Some French-Irish History in honour of Bastille Day - Visit North Mayo

Joyeuse fête nationale! As today is Bastille day, we thought we would share an interesting list of French-Irish history connections, including a few from North Mayo!

Ballina’s twin town – Athis-Mons

The first of our French Irish history facts is a local one. Ballina in Co. Mayo has a twin town in France – Athis-Mons. Athis-Mons is located in the southern suburbs of Paris, 16.5km away from the city centre.

The town of Athis-Mons was formed in 1817 by joining two villages together, Athis (which is along the River Seine) and Mons (on the adjacent plateau).

A visiting delegation from Ballina’s Twin Town, Athis Mons, pictured in Kilcummin in 2018 with (General) Steve Dunford.

The first Irish soldier to die in World War I, Private Stephen Kennedy, hailed from Ballina and died in Athis-Mons. Private Kennedy and 181 of his fallen  comrades from the wider Ballina area honoured today by the Great War Remembrance Monument in the Green Park, Killala Road, Ballina, which bears all of their names.

World War I Memorial in Ballina, Co. Mayo Ireland
World War I Memorial in Ballina, Co. Mayo

Immense credit to local historian PJ Clarke and the Ballina Comrades of the Great War who carried out painstaking research to identify and commemorate those lost in World War I.

Read: Ballina and Athis-Mons friendship deepens through recent film initiatives

General Humbert’s Expeditions

In August 1798 General Jean Humbert (a French Brigadier General) and his troop of 1,000 men landed in Kilcummin Strand, near the town of Killala Co. Mayo during his expeditions of Ireland.

General Humbert Memorial in Killala, County Mayo Ireland
General Humbert Memorial in Killala, County Mayo Ireland

This was in support of Ireland fighting for their independence under Britain. Today there are still monuments in Killala of General Humbert, as well as a monument in Ballina which was opened on the 100th anniversary of the rebellion and this was then was moved to Humbert Street, Ballina in 1987.

The Humbert Memorial in Ballina, County Mayo Ireland
The Humbert Memorial in Ballina, County Mayo Ireland. The memorial was erected in 1898
In Humbert's Footsteps, Ballina, 2014
In Humbert’s Footsteps, Ballina, 2014

There is also a ‘Tour De Humbert’ which follows the path that General Humbert and his troops took after landing in Kilcummin. The tour goes from Kilcummin to Killala which is 13km and then from Killala to Ballina which is 16km.

In recent years, some events in the region have celebrated and commemorated the landing of Humbert – In Humbert’s Footsteps in Kilcummin, near Killala,  and the French Mayo Festival in Ballina.

Charles De Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle and Eamon de Valera pictured in 1969. Photo: The Irish Times

The great-great grandmother of Charles De Gaulle, the French President from 1959 to 1969 Marie Angélique McCartan (father Andronique) came from Co. Down.

In the summer of 1969 Éamon de Valera who was the President of Ireland at the time invited De Gaulle to visit Ireland, and during the six-week long trip he met his distant cousins.

Creation of the Irish Flag

Thomas Francis Meagher, leader of the 1848 Young Ireland Rebellion, travelled to Paris to study the revolutions of 1848. He was inspired by seeing the new French republic’s flag (the flag they use today) , and the first ever Irish tricolour was made in France, by French women sympathetic to Meagher’s cause.

The flag was made from French silk, following the French flags pattern. However, it wasn’t until 1937 that the tricolour was officially recognised as the national flag the Republic of Ireland.

A few more French Irish history facts:

  • The town of Killala, Co. Mayo is twinned with Chauvé in western France.
  • There are over 30,000 Irish people living in France today and over 11,000 French people living in Ireland.
  • French is the most common foreign language taught in Ireland.

One of the leaders of those who stormed the Bastille in Paris in 1789 was Joseph Kavanagh from Ireland

  • Irish writer Samuel Beckett, author of “Waiting for Godot” received the “Médaille de la Résistance” for his bravery during the Nazi occupation of France in 1940. Beckett worked as courier and was nearly caught by the Gestapo several times.  He has a street named after him in Paris. 
  • During the European Championships in France in 2016, Irish soccer fans won an award for ‘exemplary sportmanship’ – the City of Paris Medal!
  • The site of the Irish College in Paris, which dates back from 1578 is today home of Ireland’s Cultural Centre. The Centre Culturel Irlandais is Ireland’s largest cultural centre abroad.
  • France is Ireland’s main market in the world for seafood and lamb, and second largest market for beef and whiskey.
  • France is Ireland’s fourth largest tourism market, after the Britain, the United States and Germany.

Happy Bastille Day!