Bangor Historical Society held its February 2024 meeting on Thursday 8th. Ron Bishop was the guest speaker and his subject was Richard Kane, a soldier who came from south Antrim.

Mr Bishop began by explaining the European background. In the late 1600s and early 1700s Louis XVI of France was the most influential and powerful ruler in Europe, He was known as the ‘Sun King’.

Richard Kane was born as Richard O’Cahan at Duneane, near Randalstown in 1662. He was descended from an old Gaelic Catholic family. His mother was Margaret Dobbin of English Presbyterian descent. His father Thomas, a landowner in the Carrickfergus area, died when Richard was three. His mother brought him up as a Presbyterian. It is thought he worked for Carrickfergus Corporation as his father had done. At 24 he was elected sheriff.

Meanwhile events in England and Ireland were to have an impact on his future. Charles II died in 1685 and was succeeded by his Catholic brother James II. It was feared James would return the country to the allegiance of Rome. This led to the Glorious Revolution when James fled and was replaced on the throne by his daughter Mary II and her husband William III who became joint monarchs. James attempted to regain the throne by invading Ireland.

Richard Kane then joined a volunteer regiment and became an ensign in the Antrim Volunteers. He was present in Londonderry during the siege when he played a central role. He then transferred to the 18th Regiment of Foot. It was soon clear that he was a talented soldier. He was present at the Battles of the Boyne and Aughrim.

William III soon returned to Flanders to oppose the expansion of France under Louis XVI. Richard went with him. The Grand Alliance besieged the French at Namur. The 18th Regiment of Foot broke through the French defences, but Richard was badly injured. William was so pleased with their role that he called them the Royal Regiment of Ireland. Richard continued to serve in the War of the Spanish Succession against Louis. He was wounded at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. He had a cousin fighting for the French as one of the ‘Wild Geese’. This cousin was killed at the Battle of Ramillies in 1706 and Richard is supposed to have recovered his body by going through enemy lines in the dark.

In 1709 he was promoted to command the Royal Regiment of Ireland. He continued to be involved in the war against France which finally ended in 1715. He even wrote a manual on tactics, having collected information about the various battles.

The next stage of his career involved the island of Menorca[or Minorca]. The British had captured it in 1708. It was in a strategic position for British Mediterranean trade. Threats to this trade came from pirates or corsairs in North Africa as well as the French navy based in Toulon. Menorca had a good deep water port at Mahon. In 1712 Queen Anne appointed Richard Kane as Lieutenant Governor of the island. He crossed France to reach it, bearing a letter from Queen Anne. He stopped at Versailles. Here he was given a copy of an atlas containing 28 maps of the known world, which had been commissioned by King Louis.

Richard proved to be a very good administrator. He treated the local people well. The population was Roman Catholic and their church was part of the church of Spain, Britain’s enemy. He moved the capital to Mahon and made it a free port. The legal system was reformed as well as the coinage. He modernised agriculture and improved gin production. He also modernised the island’s infrastructure by building reservoirs and roads. He used money from his own lands as well as local taxes to further his policy of “determined benevolence”.

When he died in 1736 at the age of 74 he was still on the island, having been promoted to governor and brigadier general.

He was buried on the island, but his memorial and tomb were destroyed by the Spanish when they invaded in 1782. There is also a memorial to him in Westminster Abbey. He is still commemorated on the island for his work there. In Carrickfergus there is a Minorca Drive, although a more recent memorial on the ground in the form of a 20 pointed star, has disappeared during redevelopment. He is, however, one of a number of well-known local people now commemorated in a time-line. The atlas he received from Louis XIV, came up for auction and the local council bought it and put it on display.