The O'Briens of Wexford, Ireland

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Wexford O'Briens in Canada:

Emmigration to Canada

(British sailing ship docked in Montreal, Quebec).

1600 1817


To Quebec:
England's conquest of her island neighbour to the west was continued by the Cromwell massacres
of the mid-seventeenth century and the victory of William of Orange in 1690. One of the
consequences of this conquest was the introduction in France and Spain of a skilled and exiled
Irish mercenary class.l

Some of these exiled Irish soldiers, living in France, participated in the colonization
movement of that country in North America. As Claude de Bonnault has noted, "Canada was not yet
English but there were Irish already there."2. From the few studies which exist on the Irish in
New France, it becomes clear that there were roughly three categories of "Hibemois" living in the
French colony: 1) Irish soldiers in the armies of France, 2) deserters and prisoners from the
English colonies to the south and 3) Irish civilians.
Source: Grace p 21

About the existence of the first category, that of Irish soldiers serving under the
French King in New France, there is no doubt. In fact, in the first half of the seventeenth
century, there were an estimated 35,000 Irish soldiers in France.3 However, the statement that,
at the time of the cession of New France, "...the Irish Brigade [was then serving in Canada...
~~4 and that it was instrumental in the victory of the French at the Battle of Carillon is
"···the purest fiction..."5. In fact, "...there were no Irish troops at the Battle of Carillon
whatsoever."6 The fact that Mr John O'Farrell made these claims during an after-dinner speech
sponsored by the St. Patrick's Society of Montreal in 1872 may explain his flexible use of
historical fact. Or as Thomas Guerin has so neatly put it: "In his St. Patrick's night enthusiasm
he felt that if there had not been [Irish troops at Carillonl there should have been. O'Farrell's
speech has been repnnted several times, the most recent version appearing in Robert O'Driscoll's
The Unfold Story: The Irish in Canadas And while O'Farrell's assertions may appear convincing,
they must be taken as so many hypotheses and not as facts. Indeed, the only way to verify the
Irish lawyer's claims would be to complete the genealogies of the families in New France which he
believes were Irish, a formidable task. We shall come back to O'Farrell shortly.

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, thousands of Irish people emigrated
to France. For example, in order to be rid of as many Catholics as possible, Cromwell, following
his conquest of Ireland from 1649 to 1653, allowed Irish colonels to recruit Catholic soldiers in
Ireland under condition that they leave the country. France was thus the destination for
thousandsg Similarly, after the Jacobite wars of the late seventeenth century in which the Irish,
French and Scots, under the Catholic king, James II, fought the forces of the Protestant monarch
William of Orange, roughly 30,000 I rish officers and soldiers left Ireland for France. From 12
to 20,000 of the latter remained in the, French army These were the famous " Wild Geese" and once
in France, they constituted "averitable Irish army."'0 How many of these Irish crossed the
Atlantic to New France under the French flag? As no comprehensive study of this Irish immigration
from France to New France has been completed using French sources, it is difficult to establish
the number of Irish wh, came to New France and we must turn to studies completed on this side of
the Atlantic. However, the recent publication of volume IV of the on-going collective effort A
New History' of Ireland11 contains a section intitled "The Irish on the Continent, 1691-1800"
which may serve as a point of departure for studies of the context of this emigration and the
subsequent migration to New France.
Claude De Bonnault attests to the fact that there were Irish citizens in New
France well before the cession of the colony to the English. "I found the traces of over two
dozen of these Hiberians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Were there considerably
more of them?"l2 Some of the Irish who were present in New France went by the names of O'Brennan,
MoO'e, Hamilton, MacCarthy O'Sullivan, O'Neill and O'Dwyer, to name but these few.
Source Grace p 22

... A further category of Irish arrivals in New France were soldiers in the English army who
deserted and came to the French colony. As Guerin has noted, the Irish ".,.shared with the Scotch
their devotion to the French cause"lg and thus desertions were common. Indeed, in 1746 and 1751,
despite the efforts of the English, entire garrisons in Nova Scotia deserted and came to New
France20 England's favourite recruiting method, the press gang, may have influenced the decision
of these men to change sides at the first opportunity. The government of New France seems to have
taken advantage of this sympathy towards their cause (or antipathy towards the English...) to
glean inform ation on Engli sh military activity to the south. In return for this information,
many an Irish deserter "...received thirty livres in Quebec currency, a gun and a blanket."
Indeed, the Irish living in New England "...formed a permanent intelligence service for the
troops in the French Army."21
Source: Grace p. 23
The following names of noted Irish birth or origin appear in Tanguay's dictionary for the period
up to 1759: Cary, Condon, Farly, Hambleton, Hoc, Johnson, Macklin, Mulligan, O'Donald, Sullivan,
Sweeny, White, Wilson.27 Source Grace p 24 {In a footnote he notes that the O'Brien name appears.
He states thus: "Of course there are many names in Tanguay's dictionary for which the national
origin is not provided but which appear to be Irish: Canavan, Conners, Daly, Delaunay, Farrell j
Fellan, Finn, Kenny, Kersan, Macardy, Macarthy, Magher, McGraw, McKadain, Moraney, Murray,
O'Brien, O'Hara, Quinn, Smith, Wehentan". See Cyprien Tanguay, Dictionnaire genealogique des
familles canadiennes, 7 volumes, 1871-1890).
Source: Grace p 24
***John O'Farrell, 'Irish Families in Ancient Q@uebec,' in R. O'Driscoll and Lorna Reynolds
(eds), The Untold Story: The Irish in Canada (Toronto 1988), 1, 283

It has been asserted that of the 2,500 families resident in New France at the close of the
seventeenth century as many as 130 were of proven Irish origin. Other families of less evident
Irish origin were also to be found. Time and assimilation had transformed names such as Teague
Cornelius O'Brian into Tec Cornelle Aubry and so disguised their ethnic origin.**** In the
aftermath of the conquest, Irishmen were again to be found in the army and in the bureaucracy of
the new colonial administration. The celebration of St Patrick's day was recorded in the Quebec
Gazette as early as 1765.

Areas that he suggests need to be Investigated further:
From the foregoing, it would appear that further research on the Irish in New France could
be undertaken from at least two angles. One research perspective would involve a search in French
military archives in order to determine the extent to which the "Wild Geese" and Irish soldiers
generally crossed the Atlantic to serve in New France. We know for instance that Chevalier
Fran~ois Gaston de Levis (1720-1787) had many Irishmen among his militiamen28 and that Irish
regiments served the cause of France in southern parts of North America during the Seven Years
War.29 It should come as no surprise that, after the British flag was raised at Quebec, those
Irish soldiers who were in the colony felt compelled to gallicize their
names for reasons ofpers onal security, they being considered traitors in British eyes.

A second field of study would imply further research on Irish civilian contributions to
the colonization of New France. Given the fact that an estimated 40,000 Irish men, women and
children were emigrating to France during the seventeenth century, a period during which she was
colonizing the St. Lawrence
Valley, it is perhaps not surprising that we find some Irish in New France in the period.
However, only further research from French sources of the period will permit us to draw a
balanced picture of the extent of Irish emigration from France to her colony on the banks of the
St. Lawrence.
Source: Grace p. 24


5,500 Emigrants (c. 1,000 families) left Wexford and Carlow for Canada (British North America). The list is a return of Protestant Families preparing to emigrate in spring of 1818. The list was created in November, 1817. A number of O'Briens were included on that list. The number following the name is a total of the family accompaning the head of household.. (I assume one of the two numbers is a typo. I leave the error and let researchers judge).

By 1817 there was a post war recession and Irish crops were failing. Soldiers were returning from the Napoleonic wars from Europian mainland had flooded the labour market. From 1812-1814, there had been another war in North America. The British offered free land to soldiers if they settled in British North America. It wanted troops to remain and wanted disbanded soldiers to make up an officer corps of a home militia, to offer military exper-tise and provide proper training to the general rank and file. This would enable the colonies to become self-sustaining in protecting themselves against the Americans.

Bill Tuffs (of the Ontario Genealogical Society) states"
"Military settlements were established in the second tier of counties inland from the border (the St. Lawrence River,) at Richmond, Franktown and Perth. In the accompanying lists, the compiler noted that upwards of 1,100 men were capable of carrying arms. Some had shown their loyalty in the '98 uprising and by their actions, attachment to the Crown. This responsibility to defend Canada was the "pull" factor the Crown had to assist emigrants to settle in eastern Ontario. Further, there was a "push" factor by the Crown to remove people from the responsibility it had to care for those living in the British Isles. If people left Ireland, government would not be required to feed, clothe and house them."

The author says this of members of the Protestant list:

"The Protestant families of which this list is composed are remarkably sober Industrious and well conducted, can procure the satisfactory recommendations and have generally some of their branches numbers of yeomanry corps, many of these upon lands granted by the British Government within these past two years. Many other Protestant families of most respectable character tho' unable to bear the expense of a removal, are unsettling themselves under the idea of being assisted with a free passage to British North America and anxiously looking forward to being informed of their hopes on this subject shall be realized. Most of the men of These families capable of bearing arms in the Rebellion of 1798 were actively employed in the defence of their country and proved it at the risque of their lives an unalterable attachment which they enjoyed the Blessings of Liberty".

Bernard O'Brien10 3
James Brien5 3
Jas Bryan 4


The author says this of members of the Catholic list:

"The Roman Catholic families which compose this list are generally respectable Farmers have produced tolerably good accomodations for sobriety, industry & good conduct, but as Farmers & workmen they possess the want of order neatness and economy which generally designates the religious persuasion to which they belong. The Protestant immigrants look on their being accompanied by these families with a dissatisfied and jealous eye. Most of the Catholic families are quite unable to bear the expenses of a passage to Quebec and providing for their subsistence on arriving at their destinationand are unsettling themselves under the idea of the British Govt furnishing a conveyance to the colonies'.

James Bryan 8 RC

(There might be more detailed family information in the following article: Akenson, Donald H., ed., "Canadian Papers in Rural History", V. VIII (1992), pp. 277/305)

Total Emmigrant List

Source: IGSI

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(Graces Bibliography::

1. See John J. Silke,"The Irish Abroad, 1534-1691." in T.W. Moody, F.X. Manin and F.J.
Byrne, eds., A New History of lreland volume III (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1976).
2. Claude De Bonnault, "Les Irlandais au Canada avant la cession," Bulletin des recherches
historiques, 63, 4 (1957), p. 87.
3. Colonel Pierre Cartes, "Troupes irlandaises au service de la France, 1635-1815". Etudes
irlandoises 8-nouvelle serie (decembre 1983), p. 196.
4. John O'Farrell, Irish Families in Ancient Quebec Records (Montreal 1908), p. 4.
5. Thomas Guerin, The Gael in New France (Montreat 1946), p. 7.
6, Ibid., p, 6.
7. Ibid.
8: John O'Farrell, "Irish Families in Ancient Quebec Records, in Robert O'Driscoll and Lorna
Reyolds eds., The Untold Story. The Irish in Canada (Toronto 1988) vol. I.
9. Carles, op. cit., p. 196,
10. Ibid., p. 198-199.
11. T.W. Moody and W.E. Vaughan, eds., A New History of lreland IV: Eightneenth-Century
lreland, 1691-180( (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1986). For a review of the series, see
Thomas Bartlett, "Review Article A New History of Ireland," Post and Present 116 (August 1987):

***John O'Farrell, 'Irish Families in Ancient Q@uebec,' in R. O'Driscoll and Lorna Reynolds
(eds), The Untold Story: The Irish in Canada (Toronto 1988), 1, 283


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Last updated: October 02, 1999.