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Chambers at Large In Lima, Peru and Santiago, Chile (On the trail of Ambrosio and Bernardo O’Higgins)

Updated: Mar 21

The names Ambrosio and Bernardo O’Higgins may mean little to the people of Ireland, but in Chile and Peru these men, father and son, are famous.  Ambrosio O’Higgins left Ireland in the mid 1700s and served under the Spanish, becoming Viceroy of Peru.  His son, who he barely acknowledged, was an independence leader who freed Chile from the Spanish.

Thirty years ago my uncle, who lived on the townland of Ballinary, County Sligo, funded a monument to Ambrosio O’Higgins who was born there in 1720.   This monuments still stands today on  landscaped grounds overlooking the beautiful lake of Lough Arrow and I’m sorry that my uncle did not get to South America to learn more about the man he honoured.

Whilst in Lima, Peru’s capital city, I discovered Ambrosio’s house, a pastel green building on the main shopping thoroughfare. He was interred in the church of St Peter’s and a plaque in his memory of his is on the wall.

I was lucky to capture a picture of the plaque as a wedding ceremony was just concluding when I arrived.  I snuck into the church whilst the bride and groom were having photos taken on the steps outside and the musicians were packing up their instruments near the altar.  The church was closed when everyone was ushered out of the building.

Bernardo O’Higgins is more celebrated in the capital of Chile, Santiago.  A main street is named after him and a statue in his honour is situated at the back of the royal palace.  O’Higgins is on horseback, sword in hand and the inscription reads:

Don’t pay heed to me, but to my sword;

that will decide the success of my homeland.

Both capital cities were interesting to explore.  In Lima the churches and colonial buildings are spectacular and another famous man is buried in the cathedral the explorer Francisco Pizzaro González.

But what was most astonishing are the catacombs under the San Francisco de Asís Convent, where thousands of bones are interred in square, red brick chambers.  I pondered as to whether I would like my bones gawked at by thousands of tourists and I suggest visiting the website of the Convent if you want to learn more as photography is not allowed and I only have my memories of this historic place, no pictorial evidence.

On a more upbeat note, I was fortunate to see the changing of the guard outside the palace in Santiago, an event that takes place every 48 hours.  A brass band played recognisable tunes, including the theme of Indiana Jones movies and I was a little disappointed not to see Harrison Ford running through the crowd, brandishing his whip.

A cable car takes visitors to the top of Saint Cristobal Hill where I had the most delicious ice cream, but I was also treated to wonderful views of the city (albeit it was a little hazy).  At the very top is a 22 meter statue of the Virgin Mary, just below which is an amphitheatre and a small chapel where religious ceremonies are held.

A big thank you to Bella who showed me and my fellow travellers around Lima, and Francisco who showed us around Santiago.  I am particularly grateful to them for allowing me to explore the history of Ambrosio O’Higgins who had been brought up in the same townland as my paternal forefathers and his son, Bernardo.  Maybe one day they will become more widely known in Ireland.


Please take a look at my other blogs of my Grand Tour of South America, which was just amazing.  A big thanks to Mercury Holidays for arranging it all.



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