The First Irish Diaspora in the Age of the Bourbon Reforms
This dissertation is a history of the First Irish Diaspora and its relationship to the Spanish Empire’s eighteenth-century Bourbon Reforms. Although there is a long history of Irish migration to Spain, I argue that the conjuncture of the War of the English Succession (1688-1695) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713) foreclosed hopes of a reversal of the seventeenth century Irish land-confiscations which defined the English conquest and colonization of Ireland, pushing thousands of Irish Catholics into exile near-simultaneous to the ascension of a reform-minded Bourbon monarchy to the Spanish thrown which opened new opportunities for useful subjects. At the same time, these wars established the emergent British Empire as a rising Atlantic hegemon and exposed the fragility of a Spanish Empire widely viewed by contemporaries as in decline. In such a context, Irish familiarity with British methods of empire-making made them ideal imperial translators for the Spanish Crown precisely as the empire embarked on its Bourbon Reform program. Genealogy and religion formed the foundations of Irish assimilation into the Spanish Empire – the Irish became Hiberno-Spaniards because of the “genealogical fiction” that the Irish sliocht (“race,” literally “seed”) descended from Spaniards and because they were Catholic. In Spain, the impact of this Hiberno-Spanish diaspora on the Bourbon Reforms began following the War of the Spanish Succession and reached its crescendo in the aftermath of Spain’s disastrous defeat in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). Specifically, Hiberno-Spanish imperialists in the metropole were important participants in the debates and decisions that promoted liberalizing national-colonial trade, investments in infrastructure, the emulation of foreign practices such as British and Irish economic societies, and more; i.e. the emulation of British political economy. Their principal contribution to the empire was the translation of political economic statecraft and a cosmopolitanism of exile that honed their ability to translate foreign ideas in an age of imperial emulation and made them especially effective imperial intermediaries in polyglot and liminal spaces such as the Gulf Coast borderlands. There, in Cuba, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, Hiberno-Spanish slavers, governors, merchants, and imperialists were important contributors to Spain’s real but ephemeral resurgence in colonial North America and the Atlantic world. The Spanish Empire collapsed and Irish emigration patterns rerouted to North America, but Hiberno-Spaniards and the Bourbon Reforms first accelerated the processes of colonization and slavery that transformed Cuba and the Gulf Coast into the world’s capital of cotton, sugar, and slavery in the nineteenth century.