THE O'BRIEN CHRONICLE

Over the next several months, THE WILD GEESE TODAY will be presenting a most unusual and fascinating document: The story of an Irishman in colonial South America in the 1600s, written by the man himself, and hidden away in an archive in Brazil for several hundred years. It was translated from the original Old Spanish and Portugese by Martin McDonnell, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, and sent to us by fellow Marylander Bruce Curley. It is a story of one of the first of what we now call THE WILD GEESE, before the term was actually even in use. We are certain it will be of great interest to many of our readers.

Here is Bruce Curley's introduction, followed by the first installment of the O'Brien Chronicle itself, just as McDonnell translated it. Other installments of the story are to follow.


Bruce Curley
Bruce Curley

first met Martin McDonnell in 1989 in Maryland at a silent retreat at St. Mary's. While everyone else walked around piously reciting rosaries or in silent prayer during breaks, Martin continued talking, loudly. His speech, squeaky and stilted, intrigued me. So I got talking to him late one night. I found out he had recently suffered a massive heart attack and lost a percentage use of motor functions, including speech, which accounted for the unusual sound of his voice.

As the boats passed across the five-mile wide Chesapeake Bay and we stood on a bluff, he unraveled a tale he called the O'Brien Chronicle, written by an Irishman to support his 

Martin in Brazil
Friar McDonnell in Brazil.

petition to the King of Spain, seeking to regain the land he lost in battle in the early 1600s. The chronicler, Bernardo O'Brien, eventually reached what is now Brazil. But, as you will read, there is far more to the saga. Martin had translated this nearly 400-year-old story, and 10 years ago was struggling to tell me that he had seen O'Brien's story, written in O'Brien's own hand, in his own words. I told Martin I would visit and look at his manuscript. I did, and O'Brien's story stunned me to silence.

For many people, Irish history is a country, a party, a flag, a poem, a series of battles against tyrants, a song, or even a religion. But as The O'Brien Chronicle demonstrates, Irish history is really the sum of ways in which Irish men and women have sought to preserve a collective memory against unbelievable odds. Bernardo O'Brien is an Irishman whose story transcends time and space.

Martin, then Friar Martin McDonnell and living in Bahia, Brazil, had noticed little blond-haired, blue-eyed children. Knowing how far and wide the Irish had been scattered, he went looking for evidence of Irishmen in early Brazil. Martin had been researching in the national library for a number of years when he met a nun from New York who told him about an extraordinary narrative in the library's archives. Martin then pulled and translated the document -- The O'Brien Chronicle -- which is written in a number of languages and dialects. Martin's years of work to make this story accessible continues the ancient tradition of Irishmen preserving the stories that are our history.

Many of the Irish have struggled to pass on their history, despite the best efforts of the Vikings and, later, the British to obstruct them. Without the many inventive ways that this story has been preserved by bright, courageous Irishmen and women -- from the ancient bards who memorized lines, to the hedge priests -- much of that history would be lost. Like those bygone heroes, Martin has struggled to give voice to a part of our past. I believe he has received God's blessing in this quest, ensuring that this piece of Irish history survives. We are immensely richer for it.

A special note of thanks must go to Martin's wife, Anne McDonnell, for refusing to allow the doctors to end life support after Martin suffered his stroke, going against the advice of her doctors. She is 

Martin and Anne
Martin and Anne McDonnell

proof of the point made in the book "Cultural Selection" -- that the woman who shares a man's life is the most important force in determining whether his creative work lives through the centuries or quickly disappears.

Now we have begun a new millennium. And again, long-neglected Irish people who used a variety of ways to preserve their memory and accomplishments are coming to light. When asked to explain a poem, Robert Frost said: "What would you have me do? Explain it in other and less good words?!" Enough introduction! Here is the story of the O'Brien, "of the house of the Count of Thomond." God bless him. ... God bless all the brave Irish men and women and children who continue the struggle. 

-- Bruce Curley
For some information about the early colonial history of Brazil in the 1600s, click here: Bernardo O'Brien's Brazil

Read a short biography of Martin McDonnell


THE O'BRIEN CHRONICLE

Part One - To The Amazon

Captain General Sir Bernard O'Brien del Carpio says that Sir Cornelius O'Brien, his father, being in Ireland a noble Gentleman of the house of the Count of Thomond, one of the oldest and most illustrious of that Kingdom, and lord of three estates on which he had three castles, was imprisoned by the English in the year 1622, and accused that in the wars of that Kingdom he had taken the side of the Catholics, and had engaged in service to the Crown of Spain, and they confiscated his inheritance and property.

Drake
Sir Francis Drake, with whom O'Brien's patron, Sir Henry Roe, had previously sailed to South America

At this time, the petitioner, being 17 years of age, was in England, in London, where there was also an English Gentleman named Sir Henry Roe, who had been a companion of Sir Francis Drake and of Sir Walter Raleigh, on their voyages. To whom several Counts, and titled persons of England, with a commission from King James gave a ship of 200 tons with artillery and outfittings to follow up the discoveries of Sir Francis and Sir Walter, and set foot upon and populate on the great river of the Amazon, of whom land news had been received, and was quite famous as being rich, and of great fertility, and had not yet been settled by white people. Sir Henry Roe set forth in this vessel in the year 1621 with 124 persons, and among them went the supplicant without telling his relatives or friends, so great was his desire to see (other) lands and new things.

They arrived at the bank of the Amazon river and, going some 10 leagues, arrived at the port, and site of the Indians named Sipinipua. They made friends with them, explaining at first by signs, until they came to understand the language, which is called Arrua. They went up the river about another 60 leagues in their ship to a site, which the natives previously called Patavi, and was later known here as Cocodivae. Here Sir Henry landed 16 persons, 12 Irish and 4 English, who were servants of the Irish, all Catholics, leaving the petitioner as Captain and ordering that they preserve the friendship of the Indians, and sustain themselves there until he sent aid from England or Ireland, and for this purpose he left with him a great quantity of rosaries, bracelets, knives, mirrors, spinning tops for boys, whistles, combs, hatchets, and various other things. This same Sir Henry setting out in his vessel did not send them aid in three years.

O'Brien signature
The signature of Don Bernardo O'Brien del Carpio from the orignal document. To see a full page of the original O'Brien chronicle, click here

In the interim, the Petitioner soon learned the language of the Indians, although he had gained their friendship, nevertheless for his safety, as well as that of the other 15 Christians, he built a wooden fort, surrounded by a cavity of earth, and for defense kept 40 muskets, powder, munitions and other arms. Those Indians were obedient to many different masters, whom they called Bateros, and had among themselves continuous differences and wars. Their weapons are swords of wood, hatchets of stone, with wooden handles as thick as two elbows, bows, and arrows of cane with tips of stone, or bone, or very hard wood, wooden darts longer than the height of a man, rigged up at the tip like the arrows, and some with both poison and large wooden rings with four corners. The petitioner having gone to the aid several times of those on his site and county with musketry and government would win for them a victory, and thus earned their devotion and obligated them to himself, so they regarded him with tobacco and cotton, and gave him native food and drink.

Among the Irish were four good students, and Latins, who endeavored to bring the knowledge of God to the Indians, who had no religion but adored something called Numen, which was not even a deity. The Christians persuaded more than 2,000 of them that there was a God, a heaven with rest, and hell with torments after life.

As the end of the year that the petitioner had been there, with four more of the Irish, taking five muskets and supplies he went up the Amazon river about 700 leagues by water and land, taking always about 50 armed Indians as guides, aides, and interpreters from one people to another, and four canoes. They reached a land where they saw no men, but many women, which the Indians call Cuna Atenare, which means "strong women", and the Christians (call) "Amazons." These bind their right breasts flat like a mans', artificially, so they will not grow, to enable them to shoot arrows, and the left (breasts) large, like other women. 

She sent him three of the most-prized women she had, and asked him to come speak with her.

They are armed like the Indians. Their queen, who is named Cuno Muchu, which means great woman or lady, was on one of the islands of the river. The petitioner sent her in his canoe an Indian woman as ambassador, and with her a mirror and a shirt from Holland as a present, and sample of the merchandise he was carrying, and if she liked it, she would speak with him and send a hostage She sent him three of the most-prized women she had, and asked him to come speak with her. He did, she asked him if it was he who had sent her the present, he said yes. She asked him what he wished, he said peace and permission to pass to her kingdoms and take care of of things there. She said she would grant his (petitions), and gave three slaves in exchange for the merchandise. He made her wear the shirt from Holland, with which she found herself putting on airs, and at the end of one week, when he had left, promising to return, she and her subjects indicated that they were sorry to see him go.

The Petitioner went up the river by land, where here were Indians so fierce that in no way were they pleased about it or disposed to speak to them. Then he returned down the same river, and then by another river which one flows from it, and flows through the land called 

Caravel
A sailing vessel from around the period of The O'Brien Chronicle

Harahuca, where there are crystalline stones and other resplendent things which the Indians regard highly as being a cure for melancholy and illness of the spleen. They went down this river to the sea of the North, where the river is called Serenem, from there by land they came to the mouth of the Amazon river, and from there they returned to their fort at Cocodivae.

About this time, there arrived on the Amazon river a ship from Holland, whose captain was named Abstan. They sent word asking the Petitioner if he would mind if they settled nearby, and if he would give them an interpreter to deal with the Indians, and they would live in friendship, and do things as he wished. He answered them that he had 4,000 Indians fighting out of devotion to him around there and he would have more if he were (attacked) and he intended (to) preserve the river with them alone, or even expand to more land, therefore the Dutch should leave. They went from there to the Coropa river near the conquest of Gran Para, where they began selling the population aid from Holland, and sending back tobacco and cotton.

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