Saturday 20 January 2018

Fresh Napoleonic war as legendary horse a bone of contention for Cork

A painting depicting Napoleon on Marengo
A painting depicting Napoleon on Marengo

Patrick Sawer

Surely it must have been the ultimate humiliation for the defeated French Emperor Napoleon: when Perfidious Albion took his horse, Marengo, and on the steed's death displayed its bones in an English museum.

But now the Irish may be galloping to the rescue of Bonaparte's honour. The townspeople of Buttevant, Co Cork, have declared that the bones of Marengo - on which Napoleon rode to victory at the battles of Austerlitz, Jena and Wagram, before final defeat at Waterloo - are rightfully theirs.

They claim the horse was Irish bred and sold at the town's renowned Cahirmee horse fair.

Battle began after the National Army Museum in Britain announced it was to restore Marengo's skeleton and reposition him in a rampant pose. It prompted Kanturk and Mallow Municipal District Council to write to the museum to lay claim to the stallion's remains.

Councillors want Marengo's skeleton to become the star exhibit at the Buttevant museum, attracting visitors - not least the French - to the town.

Bernard Moynihan, a Fianna Fáil councillor for Kanturk and Mallow, said: "We should get this horse back to Buttevant where it was originally sold at the famous Cahirmee Fair.

"It would be a huge tourist attraction. It's in the National Army Museum in Chelsea. It's not attracting tourists there."

However, there are rival claims. The Bartlemy horse fair, 40km from Buttevant, says it is where Marengo was sold, while some historians maintain it was obtained by Napoleon during his Egyptian campaign of 1798-1801.

The good people of Buttevant are adamant Marengo was theirs. "I'm working on the absolute, verifiable facts I have from local historians that Marengo was sold at Cahirmee Fair," said Mr Moynihan.

After his defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon fled in a cart, leaving Marengo - who had been wounded eight times in battle - to be captured alive and taken to England, where it was paraded through the streets. Marengo died at the age of 38 in 1831.

The British museum said it would deal "sensitively" with Buttevant's claim to Marengo's skeleton. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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