Saint Patrick and Majorca's Irish ties

Saint Patrick, you may be unaware, is the patron saint of Murcia. This came about on account of a defeat of the Muslims at the hands of Juan II of Castile on St. Patrick's Day, 1452; the Muslims from Granada had been attacking Cartagena. On 17 March, they apparently play the Irish national anthem at the Saint Patrick Church in Lorca in Murcia, so Sunday was a pretty big deal in the region. By contrast to which, in Majorca, it wasn't.

The Murcian connection, from what one can make out, is an isolated example of celebrating Patrick, aka Patrici (Catalan) and Patricio (Castellano). The saint is well enough known, but his fame stems principally from being Ireland's patron. Any excuse for a party and all that, in Majorca, as elsewhere in Spain, St. Patrick's Day is an occasion to don green hats and orange beards and drink copious amounts of Guinness. As a cultural export to Majorca, St. Patrick is one of the more recognisable, and one stresses cultural, as the religious element is by the by.

It is perhaps curious that Patrick doesn't have a more prominent place in the Catholic calendar, and this is due to the ties between Ireland and Spain. Or maybe it isn't curious in that there are ties which are centuries in the past and, through assimilation, have long since ceased to be discernibly Irish.

There were distinct phases of migration from Ireland to Spain between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. They had to do with Cromwell's conquest; the Williamite War and the Treaty of Limerick; and the nineteenth century unrest that was most noted for the Great Famine. All of them had to do with the claims of outsiders (English, though not exclusively) on Irish territory and with religion.

Arguably the most significant event was the 1691 Treaty of Limerick, which brought an end to the war between the Jacobites and William of Orange. Its significance, for ties with Spain, lay with what became known as the Flight of the Wild Geese - some 19,000 Irish Jacobite soldiers under the command of Patrick Sarsfield who left to serve with other armies; Spain's was one of them.

Spain welcomed Irish Catholics, and Spain was itself attractive to young Irishmen because the country was both wealthy and powerful. Because of the persecution, they had lost much of this wealth and also their previously influential status. Spain provided the opportunity to restore both, and Spain was more than happy to receive Irish migrants who could prove useful in military terms.

The Irish came to Majorca, but getting a feel for the scale of Irish immigration is difficult. It is not a subject to have received coherent research. The history is fragmented and thus littered with references to the way in which certain names were transformed, e.g. O'Leary to Oleó and O'Donnell to Udunell, or which remained the same.

In this latter category were the O'Ryans, and their arrival in Majorca was a direct consequence of the Treaty of Limerick. Cornelius (later Corneli) O'Ryan was from an Irish noble family in Cashel, Tipperary. He left Ireland in 1693 and it was to be his son, Juan O'Ryan y Mahoni, who was to definitively establish the family home and what was to become a Majorcan noble dynasty.

Another noble family were the O'Neilles or O'Neylles. Their connection to Majorca was not as direct. The move from Ireland followed the Treaty of Limerick but it was to elsewhere in Spain, where a Felix O'Neille was to rise to the rank of captain-general of the royal army. It was his son, Juan, who founded the O'Neille house in Majorca, and it was Juan's grandson, Joan O'Neille i Rossinyol, born in 1828, who was to become famous as Majorca's first genuine landscape painter.

So, the historical links with Ireland are there, even if they weren't to mean the firm establishment of a celebration of Saint Patrick. For that, one needs to come up to more modern times and to Santa Ponsa.

It hardly needs stating that Santa Ponsa has its Irish associations. These owe pretty much everything to tourism. In the early 1970s, Joe Walsh Tours was the most influential of Irish tour operators to single out a Majorcan destination for Irish holidaymakers. Santa Ponsa was that destination. An initial hook-up with the Deya Apartments was what was to create the Irish tradition in the resort. And it is Santa Ponsa where St. Patrick's Day is nowadays most obviously celebrated.

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