Don Leopoldo O’Donnell: Brief account of a Spanish noble

6 March

The term Irish-Spaniards are people born in Spain of Irish descent. More specifically it refers to members of the Irish families established in Spain since The Flight of the Earls in 1607, e.g. O’Neills and O’Donnells, or what is known as The Flight of the Wild Geese following the defeat of James II in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne when thousands of Irish departed seeking exile in Catholic Europe and also beyond.
Don Leopoldo O’Donnell (1809-67)

From a noble lineage he was born in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands (Province of Spain), the son of Carlos O’Donnell y Anethan (b. 1768) and his wife Josefa Jorris y Casaviella. His paternal grandfather was Jose O’Donnell y O’Donnell who left Ireland in 1690. They were a branch of the ancient and aristocratic Irish clan of O’Donnells of Tyrconnel. Leopoldo O’Donnell died in exile in Biarritz, France 1867.

Also known as ‘Leopold O’Donnell’ he carried Spanish aristocratic titles of 1st Duke of Tetuan, lst Count of Lucena, lst Viscount of Aliaga, Grandee of Spain, or GdeE. From the middle ages the latter was conferred on high ranking members of Spanish nobility in recognition of their aristocratic status in three separate categories. In modern times the titular title ‘Grandee of Spain’ confers neither privilege nor power. He was the 103rd Grand Cross of the Order of the Tower and Sword for Valour, Loyalty and Merit.

Family and Career

He was born into a military family and perpetrated the tradition by joining the infantry regiment of Imperial Alejandro with elevation to Captain and then to General. He fought successfully for Queen Isabella II during the First Carlist War (1833-39) obtaining recognition in high ranking positions.

‘The Year of the Lash’ is attributed to him as the Captain General for Spain in Cuba from 1843. He is associated with the massacre in 1844 to put down a planned slave revolt. Thousands of slaves and free-coloured people in Cuba were confined to dungeons, were tortured and executed. While still disputed by historians and others, it is widely chronicled and commented as the Conspiracion de la Escalera.

He played a prominent role in the successful Spanish military insurrections of 1843 and 1854 and headed the Spanish Government three times between 1856 and 1866. He also served as Foreign and War Minister. He took a brief respite from Government during 1860 to command the Spanish army at the Battle of Tetuan during the Spanish-Moroccan War (1859-60) overseeing the capture of the northern town of Tetuan after which he obtained the title First Duke of Tetuan.

During 1866 he suppressed a revolt commanded by General Juan Prim and was subsequently dismissed by the Queen on 11 July 1866 for the brutality of his regime. His death soon after in France deprived the Queen of one of her strongest allies, and a year later Isabella was deposed.

He is remembered in Spain with public and other places to his name including in Madrid and Tenerife. In the parish church of St Barbara, Madrid there is an ornate mausoleum in white Carrara marble dating from 1870 by sculptor Jeronimo Sunol, financed by public subscription. Its bas-relief depicts General Leopoldo O’Donnell on horseback entering the conquered town after the Battle of Tetuan in 1860.
O’Donnell Lineage

His titles passed to his nephew, son of his brother Carlos O’Donnell y Jorris. Don Hugo O’Donnell y Duke of Estrada, born 29 September 1948, is the present 7th Duke of Tetuan whose titles include Grandee of Spain. He is the recognised Tanaiste, or heir apparent, to the Donnell’s Tyrconnel, Prince and Chief of the Name. He is an active member of the Clan Association of O’Donnells of Tyrconnel (of Ireland) and is a Knight of Malta. The Duke is also a naval historian and former naval commander and Minister for the Marine in Spain. He is married to Maria Amada, Countess of Lucena. Together they had four children.

Ita Marguet, March 2017

Note: Acknowledgement is given to historical, bibliographic and other sources used in preparation of this text. It follows a published article on Irish in the Canary Islands: People and Places (March 2015), and a visit to Tenerife (February 2017). It succeeds several published articles on Ireland and its wider connections.