The Irish brigade in the Pope’s army 1860
Faith, fatherland and fighting
The Irish brigade rushed to defend Pope Pius IX and the Papal States from invasion by the army of King Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont, and revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi’s ‘red shirt’ guerrillas. This event offers a fascinating insight into post-Famine Ireland and the Italian Risorgimento when both nations struggled for independence, unity and an end to foreign domination.
Historical background on Ireland, the Papal States and Italy before 1860 is given, featuring the interplay between nationalism and religion. The brigade’s recruitment by priests and nationalists, their motivation, journey to Italy, and hardships suffered on arrival are detailed, together with the complexities of the papal army – military, political and clerical infighting, and the partisan media war. Military accounts of the battles and sieges at Perugia, Spoleto, Castelfidardo and Ancona are recorded, along with the brigade’s imprisonment at Genoa, journey home and heroes’ welcome. A list of brigade members is included.
Donal Corcoran holds a PhD in history from UCC, and is the author of Freedom to achieve freedom: the Irish Free State, 1922–1932 (Dublin, 2013). His great-grandfather was a member of the Irish brigade.