British museum mulls Cork village’s claim on Napoleon’s stallion

A British museum has said it will deal “sensitively” with calls to permanently repatriate the skeleton of Napoleon’s famous white horse to a Cork town.

While the museum has told county councillors to prove their claim that the horse, Marengo, was sold at Cahermee horse fair, Buttevant, it has also left open the possibility of loaning the skeleton for exhibition in north Cork.

Members of the Mallow/Kanturk municipal district council have written to the National Army Museum, in London, seeking the return of the stallion’s skeleton, which has recently undergone extensive and costly restoration at the British Natural History Museum.

It is scheduled to take pride of place in the National Army Museum, but councillors have written to that museum looking for its permanent repatriation.

A spokesman for the museum said any decision on the skeleton’s future “would be made on the basis of the evidence and case provided to support any claim”.

He said this would have to be weighed against the museum’s obligation to safeguard collections for future generations.

“We also welcome any loan requests of our items to museums, both nationally and internationally,” he added.

Cllr Bernard Moynihan, chairman of the Mallow/Kanturk municipal district council, said he is still awaiting an official reply from the museum.

But he added, in the meantime, he would be ensuring that a comprehensive case was put together to prove the horse was sold in Buttevant.

Mr Moynihan has already spoken to local historians and is adamant that the horse is Irish and was sold in the town.

He has suggested that the skeleton could become a centrepiece in a new museum in Buttevant, which could also house many artefacts that were unearthed there recently by archaeologists.

“It is even good news that the National Army Museum would consider loaning it to us. We could display it in Buttevant to coincide with Cahermee horse fair, or we could display it at Mallow racecourse, during an Easter racing festival,” Mr Moynihan said.

There is a strong belief that Marengo, which was captured by the British after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, was sold in North Cork. However, there’s a counter-claim that the horse was sold at Bartlemy, near Fermoy and was bred in Co Wexford.

Some councillors from the Fermoy/Charleville municipal district have muddied the waters by supporting the Bartlemy claim.

For many years, a massive mural of the famous painting of the white charger, rearing up with Napoleon on his back, adorned the gable end wall of the former Barry’s pub in the village. Sadly it has since been painted over.

North Cork historians will also have to disprove a counterclaim that Marengo was Egyptian-bred and was actually acquired by the French emperor during his military campaigns in Egypt and Syria (1798–1801).

Even though Marengo was small, the horse was as tough as nails. He was wounded eight times in battle, but still survived until he was 38, outliving his master by 10 years.


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