26 October 2018

Finding three Irish governors at
an English outpost in Tangier

The former Portuguese and English walls at Tangier … the short-lived English colony had three Irish governors in the 17th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I crossed the Strait of Gibraltar by fast ferry yesterday [25 October 2018] and sailed to Tangier, on a day trip from Seville, to explore the Medina and to visit the caves where god Hercules is said to have slept. It was an opportunity to discover a unique blend of European and African cultures and taste the delicious food.

Tangier once had three Irish Governors in the 17th century when it was an English colony for less than quarter of a century between 1661 and 1684.

King Charles II acquired the city as part of the dowry when he married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza. The marriage treaty was an extensive renewal of the alliance between England and Portugal. It was opposed by Spain, then at war with Portugal, but received clandestine support from France.

England garrisoned and fortified the city against hostile but disunited Moroccan forces.

The first Irishman to act as governor of Tangier was Colonel Sir John FitzGerald, who was lieutenant governor from 7 June 1664 to April 1665, He was the son of Gerald FitzGerald, of Ballygleaghan, Co Limerick. He was descended from a branch of the FitzGerald family of Glin Castle, Co Limerick, who were Knights of Glin.

This John Fitzgerald was a colonel in the Irish Regiment of Tangier in 1663, although he was a Roman Catholic. Later, he held the office of Governor of Yarmouth in 1672, and he died in 1678 at Nonsuch Park, Surrey. He had no children, but perhaps if he had descendants the title of Knight of Glin would not have died out in recent years.

Abandoned British military equipment at the walls in Tangier … the city was an international zone from 1924 to 1956 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The second Irish Governor of Tangier was William O’Brien, 2nd Earl of Inchiquin, who was Governor from 1675 to 1680. He was appointed Governor in succession to the Earl of Middleton in 1675, and that year a garrison school was founded, led by the Rev. Dr George Mercer.

He had succeeded his father as Earl of Inchiquin in 1674, and was Captain General of the Forces at Tangier from 1674 to 1680 and Colonel of the 2nd Tangier Regiment of Foot from 1675 to 1680. He commanded the Tangier Garrison at the time of the Great Siege of Tangier in 1680.

Later, he was the first Governor of Jamaica and Vice-Admiral of the Caribbean Seas from 1690 to 1692. He died in Jamaica in 1692 and his Irish estate and titles were inherited by his son, William O’Brien.

When Lord Inchiquin resigned as Governor of Tangier in 1680, he was replaced by a third Irish governor, Thomas Butler (1634-1680), Earl of Ossory. He was born at Kilkenny Castle, the eldest son of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond, and his wife Lady Elizabeth Preston.

However, Lord Osssory died on 30 July 1680 before he could take up his post in Tangiers. His son, James Butler, succeeded as the 2nd Duke of Ormond eight years later in 1688.

Meanwhile, the cost of maintaining the English garrison against Moroccan attack greatly increased after Morocco was united under the Alaouites. Parliament refused to provide funds for its upkeep, partly due to fears of ‘Popery’ and fears arising from the imminent of a Catholic succession of James II.

In 1684, Parliament forced Charles II to give up his possession on the north African coast. The English forces blew up their defences and evacuated the city, which later became part of Morocco.

The British military presence in this part of North Africa returned briefly in the 20th century. The Tangier International Zone was a 373 sq km international zone under the joint administration of Britain France, and Spain, and later Portugal, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and the US from 1924 until its reintegration into independent Morocco in 1956.

The entrance to Glin Castle, Co Limerick … there is a remote, and very thin, connection with the Irish-born Governors of Tangier in the 17th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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