James O'Moran / Thomas Ward


 La Force prison at end of cul-de-sac

James O’Moran (Elphin, Co. Roscommon, 1739 – Paris, 1794) had few associations with Paris until he was singled out for execution by a tottering régime intent on finding scapegoats for military setbacks in the years following the French Revolution.


O’Moran, whose father was a shoemaker in Elphin, Co. Roscommon, was partially educated at the Irish College in Tournai (now in Belgium), where his uncle was rector. In 1745, when O'Moran was still a small boy, the French had won a famous victory against the British just a couple of kilometres to the west of Tournai in the Battle of Fontenoy. In 1752, aged 13, O'Moran joined Dillon’s Regiment of the Irish Brigade in the service of France. Serving with distinction during the Seven Years War, O’Moran swiftly rose through the ranks and participated in the capture of the island of Grenada from the British in July 1779. In the same year, O’Moran was wounded just ahead of the unsuccessful Franco-American siege of Savannah in Georgia during the American War of Independence and was invalided back to France, where he was promoted to the rank of colonel but later returned to fight against the British in the Caribbean.


 O'Moran's death sentence
As a career soldier of foreign origin who had largely served abroad, he was probably largely apolitical and his career was untroubled in the first years of the French Revolution. Indeed, he was promoted to the position of colonel in command of the 88th regiment (formerly Berwick’s) in June 1791. A couple of months later, he took command of Dillon’s regiment and in 1792 he was appointed brigadier and then general of a division in the Army of the North. After its capture from the Austrians in November 1792, O’Moran was named commander-in-chief of West Flanders, with his headquarters at Tournai, the town in which he had grown up. While in Tournai in December 1792, O’Moran was a witness at the marriage of Edward Fitzgerald to Pamela, daughter of Philippe Egalité and Mme de Genlis.


He was placed in charge of the defence of northern French strongholds in spring 1793, but quickly fell foul of an increasingly paranoiac regime in Paris as foreign armies massed on France’s frontiers intent on restoring the monarchy. Already taxed by Lazare Carnot as displaying “ a prudence which makes me desperate”, O’Moran’s opposition to a flawed plan for a diversionary attack on vastly superior enemy forces in northern Belgium, led to his arrest in the summer of 1793.

 O’Moran was brought to Paris, where he was to spend several months awaiting trial at La Force prison, which stood in the Marais district in the present-day 4th arrondissement (Some sources say he was kept at Saint Lazare prison. It too has disappeared.)


Together with a misplaced trust in the virtues of revolutionary justice, O’Moran thought his long military record in the service of France would lead to his acquittal and declared at a court hearing that he did not think he needed anybody to defend him. The letters O’Moran wrote in his own defence contain a note of poignancy in light of his untimely end. “Without fortune, without relatives, without friends,” he writes, “the only support I find is in the calm of my own conscience as in the justice that I implore will shine for me.” Declaring that he and his wife’s wealth came to just 14,000 francs, he felt that “forty-one years of service without interruption and without reproach and the many serious wounds I have borne must surely establish my reputation.”


Dillon on the Arc de Triomphe
Alas, O’Moran’s arrest coincided with the height of the Terror during which summary justice was meted out to people deemed enemies of the Revolution. O’Moran was initially released but then rearrested for his part in a “counterrevolutionary plot and intelligence with the enemies of the Republic”. The Irishman was tried by a revolutionary tribunal on March 6, 1794, found guilty, and guillotined the same day on the Place de la Révolution (now called Place de la Concorde, 8th arrondissement).


O’Moran’s son, William Auguste, served in the Irish Legion at the beginning of the 19th century. William Auguste’s godfather was Arthur Dillion (Braywich, England, 1750—Paris, 1794) of the eponymous regiment in which O’Moran started his career. Dillon was the English-born grandson of another Arthur Dillon, born in county Roscommon in 1633, who had founded Dillon’s Regiment. Like his underling, O'Moran, the founder’s grandson served with distinction in the regiment, and remained loyal to the new republican regime during the revolutionary wars. However, again like O’Moran, he was accused of intelligence with the enemy and was briefly locked up in Luxembourg prison before being guillotined on April 13, 1794, a little over a month after O’Moran. The posthumous rehabilitation of Arthur Dillon means that his name figures in the list of France’s most glorious soldiers from the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods not far from that of general Charles Jennings Kilmaine on the Arc de Triomphe. Kilmaine was also briefly imprisoned with his wife during the Terror but, unlike O’Moran and Dillon, he survived.


 The Revolutionary prison at Les Carmes
 Plaque commemorating Ward and Malone in chapel at Picpus cemetery
Another Irishman serving in the Army of the North, Brigadier-General Thomas Ward (Dublin, 1748—Paris, July 1794), a former student of the Irish College in Paris, was also executed during the Terror. Ward and Arthur Dillon, together with Thomas Paine and Lord Edward Fitzgerald, had attended a lavish banquet organized by English-speakers that was held in Paris in November 1792 to celebrate the French Revolution (at White's Hotel, in the 2nd arrondissement, address no longer exists). But such a profession of loyalty to the Revolution was to prove of no avail to Ward, who had an address at the Hôtel Modène on the rue Jacob (6th arrondissement), where Laurence Sterne had stayed almost three decades earlier. Ward was arrested along with his servant, John Malone, in October 1793 for intelligence with the enemy (although some accounts suggest that the French rounded up people of foreign origin like Ward to use as hostages in a bid to force the British to evacuate the port of Toulon in southern France). Ward and Malone were conveyed to the Carmes prison in Paris at 74, rue Vaugirard (6th arrondissement). Carmes had been a monastery before being turned by the Revolutionaries into a detention centre for priests who refused to swear allegiance to the republic. Over 100 members of religious orders had been massacred in the grounds of this establishment just over a year and a half before Ward was condemned to death for his supposed part in a break-out and executed on July 23, 1794. John Malone, born in Limerick (or Kerry) in 1765, shared his fate on the same day, as did a priest named Pierre O’Brennan. Alas for Ward and Malone, whose bodies were dumped in Picpus cemetery (Avenue de Saint Mandé, 12th arrondissement), had they survived another four days, they would have witnessed the downfall of Maximilien Robespierre and, with him, the end of la Terreur.




Select Bibliography

Archives Nationales

Judicial procedures involving James O’Moran are in file W335/585

Judicial procedures involving Thomas Ward are in file W429/965

Judicial procedures involving Arthur Dillon are in file W345/676


Le Moniteur, Sept. 18, 1792


Englishmen in the French Revolution (1889)

John Goldworth Alger


“James O’Moran and the French Revolution”, Richard Hayes,

Part I in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, vol. 22, no. 88 (December 1933)

Part II in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, vol. 23, no. 89 (March 1934)


“Irishmen before the Tribunals of the French Revolution”, Richard Hayes

in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, vol. 21, no. 81 (March 1932)