This Mad About Cork electrical box street art, situated next to Broderick's Chemists on Barrack St, is a tribute to a man who was born in Barrack St in 1801 and died in Bogota in 1854.
We had wondered for a while how well Corkonians know Daniel Florence O’Leary’s story. While he hasn’t been completely forgotten in his home place, (a bronze bust in his likeness sits in Fitzgerald Park) his fame in South America is unquestionable.
In his lifetime, O’Leary became something of a heroic figure in the Spanish colonies of South America as they battled for independence during the early 19th century. At the age of just 16, he had enlisted in the ‘British Legion’, whose soldiers were being recruited as mercenaries by the Venezuelan independence leader Simón Bolívar. Like thousands of other Irish men at this time, O’Leary soon found himself in Latin America.
His rise through the ranks after his arrival was remarkable. After quickly learning Spanish and proving himself as a courageous solider in many pitched battles against Spanish forces, Bolívar, or El Libertador as he has become known, appointed O’Leary as his aide-de-camp in 1820. This saw the Corkonian take on many diplomatic missions in the following years as well as taking part in numerous military campaigns across South America.
It’s perhaps his close association with Bolívar that makes O’Leary such a prominent figure in South American history today. Bolívar played a leading political and military role in the liberation of several countries such as Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, and today, ‘El Libertador’s’ legacy has become an important part of the national identity of these countries. Remarkably, O’Leary was involved in each of these liberation movements with Bolívar and was even by his leader's side when he died in 1830.
(As an aside, take a look at ‘The Sword of Simón Bolívar’ episode of the Netflix series Narcos to get a sense of the power of Bolívar’s name and symbolism, even among modern South American guerrilla communists and drug cartels!)
After Bolívar’s death, O’Leary married and took on numerous diplomatic roles for the Venezuelan and British government, spending time across Europe and South America before eventually settling in Bogotá, Colombia. It was during this time he began working on his memoirs which were posthumously edited and published by his son, Simón Bolívar O’Leary.
Given O’Leary’s keen interest and skill for documenting history, the 32-volume Memorias del General O’Leary became a crucial historical source for studying the events in northern South America during the battles for independence and for compiling a biography of Simón Bolívar himself. They also reveal the extent to which O'Leary, born into modest circumstances in Barrack St before sailing to South America, played a role in shaping the continent as we know it today.
In 1854, Daniel Florence O’Leary died in Bogotá. He received a state funeral in the city and almost three decades later, after the Venezuelan government had built a great tomb for Simón Bolívar in Caracas, an agreement was reached to transfer O’Leary’s remains closer to his Commander-in-Chief, El Libertador.
McNerney, Robert F. “Daniel Florence O'Leary, Soldier, Diplomat, and Historian.” The Americas, vol. 22, no. 3, 1966, pp. 292–312. www.jstor.org/stable/979172.
O'Leary, Simón Bolívar (ed.), Memorias del General O'Leary publicados por su hijo Simon B. O'Leary, por orden delGobierno de Venezuela. 32 vols. (Caracas: 1879-1888).