Galloping through both sides of history

A GROUP of county councillors is to ask the National Army Museum in London to repatriate — if that’s the right word — the skeleton of Napoleon’s charger Marengo.

The request is based on the long-held belief that the horse was bought at a horse fair in north Cork, though the venue is uncertain — Buttevant and Bartlemy dispute the honour, though neither can establish an authentic claim.

There is another version of the story — isn’t there always — that suggests Marengo was exported to France from Egypt in 1799 and that the grey Arabian was probably bred at the famous El Naseri Stud.

The museum, like its peers, will be familiar with requests like this, as a great proportion of exhibits in British institutions originated in empire and conquest.

The old argument will be invoked — when does international loot become national heritage? Ask the Greeks who fought so hard to repatriate the Elgin Marbles, maybe?

Though the Marengo story has almost as many twists and turns as the Napoleon legends, and even if its bones eventually become a centrepiece in a north Cork museum, it recalls a very fine example of commercial flexibility. Around the time Marengo left north Cork to become Napoleon’s charger Corkman, Charles Henry Leslie opened Ballincollig’s Gunpowder Mills, where some of the gunpowder used by British forces in the Napoleonic Wars was manufactured.

A horse for Napoleon but, from the same county at the same time, ammunition for Wellington. There must be a contemporary lesson in that Tadhg an dá thaobh pragmatism.


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