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The Ancient Greek Battle of Thermopylae Honored in Ireland

Leonidas at Thermopylae
Leonidas at Thermopylae. Jacques-Louis David / Wikimedia Commons

One does not normally equate Ancient Greece with Ireland, but there is a small Moravian Church with a small garden in an even smaller village named Kilwarlin, where the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE has been honored.

Basil Patras Zula, a Greek army officer who fled during the War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire, built his tribute to the Spartan Leonidas in the 1840s after arriving there in the late 1820s.

The Kilwarlin Moravian Church that Zula built in 1835 still stands today on the site of the original church, a tribute both to its founder and the Greek chieftain who gave it new life.


Kilwarlin Church Ireland
Kilwarlin church, Ireland. Photo Credit: Brian Shaw. CC-BY-SA-2.0/ Wikimedia Commons

Zula’s departure from his homeland is believed to be wrapped up in mystery, however. One theory is that the Ottoman Vizier Ali Pasha exiled him and put a price on his head. Another claim is that he simply grew weary of his compatriots and attacks by Turkish soldiers. Whatever the reason, Zula ended up in Kilwarlin married to a member of the Moravian Church and became well-known himself.

Basil Patras Zula and Leonidas

Basil Patras Zula, or Vasili Zoulas, as he is also known, was born in Greece in 1796 to one of the most powerful clans in Patras. Evidently, they wielded a great deal of political influence and were active in their objection to Turkish rule and the Greek War of Independence. Although he left to seek refuge in Ireland, Zula did not forget his country.

After training, he became a minister in the Moravian Church, converting from his native Greek Orthodox faith. He was introduced to the church by his wife, Ann Linfoot. There, he welcomed twenty-six new parishioners, bringing the church back to life.

Zula served from 1834 to 1844. During that time, the Greek minister launched the project—for which he would long be remembered—before his unexpected death. He passed away while on a business trip to Dublin and was subsequently buried at Kilwarlin.

This is Sparta: The Thermopylae Gardens at Kilwarlin Moravian Church

Battle of Thermopylae at Kilwariln grounds
Battle of Thermopylae at Kilwariln grounds

Members of the Classical Association in Northern Ireland have written about its ornamental gardens created to immortalize the Battle of Thermopylae. Zula built this on an area rising a meter above the rest of the churchyard grounds. Later excavations also revealed flowerbeds, ornamental ponds, and a summerhouse.

It is at the southern end that Zula attempted to recreate the hollowed territory of the battle. Large-scale earthworks form the hills, gorges, and mounds of the infamous pass where Leonidas lost the battle.

According to the obituaries of both Zula and his wife, the gardens were constructed between 1839 to 1840. Historical maps also conclude that the topography matches the battleground as it would have appeared in the 5th century B.C..

Molon Labe: The Battle of Thermopylae

The Spartans have been called veritable war machines, and the Battle of Thermopylae is legendary, as it was their last stand against Xerxes after he demanded they declare their allegiance to Persia. It was at that moment that Leonidas uttered the famous words “Molon Labe”.

With three hundred of his bravest warriors, the Spartan king held back the Persian army for three days at the narrow passage of Thermopylae. Then, Ephialtes, a Greek overcome by greed, betrayed him. After the Spartans lost battle, Xerxes’ army slew Leonidas’ soldiers, allegedly dismembered Leonidas’ body and tossed it into the sea. The only survivors were those branded cowards as a result of not joining the battle that day.

In 2006, Warner Bros also paid tribute to the epic battle of Thermopylae in their action film 300. It was based on the comics by Frank Miller and Lynn Valley, who sought to immortalize the legendary Greek heroes. The film received a standing ovation at its world premier in Berlin. Many criticized it, however, for its unfavorable portrayal of the Persians, but Ancient Sparta continues to be admired by many to this day.

In 2019, the Hellenic Community of Ireland held a day event called “Discovering the Secrets of Zula’s Hollow” for its members to commemorate the fallen Leonidas as well as Basil Patras Zula.

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