Don Juan’s Date With Fate – Frank McNally On Another Great Liberator With Kerry Roots
In his ancestral Kerry, he would have been quite simply John O’Donoghue. But fate (and the Battle of the Boyne) dictated that he was born in Seville. And when he died in Mexico 200 years ago today, he made history as Don Juan O’Donoju.
What the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés had done in Central America three centuries earlier, it was up to O’Donoju to undo. “Cortez the Killer” (as the first was characterized in Neil Young’s song), completed his conquest of the Aztec Empire in August 1521.
Three centuries later, O’Donoju may not have been exactly the anti-Cortés. But it was he who, as an officer in the Spanish army and last viceroy of “New Spain”, negotiated the agreement by which Mexico became independent. The treaty was signed on August 24, 1821, 300 years to the day after the conquest.
Sadly, O’Donoju didn’t live long to take advantage of his distinction. The deal was in any case unpopular with the Spanish military and many in Spain, including the government, which accused him of treason.
But soon after signing it, he fell ill and died on October 8, 1821. The official cause was pleurisy, although suspicions remain that he was poisoned, possibly by the rebel leader with whom he had been poisoned. made the agreement, Agustín de Iturbide.
Don Juan was Irish on both sides of a family that had emigrated in the 1720s. His full name was Juan José Rafael Teodomiro de O’Donoju y O’Ryan, the last piece acquired through his mother, Alice Ryan of Tipperary. Perhaps unusually for his background, he was a Freemason and liberal politician, which periodically gave him problems when power shifted one way or the other in his country of birth.
But he was considered a hero by Irish nationalists, who followed his rise and occasional falls, through the Napoleonic Wars and later, with keen interest. Here, for example, from 1816 is a macabre account in Freeman’s Journal of his predicament when he was involved in a leftist coup attempt by a “despicable amateur” called Vincente Richard, who “on the grid ”designated him as accomplice:“ The ex-general Renorales, Don Ramon Calatrava and Don Juan O’Donoju, who did not suspect such a totally unfounded accusation, were arrested and thrown into dungeons. They were then put to torture, to extract confessions from them. O’Donoju had his fingernails and toenails torn off by the roots. His life is desperate.
Her life survived this ordeal, one way or another, although it may have been shortened in the process. Permanently disfigured, he then gained his greatest fame in Mexico. But it was also traumatic. Almost a century after his death in 1914, the Eagle of Skibbereen cast his famous look back at how Spain had treated him then. In an article by Thomas Concannon, originally written for the Cork Free Press, he portrays the Madrid authorities of 1821 in a sarcastic light: “The Spanish government, true to its traditions and principles (like this Christian nation in the ‘across the Canal de Saint-Georges), disowned and rejected the treaty and piled up indignities and disgrace on Don Juan on his return to Spain.
This last detail seems at least to be an embellishment, because according to the more sober account of Tim Fanning, in the book Paisanos – The Forgotten Irish Who Changed the Face of Latin America (2016) – O’Donoju could not and did not did not return to Spain after the treaty. There he was considered a traitor, “for having apparently, without thinking, given most of the remaining American possessions of Spain.” Nor could he, despite his popularity in Mexico, accept a role under Iturbide, whose conservative landowner policies were at odds with his own.
He may have had little choice in granting the country’s freedom anyway. Spain had then practically lost control of Mexico. But he didn’t regret the deal. According to Fanning: “He himself was convinced that he had done the right thing, inspired by a political vision which considered the freedom of the people to be sacred. He wrote that […] every society had the right “to declare its freedom and at the same time to defend the life of the individual”, and that all the efforts made to oppose this sacred torrent, once its majestic and sublime course had begun, were in vain. .
Iturbide’s diet didn’t last long before he too came to an untimely end. And Mexico in general had many turbulent decades to come. But O’Donoju, 59 when he died, had secured a place of honor in the country’s history. His body was embalmed and still rests today in the vault of the Spanish viceroys under the baroque masterpiece of Mexico City Cathedral, the Altar of the Kings.