Culture & History

The Rich Story of Irish Entrepreneurs in Madrid

The presence of Irish businessmen in the graveyard of the Basilica de San Francisco El Grande is interesting.

It shows that a new type of Irish migrant was entering Madrid in the 1700s. Such was their success in life, they could be buried in a fine graveyard in death.

While there had always been merchants trying to make a profit in the Spanish capital, such as Francis White, who had spent 15 years doing business here, there were now a new class of bankers and financiers. Francis Arthur and Edward Crean were two such men, and their job was to help manage the Jacobite exiles living in Spain. In other European countries, more Irishmen were doing the same. Both Crean and Arthur grew very rich from this business, and one visitor to Madrid described Crean as a gentleman on account of his financial social successes.

Irish Entrepreneurs in Madrid Meet The Jacobites

The Jacobites were a group who believed the Stuarts should be restored to the British throne. In different countries, there were different motivations for this support. In Ireland, it meant religious freedom and autonomy for Ireland as a nation. The Treaty of Limerick, signed in 1691, allowed Irish Jacobites to pass safely to France, where they formed regiments. This treaty marked the end of the Williamite and Jacobite struggle for the British crown. Others went on to Madrid, where they later fought on the side of Spain in the War of the Spanish Succession.

The Rich Story of Irish Entrepreneurs in Madrid

In this war, a Tipperary man called Julian O’Callaghan MacCarthy made his name. Afterwards, he rubbed shoulders with people such as Mary Warron, who was a royal lady-in-waiting. She was a widow, and her husband, who was Irish, had been Spain’s special ambassador to the Netherlands. Julian married the daughter of Mary Warron. After he later died, his widow asked for a pension from the State, citing his years of military service for the Spanish crown.

She refers to her dead husband in her letters to the Royal Court by using the Spanish version of his name. According to her petitions, his fellow soldiers attested to the fact he brought order and discipline to his units, while in the Battle of Villaviciosa, he fought with what he thought was a mortal injury for the honour of his king. In doing so, he helped win the battle. In the battle of Zaragoza, he was also injured. He fought bravely to protect the cavalry and infantry from destruction.

Stories such as these illustrate that despite new economic avenues for Irish immigrants, the army was still seen an important pathway for better integration into Spanish society.

Money is Power

Arthur and Crean played up their Catholic faith in the Spanish court, but when it came to money, they were quite willing to do business with the British, a country Spain was at war with. They offered exchange services and paid to help British prisoners of war. Clearly, in the War of the Spanish Succession, they worked with the Spanish on one hand, and the Grand Alliance of Britain, the Netherlands, and Austria-Hungary on the other. The Peace of Utrecht eventually ended this conflict, which paved the way for Britain to further dominate the world.

The Rich Story of Irish Entrepreneurs in Madrid

This kind of duality was not an isolated incident. Irish merchants spoke English, so Britain and the New World were a natural destination for Irish goods. Their shops sometimes hired Catholics or Protestants, they kept an English flag on board for certain ports, and they were accused of smuggling British goods into Spain. If money was at stake, then they would work with anyone.

Aside from these endeavours, they helped other Irish businessmen with their interests in the Canaries, and they also helped Jacobites looking for Spanish support for another rebellion.

Helping the king

Despite their playing of both sides, Crean and Arthur were able to develop a strong relationship with the new Bourbon king in Spain. This was probably due to the fact that they were not refugees seeking protection from the State. Rather, they were wealthy men of influence, with connections around the world. Thus, they could sell banking and financial services to the king.

Spain was weakened by the War of Spanish Succession, so it sought to compensate for its weaker military position by becoming more powerful financially. Crean even started helping the king reform Spain’s tax system, and he cultivated close links with other Irish bankers who had banks in different parts of Spain. Many of these men were enchanted by Spanish culture and they collected books for their libraries.

And remember…

For more on Irish history, check out our piece on the forgotten Olympian. Listen to our podcast for more cultural pieces, and head to our online shop for some literary-inspired fashion. You can also buy our book on Amazon.

Thanks for reading the rich story of Irish entrepreneurs in Madrid!

3 replies »

  1. Eduardo/Edward Crean came from the O’Crean family of Co. Sligo. Thanks for the post. I am researching the Creans of Sligo and Mayo, Galway. If I can ask a question, which Irish businessmen are buried in the cemetery of the Basilica de San Francisco El Grande? I will need to take a look after the pandemic ends. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting. Yea, Edward Crean was from County Sligo. Would you know which Irish family names are buried at the cemetery of San Francisco? Thanks for the post. I have been researching Edward/Eduardo.

    Tom Crane

    Liked by 1 person

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