O'Moran, James (1739–94), general in the French army, was born 1 May 1739 at Elphin, Co. Roscommon, son of a shoemaker. Educated abroad, at the Irish college at Tournai, where his uncle was rector, he joined the French army on 15 November 1752 at the age of 13. A cadet in Dillon's Regiment of the Irish brigade, he was promoted to second lieutenant in 1759. He fought with distinction during the Seven Years War, and received a commendation in 1761 for bravery commanding the regiment's cannon in the defence of Marburg against the besieging Prussian army. With the end of hostilities O'Moran began to rise steadily in the ranks, despite the absence of family influence, and he became adjutant in 1769, captain (1771), and a knight of St Louis (1778). French support for the colonists in the American war of independence led to a lengthy period of service abroad, and he commanded a column of his regiment in the capture of Grenada from the British in 1779. In a subsequent naval battle he fought with distinction on Le Dauphin Royal, when thirty of his eighty musketeers were killed in the bloody fighting. Attempts to capture the city of Savannah were repeatedly repulsed by the British and O'Moran's leg was fractured by artillery. Invalided back to France, he received the rank of colonel on 24 June 1780 but insisted on returning to the conflict the following year. He served in the French navy in the West Indies till the surrender of the British secured American independence; for his bravery he was awarded the order of Cincinnatus by the US, and a pension by the French government.
Promoted to lieutenant-colonel of Dillon's Regiment in 1785, he became colonel-commander of the 88th Regiment on 25 June 1791. The French revolution created divisions in the upper levels of the army, and many officers were unhappy with the treatment of the king. Initially, O'Moran's loyalty was not in doubt and in August 1791 he was given command of Dillon's Regiment, which had been incorporated into the main army as the 87th Regiment of the Line. With the outbreak of war between Austria and France in 1792 O'Moran was appointed governor of the fortress-town of Condé, where he fought in the first skirmish of the revolutionary war. Defending Condé with great skill and much ability, he repulsed numerous Austrian attacks, and through well-timed counter-attacks secured that flank from invasion. Part of Gen. Dumouriez's scheme for the invasion of the Austrian Netherlands was entrusted to O'Moran, and he was appointed lieutenant-general of the army of the north.
After the defection of Dumouriez to the Austrians in April 1793, rumours were rife of the influence of ‘Pitt's gold’ on the French army. The loyalty of a number of officers was questioned and O'Moran found himself under suspicion. In charge of the defence of Flanders since March 1793, he was criticised for his delays in attacking Furnes and Ostend, although he insisted that tactical, and not treasonable, motives were responsible for his caution. The discovery of British secret-service documents appeared to implicate O'Moran in a conspiracy against the state and he was arrested in the summer of 1793. Tried by the revolutionary tribunal at Paris on 6 March 1794, he defended himself in court but was found guilty. Sentenced to death, he was executed at the guillotine later the same day. O'Moran had been a witness at the wedding of Lord Edward FitzGerald (qv), and on the night before his trial he wrote a memoir in which he indicated his dream of returning to liberate Ireland.
He married (1785) Eleanor King, a native of Scotland who had settled at Douai. They had one son and one daughter. The elder child, William Auguste O'Moran (1788–1816), served in the Irish Legion but spent his final years in hospital following a mental illness. The Arc de Triomphe was later erected on the place where O'Moran was guillotined; on one side was inscribed a list of France's greatest soldiers, including the name of Gen. Jacques O'Moran in gold lettering.