“A Project So Flashy And Bizarre”

Irish Volunteers and the Second Schleswig War

  • Andrew G. Newby


 In February 1864, Danish newspapers reported the formation in Cork of an Irish volunteer brigade – the Alexandra Cent Gardes– which was being prepared for action in the Schleswig War. It was the proposal of Goodwin Richard Purcell O'Leary, a professor at Queen's College, Cork, and self-appointed "chief" of the O'Learys. Intervening on behalf of the Danes appealed to O'Leary for three key reasons: he was the grandson of Art O'Leary, the renowned soldier who served Empress Maria Theresa; he had a strong sense of Scandinavian identity, tracing the "O'Leary" line back to the Vikings; and he was somewhat enamored of the Princess Alexandra, daughter of the Danish King Christian IX, who had married the Prince of Wales in 1863. Unlike other Irish brigades in the 1840s-1860s, in Mexico, Italy, or the USA, the Alexandra Cent Gardes was intended as a cavalry unit, composed of members of Cork's fox-hunting fraternity, travelling at their own expense on a romantic errand to "save" little Denmark from Prussian aggression. This article examines the motivations and reactions to the plan, discusses why it never actually took place, and why O'Leary's name was not destined to go down in history as a Scandinavian hero.



May 15, 2019