General Daniel Florence O’Leary.

by Peter O’Leary


The Background.


In this year of 2001 we celebrate the 200th.anniversary of the birth of Daniel Florence O’Leary born Cork City February 1801.


He is not much remembered today in the City of his birth. Nor is there much written on his life


But Daniel Florence O’Leary was a true Corkonian and one of whom we can be proud. His ancestry can be traced back to Uibh Laoghaire in West Cork. His great-great-great grandfather was Tadgh O’Leary who was born c.1635. This family were a minor branch of the chieftains of Uibh Laoghaire. Tadgh married Ellen O’Leary in c.1640 who was herself from another similar chieftainly branch through her father, Tadgh Fineen O’Leary of Coornahahilly who you will find in the Civil Survey.


Tadgh and Ellen had the tenancy of a farm in Monavadra.


Tadgh O’Leary and Ellen had only one son, Finin, born in Monavadra c.1667, and this Finin had a son also called Tadgh. This second Tadgh, born c.1700 moved from Monavadra to Dunmanway in about 1725 when he married Mary McCarthy, a direct descendent of the first Earl Clancarty (McCarthy Muskerry). He was known as Tadgh-na-Post which is a bit obscure but may mean that he moved to take up a job, when deprived of the tenancy of his farm in Monavadra. The job was probably as a middleman for his new brother-in-law, Florence McCarthy of Coom. The family lived in a farm in the townland of Acres which lies about 2 miles West of Dunmanway.


Tadgh and Mary McCarthy had at least six children, including a son, Florence O’Leary who was born in Acres c.1730. Another well known brother of Florence was Fr.Arthur O’Leary, later a Capuchin Friar much beloved in Cork City.


Daniel Florence’s grand-father, Florence O’Leary who was born in Acres, Dunmanway moved into Cork City later in life to start a business as a grocer and butter merchant. He married a Catherine Delaney and they had two sons, Daniel and Jeremiah.

Jeremiah O’Leary who was born at 89/90 Barrack Street in Cork in 1757 was the father of our Daniel Florence. He continued the butter business in partnership with his brother Daniel.


Jeremiah married Catherine O’Leary, not related, from a family in business in Cork in the tailoring and licensed victualling trades. They had 10 children many of whom died young and without issue.


With their strong connections with Inchigeelagh, the choice of the butter business made a lot of sense. Jeremiah and Daniel were able to provide a market for the product of their friends and relations who were farmers in the Parish of Uibh Laoghaire, their home place.




The butter trade and the Napoleonic wars.

The butter trade was very different before the days of the Creamery. Farmers or Dairymen churned their own milk into butter on the farm, which then had to be conveyed to a market in a large town. The butter merchant provided horses or mules, firkins to carry the butter, saddles and packs, and often even loaned the capital. There was a regular run from Inchigeelagh to Cork City where the butter was purchased by the merchant. These butter merchants were more correctly called butter buyers, and were agents between the butter producer and the Exporters.


Jeremiah became a member of the Committee of Merchants who controlled the trade and set up the butter exchange in Shandon in 1786. This was a big step forward in the development of the industry. Victualling in general, and butter in particular, were very important to the prosperity of Cork City towards the end of the 18th. Century.

Initially the main market was for the West Indian trade, since they required a higher salt content, which was in any case necessary for this long time cycle, to keep the butter from going rancid. This butter was shipped to various countries in the West Indies from the port of Cork.


During the Wars between France and England in the period 1790 to 1815 there was a much more lucrative market in victualling the Naval ships which used Cork Harbour as their main base to patrol the Atlantic and the coast of France.

This made the butter merchants of Cork rich, but sadly it all came to an end in 1815 after Waterloo and the end of the Wars. Jeremiah and Daniel’s business collapsed, as did many others.


The loss of his father, Jeremiah’s source of income made young Daniel think carefully about his own future. He had an inclination to become a soldier. The large number of ex Army people thrown out of work, encouraged the growth of mercenary armies, which were needed to assist the South American countries, which were struggling for their independence. Unlike the British Army, there was no bar to a Catholic Irishman becoming an officer in these mercenary armies.


Jeremiah O’Leary, and his family.

Jeremiah married Catherine O’Leary in 1789. They lived at no.89/90 Barrack Street, in Cork City, and the business was conducted from there. It would appear that they also had the leasing of a row of cottages running down towards the Dean’s wall, from which they drew some income. These cottages have since been demolished, but the lane is still called Leary’s Place.


As they became more prosperous the family moved to better housing in Mary Street and later, Queen Street followed by Cook Street, all in Cork City.

Jeremiah and Catherine had 10 children of which Daniel Florence was their eighth. Many of these children were sickly, and few survived beyond the age of 30. Cork City was obviously an insanitary and unhealthy place to live in those days.


Even Daniel was only to live to 53, and only one sister, Catherine survived to the old age of 60.


The second son Arthur became a Doctor and was in practice in Killarney. The fourth son Jerome at the age of 21 was on the point of joining Daniel soldiering in South America, but died suddenly in 1826 before he could sail. Catherine the third daughter earned her living as a milliner. We know nothing about the other six children except that they did not have long lives.


Daniel was obviously well educated. He learned new languages quickly, was well read, wrote well, had a keen interest in history and the sciences; and he was a good horseman. The last may have been learned in the business, but the others indicated some good schooling. Dr.Vila suggests that he attended Harrington’s Academy in Templerobin. Another possibility was Brunswick Academy at which his uncle Fr.Arthur had previously taught. Even more possible is one of the Private Schools which existed in Cook Street and in Queens Street at that time, since these were close by. Sadly we have found no evidence to confirm where he had obtained such a good start in life.


The Wars of Independence in South America.

Spain was an early entrant to the colonial movement and had acquired most of South America, apart from Brazil, which was in the hands of the Portuguese. These vast territories were divided for administrative purposes into Provinces, and were ruled by people of Spanish descent, rather like the Anglo-Irish. These people over the years had become independent minded, and resentful of the attempts of Spanish monarchs and politicians to dictate to them from Madrid.


A number of attempted risings against mainland Spain had been undertaken since 1800 but had ended in failure due to the strength of the Spanish Armies in that region. The most recent had been that of General Simón Bolívar, a second generation Venezuelan, born in a family closely related to Spanish aristocracy. Bolívar was eventually to become The Liberator of the five countries in the Northern part of South America, and the hero and most beloved citizen of those countries. They were Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, still often known as the Bolivarian nations.


Expelled from Venezuela in 1813 after yet another failed attempt, Bolívar had returned with a small force in 1816 for a further try. Meanwhile in Europe Venezuelan agents were recruiting a British mercenary force to aid Bolívar. In 1817 Daniel applied for, and was accepted as an ensign in the 1st.Division of the Red Hussars of Venezuela, a cavalry regiment which formed part of the British Legion. He sailed from Portsmouth on the corvette Prince in December 1817 with 20 officers and 57 non-commissioned officers which was intended to join up with 600 troopers, and all under the command of the English Colonel Henry Wilson. The ship also carried a substantial amount of equipment and ammunition.


It took them until February 1818 before they disembarked in St.Georges, Granada, and there then followed a further two months before they reached the rebel camp, which was up the Orinoco River at Angostura (now called Ciudad Bolívar). Daniel had taken a few books in Spanish and a Spanish dictionary, and occupied his time by learning that language, in which eventually he was to become completely fluent.

Angostura was the first town 250 miles up the Orinoco River. The river was still one mile wide at this point.


Daniel was not impressed with his new English colleagues. At Granada there were mutinies, desertions and brutal treatment of captured Spanish prisoners.. Only 40 of the original 77 on board actually reached Angostura, where Colonel Wilson was packed off home due to his political intrigues. Daniel and his friend from Cork, Ambrose O’Daly, applied for a transfer to a native unit. Daniel was posted to the Dragoon of the Guard of General Anzoateguí. At this time he met General Soublette his future brother in law, and also was presented to General Bolívar.


The new phase of the War of Independence was about to begin, and Daniel was to be involved in all the campaigns which led to it’s final conclusion and the freedom from Spanish rule of all the five countries.


To put this in perspective it must be remembered that General San Martín was conducting a similar movement in the more Southern States of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay. Brazil, which was part of the Portuguese Empire, was to remain under it’s Royalist Government for many more years.


Bolívars campaigns from 1819 to 1826 are briefly summarised below;

1.The march from Angostura over the Andes in 1819 to attack the forces of the Governor of New Granada. This was successfully achieved after the battles of Pántano de Vargas and Boyacá, when New Granada was freed from Spanish rule.


2.The campaign into Venezuela which culminated in the 2nd. battle of Carabobo in 1821 when the Spanish forces of that Province were defeated.


3.The campaign in Ecuador when the Spanish were defeated at the battle of Pichincha overlooking Quito in 1822.


4.The campaign to complete the liberation of Peru, started by San Martin. The final battle was at Ayacucho in 1824 when the Spanish forces were defeated, but Daniel did not take part in the battle, having been sent on a mission into Chile.


5.The creation of the new State of Bolivia, formerly Upper Peru, in 1825.

This was a War fought in most difficult conditions, which were especially tough on the European participants. The Royalist Spanish Armies were based on the large towns and seldom risked travelling far from their secure base and their creature comforts. The Rebel Army was constantly forced to live out in deserted areas facing privations and lack of supplies of all sorts.


When Bolívar decided to attack the Colombian Royal Army, they had first to scale the Andes mountains during the rainy season. They had to wade waist deep in water over the flooded plains of Casanare, and climb thirteen thousand feet over the bleak Páramo de Pisba. Their mules died or were eaten. When they descended the other side they were much reduced by death, starvation, mosquitoes and fatigue. They were in rags and barely able to walk.


This ragged band of heroes then had to face the well-fed, well equipped Army of the King of Spain. Only superb leadership, high morale and a good cause made them successful.

Daniel may have looked smart in his brand new red uniform of the Hussars when he arrived at Angostura, but his family would hardly have recognised him as he fought for his life at the battle of Pántano de Vargas in July 1819. He received a severe sabre wound in the head, the scar of which he still carried when he visited Cork in 1834. As a result of this wound there was a false report of his death in the Cork papers.


Like many similar Wars of Independence, this was a young man’s War. Bolívar, the elder statesman, was 35 when Daniel met him in 1818. All the other Generals were younger men, and Daniel was only 28 when promoted to that rank.


He was a Lieutenant at the age of 19 at Angostura in 1820, a Captain at 20. Promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel after Pichincha when he was 21, and to full Colonel at the age of 25 when he became first aide-de-camp to General Bolívar. He finally became a General de Brigada in 1829.


The end of the War. Death of Bolívar.

The war ended in 1826 when the Spanish Government finally admitted defeat and withdrew their Armies from South America.


Bolívar continued his political career, and attempted to create one single United State from the five former Provinces, but this was unsuccessful due to jealousies and bickering amongst the politicians, but he was now a sick and disillusioned man. He died in 1830 at Santa Marta. Daniel had been sent on a mission to Cartagena and arrived back one day after his death.


For some time Daniel had been contemplating writing a history of the War and had consulted Bolívar on this possibility. When Bolívar died, Daniel was able to collect much of the letters and other written material which he needed for his proposed work.

In 1828 Daniel was married to Soledad Soublette who was sister to a colleague, General Carlos Soublette, later President of Venezuela.


After the death of Bolívar, there was a strong anti-Bolvarian movement, which affected all the Liberator’s former friends and supporters. Daniel decided that he would move his family away from this unpleasant atmosphere, and sailed to Kingston, Jamaica where he attempted to make a living from commerce. This was not successful, and in 1833 he was advised by his brother-in-law, Soublette, in Venezuela that it was now safe to return.


On the voyage back to Venezuela, Soledad gave birth to their second son, Charles, on the ship, the British Packet "Ranger". The family reached Caracas in Venezuela in June 1833 where they were to live for the next eight years.


Daniel’s life after the War.

Daniel was now looking for a way to make a living. He decided that his best chance was to become a diplomat in the service of the British. In those days, during the Union, Irishmen had British nationality, so there seemed to be a good opportunity here to use his language skills and his knowledge of the politics and culture of the South American nations.


Bolívar had recognised his Diplomatic skill. In 1823 he sent Daniel on a co-ordination mission to Chile; In 1826 to Bogota and to Caracas on a mission of conciliation; And in 1828 to represent him at the great convention at Ocana , held to consider the reform of the Colombian constitution.


The Venezuelans had also recognised his Diplomatic skill. He was proposed as Envoy to Brazil in 1825, and as the first Ambassador of Colombia to the USA in 1830, but in neither case was the secondment concluded due to his other work.

Daniel and Soledad had nine children. The first four were born in the period 1829-33 before his first trip to Europe.. The remaining five were born between 1840-48 after his return. His only son to have descendants was Charles. Three of his daughters, Soledad, Ana and Carolina, produced large families and have numerous descendants in South America to this day.


In 1834 the Government of Venezuela sent a mission to Europe to seek recognition of their new status as a Nation. General Montilla was appointed Chief Plenipotentiary and Daniel was given the job of Secretary and second in command.


He was away in Europe from March 1834 until January 1840. The journey itself took 7 to 8 weeks by sailing ship. There were storms all the way from Jamaica to Falmouth, and the party arrived in London in May 1834.


The mission was partly successful in obtaining recognition by Britain, but Spain would not agree without the payment of indemnities, which was impossible. Montilla was eventually succeeded by Soublette as Chef de Mission. Daniel spent some time in Paris between the two postings to London and Madrid. After this part of the job was over, he went to Italy in 1837 ostensibly on holiday and to learn Italian, but was appointed by Venezuela to initiate negotiations to seek a Concordat with the Holy See. This was also unsuccessful at that time, but the Concordat came a few years later. Finally in 1839 he was delegated a member of the commission to divide the debt of Gran Colombia between Venezuela, New Granada and Ecuador.


Daniel also took the opportunity, while he was in London, to push his cause for a diplomatic post for himself in South America. His other work put him in contact with Lord Palmerston, Lord Clarendon and the Duke of Wellington, and many others who could help his cause.

He soon found that the main stumbling block was that he was a Catholic. It is interesting to note that when he finally became a British diplomat there was a clause inserted in his contract which permitted him to perform burial services, but forbade him to baptise children or perform marriages.


In August 1834, whilst he was on his European mission, Daniel returned to his native Cork after an absence of 17 years. Much had changed in his absence. His father and mother were both dead, and the only one of his siblings still alive was his sister Catherine, who was living in Cook Street. Daniel took the opportunity to visit the grave of his parents.

When the news got about that he was on his way to Cork he was invited to a special civic banquet to be chaired by Dr. Francis Lyons President of the Chamber of Commerce. This invitation was politely declined because Daniel had to travel on to Derrynane to visit Daniel O’Connell.


The excuse was a genuine one, but it must also be borne in mind that Cork at that time was regarded in England as the "Rebel City" and Daniel did not want to compromise his delicate negotiations with Palmerston for a Foreign Office Post


Daniel’s career as a British diplomat.

Daniel’s lobbying in London eventually achieved results. In January 1841 after his return from England, he was appointed acting British Consul at Caracas by Lord Aberdeen. Later in the same year he was made Consul at Puerto Cabello, and finally in November 1843 he became British Chargè d’affaires and Consul-general at Bogotá.


The family moved to Bogotá, in Colombia, where they were very happy. The weather suited them much better, being somewhat like that of Ireland only warmer.


In August 1851 Daniel’s health was not good and he suffered an attack similar to ones he had in Madrid and Rome. He decided to take a further trip to Europe to consult medical specialists there, and to take the cure at on or two spas which were popular at that time. It took some time to get permission from the Foreign Office in London, but he eventually left for Europe in July 1852 leaving his vice-consul, Edward Mark, in charge of the office.

Accompanied by two of his elder daughters, Ana and Carolina, he set sail in an English vessel travelling. from Cartagena to Southampton via St Thomas. They arrived in Southampton in September. His eldest son, Simon, met him there and accompanied Daniel and the two girls to Paris where they were to further their education.

The girls were left in the pension of Mme.Claire and under the guardianship of an old friend, Juan de Francisco Martín. Daniel visited consultants in Paris, then went on to do the same thing in Rome. He returned to London in May 1853 seemingly feeling much better, and visiting the girls in Paris on the journey.


Then followed a visit to Malvern to take the Hydrotherapy cure.


After this he visited Dublin for two days, then journeyed to Cork to present to the Queen’s College (now UCC) his collection of South American Minerals, Plants and Birds.

In September he sailed again from Southampton. His journey took him briefly to New York, Philadelphia, Washington and the Niagara Falls. He also consulted a further doctor in Philadelphia.


He arrived back with his family in Bogota in December 1853.

He died, suddenly and unexpectedly on the following 24th.February 1854. His death was attributed to an "apoplexy" which probably means a heart attack.


When Daniel died in 1854 he was given an imposing state funeral at the cathedral in Bogotá, and buried in the local cemetery in Bogotá.


The Venezuelan Government later built a magnificent tomb for Simón Bolívar in the Pantheon in Caracas. This was modelled on the tomb of Napoleon who he much admired.

In 1882 by agreement between the two governments Daniel’s remains were transferred to the Pantheon where with three other of his favourite Generals they now lie alongside their beloved Commander in Chief.


Daniel the Writer.

Next to his successful career as an Army General, Daniel is best remembered in South America as the author of the monumental historical work, "Memorias del General O’Leary".in 32 volumes..


The first three volumes are the actual Memorias which is a history of the War of Independence and of General Bolívar. The remaining 29 volumes contain letters to and from Bolívar, and various other documents.


When Daniel died, all this was still in note form, completed in 1840, and much of it in English. His eldest son, Simon O’Leary brought it all together, and translated the English into Spanish. It was finally printed in Caracas between 1879 and 1888, with an Appendix which did not appear until 1914.


In 1982 when the Government of Venezuela were preparing for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bolívar the following year, the Army for it’s contribution, had the whole work reprinted in an edition of 900. One of these 900 went to UCC where it can be consulted now in the Boole Library.


Daniel’s Descendants.

Daniel’s South American family consists of the descendants of his daughters, Soledad, Ana and Carolina. None of these of course bear the name O’Leary. This family, however are very proud of their descent from the famous Corkman, and usually link the name O’Leary in with their own.


Daniel’s English family are all descended from his second son, Charles. He was born in 1833. He learnt English at home in Bogotá, and this was perfected by his time at school in England. He served in the British Consulate under his father in 1852. He then emigrated finally to Europe. He married Clementina de Santa Maria, a Colombian lady, in 1860. They had four sons;- another Daniel Florence born 1861; Charles; Richard; and Francis. Charles Senior died in London in 1894.


This Branch, descendants of the second Daniel Florence is still flourishing in England.