Tuesday 19 August 2014

Corofin’s Eugene Macnamara , The Maverick Irish Priest and the Race to Seize California

‘El Proyecto Macnamara’: The Maverick Irish Priest and the Race to Seize California 1844-1846 by John Fox, published by Irish Academic Press, 2014.

This is the story of Eugene Macnamara, a maverick young priest from County Clare who sought to establish a colony for Irish families in the 1840s in Alta California, Mexico’s far north-western territory. Had the ’10,000 ready volunteers from Limerick, Clare and Cork’ of whom he boasted, actually arrived, a ‘New Ennis’, ‘New Clare’ or ‘New Ireland’ could have been born. His scheme failed when the US seized California in 1846. Macnamara’s life spanned half the globe and was dramatic: expulsion from a Paris seminary, a dash to Rome from Guiana to expose a convulsing mission, a year in revolutionary Mexico, two months in threatened California (backed by the Royal Navy) and asylum in Mexico City during the Mexican War, 1846-8. He followed it all with a ‘Macnamara Scheme II’ in Chile.

Eugene Macnamara was born circa 1814 in Baunkyle, Corofin, County Clare. In the period immediately before Catholic Emancipation in Ireland he left County Clare and studied for the priesthood in the Irish College in Paris, at a time of revolution and change in the French capital. Duly ordained, he served in ministry in the Kilkee – Doonbeg parish under Father Michael Comyn, and then at Borrisokane in County Tipperary, within the Diocese of Killaloe. In Tipperary, he took the temperance pledge from Father Theobold Mathew. He left Borrisokane following an allegation of a sexual misdemeanour under an exeat from the Bishop of Killaloe and proceeded to British Guiana in South America. There too he encountered difficulties with parishioners who petitioned that Macnamara report to the pope in Rome. En route, he disembarked in Mexico.

His arrival in Mexico, 1844, was at a time of tension between North America’s landlords, Mexico, the US and Britain. His 1846 licence to settle 20,000 square miles with 15,000 settlers, was formalised by Mexico in 1847 and even qualified for a US hearing in 1852, but it was not appealed. British diplomats, merchants and bondholders supported him. When US President Polk learned of El Proyecto Macnamara he acted immediately to stop any British colonising in North America. In Washington, Macnamara personified at the highest levels a political and commercial conspiracy between Britain and Mexico against the US. This biography is the compelling story of this ‘international’ Irishman and his lingering aftermath.

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