When I was young, a visit by two Frenchmen caused great excitement in our house.
They were distant cousins – descendants of Oliver Harty who was born in Knockainey, Knocklong, County Limerick in 1746 and left for France as a lad of sixteen.
Like many young Irishmen who had lucrative careers in continental armies since the 16th century, Oliver left for France in 1762 to serve as a cadet in Berwick’s Irish Regiment, attached to the French Army. Three of his maternal uncles (the Sheas) were at the time officers in the Irish Brigade.
Oliver distinguished himself as a soldier. He was decorated by Louis XVI with the Order of Saint Louis, and after the Revolution, took part in various Napoleonic campaigns, and was created Baron de Pierrebourg (Alsace) by Napoleon.
While my father was delighted to have a Baron in the family, the news that Oliver had sailed into Bantry Bay with Wolfe Tone as part of the French attempt to rout the British in 1796 was even more impressive. The invasion failed but Oliver evaded capture and made it back to France, to his wife, Anne Marie de Grenveld, two sons and a daughter. Thus began the French branch of the Harty family tree.
Oliver’s great-grandson, Patrice Harty de Pierrebourg, had a keen interest in genealogy and wrote a biography of his illustrious ancestor, which is how Patrice’s grandsons came to make that visit to Ireland in the 1950s.
Over the years our two families kept in occasional touch. A look through my memento box upturned a French wedding invitation of some time back, a more recent letter from one of the men who had visited us, who “remembered my father well,” and a photograph of Albane, a French cousin I pen-palled with when I was a teenager.
I wasn’t much of a letter-writer and my French was terrible, so Albane and I soon stopped writing. My mother, on the other hand, kept up a running correspondence with all my father’s relations as well as her own. As I was growing up, our never-met cousins in Australia, Hawaii, and various parts of England were known to us through photographs and letters.
They were all very much in my mind as we put together this Global 100 issue.
We are a far-flung people, and it was exciting to explore the Irish threads that color the mosaic of so many countries; to discover a champion surfer in Australia with Irish roots, and a Polo player in Argentina, and to consider the backstory of their immigrant ancestors. It was a first digging away at the topsoil of a huge story that encompasses some 70 million Irish around the world.
It was also a nod to a new web venture that we are undertaking called IrishCentral.com, which will be a truly global site; one that we hope will become a meeting place for the Irish around the world – where long-lost relatives will reconnect and new friendships will be forged; a place where the far-flung Irish from every corner of the globe can get together and share their version of the wonderful story that is our heritage.
Enjoy this issue and think about connecting up with your own relatives, wherever they may be.