Anciens combattants

 Hôtel des Invalides
The Hôtel Royal des Invalides (les Invalides) was established by Louis XIV as a home for old and infirm soldiers in 1676. Registers of its early inmates have just been put on line, and they make for fascinating reading. According to Eoghan Ó hAnnracháin, the registers indicate that of the 130,000 veterans who applied to be admitted to the Hôtel Royal des Invalides between 1674 and 1770 some 2% were Irish.  If one accepts Ó hAnnracháin’s estimate that 250,000 Irishmen served in the French army up until the French Revolution, then one deduces that about 1 in a hundred spent some time in the Invalides.

But to get into the Invalides, one had to be very “lucky” indeed, for one needed to have been seriously wounded or crippled and yet have survived the brutal medical treatment of the time. Depending on pressure on space, one also needed to have a minimum length of service in the French army.

Facilities and food in the Invalides were considered top notch. The staircase leading to soldiers’ quarters on the upper floors were even designed with small steps to facilitate residents with reduced mobility. And yet while many Irishmen were refused admission, others who had gained admission quit soon after, either because they were unable to cope with being confined to barracks, because they had families to go to, because they were not considered ill enough to stay on in the Invalides, because they were enticed by a payoff to give up their place to somebody else who needed it more or who had better connections, or because they were expelled.

 Small staircase steps to facilitate wounded soldiers
Several Irish residents were expelled from the Invalides in the hundred years after its initial opening for being, well, a bit “Irish”. Bernard Reilly from Drogheda, aged 56, and Philip Reddan (Philippe Rhedan in the register), a Limerick man aged 59 years, were both admitted to the Invalides in 1715 and both shown the door for their behaviour two years later. Reddan had already clocked up 24 years service by the time he arrived at the Invalides and Reilly 26 years. In spite of serious injuries along the entire left side of his body and a severe sword wound to his ear, Reddan was deemed fit enough to be posted from the Invalides to the garrison guarding Sainte Marguerite island off the south coast of France along with his friend Bernard Reilly, who had poor eyesight and a litany of wounds (presumably the warm Mediterranean weather was meant to be of some good for injured solders like these). But, according to the Invalides register, Reddan was imprisoned for being much given to wine, mutinous, seditious and incorrigible”. Soon after, when Reddan refused to turn out for parade, a report was drawn up “on the subject of this solder and four other drunk and mutinuous Irishmen of this same company and sent to Sire Le Blanc who ordered that said Philippe Rhedan, Irish, should be thrown out of the company and the hotel, which measure was carried out today, Sept. 26, 1717.” 

The four other Irishmen mentioned in the Reddan report were Reddan’s pal, Bernard Reilly, Daniel Rian (Ryan), Denis Hogan and ‘Jean Michel’ (who is actually described as Scottish in the Reilly report). These four are described in the Reilly report as being “so addicted to wine that they knew nobody in this state, and they had the habit of shutting themselves inside their rooms where they fought with each other like beasts.” The authorities decided that a lottery should be organised to determine which one of the foursome should be expelled. Bernard Reilly chose the short straw, and thus was expelled on the same day in 1717 as his drinking companion, Philip Reddan.

The short biographies of all those who applied for admission to the Invalides provides insight into the kind of campaigns in which the Irish became embroiled in the service of France. We learn, for example, that a certain Denis Shaughnessy (admitted to the Invalides at age 60) had been captured by Algerian pirates and put into slavery before being ransomed by Louis XIV. Simon Kelly from Galway was admitted at age 85 after having clocked up 60 years certified service (including a period of enslavement in Crete). He was admitted at the end of May 1697, but gave up his place four and a half months later and was given 15 livres to see him on his way. William Swan from Co. Tyrone was admitted in 1786, aged 38, having had his right leg amputated after being struck by a British bullet in Tobago in the Caribbean.

 Stylised view of life in the Invalides in the 17th century
Below are the registry entries for a random selection of these Irishmen.

Dominique Morphy (sic.)
Received into the Hotel on 14 April 1746
Dominique Morphy, Irish, aged 22, native of Clonemalos (Clonemacnoise), County Roscommon in Ireland, Soldier in the Irish regiment of Roth, company lieutenant colonel, where he served for 5 years, has a left arm that was crippled from a shot at the battle of Fontenoy, and is a Catholic.

Mathieu Ryan
Received into the Hotel on 30 September 1723
Mathieu Ryan Irish, aged 33, native of Dublin in Ireland, Soldier of Sire de Glasco, Dillon’s Irish Regiment, where he served 17 years..has his left calf and both arms crippled, having broken them as a result of a fall while he was on duty on a bastion at Sarrelouis, having Fallen into a boat that was moored in the water, which put him out of combat, tailor by trade and is Catholic.
- Sept. 5, 1724. Mathieu Ryan, Irish, having deserted the Hotel on July 25 last, bringing with him only the standard uniform he had been issued, the governor decided to allow him respite to return to the Hotel by September, which he did not do. This is why he has been struck from the register of the Hotel as a déserter on this day, Sept. 5, 1724.

Luc Keffe (Luke Keefe?)
Received into the Hotel on January 10, 1710
Luc Keffe Irish, aged 74, Native of Corck in Irlande. Soldier of Sire David Barry, Regiment of O’Brien (previously Clare), where he served for eight years, and before that for 12 years in the régiments of the King and of Aumont, as indicated in his certificates. His poor bearing and his weak eyesight and the wounds to his left arm that he received from a halberd during the battle of Ramillies mean he is unfit for service, and is a Catholic
                                                                        - February 25, 1720. He is decease

Select Bibliography

"Guests of France: a description of the Invalides with an account of the Irish in that institution" 
Eoghan Ó hAnnracháin in Franco-irish Military Connections, 1590-1945
ed. Nathalie Genet-Rouffiac & David Murphy (2009)