Patrick d'Arcy

Like Charles Jennings de Kilmaine and Richard Cantillon, Patrick d’Arcy (Kiltulla, Co. Galway, 1725 – Paris, 1779) was a scion of a certain old Catholic nobility that traditionally found that France offered better opportunities than Protestant-dominated Ireland. Indeed, D’Arcy's pedigree can be gauged by the right accorded him to ride in the French king’s carriage—a privilege that was only granted to foreign-born individuals able to prove noble lineage going back at least 400 years.

 
A list of papers by D'Arcy published by the Royal Academy of Sciences
D’Arcy was sent to his Jacobite uncle in France when he was 14. He quickly showed an aptitude for solving mathematical problems and ended up staying under the same roof as his tutor, the renowned mathematician Claude Le Clairaut, at impasse du Coq (street no longer exists) close to the rue de Rivoli. D’Arcy also forged a military career for himself. He was aide-de-camp to Marshal Maurice de Saxe at the battle of Fontenoy in 1745, a battle famously won by the Irish Brigade fighting for France against the British and Austrians. A year later, he was captured on a Jacobite mission to Scotland but quickly released. In 1749—the same year as he was elected a member of the French Academy of Sciences—he travelled to Ireland to assess the possibility of an invasion and in 1756 he was appointed colonel in FitzJames' Irish regiment. D’Arcy’s own scientific-cum-mathematical research often had a military tinge, although he also interested himself in optics and apparently made a fortune in mining.


When D’Arcy died from cholera in October 1779 he was buried in the church of Saint Philippe du Roule (8th arrondissement) an area then at the edge of the city where his family owned a lot of property. The family were also patrons of Saint Philippe du Roule (incidentally, a church that in part inspired the design for the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin). D'Arcy had married his niece, Jane (or Jeanne) in the same church in 1777, just two years before his death. 

The great French philosopher and mathematician, the Marquis de Condorcet (whose daughter married the United Irishman Arthur O’Connor) delivered the funeral oration for Patrick at Saint Philippe du Roule in 1779. "The Irish who came to search refuge in France found in Mr. D’Arcy a protector, or rather a friend", said Condorcet. "He shared his wealth with them, looked after their interests, cordially kept up with their affairs, used in their favour all the influence his reputation and his credit with friends had bestowed upon him,"  he wrote. Condorcet also recounts that one of D’Arcy’s uncles offered him a considerable fortune if he were to come back to Ireland, but d’Arcy refused "not wishing to live in a country that was free in appearance but that England held under the yoke through tyrannical devices".

The story of D’Arcy’s corpse is almost as interesting as that of his life. The man’s coffin in Saint Philippe du Roule was progressively forgotten until, in September 1845, the Catholic newspaper L’Ami de la Religion reported that a workman busy on an extension of the church had inadvertently uncovered an old casket with some bones sticking out 1.5 metres beneath the building's floor. A copper plate on the coffin read: ‘Here lies Patrice, Count Darcy, Commander of the order of Saint Lazare and Mont Carmel, Knight of the royal and military order of Saint Louis, General in the King’s armies, aged 54 years. Deceased in October 1779—Requiescat in pace.’
 
 
D'Arcy's putative resting placethe unkempt vaults of St. Philippe du Roule
Grave of D'Arcy's widow, Jane D'Arcy-Talbot, at Père Lachaise
L’Ami de la Religion
tells us that the church curate ordered the casket to be lowered into the church vaults where “it is to be put at the disposal of the family.”

Is the casket still in the vault of Saint Philippe du Roule? One historian (writing in History Ireland, March/April 2010) contends that it is. Your humble servant is less sure. According to the sexton at Saint Philippe du Roule, there are today
emplacements for just two coffins in the church vaults. One of these emplacements is empty, while the other is occupied by a lead casket traditionally said to contain the remains of a certain Monsignor Bourny. Perhaps this casket does not contain Monsignor Bourny after all—the sexton at Saint Philippe du Roule can offer no irrefutable proof that it does—and contains instead the remains of Patrick D’Arcy. But it is, perhaps, equally possible that a member of the D’Arcy family came to claim the remains of their ancestor sometime after 1845.

D’Arcy’s wife, Jane D’Arcy (one of Marie Antoinette’s ladies in waiting) far outlived her husband. Jane had to receive a special dispensation from the archbishop of Paris to marry Patrick, her uncle, at age 16. When he died, she left France as a childless widow and married Matthew Talbot from an old Norman family based in Castle Talbot, Co. Wexford. On Talbot’s death, Jane D’Arcy-Talbot returned to Paris with her two daughters, residing at 89, rue du Bac (7th arrondissement). She died in 1826 at the age of 67 and is buried at Père Lachaise cemetery.

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Select Bibliography
Patrick D’Arcy Eloge de M. le Comte d’Arcy prononcé par le Marquis de Condorcet devant la Chambre des Sciences à Paris en 1779 (1846),
Ed. Matthew d’Arcy Talbot

Note on the accidental discovery of Patrick d’Arcy’s casket in St. Philippe de Roule church in L’Ami de la Religion, Sept. 23, 1845

 ‘A dynamic Irishman in Paris: Patrick d’Arcy, 1725–79’ by Mary Stratton Ryan in History Ireland, March/April 2010), vol. 18, no. 2

 


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