Stamps of approval: Irish heroes of Chilean independence honoured

Fri, Oct 29, 2010, 01:00

TWO IRISH heroes of Chile’s struggle for independence were honoured yesterday with commemorative postal stamps issued in both countries.

Bernardo O’Higgins, whose father was from Sligo, was once supreme ruler of Chile and is known as the country’s founding father, while John (Juan) MacKenna was born in Monaghan but went on to serve as commandant general of the Chilean army.

The 82 cent stamps are being issued in the context of the bicentenary of Chile’s independence and feature both men in full military dress.

The driving force behind the idea for the stamps was former Chilean ambassador to Ireland and descendant of Juan MacKenna, Cecilia MacKenna.

“This is a very special day for me. Today is a culmination of two years of work,” said Ms MacKenna.

The common historical links between Ireland and Chile were emphasised both by Ms MacKenna (whose childhood school in Chile was run by Irish nuns) and her successor, Ambassador Leonel Searle.

“This friendship [of O’Higgins and MacKenna] reminds us of the military courage and visionary spirit of these great men, which will be forever forged in the annals of our country’s history, and the legacy of the strong bonds of friendship and blood ties, between Ireland and Chile,” said Mr Searle.

Also in attendance were members of the O’Higgins clan where Michael O’Higgins, from Dublin, accepted a framed picture of the stamps.

“I was 10 years of age when my father was telling me stories about how he was sure he was related to an Ambrose O’Higgins [father to Bernardo],” recalled Michael. “He was proud of that link and I had an interest in history and would have come across the name of Bernardo O’Higgins since.”

An Post director of communications Barney Whelan said that the issuing of the stamps so soon after the rescue of the Chilean miners made the event more special.

O’Higgins and MacKenna owed their presence in Chile to the tradition of young Irish men travelling to Spain for an education denied them at home.

After making just such a trip, Ambrose O’Higgins chose to travel to the Spanish colony of Chile where he rose to become governor. There he fathered an illegitimate son, Bernardo, who would go on to become Chile’s founding father.

Juan MacKenna made the trip to Spain himself at a young age before joining the army and being sent to Chile. However, when the war of independence began, he sided with rebels.