VHeadline News Editor Patrick J. O'Donoghue writes: Now that VHeadline.com has become an integral part of the newly-created Daniel Florence O'Leary Foundation, our readers will want to know something about the independence fighter, General Daniel Florence O'Leary, from Cork in Ireland and our reasons for venerating his name and achievements.
The O'Learys were ... and still are ... a West Cork family living close to the border with neighboring Kerry. In fact, the area where the O'Leary's held sway is half way between Killarney in Kerry and Cork city. Daniel Florence's grandfather, Florence moved from West Cork to Cork City where he started a grocery business based on the commodity of butter which he obtained from farmers he knew and with whom he built up a relationship in West Cork. With the advent of the Napoleonic Wars and growth of trade to the West Indies his sons, Daniel and Jeremiah (Daniel Florence's father) was able to build up a successful business and become members of the important Cork Committee of Merchants. However, the boom in trade did not last long because once the war in Europe ended it caused a downturn in business and eventual bankruptcy.
Daniel Florence, born in 1802, was 16 when he decided to join the so-called 'British Legion,' which Venezuelan rebel agents had recruited and established as a mercenary force to help the cause of independence under the leadership of Simon Bolivar against the Spanish Crown. Bolivar had already failed several times to organize a competent domestic fighting force and hoped to break the deadlock by enlisting veterans from Europe.
What is striking is Daniel Florence's speedy rise through the military ranks. After signing up, the young man sailed from Portsmouth in December 1817 with 20 enlisted officers and 57 NCOs to meet up with around 600 hired troopers under the command of the British Colonel Henry Wilson. After two months on the high seas, they reached St. Georges in Granada and in another two months were able to join up with the main rebel camp along the mighty Orinoco River in Angostura, now called Cuidad Bolivar.
According to the story told by O'Leary's descendant, Peter, currently living in Inchigeela (West Cork), only 40 of the original conscripts, mostly Irishman reached the end of the journey. Daniel Florence was by no means impressed by the disorderly conduct of his British companions and with a friend applied for a transfer to a "native" army unit where he came in contact with two "criollos," who were to change his life, General Carlos Soublette, who was to become his brother-in-law and Simon Bolivar himself.
Daniel Florence rose through the ranks starting from promotion to Lieutenant at 18 years old, Captain at 20, Lt. Colonel at 21, Colonel at 25 and finally Brigadier General in 1829 at 28 years old. These promotions came after fighting the Spanish in pitched and running battles throughout South America.
According to sources, the young man made a concerted and successful effort to learn Spanish and became Bolivar's first aide de camp in 1826 when the Spanish government finally admitted defeat. In 1830, Liberator Bolivar died in Santa Marta, Colombia, sick, abandoned and maligned. O'Leary himself arrived at the Santa Marta hacienda a day later from Cartagena after carrying out a mission entrusted to him by Bolivar. Bolivar's downfall and death made life difficult for those close to him and O'Leary moved with his family to Kingston, Jamaica where he tried his hand at commerce without much success. His brother-in-law, General Carlos Soublette advised him in 1833 that it was safe to return to Venezuela where he stayed for eight years. Daniel Florencio decided to turn his hand to diplomacy.
As an introduction to the world of diplomacy, Daniel Florence served Bolivar on several missions to Chile in 1823, Bogota and Caracas (1826) and Brazil in 1825. He became the Gran Colombia's first Ambassador to the USA in 1830 and in 1835 the government of Venezuela sent him to Europe to seek and obtain diplomatic recognition for the new State. Daniel Florence acted as secretary to Plenipotentiary General Montilla. O'Leary's brother-in-law, Carlos Soublette took over from Montilla until 1836 moving between London and Madrid. Although Britain recognized the new State as a result of successful diplomacy, Spain refused to do so. In 1837, Venezuela appointed Daniel Florence to start negotiations for a Concordat with the Vatican but he was unsuccessful.
During his stay in London, the Corkman contacted Lord Palmerston and the Duke of Wellington and despite being a Catholic, he was accepted in the British diplomatic service owing to his dominion of the Spanish language and understanding of the new South American States. In 1841, he was appointed British Consul in Caracas and later Consul at Puerto Cabello before becoming charges d'affaires and eventually, Consul General in Bogota, Colombia.
During all these years of diplomatic service for the emerging republics, Daniel Florence maintained contact with his native Ireland and Cork, which he visited several times. He suffered health problems towards the end of his life and died in 1854 in Bogota where he was buried. In 1982, his remains were transferred to the National Pantheon in Caracas to lie alongside the remains of his commander in chief, Simon Bolivar.
- The Irishman left an important legacy in Venezuela in his 23-tome memoirs, which describe the War of Independence and contain many letters written by and to the Liberator. Daniel's eldest son, Simon Bolivar O'Leary was able to collate and translate the work from English into Spanish.
Daniel Florence O'Leary is remembered both in Caracas and Cork city. It is fitting that VHeadline, which is run by two Irishmen should take Daniel Florence O'Leary as an inspiration and example of solidarity and commitment to an adopted country that for us at least has become the vanguard of a second Independence struggle against a more powerful and coercive Empire, the USA.
It is important to mention that Daniel O'Leary is just one, albeit an important one, of thousands of Irishmen that enrolled in the misnomered British Legion that defeated the Spanish at the all-important Battle of Carabobo and drove them out of Venezuela.
Patrick J. O'Donoghue