Sligo Town may seem an unlikely place to commemorate the leader of a South American country, but here in the Stephen Street car park, (co-ordinates 54.27180 -8.47305), we find a monument to Bernardo O’Higgins who became the first leader of Chile after that country gained independence from Spain in 1817.

Bernado O’Higgins was born in Cillan, Chile, on 20th August 1778, the illegitimate son of Ambrosio O’Higgins, a Spanish officer originally from Ballinary, a small village between Ballinafad and Riverstown in County Sligo.

His father emigrated from Ireland to Spain where he enrolled in the Spanish Imperial Service, finally becoming Viceroy of Peru (New Extremadura Province, comprising present-day Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Northwest Argentina and parts of Western Brazil) between 1796 and 1801.

Bernardo O’Higgins spent his early years with his mother Isabel Riquelme (a prominent lady of Cillân) and her family in south Chile, though he only ever had a distant relationship with his father, who supported him financially and was concerned with his education but never knew him.

In 1810 Bernardo O’Higgins joined the Nationalist Rebels who desired Independence from Spain. In 1814, his Chilean rebels were defeated by the Spanish and were forced to retreat into The Andes. In 1817, O’Higgins went back on the offensive with the aid of the Argentine General, Josê de San Martîn. On February 12, 1817 he led a cavalry charge that won the Battle of Chacabuco.

He became the first leader of independent Chile in 1817 and was granted dictatorial powers as Supreme Director on February 16, 1817. On February 12, 1818, Chile was proclaimed an Independent Republic.

During O’Higgins 6-year rule, he saw the founding of the Military Academy and the approval of the new (and current) Chilean flag. However, his more radical and liberal reforms (such as the establishment of democracy and the abolishment of nobility titles) were resisted by the powerful conservative large landowners of the time.

After being deposed by a conservative coup on January 28, 1823, Bernardo O’Higgins spent the rest of his life in exile, and died in Lima, Peru in 1842.

After his death, his remains have been moved numerous times, he was repatriated to Chile in 1869, moved in 1979 from the Military School to a place of honor in the Altar de la Patria’s mausoleum in front of the Palacio de La Moneda government palace, and then back again temporarily to the Military School in 2004 for a year, during the transformation of the Altar de la Patria into the new Plaza de la Ciudadanîa (Citizens’ Square).

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