Battle underway for return of Napoleon's horse Marengo to Ireland

The first shots in the ‘Battle for Marengo’ have just been fired.

The volley came from a small detachment of county councillors in Cork who are taking on the might of the British military establishment.

They want the remains of Napoleon’s famous white charger repatriated to Ireland after hearing that the British have put the skeleton of the horse on display at the National Army Museum in London.

The attack is being led by Fianna Fáil councillor Bernard Moynihan, chairman of the Kanturk/Mallow municipal district council, which represents the Buttevant area.

Folklore has it that Marengo was sold at the famous Cahirmee horse fair in Buttevant.

Mr Moynihan said he had spoken to local historians who are convinced that it is actually true, although that is disputed by people living in another North Cork village, Bartlemy.

Mr Moynihan managed to get councillors from different parties to rally to his war cry.

He said Marengo’s skeleton could form the centrepiece of a museum display, which would attract tourists to Buttevant.

Cllr Moynihan pointed out that Buttevant was oozing history and efforts should be made through rural regeneration projects to set up a museum in the town and display artifacts in it.

A 16-strong team of archaeologists spent nearly two years excavating the town’s main street during a €5m makeover of what was dubbed the worst main street in Ireland, Towards the end of last year archaeologists announced that they had unearthed an astonishing 2,788 artifacts.

These included a gold posy ring inscribed with the year 1713, animal bones, pottery, tiles, bone combs, numerous coins, buttons, buckles, pins and clay wig curlers.

Cllr Moynihan said some of these discoveries should also be put on display in the museum along with Marengo’s skeleton.

Cllr John Paul O’Shea (Ind) thoroughly agreed with him, saying it would provide a much-needed economic boost for the town.

So too did Cllr Gerard Murphy (FG), and Cllr Melissa Mullane (SF) who said she’d support any move to get Marengo back.

Cllr Mullane then suggested the council might need reinforcements for the ‘Battle for Marengo.’

She maintained that the people of Buttevant should be enlisted and get them to sign an online petition supporting the return of Marengo.

If the horse is returned to Cork it will be a famous victory for the small group of councillors.

But they could then face civil war with their colleagues in the Fermoy/Charleville municipal district council. They represent Bartlemy and are full sure to support calls from people in that village that they’re entitled to the skeleton.

Famous painting of Napoleon riding his horse Marengo. Up to recently a mural of this painting adorned the side of Barry’s pub in Buttevant.

For many years people in Bartlemy have maintained that the horse was sold at a fair there, and not in Buttevant. They were so adamant a local publican had a giant mural of Napoleon riding on a reared-up Marengo painted on a gable wall of his premises. Sadly the mural has since been painted over.

However, the Bartlemy claim on the horse has been bolstered by singer/songwriter John Spillane.

He has just composed a ballad about Marengo and the Bartlemy connection, although he has taken some artistic licence by referring to the famous stallion as a mare. Mr Crowley has said he will revise the lyrics to include the ‘battle’ to have Marengo returned to Ireland.

While there are also claims that Marengo was acquired by Napoleon during his campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798–1801), the people of North Cork are united in one thing — he’s Irish.

Marengo carried Napoleon around many of the bloody battlefields of his European campaigns, was wounded eight times but lived to the ripe old age of 38, 10 years after the death of his master. Marengo’s skeleton was displayed at the now defunct Royal United Services Institute Museum but has been on display at the National Army Museum since the 1960s.

Bartlemy claim bolstered by ballad

Cahirmee Horse Fair, Buttevent, Co Cork, on July 11, 1939.
The Ballad of Marengo by John Spillane

Napoleon went a riding on his lovely white mare

That was bought for five shillings at Bartlemy Fair

Broken-hearted I’ll wander, Broken-hearted I’ll remain

Since my bonny light horseman

In the wars he was slain.

Since Boney went riding

His Arabian mare,

That was bought for five shillings

At Bartlemy Fair

Napoleon commanded his army to stand

He raised up his banners, so gayly and grand

He leveled his cannons all over the plain

And my bonny light horseman

In the wars he was slain

Marengo, Marengo

The Arabian mare,

That was sold for five shillings

At Bartlemy Fair.

Marengo was but a foaleen she pranced and then she danced

From Ballyreidy to Ballinterry then she set sail for France

In the forge down in Bluebell, she received her first shoe

Her hames and her traces, all shining and new.

Marengo, Marengo

You shining white mare

That was sold for five shillings

At Bartlemy Fair


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