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The Emporor and the Irish

The Emporor and the Irish


Patrick Ryan takes a detailed look back to a visit to Dublin by a man regarded by many historians as the greatest Brazlian of all time.


For most of us Brazil inspires images of football and sun drenched beaches, but in it’s 200 year history one man puts even Pelé and the other stars who wore the canary yellow shirt of the Seleção in the shade, and whose visit to Ireland in July, 1877 left a deep impression on all those who met him.

Pedro de Alcântara João Carlos Leopoldo Salvador Bibiano Francisco Xavier de Paula Leocádio Miguel Gabriel Rafael Gonzaga of the House of Braganza – Pedro II to his friends – was the last Emperor of Brazil, taking full control of the vast country at just 14 following the abdication of his father, Pedro I, a Portuguese prince who had fled Lisbon following the invasion of Napoleon in 1807.

Dom Pedro was far different to most noblemen of the day, though few could match his pedigree or intellect. Through his mother he was a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, first cousin of Emperors Napoleon II of France and Franz Joseph I of Austria, and a direct descendent of King Louis XIV of France.

Arriving from England by steamer on the steamer Antrim at 5am on July 7th Dom Pedro and his entourage, which included Empress Teresa Cristina, her handmaid the beautiful Luísa Margarida de Barros Portugal, Countess of Barral (rumored to be the major love interest of the Emperor), and Luís Pedreira do Couto Ferraz, Viscount of Bom Retiro, a senior politician and close friend of the ruler since childhood, spent a very short time in Ulster.

An early morning visit to the Giants Causeway and Portrush’s Dunluce Castle prompted the Cork Examiner to suggest that “a portion of a day was sufficient for doing the North of Ireland” and by 6.15 pm the special train from Belfast’s Great Northern Railway terminus came to a halt with a hiss of steam and cheers from the small crowd gathered at Dublin’s Amiens Street station.

Greeted by dignitaries including Dublin’s High Sheriff Alderman Campbell, and several senior police officers, as well as a handful of men charged with their protection though as it turned out only a single, though vocal protestor among the small crowd, Dom Pedro had made it clear that this would be a low-key visit, as a private citizen.

Amazingly under the pseudonym “Pedro de Alcântara” the Emperor was known to sometimes sightsee as an ordinary person, even taking a train journey accompanied by his wife without servants or aides. This was a very deliberate move by a man in a hurry to see as much and learn as much as possible, an aristocrat who avoided pomp and ceremony, taking 20 minutes to eat his main meal at a time when dinners among the elites were social events lasting hours at a time. Instead of heading to the Shelbourne Hotel where the staff was putting the finishing touches to the suite of 16 rooms put at their disposal of his party, Dom Pedro took a lengthy carriage tour around the city before heading to the Liberties and Roe’s Distillery, probably the largest facility of its kind in the world.

Employing over 200 staff and producing two million gallons of whiskey a year, huge profits would soon allow the family to donate the equivalent of €30 million in today’s money to renovate Christchurch Cathedral, but the telegram announcing his plans arrived late and the place was almost deserted.

Dom Pedro was undeterred. Led around by one of Roe’s managers he appeared “to be conversant with the subject, and highly interested expressed his astonishment at the extent of ground covered by the distillery, and offices, stores, &c.” according to the Irish Times report on July 9th. The Imperial party then moved on to the nearby Guinness Brewery. “Here the Emperor and the Empress were more fortunate than they had been in the establishment they had first visited, for the men were all at the time busily engaged at work, and the magnitude of the operations carried on could be fully seen.”

Dom Pedro, then 51 years old but looking closer to 60 still cut an impressive figure, standing 6ft 3″ tall and with clear blue eyes and a long white beard, as the Belfast Telegraph noted.

“His Majesty is a fine looking man, and strikingly unpretentious in his demeanor. His general appearance is quite familiar to one, and there is nothing about him in any way suggestive of the foreigner.” The Empress Teresa Cristina was rather less imposing. The Brazilian government had secured the hand of the short, stocky and plain Princess of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies – about half of Italy until the states unified – for the Emporer, and the couple married by proxy in her native Naples in 1843.

Pedro O Magnânimo appeared more like Peadar O’Magnanimo to the Irish, dressed as an ordinary gentleman in a dark suit, a deliberate move which allowed him a degree of anonimato when required.

The Brazilian was so engrossed by his tours that a visit to the Gaiety Theatre had to be postponed, and his party finally arrived at the Shelbourne by 8 pm where he met Dublin Lord Mayor Hugh Torpey, a Home Ruler who was responsible for sorting out the logistics of his whirlwind tour around the city and was at his side much of his time in the capital, along with the Chief Magistrate. Rising at 5am the next morning, accompanied by his friend and advisor Couto Ferraz, noted for his work on reforming education, medicine, and Brazil’s electoral system, he arrived to tour the North Dublin Union Poorhouse near Grangegorman shortly after 7 am for a tour by the Master of the institution “making numerous inquiries and observing every portion of it with his usual minuteness of attention” according to to the Irish Times.

The Cork Constitution newspaper reporting on the visit ahead of Dom Pedro’s much-anticipated trip to the southern capital marveled at the man they dubbed “the Flying Emporer”, who then moved on to the Botanical Gardens, and afterwards Glasnevin Cemetary where he was impressed by the tomb of Daniel O’Connell before making his way by carriage back to Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) to climb Nelson’s Pillar, returning to the Shelbourne shortly after 9 am.

The imperial party then made their way to the nearby Whitefriars Church, where the remains of St Valentine lay having been gifted to the Carmelite order 40 years earlier, for mass celebrated by Fr Flood, accompanied by the Lord Mayor.

Next up was the Royal Dublin Society on Kildare Street, which first opened its doors in 1857, where the visitors were shown the impressive collection of rare books, scientific instruments, fossils, and preserved animals at the “Dead Zoo” by Dr William Edward Steele, the first direction of the new National Museum of Ireland. Dom Pedo then paid a visit to the Mansion House to formally call on the Lord Mayor, soon moving on to TCD where introductions were made to Provest Mr. Henry A. Hinkson, a noted barrister and novelist, Vice-Provest, Dr. Robert Ball, Astronomer Royal, and the Junior Dean, Mr. George F. Shaw, the first editor of the Irish Times and a respected journalist. The group walked through the grounds, visited the museum, the reading room, the Medical School, labs, and dissecting room, with the Emperor showing particular interest in the Chemistry department where as ever he asked numerous questions.

Next in the itinerary was a short tour of the National Gallery’s paintings and sculptures, followed by a trip to the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) at 123, St. Stephen’s Green, Dom Pedro’s interest was no doubt helped by the fact that the RCSI was non-denominational and in a largely-loyalist and Protestant-dominated city had close links with the far newer Catholic University of Dublin.

It was then on to the headquarters of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA), at 114 Grafton Street established to promote and investigate the sciences, literature, and antiquities, as well as the encouraging discussion and debate between scholars, and whose members include Edmund Burke, Dom Pedro’s friend Charles Darwin, and possibly Ireland’s greatest scientist, the great William Rowan Hamilton.

Struck by a moment of inspiration while crossing the Broome Bridge in Cabra on October 16th, 1843 the astronomer and mathematician scratched a formula into the stonework that would one day help put men on the moon and lay the foundations for CGI in today’s movies.

Until the late 19th century the RIA owned most of the Irish antiquities in the country, including the Ardagh Chalice, the Tara Brooch and the Annála na gCeithre Máistrí or Annals of the Four Masters, with Dona Teresa Cristina particularly enamored by letters from the poet Thomas Moore.

Hugh Torpey had a difficult job in keeping his esteemed visitor happy. Dom Pedro was a genius, who spoke Portuguese, Spanish, French, German, Italian, English, Chinese Hebrew and Arabic amongst other languages, hiring a tutor to travel with him for a three-month trip across to USA to teach him Sanskrit.

His intellectual gifts and ceaseless quest for knowledge won the friendship and admiration of giants like Dickens, Charles Darwin, Victor Hugo, Richard Wagner, Louis Pasteur, Henry Longfellow, Ulysses S. Grant, and Friedrich Nietzsche (who reportedly cherished his meeting with the emperor as perhaps the greatest moment of his life).

Any unease Torpey felt was justified when the Emporer casually dropped a bombshell into their conversation. Dom Pedro confessed that the man he most wanted to meet here was an Irish scientist and engineer who was putting the finishing touches to a giant telescope, soon bound for Vienna.

Sir Robert Ball recalled the exchange with some amusement in an interview some 25 years later. “‘I cannot,'” said His Majesty, “‘ remember exactly the name of this great man of science, but, of course, you know whom I mean’. The Lord Mayor looked at his secretary and the secretary looked at him! They were both at a loss.”‘At all events”, he went on, “‘you must find out for me in the course of the night where the famous optician is, and take me to him tomorrow morning’. By this time it was twelve o’clock on a Saturday night.”

According to Sir Robert the head of the esteemed Casa de Bragança had vaguely told the Mayor that this man’s name was “Tub” – or something similar – and he was highly unimpressed that clearly neither the first citizen of Dublin nor his secretary Mr Goff knew nothing about this important work.

After wracking their brains Torpey and his secretary decided to speak to Ball, the Astronomer Royal at TCD, who they’d met earlier on their visit there with Dom Pedro so Goff set off with a driver in the Mayor’s carriage at 8am the following morning to an expectant Sir Robert, who’d anticipated Dom Pedro’s request, and confirmed the man they sought wasn’t Tub but the venerable Howard Grubb, in Rathmines.

A TCD graduate and son of an engineer who started in iron billiard tables and later helped construct the famous Leviathan telescope at Birr Castle, Sir Howard Grubb as he became, later patented a periscope that would serve on 95 percent of the Royal Navy’s submarines. However this giant of Irish engineering and science didn’t actually come to his workshop on Sundays, Sir Robert revealed, later chuckling at the recollection.

“Oh the Emperor cares nothing about that, and we must do what we can,” sighed a relieved Goff. It was a case of grubs up in every sense of the word, as Sir Robert headed to the Mansion House with Goff for breakfast at Torpey’s, and Mr Grubb awoke to urgent knocking and a request to round up his skilled workmen and prepare for the imminent arrival of the Emperor of Brazil at the workshop. Lord Mayor Torphy was doubtlessly delighted when the hastily arranged visit went very well, and Dom Pedro was impressed with a preview of Irish craftsmanship, taking time to examine Grubb’s 27-inch wide, 34 ft long device, soon to be recognized as the world’s largest refracting telescope.

A few months later it was carefully packed away and off to the Imperial Royal Observatory of Austria-Hungary, today the Universitätssternwarte Wien in the University of Vienna.

All went well until upon leaving Dom Pedro picked up Grubb’s beautiful, and very expensive silk hat from Lincoln and Bennett of Picadilly in London (who counted the Prince of Wales among their clients) leaving behind in Sir Richard Ball’s words “what we call in Ireland an old cawbeen” instead.

Grubb had been woken from bed and was about to be out of pocket and out of hat too until the tactful intervention of Dom Pedro’s secretary Arthur de Macado “who was evidently accustomed to these little lapses” as Sir Richard noted.

Interestingly 50 years after Dom Pedro visited Dublin a Grubb telescope was donated by Leon Cap, life member of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific to Brazil’s Instituto Astronomico e Geofisico de São Paulo (IAG), and in 1986 it was installed in the prestigious Setor de Astronomia of the University of São Paulo (USP).

Their visit to Rathminees complete, the party then left for City Hall where Torpey arranged for them to be greeted by James Robert Ingram, a Dubliner and Freemason who had emigrated to New York and worked as a firefighter in Manhattan before returning home and setting up the first Dublin Fire Department with 40 handpicked men.

The Emperor was impressed by sculptor John Hogan’s 18 feet high marble statue of “The Liberator” Daniel O’Connell, Home Rule MP and former Dublin Lord Mayor, and who like Dom Pedro had ties to France, and there was more sculpture and paintings to be seen at the next stop-off. The Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts (RHA) on Lower Abbey Street had been founded in Dublin in 1823 to showcase the arts and which helped to promote the work of men like Frederic William Burton, by then Director of the National Gallery in London whose watercolour The Meeting on the Turret Stairs (1864) is today cherished as Ireland’s most popular painting.

The Imperial party later took a tour of the Phoenix Park, their modest garb ensuring they walked largely unrecognized among the crowds as they examined the Wellington Monument, before getting back into their carriage for the short drive back to the Shelbourne shortly before 6 pm. After dinner the group made their way to Kingsbridge (now Heuston) Station, where with a few minutes to spare the Emperor told Torpey he wished to visit the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham which since 1680 acted as a respite home for retired soldiers still cared for a few surviving veterans of the Napoleonic Wars.

Just as during his tour of Europe in 1871 and the USA in 1876 the Emporor’s tireless itinerary certainly impressed reporters in the various newspapers here, and Irish nationalists would no doubt have read with glee the unfavourable comparison the Cork Examiner made with Albert Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, derisively labeled by detractors “the playboy prince” and the womanising “Dirty Bertie”.

“The Prince of Wales is considered a good traveler, but a potentate who can exhaust the sights of Belfast and Dublin in little less than twenty-four hours and find reasonable time for meals and sleep and visits of courtesy, puts the energy of the Heir Apparent completely in the shade.”

The following day the visitors set off for Killarney in Co Kerry where they took a carriage tour through the scenic Gap of Dunloe to the landing at Lord Brandon’s cottage, where according to local legend the peer imprisoned his young wife in a nearby tower after hearing that she’d had an affair with Lord Melbourne, the future Prime Minister, and a barge trip across the spectacular lakes before heading on to Cork.

The imperial party spent less than three hours in the southern capital, much to the surprise of the Irish Times which carried a report on Friday, July 13th. “The Emperor visited only four places the Queen’s College, where he polished off the entire batch of professors, building, and all in twenty minutes; the Lunatic Asylum, ‘which he may have been led to regard as a peculiarly national institution’ and the Butter Exchange, which he contemptuously ‘scampered through, making himself master in a few minutes'” adding that “finally his Majesty condescended to drive round the pedestal of the Mathew statue”, honouring temperance campaigner Fr Theobald Matthew. The Irish Times went on to predict that the Emperor would later record “a note of Cork as a city which deals in butter, is averse to education, and greatly afflicted with lunacy, and on the whole the epitome will not be so far wrong.”

The Cork Examiner reporter certainly felt let down.

“The Emperor of Brazil travels like a man who had matched himself to see a thousand cities in a thousand consecutive hours. He is reported to be a monstrously clever person for an Emperor, and to have a wonderful knack of picking up information in a hurry,” the paper conceded while doubting “if he can derive much advantage from the bird’s eye view he has taken of Ireland.” Of course the reality was rather different and as the train departed for the return journey to Dublin Dom Pedro was still determined to squeeze even more out of his time here.

The Emporer’s retinue returned to the Shelbourne by 10 pm but rather than settle down Dom Pedro, who seldom went to bed before 2 am set off with the trusted Couto Ferraz on the short walk to former Museum of Irish Industry, the Royal College of Science for Ireland (RCScI) at 51, St Stephen’s Green.

Though forgotten by many Dubliners 60 or so men and women passed through it’s neo-Classical Ionic entrance daily at the time of Dom Pedro’s Irish tour, studying everything from physics, applied chemistry, geology, applied mathematics, botany, zoology, and agriculture, to engineering, mining and metallurgy – subjects which fascinated both men. Having waited all evening for the distinguished guests the professors had assumed the visit was postponed, and gone home but unperturbed the Brazilians spent the next 90 minutes on a thorough inspection of the facility with the college’s Mr Martin, signing the visitors’ book and returning to the hotel after 12.30 am to get a few hours sleep and prepare for their departure.

The next morning the Imperial party took the train to Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) where they stayed in the Royal Saloon compartment on the RMS Leinster on the trip to Holyhead, continuing by train to London en route to the continent where their tour continued. Though overlooked by all the Irish newspapers it’s interesting to note that Dom Pedro had probably been well advised on Ireland over a 110-day trip in the preceding months in the company of one of the most famous Irishmen in the USA.

In 1871 Dom Pedro had embarked on a long tour of Spain, Britain, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Egypt, Greece, Switzerland, and France, and in February 1876 the New York Herald newspaper dispatched O’Kelly to the spectacular Imperial Palace at Sao Cristovao, Rio de Janeiro to interview the Emperor ahead of his voyage to the USA, the first foreign monarch (with the exception of King Kalukau of Hawaii) to visit the vast republic, where he helped President Grant open the much-anticipated 1876 Philadelphia Exhibition.

The Herald’s charismatic owner and editor Gordon Bennett, whose name inspired the popular exclamation still heard today, ensured O’Kelly was the only newspaperman to travel with the Emporer on the steamer Helvius for the three-week voyage to New York, and then accompany him for three months across the USA, during which his reports were carried in 47 newspapers nationwide whose readers just couldn’t get enough of their distinguished, yet modest visitor.

The favourable impression of him among the 45 million population was largely down to the Dubliner’s stories of a man he dubbed “the Yankee Emperor” colourfully detailing his visits to everything from schools, libraries and factories to lunatic asylums, hospitals, and museums in a dress rehearsal for his visit to Ireland.

“I want … to visit the chief centres of industry and learn something that may be of use when I return to my country,” Dom Pedro told America, words he echoed to the Irish press.

A former French Foreign Legionnaire whose father had run a blacksmith’s forge just off Townsend Street close to TCD, James J. O’Kelly would soon report on the aftermath of the Battle of the Little Big Horn and eventually return to his homeland to serve as a Home Rule MP and loyal supporter of Charles Stuart Parnell.

In an era before Olympics and World Cups in which Brazil would dominate, international exhibitions like the event Dom Pedro opened were not only an important part of trade and diplomacy, but patriotic pride.

Four years earlier Weltausstellung 1873, the Vienna World’s Fair commemorated the 25th anniversary of Dom Pedro’s first cousin Franz Joseph I as Austro-Hungarian Emperor under the motto “Culture and Education” at a setup cost of an incredible €4.5 billion in today’s money. The US government had invested heavily in its participation but the Empire of Brazil, which used the fair to highlight the construction of railway lines, the introduction of steam-driven machinery in agriculture and the construction of telegraph poles won the plaudits and widespread praise, the New York Times admitting Dom Perdro’s country surpassed the USA’s expensive efforts Despite the success of his visits abroad Dom Pedro faced many challenges over the following years, the greatest of which was the abolition of slavery, a social construct which was in jarring contrast with his determination to present the empire as a modern, progressive and enlightened constitutional monarchy.

While some today question the slow rate of change Pedro II was acutely aware of the immorality of slavery and the disdain on which it was looked up internationally. Upon taking control from the regents at the age of 15 he freed all the slaves on his family’s plantation.

Coffee, sugar, and to a lesser extent cotton had been the mainstays of Brazil’s economy, and coffee-producing oligarchs, who had used slaves for decades, were a hugely powerful interest group in a country which by the 1870’s supplied over 40 percent of the world market for the beverage and in 1874 a British company laid a submarine telegraph cable from Portugal to Brazil which greatly benefited growers in the country.

In 1871 the Emperor had signed the Lei do Ventre Livre (Free Womb Law) creating two scenarios for granting freedom for children born into slavery, compensating the owners, and weakening any legitimacy that slavery had in Brazilian society. In 1888 he finally achieved his ambition with the Lei Áurea (Golden Law), which officially abolished slavery in Brazil, with the New York Times report on May 16th quoting Roderigo Silva, Minister of Foreign Affairs who said “this action met with extraordinary manifestations of joy”.

It remains the most important of his reign according to many modern historians, but was an act that also cost him his throne.

Under his reign Brazil emerged from a remote backwater to a major player on the world stage, and though illiteracy was high it’s population of about 12 million people embraced everything from electricity to railways, postal stamps, telegraphy, steamships and cartridge pistols. Despite this on November 15th, 1889 the military which he led in the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay from 1864 to 1870, staged the Golpe da República (Coup of the Republic).

The revolt had no real popular support among the majority of Brazilians, who loved and admired Dom Pedro, but the Emporer made no attempt to resist and accepted his fate.

Years earlier he had written: “What sort of fear could I have? That they take the government from me? Many better kings than I have lost it, and to me it is no more than the weight of a cross which it is my duty to carry.”

Both Dom Pedro’s sons tragically died in infancy casting doubt on the future of the Bragantine Dynasty, and his daughter Princess Isabel, whom he never viewed as a future leader, had married the foreign Count d’Eu, who was hard of hearing and spoke with a strong French accent.

They had failed to produce a male heir meaning she had become Dom Pedro’s certain successor, a changeover which was unlikely to win favour in a conservative, and by today’s standards, misogynistic society. Crucially the coup was also actively supported by the landowning elite who believed they had not been properly compensated for the loss of their slaves following abolition. “If it is so, it will be my retirement. I have worked too hard and I am tired. I will go rest then,” Dom Pedro stated on hearing the news. The family was immediately exiled to Europe and in relative poverty, the new republican government organised 13 auctions of the former property of the Imperial House of Braganza.

Empress Teresa Cristina, who was in poor health passed away within a month of exile, and Pedro II lived for another two years in France, his days spent writing his diaries and dreaming of being allowed to return to die in his beloved Brazil.

Following a bout of pneumonia, his health rapidly declined and Brazil’s last Emperor died on December 5th, 1891 a few days past his 66th birthday, surrounded by his family.

Despite his daughter’s plans for a quiet private burial ceremony she agreed to the French government’s request for a state funeral attended by royals from across Europe, and members of the French Senate and Chamber of Deputies.

Representatives of goverments from the Americas, Europe, the Ottoman Empire, Persia, China, and Japan also attended the huge event, while 300,000 people lined the route of his funeral procession to the local railway station before its trip back to Portugal despite the rain and cold. Back in Brazil despite the government’s efforts to suppress public outpourings of sorrow people closed businesses, displayed flags at half-mast, wore black armbands, and attended masses throughout the country in memory of the beloved O Magnânimo. In 1921 as part of the centenary celebrations to mark Brazil’s independence the remains of Pedro and his wife were returned to their home country, and Pedro was granted the dignity befitting a head of state.

It sparked an outbreak of both sadness and joy as thousands attended the main ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, where elderly people wept, and both monarchists and republicans burst into rounds of applause, united in their admiration for a man who had given his all for their beloved country. December 2025 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Dom Pedro II, a boy who became an Emperor at just 6 years old, and later father of a nation that today seems destined to soon join the ranks of the world’s superpowers, a 220 million strong nation proud of it’s size, resources, and macroeconomic management which make it a major player on the world stage as surely as it has long been on the football field. Dom Perdo, whose last words were “Deus que me conceda esses últimos desejos – Paz e Prosperidade para o Brasil” (may God grant me these last wishes – Peace and Prosperity for Brazil”) would surely approve.



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