By Anne Delaney
The sun shone that day in April 2018, as we strolled through the cobbled streets of Montmartre. I remember its warmth on my eyelids and the rich aroma of coffee drifting from small cafés.
We resisted the lure of the coffeehouses and continued to wander through the sunlit streets, enjoying the sights and sounds of that iconic Parisienne neighbourhood. Eventually our rambling footsteps took us along a metal overpass called the Rue Caulaincourt.
Glancing over the side of this overpass I was intrigued to see a jumble of tombs ensconced beneath the iron struts and pillars of the bridge. I gave in without a struggle to what my husband, Con, gloomily describes as my morbid interest in graveyards and was immediately keen to take a closer look.
Reaching the end of the bridge, we found a stairway that descends to the left and leads to the only entrance to the Cemetery of Montmartre.
It is a beautiful place, almost like a secret garden, full of maple trees, chestnut trees, lime trees and thuja. It’s the final resting place for some 20,000 souls including many famous people such as Alexander Dumas, Jeanne Moreau and Berlioz.
We spent an interesting hour rambling about the graves that morning, spotting some familiar names, and were just about to leave when an Irish tricolour fluttering on a grave some distance away caught my wandering eye.
The tricolour was attached to a Celtic Cross. We took a closer look, and discovered that it was the final resting place of one Myles Byrne who was born in Monaseed in Co. Wexford.
I subsequently did some research on Myles. He was an extraordinary man, born in 1780 to a well-to-do Catholic farming family. At the age of 18, he joined an army of 10,000 rebels under Father John Murphy to fight in the 1798 Rebellion. Following the rebel defeat at the Battle of Vinegar Hill he joined Michael Dwyer in a gruelling guerrilla campaign in the Wicklow Mountains, still pursuing the goal of independence.
Unable to hold out any longer and assisted by his sister, he eventually escaped to Dublin where he led a quiet life for a few years till he got involved with Robert Emmet’s campaign in the winter of 1802-1803.
A couple of days after the collapse of Emmet’s rebellion, Byrne met with the fugitive Emmet and promised go to Paris to seek French support for the cause of Irish independence.
But his earnest efforts there were in vain as, by that time, Napoleon had turned his attention to the conquest of Haiti.