From Ireland to France: The Wine Geese and the Eighteenth-Century Wine Industry
From Ireland to France: The Wine Geese and the Eighteenth-Century Wine Industry
Nobody doubts the significance of the eighteenth century in the development of the French wine trade. This was when the modern industry and its preponderant position as the global epicenter of viticulture emerged: the age of Dom Pérignon, the beginnings of enology, and the development of the great chateaus of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Loire and Rhone Valleys.
But what is often less noted is the degree to which the French wine trade was developed by foreigners during this time, in particular a cohort of relatively obscure Irish immigrants hailing from the small town of Galway in western Ireland. This is the story of the Wine Geese.
The Wild Geese
First, let’s examine how large numbers of Irishmen and women began migrating to the continent at this time. Since the mid-sixteenth century, the English state had adopted a policy of extensive conquest and colonization of Ireland, which at the time was divided into a small English colony centered on Dublin in the east and over fifty independent Irish and Anglo-Irish lordships. Through a series of wars, the country was conquered by the English crown by the end of the reign of Elizabeth I who died in 1603.
The sixteenth-century conquest of Ireland, however, did not quell the unrest in the country. The Irish and Anglo-Irish remained unreconciled to English rule, in large part because of their continuing adherence to Roman Catholicism and the English state’s determination to impose Protestantism on the island. Consequently, serious revolts against English rule followed in the 1640s and again in the late 1680s.
The latter conflict, known as the Williamite War, lasted from 1688 to 1691 and was part of the wider war between King James II of England, Ireland, and Scotland and a challenger for his crown, William of Orange. William was backed by the English parliament as James II was a Catholic and unacceptable as monarch to the English political community. The resulting civil war played out largely in Ireland between 1688 and 1691, with the Irish backing James and the French crown offering support. But it ultimately ended in defeat for the Irish and James.
In the aftermath of the war, the Treaty of Limerick was signed in Ireland in the autumn of 1691. This allowed any Irishmen or women who had been in arms against the English state or who were opposed to living in Ireland under British Protestant rule could leave the country and go and live elsewhere.
Tens of thousands of people did just that, generally making their way to the great Roman Catholic powers of Europe, France, Spain, and Austria. In these countries, they were offered commissions into the military and other positions on account of having been longstanding allies over the years. These Irish in exile became known as ‘the Wild Geese’ on account of their having taken flight from Ireland.
The ‘Wine Geese’ of Galway
The individuals who became involved in the French wine trade from the late seventeenth century onwards were a subset of the Wild Geese, one which has euphemistically become known as ‘the Wine Geese’ in recent years. These individuals generally hailed from the city of Galway and its immediate environs, lying in the west of Ireland. From amongst these, three families above all became central to the wine trade in France and particularly in Bordeaux: the Lynches, the D’Arcys, and the Kirwans.
Of all the Wine Geese the Lynch family is the most acclaimed. The roots of the French branch of the family are found in the person of John Lynch, an eminent Galway merchant who left Ireland in the immediate aftermath of the Williamite War and arrived in Bordeaux in the early 1690s. He quickly began rebuilding the family’s wealth and trade connections there, but it was his son Thomas who started the family’s major involvement in the wine industry here.
Thomas was born in 1710. In 1743 he married Elisabeth Drouillard, the daughter of Pierre Drouillard, a major merchant, and businessman in Bordeaux and western France. Pierre had died in 1735 and when Thomas married Elisabeth she brought a large wine estate to the marriage which she had inherited from her father. This was next to the village of Bages and thus the estate became known as Chateau Lynch-Bages. The estate occupies a gravel ridge that overlooks the Gironde Estuary and has long been dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.
Thomas Lynch and his son, Jean-Baptiste, developed the estate over the next several decades into one of the most successful wineries in western France. Eventually, part of the estate was handed over by Jean-Baptiste to his brother, Michel. Thus, the roots of Chateau Lynch-Bages and Michel-Lynch are both found in this family of Wine Geese in the eighteenth century.
Eventually, the family sold out to a Swiss merchant, Sebastien Jurine, in 1824, but the Lynch name was retained and has persisted down to the present day.
Another major Irish dynasty from Galway that became involved in Bordeaux’s a trade and industry were that of the Darcies or D’Arcys. These were a prominent Galway patrician and mercantile family, several members of which had become famed throughout Ireland in the mid-seventeenth century as lawyers and politicians.
Sometime in the 1740s or perhaps in 1750 we find a James D’Arcy arriving in Bordeaux. He may have arrived from Ireland, or it is possible he was a scion of another branch of the D’Arcys who had already settled in the town of Nantes in the 1720s and 1730s. Upon arriving in Bordeaux this James D’Arcy found himself in the employ of none other than Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron Montesquieu, one of the leading figures of the French Enlightenment, whose The Spirit of Law, published in 1748, was a major influence on the political thought of the Founding Fathers of the United States in the 1770s. Montesquieu owned a winery at his main residence in the Gironde and his diaries point towards a Mr. D’Arcy being employed there in the 1750s.
James D’Arcy and his successors were not as prominent as the Lynches in the actual production of Bordeaux wine but rather acted as middlemen in the wine trade. They developed connections with figures like the Lynches and the Kirwans whereby they purchased some of the young wines from Chateau Lynch-Bages and other wineries and then blended them with other wines from the Rhone Valley and eastern Spain before exporting them to Ireland where they still had trade connections.
This trade was especially beneficial as the customs duty on trade from France to Ireland was lower than that to Britain. Irish merchants then transported the wine to Britain. In this way, the Wine Geese in Bordeaux in the eighteenth century was effectively overseeing the trade in fine French wine into both Ireland and Britain.
The Kirwans was the largest merchant family in Galway city at the end of the seventeenth century. Therefore when members of this mercantile dynasty began leaving Ireland and heading to France they had large amounts of ready cash to acquire lands with.
The most prominent member of the family, from the perspective of the wine trade, was Mark Kirwan, who arrived to Bordeaux around 1760. There he married Elizabeth Collingwood, the daughter of a Roman Catholic émigré to France from the north of England, John Collingwood, who had acquired extensive properties around Bordeaux from the 1740s onwards.
Mark Kirwan’s marriage to Elizabeth Collongwood brought him into possession of La Salle Maison noble in the Médoc, which John Collingwood had acquired for a handsome fee of 120,000 livres in 1751. His daughter subsequently inherited this wine estate and it passed through her to Mark Kirwan, who developed it into Chateau Kirwan in the 1770s. He expanded the estate with the money he acquired from his business dealings in the 1770s and 1780s, which included an interest in the slave and sugar trade in the West Indies and his family’s continuing connections to the trade circles back home in Ireland.
Mark Kirwan, who Gallicised his name to Marc de Kirwan in the course of his life, passed an enlarged wine estate to his descendants, despite running into some financial and political difficulties himself at the time of the French Revolution on account of his having become part of the minor nobility of the Gascony region. His ancestors sold Chateau Kirwan for 227,000 francs in 1827, but the Chateau Kirwan name survives amongst the prominent Bordeaux wineries down to this day.
The Irish and the French Wine Trade Today
Today, three centuries after the Irish first started making their mark on the French wine trade, their imprint is less visible. Many of the wineries which were once owned by the Lynches, Kirwans, and others have either been sold to other owners or their Irish heritage is all but forgotten. One of the last Irish-owned wineries, Chateau Clarke, which takes its name from Tobias Clarke who bought the property in 1771, was largely abandoned in the mid-1950s before it was purchased and refurbished by Chateau Lafite Rothschild in 1973.
However, the influence of the Wine Geese on the French wine trade of the eighteenth century is still visible in the names of the wineries here, not least Chateau Lynch-Bages and Chateau Kirwan, some of the foremost wineries of the Bordeaux region.
12 October 1710 – On this day in 1710 Thomas Michel Lynch was born in the town of Bordeaux in France. He was the son of John Lynch, a leading figure in the mercantile and political community of the city of Galway in the late seventeenth century. In the early 1690s following the defeat of the Irish Roman Catholic cause in the Williamite War in Ireland, Lynch left his native country and settled in Bordeaux. Thomas was born there nearly twenty years later. This French-born Lynch married Elisabeth Drouillard, the daughter of Pierre Drouillard, a major business figure in Bordeaux and western France in the early eighteenth century. Pierre had died in 1735, years before Thomas and Elisabeth’s wedding, at which time Elisabeth had inherited a large wine-estate from her father near the village of Bages overlooking the Gironde Estuary. Thus, in due course, Thomas Lynch came into possession of the vineyard which he soon built up into a successful winery named Chateau Lynch-Bages, one which produced some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignons in France in the mid-eighteenth century. Chateau Lynch-Bages remained in his family’s ownership for nearly a century and stands as one of the major contributions of the Irish Wine Geese to the French wine industry at this time.
27 January 1757 – On this day in 1757 James D’Arcy died in Bordeaux. He was a member of the D’Arcy mercantile and political family of the city of Galway in western Ireland. He had settled in Bordeaux at some time in the 1740s, perhaps having moved from Nantes where the D’Arcy family had already set down roots as an Irish émigré family. Following his arrival in Bordeaux he began acquiring a prominent position within the Bordeaux wine trade, establishing extensive connections with Irish wine merchants who paid substantially less customs duty on French wine than did their British counterparts in the eighteenth century. From there the Irish merchants transported the Bordeaux product into Britain, at a cheaper rate than British merchants could acquire it. Thus, figures like D’Arcy established a leading position for merchants of Irish descent living in Bordeaux to dominate the wine trade in northern Europe in the eighteenth century
Want to read more? Try these books!
 Stephen McGarry, Irish Brigades Abroad: From the Wild Geese to the Napoleonic Wars (Dublin, 2013).
 Nathan Mannion, ‘The Wine Geese: Irish exiles who started new lives in French vineyards’, The Irish Times, 2 April 2020.
 Francois D’Arcy, ‘Galway Tribes in Bordeaux in the 18th Century: D’Arcy, Lynch, Kirwan, French’, in The Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol. 68 (2016), pp. 28–63, at pp. 36–40.
 Francois D’Arcy, ‘Galway Tribes in Bordeaux in the 18th Century: D’Arcy, Lynch, Kirwan, French’, in The Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol. 68 (2016), pp. 28–63, at pp. 30–33.
 Charles C. Luddington, ‘Inventing Grand Cru Claret: Irish Wine Merchants in Eighteenth-Century Bordeaux’, in Global Food History, Vol. 5, Nos 1–2 (2019), pp. 25–44.
 Francois D’Arcy, ‘Galway Tribes in Bordeaux in the 18th Century: D’Arcy, Lynch, Kirwan, French’, in The Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol. 68 (2016), pp. 28–63, at pp. 43–45.
 Raymond Blake, ‘French Grapes, Irish Heart: The Irish wine families who made their mark in Bordeaux’, The Irish Times, 11 October 2020.