Admiral William Brown de Mayo – founder of the Argentine Navy

Admiral Brown’s statue overlooking the Moy at Foxford.

By Tom Gillespie

Last Wednesday (June 22) marked the 245th anniversary of the birth at Foxford of Admiral William Brown.

He is considered Argentina’s greatest naval hero and one of the founding fathers of the South American nation.

On the centenary of Brown’s death in 1957, the Argentine nation donated a bronze bust of the admiral to the people of Foxford, and commemorations to mark his death are held annually in the town on March 3, anniversary of his death in 1857.

The flagship of the Irish Navy, the LE Eithne, commanded by Castlebar-born Mark Mellett, a former chief of defense staff, visited Argentina in 2007 at the invitation of the Argentine government in the commemorations of the 150th anniversary of Admiral Brown’s death.

On his return to Ireland, he carried a life-size statue of Admiral Brown, which was erected on Sir John Rodgerson’s Quay in Dublin as part of commemorations of the 150th anniversary of his death. Dublin City Corporation has also named a nearby road in his honor.

In May 1995 John De Courcy Ireland’s ‘The Admiral From Mayo’ was published by Éamonn de Búrca, a native of Mountgordon, Castlebar, where he wrote: ‘William Brown pursued a career as a merchant seaman. Drawn into the vortex of Latin American politics in the last days of the Spanish Empire, he became one of the founding fathers of a new nation, Argentina, born of the fierce struggle of the people of the Plate estuary to wrest democratic institutions and political independence to the decadent tyranny of colonial Spain.

“A quintessential sailor, Brown was happiest on the deck of his ship, and his success in leading his crews to victory against tremendous odds was based on his constant concern for their welfare.

“Despite his incredible record of naval success in a whole series of campaigns, Brown had to endure persecution, trial and imprisonment not once but many times as a result of political intrigue.

“He didn’t forget his homeland either, returning in his darkest days of the Famine to donate relief money and support O’Connell’s campaign against the union.

“The story of his dramatic and inspiring life, and of the personal qualities which carried him through all adversity to a quiet and revered old age, is here told for the first time, in a book which crowns the interest of a lifetime of John de Courcey Ireland for the sea and its business.”

The liner notes read: “On March 15, 1814, the eyes of Europe were on Reims, as Allied forces closed in to force Napoleon’s abdication.

“At dawn that same day, on the other side of the world, a red-haired captain launched an improvised navy into a battle that was to shatter Spanish imperial power in the New World.

“It was the start of a 40-year career of almost uninterrupted success that made William Brown one of the founding fathers of the modern Argentine nation.

“The dramatic story of her life of triumph and disaster – honor and disgrace – is told for the first time in English in this groundbreaking book by Ireland’s foremost maritime historian.”

Oliver Murphy of the Admiral William Brown Society, Foxford, wrote: “William Brown was born at Foxford in 1777, and at the age of nine crossed the Atlantic to America, with his parents, who were looking for gainful employment and a new life.

“Unfortunately, his father contracted yellow fever and died shortly after his arrival. Young William Brown got a job as a cabin boy aboard an American merchant ship. For 10 years he sailed on similar ships, becoming a sailor, and in due time he got a Master’s ticket.

“He joined the Royal Navy and served in their Atlantic Division for a period of 12 years. His ship was captured by a French man-of-war and he was imprisoned at Metz, whence he escaped. However , he was recaptured and imprisoned once more at Verdun, from where he also escaped to Germany and finally made his way to England.

“On arriving in England, he went back to sea, employed by the merchant navy, where he befriended a man called Walter Chitty, whose sister he married in 1809, at Bromley, Middlesex, England.

“The couple sailed to Buenos Aires the following year in a ship owned by Brown. Although that ship was lost to a privateer, Brown secured financing to purchase another and began trading on the River Plate.”

He started trading from Buenos Aires around 1810, after realizing there were more opportunities in South America.

In 1812, he bought land in Buenos Aires and built a Quinta, called “Casa Amarilla”. A replica still stands there today and serves as a museum to Brown’s life.

In 1813 he was caught up in a rebellion against the Spanish when his trading ships were attacked.

He joined the rebels and with their help founded the Argentine Navy, and with his flagship the Hércules won the war against the Spaniards.

In 1847 he returned to Ireland for a short visit and was greatly distressed by the devastation and despair the Famine had caused. He returned to Argentina and died in Buenos Aires in 1857, and was buried in Recoleta Cemetery.

Admiral William Brown is a national hero in Argentina, and the provinces, cities, streets, units of the Argentine Navy and his training school are named after him.

The late JJ O’Hara, former president of the Admiral Brown Society, was responsible for highlighting and promoting the relationship between Admiral Brown Foxford and Buenos Aires which is still vibrant today.

Edward K. Thompson