Elinskaya M. (Minsk, Belarus)


This article was published in "Belarus-Eire. Materials of the Seminar <Belarusian-Irish Historical and Cultural Relations>", Minsk, 2000.


The background of the coat of arms is silver and is divided vertically. In the right part there are three golden lions, the left is divided horizontally. At the top there is the Lamb of God with a red banner, at the bottom there is a running black wild boar. Above the helmet with the Earl's crown there is a silver hand in armour with a sabre. The casting net is silver with gold. Under the heraldic shield there is a silver ribbon with the motto "victoriosus victorieux", "the victor of the victors" (Lat.) Thus one of the Scandinavian heraldry collections describes the emblem of the O'Rourke family. 


This is a fine coat of arms, but what does it have to do with Belarus? OK, they were earls, and even Irish earls, so what? The thing is that those O'Rourkes are frequently mentioned among the landowners of the Minsk province. They owned the estate of Usalub in Navahradak region. Is it not interesting to find out why, when and how those people from a far island in the sea happened to settle there? 


It turns out that the kin of O'Rourkes, the descendants of Arthur, son of Rourke, is as ancient as the dynasty of the Polacak princes, the descendants of Rahvalod and Izaslau. Izaslau's mother Rahneda was violently forced to marry Kiev prince Vladimir; the wife of Tyrone O'Rourke, who was the king of Breffni principality, was stolen by the king of the Leinster province, Mac Dermott. According to the chronicles, it was the reason for a feudal war.  It is known for sure that beginning with X-XI cc.. the O'Rourkes were the lords of the county Leitrim.  At the end of the XVI c. Brian, Earl O'Rourke was one of the leaders of the uprising against English oppression in Ireland. When in 1595 the rebels offered to Queen Elisabeth to sign a truce, one of its demands was the "forgiveness" of Brian. The uprising, though, continued and in 1599 the Irish led by O'Donnell and O'Rourke defeated the Queen's troops. After the siege at Kinsale, the end of uprising, about 70 of its leaders, among them earl O'Rourke, had to leave the country.  At that time, according K. Kautski "everywhere in Europe one could meet courageous Irish generals, smart Irish diplomats, earls, barons, Irish knights of St. Louis and St. Leopold, of White Eagle and Gold Fleece, who if they stayed in their country, would never be able to become either the ensigns of platoons, or free citizens of their small communities". 


Eventually we meet Brian O'Rourke in France in 1688 from whence the further journey of the family towards the East started. In 1760 Brian's grandsons, John and Cornelius were hired to serve the Russian Empress Elisabeth. It is worth noting that the further history of the family can be learned from the files preserved in the National Historical Archives in Belarus. As it follows from one of the documents, "gentle Elisabeth" hired Brian's grandsons to serve in her troops preserving their Earldom. 


Earl Cornelius O'Rourke and his wife, who was the descendant of the Earl family of Stuarts, moved to Russia. This Irish-French immigrant managed to make a good career in the Russian Army, retiring as a Major-General. His son Joseph (Iosif in Russian) had even more success.  Earl Iosif Karnilevich O'Rourke was born in Russia, in 1763 (or 1772). Being enlisted in his childhood into the elite Izmailov life-guards Regiment in the rank of sergeant, he started his actual service as a captain of cavalry in 1790. He participated in the Russian-Swedish war for Finland, took part in the campaign against Polish Confederation, fought in the Russian-Turkish war, in the main campaigns against the Republican - and later Napoleon - France, including the Italian campaign and battles at Austerlitz and Praslau. His service record was adorned with numerous ranks and awards received for participation in battles: major, colonel, major-general, orders of St. George and St. Anna, etc. Apparently, general Iosif O'Rourke was a gifted cavalry commander. There was no lack of brave and initiative cavalrymen among the contemporaries of prince Bagration and ataman Platov. Nevertheless, the young general O'Rourke was appointed to command the cavalry corps during the Russian-Turkish War and later, in 1812 he was entrusted to command the vanguard of the Western Army. He was the one to lead the cavalry in pursuit of the remains of "The Great Army", from Biarezina to Kouna and Warsaw. Later there were more campaigns and finally the marching of the Russian regiments into Paris. This way the descendant of the former fugitive reached the place where his great-grandfather was once seeking refuge, with the troops of the victorious army. Perhaps, the Russian Irishman, being in the Tsar's suite of His Majesty Alexander I at the congress of Vienna also met some British. In 1819, however, in the peak of his military career, general O'Rourke retired to settle in Navahradak region of Minsk province. He was quite a prominent landowner, possessing around 20.000 acres of land, a small town of Usialub, and the villages of Trascianka, Slochva, Kramusouka, Mezhniki and Henusy. The revision inspection of 1858 informs us that he owned at that time 236 serfs. In 1830 a new uprising started which spread along Minsk province. The descendant of the keen Irish rebels organized and headed the irregular reserve units which...."cleared the Navahradak region from rioters". Emperor Nikolai I awarded the retired military man - an exceptional case! - with a very high rank of the cavalry general. 


Iosif O'Rourke died in 1849 as a respectful and glorified citizen. Perhaps, not in vain he was counting on Tsar's mercy when he petitioned to His Majesty to allow him and all his family to retain the title of Irish Earls. The response edict, signed by the Emperor of the Whole Russia on November 24, 1848, reads as follows: "and so be itē. 


This way the officially Irish Earls appeared in Belarus. They were Iosif Karnilevich, his sons, nephews and their children, 16 people all together. Eight of them were military men: staff-captain of cavalry Alexander-Patrick, lieutenants Patrick-Antony-Raphail and Konstantin-Marcelin, major-general Voldemar-George-Reingold, lieutenant-colonels Moritz-Dietrich and Cornelius-Iohann.  The sons of Cornelius-Iohann , Eugene-Karl-Ludvig and Richard-Iohann-Willhelm, the Irish Earls O'Rourkes, also were in service.  Some sources also tell us that Iosif Karnilevic had another son, Mikalai, for in 1889 among other landowners of the Minsk province "O'Rourkes, Ivan and Hanna, of Mikalai, Earls", were mentioned. They were, perhaps, his children, the owners of the Bardzac and Klukavicy estates in the Navahradak region.  The wife of Michael-Lazar O'Rourke, Anela, nee Bochvic (probably, a descendant of German-Baltic nobility), as well as their two daughters, Amelia-izidora-Iosepha and Stefania-Elvira-Rosalia, also had the title of Earless.


According to the archive documents, in December 1896, Minsk Nobles' Deputy Assemble received a petition from the landowners of Navahradak region Iosif-Kanstantyn and Edward-Alexander-Uladzislau, sons of Michael, Earls O'Rourkes. They were striving for the same thing as their grandfather Iosif Karnilevich half a century ago, to be called the "Irish Earls". Love for one's country worthy of respect! The petition had all necessary documents. It was supported by the uncle of the petitioners, Kanstantyn-Marcelin Iosifavich, because their father, Michail-Lazar Iosifavich died of pneumonia in his estate Basin in Navahradak region, on May 2, 1897. The petition was complied on December 15, 1897.


The last well-known offspring of the Irish Earls of Navahradak was one of the brothers-petitioners, Edward-Alexander-Uladzislau Michailavich, who was born in Basin, in 1876. Probably, this Belarusian Irishman owed his catholic and Polish mentality to the Jesuit gymnasium, which he finished in 1890. And this was the descendant of Iosif O'Rourke, who not once fought with the Polish patriots. All in all, the grandson of the Russian cavalry general was notable for his outstanding abilities, though not in military service. Alexander O'Rourke received an excellent education: after the Jesuit gymnasium he completed the one in Riga, where he studied economics. After that he  entered  the university in Innsbruck, were he read Foreign Languages and Theology. Since an early age he showed an inclination for social activity and the gift of an organizer. In Riga he was the leader of the Polish Students' corporation "Arkonia". After 1917 he was the member of the Liquidation Committee for the Affairs of the Polish Kingdom, and the member of the Polish Council of the Minsk lands. But church activity occupied a primary position in his life. Earl O'Rourke made an outstanding church career. He was bishop in Vilna, Riga, apostolic administrator in Gdansk and the first bishop of Gdansk diocese which was erected in 1922. The beginning of the war found him in their Usialub estate, where his younger brother, Iosif-Kanstantyn Michailavich lived. Bishop O'Rourke died in Rome on April 23 1943. In the 1970s his remains were brought to Poland and buried in Oliwa, in the vault of the Gdansk Bishops. 


O'Rourkes, O'Rourkes... Kings, earls, rebels, generals, bishops. We can have different attitudes towards each of them, but we should not forget that they were children of their time. No doubt, all of them belong to their native country - Ireland. But they also belong to Russia and to Poland. And they also belong to their other native country - to our Belarus!