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1600s – The Flight of the Earls and Nolans in New France
Reference: “The Flight of the Earls – The French-Canadian Connection” by Roger Nowlan; Nolan Clan Newsletter, March 2009 issue, pp. 8-9
1607 – Flight of the Earls
In 1607, in the aftermath of a devastating loss by the Irish forces some 4 years earlier, the Gaelic leaders Hugh O’Neill and Rory O’Donnell fled to the Continent in the hope of returning to fight another day, under more favourable conditions. They were accompanied by ninety followers, many of them Ulster noblemen, and some members of their families.
The Earls originally set sail from County Donegal bound for Spain but, on route, changed destination, disembarking in France and proceeding overland to Spanish Flanders. Some in the party remained in Leuven, whilst the main party continued on to Italy. The Earls had planned to return to Ireland and campaign for the recovery of their lands, with the support of Spain, but both died in exile.
1641 –Rebellion in Ireland
In 1614, the titles to the lands vacated by the fleeing Irish nobility in 1607 were attainted by the
English Crown, an act considered by most of the courts of Europe to have been a travesty of justice.
Thus, the titles of Irish lords, attainted or not, continued to be recognized in the courts of Europe,
especially in France and Spain. This practice was maintained throughout the 1600s as more and more
noble families of Ireland settled in Catholic France after losing their estates.
Family names for Irish lords known to have chosen exile in France include O’Mahony, O’Kelly,
Farrell, Walsh, Hennessy, Phelan, O’Byrne, Lynch, MacCarthy, MacMahon and O’Sullivan.
Starting as early as 1596 many Irish soldiers, referred to in literature as the Wild Geese, found
their way into the armies of Europe forming regiments of their own led by Irish patriots.
Mid-1600s – Nolans in France and Belgium
It is commonly known that, in the aftermath of the Rebellion of 1641 and the subsequent civil
war, a Captain James Nolan of the Shangarry Nolans (Co. Carlow) followed Charles I into exile
and served in an Irish regiment in Spanish Flanders led by Colonel George Cusack (1656-1662).
A lesser known fact is that a “Nicolas Nolan” served in this same Irish regiment from 1660 to 1662. In February 1660, in Brussels, Nicolas Nolan received a commission in this regiment as Quartermaster serving with the regiment until its disbandment in June 1662. Three months later, in September, we find him in Colonel Thomas O’Meara’s regiment (1660-1664), still in Flanders, but now serving as an Adjutant.
1663 – Nolan Marriage in New France
On January 29th 1663, in Quebec, New France, a Pierre Nolan, born around 1637 and son of a Nicolas Nolan and a Michelle Perrier, married a Catherine Houart (sic Howard). At the time Pierre was a “cabaretier” in lower-town Quebec but also a Paris merchant.
Catherine, his wife, born in Rouen, France, around 1632, was the daughter of Thomas Houart
(sic Howard) and Nicole Guérout, also both born in Rouen, France, around 1605.
Based upon the family names involved, i.e. Nolan and Howard, and the historical context given
earlier, it appears that both parties to this 1663 marriage in Quebec were grandchildren of Irish
nobility who had fled to France sometime after 1603.
Given that, for the time period of interest (1641-1663), we find record of only one Nicolas
Nolan with Irish roots in New France, Pierre’s father, and one in Continental Europe, Adjutant
Nicolas Nolan serving in an Irish regiment in Flanders, it is reasonable to assume that they were
one and the same person. That Nicholas Nolan was an Irish nobleman is further reinforced by the fact
that within a few years of being in Quebec his son Pierre was granted the title of Sieur Pierre Nolan dit
In New France, Pierre’s fortunes grew rapidly as his children all married into fur-trading families. Pierre himself also periodically returned to Paris where he operated a fur business (“fourière”). By 1750, shortly before the fall of New France, Pierre’s grandson Charles Henri Nolan (1694-1754), was one of the most influential fur merchants in Montreal, reputed to have sent the most voyageurs to the west and the farthest.
Probable Family Linkage back to Ireland
Based upon my knowledge of Nolan family history in Ireland and the use of first names in the
various Nolan family lines, I would hazard to say that Pierre Nolan’s grandfather was of the
Ballykealey Nolan line, a descendant of Cahir (anglicized Charles) O’Nolan, one of the last Nolan
Clan chiefs in the old Gaelic order in the mid 1500s. The reader will recall that Charles was the
name given to one of Pierre’s grandsons. The name of Pierre’s father, i.e. Nicolas/Nicholas, was also
associated with the Ballykealey Nolan line as demonstrated by the fact that, in the late 1700s, we
find a Reverend Doctor Nicholas Nowlan, assigned to the local Ballon parish church, leasing several
hundred acres of land next to the Ballykealey estate in the late 1700s.
The story of the early fur-trading Nolans in New France was certainly an eye-opener for me,
making me realize that, as more and more information from the past becomes available from
all the various places where Nolans settled around the world we are likely to discover more hidden
chapters of our Nolan ancestors’ past.
By Roger Nowlan (2009)