John Clarke ( - ):
John Clarke was the founder of what became a family line which originated in seventeenth-century Ireland and which still flourishes in 21st century Bordeaux, in south-west France, giving their name to a distinguished vineyard, so sharing it with perhaps the most distinguished wine-making family in the world.
Not much is known definitively about his earliest life, but John Clarke was one of three sons of James Clarke of Dromantine, famous for its Abbey, near Newry, County Armagh, and Anne O'Sheill. James was described as a Freeman of the City of Dublin and a municipal councillor under James II. In fact, the Clarke line can be traced back to a will, dated 13 May, 1672 of Thomas Clarke of Drementian (sic) in which he bequeaths to his wife the townlands named as Lisadeane and Dromhirre in County Armagh, and a third of his land in Drementian. In later documents it is spelled Dromantine. Thomas’s son was James.
Like many Jacobites, in the aftermath of James II’s defeat in 1690 (still commemorated today throughout Ulster and across the world) he and Anne sent their sons to France, initially to Nantes, where Anne’s brother, a gun merchant, had settled. The three sons appear to have been the first Irish Clarkes to arrive in France; part of a very large Irish contingent. Thoby Clarke, aged 21 would stay in Nantes; James, aged 14, eventually went to Martinique. The youngest, 12-year-old John, went to Bordeaux, like many of the Irish, who came to be known as the “Wild Geese”. The letter which had been presented to the French authorities in Bordeaux, requesting French nationality for Jean Clarke described him as “refugié en France à cause de la Religion”, and states that his father, James was a cavalry captain who, having been imprisoned, and having lost all his property and good standing, died of grief , “et sa mère aussi.”
His son, Tobie (both this and Thoby are derivatives of Tobias) bought a wine estate in Listrac in the Medoc in 1771, but died the same year. His grandson, Luc Tobie Clarke, a Bordeaux magistrate, built a house on the estate in 1818 and called it Château Clarke. The estate had gown out of a wine-producing venture by some Cistercian monks from the Abbey of Vertheuil in the 12th century. It remained in the family well into the 20th century.
In the early 1970s, Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who already held a stake in Château Lafite-Rothschild, and who was a direct descendant of Baron James who had originally acquired Lafite for the Rothschild family, decided he wanted to purchase another estate in the Médoc. His eye fell on Château Clarke, some 30 kilometres north of Bordaux, with its rich history; the Château was widely admired for the quality of its red wines, but also for its white wines, which is rare in the region. Production of the “Merle Blanc de Château Clarke” had begun in the 1890s. Eager to restore the estate's legacy and wines, Edmond de Rothschild purchased Château Clarke in 1973. Significantly he retained the Clarke name, such was its resonance.
Edmond chose to redesign the vineyard: the existing vines were completely uprooted and replanted. This time-consuming effort, which further delayed wine production, was a big risk. The process began in 1974 and was not completed until 1979. The acquisition of the estate was accompanied by a bold show of independence: the Baron decided to market Château Clarke wines outside the Bordeaux wine selling system. In 1998, Benjamin de Rothschild and his wife Ariane took the reins of Château Clarke from his father, who died in 1997 and according to his instruction is buried at Clarke. Benjamin and Ariane launched a new series of investments which included renovating the fermentation room and calling on the expertise of oenologist Michel Rolland. When hosting events for staff, clients and client prospects, Benjamin orders wines from Clarke be served.
Thus the strong link between the celebrated Ulster émigré line and perhaps the most celebrated winemaking dynasty.
The Millennium Stained-Glass Window at Dromantine shows in its third row a vine which represents the Clarke family.
Patrick Clarke de Dromantin, a resident of Bordeaux and eighth-generation Irish Clarke, continued after retirement from the aeronautical industry, researching and writing the history of the Clarke family in France and their place in the wider historical context of the Irish in Europe, publishing two books on the subject. His name proudly proclaims his living heritage directly back to the Clarkes of Dromantine.
Róisín McAuley, “An Irishwoman’s Diary” (The Irish Times, 2.1.2009); Renagh Holohan: The Irish Chateaux: In Search of the Descendants of the Wild Geese (Dublin, Lilliput Press); www.lcf-rothschild.lu; www.rothschildarchive.org; Patrick Clarke de Dromantin: Les Oies Sauvages: Mémoires du'une famille irlandaise réfugiée en France (1691-1914) and Les réfugiés jacobites dans la France du XVIIIe siècle (both Bordeaux University Press); personal knowledge
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