|Born||20 March 1780|
|Died||24 January 1862|
|Resting place||Montmartre Cemetery, Paris.|
|Known for||Irish Rebel (1798)|
|Political party||United Irishmen |
Myles (or Miles) Byrne (20 March 1780 – 24 January 1862) was an insurgent leader in Wexford in the Irish Rebellion of 1798; a fighter in the continued guerrilla struggle against British Crown forces in the Wicklow Hills until 1803. In French exile he served in Napoleon’s Irish Legion seeing action in the Low Countries, Spain and at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. Under the Bourbon Restoration he retired, following action in Greece, as a chef de bataillon.
Myles (he usually spelled his name Miles) Byrne was born in the townland of Ballylusk near Monaseed, County Wexford, Ireland, on 20 March 1780, into a Catholic farming family.
At the age of 17 Byrne was asked to join the government Yeomanry He choose instead to join the Society of United Irish which, in defiance of the British Crown and the Protestant Ascendancy, was determined to achieve an independent and representative government for Ireland. He participated in preparations in Wexford for the 1798 Rebellion, and at the age of 18 fought at the Battle of Tubberneeing on 4 June and, in command of a division of pikemen, in the attack on Arklow (9 June) in which the rebel leader Father John Murphy was killed. In the face of a general rout, he led a rebel charge in the Battle of Vinegar Hill (21 June).
Keeping command of a small band, Byrne seized Goresbridge (23 June) but had to deplore the murder of several prisoners and other atrocities committed by his men in revenge for the torture and executions that had been visited upon the peasantry by the yeomanry and government militia. After further skirmishes he joined Joseph Holt and Michael Dwyer in taking to the Wicklow Hills to continue a guerrilla resistance.
After Holt accepted terms (transportation to Australia) in November, Byrne escaped to Dublin. In the winter of 1802-03 he entered into the plans of Robert Emmet and Anne Devlin for a renewed uprising. In his Memoirs Byrne describes a meeting he arranged between Robert Emmet and the Wexford rebel leader Thomas Cloney (returned from penal exile in Australia) at Harold's Cross Green, Dublin, just prior to Emmet's Rebellion:
"I can never forget the impression this meeting made on me at the time - to see two heroic patriots, equally devoted to poor Ireland, discussing the best means of obtaining her freedom."
In July 1803, the plans unravelled when Michael Dwyer, still holding out in Wicklow, recognised that there were neither the promised arms nor convincing proof of an intended French landing, and when in the north Thomas Russell and James Hope found no enthusiasm in what had been the strongest United Irish and Catholic Defender districts for a renewal of the struggle. In Dublin, triggered by the accidental explosion of a rebel arms depot, Emmet's rising was broken after a brief street battle.
Two days after the fight in Thomas Street, Byrne met with the fugitive Emmet and agreed to go to Paris to procure French assistance. But in Paris he found Napoleon's attentions (as in 1798) focussed elsewhere. The First Consul used a cessation of hostilities with Britain to pursue a very different venture, the re-enslavement of Haiti.
Byrne was commissioned as a captain in Napoleon's Irish Legion, but rather than in Ireland, with his diminishing Irish contingent, he saw action in the Low Countries, Germany and Spain. He rose to the rank of Brigadier General and was awarded the Legion of Honour in 1813. Following the Bourbon Restoration he narrowly avoided deportation as a foreign Bonapartist. In August 1817 he was naturalised as a French citizen.
For much of the next decade Byrne found himself effectively retired on half pay. Returned to active military service in 1828, he distinguished himself in the French expedition to Morea during the Greek War of Independence, and retired in 1835 with the rank of Chef de Bataillion.
In his later years Byrne wrote his memoirs, Memoirs of Miles Byrne, which are an account of his participation in the Irish rebellion and his time in the Irish Legion of Napoleon. These were first published in three volumes in 1863 (under the direction of his widow, Fanny), but there have been many subsequent reprints.
Stephen Gwynn who edited and published a new edition of Byrne’s Memoirs in 1907, stated in his Introduction to Volume 1:
“I owe my acquaintance with these Memoirs to Mr John Dillon, who spoke of them as the best of all books dealing with Ireland; and a reading of the volumes left me inclined to agree with him.”
Byrne was married (1835) in Paris to a Scots Presbyterian, Frances Charles Horner (better known as Fanny), (1789 - 1876) (originally from George Square, Edinburgh, Scotland) but they had no children. Fanny's father was John Horner, a "merchant of Edinburgh", and her mother was Joanna Baillie. They were married on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1835 in the British Embassy Chapel in Paris. She had three brothers and two sisters. One of her brothers was Francis Horner (1778 - 1817), a Whig MP; another, Leonard Horner (1785 - 1864), was a noted geologist.
A photograph (above) of Byrne faces page 185 in Nicholas Furlong's "Fr John Murphy of Boolavogue: 1753-1798" (Dublin, 1991). According to the author, it was taken in Paris in 1859 and was thought to be the first photograph taken of an Irishman. That distinction is probably owed to an 1844 calotype by the pioneer photographer Henry Fox Talbot of the Irish poet (and biographer of Wolfe Tone) Thomas Moore. (In 1821 Byrne had refused to attend a St Patrick's day dinner Moore had organised in Paris because of the presence of Wellesley Pole Long, a nephew of the Duke of Wellington).
The photograph of Byrne, possibly the only one of a United Irish veteran, is now in Áras an Uachtaráin, the residence of the President of Ireland, in Dublin.
John Mitchel visited Byrne when he was 80 years old and described him as "One of those rare beings who never grow old".
Miles Byrne died at his house in the rue Montaigne (now rue Jean Mermoz, 8th arrondissement, near Champs-Élysées), Paris on Friday 24 January 1862, and was buried in Montmartre Cemetery. His grave there is marked by a Celtic Cross - but this headstone appears to be a 1950s replacement for an earlier one. The inscription to his original headstone appears in his Memoirs; in part, it read:
He is the great-great grandfather of Miles Patrick Byrne.
SINCEREMENT ATTACHE A L'lRLANDE
SON PAYS NATAL,
IL A FIDELEMENT SERVI LA FRANCE
SA PATRIE ADOPTIVE.