mid-fifties and can look back at some impressive achievements; he too fought during the Seven Year’s War. He was second in command at the successful Siege of Dresden (1760), because of which he was appointed military governor afterwards and where he successfully resisted an attack by Frederick the Great. It was for this particular action he was honoured with the Grand Cross of the Maria-Theresien-Orden and later appointed chamberlain in the imperial and royal household. It proves that this evening is attended by generals of the highest military honour. And not just that, he is also a knight of the Polish Order of the White Eagle. His wife is present too, the widow of the late Baron Livingstone. She herself was born Elisabeth Louise Gräfin Hardegg. This by itself, as does it count for the other Irish officers marrying continental noblewomen, proves his noble status was undoubted; even though his comital title within the Holy Roman Empire was still quite new. The so-called ebenbürtigkeit (i.e. equality of birth) is held high by the nobility of the Holy Roman Empire, none of them would even consider marrying a foreigner unless his ancestors had been gentlemen, and their wives equally born, for at least six generations.

And another veteran is spotted: General Wilhelm Graf O’Kelly von Gallagh und Tycooly (1700-1767), member of the ancient O’Kelly’s of County Galway. Born in Dublin, he followed the same path in life as Macquire. A distinguished officer in the Imperial army, he fought heavily against the Turks and in Genua. He too was one of the Irish Generals in the Seven Years‘ War honoured with a knighthood in the Maria-Theresien-Orden, because of his both courageous and poised conduct at the Battle of Breslau (1757). At the conclusion of the Treaty of Hubertusburg (1763), which ended the war without any real changes, O’Kelly was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General. Only last year, his exceptional achievements were recognized; in the light of that retrospect O’Kelly was elevated from Knight to Commander in the Maria-Theresien-Orden.

We simply cannot avoid the Brownes of Limerick, whom are, much like the Lacys’, the perfect example of what the Irish Wild Geese have achieved in prosperity abroad. They delivered at least five generals to the Austrian army and were related to at least an equal amount.
The ambassador’s party is honoured this evening by General-Major Philipp Georg Graf von Browne (1727-1803), nearly forty years old, still unmarried and third generation Irish in exile – his grandparents being exiled in 1603 in the aftermath of Tyrone’s Rebellion. His father, killed in action during the much mentioned Seven Years’ War, at the Battle of Prague (1757), was the, dare we say, famous Austrian Field-Marshall Maximilian Ulysses Graf von Browne (1705-1757). His mother a Bohemian noble from the Martinitz family. Browne and his brother Joseph (1728-1758), following in their family’s footsteps, both became officers in the Habsburg army. Browne fought in Italy and in the opening battle of the Seven Years’ War: the Battle of Lobositz (1756) where his own father, who was also his commander, witnessed his bravery. As an officer he fought in front of his troops and continued to fight despite of injuries. This reached Vienna and Maria-Theresia made him Knight in the, then newly founded, Maria-Theresien-Orden. His career took off to great heights. His brother Joseph unfortunately fell at the Battle of Hochkirch.
Sadly, his uncle, George Graf von Browne (1698-1792), is not attending the party tonight. He and his wife, Helen Gräfin von Lacy, have not been seen for some time now as George is serving as Field-Marshall in the Imperial army of Russia. They must be mentioned as this couple demonstrates how the exiled Irish stick together. She is a daughter to the late Russian Commander Peter Graf von Lacy (1678-1751). Oh, and if you look back, the Field-Marshall Franz Moritz von Lacy, the one wearing the Grand Cross on his gala-uniform – he is her brother.
They may not be present but it can be expected their son will be: The young Johann Georg Graf von Browne (1741-1794). He is still at the beginning of his career even though he already gained some fame in the Austrian army, fighting most memorably at the Battles of Torgau (1760) and Freiberg (1762). Only twenty-five he is a Captain, they say he’ll be promoted a Major in the coming year.

Turning back to the other mentioned distinguished guests, we see Lieutenant-General Thomas Freiherr von Plunkett (1716-1779), another Knight of the Maria-Theresien-Orden; a well-respected officer for fighting against the Turks, in the Spanish Succession War, in Italy, and serving throughout the Seven Years’ War. Outstanding was his brave conduct in recapturing the obstinately contested village Krzeczhorz, at the Battle of Kolín (1757), which brought him the knighthood. He now holds his own infantry regiment. His name is mentioned for the position of Governor of Antwerp in the Austrian Netherlands. Plunkett’s wife, Mary d’Alton, most likely to be a sister of the rising Irish officers d’Alton.

Rather quietly seated we find General-Major Peter Julius Caesar Baron MacElligott (1715-1781), a son of exiled parents. It is not spoken out loud, but the MacElligotts – they are not barons of the Empire like the others. The baronial title is what they brought with them from Ireland. And it is not only that: It is also whispered that when MacElligott was in his mid-thirties, and still only a captain, he begged the Empress to grant him the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. His main reason having been the fact he married the third wife and widow of the 6th Earl of Wigtown, an elderly and staunch Jacobite. Therefore it was for her status he made this daring move, but it worked. She died four years ago. Presently he is a General-Major since two years, and remarried even better (for his career that is). His second wife is Maria Franziska Gräfin von Unverzagt, native Austrian nobility of high rank.

These esteemed gentlemen are only a few of the guests, but their presence was confirmed. Among the many we miss, for instance, the eighty-year old Field-Marshal Nicholas Graf von Taaffe (1685-1769), first generation Irish from County Sligo; and presently one of the last remaining courtiers from the reign of Leopold I, Duc de Lorraine, the father of the late Emperor Franz I. Having been at Lorraine as a young man, he entered the Austrian military service just over thirty years ago. He served Emperor Charles VII, father of the current Empress-Queen Maria Theresia. His last battle in active service was nearly ten years ago, the famous Battle of Kolín. Now he is enjoying retirement; and only recently he was granted the honour of becoming Count von Taaffe, and he is also a naturalized Bohemian noble. But that does not prevent him from fighting for his Irish birth rights. Taaffe styles himself Viscount Taaffe and Baron of Ballymote, Irish titles; and has laid claims in various Irish courts of law concerning lost property handed over to a protestant. His absence could be explained by his retirement to his Silesian estate, where he is allegedly trying to grow potatoes.
Other guests are likely to be: Colonel Patricius Oliver Graf Wallis (1724-1787), of Dublin; Lieutenant-Field Marshal Jakob Robert Graf Nugent-Westenrath (1720-1794), of Castle Nugent, County Westmeath; Lieutenant-Colonel Wilhelm Graf von Lacy-Billingari (1726-1784), of Ballingarry, County Limerick; and the brothers Colonel Heinrich Graf O’Donnell (1726-1789) and Lieutenant-Field Marshal Johann Graff O’Donnell (1724-1784), of Cassalbar, County Mayo. All of whom are first generation Irish and veterans who fought with great distinction in the Seven Years’ War. And there were many, many more.

The Wild Geese in Austria, this is quite clear now, were most highly respected and made brilliant military careers in the various Irish regiments of the Habsburg Army. Robbed from access to their home country, they found a new home within the Holy Roman Empire. With their comital and baronial titles they were considered welcome at the Habsburg court. And often within two generations time, settled themselves firmly where it concerns military careers, much coveted court offices, titles and marriages of high standing, and landed estates throughout the dominions of the Empire. Their descendants often stayed in their new home country, very few returned – but they never forgot about the old Irish roots. And they keep in contact, as this celebration of Saint Patrick’s Dy at the Viennese residence of the Spanish ambassador proves so very clearly.

[ Sources ]

– Familypapers
– Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (1875-1912)
– Neue Deutsche Biographie (1953-)
– The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (1926)
– George B. Clark, Irish Soldiers in Europe, 17th-19th Century (Cork 2010)
– Crofton Croker, Esq., Popular Songs of Ireland, collected and edited, with introductions and notes (London 1839), page 5-6
– John O’Donovan, ‘The Mabuires of Fermanagh’, in: Duffy’s Hibernian Magazine, Volume 2, No. 10 (April 1861) ( (accessed last: 16.03.2016)
– Henry McDowell and Hugo Morley-Fletcher, ‘A Meissen Rarity for an Irish Family: The MacElligotts of County Kerry’, in: Irish Arts Review, 1997, p.102-104
– Alfons Dragoni, Edler von Rabenhorst, Geschichte des K.u.K. Infanterie-Regimentes Prinz Friedrich August Herzog zu Sachsen Nr. 45 – Von der errichtung bis zur gegenwart. (Brunn 1897)
– Brian McGinn, ‚St. Patrick’s Day in Vienna‘, in: Irish Roots Magazine, No. 1, 1996, 10-11 ( (accessed last: 15.03.2015)
– Marian Füssel, Der Siebenjährige Krieg. Ein Weltkrieg im 18. Jahrhundert (C.H. Beck, München 2010)
– Dr. J. Hirtenfeld, Der Militär-Maria-Theresien-Orden und seine mitglieder (Wien 1857)
– Dr. Antonio Schmidt-Brentano, Kaiserliche und k.k. Generale (1618-1815) (Österreichisches Staatsarchiv 2006) (accessed last 15.03.2016)
– Franz A.J. Szabo, The Seven Years War in Europe: 1756-1763 (Longman 2007


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This entry was posted on March 17, 2016 by in History, Research, The Ancestral Files.

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