Published in Cavan, county Cavan
December 30, 1852

(An Original Biography)

In answer to a Cavan correspondent I beg to communicate some particulars about Marshal O’Brady, and have to apologise I could not do so sooner, as I was not able until now to lay my hands on some papers scattered among various collections. The O’Bradys, or more correctly, the MacBradys, accoding to our old annualists, are an ancient clan of Cavan, and still very numerous – many thousands of the names are to be found in the county at the present day. The MacBradys were one of the most powerful of the Cavan clans, next to the O’Reillys, the ancient princes and lords of the territory of East Brefney, who, for more than seven centuries, were the chief rulers and possessors of the country, which from them was in former times called Brefney O’Reilly, and O’Reilly’s country.

The MacBradys were men of note in former days. Many of them were eminent ecclesiastics and Bishops of Kilmore; and down to this day clergymen of the name are numerous and most respectable in that diocese. The Marshal O’Brady was of an old respectable family, the Bradys of Ballyhilland, a place between Crossdoney and Killeshandra, in the parish of Kilmore, over which now presides the Venerable Thomas Brady, Archdeacon of Kilmore, to whom I am indebted for some of the information I now communicate; and he must be considered good authority, his family being related to that of the Mashal. I have also heard that the family of John Brady, Esq., M.P. for Leitrim, claim kindred with the General. Amongst the Marshal’s relatives I have also to mention the family of the MacCabes, the eldest of whom is Doctor M’Cabe, J.P. of Hawkhurst, Kent, and twice elected by his fellow-townsmen, Mayor of Hastings.

O’Brady received a classical education, and was also a good mathematician. He was originally intended for the Church, and set out for Prague with the intention of studying theology in the celebrated University of that city, where many Irishmen who became eminent ecclesiastics had received their education, and several of whom were distinguished professors in that college. On his way to Germany he went by Brussells (sic) to see a relative, Sir Terence O’Brady, an eminent physician, who then resided in that city. This gentleman was in high esteem at the Court of Vienna, and an especial favourite with the Empress Maria Theresa, whose son Joseph, afterwards Emperor of Germany, the Irish doctor had cured of some very dangerous disease, after the best of the German faculty had failed. Sir Terence received his relative Thomas with great kindness, but on seeing him and admiring his athletic appearance, his fine figure and stature, six feet high, he told him he thought he was better adapted for the army than for the Church. The bold O’Brady himself was of the same opinion, and considering he was better fitted for fighting on the field of Mars than in the Church militant, he resolved to try his fortune in the ranks of war. Having got a recommendation from Sir Terence to the Emperor Joseph, he went to Vienna about the year 1783.

O’Brady was then in about the twenty-second year of his age, and the Emperor, struck with his martial air and manly form, permitted him to enter the Austrian army as cadet. In this position, for three or four years, he assiduously studied the art of war, and became extremely expert in military exercises, as an ambitious aspirant for martial honours. He was first engaged in active service in the year 1788, under the command of Marshal Loudon, in the campaign against the Turks, and there strenuously pursued his path to fame on the banks of the dark-rolling Danube. The first place where he distinguished himself with great gallantry was at the capture of Belgrade, in 1789, when the Austrians took that celebrated city from the Turks.

In this conflict young O’Brady displayed the most dauntless bravery, being one of the foremost who entered the breach, sword in hand, hacking and hewing down the Turkish soldiers, who fled in terror before the fatal blows of the young warrior, but he himself received some dangerous wounds in this desperate encounter. O’Brady was considered one of the best swordsmen in the Austrian army, and after the battle of Belgrade became an especial favourite of the Emperor, and was promoted to the rank of Captain, and soon after as a Major and Colonel. O’Brady served under three successive Emperors, Joseph II., Leopold II., and Francis II.; and being advanced to the rank of a General and Field-Marshal, commanded in various campaigns from 1790 to 1810, in those stirring times of the fierce wars of the French Revolution and Bonaparte’s battles. He was held in the greatest estimation by the three Emperors, and received high rank, titles, and honours, being advanced to the following dignities:- Field-Marshal Baron O’Brady, Knight of the Military Order of Maria Theresa, and Grand Cross of Hungary; Master-General of the Ordnance; Grand Chamberlain to the Emperor Francis II., and an Aulie Councillor. When created Baron O’Brady the Emperor desired he would assume in his arms the motto – “In periculo intrepidus” – fearless in danger – a tribute expressive of the dauntless bravery he always displayed. Saw many years ago the Baron’s armorial ensign which he had sent to his brother in Dublin; the arms were well executed, and bore the motto – “In periculo intrepidus.” I have also often seen the same arms, well engraved, on the broad seal of his letters to his brother, with the same motto, and various emblems – among others a hand pointing to the sun. The ancient arms of the Bradys bore on a shield a hand pointing to the sun, with the motto Claitate Dextris, which may be translated – By the renown of the right hand. The arms and motto I have often found well executed on some monuments of the Bradys in Annageliffe, Castleterra, and other church yards, in some of my antiquarian rambles, going about like Walter Scott’s “Old Mortalilty,” endeavouring to decipher the epitaphs on the time-worn tombs.

In the manny (sic) battles in which O’Brady was engaged in the course of various campaigns, he received so many wounds, that in his old age the veteran warrior was covered with honourable scars; his head had been trepanned, and his right arm disabled, so that he was obliged to retire from active service for many years before his death. He paid a visit to Ireland about the year 1803, and spent some time with Col. Southwell of Castle Hamilton, Killeshandra, who used to tell many interesting anecdotes about him, illustrating his noble feelings, generosity, and love of fatherland. The marshal married an accomplished Irishwoman, the widow of Thomas Dillon, Esq., of Belgard, county of Dublin, who was heir to the Viscountey of Costello Gallen, in Mayo, and a member of the noble family of the Dillons, so distinguished in the military service of France and Austria, of whom an account is given by the learned D’Alton, in his “History of the County of Dublin.” The maiden name of the Baroness O’Brady was Margaret O’Moore, and she was daughter of O’Moore, of Claghan Castle, King’s County – an Irish family of high rank, in ancient times lords of Leix. A romantic story is told of her marriage to O’Brady, in consequence of his having saved her life on the Lake of Como. The Baron O’Brady died at Vienna in October, 1827, about the 66th year of his age; and left no descendants to inherit his rank and fame in the Austrian annals; but some of his relatives entered the Austrian service, under his patronage, and an account of them has been lately given in the Telegraph by a correspondent at Ballycastle, county of Antrim, where some of the Marshal’s kindred now reside. He had two brothers: one was Captain James Brady, a revenue officer who died in Dublin about the year 1830; the other was Mr. Peter Brady of Baillieborough, in the county of Cavan. Peter was a tall, handsome, active, athletic man, and possessed of dauntless courage, so that many considered if he had been bred to a military life he would have equaled his brother the General. On many occasions Peter proved his prowess in the party fights between Orange and Green, which occurred in Ballieborough, as well as in other towns of Ulster, in former days. Peter always headed his party, and with a good shillelagh or a blackthorn cudgel, he was able at any time to thrash a score of Orangemen, and often knocked down a dozen of them with his own hand. In some of the formidable onslaughts of the Orange foe, when they were armed with guns and bayonets, Peter advanced with a sword in one hand and a pitchfork in the other, his favourite weapons, which he said never missed fire, and backed by some brave supporters, they soon cleared the street, making the enemy run in all directions. In fact, the Orange worthies had a mortal fear of Peter, for, though he had been frequently fired at, no bullet ever hit him, and consequently his antagonists thought it useless to waste powder and ball on him, being convinced that he bore a charmed life. The Orange heroes, therefore, as soon as Peter appeared in the vanguard, sounded a rapid retreat, and made themselves scare, thinking, with Falstaff, that discretion was the better part of valour, or pretty much of the same opinion as Hudibras –

In all the trade of war, no feat
Is nobler than a good retreat;
For those that run away and fly,
Take start at least of the enemy;
And those that run may fight again,
Which he can never do that’s slain;
Hence timely running’s no mean part
Of conduct in the martial art:
For those that save themselves thereby
Go halves at least in the victory:
And when the fight becomes a chase,
Those win the day that win the race.

In a biographical sketch of Marshal O’Brady, a few extracts from his correspondence may serve to illustrate his character; and may also contain information of some importance to Irishmen in general, and more particularly to his relatives and persons of his name. The following extracts have been taken from his letters to his brother in Dublin. In one of those letters he censures his brother for some laudatory notice of him in a Dublin paper; one of his expressions being: - “I despise all ostentation and vain glory.” This gives a glimpse of his manly character, for, like many other men of great merit, he was perfectly free from vanity. In another letter he expresses the love of country and religion, with which he was always animated, and also the high estimation in which he held O’Connell. The date of this letter is Vienna, April 9th, 1825; and he thus speaks of Emancipation: - I fear all our hopes for Emancipation will be frustrated by the implacable bishops and their faction in the House of Peers. Now, the barbarous and inhuman persecution of Government against the Catholics is displayed to all Europe to the dishonour of the British nation. Yet it is a great consolation for the oppressed to have found so great a number of enlightened, noble-thinking Protestant gentlemen who espouse their cause. Still the obstinate legislators remain deaf and blind to humanity, and to the advantages which would accrue by Emancipation to the Crown and Empire. Mr. O’Connell’s energetic speeches on this important subject have made a great impression on all enlightened men in Europe. Be the event as it may, the Irish nation should unanimously join in erecting a monument for this champion, worthy of his exertions in the great cause of the liberty of his country and the religion of our ancestors.”

The Marshal derived a large income from his military rank; but his expenditure was considerable, to keep up an establishment suitable to the dignity of his station, and it does not appear he saved much money. It was said he lost £50,000 by the failure of a bank at Vienna, and the remnant of his fortune he left for the endowment of a military institution, as explained in the following extract from one of his letters, dated Vienna, October 6th, 1825: - “I had a dangerous attack of my old disorder last month, in which I arranged my last will. My small property consists of lands, partly insolvable. I have bequeathed all to the Military Academy at Nieustadt, near Vienna, as a permanent foundation for two boys of my name, or in their deficiency for two of any other name, born in Ireland and chosen by the temporary Bishop of Dublin. These two boys will be educated and provided for as officers, and sent to the army. Then the director of the Military Academy is to advertise the Bishop of Dublin of the vacancy, in order that he may send out other subjects to replace them. No Irishman has hitherto done the like for the establishment of his countrymen in the army. I hope there will always be a Catholic Bishop residing in Dublin: he will be the fittest person to execute this part of the plan – to choose and propose the eleves. I hope that his successor, in case of death, will take this subject to heart. I hope you will present my compliments to his lordship (Dr. Murray), and communicate my project to him. He and his successor will only have to choose two boys for this establishment as often as a vacancy occurs. As it is not possible that the Bishop could know all the youths of my name, to enable him to make a proper choice when called on, I therefore wish that two or three respectable men of the name might confer with hjm on the occasion, when it occurs. No eleve under ten or above fourteen years old will be admitted.

This bourse has now been in existence more than twenty five years and it is said no Irishman has ever been educated at Nieustadt; the interest of the money has been accumulating, and the matter is well worth looking after by the Bradys, who, with the Catholic Primate of Dublin, have authority to get young Irishmen educated in this military academy of Nieustadt, near Vienna.

In giving this sketch of the biography of Marshal O’Brady I had been able to get but few materials: however, such as they are, I believe they will be found authentic, and I give them as anxious to contribute something to rescue from oblivion the memory of a noble Irishman, who, like Napoleon’s generals, raised himself from the ranks to the command of armies. He had no inheritance but his sword, the property of his ancestors having been confiscated, like that of all the other Irish Catholics, by the robber hands of Elizabeth, James the First, Cromwell, and William; yet, with a stout heart and a strong hand, he advanced himself from an humble cadetship to the rank of a field-marshal and a baron, an elevation which sufficiently speaks for his extraordinary merit and military talents. He raised himself by his own exertion and energy to high rank and renown, taking his proud position amongst the counts of the Roman Empire, and ancient, august aristocracy of Austria. He is one of a long list of illustrious Irish warriors who have made such a distinguished figure in the service of foreign states for the last 150 years, and whose valour led to victory on many of the most memorable battle-fields of Europe. Amongst his many good qualities O’Brady was always conspicuous for honour, integrity of purpose, and patriotic feelings. Worthy old man – peace to his heroic shade! A more true-hearted son was never nursed in the Emerald Isle. While fighting his way to victory under the wing of the Austrian eagle, and winning rank, and honours, and fame in his adopted country, which he served with devoted fidelity, he never forgot old Erin; but, to the last hour of his life, cherished the warmest love for his native land.

P. MacDermont, M.D.

Dublin, December 13th.

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