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CHAPTER XXIX.: The Rebellion. - William Edward Hartpole Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. VIII 
A History of England in the Eighteenth Century (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1878, 1917). 8 Vols. Vol. VIII.
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The United Irish Society had, as we have seen, passed through several distinct phases since its foundation at Belfast in October 1791. It was originally a perfectly legal society consisting of men who pledged themselves ‘in the presence of God’ to use all their influence to obtain ‘an impartial and adequate representation of the Irish nation in Parliament,’ and, as a means to this end, to endeavour to secure the co-operation of Irishmen, of all religious persuasions; and although some of its leaders undoubtedly aimed from the first at separation, the real objects of many, and the ostensible objects of all, were merely Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform. After the suppression of the society in 1794 it had been reconstructed on a new basis, and became distinctly treasonable. An oath was substituted for the original test, and it comprised an obligation to secrecy and fidelity. The mention of Parliament in the declaration of aims was suppressed; a very elaborate organisation was created consisting of a hierarchy of committees, each committee except the lowest being formed by election from the subordinate sections; and the whole was directed by a General Executive Directory of five members, elected by ballot from the Provincial Directories, and sitting in Dublin. In 1795 the society appears to have been almost confined to Ulster and to Dublin. In 1796 it spread more widely through Leinster. In 1797 it extended over the greater part of that province, had become very powerful in Munster, and had gained some slight footing in Connaught. At the close of 1796 and in the beginning of 1797 a military organisation was grafted on it, and it became a main object to create, arm, and discipline regiments for a rebellion.
The organisation on paper appeared very perfect, but its real was very different from its apparent strength, and it was enormously weakened by want of subordination, earnestness, discipline, arms, and military skill. The executive and higher committees had not, in fact, the absolute power assigned to them in the constitution of the body, and it is probable that each committee acted with great independence. Of the multitude who had joined the society, only a few were genuine political fanatics. Many had taken the oath, coerced by the intimidation, or persuaded by the example of their neighbours; many others had done so through the belief that the United Irish body were likely to govern Ireland, through hopes that they would gain something in a confiscation of land, or through simple fear of the Orangemen, against whom the great rival organisation was supposed to be the chief protection. Such men were hardly likely to make serious sacrifices for political ends. But still the fact remains that the bulk of the peasantry in three provinces in Ireland, were in the beginning of 1798 enlisted in a conspiracy which was daily extending, and were looking forward to an immediate rebellion in conjunction with a French invasion. The manufacture, plunder, and concealment of arms, the constant attempts to seduce the soldiers and yeomen, the nightly drills, the great organised assemblies under the pretext of potato diggings, the frequent murder of magistrates, soldiers, and informers, abundantly showed the seriousness of the situation.
In February 1798—before the declaration of martial law, before the establishment of free quarters—the executive body computed that half a million of persons had been sworn into the society, and that more than 280,000 of them could be counted on to appear in the field. In a paper drawn up by Lord Edward Fitzgerald shortly before his arrest, it was calculated that the number of armed men enlisted was 279,896. Of these men, 110,990 were in Ulster, 100,634 in Munster, and 68,272 in Leinster. From Connaught no returns appear to have come in.1
A few words may be said about the members of the Supreme Executive. At the beginning of 1798 they appear to have been Thomas Addis Emmet, Arthur O'Connor, William James McNevin, Oliver Bond, and Richard McCormick. The last had been formerly Secretary of the Catholic Committee, and with McNevin he represented the Catholic element in the Directory. He was a warm friend of Tone, and he both knew and sanctioned Tone's first application for French assistance. He belonged, however, to the section of the Directory who were opposed to a rebellion before the arrival of the French, and he appears to have been much alarmed by the crimes and violence into which the movement had degenerated. In February 1798 he told Reynolds that he had ventured, at a provincial meeting in that month, to recommend less violent measures, and that he had been attacked in such a manner that he believed his life to be in danger, and had resolved to realise his property and escape from Ireland.2 He fulfilled his intention, fled from Ireland in March, and did not return till long after the rebellion.3 McNevin, as we have seen, had gone on a mission to France, but he had returned in October 1797, and had reported to the Irish Directory that they might fully rely on French succour,4 and, like McCormick, he desired that all rebellion should be prevented till that succour arrived. Oliver Bond was a rich woollen draper, the son of a Dissenting minister in Donegal. He had been imprisoned for his political conduct as early as 1793, and had borne a prominent part in the conspiracy from its commencement. He asserted on his examination by the Committee of the House of Lords, that though he had been elected to the supreme executive body, he had ‘declined to act officially,’ but he was in the closest confidence of the leaders of the movement, and he is said to have filled the important post of treasurer.5
Emmet and Arthur O'Connor were perhaps abler, they were certainly more conspicuous men than their colleagues, and the first is one of the very few really interesting figures connected with the rebellion. He was a respectable lawyer, an excellent writer, a very honest and disinterested man, and he had certainly not embarked in treason either through motives of selfish ambition or through any mere love of adventure and excitement. He became a United Irishman in order to obtain a radical parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation; he found that these things were never likely to be attained except by force, and he at last succeeded in persuading himself that if Ireland were only detached from England she would soar to an unprecedented height of prosperity.1 Nature had intended him much more for the life of a man of letters than for the scenes in which he was now engaged, and his type is one which is often found in the earlier stages of a rebellion, but is usually discarded, or eclipsed in blood, long before the struggle has run its course. His writings and his examination before the Privy Council are singularly interesting and instructive as showing the process by which a humane, honourable, and scrupulous man could become the supporter of a movement which was the parent of so many crimes. Grattan knew Emmet slightly and admitted his integrity, but he had a profound contempt for his political understanding. He described him, somewhat unceremoniously, as a quack in politics who despised experience, set up his own crude notions as settled rules, and looked upon elections and representation as if they were operations of nature rather than the work of art. Anyone, Grattan maintained, who could bring himself to believe that a country like Ireland, in which the people were so destitute that one-third of them were exempted from the payment of hearth money on account of their poverty, could be safely or tolerably governed with annual parhaments elected by universal suffrage, must be politically mad, and had forfeited all right to be considered in Irish politics. Emmet afterwards rose to considerable distinction in America and became Attorney-General of New York. Grattan—perhaps unjustly—thought his success much beyond his talents, and such as he would never have attained if he had remained at home.2
Arthur O'Connor was of a very different type. He was a man of wealth and high social position; a nephew of Lord Longueville; a member of a family remarkable for its violence, its eccentricities, and its domestic quarrels. He had some parliamentary standing, some shining talents, boundless courage and enterprise, and he risked and sacrificed for his opinions more than most of his colleagues. He was, however, rash, obstinate and arrogant, very incapable of waiving his personal pretensions for a public end, and very destitute of most of the higher qualities of a Teal leader of men. In one of his latest writings he mentions that early in life he had been deeply impressed by reading in Leland's ‘History of Ireland’ a description of the Irish policy advocated by some of the counsellors of Elizabeth. ‘Should we exert ourselves,’ they had said, ‘in reducing this country to order and civility, it must acquire power, consequence, and riches. The inhabitants will be thus alienated from England; they will cast themselves into the arms of some foreign power, or perhaps erect themselves into an independent and separate state. Let us rather connive at their disorder; for a weak and disordered people never can attempt to detach themselves from the crown of England.’ 1 This passage, O'Connor said, appeared to him to furnish the key-note explaining the English policy of his own day, and he declared that it was this conviction that chiefly shaped the political conduct of his life.2 He lived to extreme old age; he became a general in the French service, and has left some writings which throw much curious light on his character and on his times. Like several of the early advocates of Catholic emancipation, he was utterly without sympathy for the Catholic creed. Few men, indeed, can have had a greater contempt for priests and for what they teach, and in his last work he expressed his unmingled detestation of O'Connell, and of the movement which had placed the guidance of popular politics in Ireland under the direction of an ignorant and low-born priesthood. In spite of his admiration for the French Revolution. he was in his tastes and temper essentially aristocratic, though he believed that the Irish gentry by appealing to the Irish people could break the ascendency which English influence had hitherto exercised on the counsels of the nation, and put an end to the religious and class divisions by which that ascendency had been chiefly maintained.
Several other men were at this time active in guiding the conspiracy, most of them being in the Provincial Directory of Leinster. The most important was Lord Edward Fitzgerald, who was chiefly entrusted with the military organisation and who was intended to be commander-in-chief, though it is doubtful whether he was ever formally elected to the Supreme Executive. The co-operation of a member of the first family of the Protestant aristocracy was of no small advantage to the conspiracy in a country where the genuine popular feeling, amid all its aberrations, has always shown itself curiously aristocratic, and where the first instinct of the people when embarking in democratic and revolutionary movements has usually been to find some one of good family and position to place at their head. Lord Edward's very transparent character has been already described. No one could doubt his courage, his energy, his intense enthusiasm, or his perfect disinterestedness, and, as he had been a captain in the army and had seen active service, he had some military knowledge, but no competent judge appears to have discovered in him any real superiority of intellect.
The question of an immediate rising independently of the French, had been much discussed in Ulster after the proclamation of General Lake in May 1797, and it was again agitated in the first weeks of 1798. Arthur O'Connor, as we have seen, had formerly maintained that a French landing ought to precede any rising in Ireland, but he now believed the organisation to have become sufficiently powerful for independent action, and in conjunction with Fitzgerald he strongly advocated it. The dispute ran very high, and it made O'Connor a bitter enemy of Emmet, whom he accused, very unjustly, of cowardice. The party of Emmet, however, which desired to postpone the explosion till the arrival of the French, again prevailed, but it prevailed only through the belief that a French invasion was imminent. Lewins and McNevin in 1797 had been instructed to ask only for 10,000 French troops, but for a very large quantity of arms.1 It was calculated that such assistance would be amply sufficient to overthrow the English power in Ireland without bringing any danger of a French domination. Promises of support had more than once come from France, and although the battle of Camperdown had thrown a great damp on the hopes of the conspirators, they were revived by new assurances, and especially by a message which was received at the beginning of 1798 promising that French assistance would arrive in Ireland in April, or at the latest in the beginning of May.2 The English Government on their side received secret intelligence in February and March of extensive preparations that were making at Dunkirk, Havre, Honfleur, and Calais.3
The invasion was eagerly looked forward to. A new military committee was appointed at Dublin in February for the express purpose of preparing a plan of co-operation with the French, and instructions were furnished to the adjutant-generals of the conspiracy to collect full information about the state of the United Irish regiments within their districts; about the roads, rivers, and bridges; the capacities of the towns and villages to receive troops, and the strength and movements of the enemy.4 Arthur O'Connor determined to go to France to arrange a combined movement, but he was arrested at Margate on February 28, in company with a priest named O'Coigly or Quigley, an English agitator named Binns, and two other men who appear to have been his servants. McNally, in commenting upon this arrest, significantly observed that it would have very little effect upon the conspiracy, and that McCormick, McNevm, Drennan, and other leading Irishmen considered O'Connor so impetuous that they were not sorry to have him out of the way.5
It has often been asked why the Irish Government, with all the information at its disposal, and at a time when the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended, did not arrest the leading members of the conspiracy before it attained its height. In truth, however, the information they possessed was less full than has been supposed. Most of the schemes of the United Irishmen were communicated to them, and they had a general knowledge of the leading members of the conspiracy, but they appear to have known little about the Supreme Executive, and they were conscious that they could produce no evidence against the leaders which was the least likely to lead to a conviction. From the June of 1797 they had received from an informer at Saintfield, in the county of Down, regular reports of county and provincial meetings of the United Irishmen in Ulster.1 In the same month McNally had informed them that there was a secret directory of about six members at the head of the United Irishmen.2 In September and October he told them that Bond was the treasurer of the conspiracy; that the chief management was now transferred from Belfast to Dublin and confined to a very few; that Keogh, McCormick, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Arthur O'Connor, Sweetman, Dixon, Chambers, Emmet, Bond, and Jackson were in the secret, but that he was convinced that even their part in the conspiracy was only a secondary one.3 Some full and very valuable additional information was soon after sent by Turner from Hamburg.4 But there was never any question of McNally appearing as a witness, and neither Turner nor the Saintfield informer would consent to do so.
From the beginning of 1798, however, it was the urgent desire of the Irish Government to arrest the conspirators. On January 8, Camden wrote acknowledging the information of Turner, and expressing his great regret that the author could not be induced to come forward as a witness, and that the other secret information which had been received from Lord Grenville's office could not be produced.5 A month later he informed Portland that the confidential friends of the Government in Ireland, after deliberating on the information from Hamburg, had unanimously agreed that it was very advisable to arrest at once the leaders of the conspiracy, even though it was probable that no sufficient evidence could be produced to justify a trial. Such an arrest, they contended, would dislocate the conspiracy, and if it produced an insurrection in some parts of the kingdom, ‘this event might not be unpropitious, as it would be more in our power to crush it than if such event happened when the enemy were off the coast.’ Portland, however, answered that such a policy would be very rash and dangerous, and he positively forbade it.1 Camden wrote that no reward ought to be withheld from Turner if he would come forward and give evidence, but it was answered that no earthly consideration would induce him to go to Ireland,2 and he soon after, without informing the Government, returned to the Continent. But the Irish Government now felt so strongly the necessity of speedily breaking the organisation, that they even contemplated the extreme measure of proceeding against the conspirators by an Act of attainder.3
At last, however, they succeeded in obtaining the evidence they required. Their informant was a Catholic gentleman, named Thomas Reynolds. He was a young man of twenty-seven who had been a silk merchant, but had retired from business, and had purchased an estate in the county of Kildare. He was brother-in-law of Wolfe Tone, and a neighbour and distant connection of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. He had early taken a warm interest in the question of Catholic emancipation. He had been chosen as one of the representatives of Dublin in the Catholic Convention in 1792, but had retired from that body with Lord Fingall, and he had joined the United Irishmen in the beginning of 1797. According to his own account, he did so for the sole purpose of assisting the ostensible objects of the association, and was very reluctantly induced by his connection, Lord Edward, to accept a more prominent part. He was made colonel, treasurer of the province, and as such, member of the Executive of Leinster. He then heard that a rebellion was imminent, and it is stated that he learnt that the first step to be taken to insure success was to deprive the Executive Government, if necessary by assassination, of about eighty individuals, that the list was shown him, and that it comprised many of the first persons in Ireland, and among them some of his own relations.1 Very reluctantly, and after great hesitation, he resolved to defeat the plan, and confided to an old loyalist friend that on the 12th of March the whole Provincial Directory of Leinster would meet at the house of Oliver Bond to prepare an insurrection. He added that he neither sought nor would accept honour or reward, but he made, according to his own account, four stipulations; he was himself never to be prosecuted as a United Irishman; he was not to be forced to prosecute any other person as a United Irishman; and the part he had taken in giving the information was to be concealed. As, however, he would probably, in spite of all precautions, be obliged to fly from Ireland in order to escape assassination, and as his property consisted chiefly of houses and lands, on which it was difficult to raise money in those distracted times, he demanded a sum of 500l. to enable him to quit the country.
Whether this was a true and complete account of his motives, it is impossible to say. Up to the date on which he gave evidence to the Government, Reynolds appears to have been looked upon by his party as a man whose character and position entitled him to such a measure of confidence and respect that they were most anxious to secure his services, and to place him in prominent and difficult positions. After he had given information they at once discovered that he was a monster in human form, a perfect prodigy of villany. He had poisoned his mother. He had poisoned his mother-in-law. His whole life had been a tissue of the basest frauds. The information he gave the Government was due to the most sordid motives. The blow, however, which he had rendered possible was completely successful, and on March 12 fifteen of the leaders of the United Irishmen forming the Leinster Provincial Committee were arrested in the house of Bond and their papers seized. Emmet, Sweetman, Jackson, and McNevin, who were not included in the party at Bond's, were taken almost at the same time.
The conspiracy was thus suddenly, and at a most critical moment, at once deprived of its most important leaders; but though a warrant was out against Lord Edward Fitzgerald, he was still at large. There is little doubt that his escape was due to Reynolds, who might easily, if he had chosen, have placed him in the hands of the Government. On the 11th, the day before the arrest, he had an interview with Fitzgerald, and he succeeded in so alarming him by accounts of information in the hands of the Government, as to induce him to abstain from the meeting at Bond's. On the 14th and 15th Reynolds had again secret interviews with Fitzgerald, and on the 16th with his wife, and he discussed with them the methods of concealment, and is stated even to have lent them the money they required for a hasty flight. His conduct at this time towards Fitzgerald shows real friendship, and of all the many slanders with which Reynolds was pursued none is more grotesquely false than that which described him as the betrayer of Lord Edward. Nor does he appear as yet to have had the smallest desire to bring his other colleagues to punishment, though he was anxious to defeat their designs and to extricate himself from the conspiracy. With the latter object he supported a proposal, which was made immediately after the arrest, for reforming the Provincial Directory, which would have excluded him from that body, and his only wish appears to have been to return to his country house, and, having prevented the effusion of torrents of blood, to take no further part in politics.
He soon found, however, that a neutral position was impossible. As he anticipated, he was suspected, and, as he anticipated also, the murderers were soon on his track. Three separate attempts seem to have been made to assassinate him, but they were baffled by his conspicuous courage and self-possession. On the other hand, the Government gave him no protection. His county was placed under martial law, he was himself a suspected man, and the officers in command knew nothing of the service he had secretly rendered. A large party of dragoons and militia under Captain Erskine were sent to live on free quarters at Kilkea Castle. Their proceedings there seem to be a fair sample of the military licence that was then prevailing. The floors and wainscoting were torn up, the walls were pierced in many places in search for arms, the staircases and furniture were broken with wanton violence, and the whole interior of the castle was reduced to ruin. The loss was estimated by Reynolds at several thousands of pounds. His troubles were not yet over. A number of United Irishmen, probably hoping to ruin him and discredit his testimony, now informed against him, and he was arrested as a United Irishman and brought to Dublin for trial.
‘A Mr. Reynolds,’ wrote Camden to Portland, ‘was the person who gave Government the information upon which the committee at Oliver Bond's was taken. This person was only guessed at, although a note found upon Bond had convinced many persons that he was the man. After that capture he went into the county of Kildare, and has scarcely given us any information since.’ Camden doubted whether this was through fear of his old colleagues who suspected him, or through a desire to return to their party, but thought that, most probably, he was waiting to see what course would be the most prudent. ‘He has, however, been taken up,’ continued the Lord Lieutenant, ‘upon the most positive information against him, by those whom he commanded in a regiment which was formed.’ When brought before the Council, he said that he was a protected person; they were obliged to concede this, and he then gave information on oath to the Government.1
The moment was very critical, and it was rendered still more so by the dangerous illness of Pelham, and especially by the dispute which had just broken out between Abercromby and the Irish Government. On March 30 the blow which was struck on the 12th was followed by the famous proclamation of martial law and free quarters, which was undoubtedly a proximate cause of the rebellion. Express orders were given to Abercromby to employ the military in the disturbed districts, and especially in Kildare, Tipperary, Limerick, Cork, the King's County, the Queen's County, and Kilkenny, without waiting for directions from the civil magistrates, for the purpose of crushing rebellion in every shape, and forcibly disarming the rebels. The officers were authorised to quarter troops wherever it might seem to them necessary, to press horses and carriages, to demand forage and provisions, to hold courts-martial for all offences, and to issue ‘proclamations.’ Special notices to the inhabitants of particular counties were now promulgated summoning them to give up all arms and ammunition within ten days, and announcing that if there was reason to believe that this had not been fully done, the troops would be sent in large bodies to live at free quarters among them, and other very severe measures would be used to enforce obedience.1
This proclamation opened a scene of horrors hardly surpassed in the modern history of Europe. In order to form a just and sane judgment of it, we must bear clearly in mind the desperate condition of the country. There was no longer any serious hope of preventing a rebellion. There was abundant evidence that at this time tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of men were organised in a treasonable conspiracy, enrolled in regular regiments, with their officers, their arms, and their ammunition, and only waiting the arrival of the French fleet, which was expected in April, to burst into open rebellion. Papers were flying from cabin to cabin announcing that the deliverers would soon be on the sea; that the hour of struggle, of triumph, and of vengeance was at hand. All the best accounts that came to the Government represented rebellion as not only certain, but imminent. McNally repeatedly warned them that the only difference among the leaders was whether or not they should wait for the arrival of the French, and he wrote in the beginning of 1798 that it was the general opinion that in two months Ireland would be separated from England.2 Another informant, two days before the arrest at Bond's house, warned them that Lord Edward Fitzgerald had resolved to propose an immediate rising, and that, if not intercepted, it would certainly take place within four weeks.1 ‘The North,’ wrote a third and very important informer, is now, more than at any former period, held out as an example to the other provinces. To the perfect state of organisation there is their apparent tranquillity owing.’ ‘Military organisation has been adopted in the city, and some battalions are already formed, and officers appointed.’ Twelve men ‘of the first military talent and experience’ were said to be engaged, and assurances of immediate aid had come from the French Directory.2
Higgins, who, among his other occupations, seems to have done business as a land agent, mentions that he had been in the country endeavouring, without any success, to collect some rents. Several of the poorer kind of tenantry, he added, candidly declared that they never expected to see an agent among them again, for they had been promised that the lands were ‘to be their own, and divided equally. It was by this kind of seduction that numberless of the ignorant and lower orders were drawn from their allegiance by better-informed traitors.’ 3 Magistrates reported that when they licensed public-houses they were told that this would be the last time they would be asked to do so, and tithe proctors that there was a general belief that tithes would never again be paid.4
The expectation of revolution was universal, but the rising was not to take place till the arrival of the French. There was now, therefore, a short respite—an ominous and imperfect calm, broken by constant accounts of the murder of magistrates and informers, of attacks upon sentries, of nightly raids for arms, of which that on the town of Cahir was the most conspicuous and the most audacious. Upon the use that was made of this short interval the result of the contest might depend.
No one who will honestly face this situation can doubt that it demanded extreme vigour—a vigour which would inevitably transcend the limits of ordinary law. One of the ablest of the rebels afterwards acknowledged, that up to the proclamation of March 30 the process of arming the people for rebellion went smoothly on, and that it was this proclamation and the measures that followed, that alone arrested it.1 On the other hand no one who knew the state of Ireland could doubt that such measures, when adopted, must lead to horrible abuses. Ireland was now wholly unlike what it had been at the outbreak of the French Revolution. The crimes and panics of the last few years, the fierce passions that had been aroused, and the tension of long-continued danger and suspense, had filled it with savage and inveterate hatreds, broken down all discipline in the army, set class against class, and creed against creed. When a half-disciplined yeomanry and militia, demoralised by a long course of licence and irritated by many outrages, came to live at free quarters upon a hostile peasantry, who regarded them as Orangemen, and who were taught that every Orangeman had sworn to exterminate the Catholics, it was not difficult to anticipate the result.
The burnings of houses which had been well known in the North were now carried on upon a yet larger scale in Leinster, and the free quarters formed a new and terrible feature in the system of military coercion. There is reason to believe that this system was adopted contrary to the general wishes of the Irish gentry,2 and one of the principal of those in the Queen's County wrote a letter to Cooke clearly pointing out its evils. ‘I have my fears,’ he wrote, ‘this plan will not answer the end. It will unavoidably involve in punishment the innocent with the guilty. The soldiers will find miserable means of living among those who are the robbers and defenders. Of course they will not, cannot be restrained from laying hold of the substance and property of farmers who are innocent and loyal. Indiscriminate punishment and much mischief must ensue. Surely, my dear Cooke, this is a more violent and coercive system than burning the houses of those who were known to be delinquents.’ 1
If Abercromby had continued in command, it is possible that the abuses resulting from this system might have been restrained, though they could not have been wholly prevented, but neither Lake nor the Irish Government appear to have made the smallest effort to check them. District after district was now proclaimed, and after the stated interval the soldiers descended like a flight of locusts upon it. They were quartered in the best of the houses of the suspected persons in proportion to the supposed means of the owners, and they lived as in an enemy's country. Many men were ruined by their exactions and their depredations. All the neighbouring houses were searched, and any house in which any weapon was found was immediately burnt. Many others were burnt because the owners, terror-stricken perhaps by the violence around them, had abandoned them, or because some of the innumerable seditious papers were found in them. One of the rebel leaders afterwards described how in one small corner of Wicklow in a single morning no less than fourteen houses were burnt by a single man.2 Sometimes, after a period of coercion had failed to produce a surrender of arms, a proclamation was issued stating that the nightly patrols would for a time be withdrawn in order that the people might be able without fear to collect the arms and to bring them to an appointed place, and that if this was not done before a given date the whole district would be burnt. Great piles of arms came in this way into the possession of the Government, though the people sometimes showed their feelings by breaking them to pieces before they deposited them in the place that was assigned.3
This plan of disarmament appears to have been adopted in all the towns of the county of Kildare, and a few particular instances which are preserved will enable the reader to understand the manner in which it was worked. Thus the inhabitants of the town of Kildare had refused to give up the arms which the commanding officer was convinced they possessed, and they alleged that there were none in the town. General Walford at once called the inhabitants together, and announced to them on his honour that if they did not bring in their arms in twenty-four hours he would burn every house in the town, and he at the same time assured them that if they complied with his order they should have complete protection, and that not a single soldier would appear out of his barracks on that evening in order that the people should have the opportunity of collecting and depositing their arms without fear. The measure proved successful, and great quantities of arms were brought in.1 From Athy in the same county Colonel Campbell wrote: ‘In consequence of burning a few houses in this town and the neighbourhood, together with a little military discipline, we have got a number of pikes.’ 2 In other cases the resistance was more obstinate. ‘This last week,’ wrote Lady Louisa Conolly to Mr. Ogilvie on May 21, ‘was a most painful one to us. May-nooth, Kilcock, Leixlip, and Celbridge have had part of a Scotch regiment quartered at each place, living upon free quarters and every day threatening to burn the towns. I have spent days in entreaties and threats to give up the horrid pikes. Some houses burnt at Kilcock yesterday produced the effect. Maynooth held out yesterday, though some houses were burnt and some people punished. This morning the people of Leixlip are bringing in their arms. Celbridge as yet holds out, though five houses are now burning. Whether obstinacy or that they have them not I cannot say; … we have fortunately two most humane officers, that do not do more than is absolutely necessary from their orders.’ ‘I expect,’ wrote Colonel Napier on the same day, ‘on my return to find Celbridge and Maynooth in ashes, as that was the “order of the day.”’ 3
Horrible abuses and horrible sufferings inevitably accompanied these things. Many who resisted, and not a few it is said who did not resist, were shot dead on their thresholds, while countless families were deprived of all they possessed and were driven homeless into the world. Farm horses were seized and carried away. Stores of provisions were broken into and shamefully wasted or destroyed, and acts of simple robbery and purely wanton violence were of daily occurrence.
Torture was at the same time systematically employed to discover arms. Great multitudes were flogged till they almost fainted; picketed and half strangled to extort confessions. Blacksmiths were the special objects of suspicion and vengeance, and many of them were scourged almost to death in the streets of the villages in order to compel them to state what pikes they had made, and to reveal the persons to whom they had consigned them.1
It had been the habit of the republican party in Ireland, as in France, to cut short their hair as a distinctive sign, and the ‘croppies,’ as they were termed, were an obvious mark for military violence. The torture of these men soon became a popular amusement among the soldiers. Some soldiers of the North Cork Militia are said to have invented the pitched cap of linen or thick brown paper, which was fastened with burning pitch to the victim's head and could not be torn off without tearing out the hair or lacerating the skin. One soldier obtained a special reputation by varying the torture. He was accustomed to cut the hair of the victims still shorter, to rub into it moistened gunpowder and then to set it on fire. Sometimes also an ear or a portion of an ear was cut off.
All this went on in the proclaimed districts without interference and without restraint. In the great majority of cases no doubt the sufferers were justly suspected of being enrolled in a treasonable conspiracy and of possessing concealed arms. But it was constantly asserted, and it is in the highest degree probable, that in the complete military licence that prevailed, many of the victims were perfectly innocent. Men were acting under the blinding influence of panic and widespread suspicions, and of ten under influences that were still more pernicious. In a country where every informer was at once marked out for assassination, secret information naturally and necessarily played a great part, and it gave terrible opportunities for the gratification of private cupidities and private malice. Every Irish country district is sure to be full of quarrels about leases and boundaries and trespasses, quarrels between landlords and tenants, between competing tenants, between debtors and creditors, between farmers and labourers. The burning of houses and the flogging of individuals were very often not the result of any judicial or quasi-judicial investigation, or even of the decision of an experienced and superior officer. Young subalterns, sergeants of militia, common soldiers ordered and perpetrated these things, and it is but too probable that they often acted on the whispered suggestion of a private enemy.1 If some men cut their hair short to attest their republican sentiments, others did so for simple convenience, while the hair of others was cut short by the United Irishmen for the express purpose of exposing them to the vengeance of the soldiers.2 Quakers, who had scruples about applying for military protection, often fell under suspicion, though they were among the most orderly and peaceful inhabitants of the country.3
Outrages on women were very common. Peasant girls had often thrown themselves enthusiastically into the United Irish movement, and attested their sentiments by their green ribbons, while many others who knew or cared nothing about polities wore something green in their dress. Every person who did so was tolerably sure to be exposed to insults which planted far and wide, among a peasantry peculiarly susceptible on such matters, the seeds of deadly, enduring hatred.4 Other outrages were unconnected with any real or pretended political cause, and were such as inevitably occur when an undisciplined soldiery are quartered among a hostile population. Dr. Dickson, the Protestant Bishop of Down, told Lord Holland how ‘he had seen families returning peaceably from mass assailed without provocation by drunken troops and yeomanry, and the wives and daughters exposed to every species of indignity, brutality, and outrage, from which neither his remonstrances nor those of other Protestant gentlemen could rescue them.’ 1
In general the military proclamations were exclusively directed to the objects of disarming the people and paralysing rebellion, but there were instances in which these lines were shamefully exceeded. The following extraordinary order was issued at Cork on May 7: ‘Whereas it has been reported to General Sir James Stuart that in some parts of the county where it has been necessary to place troops at free quarters for the restoration of tranquillity, general subscriptions have been entered into by the inhabitants to purchase provisions for the troops, by which means the end proposed of making the burden fall as much as possible on the guilty is defeated by making it fall in a light proportion on the whole, and thereby easing and protecting the guilty; it has been thought proper to direct that whenever the practice has been adopted or shall be attempted, the general officers commanding divisions in the southern district shall immediately double, triple, and quadruple the number of soldiers so stationed, and shall send out foraging parties to provide provisions for the troops in the quantities mentioned in the former notice bearing date April 27, and that they shall move them from station to station through the district or barony until all arms are surrendered and tranquillity is perfectly restored, and until it is reported to the general officers by the gentlemen holding landed property and those who are employed in collecting the public revenue and tithes, that all rents, taxes, and tithes, are completely paid up.’ 2
There was, of course, considerable difference among the soldiers. A Quaker lady, who lived at Ballitore in the county of Carlow, and who has left the truest picture of the state of that part of Ireland during the rebellion, notices the excellent conduct of the King's County Militia, who were quartered upon that district, and how, when they were removed, the villagers escorted them on their way with tears and lamentations; and she contrasts their conduct with that of the Tyrone Militia, who succeeded them, and who lived in free quarters, wearing ostentatiously orange ribbons among the Catholic peasantry, and plundering alike the loyal and the disloyal.1 The North Cork Militia, the Welsh Regiment of Ancient Britons, and two Hessian regiments, which were sent over just before the rebellion, appear to have been those which left the most bitter recollections in Ireland.
Particular instances of atrocious suffering were often related. More than one victim died under the lash, and the terror it produced was to many even worse than the punishment. Gordon mentions a case which came under his own notice, of a labouring man who dropped dead through simple fear.2 Another case is related of a man in Dublin, who, maddened by the pain of the pitched cap, sprang into the Liffey and ended at once his sufferings and his life. In a third case, which occurred at Drogheda, a man who had undergone 500 lashes in order to compel him to reveal some concealed arms, fearing that his fortitude would be overcome, pretended that arms were concealed in a particular garden, and availed himself of a few moments of freedom which he thus obtained, to cut his throat.3 Flogging to extort confessions appears to have been nowhere more extensively or more successfully practised than in Dublin itself, under the very eyes of the Government, and under the direction of men who were closely connected with it. A plot to seize Dublin did unquestionably exist; great stores of pikes had been accumulated, and a great number of them were discovered through the floggings. The riding school of Beresford was well known as the chief scene of the torture. In the country, it is said, whole villages were deserted, and the inhabitants slept in the ditches and in the fields through fear of outrages from the yeomen.
Some names were especially conspicuous for the hatred they attracted. There was Gowan, who had performed good service in hunting down robbers among the Wicklow mountains, but who now became famous for the multitude of houses he burnt, and who was said, though very probably untruly, to have on one occasion stirred his punch with the severed finger of a rebel. There was Hepenstal, known as ‘the walking gallows,’ 1 a soldier in the Wicklow Militia, gigantic in size and herculean in strength, who was accustomed to extort confessions by tying a rope round his prisoner's neck, flinging him over his shoulder, and holding him thus suspended above the ground till the half-strangled victim disclosed his arms. The figure, however, which stands out in the clearest relief is that of Thomas Judkin Fitzgerald, the High Sheriff of Tipperary. His proceedings in that county became the subject of a judicial trial, and of elaborate debates in the House of Commons, and are therefore known to us with some certainty, and with their chief circumstances of aggravation and palliation. A short study of his history and character is very instructive, as revealing a type which the stormy conditions of Irish life naturally produced, and which, if Ireland were ever separated from English influence and criticism, might once more become common.
It was a character by no means destitute of estimable and even noble qualities. His energy, courage, and knowledge of the country were fully admitted by those who most severely censured him, and after the rebellion was over he received a warm and unanimous vote of thanks from the Grand Jury of the county. In the beginning of the year, when rebellion was known to be smouldering there, and when French invasion was constantly expected, the principal gentlemen of his county came to him, as the man most likely to grapple successfully with the conspiracy, and implored him to accept the dangerous position of High Sheriff. He consented to do so, and it was emphatically stated in Parliament that if Tipperary escaped the horrors of rebellion which desolated Wicklow, Wexford, Carlow, Kildare, and Meath, this exception was mainly due to the vigilance and to the severities of its High Sheriff.2 A curious letter from a prominent Tipperary gentleman describes Fitzgerald's dealing with a number of disaffected men. ‘The High Sheriff made a speech of three hours, partly in Irish, explaining what the French would do, and said he would give them a free pardon if they delivered their arms, pikes &c., which I think we had got nearly in before, but I told him there were some people in the parish who perhaps were not entitled to pardon. He asked me their names and called them forward. Then he asked me their crimes. I told him for being up (sic). He asked them if they confessed; they said “Yes,” but had not received their commissions…. He shook hands with them, gave them a lecture, made them all kneel down and pray for the King, and forgave all past offences.’ He was now going to raise a corps of 100 men, ‘every one of whom are to be United Irishmen. He has engaged some desperate scoundrels in this neighbourhood; he expects when he has them together that he will be able to act upon them as Sir John Fielding did on the Bow Street officers —set a rogue to catch a rogue.’ He issued a printed notice ordering all who had left their homes to return at once to defend them, and to provide quarters for his Majesty's troops, at the same time eulogising in very high-flown terms the conduct of a certain Mrs. Bunbury, who with the assistance of two men-servants had successfully defended her house against a marauding party. He trusted that ‘such heroic conduct of a lady of such high distinction, eminent for beauty and elegance of manners, will raise the crimson blush of shame on the pallid cheeks of those puny heroes who so disgracefully and cowardly surrendered large quantities of well-loaded arms to the rebels.’ 1
Those who are well acquainted with Irish life and character will, I think, recognise in these extracts a not unfamiliar type, and under the auspices of Fitzgerald the disarmament of Tipperary was carried out with tremendous, unscrupulous but successful energy. At the head of forty men he attacked a large body of armed rebels, and carried no less than thirty-seven carts full of captured arms into Cashel. An Irish magistrate has usually good reason, from secret information or common report, to suspect men against whom no legal evidence can be obtained, of being centres of crime and disaffection in their neighbourhoods. All such men were now seized and mercilessly flogged, till through pain or terror some kind of confession was obtained. The men who in broad daylight had attacked and plundered Cahir had hitherto defied detection, but now at last information was obtained from a man whose courage failed when he had been tied to the stake for flogging. At Nenagh several men were flogged, and great quantities of concealed arms were in consequence discovered. At Carrick-on-Suir the flogging of a single man produced such terror, that not only he but thirty-six others acknowledged themselves to be United Irishmen. ‘There was scarcely a man,’ it was said in Parliament, ‘on whom corporal punishment had been inflicted to extort confession, who did not acknowledge guilt and discover widely extended accompliceship in treason. Immense quantities of arms of every kind were discovered, and in consequence cartloads were brought daily into Clonmel from all quarters of the county, and thus by the timely interposition of this spirited magistrate were the lives and properties of the gentlemen and loyal inhabitants preserved on the very brink of destruction.’ Fitzgerald himself, when his case came into the law court, defended himself in a vehement speech, declaring that ‘while sheriff he felt himself authorised to take every mode of obtaining confessions, and that in order to discover the truth, if every other mode failed, he had a right to cut off their heads.’ 1
A very respectable man named Wright, a teacher of French in the town of Clonmel, fell under his suspicion. He happened to be connected with some of the principal families of the neighbourhood, and his case therefore received an amount of attention which would not have been given to a poor and unprotected peasant. It appears that one of the suspected persons, under the torture of flogging, stated that Wright held the important position of secretary to the United Irishmen in the county, and it is possible, though by no means certain, that some secret information had been given against him. Fitzgerald formed a strong, though apparently a perfectly erroneous, opinion that this man was the head and centre of United Irishmen in Tipperary, and the repositary of all their secrets. The rebellion was at this time raging furiously in Wicklow and Wexford, and the fate of Ireland and the lives of multitudes of loyal men seemed trembling in the balance. ‘The peasantry of Tipperary,’ said the Attorney-General, ‘were to a man organised, armed, and ready to take the field at a moment's warning. A body of 8,000 rebels were ready to attack the town of Clonmel.’ 1
It was under these circumstances of terror and danger that the following horrible scene was enacted, which was disclosed in a trial before Lord Yelverton and Judge Chamberlain, and afterwards related to the House of Commons by the son of the former judge, who had been one of the counsel of Wright. Having heard that charges had been brought against him, Wright went of his own accord to the house of Fitzgerald, for the purpose of surrendering himself and challenging investigation. Fitzgerald at once drew his sword, ordered him to his knees, and without any kind of trial, of his own authority condemned him to be first flogged and then shot. Next day Wright was dragged to a ladder in one of the streets to undergo his sentence. He knelt down to pray, with his hat before his face. Fitzgerald snatched his hat from him, trampled it on the ground, struck the prisoner on the forehead with his sword, kicked him, and dragged him by the hair. Wright was then stripped naked, tied to the ladder, and fifty lashes were administered. An officer who was in the town came up and asked Fitzgerald the reason of the punishment. Fitzgerald handed him a French note which had been found on the prisoner, and said that although he did not himself understand the language, he believed the major would find in it ‘what would justify him in flogging the scoundrel to death.’ The officer read it, and found it to be a perfectly insignificant note postponing an appointment. He explained this to Fitzgerald, but the Sheriff notwithstanding ordered the flogging to proceed. Wright remained silent. One hundred more lashes were administered with frightful severity, leaving the wretched man a mass of bleeding wounds, and it is even alleged that the High Sheriff asked the commanding officer of the troops who were quartered in Clonmel to send a file of soldiers to shoot the prisoner. If the request was made, it was probably for the purpose of exciting terror, for there appears to have been no attempt to carry out the sentence. Wright was flung into prison, where he remained for six or seven days without any medical assistance, in a cell with no other furniture than a straw pallet without covering.1
An indemnity Act, as I have said, had passed, indemnifying loyalists for illegal acts committed in order to suppress the rebellion; but in spite of it, Wright carried his case in March 1799 into the law courts, contending that the indemnity only applied to cases in which the magistrates had acted on clear, or at least serious, evidence of treason, had taken all possible means of ascertaining the guilt of the persons they punished, and had exercised their power with common humanity. This view of the law was fully supported by the two judges. They declared that the indemnity was never intended to protect a wanton and inhuman exercise of power, even for the purpose of putting down rebellion, that there must have been a grave and serious examination of the accused person, and that the magistrate was only entitled to plead the indemnity Act when he was able to produce information on oath of the grounds on which he acted. Strong evidence was given of the loyalty of Wright, and no evidence of the smallest value was given to impugn it. The jury found a verdict for the plaintiff with 500l. damages, and the judges fully concurred in the verdict, expressed their belief in the perfect innocence of Wright, and added that if much larger damages had been given they would not have been excessive.
The Government brought the case before Parliament, asking for a secret committee, before which Fitzgerald might lay the grounds of his conduct, and for a special Act of indemnity. The debate was very animated and instructive. It was not contended by the Ministers that Wright was a guilty man, though the language both of the Attorney-General and of some of the supporters of the Government implied that there were reasons for believing it. On the other hand, Colonel Bagwell, who was one of the principal gentlemen near Clonmel, declared in the most emphatic terms, and from full knowledge, that Wright was one of the most respectable and upright men in the town, and that not a shadow of just suspicion attached to him, and he asserted that there had not been more than a single case in which an inhabitant of Clonmel was proved to be a United Irishman, although a number of the inhabitants of that town had been punished as such by the High Sheriff. Both he and Mr. Hutchinson, the brother of Lord Donoughmore, speaking with an intimate knowledge of the country, declared that although Fitzgerald had undoubtedly shown great zeal and performed great services, they believed that many of those whom he had tortured were perfectly innocent, and that his ‘zeal had in a great many instances carried him much too far, and excited a great deal of reprobation from many gentlemen in the country.’ In the town of Clogheen, Hutchinson said, a respectable innkeeper had been brought out of his house by Fitzgerald, tied to a ladder, and whipped. When he had received some lashes, Fitzgerald asked him, ‘Who swore you?’ The man answered that he never was sworn. After a few more stripes, the same question was repeated and the same answer given. The scourging was again begun and the High Sheriff then said, ‘If you do not confess who swore you I'll cut you to death.’ The man, unable to bear the torture any longer, did name a person who he said had sworn him. He was at once cut down, when he said to Lord Cahir, ‘That was a lie, my lord. The man never swore me; but he said he would cut me to death if I did not accuse somebody, and to save my life I told the lie.’
What confidence, it was asked, could be placed in confessions obtained by such means? And what could be more hideously repugnant both to the letter and the spirit and the practice of English law than this systematic employment of torture as the means of extorting confessions? They did not object to the general Act of indemnity which had been passed. It was an extreme measure required by an extreme necessity, but if it was not to be made the instrument of intolerable tyranny it must be scrupulously limited, and its application carefully watched. Nothing could be more clear, nothing could be more equitable, than the principles laid down by the judges, but Parliament was now asked to pass a measure which would have the effect of sweeping away every safeguard. It was asked by an ex post facto law made in favour of an individual who had notoriously exceeded all bounds of humanity and moderation, to reverse a decision of a law court, arrived at after a patient trial, by a most respectable jury, and with the full approbation of two eminent judges. It was asked to shut out from all hope of redress and compensation not only Wright, but the many other innocent men who had been tortured on the vaguest and most unfounded suspicion, and unjustly branded as traitors. It was even asked to deepen the stigma upon their characters by a parliamentary proceeding based upon evidence which was not to be disclosed. ‘Was Mr. Fitzgerald,’ it was asked, ‘to be permitted to give secret evidence before a secret committee, and say what he pleased against the characters of those persons, in his own justification, without giving them any opportunity of refuting his assertions?’ ‘Was Parliament to interfere between the justice of the country and the innocent persons injured, by setting aside the verdict of a most respectable jury, which had done more than anything else to quiet the country?’ ‘Was it to shut the door of justice against the people, and thus to tell them that they must expect no share of protection from the laws, and must therefore look to some other means of vindication?’ Was it to give a distinct legislative sanction, said one member who was at this time wavering on the question of the Union,1 to the most reckless and most wanton application of torture? If it did, ‘he declared to God, whatever might be the sentiments of his constituents, he should for himself think the sooner that Parliament was extinguished the better!'
Fitzgerald, however, had powerful defenders, and his case was urged with eloquence and skill. It was the case, it was said, of a man who at the earnest entreaty of the gentry of his county had accepted a post of great difficulty and danger, who had done so with no object except the public good, and who by his energy and courage had undoubtedly saved the lives of thousands and preserved a great county from carnage and ruin. It was said that the method of extorting confessions by torture had never been practised in England. Had there ever been in England, had there been in any other country in modern times, a situation even distantly resembling that of Ireland? Could anyone who knew what was happening in Wexford and Wicklow, and how far the conspiracy had extended in Tipperary, doubt that this county was in imminent, daily, almost hourly, danger of becoming from end to end a scene of massacre and desolation? It was by the floggings to extort confessions and discover arms that the conspiracy was broken and the danger averted, and every other means had signally failed. It would no doubt have been much more regular if the suspected persons had been brought before juries, but if such a course had been taken, many of those who now denounced the conduct of Fitzgerald would probably have been long since hanged from the lamp-posts or pierced by the rebel pikes. It is true that no evidence had been adduced at the trial to show the guilt of Wright. But the reason of this was very manifest. Fitzgerald was bound by an oath of secrecy not to reveal the information which had been given to him. If he had disclosed the names of his informers in order to vindicate himself in a court of justice, he would have betrayed his duty and broken his oath, and handed over those who had trusted to him to almost certain death. Everyone who knew the country knew that ‘if the names of any of these men were to be disclosed, he would not live twenty-four hours.’ At the very last assizes, a witness who was going to Clonmel to substantiate at a trial the evidence he had given before the magistrate, was murdered near the gate of the town. A secret committee of the House of Commons was the only tribunal before which such information could be disclosed, with safety to the lives of the informants. Those who dilated upon the excessive violence of Fitzgerald said little about his conspicuous merits and the strong claim he had established on the country, and they made no adequate allowance for the extreme dangers of the moment. At a time when a great and horrible rebellion was raging in the adjoining counties, when Tipperary was known to be fully armed and organised, when outrages were of hourly occurrence, and when there was good reason to believe that within a few days the whole county would be in a blaze, was it surprising or unpardonable that a loyal man, on whom the chief responsibility of preserving the peace devolved, should have somewhat lost the coolness of his judgment, and have sometimes acted with undue violence and precipitation? Conduct in such moments must not be judged by the ordinary rules which are applicable to quiet times. Parliament had passed an Act of amnesty casting a veil of pardon over the crimes that had been committed by the rebels. Ought it not to cover with an equally effective indemnity the excesses that might have been committed by loyal men, for the purpose of suppressing and preventing those crimes? It was well known that it was now the policy of the disloyal party to bring a multitude of vexatious actions against men who had taken an active part in suppressing the rebellion, and as it was impossible that the secret information on which they acted should be disclosed, it would often be impossible to defend them. It was the plain duty of Parliament to stop this. ‘In considering the case of Mr. Fitzgerald, the House should act from motives of general policy, and not suppose it was meant to bias their judgment by individual consideration for the petitioner…. It was the duty of Parliament to protect loyal men for acts done merely with a view to suppress rebellion, and not leave them open to endless persecutions and suits at law.’
The question was argued at great length, and on both sides with conspicuous ability. It was at last settled by a new and fuller indemnity Act, which was so drawn as to make such prosecutions as that of Fitzgerald almost impossible. It provided that in all cases in which sheriffs or other officers or persons were brought to trial for acts done in suppressing the rebellion, a verdict for the plaintiff should be null and void unless the jury distinctly found that the act had been done maliciously and not with an intent of suppressing rebellion, preserving public peace, or promoting the safety of the State; and that even where the juries did find that the act was ‘malicious,’ the judge or judges who tried the case should have the power of setting such verdicts aside.1
In relating this discussion I have departed from the strict chronological order of my subject, but I have done so because these debates throw a clear stream of authentic light upon the methods of repression which were at this time employed, the motives that inspired them, the arguments by which they were defended. What Fitzgerald did in Tip-perary is probably not very unlike what was done in Wexford, Wicklow, and Kildare on the eve of the rebellion. In reading such narratives we seem transported from the close of the eighteenth century to distant and darker ages, in which the first conditions of civilised society had not yet been attained, and to which its maxims and reasonings are inapplicable. Clare and the party that followed him always justified this violence. By the burning of houses and the transportation of great numbers of untried men they had succeeded, they said, in disarming Ulster, the province where disaffection was most dangerous. By the unsparing use of the lash, Fitzgerald had broken the conspiracy in the great county of Tipperary. By very similar means Dublin had been disarmed, and the scheme for seizing it, paralysed. These methods did not, it is true, prevent an outbreak in Wexford and some adjoining counties, but they at least succeeded in forcing it into a premature explosion before the requisite organisation and concert had been completed, and before the French had appeared upon the scene.
The language of the report of the secret committee, in which the Government stated their own case, does not make sufficient allowance for the extent to which the rebellion was a mere unorganised rising of men who were driven to desperation by intolerable military tyranny, but it at least shows very explicitly the Government policy. Up to the middle of March, the writer says, there was no serious intention of hazarding a rebellion without foreign assistance. It was the policy of the leaders to risk nothing as long as their party was gaining strength, to extend their organisation, add to their stock of arms, and wait for events. ‘It appears from a variety of evidence laid before your committee, that the rebellion would not have broken out so soon as it did, had it not been for the well-timed measures adopted by Government subsequent to the proclamation of the Lord Lieutenant and Council bearing date March 30…. From the vigorous and summary expedients resorted to by Government, and the consequent exertions of the military, the leaders found themselves reduced to the alternative of immediate insurrection, or of being deprived of the means on which they relied for effecting their purpose, and to this cause is exclusively to be attributed that premature and desperate effort, the rashness of which has so evidently facilitated its suppression.’ 1
It was a desperate policy, and it had desperate results. If regarded purely as a military measure, it was certainly successful, but it must be added that it was largely responsible for the ferocity with which the rebellion was waged, and that it contributed enormously to the most permanent and deadly evils of Irish life. The hatred and distrust of law and Government, the inveterate proneness to seek redress by secret combination and by barbarous crimes, the savage animosities of class and creed and party, that make Irish government so difficult, were not created, but they were all immensely strengthened, by the events which I am relating. It must be added, too, that if martial law forced the rebellion into a premature explosion, and thus made it comparatively easy to deal with it, it also undoubtedly turned into desperate rebels multitudes who, if they had been left unmolested, would have been, if not loyal subjects, at least either neutral spectators or lukewarm and half-hearted rebels. When Emmet was asked what caused the late insurrection, he answered, ‘The free quarters, the house burnings, the tortures, and the military executions in the counties of Kildare, Carlow, and Wicklow.’ The answer was not a candid one, for long before these things had begun a great part of Ireland had been organised for rebellion, and was only waiting for the appearance of the French. The true causes, as we have seen, were partly political, and for these the Government was very largely responsible. The rebellion, however, among the ignorant Catholic peasantry was not mainly political. They had been in the first place allured into the conspiracy by promises of the abolition of tithes, the reduction or abolition of rents, and the redress of all real or imaginary grievances. They had then been persuaded by the United Irishmen that the Orangemen, with the connivance of the Government, intended to massacre them, and that they could only find safety in the protection of a great armed Catholic organisation. Once that organisation was planted among them, it spread rapidly by example, intimidation, or persuasion. The worst and most dangerous men came inevitably to the front. Many crimes were committed. There was no regular and well-disciplined force like the modern constabulary sufficiently powerful to maintain the peace. Martial law was declared, and the tortures, the house burnings, and other manifold abuses that followed it soon completed the work, and drove the people in large districts to desperation and madness.
One of the most energetic of the leaders in Wicklow has left an account of his own experiences which is well worthy of attention. ‘Self-preservation,’ he says, ‘was the motive which drove me into rebellion…. As to effecting a change of Government, it gave me little trouble or thought. Reform was much more necessary among the people of all ranks than the Government, which was good enough for me. If the laws were fairly and honestly administered, the people would have little reason to complain. It was private wrongs and individual oppression, quite unconnected with the Government, which gave the bloody and inveterate character to the rebellion in the county of Wicklow. The ambition of a few interested individuals to be at the head of affairs first lighted up the flame everywhere…. The poor people engaged in the Irish rebellion of 1798 had very little idea of political government. Their minds were more occupied with their own sufferings or enjoyments; and many, I might say most, were compelled to join in the rebellion on pain of death.’ 1
The capture at Bond's house on March 12 of the principal leaders of the organisation, and the general disarmament under martial law which speedily followed, had given an almost fatal blow to the conspiracy; but efforts, which for a short time seem to have escaped the knowledge of the Government, were made to reconstruct it under a new Directory, in which the most prominent members were two brothers of the name of Sheares. They were lawyers, sons of a very estimable and generous Cork banker, who had sat for many years in the House of Commons, and they had ever since 1793 borne an active, though not a very considerable, part in the conspiracy. Henry Sheares, the elder, was a weak, vain, amiable, insignificant man, utterly unsuited for the position he assumed, and chiefly governed by the stronger will of his brother. Of John Sheares I have already spoken. He impressed most of those with whom he came in contact as a man of ability and great energy, a genuine and dangerous fanatic of the type which rose to the ascendant in France during the Reign of Terror. Fitzgerald also, the destined commander, was still at large.
A few anxious and eventful weeks passed before the storm burst. Cooke, writing a week after the arrest at Bond's, expressed his opinion that the North was seriously better, and that the organisation in Dublin had been broken, but there was no change, he thought, in the dispositions of the lower classes; a dangerous popish spirit had arisen; a French invasion would probably produce a rising, and many of the yeomanry and militia were disaffected.1 I have noticed in the last chapter the remarkable letter in which McNally had warned the Government that the Orange passion and fanaticism which was rising in opposition to the United Irishmen had begun at the April assizes to invade the courts of justice. The same sagacious judge also warned them of the evil effects of the military excesses which had begun: ‘I had accounts yesterday from Kildare,’ he wrote, ‘by eye-witnesses, of military depredations the most extraordinary, and I understand that among the Irish soldiers murmurs take place at the duty of distressing their countrymen.’ 2 He mentions how a yeoman had gone to the house of a lawyer in Dublin to search for a green bottle-stand with the label Erin-go-bragh; how he had vainly searched the house in hopes of finding it; how fifty lashes were given to the servant of the house, and how there was much reason to believe that this wanton outrage was due to a simple motive of private revenge.3 ‘All that Colonel Duff and Fitzgerald (the Sheriff of Tipperary) have done at Nenagh,’ he said in another letter, ‘is known in Dublin—such as the public whippings and confessions, &c., and the pointed manner in which the Catholics are distinguished. Need I say that body are bursting with vengeance?’ 4 False rumours, either arising out of panic or deliberately invented for political purposes, were flying to and fro. One report was that the Government intended immediately to introduce into Parliament a Bill for effecting a legislative union.5 Another was that they had determined to renew all the penal laws against papists as soon as the people were disarmed. It was said that Lord Edward would appear in a few days at the head of the rebel hosts; that a great portion of the regulars as well as the militia would co-operate with him;1 that a rebel attack upon Dublin was impending, and that it would be followed by a general massacre.2 Dublin was proclaimed, and partly through flogging, partly through secret information, great quantities of arms were discovered both there and in the country.3 Two days before the rebellion broke out, Lord Clare wrote that 2,000 pikes had been already seized in Dublin, and that he had no doubt that there were still more than 10,000 concealed in it and its environs. The county of Kildare, he thought, was now nearly disarmed, for more than 4,000 pikes and 1,500 stand of firearms had been seized there.4
The shadow of impending rebellion hung visibly over the land, and a great part of Ireland was regarded and treated as in a state of actual war. How completely this was the case is remarkably shown by a very earnest declaration which was issued as early as May 6 by the leading Catholic gentry and clergy, including all the professors of Maynooth. It was addressed to ‘the deluded people’ of their persuasion ‘who are now engaged in open rebellion against his Majesty's Government.’ It implored them ‘to return to their allegiance;’ and to listen to the advice of their bishops and to the gentry of their own creed, rather than to ‘a set of desperate and profligate men who are availing themselves of the want of education and experience in those whom they seek to use as instruments for gratifying their own wicked and interested views.’ The writers felt themselves ‘bound to rescue their names, and as far as in them lies the religion which they profess, from the ignominy which each would incur from an appearance of acquiescence in such criminal and irreligious conduct.’ They declared publicly, on the eve of the struggle, their firm determination ‘to stand or fall with the present existing Constitution,’ and they predicted that if the rebellion triumphed it would end in the downfall of the clergy as well as of ‘the ancient families and respectable commercial men of the Roman Catholic religion.’ 1
The toils, however, were gradually closing around the few leading conspirators who were still at large, and of these the most important was Lord Edward Fitzgerald. The Government were perfectly aware of his treason, though they had as yet no evidence which they could produce in the law courts against him. They knew his negotiations with France; they knew from Reynolds, from McNally, and probably from others the leading part he was taking in the military organisation of the conspiracy, and shortly before the arrests at Bond's, Lord Clare had said to one of his relations, ‘For God's sake get this young man out of the country; the ports shall be thrown open to you, and no hindrance whatever offered.’ 2 All warnings, however, and all remonstrances were thrown away upon him; it was soon well known to the Government that he was to be at the head of an immediate insurrection, and his arrest became a matter of the first public importance.
Towards the end of 1797 Higgins discovered that an obscure and needy Catholic barrister named Magan, who was connected with the conspiracy, was prepared to sell secret information to the Government.3 As he was a member of a baronial committee and acquainted with some of the leading conspirators,4 his offer was readily accepted,5 and it was soon found that he could render assistance of the utmost importance.6 On April 22 he wrote to Cooke: ‘I did not receive your promised favour till Easter Monday last, and on reading your letter requested Mr. H. to know your leisure for an interview…. He wrote me a most pressing letter not to leave town…. At the risk of my personal safety I accompanied him in a carriage to your door…. I have all along had in contemplation to put you in possession of some act that would essentially serve the Government as well as the country, and it may not be very long till such is effected. At present, perhaps, you may not know that Lord Edward lurks about town and its vicinity; he with Nelson was a few days ago in the custody of a patrol or party in the neighbourhood of Lucan, but not being known and assuming other names, they were not detained for any length of time. Nelson is now the most active man, and affects, if he really does not hold, the first situation. For my part I sometimes imagine he is the person that communicated with Government; however, suspicion has not pointed at him. His absence, I know, at the present moment would be considered as very fatal to the cause in Dublin. I have just this moment heard Lord Edward has been mostly in Thomas Street.’ The remainder of the letter is devoted to the more general prospects of the society and to the assurance of immediate aid which, as I have already mentioned, had come from the French Directory.1 A week later Higgins wrote that he knew from unquestionable authority that Lord Edward Fitzgerald was in Dublin waiting to take the command of the Leinster legions, and that the rising was to take place on old May-day, and he adds: ‘If you can see M. this night you can bring out where Lord Edward is concealed.’ ‘What hour shall I bring M. this night, if your leisure will permit? Remember to bring him to a point—I mean about Lord Edward.’ 2
Something, however, occurred to prevent the capture of Lord Edward. He appears at this time to have frequently changed his abode. As Government had obtained more certain intelligence of the impending revolt, the pursuit became more severe, and on May 11 a proclamation was issued offering a reward of 1,000l. for his apprehension.1 On the 15th Higgins wrote a long letter to Cooke, in the course of which he said: ‘M. seems mortified that when he placed matters within the reach of Government the opportunity was neglected.’ 4 Higgins adds that a meeting had been held on Friday night at the house of a man named Murphy in Parliament Street, that letters had been sent out to many parts of the country, and that in a few days Lord Edward would appear at the head of a rebellion. ‘Lord Edward,’ he concludes, ‘skulks from house to house—has watches and spies around, who give an account of any danger being near. It is intended he shall go into the country (it is thought Kildare) and make a rising. Give me leave to remind you of sending to M.’ 3
It is a strange and even mysterious thing that Fitzgerald had not before been arrested; and it can only be accounted for by the extreme languor of the search before May 11. Neilson and Lawless, who were well known, and several other more obscure conspirators, appear to have been continually about him, and he seems to have acted with the utmost rashness. More than once he visited his wife in disguise, and, as we have seen, it was known to the authorities that he especially haunted Thomas Street. He had been there in the house of a feather merchant named Murphy—the house in which he was ultimately captured—for about a fortnight. He subsequently stayed in the house of another feather merchant named Cormick in the same street, and he had a third place of concealment in that street in the private dwelling of a public-house keeper named Moore. It is scarcely possible that he can have remained so long in this neighbourhood, frequently accompanied by ten or twelve friends who acted as a bodyguard, without the fact being widely known, and Fitzgerald appears to have come to a rather remarkable extent in contact with men who gave information mation to the Government. Reynolds, as we have seen, had twice visited him after his flight, but it was his obvious wish to assist his escape. A man named John Hughes, who was certainly at one time an informer, had dined with him at Cormick's house on April 20, and Cox, the former editor of the ‘Union Star,’ was also much about him. After the offer of the reward the danger was manifestly greater, but Fitzgerald did not abandon his old haunts. On the night of May 17 he was sleeping in the house of Moore.1
In a long unsigned information, dated May 17, addressed to Cooke, some unknown writer mentions that he had been the whole day on foot, had traced his ‘friend’ without knowing at first where ‘he was to be brought to;’ and at last ‘had his meeting’ at a pastrycook's near Grafton Street. He had learnt that a plan was formed for a rising on Wednesday or Thursday night; that it was to take place in the North two days before the Leinster rising, in order to draw off the troops from Dublin. It was hoped that 45,000 men from Wicklow, Kildare, and the county of Dublin could then be brought together to capture the metropolis. The first object would be to seize the money in the bank. The informant then speaks of two public-houses in Thomas Street which he had visited, and says that he would meet his friends ‘early in the morning to obtain further information.’ 2
The attention of Dublin was at this moment for a brief space diverted from all other subjects by a melancholy pageant which was taking place in the Parliament. The Earl of Kingston had lately shot Colonel Fitagerald, who, with circumstances that were peculiarly dishonourable, had seduced his daughter, and on May 18 he was put on his trial for murder, before his peers. It was the third time in the eighteenth century that such a scene had been enacted in the Irish House of Lords. Lord Santry had been tried and convicted of murder in 1739. Lord Netter-ville had been tried and acquitted in 1743. Everything was now done to enhance the solemnity of the trial. All the Lords of the kingdom were summoned, and few were absent. They walked in their robes of state in solemn procession from the House of Lords to the colonnade in front of the building, and thence to the House of Commons, which had been fitted up for the occasion. The Lord Chancellor, bearing a white wand and seated in the Speaker's chair, presided as High Steward. The temporal peers were ranged on his left, and the spiritual peers on his right. The judges in their robes occupied the table in the centre. A brilliant audience, including the peeresses and their daughters, and the Commons with their families and friends, filled every available space. The accused, clad in deep mourning, was brought from the Castle. He entered the house with his eyes fixed on the ground, knelt as he heard the charge and pleaded not guilty. The King-at-Arms in his party-coloured robe preceded him, bearing the Kingston arms emblazoned on a shield, and close by stood the executioner, holding his axe, but with the edge averted from the prisoner.
The great provocation under which Lord Kingston had acted had given him the warm sympathies of the spectators, and there was a deep and anxious suspense when the witnesses for the prosecution were three times called. But though the wife and children of the deceased man were summoned, no accuser appeared, and an acquittal became inevitable. The peers adjourned to their own house. The bishops claimed their old privilege of not voting on a question of life and death. The lay peers returned in procession to the Commons, and unanimously pronounced their brother peer not guilty, and Lord Clare, having announced the verdict, broke his wand and dissolved the assembly.1
The pageant, as it appears, might have had a very different termination. On that day a most important letter came from Higgins. It began with a detailed account of a meeting which had taken place on the preceding night, when letters were read from the country censuring the organised United Irishmen of the city for not having yet made a single effort. A proposal was then made to attack the Chancellor and peers when they were assembled for the trial. It appears to have been suggested by Lord Edward. It was discussed at length, and at last negatived by a majority of two.1 Higgins adds that an alternative plan for an attack on the Castle was then proposed and adopted, ‘consented to by Lord Edward and those who now form the secret committee or Directory, and is set down to take place some night in the next week. M. thinks it is on the ensuing Tuesday or Wednesday, but will be certain for your information.’ 2 Having given this important intelligence, Higgins proceeded to indicate in detail, on the authority of his friend, the place where that night Lord Edward might be found.
The place pointed out was on the road from Thomas Street, where Lord Edward was now concealed, to Usher's Island, where Magan lived, and there is some reason to believe that the intention was to arrest him when he was going to the house and on the invitation of his betrayer.1 Major Sirr at the head of a party was present at the appointed hour, and the two parties encountered. A confused scuffle took place in the dark, narrow, tortuous streets. Sirr was knocked down. Lord Edward escaped and made his way to the house of Murphy in Thomas Street, where he had been formerly concealed, and where he intended to remain through the 19th.
The extreme fatuity with which the conspiracy was conducted is curiously shown by the fact that on this very day, on which the most careful concealment was so imperatively required, the brilliant uniform which Fitzgerald was to wear at the rising, was sent to the house of Murphy. Neilson, who had been sixteen months in prison, and was therefore well known to the authorities, called there in the course of the morning. The street was swarming with soldiers, who were well aware that Lord Edward must be in the neighbourhood, and a public-house belonging to Moore was searched. In spite of all this Neilson came a second time to the house in the broad daylight of the afternoon, stopped with Fitzgerald to dinner, then left the house, it is said, very abruptly, and did not even shut the hall-door behind him.2
A few minutes after his departure, Major Sirr, accompanied by Major Swan, Captain Ryan, and eight or nine private soldiers, arrived. As the door had been left open they entered without noise, resistance, or delay, but Sirr remained with the soldiers below to prevent a rescue or an escape, while Swan and Ryan mounted the staircase. Swan first entered the room where Fitzgerald and Murphy were. The latter remained completely passive, but Fitzgerald sprang from the bed on which he was lying, and brandishing a very formidable dagger, attacked and wounded Swan. The details of the conflict that ensued have been somewhat variously related. The wounded man fired a pocket pistol at Fitzgerald, but missed his aim, and, according to the account of Murphy, he then rushed out of the room to summon the soldiers to his aid. Whether he left it or not, it is certain that Ryan, armed only with a sword-cane, now grappled most courageously with Fitzgerald, and although he speedily received a mortal wound in his stomach, and was again and again stabbed, he clung to his prisoner till the soldiers arrived. They found Ryan bathed in blood and rapidly sinking, and Fitzgerald stood so fiercely at bay that Sirr fired in self-defence. The ball lodged in Fitzgerald's right arm near the shoulder; he staggered for a moment, and then struggling desperately was seized and captured.1
The capture of Lord Edward Fitzgerald was undoubtedly due to the information which was furnished by Magan through Higgins. It was owing to them that he had been obliged to take refuge in Murphy's house on the night of the 18th, and they had clearly pointed out the quarter of Dublin in which he was concealed. I do not, however, think that it was they who indicated the particular house. There is no trace of any communication having been received from them on the 19th, and Major Sirr afterwards stated that he only obtained the information of the hiding place of Lord Edward a few minutes before he went there.2 It is probable that the fact of Neilson, who was well known to be a constant companion of Fitzgerald, having been seen to leave Murphy's house, furnished the clue, and it is tolerably certain that many of the neighbours must have known that this house had been for a considerable time the hiding place of the rebel chief. It is not surprising that grave suspicions of treachery should have attached to Neilson, but they are, I believe, unfounded. Neilson, though he is one of the heroes of a class of popular writers in Ireland, is not a man deserving of any respect. He had been released from prison in the preceding February on condition that ‘he should not belong to any treasonable committee,’ but immediately after the arrest at Bond's house he broke his promise and became one of the most active organisers of the conspiracy.1 He was a drunkard, and therefore peculiarly likely to have betrayed a secret, and the letters I have quoted appear to me to establish a strong probability that he either had, or intended to have, some secret communication with the Government. Two facts, however, are quite sufficient to acquit him of the charge of having deliberately betrayed Fitzgerald. Major Sirr discovered that he was one of the chief organisers of a desperate plot to rescue the prisoner,2 and the promised 1,000l. was duly, though tardily, paid through Higgins to Magan.
The capture was a matter of transcendent importance, for the insurrection was planned for the 23rd, and Fitzgerald was to be its commander. There is not, indeed, the smallest reason to believe that Fitzgerald had any of the qualities of a great man, or was in the least likely to have led his country to any high or honourable destiny. But he was a well-known public man. He was a Protestant. He was a member of a great aristocratic family, and if he had appeared at the head of the rebellion, it is extremely probable that the northern rebels would have risen at his call, though they remained almost passive when they found the rebellion in Leinster headed by fanatical priests and by obscure country gentlemen of whom they had never heard. In that case the sea of blood which in the next months deluged a few counties would have probably overspread the whole island. From this great calamity Ireland was saved by the arrest of May 19. Of the two men who were concerned in furnishing the information, different judgments must be formed. Higgins was an open, prominent, consistent loyalist, who betrayed no one in rendering this great service to his country. Magan, as far as appears, was a simple informer. Whether any motives higher and better than a mere desire for gain inspired him, we have no means of judging.1 On the very night in which Lord Edward was arrested, he was elected a member of the head committee of the United Irishmen.
‘On the announcement of Lord Edward being taken,’ Higgins wrote on the following morning, ‘the butchers in Patrick's Street Market and a number from the Liberty, it seems, got pikes at Carman Hall, Garden Lane, and Hanover Lane to attempt a rescue, but on finding the prisoner had been removed they desisted.’ Higgins adds that the armed bodyguard who usually accompanied Lord Edward were carousing at a house in Queen's Street at the time of the arrest; that Fitzgerald had intended to go down to Finglass on the following night; that on Thursday night he was to have taken the command of a great body of assembled rebels, with the intention of at once marching at their head upon Dublin. ‘The sacking of Beresford's bank, burning the custom-house, seizing the Castle &c. was determined on…. M. recommends the most strict watchfulness of persons going out and coming in the different avenues of the city. To-morrow he will send further information. He was elected last night of the committee. I had a great deal of exertion to go through to keep him steady, and was obliged last week to advance him money: as I also stand pledged in the business to him in the payment of the 1,000l. or otherwise, have the goodness to let it be done immediately, and do away the improper impression he has received of the performance of Government promises.’ 1
Lord Edward Fitzgerald was removed to Newgate, and confined in a cell which had lately been occupied by Lord Ald-borough. The vicissitudes of that sick-bed have been followed by several generations of Irish readers and writers with an intensity of interest hardly bestowed on any other page of Irish history. On the first day he suffered greatly from the inflammation of his wound, but it was soon relieved by suppuration; it was then believed for several days that he would recover, but fever, brought on and aggravated by anxiety of mind, set in. The death of Ryan, which took place on Thursday, the 31st, made an ignominious death the almost certain result of a trial, and it probably had a great part in hastening the catastrophe.1 The Government determined that in the very dangerous condition of affairs no friends or relations should be admitted to persons confined for treason, and they refused till the last moments to relax their rule. They offered, however, to permit Lord Edward to see the family chaplain, which he declined, but he saw and prayed with the chaplain of the gaol. On Friday he became much worse. On Saturday there was an execution in the gaol that agitated him greatly, He prayed fervently that God would pardon and receive all who fell in the cause. On Sunday morning he seemed a little better, but the improvement was slight and transient, and on that day his aunt, Lady Louisa Conolly, received a message from the doctor that he was dying.
This lady, whose rare gifts of mind and character made a deep impression on her contemporaries, was sister of the Duke of Richmond, and wife of one of the most important members of the Irish Parliament. She was deeply attached to Lord Edward, and she at once came from Castletown to Dublin in hope of seeing him for the last time. She was accompanied by her niece, Miss Emily Napier, who has written a singularly interesting account of what occurred. They drove first to the Viceregal Lodge in the Phœnix Park, to ask permission from Lord Camden. Lady Louisa entered alone, but soon returned in a state of extreme agitation, saying that although she had even knelt at the feet of the Lord Lieutenant he had refused her, declaring that neither the Speaker nor the Chancellor would approve of any relaxation of the rule. Orders had been given to the coachman to return to the country, when Miss Napier suggested that her aunt should apply to the Chancellor, who had always been her warm admirer. The suggestion was adopted. Lord Clare happened to be dining at home, and he at once received Lady Louisa with great kindness, told her that although the Lord Lieutenant had refused her, and although the orders were peremptory, he would take the responsibility of admitting her, and would himself accompany her to the gaol. With a thoughtful kindness he suggested that they should first drive to Leinster House and take up Lord Henry, the favourite brother of Lord Edward, who had hitherto been denied access to the prisoner. Lord Clare and Lord Henry Fitzgerald drove first in Lord Clare's carriage, followed by Lady Louisa Conolly and her niece. At the door of the prison Lord Clare said that he must restrict his permission to the aunt and brother, and Miss Napier was driven back to Leinster House to await their return.1 They were but just in time. Lord Edward at first knew them, but soon after became delirious. He died early on the morning of June 4.2
The capture of Lord Edward Fitzgerald was immediately followed by the annihilation of the new Directory through the arrest of the two Sheares and the flight of Lawless. Their arrest, as is well known, was due to information given by Captain Armstrong of the King's County Militia—a regiment which had the reputation of containing many disaffected men, and which was then quartered in a camp that had been formed at Lehaunstown or Loughlinstown, about seven miles from Dublin. Armstrong had for a long time been accustomed to frequent the shop of a Dublin bookseller named Byrne, who was himself a United Irishman and a great publisher of political pamphlets. It does not appear that in going there he had the smallest intention of becoming either a rebel or an informer; but he was a man of literary tastes, and was accustomed to buy all the political pamphlets that appeared. He was an ardent reader of Paine, for whose religious and political views he seems to have felt and expressed a great speculative admiration, and he talked freely, and, as he himself acknowledged, indiscreetly, about the badness of the Government, or at least of the system of taxation in Ireland. All this might have taken place, and probably did take place, without any intention of deception or any political design, but it is not surprising that it led Byrne to look upon his acquaintance as a political sympathiser. The seduction of the militia was at this time one of the first objects of the party. Great numbers of private soldiers had been sworn in, but very few of the officers had betrayed their trust, and if an officer in a regiment which was already largely permeated by disaffection could be induced to turn traitor, his services might be peculiarly valuable. Byrne imagined that Armstrong would prove a useful instrument, and he asked him if he had any objection to be introduced to Mr. Sheares.
Armstrong had never seen either of the brothers, and he at once consented. On reflecting, however, on what he had done, he formed a strong opinion, either from the manner of Byrne, or from the reputation of Sheares, or from something which was said in the course of the conversation, that the object was to engage him in the United Irish plot,1 and he felt that the path before him was a dubious and a dangerous one. The course which he adopted was to go to the colonel of his regiment, and to another officer in whom he had full confidence, and to place himself unreservedly in their hands. He told them the request that had been made to him, and the construction he put on it. He confessed frankly that he had spoken imprudently and indiscreetly, and he asked them to direct his conduct. They both said that it was his duty to see the Sheares, and if their object was what he supposed, to pretend so far to accede to it as to unravel the plot. The business was not of his seeking. He had never wished or asked to play the part of a spy, but if an unlooked-for chance placed in his hands the threads of a most dangerous conspiracy, and enabled him to avert or defeat a formidable and sanguinary rebellion, he could not, they said, without a failure of duty, shrink from the task. Besides his duty to his King and country, he had a duty to his regiment; and it was to avail himself of every means of discovering how far the conspiracy had really infected it.
Such were the views of Colonel L'Estrange1 and of Captain Clibborn, and after the tragedy was completed all the brother officers of Armstrong supported them, by signing a testimonial in which they expressed their full approbation of his conduct. Armstrong acted on their advice. He was introduced to Henry and John Sheares as a man on whom they could fully rely, and the whole story soon came out. He learnt that the conspirators had now determined that it was no longer possible to wait for the French, but that an immediate rebellion must be attempted; that it was to begin with an almost simultaneous attempt to surprise the camp at Lehaunstown, to seize the artillery at Chapelizod and to capture Dublin, and that John Sheares was to go down to Cork to organise the rebellion in the South. He learnt also that the military organisation was now complete, all the captains and adjutants being appointed; that there were some United Irishmen in every regiment which had been in Dublin for the last two years, and that a meeting had lately been held of deputies from nearly every militia regiment in Ireland, including that of Armstrong himself. It was believed by the conspirators that all, or nearly all, those regiments would ultimately join the insurgents. Deputies from several different regiments had already promised recruits for the rebel army, some ten, some twenty, some thirty, some one hundred men, provided they had sufficient notice, but no impression had been made upon the officers. In one street through which the soldiers were likely to pass in order to attack the insurgents, so many houses had been secured that a deadly fire was likely to take place. At the outset of the rebellion the Lord Lieutenant was to be seized in the Castle, and all the privy councillors in their private houses, and in this way, it was thought, organised resistance would be paralysed. The rising at Cork and the rising in other places were to be so managed, that the news might reach Dublin at the same time. The task assigned to Armstrong was to bring over his regiment. In order to assist him, he was given the names of some soldiers in it who were already sworn in. He was recommended to act specially upon the Roman Catholics, and he was authorised to promise every soldier who joined the conspiracy that he should receive a portion of confiscated land in the King's County. He was himself promised the command of the regiment. The names of the supreme executive were not disclosed to him, and he was told that the exact day of the rising was not fixed, but that it was close at hand.
These very alarming disclosures completely confirmed the intelligence which the Government had been receiving from other sources. They were not all made at a single interview. The first took place on May 10, and immediately after, the proclamation was issued, offering a reward of 1,000l. for the apprehension of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Armstrong communicated what had passed not only to Colonel L'Estrange and Captain Clibborn, but also to Lord Castlereagh and to Cooke, and he appears to have acted largely under their advice. He had several interviews with his victims, and at one of them Lawless was present. On May 20—the day after the arrest of Lord Edward Fitzgerald—he dined with the two brothers and with members of their family. He afterwards said that he had done wrong in accepting their hospitality, but that he had done so at the urgent desire of Lord Castlereagh, who had represented to him that a time when so many lives were in jeopardy, and so terrible a catastrophe was impending, was not one for indulging in delicate scruples or neglecting any possible means of information. The next day the two brothers were arrested. In their house was found, in the handwriting of John Sheares, the draft of the proclamation to which I have already referred, urging the insurgents to give no quarter to any Irishman who resisted them.1
On the night before the arrest, Lawless had fled from Dublin, and he succeeded in making his way to France, where he entered the army, and rose in time to be a general under Napoleon. Byrne was arrested on the same day as the Sheares. On the 23rd, through information given by a Catholic priest, the plot of Neilson to rescue Lord Edward Fitzgerald was discovered, and Neilson was imprisoned, though he was never brought to trial, and in this way every leader in Ireland who had any real influence was removed. On the 21st Lord Castlereagh, by the direction of the Lord Lieutenant, wrote to the Lord Mayor of Dublin, announcing that a plot had been discovered for placing Dublin, in the course of the present week, in the hands of a rebel force, and for seizing the Executive Government and those of authority in the city, and on the following day a similar announcement was made to the House of Commons. The House responded by a very loyal address, and all the members, with the Speaker and Serjeant-at-Arms at their head, walked two and two through the streets to present it to the Lord Lieutenant. The guards in every point of danger were trebled, and every precaution was taken, as in a besieged city.
While these things were happening in Ireland, Arthur O'Connor and the four other men who had been arrested at Margate in the preceding February, were being tried at Maid-stone on the charge of high treason. The evidence against them was of very different degrees. That against Binns went little further than to show that he had been actively employed in obtaining a boat for the escape of the others to France. The cases against Allen and Leary completely broke down, for the former was probably, and the second certainly, a simple servant, and there was no evidence that they were cognisant of the designs of their master. The priest O'Coigly and Arthur O'Connor were undoubtedly at Margate together, under false names, attempting to go to France. This, however, in itself only amounted to a misdemeanour, unless it could be proved that the purpose of their journey was a treasonable one. The evidence against O'Coigly was clear and conclusive, for in the pocket of his great-coat was found a most seditious address from ‘the Secret Committee’ in England to the French Executive, strongly and elaborately urging an invasion of England. The case against O'Connor turned mainly upon the question whether he was cognisant of this paper, and of the designs of his companion. It was proved that he was well acquainted with him, though he had denied the fact, and he was convicted of one or two other misstatements. It was shown also that he was the principal and guiding member of the party, and that he had paid for the whole expedition, and a cipher discovered in his razor case established a strong independent evidence of treason. It had, however, no connection with the document found in the possession of O'Coigly, and it was pretended that O'Connor was flying from the country on account of private embarrassments, and had, as a matter of charity, agreed to take with him a distressed fellow-countryman, of whose character and objects he knew nothing. The trial derived a great additional interest from the appearance of nearly all the leading members of the English Opposition, including Fox, Sheridan, Erskine, Whitbread, the Duke of Norfolk, and Lord Moira, as witnesses in favour of O'Connor. They deposed that he had lived familiarly with them, and that they considered his politics substantially identical with their own. Grattan also was summoned for the defence, but his evidence was remarkably scanty. It amounted to nothing more than that O'Connor had a good and an unreserved private character, and that he had never heard him express any opinion in any degree favourable to a French invasion, but rather the contrary.1 The judge summed up decidedly in favour of all the prisoners except O'Coigly. The trial terminated on May 22. O'Coigly was found guilty of high treason. Binns, Allen, and Leary were acquitted and discharged. O'Connor was also acquitted, amid a scene of excitement and confusion such as has rarely been seen in an English court of justice,1 but he was detained on a warrant of the Duke of Portland, on a new charge of high treason. Fortunately for himself, and fortunately too for Ireland, he remained during the next few weeks in prison, and could take no part in the rebellion.
The Government were much dissatisfied at the acquittal of O'Connor. Wickham ascribed it mainly to the impression produced by a most scandalous letter which was brought under the notice of the court before the trial began, written by a clergyman named Arthur Young, who confessed that he had come in contact with three men who had been summoned as jurymen in the case, and had urged upon them the transcendent importance of hanging the prisoners.2 Pollock, who had been sent over on the part of the Irish Government, considered that Leary alone ought to have been acquitted, and he believed that the judge, when charging the jury, had been unconsciously influenced and intimidated by the menacing presence and demeanour of the leading members of the Opposition in Lords and Commons who were ranged before him.3 O'Coigly had been much in Paris, and Wolfe Tone had formed a very unfavourable opinion of his character. The Government had long been well aware that he was steeped in treason, and a full year before his arrest McNally had informed them that he was in Ireland on a political mission, and had reported to them the tenour of his conversation.1 He met his fate with courage and resignation, but asserted his innocence to the last. He was hanged on Penningdon Heath on June 7.
The 23rd of May, which was the day appointed for the insurrection, had arrived. The signal was to be the stopping of the mail coaches from Dublin; and although the programme was not fully carried out, those which were going to Belfast, to Athlone, to Limerick, and to Cork, were that night seized. Long before daybreak on the 24th, numerous rebel parties were in arms in the counties of Dublin, Kildare, and Meath. In Kildare, in spite of all the stringent measures of disarmament, the rising was especially formidable, and about 2.30 on the morning of the 24th a party of rebels vaguely estimated at 1,000 men, and commanded by a farmer named Michael Reynolds, whose house had lately been burnt by the soldiers, attempted to surprise and capture the important town of Naas; Lord Gosford, however, who commanded there, had been made aware of their intention, and a party of Armagh Militia with a detachment of dragoon guards were ready to meet them. Three times the rebels dashed themselves desperately against the troops, who were stationed near the gaol, and three times they were repulsed. They then changed their tactics, took possession of almost every avenue into the town, fought the troops with great intrepidity for nearly three-quarters of an hour, but at last gave way, broke and fled, closely pursued by the cavalry. Hundreds of guns and pikes were brought in, either taken from the dead or cast away by the fugitives in their flight. Four prisoners only were taken, of whom three were hanged in the streets of Naas, while the fourth saved his life by giving valuable information. The loss on the King's side was variously estimated at from fourteen to thirty. Of the rebels, about thirty were believed to have been killed in the streets, and more than one hundred in the flight.2
Nearly at the same time, and at a distance of but a few miles from Naas, 300 rebels attacked a small garrison of yeomen and militia at Clane. But though the loyalists were surprised and immensely outnumbered, their captain, Richard Griffith, speedily rallied them, dispersed the rebels by a well-directed fire and pursued them for some distance, killing many, and burning every house in which they took refuge. Six prisoners were taken; one was condemned at the drum-head and shot at Clane; ‘the other five were hanged the same day with less ceremony by the soldiers in Naas.’
About five in the morning, Griffith brought back his little body of soldiers, and he then learnt a terrible tragedy that had been enacted three miles from Clane. The small town of Prosperous, which was the centre of the cotton industry of Ireland, had been garrisoned by forty or fifty of the North Cork Militia under Captain Swayne, and by twenty of the Ancient Britons. In the deadest hour of the early morning the sentinels on guard were surprised and killed. Some soldiers were slaughtered in their beds in the houses in which they were billeted, while the barracks were surrounded and set on fire. Many of the men who were in them perished by the flames or by suffocation. Some sprang from the windows and were caught upon the pikes of the assailants. The remainder tried to cut their way through the enemy, but nearly all perished. A gentleman named Stamer, who was the principal proprietor of Prosperous, and an English gentleman named Brewer, who was a prominent manufacturer, were murdered in cold blood. Several of the party, it is said, were recognised as men who on the very day before the tragedy, had come forward to profess their loyalty, to express contrition for past offences, and to receive protections from Captain Swayne.1
Griffith foresaw that the party from Prosperous would soon attack him, and he at once drew out his small and gallant force in Clane. He had scarcely done so when a great disorderly body of insurgents poured in, their ragged clothes strangely variegated by the scarlet uniforms and glittering helmets taken from soldiers who had perished. The loyalists were vastly outnumbered, but Griffith drew up his force in an advantageous post in the corner of a field where they could not be outflanked, and awaited the attack. The rebels opened a heavy fire, but they were evidently totally unacquainted with the use of firearms, and every ball flew high above its mark. A deadly volley from the militia and the yeomen, and a fierce charge, soon put them to flight. Many were killed. ‘The roads and fields,’ writes Griffith, ‘were instantly covered with pikes, pitchforks, sabres and some muskets. Five of the Ancient Britons, whose lives the insurgents had spared and put in the front of the battle on foot, armed only with pikes, deserted to us and gave us the horrid detail of the massacre at Prosperous. We pursued the rebels to near that town, but did not think it prudent to enter it lest we should be fired at from the houses. We therefore returned to Clane, got our men reported, and having put our wounded men on cars proceeded to Naas, whither we had received orders to march.’
Before, however, the march began, a very curious incident occurred. When the little force was first called together, many men were absent, and it was noticed that among them was Dr. Esmonde, the first lieutenant. A yeoman had strayed in and privately informed Captain Griffith that this very officer had actually commanded the rebels in the attack on Prosperous. Dr. Esmonde was brother of Sir Thomas Esmonde, the head of a conspicuous Catholic family of Wexford. He had only the Sunday before accompanied Captain Swayne to the chapel at Prosperous to exhort the people to surrender their arms, and it is even said that the very night before his treachery he had dined with his intended victim. He had succeeded in seducing some of the yeomen under his command, and had gone off in the night to lead the rebels. The yeoman who gave the information had been of the party, but his mind misgave him, and he escaped in the darkness.
Griffith had but just received this startling information, and his force was drawn out for leaving Clane, when Esmonde himself rode in, ‘his hair dressed, his boots and breeches quite clean, and himself fully accoutred,’ and took his accustomed station at the right of the troop. Griffith was at first speechless with astonishment and indignation, but he resolved to command himself, and Esmonde, fancying himself unsuspected, actually rode with the troops to Naas as second in command. When they arrived there, the captain ordered them to halt before the gaol, and at once lodged the traitor within it. Ample proof of his treachery was obtained, and he was sent to Dublin, tried and hanged.1
Other inconsiderable conflicts, consisting chiefly of attacks on small detachments of yeomen or militia and on the villages they occupied, took place, on the first two days of the rebellion, near Rathfarnham, Tallagh, Lucan, Lusk, Dunboyne, Barretstown, Baltinglass, and Kilcullen.2 With very few exceptions the troops had everywhere the advantage, though at Kilcullen the pikemen succeeded in three times repelling the charge of a body of heavy cavalry under General Dundas; and in two other places the rebels victoriously attacked small detachments of troops and succeeded in plundering their baggage. At Baltinglass, twenty-nine miles to the south of Dublin, on the other hand, one hundred rebels were killed without the loss of a single loyalist. Some small towns and villages were occupied by rebels. Numerous houses were plundered, and several murders were unquestionably committed, though in the confused, contradictory, and partisan accounts of what took place, it is impossible with any confidence to estimate their number. The troops appear to have given little or no quarter to those who were found with arms in their hands, and those who were not immediately killed seem to have been either flogged to extort information, or shot or hanged in a very summary manner, often without any form of trial. Shouts of ‘Down with the Orangemen!’ and numerous attacks upon Protestants where Catholics were unmolested, showed the character the struggle was likely to assume with the Catholic peasantry. On the other hand, Catholics formed the great majority of the Irish militia and a considerable minority of the yeomen. The Catholic Lord Fingall, at the head of some corps of yeomen chiefly of his own persuasion, took a most active and efficient part in suppressing the rebellion. A numerously signed address expressing the deepest loyalty was presented to the Lord Lieutenant by the most respectable Dublin Catholics, and Archbishop Troy at once ordered an earnest exhortation to loyalty to be read from the altar at every mass. But religious passion from the first mingled largely in the struggle, and its influence was magnified both by panic and by design, for men on both sides found it useful for their purposes to fan the flame by spreading rumours of impending religious massacres. Numbers of panic-stricken Protestants scattered over the districts in rebellion fled for protection to the towns; the yeomen and militia men who deserted to the rebels appear to have been almost exclusively Catholics, and the great majority of those who were murdered or plundered by the rebels were Protestants. The Catholics, on the other hand, were told that the Government had resolved to exterminate them, and that nothing remained for them but to sell their lives dearly.
The recent arrests had deprived the rebellion of its commander-in-chief and its Directory, and the failure of the plan for the capture of the Castle and of the governors of Ireland reduced it to a number of isolated and almost aimless outbreaks. Even after the arrest of Lord Edward, however, Higgins assured the Government, on the excellent authority of Magan, that the plot for seizing Dublin was by no means abandoned,1 and for some days there were abundant signs of danger. Bodies of rebels, manifestly intended to march upon the metropolis and to co-operate with a rising there, approached Dublin from many different quarters; some of them appeared at a distance of only about three miles, both at Santry and at Rathfarnham, but they were promptly attacked and speedily dispersed by the corps of fencible cavalry known as Lord Jocelyn's Foxhunters. Signal fires blazed ominously by night from many points of the Dublin and Wicklow hills. Within the city the lamplighters struck work, meaning to leave the streets in total darkness, but they were forced at the point of the bayonet to light the lamps. Crowds of domestic servants, workmen, clerks, and shopmen disappeared from their usual posts, having gone off to join the rebels. McNally warned the Government that there was much to fear from the treachery of servants, and that there was a design to stop all provisions for the city.
Martial law had been at once proclaimed, and every precaution was taken to guard against surprise. The old city watchmen, who were perfectly inadequate for such an emergency, were still suffered to call the hour, but they were deprived of their pikes and muskets, and the task of preserving order was entrusted to the yeomanry, who discharged it with a vigilance and an energy which were then universally recognised. The force in Dublin was already very powerful, and in the first fortnight of the rebellion nearly a thousand more citizens joined it, while many others might have been enrolled, if it had not been for the determination of the authorities to accept no one whose loyalty was not beyond dispute. Parties of yeomanry patrolled the streets by night, and guarded all the most important positions. Cannon were placed opposite Kilmainham and the new prison. Tocsins or alarm bells were set up in various parts of the town, and stringent orders were given that whenever the alarm was sounded during the night, the neighbouring householders must place lights outside their windows. The bridges on the canals that flank three sides of Dublin were removed or strongly guarded; all assemblies were forbidden, and strict orders were given, as in other proclaimed districts, that no unauthorised person should appear in the streets between nine at night and five in the morning; that all householders should post outside their doors lists of those who were within; that all those who had formerly registered their arms should send in an inventory of them to the town clerk. General Vallancy was consulted about the defence of the Castle, and recommended some additional precautions, especially the accumulation of large supplies of hand-grenades, which he considered the most effective weapons against a tumultuous attack. The brushmakers'shops were especially watched, for it was found that the long mops known as ‘Popes'heads’ were made use of as pike handles.
The search for arms was prosecuted with untiring vigilance, and the discovery in the course of a few days of several large stores of pikes or pike heads, and even of a few cannon, clearly showed the reality and the magnitude of the danger. Some of these arms were found concealed in carts, as they were being moved from one part of the city to the other, and others in the search of suspected houses; but the discovery, in most cases, was due either to secret information or to confessions that were extorted under the lash. Courts-martial were daily held, and many persons were hanged in the barracks or over Carlisle bridge; 124 suspected rebels were sent on a single day to the tender. The bodies of many rebels who had been sabred in the fights round Dublin were brought into the town on carts and exposed in the Castle yard.
The proclamation issued by the Lord Lieutenant and Council directed the generals commanding his Majesty's forces to punish all persons acting, aiding, or in any way assisting in the rebellion, according to martial law, ‘either by death or otherwise, as they shall deem most expedient.’ This proclamation was at once laid before the House of Commons and unanimously sanctioned. One member even spoke of giving it a retrospective action, and executing under it the political prisoners who were now under arrest, but the suggestion, though it was received with some applause, was happily not pressed to a division. The flogging of suspected persons in order to discover arms was practised openly and avowedly, and it proved exceedingly efficacious, and there was, as might have been expected, some unauthorised violence. The house of a prominent rebel named Byrne, who had been killed at Tallagh, and a house near Townshend Street in which arms were discovered, were burnt to ashes; and when Bishop Percy two days after the arrest of Lord Edward Fitzgerald drove down to Thomas Street to see the spot where it occurred, he found the soldiers busily engaged in burning in the middle of the street, piles of furniture taken from tradesmen's houses in which pikes had been discovered. McNally complained bitterly that he could not appear without insult in the streets; and his own house was searched and a silver cup was taken.1
On the whole, however, the most striking feature of the time, in Dublin, was the energy and the promptitude with which the citizens armed and organised themselves for the protection of their city. The real public spirit, manhood, and intelligence of the Irish people in those dreary days must not be looked for among the ignorant, half-starved rebels who were plundering and wasting the country, but much rather in the loyalists who rose by thousands to subdue them; who again and again scattered bodies ten times as numerous as themselves, and who even before the arrival of English troops had broken the force of the rebellion. Dublin was no doubt full of rebels and con-spirators, but they were completely cowed, and under the swift stern measures of martial law they shrank into obscurity. All the loyal classes were under arms. Bankers, merchants, shopkeepers, students of the university, and even some clergymen, were hastily enrolled. A circular was issued by the archbishop to his clergy expressly authorising them to assume the military character.1 There was a special corps of barristers, and it is said that no less than 800 attorneys enlisted in the yeomanry.2 At the opening of Trinity term, the bar, the juries, and the attorneys appeared almost without exception in military uniform, and Judge Downes informed them that as almost every duty that could now employ men in the city was military, he would detain them as short a time as possible; that no continuous business would be taken up which was not urgently necessary, and that, with the exception of the King's law officers, all the attorneys and members of the bar were expected to appear in court in military uniform.3
Countless rumours of impending acts of murder or treachery were circulated, and for some days there was a complete ignorance about the extent of the rebellion. Camden wrote on the 25th that all communications with the South were cut off, and that the judges who were going to the assizes at Clonmel were compelled to turn back. Reinforcements, he said, were urgently needed, but there was as yet no news of insurrection in the North.1
There is much reason to believe that the outbreak was witnessed with gratification by many of the members and supporters of Government, who believed that the disease which had been during the last years poisoning all the springs of Irish life would be now by a short sharp crisis effectually expelled. I have quoted the imprudent language to this effect used by Beresford in the House of Commons in 1797. Just a month before the rebels appeared in the field, the Knight of Kerry made a remarkable speech in which he declared that the country was incontestably in a state of rebellion; that it was the lurking and mysterious character of the conspiracy that constituted its real danger, and that once the rebels appeared in the field, that danger would soon be over.2 At the very beginning of the rebellion Lord Clare predicted that the country ‘would be more safe and peaceable than for many years back.’ 3 ‘I consider,’ wrote Cooke in a very confidential letter, ‘this insurrection, however distressing, as really the salvation of the country. If you look at the accounts that 200,000 men are sworn in a conspiracy, how could that conspiracy be cleared without a burst? Besides, it will prove many things necessary for the future settlement of the country when peace arises.’ 4
The Queen's County, as we have seen, had long been in a state of extreme disturbance. It had been proclaimed towards the end of January, and under the influence of martial law great numbers of suspected rebels had been imprisoned, and great quantities of arms discovered and surrendered.5 On the 25th an open rebellion broke out in it, but only in the feeblest, the most unorganised, and inefficient form. There was much robbery. There were also, it is said, some isolated murders of Protestants, and at four in the morning a party variously estimated at 1,000 or 2,000 attacked the little town of Monastrevan, which was garrisoned by eighty-four yeomen. There was some serious fighting, and the issue for one or two hours seemed very doubtful, but the yeomanry then drove back their assailants, who set fire to some houses and retired under the shelter of the smoke, leaving sixty or seventy of their number dead on the field. Only four or five of the yeomen appear to have fallen. It was noticed that of the gallant little band that defended Monastrevan, fourteen were Catholics, and that ten others were Methodists, who had been deprived of their arms for refusing to exercise on Sundays, but who now offered their services and bore a distinguished part in the fight.1
With this exception, no event of any real importance took place during the rebellion in this county. Some of the rebels who had attacked Monastrevan proceeded towards Portarlington, but they had now dwindled to a disorderly mob of about 200 poor, unguided men, and they were met and easily dispersed by a small body of cavalry at Clonanna, some four miles from Portarlington. Twenty of them were killed at that place, and in or near the wood of Kilbracken.2 It has been stated that the escape of the remainder was largely due to a yeomanry officer whom they had taken prisoner and whose life they had spared. They at first entreated him to command them, and on his refusal they piteously implored him to advise them. He recommended them to fling away their pikes and to fly across the quaking bog, where the cavalry could not pursue them.3
On the same morning on which Monastrevan was attacked, 1,000 or 1,500 rebels attempted to surprise the town of Carlow. They assembled in the middle of the night on the lawn of Sir Edward Crosbie, who lived a mile and a half from the town, and at two in the morning they proceeded to the attack. But either from secret information, or through their total neglect of the most ordinary precautions, their design was known, and the garrison of 450 men, some of them being regular soldiers, were prepared to receive them. The rebels entered Carlow by Tullow Street, unopposed, and proceeded to the open place at the end, where they set up a sudden yell. It was at once answered by a deadly fire from the soldiers, who had been posted at many different points. The panic-stricken rebels endeavoured to fly, but found their retreat cut off; the houses in which they sought a refuge were set on fire, and the soldiers shot or bayoneted all who attempted to escape from the flames. Sot less than eighty houses were burnt, and that evening nineteen carts were constantly employed in carrying charred or mangled corpses to a gravel pit near the town. During several days, it is said, roasted remains of rebels fell from the chimneys in which they had concealed themselves. It was believed that more than 600 perished in the fight, or in the flames, or by martial law, without the loss of a single life on the other side.1
For the general aspect of the county of Carlow during the rebellion, I can hardly do better than refer my reader to the truthful and graphic journal of Mary Leadbeater, the friend of Burke, and the daughter of his old Quaker schoolmaster, Shackleton. In that most fascinating and pathetic book he will find a lifelike picture of the free quarters, the burning of houses, the floggings, the plunder, the many murders, and many random or wanton outrages that were committed, and he will probably find some difficulty in striking the balance between the crimes of the rebels and the outrages of the soldiers. The condition of the county was that of simple anarchy, in which the restraints of law and legal authority were almost wholly abrogated. There was certainly nothing in the least resembling a desire to massacre the Protestant population, and Mrs. Leadbeater relates many instances of touching kindness and chivalry on the part of the rebels. On the other hand, there were many savage murders, and personal popularity or unpopularity counted for much. ‘Women and children,’ she says, ‘were spared, and Quakers in general escaped; but woe to the oppressor of the poor, the hard landlord, the severe master, or him who was looked upon as an enemy.’ The few members of the upper classes who were to be seen were generally dressed in deep black, for there was scarcely a family which had not lost a member.
Among the victims of martial law in this county was Sir Edward Crosbie, who was tried with indecent haste by a court-martial, of which only one member was of a higher rank than a captain, and whose execution appears to have been little better than a judicial murder. He had been a parliamentary reformer of the school of Grattan; he was a benevolent and popular landlord, and he had, a few months before the rebellion, given money for the support of some political prisoners who were in a state of extreme destitution in Carlow gaol, but there was no reason to believe that he was either a United Irishman or a republican. He certainly took no part in the attack on Carlow, and it does not appear that he had any previous knowledge of the intention of the rebels to assemble on his lawn. Some doubtful and suspected evidence, given by one or two convicted United Irishmen, who were trying to save their lives, was, it is true, adduced to the effect that he had uttered words of sympathy with the party, but, on the whole, the probability is that he was a perfectly innocent man, and was completely passive in the matter. The point on which the court-martial seems to have especially insisted was, that he had not at once gone to Carlow to give information. It was urged, probably with perfect truth, that it was impossible for him to have done so, for all his servants had declared themselves United Irishmen; he was surrounded by armed men, and even if he had himself succeeded in escaping, his family would almost certainly have been murdered. The court-martial was hurried through when men were mad with fear and rage. Crosbie had only an hour given him to prepare his defence. He had no proper counsel, and some intended witnesses in his favour afterwards swore that they had tried in vain to obtain admission into the barracks. He was hanged and decapitated, and his head was fixed on a pike outside Carlow gaol. It was afterwards stolen during the night by an old, faithful servant, who brought it to the family burying place.1
It appeared at this time very probable that the rebellion was already broken.1 Mobs of half-starved, half-armed, and wholly undisciplined men, without the smallest sign of any skilful or intelligent leadership, or even of any genuine fanaticism, and in many cases almost without common courage, were as yet the only representatives of the conspiracy which had appeared so formidable. On the very day of the attack on Carlow, a body of rebels, estimated at more than 3,000, were routed and scattered at Hacketstown, in the same county, with the loss of about 200 men, by a detachment of Antrim Militia and a small force of yeomen, and two soldiers only were slightly injured.2 On the 26th another rebel body, reckoned at 4,000 men, were totally routed at the hill of Tarah, in Meath, by a force of yeomanry apparently not more than a tenth part of their number. Among the spoils taken in this battle were a general's uniform and a side saddle, and it was noticed that a woman or a man in woman's clothes was prominent among the rebels. ‘The killed,’ wrote a magistrate the next day, ‘were not less than 200. Two prisoners only were taken, who were shot this morning…. The roads this day were covered with dead bodies and green cockades, together with pikes and horses they had pressed.’ 3 Before the flight was over, it was estimated that at least 350 of the rebels had been killed, while the loss on the loyal side was only nine killed and sixteen wounded. Three hundred horses, and all the ammunition and baggage of the rebels, were captured, and eight soldiers, whom they had taken prisoners and preserved alive, were released. Lord Fingall and his Catholic yeomanry bore a distinguished part in this battle. Its consequences were very important, for it completely broke the rebellion in Meath, and it reopened the communication between the northern part of the kingdom and the metropolis.1
In Carlow, the Queen's County, and Meath, indeed, the rebellion was already fairly broken. In Kildare, where it had been much more formidable, it was rapidly dwindling. The village of Rathangan, in that county, appears to have been the scene of some of the most horrible murders in the rebellion. It had been occupied by the rebels on May 26, and they had at once murdered an active magistrate who lived there, and are stated by Musgrave to have afterwards murdered with the utmost deliberation, and often with circumstances of aggravated brutality, not less than eighteen other persons, all of them being Protestants. On the 28th a detachment of Tullamore yeomanry cavalry endeavoured to relieve the town, but they were met with so heavy a fire from the windows that they took flight, with a loss of three killed and eleven wounded. Soon after, however, Colonel Longfield appeared at the head of the City of Cork Militia. This regiment, it may be noticed, like many others employed in suppressing the rebellion, must have been mainly Catholic, and it was accompanied by a detachment of dragoons and by two field-pieces. The rebels had entrenched themselves near the great canal, apparently with some skill, but at the second discharge of artillery they broke into a precipitate flight. No loss was sustained by the troops of Colonel Longfield, but between fifty and sixty rebels were killed in the fight, and several others were afterwards hanged.2
Nearly at the same time a rebel leader named Perkins, who was encamped with a large force on a hill near the Curragh of Kildare, sent a message to General Dundas, offering to surrender, provided he and his men obtained a free pardon, and were suffered to return to their homes, and provided also, certain conspicuous prisoners were released. To the great indignation of the leading supporters of the Government, Dundas transmitted this proposal to Camden, and recommended that it should be accepted. Camden sent back orders to insist upon an unconditional surrender, but in the meantime Dundas had made a short truce with, the rebels, and they readily agreed to lay down their arms and disperse, on no other condition than being left at peace. About 2,000 men are said to have availed themselves of this permission, and to have dispersed to their homes with shouts of joy, leaving thirteen cartloads of pikes behind them.1
The conduct of Dundas was furiously blamed in Dublin, and for a time this general was scarcely less unpopular in Government circles than Abercromby had been. In Parliament, also, he appears to have been bitterly and angrily condemned;2 but if his policy had been steadily pursued, it would have probably brought the rebellion to a speedy and bloodless end. It was interrupted, however, three days later, by a horrible tragedy. Another large body of rebels, who had agreed with General Dundas to surrender their arms, were assembled for that purpose at a place called Gibbet-rath, on the Curragh of Kildare. Sir James Duff, who had just made a rapid march from Limerick with 600 men, proceeded with his force to receive the weapons. Unfortunately, a gun was fired from the rebel ranks. According to the most probable account, it was fired into the air by a rebel, who foolishly boasted that he would only deliver his gun empty. Instantly, a deadly volley was poured by the troops into the rebels, who fled in wild panic and disorder, fiercely pursued by Lord Jocelyn's Foxhunters. The officers lost all control over their men. In the vast and open plain, defence and escape were alike impossible; and although General Dundas, on hearing what had occurred, hastened to do all that was possible to arrest the slaughter, between 200 and 300 men were killed.
The affair was plausibly, though untruly, represented as a deliberate plot to massacre defenceless men, who had been lured by the promise of pardon into the plain; and it contributed, perhaps, more than any other single cause, to check the disposition to surrender arms. Its bad effects must have been much aggravated by the language used in the House of Commons, where the clemency of Dundas was vehemently denounced, and where a vote of thanks was moved to Sir James Duff. An incident, which occurred at this time, illustrates vividly the extreme recklessness with which human life was now treated in Ireland. A very excellent Kildare Protestant clergyman, named Williamson, fell into the hands of the rebels. The intercession of a Catholic priest saved his life, and he was preserved as a prisoner. He was recaptured by the loyalists, who at once and without trial proceeded to hang him as a rebel. It happened that his brother-in-law was an officer in the regiment, and by this chance alone his life was saved.1
If a French force of disciplined soldiers had arrived in Ireland at the beginning of the outbreak, or even if without that arrival the rebel plot for seizing Dublin and the Irish Executive had succeeded, the rebellion would very probably for a time at least have triumphed, and Ireland might have passed out of English rule. Neither of these things had happened, and the one remaining chance of the rebels lay in a simultaneous rising, extending over all parts of the island. Such a rising was part of the scheme of the original leaders, and if their plans had not been dislocated by their arrest, it might have taken place. As yet, however, the rebellion had only appeared in a small part of Leinster. Connaught was perfectly peaceful. In Munster, though some pikes were captured, and some slight disorders appeared near Cork and Limerick, there was no semblance of regular rebellion.2 Above all, Ulster, where the conspiracy had begun, where its organisation was most perfect, and where its outbreak was most dreaded, was absolutely passive, and remained so for a full fortnight after the rebellion began. The plan of the rebellion had been wholly frustrated. The expected capture of Dublin had failed. The desertion of the Catholic militia, which had been fully counted on, had not taken place, and the forces on the side of the Government had displayed an unexpected energy. The Irish yeomanry have been much and justly blamed by historians for their want of discipline, for their extreme recklessness in destroying both life and property, and for the violent religious passions they too frequently displayed. But if their faults were great, their merits were equally conspicuous. To their patriotic energy, to their ceaseless vigilance, to the courage with which they were always ready to encounter armed bodies, five or even ten times as numerous as themselves, the suppression of the rebellion was mainly due. But the flame had no sooner begun to burn low in the central counties, than it burst out with redoubled fierceness in Wicklow and Wexford, and soon acquired dimensions which taxed all the energies of the Government.
In neither county was it fully expected. Wicklow was one of the most peaceful and most prosperous counties in Ireland. It possessed a large and very respectable resident gentry. The condition of its farmers and labourers was above the average, and it had always been singularly free from disturbance and outrage. Its proximity to Dublin, however, made it peculiarly open to the seductions of the United Irishmen, and it is said that, from an early period of the movement, a party among the Wicklow priests had favoured the conspiracy.1 The organisation spread so seriously, that some districts were proclaimed in November 1797.2 There was no branch of the Orange Society in the county of Wicklow, but the yeomanry force in this county is said to have taken a peculiarly sectarian character, for the strenuous and successful efforts of the United Irishmen to prevent, the Catholics from enlisting in it, made it necessary to fill the ranks with Protestants of the lowest order. Having thus succeeded in making the armed force mainly Protestant, the conspirators industriously spread reports that the Orangemen were about to massacre the Catholics, and were supported and instigated by the Government. I have already noticed the maddening terror which such rumours produced, and a Catholic historian states, that in this county not once only, but on several occasions, the whole Catholic population for the extent of thirty miles deserted their homes, and slept in the open air, through the belief that the armed Protestants were about to sweep down upon them, to massacre them, or at least to expel them from the county.1
By these means a population with very little interest in political questions were scared into rebellion; the conspiracy took root and spread, and the methods of repression that were adopted soon completed the work. The burning of houses, often on the most frivolous grounds, the floggings of suspected individuals, the insults to women, and all the many acts of violence, plunder, brutality, and oppression, that inevitably follow when undisciplined forces, drawn mainly from the lowest classes of society, are suffered to live at free quarters upon a hostile population, lashed the people to madness. I have quoted from the autobiography of Holt the remarkable passage, in which that Wicklow rebel declared how foreign were political and legislative grievances from the motives that turned him into a rebel, and the persecution of those who fell under suspicion was by no means confined to the poor. We have seen a striking example of this in the treatment of Reynolds in the county of Kildare. Grattan himself lived in the county of Wicklow, but fortunately he was detained in England, during the worst period of martial law, by the postponement of the trial of O'Connor; his family, however, found themselves exposed to so many insults, and even dangers, that they took refuge in Wales.2 A great part of the Ancient Britons were quartered in the county of Wicklow, and these Welsh soldiers appear to have everywhere aroused a deeper hatred than any others who were employed in Ireland.
Some time before the rebellion began, those who knew the people well, perceived that a dangerous movement was on foot. A general indisposition to pay debts of any kind, or fulfil any engagements; a marked change in the manner of the people; mysterious meetings by night; vague but persistent rumours, pointing to some great coming change; signal fires appearing frequently upon the hills; busy strangers moving from cottage to cottage, all foreshadowed the storm. There was also a sudden cessation of drinking; a rapid and unnatural abatement of the usual turbulence at fairs or wakes, which, to those who knew Ireland well, was very ominous.1
The adjoining county of Wexford was also one of the most prosperous in Ireland. Land sold there at an unusually high price. It had a considerable and intelligent resident gentry, and in general the peasantry were comfortably situated,2 though there were some districts in which there was extreme poverty. The people were Catholic, but mainly descended from English settlers, and this county boasted that it was the parent of the volunteer movement, the first corps having been raised by Wexford gentlemen, under the command of Sir Vesey Colclough, for the purpose of repressing Whiteboy outrages.3 Unlike Wicklow, however, Wexford had been an important centre of Defenderism. A great part of the county had been sworn in to resist the payment of tithes, and in 1793 bodies, numbering, it is said, more than 1,000 men, and very bravely commanded by a young farmer named Moore, had appeared in arms around Enniscorthy. A distinguished officer named Vallotton, who had been first aide-de-camp to General Elliot during the famous siege of Gibraltar, lost his life in suppressing these obscure disturbances, and more than eighty of the Defenders were killed.4 After this period, however, Wexford appears to have been remarkably free from crime and from illegal organisations,5 though it took a considerable part in the agitation for Catholic emancipation. It has been asserted by its local historians, that the United Irish movement had made little way in it before the rebellion,6 and that it was one of the latest and least organised counties in Leinster; but this statement is hardly consistent with the progress which had been made in arming the population, and it is distinctly contradicted by Miles Byrne, who took an active part in the Wexford rebellion, and who assures us that before a shot was fired, the great mass of the people of Wexford had become United Irishmen.1 How far there was any real political or anti-English feeling smouldering among them, is very difficult to determine. My own opinion, for which I have collected much evidence in this book, is, that there was little positive political disloyalty, though there was much turbulence and anarchy, among the Irish Catholic peasantry, till shortly before the rebellion of 1798, and their attitude at the time of the French expedition to Bantry Bay can hardly be mistaken. Byrne, however, stated in his old age, that he could well remember the sorrow and consternation expressed in the Wexford chapels when the news arrived that the French had failed to land, and he mentions that his own father had told him, that he would sooner see his son dead than wearing the red uniform of the King, and had more than once shown him the country around their farm, bidding him remember that all this had belonged to their ancestors, and that all this had been plundered from them by the English invaders.2
In the latter part of 1797, the magistrates became aware that the conspiracy was spreading in the county. It was found that secret meetings were held in many districts, and the usual rumours of plots of the Orangemen to murder their Catholic neighbours were being industriously circulated by seditious agents, although, ‘in fact, as an historian who lived in the county observes, ‘there was no such thing as an Orange association formed in the county of Wexford until a few months after the suppression of the rebellion, nor were there any Orangemen in the county at its breaking out, except a few in the towns, where detachments of the North Cork Regiment of Militia were stationed.’ 1 The yeomanry officers discovered that numbers of the Catholics in their corps had been seduced, and they tried to combat the evil by imposing a new test, obliging every man to declare that he was not, and would not be, either an Orangeman or a United Irishman. Many refused to take it, and the Government did not approve of it; but the evil was found to be so serious, that a great part of the yeomanry were disbanded and disarmed.2 These precautions, as the rebellion shows, were certainly far from needless; but the result was, that the yeomanry became almost exclusively Protestant. It was discovered about the same time, by means of an informer, that several blacksmiths were busily employed in the manufacture of pikes, and one of them, when arrested, confessed that he had been making them for upwards of a year without being suspected. At the end of November there was a meeting of magistrates at Gorey, and by the votes of the majority, 16 out of the 142 parishes in the county were proclaimed.3 Lord Mountnorris adopted a course which was at that time frequent in Ireland, and went, accompanied by some other magistrates, from chapel to chapel during mass time, exhorting the people to come forward and take the oath of allegiance, promising them ‘protections’ if they did so, but threatening free quarters if they refused. Great numbers, headed by their priests, took the oath, received protections, and succeeded in disarming suspicion. Many of these were soon after prominent in the rebellion.4
It was observed in the beginning of 1798, that the attendance in the chapels suddenly and greatly increased, and religious ceremonies multiplied. Trees were cut down in great numbers, with the evident intention of making pike handles, and the magistrates had little doubt that a vast conspiracy was weaving its meshes around them. At the same time, they almost wholly failed in obtaining trustworthy evidence.5 Fear or sympathy closed the mouths of witnesses, and several prosecutions which were instituted at the spring assizes failed, as the sole informer proved to be a man of no character or credibility. One man, however, was convicted on clear evidence of having thrown the whole country between Arklow and Bray into a paroxysm of terror, by going among the people telling them that the French had arrived at Bantry, that the yeomen or Orangemen (who were described as if they were identical) were about to march to encounter them, but that, before doing so, they had determined to massacre the entire Catholic population around them. It is easy to conceive the motive and the origin of a report so skilfully devised to drive the whole Catholic population into rebellion, and the historian who has the strongest sympathies with the Wexford rebels, states that ‘their first inducement to combine was to render their party strong enough to resist the Orangemen, whom they actually believed to be associated and sworn for the extermination of the Catholics, and “to wade ankle-deep in their blood.”’ ‘It was frequently,’ he adds, ‘reported through the country, that the Orangemen were to rise in the night-time, to murder all the Catholics.’ At the same time, in the opposite quarter, corresponding fears were rapidly rising, and the respectable Catholics in the neighbourhood of Gorey offered a reward of one hundred guineas for the detection of those who had spread a rumour that on Sunday, April 29, all the churches were to be attacked, and that a general massacre of Protestants was to follow.1
It was evident that the county was in a very dangerous state, and it was equally evident that if the conspiracy exploded, it would take the form of a religious war. On April 27, the whole county was proclaimed and put under martial law, and it was martial law carried out not by the passionless and resistless force of a well-disciplined army, but mainly by small parties of yeomen and militia, who had been hastily armed for the defence of their homes and families, who were so few that if a rebellion broke out before the population had been disarmed, they would almost certainly have been massacred, and who were entirely unaccustomed to military discipline. As might have been expected, such circumstances at once led to outrages which, although they may have been exaggerated and multiplied by partisan historians, were undoubtedly numerous and horrible. Great numbers of suspected persons were flogged, or otherwise tortured. Some were strung up in their homes to be hanged, and then let down half strangled to elicit confession, and this process is said to have been repeated on the same victim as much as three times.1 Numbers of cabins were burnt to the ground because pikes or other weapons had been found in them, or because the inhabitants, contrary to the proclamation, were absent from them during the night, or even because they belonged to suspected persons. The torture of the pitched cap, which never before appears to have been known in Ireland, was now introduced by the North Cork Militia, and excited fierce terror and resentment.
It was in the week previous to the outbreak of the rebellion that these excesses reached their height. A gentleman of the name of Dawson discovered that, though his tenants had very recently come forward in their chapel, and in the presence of their priest, to take the oath of allegiance, they were, notwithstanding, actively engaged in the fabrication of pikes. He succeeded in obtaining some confessions, and immediately great numbers surrendered pikes, and asked and obtained protections.2 A meeting of the magistrates was held, and they agreed that readiness to take the oath of allegiance, unaccompanied by a surrender of arms, must no longer be accepted as a proof of loyalty; that the danger of the county was extreme and imminent, and that the most strenuous measures were required. Free quarters had not yet been enforced in Wexford; but the magistrates now announced, that they would begin in fourteen days in every district in which arms had not been surrendered.3 In the meantime, burnings, whippings, transportations, and torture were unsparingly employed to force a surrender. One active magistrate is said to have scoured the country at the head of a party of cavalry yeomen, accompanied by a regular executioner, with a hanging rope and a cat-o'-nine-tails, flogging and half strangling suspected persons till confessions were elicited and arms surrendered. A Catholic historian graphically describes the inhabitants of a village when the yeomanry descended on them. ‘They had the appearance of being more dead than alive, from the apprehension of having their houses burnt and themselves whipped…. They fled out of their houses into large brakes of furze on a hill immediately above the village, whence they could hear the cries of one of their neighbours, who was dragged out of his house, tied up to a thorn tree, and while one yeoman continued flogging him, another was throwing water on his back. The groans of the unfortunate sufferer, from the stillness of the night, reverberated widely through the appalled neighbourhood, and the spot of execution, these men represented to have appeared next morning “as if a pig had been killed there.’ ”1
‘Protections’ could no longer be obtained by the simple process of taking the oath of allegiance without a surrender of arms, and it is pretended by the rebel historians that many innocent persons were so terrified and so persecuted if they did not possess them, that they made desperate efforts to obtain arms for the sole purpose of surrendering them. It is certain, however, that the country was at this time full of arms, accumulated for the purpose of rebellion, and it is equally certain, that the violent measures that were taken, produced the surrender of many of them. In the single parish of Camolin many hundreds were given up in a few days, and it is stated that several thousands of protections were issued in the week before the rebellion.
As the yeomen were chiefly Protestants, it is perhaps not surprising that they should have been regarded as Orangemen, but it is much more strange that this charge should have especially centred on the North Cork Militia. This regiment is accused by historians of both parties of having first publicly introduced the Orange system into the county of Wexford, where it appears previously to have been unknown,2 and it seems to have excited a stronger popular resentment than any other Irish regiment during the rebellion. It was commanded by Lord Kingsborough, and it is worthy of especial notice, that it only came to the county of Wexford in the course of April.3 It is probably true that some of its officers wore Orange badges, and it is perhaps true that they had connected themselves with the Orange Society, but it is quite certain that no regiment raised in the South of Ireland, and in an essentially Catholic county, could possibly have consisted largely of Orangemen. It happened that Newenham, the excellent historian of the social condition of Ireland, had been major in it about two years before the rebellion broke out, and he mentions that at that time two-thirds of the regiment were Catholics.1 Whatever may have been its demerits, no regiment showed a more unflinching loyalty during the rebellion, and it is said to have lost a full third of its numbers.
The terror and resentment in Wexford were much increased by a horrible tragedy which took place, on the morning of May 24, at the little town of Dunlavin, in the adjoining county of Wicklow. ‘Thirty-four men,’ says the historian, who is in sympathy with the rebellion, ‘were shot without trial, and among them the informer on whose evidence they were arrested. Strange to tell, officers presided to sanction these proceedings.’ 2 The other version of the transaction is given by Musgrave. He says that large columns of rebels were advancing on Dunlavin, and the small garrison of yeomen and militia found that they were far too few to hold it. The number of prisoners in the gaol for treason greatly exceeded that of the yeomen. Under these circumstances, ‘the officers, having conferred for some time, were of opinion that some of the yeomen who had been disarmed, and were at that time in prison for being notorious traitors, should be shot. Nineteen, therefore, of the Saunders Grove corps, and nine of the Narromore, were immediately led out and suffered death. It may be said in excuse for this act of severe and summary justice, that they would have joined the numerous bodies of rebels who were roving round, and at that time threatened the town. At the same time, they discharged the greater part of their prisoners, in consideration of their former good characters.’ 3
Another slaughter of the same kind is said to have taken place on the following day, at the little town of Carnew, in the same county, but there is, I believe, no evidence in existence which can explain its circumstances. As Carnew was at this time in the centre of the rebellious district,1 it is probable that this also was a case of a small body of yeomen, menaced by a superior rebel force, and reduced to the alternative of shooting or releasing their prisoners. Hay, who is the authority for the story, declares that at Carnew ‘on May 25, twenty-eight prisoners were brought out of the place of confinement, and deliberately shot in a ball alley by the yeomen and a party of the Antrim Militia, the infernal deed being sanctioned by the presence of their officers. Many of the men thus inhumanly butchered had been confined on mere suspicion.’ 2 In the history of Musgrave there is no mention whatever of this terrible story, nor is it, I believe, anywhere referred to either in contemporary newspapers or in the Government correspondence; but I cannot dismiss it as a fabrication, in the face of the language of Gordon, who is the most truthful and temperate of the loyalist historians. ‘No quarter,’ he says, ‘was given to persons taken prisoners as rebels, with or without arms. For one instance, fifty-four were shot in the little town of Carnew in the space of three days.’ 3
The history of the Wexford rebellion has been treated by several writers, who had ample opportunities of ascertaining the facts, but they have in general written under the influence of the most furious party and religious passion, and sometimes of deep personal injuries, and they have employed themselves mainly in collecting, aggravating, and elaborating the crimes of one side, and in either concealing or reducing to the smallest proportions those of the other. Few narratives of the same period are so utterly different, and the reader who will compare the Protestant accounts in Musgrave, Taylor, and Jackson, with the Catholic accounts in Hay, Byrne, Cloney, and Teeling, will, I think, understand how difficult is the task of any writer whose only object is to tell the story with simple and unexaggerated truth. Fortunately, however, one contemporary historian belongs to a different category. Gordon was a Protestant clergyman, who had resided for about twenty-three years near Gorey, which was one of the chief centres of the insurrection; he was intimately acquainted with the circumstances of the country, and his son was a lieutenant in a yeomanry regiment, which took an active part in suppressing the rebellion. He was a writer of little ability and no great research, but he had admirable opportunities of knowing the truth, and no one who reads his history can doubt that he was a most excellent, truthful, moderate, and humane man, singularly free from religious and political bigotry, loyal beyond all suspicion, but yet with an occasional, and very pardonable, bias towards the weaker side.
His estimate of the causes of the rebellion is probably as near the truth as it is possible for us to arrive at. He does not conceal the fact, that a dangerous political conspiracy had been planted in the country, but he attributes the magnitude and the fierceness of the Wexford rebellion to causes that were in no degree political—to religious animosities; to the terror excited in both sects by the rumours of impending massacres; to the neglect of the Government, which left the country, in a time of great danger, without any sufficient protection; to the violent irritation produced by the military measures that have been described. These measures were not, he admits, altogether inefficacious for good. ‘In the neighbourhood of Gorey,’ he says, ‘if I am not mistaken, the terror of the whippings was in particular so great, that the people would have been extremely glad to renounce for ever all notions of opposition to Government, if they could have been assured of permission to remain in a state of quietness.’ But a maddening panic was abroad, and by a strange error of judgment, while the most violent animosities were excited, the military force in the county was utterly inadequate. ‘Not above six hundred men, at most, of the regular army or militia were stationed in the county, the defence of which was almost abandoned to the troops of yeomanry and their supplementaries, while the magistrates in the several districts were employed in ordering the seizure, imprisonment, and whipping of numbers of suspected persons.’ He adds, that another great error had been made in making the yeomanry force, cavalry instead of infantry. He had no doubt ‘that of the latter, a force might have been raised within the county of Wexford, quite sufficient to crush the rebellion in its commencement in this part of Ireland.’ 1
It was on the evening of Saturday, May 26, that the standard of insurrection was raised at a place called Boulavogue, between Wexford and Gorey, by Father John Murphy, the curate of the parish, a priest who had been educated at Seville, and whose character is very variously, though not quite incompatibly, represented by the opposing parties. He is described by one set of writers as an ignorant, narrow-minded, sanguinary fanatic, and by another set of writers as an honest and simpleminded man, who had been driven to desperation by the burning of his house and chapel, and of the houses of some of his parishioners.2 A small party of eighteen or twenty yeomanry cavalry, on hearing of the assembly, hastened to disperse it, but they were unexpectedly attacked, and scattered, and Lieutenant Bookey, who commanded them, was killed. Next day the circle of devastation rapidly spread. Two very inoffensive clergymen, and five or, according to another account, seven other persons, were murdered, and the houses of the Protestant farmers in the neighbourhood were soon in a blaze. A considerable number of Catholic yeomen deserted to the rebels, who now concentrated themselves on two hills called Oulart and Killthomas, the former ten miles to the north of Wexford, the latter nine miles to the west of Gorey. Two hundred and fifty yeomen attacked and easily dispersed the rebels on Killthomas Hill, though they were about ten times as numerous as their assailants. The retribution was terrible. About one hundred and fifty rebels were killed; the yeomen pursued the remainder for some seven miles, burning on their way two Catholic chapels and, it is said, not less than one hundred cabins and farmhouses, and they are accused of having shot many unarmed and inoffensive persons. Two or three Catholic priests were among the rebels of Killthomas.1
A more formidable body of rebels, estimated at about 4,000, under the command of Father John, had assembled on the hill of Oulart. With the complete contempt for disorderly and halfarmed rebel mobs which characterised the Irish loyalists, a picked body of only 110 of the North Cork Militia, under the command of Colonel Foote, proceeded at once to attack them, while a few cavalry were collected below to cut off their retreat. The confidence of the loyalist militia seemed at first justified, for the rebels fled at the first onset, hotly pursued up the hill by the militia, when Father John succeeded in rallying his pikemen. He told them that they were surrounded, and must either conquer or perish, and placing himself at their head, he charged the troops. These were scattered in the pursuit, and breathless from the ascent, and they had never before experienced the formidable character of the Irish pike. In a few moments almost the whole body were stretched lifeless on the ground; five only of the force that mounted the hill, succeeded in reaching the cavalry below and escaping to Wexford.
This encounter took place on the morning of Whitsunday, May 27. Its effects were very great. The whole country was at once in arms, while the loyalists fled from every village and farmhouse in the neighbourhood. Father John lost no time in following up his success. He encamped that night on Carrigrew Hill, and early on the following day he occupied the little town of Camolin, about six miles from Oulart, where he found 700 or 800 guns. Some of them belonged to the yeomen, but most of them had been collected from the surrounding country when it was disarmed. He then proceeded two miles farther, to Ferns, whence all the loyalists had fled, and after a short pause, and on the same day, resolved to attack Enniscorthy, one of the most important towns in the county, and a chief military centre.
The great majority of his followers consisted of a rabble of half-starved peasantry, drawn from a country which was sunk in abject squalor and misery1 —men who were assuredly perfectly indifferent to the political objects of the United Irishmen, but who were driven into rebellion by fear of Orange massacres, or by exasperation at military severities.2 Most of them had no better arms than pitchforks, and great numbers of women were among them. They had no tents, no commissariat, no cavalry, hardly a vestige of discipline or organisation; and although the capture of Camolin had given them many guns, they were in general quite incapable of using them. There were, however, some exceptions to the general inefficiency. There were among them men from the barony of Shilmalier, who had been trained from boyhood to shoot the sea birds and other wild fowl for the Dublin market, and who were in consequence excellent marksmen; there were deserters from the yeomanry, who were acquainted with the use of arms and with the rules of discipline; and after the success at Oulart Hill, a few sons of substantial farmers gradually came in with their guns and horses, while even the most unpractised found the pike a weapon of terrible effect. No other weapon, indeed, employed by the rebels, was so dreaded by the soldiers, especially by the cavalry; no other weapon inflicted such terrible wounds, or proved at close quarters so formidable.3
Enniscorthy was attacked shortly after midday on the 28th, and captured after more than three hours of very severe fighting. The garrison appears to have consisted of about 300 infantry and cavalry yeomen, and militia, and they were supported by some hastily raised volunteers. The rebel force had now swollen to 6,000 or 7,000 men. The little garrison sallied forth to attack the assailants, and a severe and obstinate fight ensued. Adopting a rude but not ineffectual strategy, which they more than once repeated in the course of the rebellion, and which is said to have been practised in Ireland as far back as the days of Strongbow, the rebels broke the ranks of the soldiers by driving into them a number of horses and cattle, which were goaded on by the pikemen. The yeomen at last, finding themselves in danger of being surrounded, were driven backwards into the town, and made a stand in the market-place and on the bridge across the Slaney. For some time a disorderly fight continued, with so fluctuating a fortune, that orange and green ribbons are said to have been alternately displayed by many in the town. Soon, however, a number of houses were set on fire, and a scene of wild confusion began. The ammunition of the yeomanry ran short. The rebels forded the river; and a general flight took place. The loyalists in wild confusion fled through the burning streets, and made their way to Wexford, which was eleven Irish miles distant. The rebels, fatigued with their labours of the day, attempted no pursuit, and after searching the town for ammunition, they retired, and formed their camp around the summit of Vinegar Hill, a small rocky eminence which rises immediately behind the town. Three officers and rather more than eighty soldiers had fallen, and between four and five hundred houses and cabins had been burnt. The loss of the insurgents is vaguely estimated at from one hundred to five hundred men.1
When the news of the capture of Enniscorthy arrived at Wexford, the wildest terror prevailed. The wives of soldiers who had been killed ran screaming through the streets, while streams of fugitives poured in, covered with dust and blood, half fainting with terror and fatigue, and thrown destitute upon the world. The few ships that lay in the harbour were soon thronged with women and children, and most of the adult men who possessed or could procure weapons, prepared to defend the town from the anticipated attack. Fears of massacre, however, from without, and of treachery from within, hung heavy on every mind, and an attempt was made to avert the calamity by negotiation. Three prominent and popular country gentlemen, named Bagenal Harvey, John Henry Colclough, and Edward Fitzgerald, who were supposed to have some sympathy with the rebellion, had been arrested on suspicion, and thrown into Wexford gaol, and it was now proposed to release them, and request them to go to the insurgents on Vinegar Hill, for the purpose of inducing them to disperse. Colclough and Fitzgerald, who were both Catholics, accepted the mission. They were received with great applause by the rebels, but their efforts proved wholly vain. Colclough returned to Wexford. Fitzgerald, either voluntarily or through compulsion, remained with the rebels, who at once made him one of their chiefs.
A party of two hundred Donegal Militia with a six-pounder arrived at Wexford from Duncannon Fort, which was twenty-three miles from Wexford, early on the morning of the 29th, and they brought with them the promise from General Fawcett of further assistance. Including the volunteers, the town now contained about twelve hundred well-armed defenders. To avoid the danger of a conflagration like that of Enniscorthy, orders were given that all fires should be extinguished except during specified hours, and all thatched houses in or near the town were stripped, while barriers were raised at the chief passes.
The rebels meanwhile wasted some precious hours in indecision and divided counsels. They scoured the country for arms and provisions, compelled prominent men to come into their camp, and murdered some who were peculiarly obnoxious to them. Two men named Hay and Barker, who had seen considerable service in the French army, now joined them. Hay was the brother of the historian of the rebellion, and a member of a family which had taken a prominent part in the Catholic affairs of the county. Barker had served with distinction in the Irish Brigade. There was, however, no acknowledged commander, no fixed plan, no discipline. It was noticed that particular grievances, and the interests of particular districts, completely dominated, with the great mass of the rebels, over all general considerations, and this fact clearly indicated the kind of influences that had brought the greater part of them together. One man pointed to his forehead, scorched and branded by the pitched cap; another showed with burning anger his lacerated back; others told how their cottages had been burnt, how their little properties had been plundered or destroyed, how their wives and daughters had been insulted by the yeomen, and implored that a force might be sent either to protect their families from massacre by the Orangemen, or to avenge the grievances they had suffered. It needed all the influence of Father John, and of a few men of superior social standing, to prevent the rebel army from disintegrating into small groups, and it is doubtful whether they would have succeeded if the mission of Fitzgerald and Colclough had not persuaded the people that the enemy were completely discouraged.1 And even when the tendency to dispersion was checked, the question, which town should next be attacked, profoundly divided the rebel chiefs. They were divided between New Ross, Newtown-barry, and Wexford. The best military opinion seems to have favoured the first. New Ross might, it is believed, at this time have been captured without opposition, and, by opening a communication with the disaffected in the counties of Waterford and Kilkenny, its possession would have given a great immediate extension to the rebellion. Both Barker and Hay advocated this course,2 but they were overruled, and it was resolved to attack Wexford. That night the rebels advanced to a place called Three Rocks, the Wexford end of a long heather-clad mountain ridge called the Forth, which stretches across the plain to within about three miles of Wexford, commanding a vast view of the surrounding country. Father John led the way, bearing a crucifix in his hands. After him, the men of most influence seem to have been Edward Fitzgerald, Edward Roach, and John Hay. It is a curious and significant fact, that all these owed their ascendency mainly to their position among the landed gentry of the county.
General Fawcett had left Duncannon Fort with the promised succour on the evening of the 29th, but stopped short that night at Taghmon, about seven miles from Wexford. On the morning of the 30th, he sent forward a detachment of eighty-eight men with two howitzers. They seem to have advanced very incautiously, and as they passed under the Three Rocks, the rebel pikemen poured down fiercely upon them. The affray did not last more than fifteen minutes, and it was terribly decisive. The two cannon were taken. An ensign and sixteen privates were made prisoners. Every other soldier soon lay dead upon the ground. A cluster of thorn trees in an adjacent field still marks the spot where their bodies were collected and buried. General Fawcett, on hearing of the disaster, at once retreated with the remainder of his troops to Duncannon, leaving Wexford to its fate.
The Wexford garrison, who were ignorant of what had occurred, sallied out on the same day to the Three Rocks, hoping to disperse the rebels. They found, however, a force estimated at not less than 16,000 men, and they were received with a steady fire. They at once returned to Wexford, leaving Colonel Watson dead upon the field.
The alarm in Wexford was now extreme. Early on the morning of the 30th, the toll house and part of the bridge were found to be in flames, and there were great fears of an extensive conflagration. The town was not made for defence. Two-thirds of its inhabitants were Catholics, and could not be counted on; several yeomen deserted to the rebels, and among the remainder there was scarcely any discipline or subordination. Some desired to kill the prisoners in the gaol, and Bagenal Harvey was so much alarmed, that he climbed up a chimney, where he remained for some time concealed. If the insurgents had at once advanced and blocked the roads of retreat, especially that to Duncannon Fort, the whole garrison must have surrendered. Hay, who surveyed the situation with the eye of a practised soldier, implored them to do so,1 but his advice was neglected, and it is, perhaps, scarcely to be wondered at, that a disorderly and inexperienced force like that of the rebels, having on this very day crushed one detachment and repulsed another, should have relaxed its efforts, and failed to act with the promptitude of a regular army under a skilful general. At Wexford a council of war was now hastily summoned, and it was decided that the town must be surrendered. Bagenal Harvey was prevailed on to write a letter to the rebels, stating that he and the other prisoners had been treated with all possible humanity, and were now at liberty, and imploring the insurgents to commit no massacre, to abstain from burning houses, and to spare their prisoners’ lives. Two brothers of the name of Richards, who were known to be popular in the county, were sent to the rebels to negotiate a surrender. They tied white handkerchiefs round their hats as a sign of truce, brought some country people with them, and reached the rebel camp in safety. After some discussion and division, the rebels agreed to spare lives and property, but insisted that all cannon, arms, and ammunition should be surrendered. They detained one of the brothers as a hostage, and sent back the other with Edward Fitzgerald to Wexford to arrange the capitulation.
But long before they had arrived there, almost the whole garrison had fled from the town by the still open road to Duncannon Fort, leaving the inhabitants absolutely unprotected, but carrying with them their arms and ammunition. The yeomen, commanded by Colonel Colville, are said to have kept some order in the flight, but the other troops scattered themselves over the country, shooting peasants whom they met, burning cottages, and also, it is said, several Roman Catholic chapels.1 In the town the quays, and every avenue leading to the waterside, were thronged with women and children, begging in piteous tones to be taken in the ships. One young lady, in her terror, actually threw herself into the sea, in order to reach a boat. The shipowners, who were chiefly Wexford men, or men from the neighbouring country, had promised to convey the fugitives to Wales, and received exorbitant fares; but when the town was occupied by the rebels, most of them betrayed their trust, and brought them back to the town.
It was, indeed, a terrible fate to be at the mercy of the vast, disorderly, fanatical rabble who now poured into Wexford. It was not surprising, too, that the rebels should have contended that faith had been broken with them; that Fitzgerald and Colclough had been sent on a sham embassy, merely in order to secure a period of delay, during which the garrison might escape with their arms. The inhabitants, however, either through sympathy or through a very pardonable policy, did all they could to conciliate their conquerors. Green handkerchiefs, flags, or branches of trees, were hung from every window, and most of the townsmen speedily assumed the green cockade, flung open their houses, and offered refreshment to the rebels. It was observed that many refused it, till the person who offered it had partaken of it himself, for there was a widespread rumour that the drink had been poisoned. The rebels, who had been sleeping for many nights without cover on the heather, presented a wild, savage, grotesque appearance. They were, most of them, in the tattered dress of the Irish labourer, distinguished only by white bands around their hats and by green cockades, but many were fantastically decorated with ladies’ hats, bonnets, feathers, and tippets, taken from plundered country houses, while others wore portions of the uniform of the soldiers who had been slain. Their arms consisted chiefly of pikes, with handles from twelve to fourteen feet long, and sometimes, it is said, even longer. A few men carried guns. Many others had pitchforks, scrapers, currying knives, or old rusty bayonets fixed on poles. A crowd of women accompanied them on their march, shouting and dancing in the wildest triumph.1
On the whole, they committed far less outrage than might reasonably have been expected. Two or three persons, against whom they had special grudges, were murdered, and one of these lay dying all night on the bridge. Many houses were plundered, chiefly those which had been deserted by their owners, but no houses were burned, and there was at this time no general disposition to massacre, though much to plunder. In Wexford also, as at Enniscorthy, and elsewhere, the rebels abstained most remarkably from those outrages on women which in most countries are the usual accompaniment of popular and military anarchy. This form of crime has, indeed, never been an Irish vice, and the presence of many women in the camp contributed to prevent it. The rebels also were very tired, and, in spite of some intoxication, the streets of Wexford on the night of May 30 were hardly more disturbed than in time of peace.
A general search was made for arms and ammunition, but only a few barrels of gunpowder and a few hundred cartridges were found. Much exasperation was at first felt against those who had conducted the negotiation, which had enabled the garrison to escape, and the life of Fitzgerald seemed for a short time in danger, but he soon recovered his ascendency.1 The gaol was thrown open, and Bagenal Harvey was not only released, but was also at once, by acclamation, appointed commander-in-chief. Few facts in the history of the rebellion are more curious or more significant than this. In Wexford, more than in any other part of Ireland, the rebellion became essentially popish, and the part played by religious fanaticism was incontestably great. Yet even here a Protestant landlord, of no brilliant parts or character, was selected by the triumphant rebels as their leader. Bagenal Harvey was the owner of a considerable property in the county, but, unlike most Irish landlords of independent means, he devoted himself to a profession, and had some practice at the bar. He was a humane, kindly, popular man, much liked by his tenants and neighbours, and long noted for his advanced political opinions. He had been a prominent United Irishman in 1793. He had been one of those who were commissioned to present a petition to the King against the recall of Lord Fitz-william in 1795, and he had been on all occasions an active advocate of the Catholic cause. He had fought several duels, and established a reputation for great personal courage, but he was absolutely without military knowledge or experience. His health was weak. His presence was exceedingly unimposing, and he had none of the magnetic or controlling qualities that are needed for the leader of a rebellion. Whether sympathy, or ambition, or the danger of resisting the summons of the fierce armed mob that surrounded him, induced him to accept the post, it is impossible to say. In the few weeks during which he exercised a feeble and precarious power, his main object was to prevent outrage and murder, and to give the struggle the character of regular war.
On the 31st the main body of the rebels quitted Wexford, leaving in it, however, a sufficient force to hold the town. The command of it was entrusted to another Protestant, Captain Matthew Keugh, a retired half-pay officer in the English army, who had served in the American war, and who was well known for his popular opinions. He divided the town into wards, and organised in each a company of men, armed with guns or pikes, who elected their own officers. A regular parade was established; guards were appointed and relieved, and a password was daily given. At first, self-appointed commissaries, under pretence of making requisitions, plundered houses indiscriminately, but a committee of twelve principal inhabitants was elected to regulate the requisition and distribution of food, and mere plunder appears then to have almost ceased. The new authorities resolved to punish it severely; they restored some plundered property, and they established public stores of provisions, from which every householder might obtain supplies gratuitously in proportion to the number of his household. Great quantities of provisions seem to have been brought in from the surrounding country, and there was no serious want. It was noticed that no money except coin was recognised, and that bank notes were often used to light pipes, or as wadding for the guns. All the ablebodied men were called upon to attend the camps, and there was a curious, childish desire for decoration. ‘Most persons,’ says a writer who was present, ‘were desirous to wear ornaments of some kind or other, and accordingly decorated themselves in the most fantastical manner, with feathers, tippets, handkerchiefs, and all the showy parts of ladies’ apparel.’ Green was naturally the favourite colour, but banners of all colours except the hated orange now appeared, and the coloured petticoats of the women were largely employed in military decorations.1
On the whole, the better class of citizens succeeded in maintaining a precarious ascendency, but a few men from the humbler classes became captains. Of these, the most powerful was a former shoeblack, named Dick Munk, who had acquired much influence over the townsmen, and was now conspicuous from his green uniform with silver lace, his green helmet, and his white ostrich plume.2 The leaders, however, were in a great degree in the hands of the mob, and the distinction between Catholic and Protestant was at once strongly accentuated. The houses around Wexford were everywhere searched to discover ‘Orangemen.’ All who harboured ‘Orangemen’ were threatened with death. Every Protestant who was not well known, and whose sympathies were not popular, lay under the suspicion of Orangism, and some hundreds were thrown into Wexford gaol or confined in the barracks. It was probably the best fate that could happen to them, for their lives would have been in great danger if they had been at large, and more than once crowds appeared at the prison door clamouring for their blood. Keugh, however, set himself steadily to prevent massacre, and he was nobly seconded by a man named William Kearney, to whom the care of the prisoners had been entrusted, and who showed himself a true gentleman, and a man of conspicuous humanity and courage.1 Certificates were given to Protestants by Catholic neighbours, but especially by the Catholic bishops and clergy. Dr. Caulfield, the Catholic Bishop of Wexford, afterwards wrote a curious private letter to Archbishop Troy, describing the state of things during the rebel rule at Wexford, and he declares that there was not a Protestant in the town or in the surrounding country who did not come to the priests for protection, and that priests were employed from morning to night in endeavouring to secure them.2 The leading inhabitants were extremely anxious that there should be no religious persecution, and they even desired that the Protestant worship should continue,3 but there could be no doubt of the current of popular feeling. ‘If you will go home and turn Christians,’ the rebels were accustomed to say, ‘you will be safe enough.’ Old faithful Catholic servants in Protestant households came to their mistresses, imploring them to allow the parish priest to christen the family, as ‘it would be the saving of them all.’ 4 The chapels, both in Wexford and the neighbourhood, and around Vinegar Hill, were crowded with Protestants, who sought to secure their lives, property, and liberty, by obtaining from the priests certificates of conformity.
Two Roman Catholics of the name of Murphy, who had given information at trials against United Irishmen, were seized, tried for this offence, and put to death. The executions were conducted with elaborate ceremony, which was evidently intended to invest them with a judicial character, and to distinguish them from acts of mob violence. A procession was formed; the Dead March was played; a black flag was hoisted, and when the place of execution was reached, all the people dropped on their knees in prayer. Either as a mark of ignominy, or more probably in order to baffle justice if the rebellion was defeated, Protestant prisoners were compelled to shoot the culprits.1
Roving bands of plunderers ranged unchecked through the surrounding country; the few loyalists and Protestants there, lived in constant alarm, and in the complete anarchy that prevailed, there was a boundless scope for the gratification of private malice and private greed. It must, however, be added that, among the many horrors which throw a lurid light on this portion of Irish history, there were many incidents that show human nature at its best. Examples of gratitude or affection shown by tenants to their landlords, by old servants to their masters, by poor men who had received in past time some little acts of charity and kindness from the rich, were very frequent. Protestant ladies sometimes passed unmolested, on missions of charity to their imprisoned relations, through great bodies of undisciplined pikemen, and poor women often risked their own lives to save those of wounded men or of fugitives.2
In the meantime, strenuous efforts were made to arm the people with pikes. Every forge in or near Wexford was employed in manufacturing them, and the Bull-ring at Wexford was filled with kitchen tables, which the carpenters were converting into pike handles. Old folios, which had long slumbered in the libraries of country houses, were now in much request, for it was found that it was possible to use their bindings as saddles. Three cannon were mounted in a position to command the harbour, and three oyster boats in the harbour were fitted out as cruisers. They succeeded in bringing in several vessels bound for Dublin with provisions, and also in making a capture which was of great importance. Lord Kingsborough, who commanded the North Cork Militia, was ignorant of the occupation of Wexford by the rebels, and was proceeding there by water, when on June 2 he was taken prisoner by one of the armed oyster boats, together with two of his officers, and was imprisoned as a hostage. Another somewhat important acquisition of the rebels, was a Protestant gentleman named Cornelius Grogan, of Johnstown. The inhabitants of his district rose to arms, and came to him asking him to be their leader, and he was either persuaded or coerced into accepting. He was an old, gouty, infirm man of little intelligence, but his assistance was important, as he was one of the largest landlords of the county, his estates being estimated at not less than 6,000l. a year. He rode at the head of his people into Wexford, with green banners flying before him, and amid great demonstrations of popular rejoicing. Two of his brothers were at this very time bearing arms on the side of the Government.
The whole of the south of the county, except Ross and Duncannon, was now in the hands of the rebels, and in the north extreme terror prevailed. The yeomanry cavalry who had escaped from Oulart Hill had fled to Gorey, and that little town was also crowded with fugitives from the country. A few yeomen and militia, who were collected there, tried to disarm the surrounding country, and they are accused by the historians on the rebel side of committing great atrocities, and slaughtering multitudes of unarmed and perfectly inoffensive people. I have myself little doubt that these charges are at least immensely exaggerated, but it was a time when an outbreak was hourly expected, and when there was no safe place for detaining prisoners, and in the panic and violence that prevailed, human life was little valued, and very summary executions undoubtedly often followed very slight suspicions.1 A rumour was spread that an overwhelming force was marching on Gorey, and early on the morning of the 28th the troops, accompanied by a crowd of fugitives, among whom was the historian Gordon, fled to Arklow, but the commanding officer there, apparently suspecting treachery, refused to admit this great miscellaneous multitude, and most of them passed the night under the hedges near the town. Gorey in the meantime was left absolutely unprotected. The few remaining inhabitants shut themselves up in their houses, but a mad or intoxicated woman danced frantically through the abandoned streets shouting in triumph, and her cries mingled with the mournful wail of a deserted pack of hounds which had been brought into the town by one of the fugitive gentry. There, too, ‘six men who had been that morning, though unarmed, taken prisoners, shot through the body and left for dead in the street, were writhing with pain,’ and it was noticed that one of these dying men, who was lying against a wall, though unable to speak, threatened with his fist a Protestant who had run back into the town for something he had forgotten. The road was strewn with gunpowder spilt by the retiring troops, and as a yeoman galloped by, it exploded under his horse's hoofs, scorching terribly both man and beast. A general plunder was feared, and a band of women assembled for that purpose, but some of the remaining inhabitants organised themselves into a guard; John Hunter Gowan, a magistrate of great courage and energy, though also, it is said, of great violence, collected a body of men to secure the town, and on the 31st, the militia and yeomanry, who had abandoned it, returned and resumed their duty.1
On June 1, the rebels received a serious check. A body of some 4,000 of them, who appear to have been unconnected with those at Wexford, had assembled near Vinegar Hill, and attacked the village of Newtown-barry, where about 350 yeomen and militiamen were stationed, under the command of Colonel L'Estrange. The village lies on the western bank of the Slaney, about ten miles from Enniscorthy, and its capture would have opened a way to the county of Wicklow, where the conspiracy was widely spread. A priest of gigantic stature named Kearns led the rebels, and two or three other priests took prominent parts in the expedition. As they approached the village, they stopped, dropped on their knees and prayed. The rebels had one howitzer and some small swivels. Colonel L'Estrange feared to be surrounded by superior numbers, and he retired from the village, where, however, some loyalists continued to resist. The yeomen soon returned, found the rebels dispersed and pillaging through the streets, scattered them by a heavy fire of grape shot when they attempted to rally, and put them to flight with great loss. Two priests dressed in their sacerdotal vestments are said to have been among the dead.2
Several days passed before the formidable character of the rebellion in Wexford was fully known or fully realised. Among the most active correspondents of Pelham was a Northern magistrate named Henry Alexander, who appears at this time to have been employed at the Ordnance Office at Dublin, and who followed the course of the rebellion with great care. He was a strong politician, violently opposed to Grattan and Catholic emancipation, and his antipathies in some degree coloured his judgments, but he was evidently an acute and industrious man, with special means of information, and a long letter, which he wrote on June 3, throws some considerable light on the confused, scattered, and perplexing incidents of the earlier stages of the struggle. It is remarkable as showing the estimate which was then formed in Government circles of the nature and prospects of the rebellion, and also the small importance which was still attached to the events in Wexford.
He considered that the arrests at Bond's house, and the arrest of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, had the double effect of depriving the rebellion of all intelligent guidance, and of hastening its explosion. He had been present at the examination of a determined rebel officer, who stated that it had been the plan of the rebels to form large camps at Dunboyne, at Swords, and at the foot of the Wicklow mountains near the house of Mr. Latouche. The camp at Dunboyne had been successfully formed, but the meeting at Swords had been at once dispersed by the Fermanagh Militia, and the Wicklow rebels, who ‘had proceeded to Rathfarnham to surprise the yeomanry, who were to have been betrayed to them by two of their own body (since convicted and executed, confessing their guilt),’ had been defeated and driven into the mountains by Lord Roden and a party of the 5th Dragoons. A strong cordon now keeps them from the Lowlands. They have no common stock of provisions, and each man relies on what he has brought with him; ‘their houses are marked, and their absence must be accounted for,’ and unless they can effect a junction with the Wexford insurgents, want of food and want of covering must soon oblige them to surrender or disperse. ‘Everywhere,’ he says, ‘there has been a great mixture of ferocious courage in their leaders, who have precipitated themselves on death, and a rabble of followers, who suffer with a stupid indifference. At Lord Rossmore's little town they had been nearly successful, although finally repulsed with considerable loss;’ but though some of the Wicklow rebels are still very defiant, many are exceedingly the reverse, and Alexander believes that they would now accept almost any terms that would save their lives. In spite of the rebellion, Colonel Ogle had undertaken to raise one thousand yeomen in the county of Wicklow, and he was accomplishing his task without difficulty. In one day, and from the small town of Bray alone, seventy recruits came in.
The assemblage at Dunboyne was very large, and the rebel force there was drawn from a large area extending as far as Drogheda. ‘They have done much mischief, but are without any leader of consequence. Two gentlemen that were their prisoners assured me, their principal leader was a young man about twenty-two, the innkeeper's son of Lucan. He was killed at the fight of Tarragh [Tarah] Hill, leading his men very gallantly in full regimentals. A man of the name of Garrotty, a better kind of farmer, was next to him in command. In other respects each man did what he liked, and ranged himself under his local commander.’ They had a surprising quantity and variety of arms; many more firearms than the Government had believed possible, and each recruit as he joined was given his choice of weapons. ‘Their proceedings have not been as cruel and sanguinary as described, but they have been cruel to a great degree; neither have they outraged the chastity of the women, as reported. They have amongst their neighbours certainly made distinctions, and plundered and murdered individuals merely because they were Protestants.’ This, however, was due to the ungovernable fury of the ignorant and priest-ridden part of the mob, and not at all to the directions of the leaders, who are not acting as a merely Catholic party would act, but who dare not punish outrages, who fear to alienate their supporters among the priests, and who have not ventured even to issue a manifesto, lest they should offend either the Presbyterians or the priests. Some of ‘the lower priests’ are taking a very leading and mischievous part in the movement, and ‘the politicians are obliged to take colour from the religionists.’
It is still, Alexander thinks, quite uncertain which of two wholly different courses the rebellion will take. It may appeal to the ferocity of republicanism, and run along the lines of the French Revolution, and this would probably have been its course if the French had arrived, but it is more likely that it will assume a wholly different aspect, and appeal to a very different passion. It may become an outburst of ‘the long and gradually ripened vengeance’ which the ‘lower Catholics’ cherish against those who have invaded their temples, murdered their forefathers, and appropriated their estates. This sentiment Alexander believes to be deep and ineradicable in Irish life, and the governing fact of Irish politics. ‘The higher classes [of Catholics] are behaving well. Lord Fingall showed great personal gallantry at the battle of Tarragh. The King's County Militia, who behaved so well under L'Estrange, are almost all Catholics. Their bishops, and some of their noblemen and gentry, are coming forward with loyal addresses, but the great mass is decidedly against you. England judged of the Catholics by the few of the higher ranks they associated with. Conventional circumstances … may tie up the militia and their higher clergy, but as long as the property of the country exists, as long as the recollection of the Brehon law of gavelkind exists, and Irish names remain, so long will the lower Irish hope to regain what they think, whether justly or unjustly, their hereditary property. I have talked to many of their prisoners, and their only motive assigned for rising was to make Ireland their own again. All individuals, all political sentiments, were only, as they were taught to believe them, instrumental to that great end…. I am sure we deceive ourselves if we do not calculate upon that permanent source of Irish disturbances, whatever occasional circumstances may retard or accelerate its operation.’
‘Troops,’ he says, ‘are impatiently expected from England; but if the administration, with the forces they have in Ireland, require aid to crush a rebellion confined to a corner of the country, woe be to this kingdom should the French land in force. Whenever the rebels have been fought with common judgment, let the disproportion of numbers be what it may, they have been beaten, except by the Cork Militia, who acted with great imprudence, and by Fawcett, whose conduct, as far as private letters state it, is most generally reprobated. Large bodies are forming round the rebels on every side, and all Dublin is sanguine in their expectations of their immediate destruction. Your troops are very keen, and the rebels indiscriminately massacring Protestant and Catholic soldiers, leaves no distinction in the military enthusiasm.’ The general pardon, however, offered by Dundas to the Kildare rebels, was strongly reprobated among the supporters of the Government. ‘If it was a capitulation, it was wrong. If it was mercy, it was misapplied, because the murderers of many of the military and others were in the mass of pardoned men. A mercy so precipitate seemed no mercy to the friends of the sufferers, and … all Irish history teaches us, with Irish rebels, a negotiating Government proves the destruction of the English interest.’ ‘Little is known,’ Alexander adds in a postscript,’ of the Wexford rebellion, except that their leaders behave more properly, and the men better conducted.’ 1
The Wexford rebellion, however, from its magnitude, and also from its sanguinary character, speedily became the centre of the scene, attracting to itself the rebel elements in the surrounding counties, and reducing all the other disturbances in Ireland almost to insignificance. Though the larger body of the rebel force that had captured Enniscorthy had proceeded to Wexford, and had chosen Bagenal Harvey as their commander, a considerable number still occupied the camp at Vinegar Hill, and they remained there from May 28 till the 20th of the following June. It was at this spot and during this time, that many of the most horrible crimes of the rebellion were committed. Vinegar Hill is the centre of a richly wooded and undulating country, watered by the Slaney, and bounded on the north and west by the blue line of the Wicklow hills. Enniscorthy lies at its foot, and an area of many miles is gaily interspersed with country houses and with prosperous farms. Near the summit of the hill stood an old windmill. The mill no longer exists, but the lower part of its masonry still remains, forming a round, grey tower, about fifteen feet in diameter, which stands out conspicuously against the green grass, and is one of the most prominent objects to be seen from Enniscorthy. Scarcely any other spot in Ireland is associated with memories so tragical and so hideous. The country around was searched and plundered, and great numbers of Protestants were brought to the rebel camp, confined in the old windmill, or in a barn that lay at the foot of the hill, and then deliberately butchered. There appears indeed generally—though not always—to have been some form of trial, and although the victims were all or nearly all Protestants, they were not put to death simply for their creed. Many against whom no charge was brought, or who were popular among the People, or who could find some rebel to attest their innocence and their goodness, were dismissed in safety, with written protections from a priest. But all who had borne any part in the floggings, burnings, and other measures of repression that had been so frequent during the last few weeks; all who had shown themselves active or conspicuous on the loyalist side; all who were pronounced by the rebel tribunals to be Orangemen, were deliberately put to death. The belief which had been so industriously spread, that the Orangemen had sworn to exterminate the Catholics, had driven the people mad; and although in truth there were scarcely any Orangemen in Wexford, although until shortly before the rebellion, religious dissension had been very slight,1 every Protestant of zeal and earnestness now fell under suspicion. Some were shot, some were piked to death, many were flogged in imitation of the proceedings of the yeomen and in order to elicit confessions of Orangism, and there were ghastly tales of prolonged and agonising deaths.
These rest, it is true, on scanty and somewhat dubious evidence, but of the blackness of the tragedy there can be no question. The dead bodies of many Protestants were left unburied, to be devoured by the swine or by the birds. Some were thrown into the river. Some were lightly covered over with sand. One man, who had been stunned, and pierced with a pike, was thrown into a grave while still alive, but a faithful dog scraped away the earth that covered him, and licked his face till he revived, and some passers-by drew him from the grave, sheltered him in their house, and tended him till he recovered. How many perished on Vinegar Hill, it is impossible to say. Musgrave, the most violent of the Protestant loyalist historians, estimates the number at more than five hundred. Gordon, the most moderate, says that unquestionable evidence proves that it can have been little less than four hundred. The Catholic historians usually confine themselves to vague generalities, and to paralleling these atrocities with the massacres of prisoners by the yeomen and the soldiers at Carnew, Dunlavin, and Gorey.1
The proceedings on Vinegar Hill were largely directed by priests. Many of them were collected there. The mass was daily celebrated, and fierce sermons sustained the fanaticism of the people. A hot, feverish atmosphere of religious excitement prevailed, and there was a ghastly mixture of piety and murder. It was observed that religious hatred, industriously inflamed by accounts of intended massacres of Catholics by Orangemen, played here a much more powerful part than any form of political or civil rancour, and it was often those who were most scrupulously observant of the ceremonials of their religion, who were the most murderous.2 All the resources of superstition were at the same time employed to stimulate the courage of the rebels. Father John Murphy was especially looked upon as under Divine protection, and it was believed that he was invulnerable, and could catch the bullets in his hand. Numbers of Protestants around Vinegar Hill sought safety and protection by conforming, and it must be added, that not a few others appear to have been saved by the intervention of the priests. Some of those who thus escaped, were afterwards in imminent danger of being hanged by the soldiers, who regarded their release by the rebels as a strong presumption of their guilt.2
There were curious varieties in the treatment of Protestants. In large districts, every house belonging to a Protestant was burnt to the ground, but in others they were little molested Gordon notices that the parish of Killegny, five miles from Enniscorthy, fell completely into the hands of the rebels, the Protestants in it having all been surrounded before they were able to escape. Yet not a single house in this parish was burnt, or a single Protestant killed. He attributes this chiefly ‘to their temporising conformity with the Romish worship, and to the very laudable conduct of the parish priest, Father Thomas Rogers, who, without any hint of a wish for their actual conversion, encouraged the belief of it among his bigoted flock.’ The Protestant clergyman and his family were brought into the Romish chapel, to purge themselves from the imputation of being Orangemen, but they were afterwards suffered to remain unmolested, and when they were in want, the parish priest sent them provisions.1
The two immediate objects of the Wexford rebels were, the capture of Gorey and of New Ross. Like the attack on Newtown-barry, these expeditions were intended to open out a communication to other counties, and thus to produce that general insurrection throughout Ireland without which the Wexford rebellion was manifestly hopeless. On June 1, a body of rebels, variously estimated at from 1,000 to 4,000 men, many of them on horseback, advanced upon Gorey from Corrigrua Hill, where Bagenal Harvey had pitched his camp, burning many houses in their seven miles’ march. Lieutenant Elliot, with three troops of yeomanry cavalry, fifty yeomanry infantry, and forty men of the Antrim and North Cork Militia, encountered them near the town, and by a steady and well-directed fire completely routed them. The rebel fire, in this as in most other conflicts of the struggle, coming from men who were totally unacquainted with the use of firearms, went far above the troops, and only three men were killed. The victorious army abstained from pursuit, but burnt many houses in a neighbouring village, which were said to belong to rebels, and then retired to Gorey, bringing with them more than 100 captured horses, some arms, and two green flags.2
The rebels, however, did not abandon their enterprise, and it was determined to renew it with a greatly increased force. A large part of the men on Vinegar Hill went to the camp on Corrigrua Hill, and on Sunday, June 3, a great force was marshalled there, in preparation for an attack on Gorey, which was intended for the morrow. On the same day, General Loftus arrived at Gorey, with a force of 1,500 men and five pieces of artillery. Though the reinforcement consisted almost entirely of militia and yeomanry,1 it was believed that the loyalist force would be amply sufficient to surround and capture the rebel camp on Corrigrua Hill, and thus to crush the rebellion on this side of Wexford. About ten o'clock on the morning of the 4th, the troops marched from Gorey in two divisions, commanded respectively by General Loftus and Colonel Walpole. They moved along two different roads, for the purpose of attacking the hill on opposite sides, General Loftus taking the road to the left, and Colonel Walpole that to the right.
Early on the same morning, the insurgents had started on their march for Gorey. Before their departure, mass was celebrated, and the priests distributed the ball cartridges. Unlike the loyalists, they had thrown out scouts, and they soon discovered the approach of the division of Walpole. This officer, though a favourite at the Castle, was totally inexperienced in actual war, and was blinded, like many others during the rebellion, by his contempt for the rebels. As he now advanced heedlessly through narrow lanes flanked by high hedges, he was suddenly attacked by a powerful rebel force under the command of Father John Murphy. A storm of grape shot failed to disperse the assailants. Walpole was shot dead. His troops were driven back with serious loss. They fled in disorder to Gorey; rushed hastily through its streets under the fire of rebels, who had taken possession of some of the houses, and did not pause in their retreat till they reached Arklow. Three cannon were taken, and at least fifty-four men were killed or missing. Among the officers who were slightly wounded was Captain Armstrong, the accuser of the Sheares's.
General Loftus had heard from a distance the noise of battle; he sent some seventy men across country to support Walpole, and a second disastrous fight took place. Loftus could not bring his artillery across the fields, but at length by a circuitous road he reached the scene of conflict, where he found the dead body of Walpole, and evident signs of the defeat of his division.1 He followed the rebel army towards Gorey, found it at last strongly posted on a hill that commands that town, and was met by a fire from the cannon which had been taken. Feeling himself unable either to take the post or to pass under it into the town, he hastily retreated to Carnew in the county of Wicklow, and thence to Carlow, leaving a great tract of country at the mercy of the rebels.2
If these, instead of stopping for some days at Gorey, had pressed immediately on, raising the country as they went, there would have been little or nothing, in the opinion of a competent judge, to check them between Wicklow and Dublin.3 The loyalists of Gorey, who had expected complete security from the arrival of Loftus, now fled in wild confusion with the retreating troops to Arklow, leaving their property behind them. In the town there was some plunder and much drinking. About a hundred prisoners were released. Cattle were killed for the rebel camp in such numbers, and so wastefully, that the remains which were strewn about would probably have caused a pestilence, if one of the inhabitants of Gorey had not come daily to carry off and bury the hides and offal. Many men came in from the surrounding country. Orders are said to have been given, that all persons harbouring Protestants should bring them in on pain of death, and it is stated that the rebels ‘shot several Protestants whom they had taken in their different marches.’ 4 It is more certain, that they sent out parties to burn the houses of Gowan and two or three other magistrates who were obnoxious to them.
While these things were happening at Gorey, a much larger body under the command of Bagenal Harvey attempted to take New Ross. Adopting their usual precaution of encamping always on a height, they passed from Wexford to their old quarters on the Three Rocks; thence on June 1 to Carrick-byrne Hill, which is about seven miles from New Ross, and then on the 4th to Corbet Hill, which is within a mile of that town. A few days before, they might probably have occupied it without resistance, thus opening a path into Carlow; but General Johnston was now there, at the head of at least 1,400 men, including 150 yeomen. His force was composed of the Dublin Militia under Lord Mountjoy, with detachments from the 5th Dragoons, the Clare, Donegal, and Meath Militia, the Mid-Lothian Fencibles, and some English artillery. At daybreak on the 5th the insurgents were ready for the attack, but Harvey first endeavoured to save bloodshed by sending a summons to the commander, representing the overwhelming numbers of the assailants, and summoning him to surrender the town, and thus save from total ruin the property it contained. A man named Furlong, bearing a flag of truce, undertook to carry the message, but as he approached he was shot dead, and his pockets rifled. Few incidents in the rebellion did more to exasperate the rebels, and there is reason to believe that it was no misadventure, but a deliberate act.5
The battle that ensued was the most desperate in the rebellion. The insurgents advanced at daybreak, driving before them a quantity of black cattle to break the ranks of the troops, and they were received with a steady fire of grape. ‘At near seven o'clock,’ says an eye-witness who was with General Johnston, ‘the army began to retreat in all directions…. The rebels pouring in like a flood, artillery was called for, and human blood began to flow down the street. Though hundreds were blown to pieces by our grape shot, yet thousands behind them, being intoxicated from drinking during the night and void of fear, rushed upon us. The cavalry were now ordered to make a charge through them, when a terrible carnage ensued. They were cut down like grass, but the pikemen being called to the front, and our swords being too short to reach them, obliged the horses to retreat, which put us into some confusion. We kept up the action till half-past eight, and it was maintained with such obstinacy on both sides that it was doubtful who would keep the field. They then began to burn and destroy the town. It was on fire in many places in about fifteen minutes. By this time the insurgents advanced as far as the main guard, where there was a most bloody conflict, but with the assistance of two ship guns placed in the street, we killed a great number and kept them back for some time.’ 1 They soon, however, rallied, and by their onward sweep bore down the artillerymen, and obtained possession of the guns. Lord Mountjoy, at the head of the Dublin County Regiment, then charged them, and a fierce hand-to-hand fight ensued, but the troops were unable to pierce the ranks of the pikemen. Lord Mountjoy was surrounded and fell, and his soldiers fiercely fighting were driven back by the overwhelming weight of the enemy, and at last crossed the bridge to the Kilkenny side of the river, where, however, they speedily rallied. Mountjoy was the first member of either House of Parliament who had fallen in this disastrous struggle, and it was bitterly noticed by the ultra-Protestant party, that he was the Luke Gardiner who had been one of the warmest friends of the Catholics, and who twenty years before had introduced into the House of Commons the first considerable measure for their relief.2
The town seemed now almost lost, and some of the troops in wild panic fled to Waterford. If indeed all the resources of the rebels had been exerted, nothing could have saved it. But though the insurgents were the raw material out of which some of the best soldiers in the British army have been formed; though they showed a desperate and truly admirable courage, in facing for long hours the charge of cavalry and bayonets, the volleys of disciplined soldiers, and even the storm of grape shot, they were in truth but untrained, ignorant, poverty-stricken, half-armed peasants, most of whom had never before seen a shot fired in war. Bagenal Harvey had ordered a simultaneous attack on the town in three quarters, but the men who rushed into it, infuriated by the death of Furlong, kept no discipline and acted on no plan. A large part, it is said indeed the great majority, of the insurgents remained at Corbet Hill, and never descended to share the dangers of their fellows, and even of those who had taken the town, a multitude soon dispersed through the streets to plunder or to drink. General Johnston succeeded in rallying his troops, and placing himself at their head, he once more charged the insurgents. A well-directed fire from the cannon which had not been taken, cleared his way, and after desperate fighting the town was regained, and the cannon recaptured and turned against the rebels. Johnston himself displayed prodigies of valour, and three horses were shot under him.
Still, the day was far from over. ‘The gun I had the honour to command,’ writes the eye-witness I have quoted, ‘being called to the main guard, shocking was it to see the dreadful carnage that was there. It continued for half an hour obstinate and bloody. The thundering of cannon shook the town; the very windows were shivered in pieces with the dreadful concussion. I believe 600 rebels lay dead in the main street. They would often come within a few yards of the guns. One fellow ran up, and taking off his hat and wig, thrust them up the cannon's mouth the length of his arm, calling to the rest, “Blood-an-'ounds! my boys, come take her now, she's stopt, she's stopt!” The action was doubtful and bloody from four in the morning to four in the evening, when they began to give way in all quarters.… I know soldiers that fired 120 rounds of ball, and I fired twenty-one rounds of canister shot with the field piece I commanded.’ 1
Some striking figures stand out amid the confused straggle in the town. In the hottest of the fire, a religious enthusiast was seen among the insurgents bearing aloft a crucifix, and though the bullets and grape shot fell fast and thick, many a rebel paused for a moment before he charged, to kneel down and kiss it. A woman named Doyle, the daughter of a faggot cutter, seemed to those who observed her to bear a charmed life. She moved to and fro where the battle raged most fiercely, cutting with a small bill-hook the belts of the fallen soldiers, and supplying the insurgents with cartridges from their cartouches. At the end of the battle, when the rebels were in retreat and about to abandon a small cannon, she took her stand beside it, and said she would remain to be shot unless there was courage enough among the fugitives to save it, and she rallied a small party, who carried it from the field. One soldier was noticed, who with reckless daring disdained any shelter or concealment, and stood conspicuous on the wall of a burning cabin, whence with cool, unerring aim, he shot down rebel after rebel. At last the inevitable shot struck him, and he fell backwards into the still smoking ruins. A townsman named McCormick, who had once been in the army, donned a brazen helmet, and was one of the most conspicuous in the loyalist ranks. Again and again, when the soldiers flinched beneath the heavy fire and fled to shelter, he drew them out, rallied them and led them against the enemy. His wife was worthy of him. When at the beginning of the battle all the other inhabitants fled across the bridge into the county of Kilkenny, she alone remained, and employed herself during the whole battle in mixing wine and water for the soldiers. A boy named Lett, who was said to have been only thirteen, had run away from his mother and joined the insurgents. At a critical moment he snatched up a green banner, and a great body of pikemen followed him in a charge. Another young boy who was in the rebel ranks, may be noticed on account of the future that lay before him. He was John Devereux of Taghmon, who afterwards rose to fame and fortune in South America, and became one of the most distinguished generals in the service of Bolivar.1
At last, the insurgents broke and fled. The flight was terrible, for it was through streets of burning and falling houses, and many are said to have perished in the flames. The streets of Ross, General Johnston reported, were literally strewn with the carcases of the rebels.1 ‘The carnage,’ wrote Major Vesey, ‘was shocking, as no quarter was given. The soldiers were too much exasperated, and could not be stopped. It was a fortunate circumstance,’ he adds, ‘for us that early in the night a man ran in from their post to acquaint us that it was their intention to attack us, and that they were resolved to conquer or die, and so in fact they acted.’ 2 In the first excited estimates, the loss of the insurgents was reckoned at seven thousand men. According to the best accounts, it was about two thousand. The loss on the loyalist side was officially reckoned at two hundred and thirty men.
The battle of New Ross was still raging, when a scene of horror was enacted at Scullabogue barn, which has left an indelible mark on Irish history. The rebels had in the last few days collected many prisoners, and though some are said to have been put to death, the great majority were kept under guard near the foot of Carrickbyrne mountain, where the camp had lately been, in a lonely and abandoned country house called Scullabogue and in the adjoining barn. The number of the prisoners is stated in the Protestant accounts to have been two hundred and twenty-four, though the Catholic historians have tried to reduce it to eighty or a hundred. They were left under the guard of three hundred rebels. The accounts of what happened are not quite consistent in their details, but it appears that in an early stage of the battle, a party of runaways from the camp reached Scullabogue, declaring that the rebel army at New Ross was cut off; that the troops were shooting all prisoners, and butchering all the Catholics who fell into their hands; that orders had been issued that the prisoners at Scullabogue should be at once slaughtered; and that a priest had given peremptory instructions to that effect. The leader of the rebel guard is said to have at first hesitated and resisted, but his followers soon began the work of blood. Thirty-seven prisoners who were confined in the house were dragged out, and shot or piked before the hall door. The fate of those who were in the barn was more terrible. The rebels surrounded it and set it on fire, thrusting back those who attempted to escape, with their pikes, into the flames. Three only by some strange fortune escaped. It is said that one hundred and eighty-four persons perished in the barn by fire or suffocation, and that twenty of them were women and children. The immense majority were Protestants, but there were ten or fifteen Catholics among them. Some of these appear to have been wives of North Cork Militia men, and some others, Catholic servants who had refused to quit their Protestant masters.1
By this time the Irish Government, which had been at first disposed to look with contempt and almost with gratification at the outbreak of the rebellion, were thoroughly alarmed. Pelham was ill in England, but he received constant information from Ireland, and his confidential correspondence shows clearly the growing sense of danger.
On June 1, Elliot wrote to him, sending bulletins of the various actions between the King's troops and the rebels, ‘in all of which,’ he writes, ‘the former have manifested the highest spirit and intrepidity, and the most inviolable fidelity, and I cannot help adding, that the zeal and alertness of the yeomanry have contributed most essentially to the security of the metropolis. The news to-day is not pleasant. The rebels are in considerable force in the county of Wexford, and are in possession of the town, and General Fawcett, in marching with a body of troops from Waterford towards Wexford, has been obliged to retreat with the loss of several men and a howitzer…. The provinces of Ulster and Munster are at present in a state of tranquillity…. If Lord Edward Fitzgerald and the other leading traitors had not been apprehended, I am persuaded we should have had at this moment to encounter a very formidable and widely diffused rebellion. Troops from England are absolutely necessary, and I hope the succour will be speedy. Our army is so disposed that it is difficult to bring it together; and if a foreign enemy were in the country, we should have a fatal experience of the truth of Sir Ralph Abercromby's prediction, that a body of 5,000 men might cut off our troops in detail. My greatest apprehension at present is a religious war. In my own opinion, the evil which has resulted from the Orange Association is almost irreparable, and yet I am afraid Government will be compelled, or at least will think itself compelled, to resort, in the present emergency, to that description of force for assistance. At the same time, the Lord Lieutenant and Lord Castlereagh endeavour to repress the religious distinctions as much as possible.’ 1
Two days later Lord Camden wrote: ‘The North and South continue quiet, and the formidable part of the rebellion is now confined to Wexford…. The cruelties the rebels have committed are dreadful, and the religious appearance which the war now bears is most alarming. Whenever our troops have had opportunities of meeting the rebels, they have behaved well, hut their wildness and want of discipline is most alarming, looking as we must do to a more formidable enemy.’ 2 Elliot stated that the war in Wexford had ‘certainly assumed a strong religious spirit.’ Lord Fingall and the leading Catholic gentry, he added, were quite sensible of the danger, and had presented a most admirable address, but the rebels would undoubtedly fan the flame of religious dissension, and the intemperance of Protestants was assisting them. ‘The contest,’ he said, ‘is yet by no means decided; but if the rebels should not have the co-operation of a French army, I trust we shall put them down. If the French should be able to throw a force of 5,000 men on any part of our coast, it would render the result very dubious.’ He at the same time expressed his total want of confidence in the abilities of Lake, who, ‘though a brave, cool, collected man, extremely obliging, and pleasant in the transaction of business,’ ‘has not resources adequate to the critical situation in which he is placed.’ ‘The loss of Abercromby,’ continued Elliot, ‘will not easily be repaired.’ 1
On the 5th, before the news of the battle of New Ross arrived, Camden wrote to England in very serious and explicit terms. He relates that two attacks on the Wexford rebels had been defeated. The North, he says, may possibly be kept quiet, but this ‘wholly depends upon a speedy end being put to the rebellion near Dublin. It is therefore,’ he continues, ‘my duty to state it to your Grace as a point of indispensable necessity, as one on which the salvation of Ireland depends, that this rebellion should be instantly suppressed. No event but an instant extinction can prevent its becoming general, as it is notorious that the whole country is organised, and only waiting until the success of one part of the kingdom is apparent, before the other parts begin their operations. The Chancellor, the Speaker, Sir John Parnell, and all those friends of his Majesty's Government whom I am in the habit of consulting, have this day thought it incumbent on them to give it as their solemn opinion, and have requested me to state it as such, that the salvation of Ireland depends upon immediate and very considerable succour, that a few regiments will perhaps only be sent to slaughter or to loss, but that a very formidable force of many thousand men, sent forthwith, will probably save the kingdom, which will not exist without such a support. I feel myself that their opinion is perfectly well founded, I add to it my own, and I must add that General Lake agrees with these gentlemen and me in the absolute necessity of this reinforcement.’ He asks, accordingly, for at least 10,000 men.2
In a more confidential letter which was written next day to Pelham, the Lord Lieutenant informs his Chief Secretary that he had stated both to Portland and Pitt his decided opinion, ‘that unless a very large force is immediately sent from England, the country may be lost.’ He expressed his deep conviction, that Lake was not a man of sufficient ability or authority for his present position, and he adds an important recommendation, which he had apparently already sent to Pitt. ‘The Lord Lieutenant ought to be a military man. The whole government of the country is now military, and the power of the chief governor is almost merged in that of the general commanding the troops. I have suggested the propriety of sending over Lord Cornwallis, … and I have told Pitt … that without the best military assistance, I conceive the country to be in the most imminent danger, and that my services cannot be useful to the King…. A landing, even of a small body of French, will set the country in a blaze, and I think neither our force nor our staff equal to the very difficult circumstances they will have to encounter.’ In Kildare he hopes that the spirit of the rebels is broken, but ‘the county of Wexford is a terrible example of their fury and licentiousness…. Great impatience is entertained, from no regiments having arrived from England, and indeed, it is mortifying to think that we have not received a man, although the rebellion has lasted for a fortnight.’ 1
The battle of New Ross was a loyalist victory, but the extraordinary resolution and courage shown by the insurgents greatly increased the alarm. ‘Although the spirit and gallantry of his Majesty's army,’ wrote Camden, ‘finally overcame the rebels, your Grace will learn how very formidable are their numbers, led on as they are by desperation and enthusiasm…. Major Vesey, who commanded the Dublin County Regiment after the melancholy fate of Lord Mountjoy, describes the attack which was made as the most furious possible…. Our force was obliged twice to retire; they were, however, finally successful, but they were so harassed and fatigued as not to be able to make any forward movement, and your Grace will observe how very formidable an enemy Colonel Crawford, who has been so long accustomed to all descriptions of service, states the rebels to be.’ 1
The letters of Colonel Crawford and Major Vesey were inclosed, and they fully bear out Camden's estimate of the seriousness of the crisis. ‘The insurgents,’ wrote the first officer, ‘yesterday marched from Carrickburne to within a mile and a half of this place. This morning General Johnston was about giving orders for advancing against them, when they did it, and made as severe an attack as is possible for any troops with such arms. They were in great force, not many firearms, and no guns at first. They drove in our right, followed the troops quite into the town, and got possession of four guns. By very great personal exertion of General Johnston they were repulsed, and the repeated attacks they afterwards made (being far less vigorous than the first) were beaten back, and the guns retaken. They certainly have given proofs of very extraordinary courage and enthusiasm, and it is, in my opinion, very doubtful that the force at present under General Johnston would be able to subdue the Wexford insurgents. Should it spread now, it would be very serious indeed…. The militia behaved with spirit, but are quite ungovernable.’ 2
‘These men,’ wrote Beresford, ‘inflamed by their priests, who accompany them in their ranks, fight with a mad desperation. It is becoming too apparent that this is to be a religious, bloody war. We must conceal it as long as we can, because a great part of our army and most of our militia are papists, but it cannot be long concealed…. If the militia should turn or the French come before the contest is ended and the rebellion crushed, Ireland goes first, and Great Britain follows, and all Europe after.’ ‘The only comfort we have is, that the Northern Protestants begin to see their danger, and are arming in our favour, but … Government are afraid to trust them, lest the papists of the militia and army should take affront.’ 1
Castlereagh was acting as Chief Secretary during the illness of Pelham, and though he was by no means inclined to exaggerate danger, he took an equally grave view of the situation. ‘The rebellion in Wexford,’ he wrote, ‘has assumed a more serious shape than was to be apprehended from a peasantry, however well organised.’ ‘An enemy that only yielded after a struggle of twelve hours is not contemptible. Our militia soldiers have, on every occasion, manifested the greatest spirit and fidelity, in many instances defective subordination, but in none have they shown the smallest disposition to fraternity, but, on the contrary, pursue the insurgents with the rancour unfortunately connected with the nature of the struggle. Had the rebels carried Ross, the insurrection would have immediately pervaded the counties of Waterford and Kilkenny.’ Their forces ‘consist of the entire male inhabitants of Wexford, and the greatest proportion of those of Wicklow, Kildare, Carlow, and Kilkenny. From Carlow to Dublin, I am told, scarcely an inhabitant is to be seen. I am sorry to inform you, that our fears about the North are too likely to be realised…. Rely on it, there never was in any country so formidable an effort on the part of the people. It may not disclose itself in the full extent of its preparation if it is early met with vigour and success, but our forces cannot cope in a variety of distant points with an enemy that can elude an attack when it is inexpedient to risk a contest.’ 2 ‘Wexford, the peaceable, the cultivated,’ wrote Cooke, ‘has been and is the formidable spot. You will recollect, there were no returns, no delegates from Wexford. How artificial! You recollect in Reynolds’ evidence that Lord Edward wanted to go to France, to hasten a landing from frigates at Wexford.3 Be assured the battle of New Ross was most formidable…. It was a grand attempt of the rebels, well planned and boldly attempted, and the success would have been ruinous. Johnston, deserves greatly. He placed himself at the head of the Dublin County Regiment when the affair grew desperate, and by personal exertions succeeded.’ ‘The Dublin yeomanry are wonderful.1 A landing of the French or the slightest disaster, Camden again repeated, might make the situation most alarming. ‘The most able generals, and a most numerous and well-disciplined army, can alone save Ireland from plunder, perhaps from separation from Great Britain.’ 2
The apprehensions expressed in these letters would probably have proved in no degree exaggerated if the French had landed, or if the rebellion had spread. But day after day the insurgents in Wexford looked in vain across the sea for the promised succour. The North, in which they had placed so much trust, was still passive, and although the banner of religion had been raised, and priests were in the forefront of the battle, the Catholic province of Connaught and the great Catholic counties of the South were perfectly tranquil. The insurrection was still confined to a few central counties, and outside Wexford it was nowhere formidable.
The tranquillity of the greater part of Ulster during the rebellion, the defection of the Presbyterians from the movement of which they were the main originators, and the great and enduring change which took place in their sentiments in the last years of the eighteenth century, are facts of the deepest importance in Irish history, and deserve very careful and detailed examination. It would be an error to attribute them to any single cause. They are due to a concurrence of several distinct influences, which can be clearly traced in the correspondence of the time. Much was due to the growth of the Orange movement, which had planted a new and a rival enthusiasm in the heart of the disaffected province, and immensely strengthened the forces opposed to the United Irishmen;3 and much also to the success of long-continued military government. Martial law had prevailed in Ulster much longer than in the other provinces, and, as we have seen, an enormous proportion of the arms which had been so laboriously accumulated, had been discovered and surrendered. When the rebellion broke out, all the measures of precaution that were adopted in Dublin were taken in the towns of Ulster. The yeomanry were placed on permanent duty, and patrolled the streets by night. The inhabitants were forbidden to leave their houses between nine at night and five in the morning, and compelled to post up the names of those who were within them, which were to be called over whenever the military authorities desired. The arrival of every stranger was at once registered. A proclamation was issued, ordering all persons who were not expressly authorised to possess arms and ammunition, to bring them in within an assigned period, under pain of military execution, and promising at the same time that if they did so, they would be in no respect molested, and that no questions would be asked. At Belfast a court-martial sat daily in the market-place for the trial of all persons who were brought before it. One man, in whose house arms were found, was sentenced to eight hundred lashes, received two hundred, and then gave information which led to the flogging of a second culprit. About four hundred stand of arms were surrendered in a few days. One of the great anxieties of the authorities at Belfast was to discover six cannon, which had belonged to the Belfast volunteers, and had been carefully concealed. They were all found in the last week of May—two of them through information derived from an anonymous letter. Several persons were flogged for seditious offences. Many others who were suspected, but against whom there was no specific charge, were sent to the tender, and seven cars full of prisoners from Newry were lodged in Belfast gaol.1
Such measures, carried out severely through the province, made rebellion very difficult, and it was to them that Lord Clare appears to have mainly attributed the calm of Ulster. It is, however, very improbable that they would have been sufficient, if they had not been supported by a real change of sentiments. The sturdy, calculating, well-to-do Presbyterians of the North might have risen to co-operate with a French army, or even to support a general, though unaided insurrection, if it had begun with a successful blow, and had been directed by leaders whom they knew. They were more and more disinclined to throw in their lot with disorderly Catholic mobs, assembled under nameless chiefs, who were plundering and often murdering Protestants, but who were in most cases scattered like chaff before small bodies of resolute yeomen. The rebellion in Leinster had assumed two forms, which were almost equally distasteful to Ulster. In some counties the rebels were helpless mobs, driven to arms by hope of plunder, or by fear of the Orangemen, or by exasperation at military severities, but destitute of all real enthusiasm and convictions, and perfectly impotent in the field. In Wexford they were very far from impotent, but there the struggle was assuming more and more the character of a religious war, and deriving its strength from religious fanaticism. The papers, day by day, told how the rebels were imprisoning, plundering, and murdering the Protestants; how the priests in their vestments were leading them to the fight, as to a holy war, which was to end in the extirpation of heresy; how Protestants were thronging the chapels to be baptised, as the sole means of saving their lives. In these accounts there was much that was exaggerated, and much that might be reasonably palliated or explained, but there was also much horrible truth, and the scenes that were enacted at Vinegar Hill and Scullabogue made a profound and indelible impression on the Northern mind. Men who had been the most ardent organisers of the United Irish movement, began to ask themselves whether this insurrection was not wholly different from what they had imagined and planned, and whether its success would not be the greatest of calamities. The tide of feeling suddenly changed, and even in Belfast itself, it soon ran visibly towards the Government.
The change of sentiment was greatly accelerated by other causes. The keynote of the conspiracy had been an alliance with France, for the establishment by French assistance of an Irish republic. But the utter failure of the French to profit by the golden opportunity of the Mutiny of the Nore; the mismanagement of the Bantry Bay expedition; the defeat of Camperdown, and the disappointment of several subsequent promises of assistance, had shaken the confidence of the more intelligent Northerners in French assistance, while many things had lately occurred which tended to destroy their sympathy with French policy. The United Irish movement, as we have seen, was essentially and ardently republican; and although it assumed a different character when it passed into an ignorant and bigoted Catholic population, this change had not extended to the North. Republicanism from the time of the American Revolution had been deeply rooted among the Presbyterians of Ulster. They had readily accepted those doctrines about the rights of man, which Rousseau had made the dominant political enthusiasm of Europe, and it was as the dawn of an era of universal liberty that the French Revolution, in spite of all the horrors that accompanied it, had been welcomed with delight. The precedent by which their leaders justified their appeal for French assistance was that of 1688, when the heads of the English party opposed to James II. invited over the chief of the neighbouring republic with a small Dutch army, to assist them in establishing constitutional liberty.1
But although the French had given many assurances that they would leave the Irish free to settle their Constitution as they pleased, the evident tendency of the Revolution towards a military, conquering, and absorbing despotism had produced a profound effect. The anxiety of McNevin, when he went to France as the agent of the party, to limit the French contingent to ten thousand men, clearly displayed it.2 Wolfe Tone mentions in his journal, the disgust and indignation with which he read the arrogant proclamation of Buonaparte to the republic of Genoa, in the summer of 1797, when that Republic passed wholly under French influence, and when its Constitution was remodelled under the direction of a French minister. Such a proclamation, Tone said to Hoche, if it had been published in Ireland, ‘would have a most ruinous effect.’ ‘In Italy such dictation might pass, but never in Ireland, where we understand our rights too well to submit to it.’ 3
The destruction, or complete subjugation to French influence, of the Dutch Republic, of the Republic of Venice, and of the Republic of Genoa, was soon followed by a series of atrocious outrages directed against the Swiss Confederation. The Revolution of the 18th fructidor, which drove Barthélemy and Carnot from power, and the treaty of Campo Formio, which freed France from all apprehension of the Emperor, were very unfavourable to the interests of Switzerland, and it became manifest that it was the intention of the French Government to force on a conflict. It is not here necessary to enumerate the many arrogant demands by which this policy was carried out. It is sufficient to say, that the presence in Switzerland of a certain number of discontented democrats, who played a part greatly resembling that of the United Irishmen in Ireland, powerfully assisted it. In a time of perfect peace a French army crossed the border; all resistance was crushed by force; Switzerland was given up to military violence, and to undisguised and systematic spoliation. Its ancient Constitution was destroyed, and a new Constitution, dictated from Paris, was imposed upon it.1
But there was another republic which was far dearer to the Ulster Presbyterians than Switzerland. No fact in the Irish history of the latter half of the eighteenth century is more conspicuous, than the close connection that subsisted between the North of Ireland and New England. The tree of liberty, according to the United Irish phraseology, had been sown in America, though it had been watered in France, and the great number of Irish Protestants who had emigrated to America, and the considerable part which they had borne in the American Revolution, gave a tinge of genuine affection to the political sympathy that united the two communities. But at the critical period at which we have now arrived, France and the United States were bitterly hostile, and apparently on the very brink of war.
The conflict originated with the commercial treaty which had been negotiated between England and the United States in 1794 and 1795. It had been fiercely resented in Paris, and the ill feeling it created had been rapidly envenomed by disputes about the rights of neutral vessels. I have related the controversy on this question, which had sharply divided England in 1778 and 1780 from France, Russia, and other continental Powers. The English maintained the right of seizing merchandise belonging to a hostile Power, even when it was carried in neutral vessels. The continental Powers maintained that free ships made free goods, that a neutral Power had the right of carrying on commerce with belligerent Powers, and conveying all goods belonging to them which were not, according to a strictly defined rule, contraband of war. The United States strongly maintained the continental doctrine, but they had never been able to make England acknowledge or observe it. France, on the other hand, was its principal supporter. She had specially introduced it into her treaty with America in 1778; and even since the war with England had begun, she had formally disclaimed all right of interfering with belligerent goods on American vessels. But a considerable carrying trade of English goods by American ships had grown up during the war, and France, finding herself seriously damaged by her adhesion to the continental doctrine, which her enemy refused to acknowledge, suddenly changed her policy; issued a decree ordering her privateers and ships of war to treat the vessels of neutral nations in the same manner in which those nations suffered themselves to be treated by the English; and formally notified this decree to the Americans. She at the same time contended that the United States, by entering into a commercial treaty with England, had forfeited the privileges of the treaty of 1778. The immediate consequence was, that numerous American vessels were captured by French or Spanish cruisers. From San Domingo especially, a swarm of French corsairs went forth to prey upon American commerce.
John Adams, who was then President, tried to arrive at some arrangement by negotiation, and three American envoys came to Paris in October 1797. They obtained interviews with Talleyrand, but their reception was exceedingly discouraging. The Directory refused to receive them, and they were told in language of extreme haughtiness that the French Government were exasperated by the policy of the United States, and still more by the language of its President, and would receive no American envoy without ample avowals, reparations, and explanations. Soon, however, it was intimated to them that one way was open to them by which they could secure their neutrality, and save themselves from the threatened vengeance of France. The great want of the French Republic was money, and the envoys were informed that, if America desired to obtain any concession from France or any security for her commerce, she must purchase it by a large and immediate loan. Money, it was said, and much money, they must be prepared to furnish. It was added, that in addition to this loan, a sum of about 50,000l. should be given to the members of the Directory. Many other Powers, the envoys were told, had consented to buy peace from France, and America would find it equally her interest to do so. The force of France was irresistible.
The startled envoys replied, that such a demand lay utterly beyond their instructions, and had certainly never been contemplated by the Government which appointed them. They were prepared, however, to send one of their number across the Atlantic to ask for fresh instructions, if the French Government would, in the meantime, put a stop to the capture of American ships, and negotiate on the differences between the two countries. America, they said, had always been friendly to France, but the present state of things was even more ruinous than war. Property to the value of more than fifty millions of dollars had been already taken. Americans had been treated by France in every respect as enemies, and it was for them to ask for reparation. Not a dollar of American money, they were very certain, would go in a loan to the French, unless American property, unjustly confiscated, was previously restored, and further hostilities suspended. Unless these conditions were complied with, they would not even consult their Government concerning a loan. They were, however, perfectly prepared to negotiate a commercial treaty with France, as liberal as that which they had made with England.
The answer was a peremptory refusal. No confiscated property, they were told, should be returned, and no promise was given that the capture of American property should cease Unless part, at least, of the money demanded was forthcoming, the envoys must leave Paris, nay more, the property of all Americans would probably be confiscated. The United States should take warning by the fate of Venice, for that fate might soon be their own. A new decree was issued in January 1798, ordering that every ship of a neutral Power, which contained any goods of English fabric or produce, should be deemed a lawful prize, even though those goods belonged to neutrals, and that all ships which had so much as touched at an English port should be excluded from French harbours. Two of the American envoys were sent back to obtain fresh instructions. The third was, for the present, allowed to remain at Paris.
When these things became known in America, they excited a storm of indignation. Adams at once obtained power from the Congress to increase the army and navy, and to strengthen the defences. Washington was called from his retreat, and placed at the head of the army. As the capture of American vessels was still of almost daily occurrence, the Congress granted liberty to fit out privateers for the purpose of making reprisals. The envoy who had remained in Paris was immediately recalled, and the American Government appealed to the judgment of their own people and of the whole civilised world, by publishing all the despatches of their envoys.1
The declaration of war which seemed inevitable did not take place, though on both sides innumerable corsairs were fitted out. The ambition of France took other directions; the victories of Nelson soon made her very impotent upon the sea, and about two years later Buonaparte again reversed her policy, and made a new and friendly arrangement with the Americans. But the proof which was furnished by these despatches, of the spirit in which France acted towards the country which beyond all others seemed attached to her, made a profound impression throughout Europe. ‘Not all the depredations of the French in Germany, the Netherlands, Holland, Switzerland, and Italy,’ wrote a contemporary annalist, ‘no, not their plunder of the papal territories, afforded to the minds of men so convincing a proof that the French Republic was governed, not more by a thirst of universal dominion than by a rage for plunder, as the attempt to subject the Americans to tribute.’ In no other European country, however, did this episode prove so important as in Ireland. In a most critical period of Irish history, it gave a complete check to the enthusiasm with which the French Revolution had hitherto been regarded by the Northern Presbyterians, and the sudden revulsion of feeling which it produced was one great cause of the tranquillity of Ulster.
A few extracts from contemporary letters will be sufficient to illustrate the progress of this change, and to justify my analysis of its causes. No one knew Ulster better than Dean Warburton, and on May 29 he wrote that all there was quiet, and that he believed it would continue so if matters went well in the rest of Ireland. ‘The cunning and wary Northerners,’ he continued, ‘see that no revolution can be effected without a foreign aid (of which they now despair). The steadiness and loyalty of our militia have damped the hopes and expectations of the disaffected, and I think the Northern Dissenter will now quietly be a spectator of that destructive flame which he himself originally kindled up, and will take no active part in the present attempt.’ 1
Camden wrote that the report from Ulster was still favourable, but that he could only infer from it, ‘that with their disaffection they [the Northerners] join much prudence; though there are many persons who conceive an alteration has taken place in the public mind there, from the American correspondence, and from the Catholics of the South making the present so much a religious question.’ 2 ‘The quiet of the North,’ wrote Cooke, ‘is to me unaccountable; but I feel that the popish tinge in the rebellion, and the treatment of France to Switzerland and America, has really done much, and in addition to the army, the force of Orange yeomanry is really formidable.’ 3
A report from Ulster in the Government papers, written apparently in the last days of May, declared that the accounts of Catholic atrocities in the rebellion were already having a great effect on the Presbyterians, disinclining them from joining with the Catholics, making them dread Catholic ascendency, and reviving the old antipathy of sects.4
‘The Northerners,’ wrote Henry Alexander, ten days later, ‘do not like the papists. They feel the injuries to America. They have not the plenty of provisions the Wexfordians had. They possess the escheated counties; and their bleachers, though they would huckster with any man who would promise to govern them cheapest, will not like the destruction of their greens.’ 1
The letters of Bishop Percy throw much interesting light on this subject. He was in Dublin while the rebellion was at its height, but his diocese of Dromore was in the heart of the disaffected part of Ulster, and in addition to the intelligence he received from members of the Government at Dublin, he had his own correspondents in Ulster. ‘The North,’ he wrote, ‘is perfectly safe; the Protestants being here in some places murdered by the Irish papists, has turned all the Dissenters against them.’ His vicar-general wrote to him that his diocese was absolutely tranquil, that the arms were being generally surrendered; that a judicious combination of severity and indulgence was breaking up the conspiracy, and that the conspirators had been profoundly disgusted by the disappearance of some of their treasurers. ‘Another cause,’ wrote the vicar-general, ‘which has alienated our Northern Irish republicans from France, is the vile treatment shown to Switzerland and America; to the latter of whom they were exceedingly devoted, especially at Belfast, where they are now signing resolutions of abhorrence of French tyranny.’ 2
‘A wonderful change,’ wrote the Bishop, a few days later, ‘has taken place among republicans in the North, especially in and near Belfast. They now abhor the French as much as they formerly were partial to them, and are grown quite loyal. Last Monday the King's birthday was celebrated at Belfast, with as much public rejoicing as it ever was at St. James's. Not only the whole town was illuminated, but bonfires were lighted on all the adjoining hills. This could not be counterfeit…. It is owing to the scurvy treatment which the French have shown to the United States of America, so beloved and admired by our Northern Republicans. You know how enthusiastically fond they were of the Americans, and now that the latter must fly to Great Britain for protection, their Irish friends are become the warm adherents of Great Britain. They have sent the most loyal address to Government, with offers of any service that shall be accepted…. The murder of the Protestants in the South will prevent them ever joining again with them, much less in the present rebellion.’ 1
At Omagh alone, not less than six thousand Presbyterians offered their services without expense to the Government, and their example was followed in other places. The ranks of the Orangemen at the same time rapidly filled, and great multitudes of them offered to march to any part of the kingdom to suppress rebellion.2 The attempts by intimidation or persuasion to prevent the enrolment of a yeomanry force, had either ceased or been completely defeated. According to Musgrave, the four counties of Fermanagh, Tyrone, Derry, and Armagh together furnished no less than fourteen thousand yeomen, and he adds that three-fourths of them were Presbyterians; that most of them were Orangemen, and that, in spite of the recent disaffection of the Presbyterian body, he did not know a single case of a Presbyterian yeoman having betrayed his oath of allegiance.3
It could hardly, however, have been expected that a conspiracy so widespread as that in Ulster should produce no effect. Alarming intelligence now came to Dublin, that on June 7 a rebellion had broken out in the North. A few months before, such intelligence would have portended a struggle of the most formidable dimensions, but it soon appeared that the rebellion was practically confined to the two counties of Antrim and Down, and it was suppressed in a few days. In the county of Antrim the only important operation was an attack on June 7, on the town of Antrim, by a body of rebels whose strength is very variously estimated, but probably consisted of from 3,000 to 4,000 men. Their leader was a young Belfast cotton manufacturer, named Henry Joy McCracken, one of the original founders of the United Irish Society, and one of the very few of those founders who ever appeared in the field. He was a man of singularly amiable private character, and is said to have formerly taken a part in establishing the first Sunday-school at Belfast.1 A brother of William Orr was conspicuous among the rebel officers.
As I have already stated, the Government had an informer in the Provincial Committee of Ulster, who had long been giving information about the Ulster rebels, and who furnished reports which were regularly transmitted to London, and which established the guilt of every leader of consequence in the province.2 Through his information they were fully prepared for the attack, and Antrim was defended by Colonel Lumley with two or three troops of dragoons, two cannon, and a considerable body of yeomanry. The rebels had a cannon,3 but it was disabled at the second shot. They were chiefly armed with pikes, but some hundreds of them had muskets. There was a sharp fight, lasting for between two and three hours, in the streets of Antrim and in the adjoining demesne of Lord Massareene, and the rebels showed very considerable courage. They endured without flinching several discharges of grape shot; repulsed with heavy loss a charge of cavalry; killed or wounded about fifty soldiers, and forced back the troops into Lord Massareene's grounds. Colonel Lumley and three or four other officers were wounded. Two officers were killed, and Lord O'Neil fell, pierced with a pike, and died in a few days. The rebels, however, were at last driven back, and on the arrival of some additional troops from Belfast and from the camp at Blaris, they fled precipitately, leaving from 200 to 400 men on the field.1
The little town of Larne had been attacked early on the same morning by some rebels from Ballymena, but a small body of Tay Fencibles, aided by a few loyal inhabitants, easily drove them back. Randalstown and Ballymena were the same day occupied by rebels with little resistance, and some yeomen were taken prisoners, but the defeat of the 7th had already broken the rebellion in Antrim. The rebels found that the country was not rising to support them, and that there was absolutely no chance of success. Disputes and jealousies are said to have arisen in their ranks between the Protestants and the Catholics. Multitudes deserted, and a profound discouragement prevailed. Colonel Clavering issued a proclamation ordering an immediate surrender of arms and prisoners, and as it was not complied with, he set fire to Randalstown, with the exception of the places of worship and a few houses belonging to known loyalists. Two yeomanry officers were immediately after released, and the inhabitants of Ballymena sent to Clavering, offering to surrender their arms and prisoners, if their town was not burnt.2 The small remnant of the rebel force returned, on the 11th, to Dunagore Hill. Clavering, contrary to the wishes of some hot loyalists, offered a pardon to all except the leaders, if they surrendered their arms and returned to their allegiance, and this offer led to their almost complete dispersion. McCracken with a very few followers attempted to escape, but he was soon arrested, and tried and executed at Belfast. Another Antrim leader, named James Dickey, was not long after hanged in the same town, and he is stated by Musgrave to have declared before his execution, that the eyes of the Presbyterians had been opened too late; that they at last understood from the massacres in Leinster, that if they had succeeded in overturning the Constitution, they would then have had to contend with the papists.1
The insurrection in the county of Down was as brief, and hardly more important. It was intended to have broken out on the same day as that in the county of Antrim, and in that case it might have been very serious, but the precipitation of the Antrim rebels prevented this, and the battle at Antrim on the 7th put an end to all hopes of co-operation. On June 9, however, a large body of rebels assembled in the barony of Ards, and they succeeded in forming an ambuscade, and surprising, near Saintfield, Colonel Stapleton, who with some York Fencibles and yeomanry cavalry had hastened to the scene. The rebels were at first completely successful, and they drove the cavalry back in confusion with a loss of about sixty men, including three officers and also the Rector of Portaferry, who had volunteered to serve. The infantry soon rallied, repulsed their assailants, and became masters of the field, but the affair was at best indecisive, for the troops were ordered to retire to Belfast, no prisoners were taken, and the rebels, having suffered but little, occupied Saintfield. Next day most of the surrounding country was in arms. Newtown Ards was at first successfully defended, but then evacuated and occupied without resistance. On the 11th, Portaferry was attacked, but after a most gallant defence by the local yeomanry, aided by the guns of a revenue cutter which was lying in the river, the assailants were driven back with much loss. The rebels then in a great body, numbering, it is said, at one time not less than 7,000 men, encamped in a strong position behind Ballinahinch, on the property of Lord Moira. They selected as their leader Henry Monroe, a linendraper of Lisburn, who had been formerly an active volunteer, and who had some slight military knowledge and capacity.
General Nugent marched hastily to encounter them with a force of 1,500 or 1,600 men, partly yeomanry and partly regular troops, and accompanied by eight cannon. As they proceeded through the rebel country, their path was marked by innumerable blazing cottages, set fire to on their march.1 On the evening of the 12th they succeeded, by a heavy cannonade, in driving the rebels from the strong post on Windmill Hill, and a rebel colonel, who defended it to the last, was taken there, and immediately hanged. The rebels had also taken some prisoners, but they did them no harm, and General Nugent relates that his troops at this time surrounded a wood in which the rebels had gathered, rescued the yeomanry prisoners, and killed nearly all the defenders. In the middle of the night Ballinahinch was occupied by troops, Monroe concentrating his forces on a neighbouring height. There was much division in the rebel camp. One party counselled a night attack, and there were reports that the troops were engaged in pillage or incapacitated by intoxication, but Monroe determined to await the daybreak. It has been said that dissension broke out between the Catholics and the Protestants, and it is at least certain that some hundreds of rebels, in the night, fell away in a body.2 Perhaps the fact that many of them were half armed, hopeless of success, and driven unwillingly into the rebellion, furnishes the best explanation. General Nugent estimated the rebel force on the evening of the 12th at near 5,000 men, but believed that as many persons who had been pressed into the service, and who were totally unarmed, had escaped during the night, there were not nearly so many on the morning of the 13th.3
Shortly before daybreak on that morning, Monroe attacked the troops in Ballinahinch. The rebels, according to the confession of their enemies, showed signal courage, rushing to the very muzzles of the cannon, where many of them were blown to pieces, and where bodies were found as black as coal from the discharge. Once or twice their impetuosity seemed to carry all before it; but at last, superior discipline and greatly superior arms asserted their inevitable ascendency, and the rebels were totally defeated and dispersed with the loss of 400 or 500 men. The loss on the loyalist side was only twenty-nine. Some green flags and six small unmounted cannon were among the spoil. No prisoners were made during the fight, for the troops gave no quarter, but nine or ten fugitives were captured almost immediately after, and at once hanged. The town of Ballinahinch was burnt almost to the ground. One of the correspondents of Bishop Percy, who visited it shortly after the battle, says that its smoke rose to heaven like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, and that not more than three houses in it were unscathed.1
‘The conduct of the troops,’ writes Lord Castlereagh, describing this battle to Pelham, ‘was everything one could wish in point of spirit. Their discipline not much improved by free quarters. Nugent writes in the highest praise of the Northern yeomanry; he describes them for this particular service as equal to the best troops.’ 2 ‘The rebels,’ he wrote in another letter, ‘fought at Ballinahinch, as at Wexford, with determined bravery, but without the fanaticism of the Southerners. They made the attack, and used some wretched ship guns, mounted on cars, with considerable address…. Upon the whole, the North is divided in sentiment. We have numerous adherents, and I am inclined to hope that the effort there will prove rather a diversion than the main attack.’ 3 It is a curious fact, that in this battle the overwhelming majority of the rebels were Protestants, while the Monaghan Militia, an almost exclusively Catholic regiment, formed a large portion of the loyalist force.
The short Protestant rebellion in Ulster was almost wholly untarnished by the acts of cruelty and murder that were so frequent in the South,1 but the repression was not less savage and brutal. After the decisive battle of Ballinahinch, however, General Nugent followed the example of Colonel Clavering in Antrim, and offered pardon and protection to all rebels, except the leaders, who would lay down their arms and return to their allegiance. Should that submission not be made, the proclamation continued, ‘Major-General Nugent will proceed to set fire to, and totally destroy, the towns of Killinchy, Killileagh, Ballinahinch, Saintfield, and every cottage and farmhouse in the vicinity of those places, carry off the stock and cattle, and put every one to the sword who may be found in arms.’ At Belfast, Colonel Durham warned the inhabitants, that if any traitor was found concealed, with the knowledge or connivance of the owner, in any house in that town or neighbourhood, ‘such person's house, so offending, shall be burnt, and the owner thereof hanged.’ 2
No further troubles, however, appeared in Ulster, and a few executions closed this page of the rebellion. Some slight movements which had arisen in the county of Derry, had been easily suppressed by General Knox, and in the other counties the loyal party seemed now completely to predominate. Monroe tried to escape, but was soon arrested, and hanged at Lisburn before his own house, and, it is said, before the eyes of his mother and his wife. He died like a true Christian and a brave man, and impressed all who witnessed his end, with his courage and his manifest sincerity. His head, according to the barbarous fashion of the time, was severed from his body, and fixed on a spike in the market-place of Lisburn. The green and white plume which he wore on his helmet in the battle of Ballinahinch, was afterwards given to Bishop Percy.1
We must now return to the theatre of war in Wexford, and follow the fate of the rebel army which had been defeated, but not dissolved or dispersed, in the great battle of New Ross, on June 5. On that evening, the rebels, with a long train of cars bearing their wounded and dead, retreated to their old camp on Carrickbyrne Hill, and it was there that Bagenal Harvey for the first time learnt the horrible tragedy that had taken place at Scullabogue. It is related that the resolution which had supported him through the battle and the defeat and the flight, then gave way, and he wrung his hands in agony, bitterly deploring that he had any part in a cause which bore such fruit. He opened a subscription for burying the remains of the murdered prisoners, gave prompt orders to arrest and punish the murderers, and at once wrote a proclamation, which was countersigned by his adjutant-general Breen, and was printed, and widely distributed among all the rebel forces through the county. It laid down stringent rules of discipline under pain of death, and appointed courts-martial to enforce them. ‘Any person or persons,’ it concluded, ‘who shall take upon them to kill or murder any person or persons, burn any house, or commit any plunder, without special written orders from the commander-in-chief, shall suffer death.’ 2
The unfortunate commander was very impotent in the midst of the fierce mob of fanatics who swept him along. A touching letter, which has been preserved, written about this time to an old friend, who asked him to protect some property, paints vividly both his character and his situation.1 His short command was, however, now over. On the 7th the rebels moved their camp to the hill of Slyeeve-Keelter, which rises about five miles from Ross, on the river formed by the united streams of the Nore and Barrow. They there deposed Bagenal Harvey from the command, and bestowed it on a priest named Philip Roche, who had taken a prominent part in the defeat of Colonel Walpole on June 4. The influence which this victory had given him, his priestly character, his gigantic stature and strength, his loud voice and his boisterous manners, made him much more fitted to command the rebel army, than the feeble and scrupulous Protestant gentleman he superseded, and there is some reason te believe that he had more natural talent for military matters.2 Harvey went back to Wexford, where he assisted Keugh in governing and defending the town, and restraining the populace from outrage. The priests did all they could to sustain the courage of the people, by appeals to their fanaticism and credulity. Some are said to have declared that they were invulnerable, that they could catch the bullets in their hands, that it was only want of faith that caused Catholic rebels to fall by Protestant bullets; and protections and charms, signed and, it is alleged, sold by the new commander, were hung round the necks of the rebel soldiers, to guarantee them from any injury in battle.1 The weather had been unusually fine, which greatly lightened the hardships of those who were compelled to sleep unsheltered in the open air, and this was constantly appealed to as a clear proof that the benediction of Heaven rested on their cause.
This body of rebels made attempts, which were not wholly unsuccessful, to intercept the navigation of the river of Ross. They captured some small boats; they attacked a gunboat, and killed some of her sailors, but failed to take her, and they succeeded in intercepting a mail, which furnished valuable information about the proceedings and preparations of the Government. On the 10th they moved their camp to Lacken Hill, a mile from Ross, where they remained for some days unmolested and almost inactive. They sent, however, detachments to scour the country for arms and provisions, and gave orders that all males should join their camp. One small party penetrated to the little town of Borris in Carlow, which they partly burnt, but the neighbouring country house of Mr. Kavanagh had been turned into a fortress, and was strongly garrisoned by yeomen, and when the rebels attacked it, they were beaten back with heavy loss. Ten of their number, it is said, were left dead, and as many wounded, while only one of the garrison fell.2 It should be remembered to the credit of Father Roche, that the camp at Lacken Hill, where he held the undivided command, appears to have been absolutely unstained by the murders which had been so numerous at Vinegar Hill.3
The reader may remember that another great body of rebels had encamped, after the defeat of Colonel Walpole, in the neighbourhood of Gorey. If they had pressed on at once, after the victory of the 4th, upon Arklow, it must have fallen without resistance, and the road to Dublin would then have been open to them. They wasted, however, precious days, feasting upon their spoil, trying prisoners who were accused of being Orangemen, plundering houses, and burning the town of Carnew; and in the meantime the little garrison, which had at first evacuated Arklow in terror, had returned, and had been powerfully reinforced. It now amounted to 1,500 or 1,600 effective men, chiefly militia and yeomen, but with some artillery. The whole was placed under the skilful direction of General Needham, and every precaution was taken to create or strengthen defences. The rebels at last saw that a great effort must be made to capture the town; and reinforcements having been obtained from Vinegar Hill and from other quarters, they marched from Gorey on the 9th, in a great host which was estimated at 25,000, 30,000, or even 34,000 men, but which, in the opinion of General Needham, did not exceed 19,000. According to the lowest estimate, their numbers appeared overwhelming, but their leaders alone were mounted: they were for the most part wretchedly armed, as scarcely any blacksmith or gunsmith could be found to repair their pikes or guns; their attack was anticipated, and they began it fatigued with a long day's march.
It commenced about four in the afternoon. The rebels advanced from the Coolgreny road and along the sandhills on the shore in two great solid columns, the intervening space being filled with a wild, disorderly crowd, armed with pikes and guns, and wearing green cockades, and green ribbons round their hats. Needham drew out his force in a strong position protected by ditches in front of the barracks. Five cannon supported him, and a heavy fire of grape shot poured continuously into the dense columns of the rebels. These set fire to the cabins that form the suburbs of Arklow, and advanced under shelter of the smoke, and their gunsmen availed themselves of the cover of fences, hedges, and ditches to gall the enemy. It was observed, however, that they usually overloaded their muskets, and fired so high that they did little damage, and although they had three, or, according to another account, four cannon, they had hardly any one capable of managing them. Their shot for the most part plunged harmlessly into the ground, or flew high above the enemy, and some of the rebels wished their captains to give them the canister shot as missiles, declaring that with them they would dash out the brains of the troops. An artillery sergeant, who had been taken prisoner, was compelled to serve at the guns, and it is said that he purposely pointed them so high that they did no damage to the troops.1
The brunt of the battle was chiefly borne by the Durham Fencibles, an admirably appointed regiment of 360 men, which had only arrived at Arklow that morning. The yeomanry cavalry also more than once charged gallantly, and Captain Thomas Knox Grogan, a brother of the old man who was with the rebels at Wexford, was killed at the head of the Castletown troop. For some time the situation was very critical; at one moment it seemed almost hopeless, and Needham is said to have spoken of retreat, but to have been dissuaded by Colonel Skerrett, who was second in command. It is impossible, indeed, to speak too highly of the endurance and courage of the thin line of defenders who, during three long hours, confronted and baffled a host ten times as numerous as themselves, and it was all the more admirable, as the rebels on their side showed no mean courage. ‘Their perseverance,’ wrote Needham to General Lake, ‘was surprising, and their efforts to possess themselves of the guns on my right were most daring, advancing even to the muzzles, where they fell in great numbers.’ ‘A heavy fire of grape did as much execution as, from the nature of the ground and the strong fences of which they had possessed themselves, could have been expected. This continued incessantly from 6 o'clock until 8.30, when the enemy desisted from his attack and fled in disorder.’ At this time their ammunition was almost exhausted. The shades of night were drawing in, and their favourite commander, Father Michael Murphy, had fallen. He led his men into battle, waving above his head a green flag, emblazoned with a great white cross, and with the inscription ‘Death or liberty,’ and he was torn to pieces by canister shot within a few yards of the muzzle of a cannon which he was trying to take. He was one of those whom the rebels believed to be invulnerable, and his death cast a sudden chill over their courage. It was too late for pursuit, and the rebels retired unmolested to Gorey, but their loss had been very great. ‘Their bodies,’ wrote General Needham, ‘have been found in every direction scattered all over the country. The cabins were everywhere filled with them, and many cars loaded with them were carried off after the action. Numbers were also thrown by the enemy into the flames at the lower end of the town. On the whole, I am sure the number of killed must have exceeded a thousand.’ On the loyalist side the loss was quite inconsiderable.1
The battle of Arklow was the last in which the rebels had any real chance of success, and from this time the rebellion rapidly declined. For some days, however, the alarms of the Government were undiminished. The multitude who had appeared in arms in the county of Wexford, the fanatical courage they displayed, the revolt which had begun in the North, and the complete uncertainty about how far that revolt might extend, or how soon the French might arrive, filled them with an anxiety which appears in all their most confidential letters. Within a few days great numbers of the principal persons in Ireland, including nearly all the bishops, sent their wives and children to England, and on the 10th Lady Camden and her family crossed the Channel. This last fact was intended to be a profound secret, but it was known to many, and in spite of the most peremptory injunctions, it was speedily disclosed.1 Pelham was still in England, and on the 11th, Camden wrote to him to press upon the English Ministers, both urgently and officially, the extreme gravity of the situation. ‘You may be assured,’ he wrote, ‘that the complexion this rebellion wears is the most serious it is possible to conceive. Unless Great Britain pours an immense force into Ireland, the country is lost; unless she sends her most able generals, those troops may be sacrificed. The organisation of this treason is universal, and the formidable numbers in which the rebels assemble, oblige all those who have not the good fortune to escape, to join them. The rebels have possessed themselves of Wexford, and of that whole country. They have possessed themselves of Newtown Ards, and the whole neck of land on that side of the Lough of Strangford is evacuated. The force from Wexford is so great, that it is not thought proper to advance against them…. There is no doubt an intention to attempt a rising within the city…. The country is lost unless a very large reinforcement of troops is landed.’ This opinion ‘is universal.’ 2
To Portland he wrote, expressing his astonishment that the English Government should treat this rebellion as one of trivial importance, and that, in spite of his earnest representations, and although the struggle had now lasted for between two and three weeks, ‘not a single man had been landed in Ireland.’ Mr. Elliot, he said, who had been sent over to lay the situation before the Government, ‘will communicate to you the religious frenzy which agitates the rebels in Wexford, that they are headed by their priests, that they halt every half-mile to pray, that the deluded multitude are taught to consider themselves as fighting for their religion, that their enthusiasm is most alarming. He will inform your Grace how violently agitated the Protestant feeling in Ireland is at this moment, and with how rapid strides the war is becoming one of the most cruel and bloody that ever disgraced or was imposed on a country. He will explain to your Grace how impolitic and unwise it would be to refuse the offers of Protestants to enter into yeomanry or other corps, and yet how dangerous even, any encouragement to the Orange spirit is, whilst our army is composed of Catholics, as the militia almost generally is.’ 1
Lord Castlereagh wrote several letters in the same sense. He had not, he said, ‘a conception the insurgents would remain together and act in such numbers,’ and although the narrow limitation of the Ulster rebellion seemed encouraging, he had secret information that it had been arranged, ‘that the rising in Down and Antrim should precede that of the other counties where the disaffection is less general.’ In the meantime, the fact that no reinforcements had yet arrived from England afforded ‘a moral which the disaffected do not fail to reason from, that with French assistance, the people could have carried the country before a regiment from the other side found its way to our assistance.’ This circumstance, he observed, would hereafter have its weight both in France and Ireland. ‘It is of importance that the authority of England should decide this contest, as well with a view to British influence in Ireland, as to make it unnecessary for the Government to lend itself too much to a party in this country, highly exasperated by the religious persecution to which the Protestants in Wexford have been exposed.’ He sent over to England a specimen of the protections which had been issued by the rebels, attesting the conversion to Catholicism of the person who bore it, and securing him in consequence from molestation, and he pointed out as clearly as Camden, that, in Wexford at least, the United Irish movement had completely lost its original character, and had transformed itself into a religious war. ‘The priests lead the rebels to battle; on their march they kneel down and pray, and show the most desperate resolution in their attack…. They put such Protestants, as are reported to be Orangemen, to death, saving others upon condition of their embracing the Catholic faith. It is a Jacobinical conspiracy throughout the kingdom, pursuing its object chiefly with popish instruments.’ 1
Horrible indeed as were the cruelties that disgraced both sides, they were less deplorable, because less permanent, than the moral effects that were their consequence. Day by day, almost hour by hour, the work of conciliation, which had been carried on in Ireland during the last half-century, was being undone, and in an age when religious animosities were generally fading throughout Europe, they acquired in Ireland a tenfold virulence. No one saw this more clearly than McNally, whose letters to the Government at this time are very instructive, and in some respects very creditable both to his head and to his heart. He strongly urged the falsehood and the folly of describing the rebellion as a popish plot. It was at its outset more Presbyterian than popish, and more deistical than either, and its leaders were as far as possible from aiming at any religious ascendency or desiring any religious persecution. It was quite true, as he had told the Government nearly three years before, ‘that the priests and country schoolmasters were the principal agitators of French politics, and that among the priests, those expelled from France, as well as the fugitive students from that country, were the most active,’ but it was also true ‘that this class of demagogues and pedagogues, far from being superstitious Catholics, defied not only the devil, but the Pope and all his works, and were in their private conversation pure deists. Among the Roman Catholics of property and education,’ he continued, ‘I find strong principles, not only of aristocracy, but monarchy. These, however, I apprehend, are but a small body…. Among the middling orders the Pope is held in contempt. His recent misfortunes are laughed at, and his ancient influence, through all its delegations, is nearly gone.’ 2 The rebellion was clearly taking a form which the leaders had never anticipated or desired, and ‘of this,’ said McNally, ‘I am well convinced, that numbers of those who were zealous as United Irishmen of the first society, are shocked at the present appearance of the country, and wish sincerely for peace. Many who have wished to carry the question of reform and emancipation, even by an armed body, such as the volunteers were, shudder at the enormities to be expected from an armed banditti.’ 1
‘The principle,’ he wrote in another letter, ‘which forms the character of republicanism, I perceive, changes daily to that of religion. The object of Government, it is said by the organised and their adherents, is Protestant ascendency, and the destruction of Catholics and Dissenters. This insinuation comes most effectually from the clergy, and has a powerful influence on the lower classes. I do not confine my observation to the Catholic clergy, or to the Catholic bigots.’ Infinite harm had been done by the acts and words of indiscreet Protestants. One officer is reported to have said, when a crowd of Catholics came to enlist in the yeomanry, ‘These fellows are papists, and if we don't disarm them, they will cut our throats;’ and such sayings, whether true or false, were sedulously repeated through the whole country. A report had been spread, ‘that Government have determined not only on an union with England, but on reviving all the penal laws against the papists. From these and other causes, among which Orange emblems are not the weakest, old prejudices, old rancours, and old antipathies are reviving. Orange emblems, while they create animosities, strengthen the hopes of the United party. So few appear with them, that they cannot inspire fear, but they create hatred.’ Another report was, that a priest named Bush had been cruelly whipped, and that he exclaimed under the torture, ‘My Saviour suffered more for me than I have suffered.’ The story, McNally said, may have been false, but it was industriously spread for the purpose of raising a spirit of retaliation. On the other hand, it was not true, as the official bulletin asserted, that it was the rebels who had set fire to Kildare. McNally had very recently seen a respectable gentleman, who had been present when that little town was in a blaze. Two-thirds of its houses had been burnt and the conflagration was due to the rank and file of the Dublin Militia, who were determined to avenge the murder of one of their officers.1
The time, McNally clearly saw and repeatedly urged, had come when the most terrible and enduring calamities could only be averted by a speedy clemency. There were bitter complaints of the whippings without trial. The soldiers were driving the people to the rebels. The severities were producing sullen, silent rancour. Executions were looked upon as merely murders; and when the procession for an execution commenced, all those within doors to whose knowledge it came, betook themselves to their prayers. On the other hand, it was now generally felt that any government is better than anarchy, and the great mass of industrious men only desired a rapid termination of the contest. ‘I cannot presume to advise,’ he writes; ‘but take my opinion candidly. I do sincerely believe that all classes are heartily tired and terrified, and would willingly go almost any length for peace.’ ‘I do believe that zeal to the cause is now working in very few, except desperate adventurers and the proscribed; and I would venture to say, that a certainty of pardon would melt down the combination, strong as it appears.’ 2
It is easy, indeed, to understand the savage hatred that was arising. In times of violence the violent must rule, and events assume a very different shape from that in which they appear to unimaginative historians in a peaceful age. When men are engaged in the throes of a deadly struggle; when dangers, horrible, unknown, and unmeasured, encompass them at every step; when the probability not only of ruin, but of massacre, is constantly before their eyes; when every day brings its ghastly tales of torture, murder, and plunder, it is idle to look for the judgments and the feelings of philanthropists or philosophers. The tolerant, the large-minded, the liberal, the men who can discriminate between different degrees or classes of guilt, and weigh in a just balance opposing crimes, then disappear from the scene. A feverish atmosphere of mingled passion and panic is created, which at once magnifies, obscures, and distorts, and the strongest passions are most valued, for they bring most men into the field, and make them most indifferent to danger and to death. The Catholic rebellion only became really formidable when the priests touched the one chord to which their people could heartily respond, and turned it into a religious war, and a scarcely less fierce fanaticism and thirst for vengeance had arisen to repress it.
A few lines from one of the letters of Alexander, will show the point of view of men who, without themselves sharing this fanaticism, were quite ready to make use of it, and who advocated a policy directly opposite to that of McNally. ‘Affections,’ he says, ‘in Ireland decide upon everything. To calculate on our judgments is nonsense.’ To the zeal, activity, and courage of the yeomanry, Dublin is mainly indebted for its tranquillity, and the whole country for its salvation. ‘Nothing can equal their loyalty but their impatience,’ and they are not a little offended by the reserve of the Government. It is true that ‘the thorough knowledge every yeoman and loyal man has that (were he mean enough to meditate it) no retraction of conduct could save him,’ secures Government a most decided, though sometimes a ‘querulous support.’ But it will not be possible for the Government much longer to adopt a restraining or moderating policy. ‘All the Protestants are gradually arming,’ and ‘the Orangemen would rise if encouraged by the Government, and make a crusade if required.’ ‘Unless we trust, we cannot exist; and the man who first trusts the lower Irish, bespeaks their fidelity…. If Government does not use one of the two great bodies that exist in the State, they will in a short time combine against it.’ The French Government might have survived the revolutionary storm if it had not by a dubious, compromising, and conceding policy placed itself outside all the parties and enthusiasms of the State. In Ireland, in the opinion of Alexander, it is the Whig Club, the policy of Grattan, and the concessions of the Government that have done the mischief, and that mischief can only be arrested by throwing away the scabbard and adopting the most uncompromising policy. ‘We have heard and listened to the serpent hissing in Ireland, until we have been severely stung. Lords O'Neil and Mountjoy, Commoners McManus, who presided at the Dungannon meeting, have been the first victims of the rebels’ fury, and they were the great advocates of the conceding system. In private life the most obnoxious men are safe, and the prudent men, who conceived they stood well with both parties, find moderatisme (sic) as bad a trade as it was in France.’ 1
Higgins in one of his letters notices another element, which contributed much to the horror and the desperation of the struggle. It was the distress which inevitably followed from the complete paralysis of industry and credit. Weavers no longer gave employment to their workmen. English manufacturers would send over no goods except for immediate payment. Trade in all its branches was stagnant. No one ventured to embark on any enterprise stretching into the unknown future. ‘As to bank-note currency,’ he wrote, ‘I do most solemnly assure you, that the shopkeepers and dealers laugh at any person, even buying an article, and asking change of a guinea note. These circumstances, distressing to the poor, with the exorbitant price of provisions, will occasion tradesmen out of employment to engage, for bread, in any dangerous enterprise.’ Higgins pressed this fact upon the Government, as deserving their most earnest attention, and he reminded them that Chesterfield, who steered Ireland so wisely and so successfully during the Scotch troubles of 1745, had then made it one of his first objects to provide employment for the people, by undertaking great works of planting and cultivation in Phœnix Park.2
The clouds, however, were now at length clearing away. In a few days it became evident, that in Down and Antrim the insurrection was really suppressed, and that the remainder of Ulster was not disposed to follow their example, and at the same time the long-expected reinforcements from England at last arrived. On the 16th it was announced that five English regiments had landed at Waterford,3 and immediately after, many English militia regiments volunteered to serve in Ireland. The King had no power to accept their offer without a special Act of Parliament, but such an Act was speedily carried, in spite of the violent opposition and protest of the English Whig Opposition,4 while the Irish Parliament voted 500,000l. for their maintenance in Ireland.5 About 12,000 of the English militia came over, and the first regiments arrived before the end of June.1 The rebellion, it is true, was then virtually over, but the presence of this great force did much to guard against its revival and against the dangers of invasion. Among other noblemen, the former viceroy, the Marquis of Buckingham, now came to Ireland at the head of a regiment of militia.
Gordon, who, from his long residence in the neighbourhood of Gorey, is by far the most competent, as he is also the most candid, historian of the proceedings of the rebels in that part of the county of Wexford, observes that there were fewer crimes committed there than in the southern parts of the county, and that they were certainly not unprovoked. The burning of houses by the yeomanry, the free quarters, the pitched caps, the trials by court-martial, and the shooting of prisoners without trial, went far to explain them. At the same time he observes that ‘the war from the beginning, in direct violation of the oath of the United Irishmen, had taken a religious turn, as every civil war in the South or West of Ireland must be expected to take, by any man well acquainted with the prejudices of the inhabitants. The terms Protestant and Orangeman were almost synonymous, with the mass of the insurgents, and the Protestants whom they meant to favour were generally baptised into the Romish Church.’ 2
Gordon doubted much whether, in the event of a complete success of the rebellion, any large number of Protestants in Wexford would have been suffered to live, but he acknowledged that the actual murders in this part of the county were not numerous, and that ‘many individuals had evinced much humanity in their endeavours to mitigate the fury of their associates.’ A few houses in Gorey, and two country houses in its immediate neighbourhood, were burnt by the rebels, and they confined many prisoners in the market-house. Some persons, who were especially obnoxious to them, were piked or shot. One or two were tortured with the pitched cap, but the lives of the great majority of the prisoners were spared, and although they lived in constant fear of death, it is not certain that they were seriously ill treated. It appears, too, that loyalist families who had been unable to escape, still continued to live in the neighbourhood, for the most part unmolested, except that they were obliged to provide food for the rebels.1
A few days after the defeat at Arklow, the rebels evacuated Gorey and the whole of the neighbouring country. Many of them simply deserted from the ranks, and those who remained embodied, divided into two parties. The smaller one, carrying with them the prisoners, went to Wexford, while the main body penetrated into the county of Wicklow, and on June 17 attacked and burnt to the ground the little town of Tinnehely. It contained an active Protestant population, who had done good service in keeping their county in order, and it appears now to have been the scene of great atrocities. Many houses in its neighbourhood were burnt. ‘Many persons,’ writes Grordon,’ were put to death with pikes, under the charge of being Orangemen; and many more would have suffered, if they had not been spared at the humane intercession of a Romanist lady, a Mrs. Maher, in that neighbourhood.’ The rebels placed a Catholic Wicklow gentleman, named Garret Byrne, at their head, and they seem to have been conducted with some ability. The yeomanry of the district, who, to the number of about five hundred men, had been concentrated at Hacketstown, found it hopeless to attack them; but General Dundas, with a large body of troops and a train of artillery, arrived at Tinnehely on the 18th, and it was thought that he could have easily crushed the rebels. They had retired, however, to a strong position on Kilcaven Hill, about two miles from Carnew; and although Dundas was speedily strengthened by a junction with General Loftus, he totally failed to surround or intercept them. On the 20th there was a cannonade between the two armies, which did little execution on either side; the English general then withdrew to Carnew, and the same night Byrne's army directed its march, unmolested, to Vinegar Hill.2
On the 19th the rebel force, which, under the command of Father Philip Roche, still occupied a height near New Ross, was surprised and compelled to retreat. One portion of it took the line to Vinegar Hill. The other and larger portion, after some fighting, in which the rebels showed more than usual skill, made its way to the Three Rocks, near Wexford.1 The whole force of the rebellion in Wexford was thus concentrated in two centres, and the army at the disposal of General Lake was now amply sufficient to crush it. A great combined movement was speedily devised by Lake for surrounding Vinegar Hill. The failure of two brigades to arrive in time, deranged the plan of completely cutting off the retreat of the rebels; but on June 21, Vinegar Hill was stormed from several sides, by an army which was estimated by the rebels at 20,000 men, but which probably amounted to 13,000 or 14,000, and was supported by a powerful body of artillery. Against such a force, conducted by skilful generals, the ill-armed, ill-led, disorganised, and dispirited rebels had little chance. The chief brunt of the action was borne by the troops under Generals Johnston and Dundas. For an hour and a half the rebels maintained their position with great intrepidity, but then, seeing that they were on the point of being surrounded, they broke, and fled in wild confusion to Wexford, leaving the camp, which had been stained with so much Protestant blood, in the hands of the troops. Thirteen small cannon were taken there, but owing to the inexperience of the gunners, and the great deficiency of ammunition, they had been of little use. The loss of the King's troops in killed and wounded, appears to have been less than a hundred; while that of the rebels was probably five or six times as great.2
Enniscorthy was at the same time taken, after some fighting in the streets. The troops, as usual, gave no quarter, and the historians in sympathy with the rebellion declare that the massacre extended to the wounded, to many who were only suspected of disaffection, and even to some loyalists who had been prisoners of the rebels. A Hessian regiment which had lately come over, was especially noticed for its indiscriminate ferocity. Many houses were set on fire, and among others one which was employed by the rebels as their hospital. It was consumed, and all who were in it perished. The number of the victims was at least fourteen, and one writer places it as high as seventy. The rebel historians describe this act as not less deliberate than the burning of the barn of Scullabogue. Gordon learnt, on what appeared to him good authority, ‘that the burning was accidental; the bedclothes being set on fire by the wadding of the soldiers’ guns, who were shooting the patients in their beds.’ 1
Nothing now remained but the capture of Wexford. This town, as we have seen, had been left in the hands of a Protestant gentleman named Keugh, who was one of the most conspicuous of a small group of brave and honourable men, who, under circumstances of extreme difficulty and danger, tried to give the rebellion a character of humanity, and to maintain it on the lines of the United Irishmen. He was powerfully supported by Edward Roche, who was a brother of Father Philip Roche, and himself a well-to-do farmer of the county. This man had been sergeant in a yeomanry regiment, and had deserted to the rebels, with most of the Catholics in his troop, at the beginning of the rebellion. He was soon after elected ‘a general officer of the United army of the county of Wexford;'2 and he issued, on June 7, a very remarkable proclamation to the rebels at Wexford. After congratulating his followers on the success that had so far attended their arms, and dilating on the supreme importance of maintaining a strict discipline, he proceeded: ‘In the moment of triumph, my countrymen, let not your victories be tarnished with any wanton act of cruelty; many of those unfortunate men now in prison are not your enemies from principle; most of them, compelled by necessity, were obliged to oppose you. Neither let a difference in religious sentiments cause a difference among the people. Recur to the debates in the Irish House of Lords on February 19 last; you will there see a patriotic and enlightened Protestant bishop [Down], and many of the lay lords, with manly eloquence pleading for Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform, in opposition to the haughty arguments of the Lord Chancellor, and the powerful opposition of his fellow-courtiers. To promote a union of brotherhood and affection among our countrymen of all religious persuasions, has been our principal object. We have sworn in the most solemn manner; have associated for this laudable purpose, and no power on earth shall shake our resolution. To my Protestant soldiers I feel much indebted for their gallant behaviour in the field, where they exhibited signal proofs of bravery in the cause.’ 1
A number of respectable inhabitants of Wexford, among whom the Catholic priests deserve a prominent place,2 rallied round Keugh and Roche, and, at the constant risk of their own lives, preserved Wexford for some weeks from the horrors of Vinegar Hill and Scullabogue. The difficulty of their task was enormous, for they had to deal with fierce, fanatical, and sometimes drunken mobs, led by men who had sprung from the very dregs of the people, and maddened by accounts of military excesses, which were almost daily brought into the town by the many fugitives who sought refuge within it. It was necessary to give some satisfaction to the more violent party, and a regular tribunal was formed to try those who had committed crimes against the people. I have already spoken of the manner in which two informers named Murphy were put to death, and on June 6, the day after the battle of New Ross, a party of rebels came to Wexford from Enniscorthy, probably by order of the revolutionary tribunal on Vinegar Hill, and after some resistance carried ten prisoners from that town, who were in Wexford gaol, back to Enniscorthy, and executed them there.1 About ten days later another party from the same town, having, it is said, overpowered the guard at Wexford gaol, carried four more prisoners to Vinegar Hill, where they were put to death.2 A proclamation was issued at Wexford, on June 9, declaring, in the name ‘of the people of the county of Wexford,’ that four magistrates, who were mentioned by name, had committed ‘the most horrid acts of cruelty, violence, and oppression,’ and calling on all Irishmen to make every exertion to lodge them in Wexford gaol, for trial ‘before the tribunal of the people.’ 3
Such measures, however, were far from satisfying the Wexford mob, and the rebel leaders themselves, and especially those who were Protestants, were in constant, daily danger. On one occasion especially, Keugh and the committee who acted with him in managing the town, were attacked by a mob, and Keugh was accused of being a traitor, in league with the Orangemen; but his eloquence and presence of mind, the ascendency of a strong character, and the support of a few attached friends, enabled him to surmount the opposition.4 Crowds of Protestants, however, who had already received protections from the priests, now came to the Catholic chapels with their children to be baptised, believing that this was their one chance of safety. It is but justice to add, that some priests objected strongly to these forced and manifestly insincere conversions, and only consented to accept them at the urgent entreaty of men who believed that their lives were at stake. Even Bagenal Harvey, and the other Protestant leaders, though they did not abjure Protestantism, thought it advisable to clear themselves from suspicion of Orangism, by attending the Catholic chapel.1 At the same time, some Protestants in Wexford appear to have remained at large and unmolested, during the whole occupation, and among them was the Protestant rector, who was much beloved on account of his kindness to the poor.2
The Protestants, however, who had excited suspicion or unpopularity, were soon confined under a strong guard, which was the only means of securing their lives. The gaol, the market-house, one of the barracks, and one or two ships in the harbour, were filled with them, and about 260 male Protestants were in custody.3 The prisoners confined in one of the ships appear to have been treated with much harshness by the captain, but on their complaint they were brought back to land, and William Kearney and Patrick Furlong, who were placed at the head of the gaol, discharged their task with distinguished humanity and courage. Protestant women were not imprisoned, and although they endured terrible agonies of anxiety,4 they were treated on the whole with great forbearance, and appear to have suffered no outrage. ‘Several persons,’ McNally wrote to the Government on June 13, ‘who have escaped from Wexford, say that the insurgents there have treated the women with great respect, that sentinels have been placed on the houses where Mrs. Ogle and other ladies reside, to protect them from insult, and that nothing like religious persecution has taken place.’ 5
The fact that Lord Kingsborough was among the prisoners, added not a little to the embarrassment of Keugh. Apart from considerations of humanity, it was a matter of manifest policy to preserve a hostage of such importance; but as Lord Kings-borough had commanded the North Cork Militia, he was peculiarly obnoxious to the people. Again and again mobs assembled round the house where he was confined, demanding his execution; but by the courageous interposition of the principal inhabitants, and especially of the Catholic bishop, Dr. Caulfield, he was preserved unscathed. The leader of the more violent party appears to have been a man named Thomas Dixon, who was the captain and part proprietor of a trading vessel in the bay, and who had obtained some rank in the rebel force. He seems to have been indefatigable in inciting the people to murder, and his wife powerfully seconded him. A pitched cap, which was said to have been found in the barracks of the North Cork Militia, was carried on a pike through the streets, and a warrant was shown authorising a sergeant of the regiment to found an Orange lodge.1 Nearly every Protestant was suspected of being an Orangeman, and the belief that Orangemen had sworn to exterminate the Catholics was almost universal.
The Orange Society took great pains to repudiate this calumny. It had been introduced into Dublin in 1797, and soon after, by order of the different lodges, an address, signed by the recognised leaders of the society, was drawn up and widely published, in which the members declared their perfect loyalty and their readiness to serve the Crown against any enemy, but, at the same time, disclaimed all persecuting intentions. ‘We solemnly assure you,’ they said, ‘in the presence of Almighty God, that the idea of injuring any one on account of his religious opinion, never entered our hearts. We regard every loyal subject as a friend, be his religion what it may: we have no enemy but the enemies of our country.’ 2 Many respectable Catholics had signed an address, declaring their loyalty and detestation of the rebellion, and this address at once elicited a response from one of the largest Orange associations in Ulster. ‘We have with the greatest pleasure,’ they said, ‘seen declarations of loyalty from many congregations of our Roman Catholic brethren, in the sincerity of which we declare our firm confidence, and assure them, in the face of the whole world, and of the Being we both worship, though under different religious forms, that, however the common enemies of all loyal men may misrepresent the Orangemen, we consider every loyal subject as our brother and our friend, let his religious profession be what it may. We associate to suppress rebellion and treason, not any mode of worship. We have no enmity but to the enemies of our country.’ 1
Such declarations could hardly penetrate to the great masses of the ignorant rebels, and they drank in readily the charges against the Orangemen, which were sedulously spread, and which were strengthened by the many acts of lawless violence that were perpetrated by the yeomen. Bishop Caulfield, afterwards describing this period to Archbishop Troy, stated that, during the first fortnight of the rebel rule of Wexford, the priests were usually able to secure the safety of the Protestants, but that after this ‘the evil, sanguinary spirit broke loose, and no protection availed…. It soon became treason to plead for protection, for they were all Orangemen, and would destroy us all.’ In spite of the peculiar sanctity which in Ireland has always attached to a Catholic bishop, Dr. Caulfield declares that, when he attempted to prevent murder, his own life was in imminent danger. He was told that his house would be pulled down or burnt, and his head knocked off. Three or four priests supported him with great courage and devotion, but the rest appear to have been completely scared and cowed by the fierce elements around them. They ‘dared not show themselves or speak, for fear of pikes,’ and they more than once fled in terror to a vessel in the harbour.2
A curious incident occurred, which paints vividly the terror and the credulity that prevailed. There was a certain Colonel Le Hunte, who, though a Protestant, had lived for some time, apparently without disturbance, in a house in Wexford, but his country house, which lay within a few miles of the town, was searched by a party under the leadership of Dixon. It was found that the drawing-room contained some furniture of an orange colour, and among other articles two fire-screens, decorated with orange ribbons and ornamented with various mythological figures, such as Hope with her anchor, Minerva with her spear, blindfolded Justice, Vulcan and the Cyclops, Ganymede and the eagle. Dixon at once told the people that he had found the meeting place and the insignia of the Orangemen, and that these mysterious figures represented different forms of torture, by which it was intended to put Catholic men, women, and children to death. He carried the screens through the streets of Wexford, and speedily raised an ungovernable mob. They attacked the house where Colonel Le Hunte was staying and would have murdered him in a few moments, if two Catholic gentlemen had not, at the imminent risk of their lives, interfered, pushed back the pikes which were directed against them, and, by persuading the people that so grave a case demanded a regular trial, succeeded in placing him in the security of the prison. The mob were, however, so furious at being denied immediate vengeance, that the lives of the whole town committee were for some time in the utmost danger.1
All this portended that the rebel rule in Wexford would not end without a great catastrophe. English ships of war were seen hovering around the town, and soon some gunboats blocked the harbour, preventing all escape by sea, while from the land side, fugitives poured daily in, bringing gloomy tidings of the failure of the rebellion, of the burning of their houses, and of the fury of the troops. Father Philip Roche, with the greater part of the force with which he had retreated from Lacken Hill, near New Ross, was now at the old rebel encampment on the Three Rocks, outside Wexford, and he came alone into Wexford to seek for support to attack General Moore, who was marching from the neighbourhood of New Ross, to join in the attack against Vinegar Hill. Early on the morning of the 20th, the drum beat in Wexford, and the whole armed population, except a few guards, were ordered to march to the camp at Three Rocks,2 and that afternoon they attacked Moore's troops at a place called Goffsbridge, or Foulkes Mill, near the church of Horetown. The rebels are said to have been skilfully led, and they fought with great obstinacy for about four hours, when they were beaten back and retired to the Three Rocks.1
It was on that afternoon, when the chiefs and the bulk of the armed population were absent from the town, that the massacre of Wexford bridge took place. Dixon, disobeying the orders of his superiors, refused to leave Wexford with the other captains, and he had a great mob who were devoted to him. They were not, it appears, inhabitants of the town, but countrymen from the neighbourhood. On the preceding night, he had brought into the town seventy men from the northern side of the Slaney, and he had himself gone through the district of Shilmalier, which was thronged with fugitives from the country about Gorey, calling them to come to Wexford to defend the deserted town.2 He distributed much whisky among his followers, and, at the head of a large crowd, he took possession of the gaol and market-house, and brought out the prisoners to be murdered, in batches of ten, fifteen, and twenty. A few were shot in the gaol and in the market-place, but by far the greater number were hurried to the bridge. A black flag bearing the symbol of the Redemption, and with the letters M.W.S., was carried before them.3 Dixon and his wife, both on horseback, presided, and a vast crowd, containing, it is said, more women than men, accompanied the prisoners, most of them shouting with savage delight, though, some dropped on their knees and prayed. The prisoners were placed in rows of eighteen or twenty, and the pikemen pierced them one by one, lifted them writhing into the air, held them up for a few moments before the yelling multitude, and then flung their bodies into the river. One man sprang over the battlement, and was shot in the water. Ninety-seven prisoners are said to have been murdered, and the tragedy was prolonged for more than three hours. So much blood covered the bridge, that it is related that, when Dixon and his wife endeavoured to ride over it, their frightened horses refused to proceed, and they were obliged to dismount, Mrs. Dixon holding up her riding habit lest it should be reddened in the stream.
One priest courageously attempted to stop the murders. Whether the many others who were present in Wexford were paralysed by fear, or ignorant of what was taking place, or conscious that they would be utterly impotent before a furious drunken mob, will never be known.1 Happily the tragedy was not fully consummated. Lord Kingsborough, who was guarded in a private house, was not molested. Some prisoners in the gaol succeeded in concealing themselves,2 and the great majority had not been brought out from their different places of confinement, when Edward Roche, followed shortly after by Dick Munk, the shoeblack captain, galloped into the town, and crying out that Vinegar Hill was invested, and that every man was needed to repel the troops, succeeded in drawing away the crowd, and putting an end to the massacre. A few prisoners, half dead with fear, who were still on the bridge, were taken back to the gaol.3
The end was now very nearly come. Three armies were on the march to Wexford, and it was plainly indefensible. In the night of the 20th, Keugh and the principal inhabitants took counsel together, and they agreed that the only chance for safety was to endeavour to obtain terms, and that the only means of accomplishing this was by the help of Lord Kingsborough. They desired to save their own lives, to prevent the town from being given up to the mercy of an infuriated soldiery, and also to avert a general massacre of the remaining prisoners, and perhaps of the whole Protestant population, which would probably take place before the arrival of the troops, if the rebels were driven to absolute desperation. Bishop Caulfield and the other leading priests took an active part in these discussions, and Lord Kingsborough fully entered into their views. Lord Kings-borough at first proposed that he should himself go to meet the troops, but this plan was rejected, and early on the morning of the 21st, Keugh formally placed the government of Wexford in his hands, with the assent of the chief inhabitants of the town. Lord Kingsborough on his side agreed, as far as lay in his power, that ‘they should all be protected in person and property, murderers excepted, and those who had instigated others to commit murder; hoping that these terms might be ratified, as he had pledged his honour in the most solemn manner to have these terms fulfilled, on the town being surrendered to him, the Wexford men not being concerned in the massacre which was perpetrated by country people in their absence.’ 1 Dr. Jacob, who had been the mayor of the town previous to the insurrection, was at the same time invited to resume his functions. Captain McManus, a liberated prisoner, accompanied by Hay, was at once sent to meet General Moore with the offer of surrender signed by Keugh, and ‘by order of the inhabitants of the town of Wexford.’ It stated that the envoys were ‘appointed by the inhabitants of all religious per-suasions, to inform the officer commanding the King's troops, that they were ready to deliver up the town of Wexford without opposition, lay down their arms, and return to their allegiance, provided their persons and property were guaranteed by the commanding officer; and that they would use every influence in their power to induce the people of the country at large to return to their allegiance also.’ 1
Accompanying’ these proposals was an urgent letter from Lord Kingsborough, supporting the offer of capitulation, which, he wrote, ‘I hope, for the sake of the prisoners here, who are very numerous, and of the first respectability in the country, will be complied with. The people here have treated their prisoners with great humanity, and I believe will return to their allegiance with the greatest satisfaction.’ In a postscript he adds: ‘Since I have written the within (sic), the inhabitants have come to the resolution of investing the mayor, Dr. Jacob, in his authority, and have liberated all the prisoners. I at present command here, and have promised them the within terms will be agreed to.’ 2
Moore had no power to accept such a capitulation, but he at once transmitted these letters to General Lake, who replied by a blunt and absolute refusal. ‘Lieutenant-General Lake,’ he answered, ‘cannot attend to any terms offered by rebels in arms against their sovereign. While they continue so, he must use the force entrusted to him with the utmost energy for their destruction. To the deluded multitude he promises pardon on their delivering into his hands their leaders, surrendering their arms, and returning with sincerity to their allegiance.’ 3 This answer, however, was not known in Wexford till after the surrender had been accomplshed.
The situation there during all that day was perilous in the extreme. That morning the distant cannonade of the battle at Vinegar Hill was distinctly heard, and in a few hours the defeated rebels who had escaped, came pouring into the town by thousands. The worst consequences might be anticipated from the presence of this vast, disorganised, infuriated, and panic-stricken crowd, with arms in their hands; and Lord Kingsborough and Keugh, who appear to have acted in close concert, went in much alarm to the Catholic bishop. They represented that if the rebel army ‘continued any time in the town, they would proceed to murder all the prisoners, … and that if the troops should overtake them in town, they would make a general slaughter of them, and perhaps indiscriminately of the inhabitants, and reduce the town to ashes; that the only means of preventing these shocking disasters, was to get the rebels out of town; that a strong representation of their own danger, and of Lord Kingsborough's negotiations with the military commanders and Government, would have more weight with the rebels than any exhortations or consideration of duty.’ 1 By the combined exertions of Keugh and of the Catholic bishop and clergy, the rebel force was induced to leave the town, one portion of them marching into the barony of Forth, and the other in the opposite direction, crossing the bridge to the eastern side of the Slaney. Keugh, relying probably on the engagements of Lord Kingsborough, and determined at all hazards to use his great influence to the very last, to save the town from the imminent danger of massacre and plunder, refused to leave it; and chiefly through his efforts, that terrible day passed in Wexford unstained by blood. ‘There was no prisoner put to death,’ wrote Bishop Caulfield, ‘no Protestant murdered, no houses burnt (though several of the rebels threatened, and some of them attempted to set fire to the town). No disaster took place, all was saved.’
Lord Kingsborough sent another messenger to General Moore, but he never reached his destination, for he was shot by a rebel whom he had met upon his way. General Moore soon arrived within a mile of Wexford, and could see the rebel army retreating, and he received one of the liberated prisoners, who gave him an assurance of the peaceful disposition of the townspeople. Moore's troops, like all who were employed in Wexford, were in a state of wild undiscipline, and in spite of the utmost efforts of the brave and humane commander, they had committed numerous outrages on their march. Moore, wishing to save Wexford, encamped his army beyond its borders; but Captain Boyd, the member for the town, entered it with a small number of yeomen, and was soon after followed by two companies of the Queen's Royals, who, without resistance, took possession of it. Thus, on June 21, Wexford once more passed under the dominion of the King, having been for twenty-three days in possession of the rebels.
If Moore, or any other general of ability, humanity, and tact, had held the supreme command in Wexford, the rebellion would probably have at once terminated. But now, as ever, Lake acted with a brutal, stupid, and undiscriminating severity, that was admirably calculated to intensify and to prolong the conflagration. The general rule that in rebellions, offers of clemency should be held out to the ignorant masses, while the leaders should be treated with severity, may be justified by evident considerations both of equity and of policy, but, like every maxim of political conduct, its application should depend largely on the special circumstances of the case. There is a wide difference between men who have fomented, organised, and directed a rebellion, and men who, finding themselves in the midst of a rebellion which they had not made, were compelled, under pain of death, to take a leading part in it, or were induced to do so in order to prevent it from degenerating into a mere scene of massacre and plunder, or because they believed that they could not, in a time of danger, honourably abandon their people. In the great convulsions of the State, men should not be judged only on technical grounds of legal guilt, but rather by the general course of their conduct, motives, and influence. In most cases, no doubt, the peace of a nation is best secured by striking severely at the leaders of rebellion, but it is sometimes through clemency to these that it can be most speedily and most effectually restored.
Neither Lake nor Castlereagh showed the least regard for these considerations. The first proceeding of the commander-in-chief was to issue a proclamation for the arrest of the leaders, and Lord Kingsborough's negotiation had made this peculiarly easy. Father Philip Roche, perceiving the rebellion to be hopeless, desired to negotiate for his troops on the Three Rocks, a capitulation like that of the rebels at Wexford, and in order to do ‘so, he boldly came down alone and unarmed. On his way he was seized, dragged off his horse, so kicked and buffeted, that he was said to have been scarcely recognisable, then tried by court-martial, and hanged off Wexford Bridge. He met his fate with a dogged, defiant courage, declaring that the insurgents in Wexford had been deceived, that they had expected a general insurrection through Ireland, and that if the other counties had done their duty, they would have succeeded. Military men, who had watched the conduct of this priest during his short command, and who discussed the chief battles of the rebellion with him before his execution, are said to have come to the conclusion that he of all the rebel leaders was the most formidable, for he had a true eye for military combinations. The result of his arrest was that the main body of rebels on the Three Rocks, under the command of another priest, at once marched towards the county of Carlow, to add one more bloody page to the rebellion.1
Another, and a more interesting victim, was Matthew Keugh, the rebel governor of Wexford. Having refused to abandon the town, he was at the mercy of the Government, and he was at once tried by court-martial, and condemned to death. Musgrave has noticed the eminent dignity, eloquence, and pathos of his defence, and his unalterable courage in the face of death, and he seemed chiefly anxious to show that he had no part or lot in the massacre of Wexford Bridge. Lord Kingsborough, Colonel Le Hunte, and several other respectable witnesses came forward, and proved that he had acted on all occasions with singular humanity, that he had uniformly endeavoured to prevent the effusion of blood, and that they owed their lives to his active interference. It is certain, indeed, that it was mainly due to him that Wexford, until the day before its surrender, was almost unstained by the horrors that were so frequent at Vinegar Hill, and that its surrender was at last peacefully effected; and it is equally certain that Keugh had again and again risked his life in stemming the rising tide of fanaticism and blood. Urgent representations were made to Lake to take these circumstances into consideration, but Lake was determined to show his firmness. Keugh was hanged off Wexford Bridge; his head was severed from his body, and fixed on a pike before the court house in Wexford, while his body was thrown into the river.
In a strictly legal point of view, the position of Lake was no doubt unassailable, and this was probably the only consideration that presented itself to his mind. It is clear that Lord Kingsborough had no authority to pledge the Government to spare the lives and properties of the Wexford insurgents, though by making this engagement he probably saved the town from destruction, and the prisoners and other Protestant inhabitants from murder. It is clear, too, that Keugh had been a leading figure in the rebellion, and the fact that he had risen by his ability during the American war from the position of private to that of captain in the King's army, and was actually in the receipt of half-pay when the rebellion broke out, aggravated his situation. Nor is it likely that he was one of those who joined reluctantly, fearing death if they refused. In America his mind, like that of many others, had received a republican bias. His sympathy with the United Irishmen had been long avowed, and had led to his removal from the magistracy in 1796, and all accounts represent him as a man of commanding courage and conspicuous ability, much more likely to influence than to be influenced. There is no proof that he instigated the rebellion; but when it had taken place, and when he found himself called by acclamation to a post of prominence and danger, he unhesitatingly accepted it. How he acted in a position which was one of the most difficult that could fall to any human being, has been already told. In some cases, no doubt, as in the execution of the Murphys and the surrender of the Enniscorthy prisoners, he was compelled to yield to an irresistible clamour; but on the whole, the ascendency which this humane and moderate Protestant gentleman maintained in Wexford during three terrible weeks, in which the surrounding country had been made a hideous scene of mutual carnage, forms one of the few bright spots in the dark and shameful history I am relating. He was a man of competent fortune, well connected, and exceedingly popular, and his persuasive eloquence, as well as a great personal beauty, which is said to have survived even in death,1 no doubt contributed to his influence. It is scarcely probable that it could have continued. In the last days of his rule it was visibly waning, and Keugh is himself said to have predicted that he would not have lived forty-eight hours after the complete triumph of the rebellion. He received the consolations of religion from the clergyman of Wexford, who had been preserved by his protection, and he died declaring that his only object had been to reform and improve the Constitution.2
Several other executions either accompanied or immediately followed the executions of Roche and Keugh, but only three need be referred to here. There was Cornelius Grogan, the infirm and almost half-witted, but very wealthy, country gentleman, who had been brought into Wexford immediately after its surrender to the rebels. Though he had once been an Opposition member of Parliament, and though he was on friendly terms with some persons who joined in the rebellion, nothing in his former life or conversation gave the slightest reason for believing that he had any sympathy with the United Irishmen, or any knowledge of their plans, until the day when he found his place occupied by the rebels, and himself a prisoner in their hands. Whether he was compelled by force to join them, or whether, as was maintained by the Government, he was induced to do so in order to save his house from plunder and his property from ultimate confiscation, it is difficult to say. An old, feeble invalid, with no strength of intellect or character, he was very passive in their hands. He was quite incapable of appearing in the field or, indeed, of holding a weapon, but the rebels gave him the title of commissary—it is said, through the belief that this would make his numerous tenants more willing to supply them—and it was proved that he signed an order for a woman to receive some bread from the rebel stores. After the surrender of Wexford, he was carried back to his own country house, where he made no attempt to conceal himself. He was at once-seized, tried and condemned by a court-martial which appears to have been in many respects exceedingly irregular, and hanged off Wexford Bridge. The spectacle of this feeble old man, with his long white hair streaming over his shoulders, wrapped in flannels and tottering on his crutches painfully but very placidly to the gallows, was certainly not fitted to inspire the people with much reverence for the law, and it is said that Bagenal Harvey, who was executed at the same time, openly declared that, whoever might be guilty, Grogan at least was wholly innocent. Like Sir Edward Crosbie, he had an old faithful servant, who stole his head from the pike on which it was transfixed, and secured for it a Christian burial.1
Bagenal Harvey at first believed that the engagement of Lord Kingsborough would secure his life, and retired from Wexford to his own country house; but on learning that no terms would be granted to the leaders, he fled with a young and popular country gentleman named John Colclough, a member of one of the leading families in Wexford, who like himself had taken part in the rebellion. The two fugitives, together with the wife and child of Colclough, were concealed in a cavern in one of the Saltee Islands, but were soon discovered and brought to Wexford. They were both undoubtedly guilty of treason. Colclough, though he had taken no prominent part in the rebellion, and had certainly no concern in any of its atrocities, had been in the rebel ranks in the battle of New Ross. Bagenal Harvey, as we have seen, had been marked out by his known and avowed sympathies as a leader of the rebellion in Wexford, and had been for a short time its acknowledged commander-in-chief. His claims, however, to the clemency of the Government were very powerful. When Wexford was first threatened by the rebels, the King's representative in it had not hesitated to implore Harvey to use his influence to obtain favourable terms, and it was chiefly through that influence that the capture of the town had been almost unstained by blood. His acceptance of the post of commander of the rebels, was probably quite as much due to compulsion as to his desire. He saved many lives and he steadily set his face against murder and outrage. It is, however, one of the worst features of the repression in Ireland, that such considerations were scarcely ever attended to, and were sometimes even made use of against the prisoner. ‘The display of humanity by a rebel,’ writes the most temperate and most truthful of the loyal historians, ‘was in general, in the trials by court-martial, by no means regarded as a circumstance in favour of the accused. Strange as it may seem in times of cool reflection, it was very frequently urged as a proof of guilt. Whoever could be proved to have saved a loyalist from assassination, his house from burning, or his property from plunder, was considered as having influence among the rebels, consequently a rebel commander.’ 1
Bagenal Harvey had acquired the reputation of a very brave man, but he appears now to have been completely unnerved. He was sunk in the deepest dejection, and his demeanour contrasted somewhat remarkably with that of Roche, Keugh, Grogan, and Colclough. The massacre of Scullabogue seems to have broken his heart, and from that time he had little influence, and no hope in the struggle. Like Keugh, and like Bishop Caulfield, too, he appears to have been firmly convinced that a spirit had arisen among the rebels which, if not speedily checked, must turn the movement into a general massacre—a massacre not only of loyalists and Protestants, but also of the most respectable and the most moderate of its leaders.‘1 He stated in his defence, that he had accepted the command of the rebellion chiefly in order to prevent it from falling into much more dangerous hands; that he had done his best to keep it within the bounds of humanity; that he had seen with horror the crimes and the fanaticism it had engendered, and that he had always been ready to accede to proposals for restoring order and government. Few things, indeed, can be sadder than the death of a leader, who is conscious in his last moments that the cause for which he dies was a mistaken one, and that its triumph would have been a calamity to his country. Bagenal Harvey was not a wise or a superior man, but he was humane, honourable, and well-meaning, and it is not probable that motives of personal interest or ambition played any great part in shaping his unhappy career.
Courts-martial, followed by immediate executions, were now taking place in many parts of the county. Sixty-five persons were hanged from Wexford Bridge on the charge of either having taken a leading part in the rebellion, or being concerned in some of the acts of murder that accompanied it;1 but Dixon, the author of the Wexford massacre, was not among them, for he succeeded in escaping, and was never heard of again. The executions, however, were far less horrible than the indiscriminate burning of houses and slaughter of unarmed men, and even of women, by the troops. They were now everywhere hunting down the rebels, who had dispersed by thousands after the battle of Vinegar Hill and the surrender of Wexford, and who vainly sought a refuge in their cabins. Discipline had almost wholly gone. Military licence was perfectly unrestrained, and the massacres which had taken place—magnified a hundredfold by report—had produced a savage thirst for blood. The rebel historians draw ghastly pictures of the stripped, mutilated, often disembowelled bodies, that lined the roads and lay thick around the burning villages, and they say that long after peace had returned, women and children in Wexford fled, scared as by an evil spirit, at the sight of a British uniform.2 The sober and temperate colouring of the loyalist historian I have so often quoted, is scarcely less impressive. ‘From the commencement of the rebellion,’ writes Gordon, ‘soldiers, yeomen, and supplementaries, frequently executed without any trial such as they judged worthy of death, even persons found unarmed in their own houses.’ ‘I have reason to think that more men than fell in battle, were slain in cold blood. No quarter was given to persons taken prisoners as rebels, with or without arms.’ ‘The devastations and plundering sustained by the loyalists were not the work of the rebels alone. Great part of the damage was committed by the soldiery, who commonly completed the ruin of deserted houses in which they had their quarters, and often plundered without distinction of loyalist and croppy. The Hessians exceeded the other troops in the business of depredation, and many loyalists who had escaped from the rebels were put to death by these foreigners.’ 3
In two respects the conduct of the troops compared very unfavourably with that of the rebels. Though the latter had committed great numbers of atrocious murders, it is acknowledged on all sides that they abstained to a most remarkable degree from outrages on women,1 while on the other side this usual incident of military licence was terribly frequent. Although, too, it is quite certain that the rebellion assumed in Wexford much of the character of a savage religious war, and that numbers of Protestants were murdered who had given no real cause of offence except their religion, the rebels very rarely directed their animosity against Protestant places of worship. The church of Old Ross was, I believe, the only one that they deliberately burnt, though in the general conflagrations that took place, a few others may have been destroyed or plundered. But there were large districts over which not a Catholic chapel was left standing by the troops, and Archbishop Troy drew up a list of no less than thirty-six that were destroyed in only six counties of Leinster.2
Apart, indeed, from the courage which was often displayed on both sides, the Wexford rebellion is a dreary and an ignoble story, with much to blame and very little to admire. It is like a page from the history of the Thirty Years’ War, of the suppression of La Vendee, of a Turkish war, or of a war of races in India, though happily its extreme horrors extended only over a small area, and lasted only for a few weeks. Though fanaticism played some part, and revenge a great part, in the terrors of the repression, the remarkable concurrence of both loyal and disloyal writers in attributing the worst excesses to Germans and Welshmen, who had never been mixed up in Irish quarrels, seems to show that mere unchecked military licence was stronger than either, and there appears to have been little or no difference in point of ferocity between the Irish yeomanry, who were chiefly Protestant, and the Irish militia, who were chiefly Catholic.1 Such a state of things was only possible by a shameful neglect of duty on the part of commanding officers; and the fact that it was not universal, proves that it was not inevitable. Gordon has left the most emphatic testimony to the excellent discipline and perfect humanity of the Scotch Highlanders, who were commanded by Lord Huntley, and of the Durham Fencible Infantry, who were commanded by Colonel Skerrit, and a few other names are remembered with honour.2 But in general the military excesses were very shameful, and they did much to rival and much to produce the crimes of the insurgents.
By this time, however, a great change had taken place in the Government of Ireland. We have seen that Lord Camden had long wished to be relieved from his heavy burden, and had represented that in the present dangerous situation of the country the office of Lord Lieutenant and the office of Commander-in-Chief should be united in the person of some skilful and popular general. The Government at last acceded to his wish, and Lord Cornwallis, who, in spite of the disaster of Yorktown, was regarded as the ablest of the English generals in the American war, was induced to accept the double post. He arrived in Dublin on June 20, and his administration opens a new and very memorable page in the history of Ireland.
See Madden's United Irishmen, i. 282-284, and also a paper in the Record Office, dated Feb. 26, 1798
Life of Thomas Reynolds, by his son, i. 197
Compare Tone's Life, i. 126, 127; Madden, iii 48, 335
Report of the Secret Committee of the House of Lords, p 12
This was stated both by McNally (Sept. 27, 1797) and by Turner.
See the passage in his examination, McNevin's Pieces of Irish History, pp. 216, 217.
See a curious conversation of Grattan in his Life, iv. 360, 361. Grattan acutely added: ‘England should take care She transports a great deal of hostile spirit to that quarter.’
Leland, History of Ireland, ii. 291, 292.
O'Connor's Monopoly the Cause of all Evil, iii. 541, 542.
McNevin, pp. 190, 195.
See Report of the Secret Committee, Appendix, pp. cvii, cx, cxv, exxi, cxxii.
Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 165-168.
See Report of the Secret Committee.
J. W., March 9, 1798. McNally had informed the Government as early as Jan. 11 that the invasion was to take place in April, that O'Connor bad left Ireland, to the great satisfaction of his colleagnes, and that his destination was France.
Report of the Secret Committee, Appendix No. xiv.
J. W., June 21, 1797.
Ibid. Sept. 27, Oct. 2, 1797.
J. Richardson to the Marquis of Downshire, Nov. 19, 1797 (R.O.).
Camden to Portland, Jan. 8, 1798.
See Camden to Portland, Feb. 8, 1798 (most secret), and the reply of Portland.
Camden to Portland, March 1; Portland to Camden, March 7, 1798.
Thus Cooke wrote to Lord Auckland on March 19: ‘I fear we cannot convict legally our prisoners, though we have evidence upon evidence; but they must be punished, or the country is gone. Attainder if ever is justifiable.’ Four days later Clare wrote to the same correspondent: ‘Unless we can summon resolution to take a very decided step and to attaint the conspirators by Act of Parliament, I have no hope of bringing them to justice. It is not possible to prevail with men who give secret information to come forward in a court of justice; and if these villams escape with a temporary imprisonment only, there will be no possibility of living in Ireland.’ (Auckland Correspondence, ni. 393, 394) Camden bad written to Portland on the 11th that the head committee must be arrested, even if it were found impossible to seize their papers.
This rests on the authority of Reynolds's son (Life of Reynolds, i. 187, 188), who states that the list was to have been produced at the trial of Cummins, from whom Reynolds received it, had not the confession of the United Irishmen induced the Government to desist from further prosecutions. It does not appear to have been ever stated by Reynolds in court.
Camden to Portland, May 11, 1798. Ten days later Lord Clare wrote to Auckland: ‘A man who had given us private information, on the express condition of never being desired to come forward publicly, was betrayed by some of his subalterns in the county of Kildare, and arrested in consequence by General Dundas, who commands in that district, without communication with Government, and sent up to Dublin in custody. In this dilemma the gentleman's scruples have vanished, and he will, I think, enable us to bring many of the leading traitors to justice, and at their head Lord Edward Fitzgerald.’ (Auckland Correspondence, iii. 421.)
Plowden, ii. 676. Camden to Portland, March 30, 1798. Report of the Secret Committee, Appendix, pp. ccxcv, ccxcvi. Castlereagh Corre-Spondence, i. 168, 169.
J. W., Jan. 3, 1798.
Information endorsed ‘C., March 10, 1798.’ This was, I believe, Reynolds.
Anonymous letter, dated Stephen's Green, April 22, and endorsed ‘Mag’ This was from Magan. Another informer, who professed to be on intimate terms with the leaders of the conspiracy, and to have access to all their plans, resolutions, and correspondence, corroborates the statement in the text that the apparent tran-quillity of the North was only due to the perfection of its organisation. ‘It was in the North,’ he continued, ‘that the spirit of rebellion took its birth. It is in the North it is fostered. It is there that it is brought to maturity. It is there, in fine, lie the hopes, the spring, the wealth, the force of the United Irishmen’ (Letter endorsed ‘V. secret, March 27.’)
F. H., May 15, 1798.
Memoirs of Miles Byrne, i. 31.
‘The gentlemen seem averse to assist the military in the manner in which Sir Ralph means to dispose of them, viz. by living at free quarters upon the disaffected inhabitants.’ (Camden to Portland, April 23, 1798.)
Charles Coote (Montrath) to Cooke, April 15, 1798.
Holt's Memoirs, i. 20.
Leadbeater Papers, i. 225, 226.
Saunders's Newsletter, May 25, 1798.
Col. Campbell, May 14 (I.S.P.O.).
Moore's Life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, ii. 100, 103.
See the graphic description in the Leadbeater Papers, i. 226, 227; Hay's Hist. of the Rebellion in Wexford, p. 64.
See e.g Holt's Memoirs, i 32
See Gordon's Rebellion, pp. 57-59. Gordon notices that after the rebellion, short hair became the fashion among men of all opinions.
An old magistrate near Bray, in the county of Wicklow, wrote in April to the Government remonstrating against a project of sending troops to Newtown Mount Kennedy. ‘We have never had here,’ he said, ‘the smallest appearance of disturbance, nor are we likely to have the least…. I deprecate-dragooning such people. It is a bad system except in open rebellion. Those already enemies to Government it exasperates. Of those who are wavering and timid it makes decided enemies, and it tends to disaffect the loyal. Where is the man whose blood will not boil with revenge who sees the petticoat of his wife or sister cut off her back by the sabre of the dragoon merely for the crime of being green, a colour certainly with them innocent of disaffection?’ (Mr. Edwards, Old Court.) Compare Gordon's Rebellion, p. 59.
History of the Whig Party, i. 114.
Dunfermline's Life of Abercromby, pp. 122, 123
Leadbeater Papers, i. 223, 224.
Gordon's Hist. of the Rebellion, pp. 88, 89.
Teeling's Narrative, pp. 133, 134. Madden has collected much evidence about the practice of torture, i. 292–333. In a letter to Lord Castlereagh, General Dunne stated that he had ascertained that a man had been whipped to death by a magistrate in the King's County, and by another man who acted under his orders. (B. Gen Dunne (Tullamore) to Lord Castlereagh, Aug. 2, 1798, I.S.P.O.)
See Madden's United Irishmen, 1. 308, 309 He is said also to have shot some United Irishmen in a manner hardly distinguishable from naked murder. The epitaph written for him is well known:
See Howell's State Trials, xxvii. 765, 766, 768, 787
Sir J. Carden to Lord Rossmore (Templemore), May 5, 1798.
Howell's State Trials, xxvil. 762–764, 768. The reporter says the gravity of the court was a little discomposed by this method of obtaining confessions. Beresford, in one of his letters to Auckland, says: ‘So far as I can see, no man has withstood the fear of any corporal punishment, and certain I am, that without much outrage hundreds would peach.’ (Auckland Correspondence, iii. 412.)
Howell, p. 785.
Compare the two accounts in Howell, xxvii. 761, 769-771.
Browne, the member for Dublin University.
39 Geo. III. c. 50.
Report of the Secret Committee, pp 20,26. So, too, in the examination McNevin, Castlereagh said, ‘You acknowledge the union [of United rishmen] would have become stronger but for the means taken to make it explode’ (McNevin's Pieces of Irish of History, p 203.)
Holt's Memoirs, i. 17, 18.
Auckland Correspondence, iii. 392, 393.
J. W., April 27, 1798.
Ibid May 21, 1798.
Ibid. Undated, but no doubt a little later than the letter last cited.
F. H., May 15, 1798. Higgins says that the rumour that the Government designed to re-enact the penal code, was sent by the Dublin conspirators widely through the country, especially to the priests.
J. W., May 21.
See the letters of May (I.S.P.O.) and several notices in Faulkner's Journal for that month.
Auckland Correspondence, iii. 422.
Plowden, ii 679, 680.
Moore's Life of Lord E. Fitzgerald, ii. 58 (3rd edition).
The first mention of him in the I.S.P.O. is, I think, in a letter of Higgins, Nov. 24, 1797. On Jan. 5, 1798, Higgins says he had not seen Magan since, but will ‘fix him to meet you at dinner at 6 p.m. to-morrow, and shall in the course of this day or in the morning give you a hint of his terms.’ The addresses of these letters are not given, but they were probably written either to Cooke or Pollock.
F. H, Feb. 6. 1798
‘I suppose M. will call on you. He was with me this day, and seemed as if I had received a second 100l. for him. For God's sake send it, and don't let me appear in so awkward a situation.’ (F. H., March 15.) When the part played by this informer became important, his name was never given in full. He was spoken of simply as M., and an important letter is endorsed ‘Mag.,’ but the handwriting of letters written by him is clearly the same as that of one or two later letters signed Francis Magan, and the correspondence generally took place through Higgins.
‘This night there is to be a meeting at Lawless's I shall learn tomorrow the nature of it. I would wish to put you in possession of something M knows of, that you may ask and interrogate him about them (sic), and let him agree to come to a fixed point of information. I know it is (or will be from his late election) in his power.’ (F. H., March 28.)
Anonymous letter to Cooke endorsed ‘Mag,’ Stephen's Green, April 22, 1798. On the arrest of Lord Edward and Neilson near the borders of the county Kildare, see Madden, ii 406, 408; Moore's Life of Lord E. Fitzgerald, ii. 80. Neilson's name is often spelt ‘Nelson’ in the correspondence of the time.
F. H., May 1, 1798.
Madden, ii. 411.
The letter goes on: ‘The strange story Neilson told of receiving a message to wait on you by Hyde, and the answer he returned, induces M. to believe Neilson communicates with you, or that he dare not have sent any such kind of message, If so, M. says Neilson is playing a double game, for not only in every club and society or company he is vociferous in the abuse of Government—how they broke word and faith with him, as they do with every person who should unhappily place confidence in them.’
F. H., May 15.
Madden has traced Lord Edward's movements during his concealment with great care and minuteness. He has made, however, one important mistake. He says (ii. 406) that on May 17, Fitzgerald had taken up his abode at Murphy's It is clear from the statement of Murphy (p. 412) that he had not.
information May 17. Endorsed ‘Sproule’ This seems to have no connection with Higgins and Magan.
An interesting account of this trial was sent by Bishop Percy to his wife (May 18). See, too, Barrington's Personal Sketches, i. 195-201. The circumstances of the death of Col. Fitzgerald are related at full in the Annual Register, 1797, pp. 55, 56.
It appears from a later letter that Magan not only furnished this information, but also played a great part in the decision. After the death of Lord Edward, Higgins wrote: ‘When I waited on you early in the last month and told you of the intention of the rebels to rise on the 14th ult., you could scarcely be brought to credit such. However, it turned out a most happy circumstance that Lord Edward was then with M, who found means to prevail on him to postpone his bloody purpose in the city Else on the day of Eail Kingston's trial you would have had a shocking scene of blood and havoc in the city. I should not have used the word prevail, because Lord Edward's purpose was put to a vote and carried by M's negative only.’ (F. H., June 30, 1798) In another letter, probably referring to this, Higgins takes much credit to himself ‘Sure I am if I had not prevailed upon the person to come forward and act in the manner he did when the first attack was intended at the H. of C., the nobility and Government as well as the city of Dublin would have been involved in a scene of blood’ (F. H, June 24.) He recurs to the same subject July 12, 1798.
Higgins goes on in his broken, ungrammatical style: ‘Neilson and others have so prejudiced his mind against any promise made by Government, and of their breaking faith with those who serve their cause, after the service is rendered, that my utmost exertions have been directed to keep M. steady, who says the 300l. promised should have been given at once; but only giving two—and such a long interval between, as made him conceive Neilson's assertion true—and that he then was, and would still be further neglected However, I have given him leave to draw upon me, and fully satisfied him of the honourable intentions of Government where service was actually performed, and of your kind attention if he would go forward among the meetings, commumcate what is transacting, and if found necessary point out the spot where they may be seized, &c. This he has at length agreed to do…. I also mentioned your kind promise of obtaining 1,000l. for him (without the mention of his name or enrolment of it in any book) on having the business done, which he pointed out before the issuing of the proclamation. He therefore puts himself on your honour not to admit of any person to come and search his house (which, I ventured to promise, you would have observed), but to place watches after dusk, this night near the end of Watling Street or two houses up in that street from Usher's Island, another towards the Queen's bridge, and a third in Island Street, the rear of the stables near Watling Street, and which leads up towards Thomas Street and Dirty Lane, and at one of these places they will find Lord Edward disguised. He wears a wig and may have been otherwise metamorphosed, attended by one or two, but followed by several armed banditti with new daggers. He intends to give battle if not suddenly seized. Lady Egality complains dreadfully about Lord Castlereagh ordering a short passport. She will have letters sewed or quilted in her clothes, and goes to Hamburgh. I shall send you particulars.’ (F. H., May 18, 1798.)
This is stated by Mr. Fitzpatrick on the authority of a member of the Moore family in Thomas Street, with whom Lord Edward stayed. (See Sham Squire, pp. 110-114.) According to the earlier biographers of Fitzgerald he was going to Moira House, where his wife was, and which was in the immediate neighbourhood of Magan's house.
See Murphy's narrative in Madden's United Irishmen, ii 414, 415; Moore's Life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, ii. 85-87.
Madden has printed the account of Murphy, who was in the room during the earlier part of the arrest, and he has also reprinted from the Castlereagh Correspondence the account given by the son of Ryan, who received it from his father. They agree remarkably, and I have followed them in the text. In the Life of Reynolds (ii. 230-236) there is another account which the biographer says his father received from Sirr and Swan, and which was published in the lifetime of the former. It differs in several small particulars from the narratives of Murphy and Ryan. Neither in the account by Reynolds nor in that given by Moore in his Life of Lord E. Fitzgerald is any mention made of Swan's having quitted the room. The widow of Ryan, afterwards writing to the Irish Government about a pension, said: ‘My poor husband often told me that had he not determined to take Lord Edward at all events, whether he forfeited his life or not, he was certain he would have escaped through the window, which had a communication with the other houses, as he was left above fifteen minutes without assistance’ (July 14, 1798, I.S.P O.) The last sentence is no doubt an enormous exaggeration, but in such moments seconds appear like minutes. In another letter Mrs. Ryan says her husband was left alone with Fitzgerald ten minutes after he was wounded. (July 29, 1798.) Camden's account gives the impression of Swan having had the more prominent part in the arrest (Camden to Portland, May 20, 1798), and Beresford and Cooke both represent Ryan as having only come in towards the end of the scuffle, and just before the arrival of the soldiers. Auckland Correspondence, iii. 414, 418. See, too, Faulkner's Journal, May 22, 1798.
Moore's Life of Lord E Fitzgerald, ii. 86 Beresford said that Sirr went to Murphy's house ‘to search for pikes, upon a vague idea that Lord E. Fitzgerald had been there or in the next house.’ (Auckland Correspondence, iii. 414.) In the account in Reynolds's biography it is stated that on the day before the arrest Cooke informed Major Sirr that if he would go on the following day between five and six in the evening to the house of Murphy in Thomas Street he would find Fitzgerald there. (Reynolds's Life, ii. 229.) I believe, however, this account to be inaccurate. There is nothing in the information of Higgins about Murphy's house. The expectation was that Fitzgerald would be arrested in the street on the night of the 18th, and it was with this object that Sirr acted. Murphy said that he was told that one of Lord Edward's bodyguard gave some information, and there were various other rumours. Compare Madden, ii. 424; Fitzpatrick's Sham Squire, pp. 122, 123.
Madden, iv. 52, 57-70.
Ibid. ii. 408, 440: iv. 58. Neilson was again arrested on account of this plot. Higgins wrote: ‘Your supposed quondam communicator, Neilson, had an interview with a military committee on Friday last and a further one on Tuesday—by a military committee I mean a number of militia men and soldiers united in the infernal cause of murder—who received directions from Neilson how to act…. Surely you could get much information from this infamous renegade villain, who, I believe, has promised you information (as every good subject ought) how to meet the plans and counteract the designs of rebels; but he has gone from one quarter of the country to the other, and to the most remote … inculcating rebellion…. Neilson, therefore, can develop almost every plan.’ (F. H., May 25, 1798.) It is probable that Neilson, in communicating with the Government, only did so to betray them. In February Higgins wrote: ‘Neilson made communications to Bond (and through him to all the leaders of the infernal conspiracy) of your visiting him, and of the various questions you asked…. It was resolved at their meeting that if their cause succeeded, Neilson should be the first object of reward;’ and in a later letter: ‘If Neilson is not bringing you information he is a most dangerous person to remain here. He has dined, supped &c. among the entire of the party.’ (F. H., Feb. 21, March 15, 1798.) It appears certain that if the United Irish leaders had not afterwards made a compact with the Government, Neilson would have been tried, and the Government had much hope of convicting him.
Mr. Fitzpatrick, who has thrown more light than any other writer upon the career of Magan, has discovered one very curious fact. Magan's father had borrowed 1,000l. from a gentleman named Fetherston, for which the latter held a joint bond from father and son. The elder Magan died insolvent, and the creditor gave up all expectation of repayment. Some years later, when the original creditor was dead, Francis Magan appeared unsolicited at the house of his son and paid the debt. Mr Fetherston was extremely surprised, as he had made no demand for the payment, and as he knew that Magan was at this time a poor man and entirely without practice at the bar. It would be curious to know whether the transaction took place shortly after the arrest of Lord Edward. See Mr. Fitzpatrick's Sham Squire, p. 130.
F. H. May 20 Compare, too, his letter, June 30 On June 5, Higgins writes. ‘I cannot do anything with M. until you are pleased to settle, though I advanced him money’ On the 8th he writes: ‘I cannot get from M. a single sentence of who assumes a Directory. I have so frequently put him off about the payment of the 1,000l. that he thinks I am humbugging him. I do entreat, dear sir, as I stand pledged in this business (however badly I am used myself), you will not longer delay having it settled for M’ On the 18th of the same month he writes: ‘You were so kind as to say that you would immediately obtain what was promised to M.’ On June 20 the sum was paid to Higgins, and appears in the list of secret-service money: ‘F. H, discovery of L. E F., 1,000l. See Madden, i 371. Magan had some later communications with the Government directly, or through Higgins. He especially exerted his influence to have the soldiers removed from the house of a lady where they appear to have been living at free quarters, and he wrote about a sum of 500l. which Cooke had promised him.
Moore's Life of Lord E. Fitzgerald, ii. 132. Lord Clare afterwards said ‘For some days he seemed to recover, until having taken a sudden turn he died very unexpectedly of water on his chest.’ (Debate on Sept. 3) See Faulkner's Journal, Sept. 4, 1798.
I am indebted to the kindness of Lady Bunbury for my knowledge of Miss Napier's very interesting unpublished narrative. Sir W. Napier in a letter to Dr. Madden (ii. 454, 455) described, though with less simplicity, the part played by Camden and Clare in this matter.
Lord Castlereagh in an interesting letter of Wickham (June 4, 1798, Record Office) describes the last days of Lord Edward's life. See, too, Camden to Portland, June 4; a letter of Elliot to Pelham in thePelham MSS, and a letter of Beresford to Auckland (Auckland Correspondence, iii 442, 443). Lady Louisa Conolly related the particulars of her interview with her dying nephew in a letter to Mr. Ogilvie, which is printed in Moore's Life of Lord Edward Fitzqerald, ii. 135-139. Lord Clare alluded to this scene with much good feeling in a speech in the House of Lords, Sept. 3. Miss Napier writes that, returning home after the death of Lord Edward, Lady Louisa Conolly related to her the circumstances of the last interview as she had stated them in her letter to Mr. Ogilvie, ‘adding that nothing could exceed Lord Clare's kindness, that he had allowed nobody to remain in the room but himself; had walked away from the bed on which the poor sufferer lay so as not to hear anything that passed between them, and in short had shown her the tenderness of a brother rather than a friend, and with all his apparent sternness of manner had cried like a woman when he saw him dying.’ She adds ‘As I was the sole witness of this melancholy transaction, and that it is not generally known how entirely it was owing to Lord Clare's better feeling that this last interview between my poor cousin and his aunt and brother was permitted, I have felt that it is but justice to his memory to record it.’ (Account of the death of Lord E. Fitzgerald written by Miss Emily Napier.) A letter from Lady Louisa Conolly to Lord Camden (June 8) (also in the possession of Lady Bunbury), mentions that Lord Edward was buried at eleven at night in St. Werburgh's Church. A single carriage and an escort of twelve yeomen attended his remains.
Toler in his speech for the prosecution said that Byrne spoke of the Sheares as men of talent, who were engaged in their country's cause, and who were satisfied that Armstrong could contribute to their assistance. But this is not borne out by Armstrong's published evidence. See the trial in Howell's Stats Trials, vol. xxvii.
It is not clear from Armstrong's sworn evidence that Col. L'Estrange was consulted until after the first interview of Armstrong with the Sheares, though from that time Armstrong undoubtedly acted under his direction and with his full approbation. The statement in the text, however, is based upon that of the Attorney-General (Howell's State Trials, xxvii. 298), and it is confirmed by Armstrong's statement to Madden: ‘I put myself under the direction of my colonel and my friend I acted by their advice, and if I have done anything wrong, they are more culpable than I.’ (United Irishmen, iv. 374.)
The facts relating to the Sheares will be found in their trial in Howell's State Trials, vol. xxvii, and in Madden's United Irishmen. Madden, on this as on all other matters connected with the United Irishmen, writes as a most furious partisan, but he has had the honesty to print some letters of Armstrong, and notes of a conversation with him, giving the other side of the question.
See Howell's State Trials, xxvii. 50. This evidence has been very grossly misrepresented in a modern history.
‘A proceeding then took place which never had an equal in Ireland. It was supposed that there was a Secretary of State's warrant to detain O'Connor, and the moment judgment of death was pronounced upon Quigly, the dock was beset and several voices were heard calling out, “The other prisoners are discharged!“ “Discharge Mr. O'Connor!” In an instant he leaped from the dock. The crowd was immense, the noise prodigious, the officers of the court calling out to stop him. “Seize O'Connor!” “Stop O'Connor!” “Let O'Connor out!” &c. &c. Swords were drawn, constables’ staves, sticks, bludgeons, knocking-downs, &c. The judges frightened to death almost. In short, it is scarcely possible for you to conceive such a scene. O'Connor, however, was brought back, restored to his place in the dock, and immediatelyafter committed to gaol’ (J. Pollock, May 23, 1798.)
May 23. A few days later he wrote to Cooke. ‘I lament most exceedingly that the hopes I had raised as to the success of the trials should have been so soon disappointed. I am persuaded, feeble as the instrument may appear, that unfortunate letter of Arthur Young's saved the lives of all the prisoners who escaped, and it was a miracle that it did not prove the salvation of Coigly.’ (Cooke to Wickham, private, May 26, 1798. R O.) See, for Young's letter, Gurney's report of the trial, pp. 47, 48. Lord Clare's comment on this is very characteristic, and, I think, very scandalous ‘I could never see any wisdom or good policy in prancing upon Candour in the face of rebels, and I can't but wish that your Attorney-General as well as ours was less fond of mounting this jaded pony. What business had he to set aside some of his best jurymen because Mr. Young chose to write a foolish rhapsody to one of them?’ (Auckland Correspondence, iii. 438, 439.)
J. Pollock, May 23, 1798.
J. W., Feb. 5. 1797. Higgins had been watching O'Coigly shortly before the arrest. (F.H., Jan. 12, 1798.)
Camden to Portland, May 24; Lord Gosford to General Lake, May 24, 1798; Gordon's Hist, of the Rebellion, pp. 74, 75; Musgrave's Rebellions in Ireland (2nd ed.), pp. 233, 234.
Musgrave has printed a deposition of one of those who escaped from Prosperous. (Appendix xv. Deposition of Thomas Davis.) See, too, Gordon's Hist. of the Rebellion, pp. 72-74.
See a long and interesting letter of Richard Griffith to Pelham (June 4, 1798) in the Pelham MSS.
Gordon, pp. 71, 72; Plowden, ii. 688-695; Faulkner's Journal, May 26, 27, 1798.
F. H., May 24, 1798. He gave a similar warning on June 5.
In addition to the Government correspondence and the ordinary histories of the rebellion, I have made use of Saunders's Newsletter and Faulkner's Journal, and of the letters of Bishop Percy.
Saunders's Newsletter, June 13.
Barrington's Personal Sketches, iii 395.
Saunders's Newsletter, June 11. ‘The order,’ McNally wrote, ‘that barristers in uniform only should move during the present term at the bar cannot have a good effect. What does it do but furnish a disguise? Will a change of colour produce a change of principles? Besides, there are several who, from personal infirmities, could not assume a military dress without becoming objects of laughter. It would be well perhaps if some of the judges would institute a corps of invalids McNally might lead blind Moore to battle. But is it just to deprive men of bread because nature or misfortune has crippled their hmbs or impaired their constitutions?’ (J. W., June 12, 1798.)
Camden to Portland, May 25, 1798.
Saunders's Newsletter, April 25, 1798.
Letter of Bishop Percy (British Museum). May 24, 1798. Percy, who was living much among the members of the Irish Government, adds his own opinion: ‘In a month's time, all will be perfectly composed, I doubt not, through the whole country; in the metropolis and its environs as well as in the North. But for some days past we have had great commotions and disturbances here.’
Cooke to Wickham (private), May 26, 1798. The italics are mine.
Saunders's Newsletter, Jan. 26, April 5, May 4 and 8, 1798.
Compare Gordon, p. 80; Maxwell, p. 67; Musgrave; Crookshank's Hist. of Methodism in Ireland, pp. 133, 134; and the accounts and despatches in Saunders's Newsletter, June 6 and 8, 1798.
Lord Portarlington to Sir J. Parnell, May 25; Major Leatham to Gen Sir C. Asgill, May 26, 1798 (I.S.P.O.).
Crookshank's Hist. of Methodism, in Ireland, ii. 134.
Compare Gordon, Plowden, and Musgrave, and an account by a field officer, who was with the Carlow garrison, printed in Maxwell's Hist. of the Irish Rebellion, p. 73. Mrs. Leadbeater says: ‘An attack in the night had been made on Carlow, which was repulsed with slaughter, amounting almost to massacre. A row of cabins, in which numbers of the defeated insurgents had taken shelter, were set on fire, and the inmates burned to death. No quarter was given, no mercy shown; and most of those who had escaped, burning with disappointment, rage, and revenge, joined the Wexford party.’ (Leadbeater Papers, i. 237.)
See an interesting pamphlet, published by his family ab Bath in 1801, called, Accurate and Impartial Narration of the Apprehension, Trial, and Execution of Sir Edward Crosbie, Bart. The minutes of the courtmartial, which the family long tried in vain to see, will be found in the Irish State Paper Office. Mrs. Lead-beater gives an extremely unfavourable picture of the conduct on another occasion of Major Denis, who presided at the court-martial. (Lead-beater Papers, i. 239.)
This was evidently the opinion of Bishop Percy, who was then in Dublin, and who mixed much in the Goverment circles. As early as May 26, he wrcte to his wife, that such multitudes of the rebels had been slaughtered, that it was believed that the kingdom would be quieter for many years. Two days later, he wrote that the rebels were everywhere dispersed, ‘with great slaughter and very little loss.’ ‘In a slaughter of 300 or 400, it seldom happens that the King's troops lose more than three or four individuals.’ (Bishop Percy's Letters, Brit. Mus.)
Gordon, pp. 81, 82.
Geo. Lambert (Beauparc), May 27, 1798.
Plowden, ii. 702, 703; Gordon, p 82
Musgrave, pp. 251-258; Gordon, p 83. See, too, on the many murders at Rathangan, a letter from Clare. (Auckland Correspondence, iii. 437.)
See Gordon, pp. 83, 84. The account, however, of Gordon, must be compared with the letters (extremely hostile to Dundas) from Beresford and Clare in the Auckland Correspondence, iii. 432-438.
Auckland Correspondence, iii. 433, 440 See, too, Camden to Portland (private), May 31, 1798. Camden adds: ‘The feelings of the country are so exasperated, as scarcely to be satisfied with anything short of extirpation.’
Compare Gordon, pp 84-86; Plowden, ii. 706-709; Musgrave, pp 263, 264.
‘Sir James Stuart informs me that the South of Ireland is yet quiet, but the dissatisfaction remains, and no discoveries have been made from a real repentance, but have all been forced by severity.’ (Camden to Portland, June 2, 1798.) Borne discoveries, which were regarded as very important, were made at this time by a young man, who was said to be a confidential friend of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and he stated that 4,000 French were expected to land on the Cork coast in the course of this week. Cooke wrote that leaders of the United Irishmen had been arrested at Limerick, Cork, Kmsale, and West Meath, and that 1,500 pikes had been given up near Cork. (Cooke to Wickham, June 2, 1790.) Several persons were flogged, and some, it appears, hanged, about this time at Cork and Limerick. (Saunders's Newsletter, June 12, 16, 1798.) Some small bodies of rebels appeared in arms in the south-western part of the county of Cork about June 19, but they were put down with little difficulty in a few days. (Gordon, pp. 163, 164.)
See Burdy's History of Ireland, p. 498.
Musgrave, p. 301.
Plowden, ii. 714-716.
Grattan's Life, iv. 377-382.
Holt's Memoirs, i. 20-24.
Hay's History of the Rebellion in Wexford (ed. 1803), pp. 12, 14. This writer is a violent partisan of the rebels. Some of the Wexford magistrates obtained during the rebellion, and in the weeks of martial law that preceded it, a reputation for extreme violence; but it is remarkable that, even in the fiercely partisan accounts of the rebel historians, several of them are spoken of with respect, and even affection. Lord Courtown, Mr. Turner, Mr. Carew, and Mr. Pounden (who was afterwards killed at the head of the yeomanry at Enniscorthy), evidently tried to carry out the disarming with moderation and humanity.
Ibid. p. 12.
Taylor's History of the Wexford Rebellion, pp. 10-13; Hay, pp. 21-28.
Musgrave, p. 319.
Gordon, p. 86; Hay, p 55 The statement of these writers was supported by some secret information. On Oct. 17, 1797, Higgins wrote an important letter, stating that the Ulster Committee had just proposed an immediate rising, but that the Leinster Committee refused its consent, stating that, though Dublin was ready, some of the other Leinster counties were not, and that Wexford, by the last returns, only contained 294 United Irishmen.
Memoirs of Miles Byrne, i 55, 56. Hay had based his assertion chiefly on the fact, that reports of the United Irish movement seized at Bond's house, when the leaders of the conspiracy were arrested, made scarcely any mention of Wexford. But Byrne says that the delegate from that county had been delayed, and had not arrived. It appears, however, true that scarcely anything had been done in Wexford to give the people the rudiments of military training, to appoint their commanders, or to form them into regiments.
Ibid. i. 7-10.
Taylor, p. 15.
Byrne, 1. 19-24.
Hay, p. 52.
Musgrave, pp. 320-323; Hay, pp. 52, 53; Gordon, pp. 86, 87; Taylor, p. 18.
Byrne, 1. 23.
Hay's Hist. of the Rebellion in Wexford, pp 53-56.
Hay's Hist. of the Rebellion in Wexford, p 64.
Musgrave, pp. 321-325.
This was on May 23. (Hay, pp. 73-78.)
Hay, pp. 78, 79.
Compare Taylor, p. 15; Hay, p. 57.
Hay says (p. 57), ‘in the beginning’ of April; but Musgrave, whose information is very precise, says it only arrived in the county on April 26, and consisted of only 300 men (p. 325). Long before this date, the county was permeated with sedition.
Newenham's State of Ireland, p. 273. Newenham, in fact, quotes this regiment as an example of the loyalty shown by large bodies of Catholics during the rebellion.
Hay, p 87.
Musgrave, p. 243.
Hay, pp. 86, 87.
Ibid. pp. 76, 87. See also Byrne's Memoirs, i. 35, 36. Byrne says he knew several of the murdered men.
Gordon, p. 222.
Gordon's Hist. of the Irish Rebellion, pp. 86-88. Musgrave says that, when the rebellion broke out, ‘there were no other troops in the county of Wexford but the North Cork Militia, consisting of but 300 men, and they did not arrive there till April 26. Their headquarters were at Wexford, where three companies of them were stationed; the remainder were quartered at Gorey, Enniscorthy, and Ferns. Two thousand troops properly cantoned in it would have awed the rebels into obedience, and have prevented the possibility of a rising.’ (P. 326.) Musgrave probably underrates the number of the North Cork Militia. Newenham (State of Ireland, p 273) says they were 600, which seems to agree with Gordon's estimate.
Compare the accounts in Hay, Cloney, and Miles Byrne, with those in Musgrave. Musgrave admits that Father John's house was burnt, but states (supporting himself by depositions), that it was not until after that priest had taken arms, and he asserts that the yeomanry captain prevented his men from burning the chapel.
Gordon, pp. 90-92; Taylor, pp. 26-30; Hay, pp 87-89. See, too, the very curious journal of Father J. Murphy, printed by Musgrave, Appendix, p. 83. Hay positively says: ‘The yeomanry in the north of the county proceeded on the 27th against a quiet and defenceless populace; sallied forth in their neighbourhoods, burned numbers of houses, and put to death hundreds of persons who were unarmed, unoffending, and unresisting; so that those who had taken up arms had the greater chance of escape at that time.’ (P. 89.)
I have quoted Whitley Stokes's description of the condition of the peasantry at Oulart, vol vii. p. 168.
Cloney gives a vivid picture of the state of feeling at this time. ‘While the events which I have related were occurring on the 25th, 26th, and 27th, the people in my quarter of the country … were in the most terrorstruck and feverish anxiety, as reports were for some time industriously circulated that the Orangemen would turn out, and commit a general and indiscriminate massacre on the Roman Catholics…. The most peaceable and well-disposed fancied they saw themselves, their families, and their neighbours, involved in one common ruin, and that each approaching night might possibly be the last of their domestic happiness. No one slept in his own house. The very whistling of the birds seemed to report the approach of an enemy. The remembrance of the wailings of the women and the cries of the children awake in my mind, even at this period, feelings of deep horror.’ (Personal Narrative of the Transactions in the County of Wexford, p. 14.)
See Byrne's Memoirs, i. 123, 162, 163, 266; Holt's Msmoirs, i. 43, 156.
There is, as usual, a great diversity in the accounts of the proceedings in Enniscorthy. Musgrave accuses the rebels of killing all the wounded, and committing many other atrocities, while Byrne expressly says that no houses were burned or pillaged after the town was taken, and that the insurgents abstained from imitating the cruelties of the yeomanry and soldiers.
See the graphic descriptions of the camp at Vinegar Hill, in Cloney's Personal Narrative, and in Miles Byrne's Memoirs.
Gordon, p. 117; Byrne, i. 66.
Byrne's Memoirs, i. 76, 77; Cloney's Personal Narrative, p. 24.
Gordon, p. 102; Burdy, p. 510; Cloney, p. 24; Hay, pp. 119, 120.
See the description in the Narrative of Charless Jackson, pp. 14, 15. Jackson, Cloney, and Hay were all present in Wexford when it was occupied by the rebels.
Hay, p. 121.
Hay, pp. 128-133.
Jackson's Personal Narrative, p. 35.
Compare the grudging admission in Taylor's History of the Rebellion in the County of Wexford, p 81, with the warm and striking testimony of Mrs Adams, in her most interesting account of her experiences, appended to Croker's Researches in the South of Ireland, pp. 347-385. This narrative was written, without any view to publication, by the daughter of a Protestant country gentleman, who lived close to Wexford, and it is one of the most instructive pictures of the state of the county of Wexford during the rebellion.
Plowden, ii. 750.
Hay, p. 144. It did not, however, continue, and the Protestants who were not in confinement generally thought it advisable to attend the Catholic service.
Croker, p. 364.
Taylor, pp. 79, 80; Hay, p. 168. See, too, the curious description of Jackson (pp. 22, 23), who was compelled to take part in one of the executions.
The reader will find some striking instances of this in Mrs. Adams's experience. This lady had an old and infirm father in the neighbourhood of Wexford to care for, and her brother (who lost his intellect from terror) was a prisoner in Wexford gaol. She says: ‘I shall ever have reason to love the poor Irish for the many proofs of heart they have shown during this disturbed season; particularly as they were all persuaded into a belief, that they were to possess the different estates of the gentlemen of the county, and that they had only to draw lots for their possessions.’ (Croker's Researches in the South of Ireland, p. 361.)
Hay makes the most atrocious accusations against the yeomen about Gorey. He says, they fell upon ‘the defenceless and unoffending populace, of whom they slew some hundreds;’ that numbers who remained in their houses were called out, and shot at their own doors; that even infirm and decrepit men were among the victims; and that just before the evacuation of the town, ‘eleven men, taken out of their beds within a mile's distance, were brought in and shot in the streets.’ (Insurrection of the County of Wexford, pp. 133-135.) He describes, however, most of these massacres as the massacres of men who had assembled in bodies on the eminences, though (Hay says) without arms, and only for the purpose of seeing the attacks on houses &c. which were going on below Gordon, who lived clsoe to Gorey, and had better means than any other historian of observing what went on there, acknoledges that the yeomen shot some of their prisoners before evacuating the town, but he gives no othere, acknoledges that the yeomen shot some of their prisoners before evacuating the town, but he gives no other support to these statements. He says that the people in the neighbourhod of Gorey were the last, and least violent of all, in the county of Wexford in rising against the established authority, which he attributes largely to the humane and conciliatory conduct of the Stopford family to their inferiors. (Gordon, p. 104.)
Gordon, pp. 106-108. Gordon praises greatly the activity of Gowan, and gives no support to the rebel statements about his barbarity.
The attack on Newtown-barry is described with some difference of detail by Gordon (pp. 108, 109), Hay (pp. 137, 138), Musgrave (pp. 394, 395), Taylor (pp 44-46), Byrne (i. 86-89). Byrne has the authority of an eye-witness, for he was with the rebel army in the attack, but his account does not appear to have been written till more than fiftv years after, and was not published till 1863. He is especially anxious to contradict the statement of the other historians, that the rebels became generally intoxicated in New-town-barry, and that this led to their defeat. Colonel L'Estrange estimated the rebels at not less than 10,000 or 15,000, and says that some 500 were killed. He says that his own force was only about 350 men. (See his letters, June 1 and 2, I.S.P.O.)
Henry Alexander to Pelham, June 3, 1798. (Pelham MSS.)
One of the Wexford rebels, before his execution, made a confession, which was formally attested, in which he said: ‘Every man that was a Protestant was called an Orangeman, and every one was to be killed, from the poorest man in the country. Before the rebellion, I never heard there was any hatred between Roman Catholics and Protestants; they always lived peaceably together. I always found the Protestants better masters and more indulgent landlords than my own religion.’ (Musgrave, Appendix, p. 100.) This statement, however, may be qualified by a passage in a letter written to the Duke of Richmond by Lady Lonisa Conolly, who was an exceedingly good judge of the state of Ireland. She said: ‘I still think that it [there-bellion] does not proceed from a religions cause, such numbers of the greatest and best Catholics are so unhappy about it, behave so well, and take such pains to discountenance anything of the kind. At Wexford there has, so far back as thirty-six years, to my knowledge, existed a violent Protestant and Catholic party; consequently these engines were set to work for the purpose of rebellion In other places that of electioneering parties, and so on; every means has been seized that could answer their design.’ (MS. letter, June 18, 1798.)
Numerous de positions by prisoners, who had been taken to Vinegar Hill but spared, will be found, in Musgrave's Appendix. See, too Gordon, pp. 139-142; Taylor, pp. 96-108; Hay, pp. 167, 168.
Gordon, pp. 139, 195, 206, 218.
Ibid. p. 140.
Gordon, pp. 141-143. Gordon soon after succeeded this clergyman as Rector of Killegny, and was therefore well acquainted with the circumstances of the parish. He says that there were signs that, if the rebellion had lasted, the immunity of the Protestants of this parish would not have lasted, and that a few of those who conformed to Catholicism during the rebellion, in order to save their lives, continued in that creed, ‘probably through fear of a second insurrection.’ It appears from one of the affidavits, that the rebels were sometimes contented if their prisoners consented to cross them selves, as this was considered a proof that at least they were not Orangemen. (Musgrave, Appendix, pp. 118, 119.)
Gordon, pp. 112, 113; Taylor, pp. 47, 48. Gordon was himself near this battle, and his son appears to have been engaged in it. He says: ‘A small occurrence after the battle, of which a son of mine was a witness, may help to illustrate the state of the country at that time. Two yeomen, coming to a brake or clump of bushes, and observing a small motion, as if some persons were hiding there, one of them fired into it, and the shot was answered by a most piteous and loud screech of a child. The other yeoman was then urged by his companion to fire; but he, being a gentleman and less ferocious, instead of firing, commanded the concealed persons to appear; when a poor woman and eight children, almost naked-one of whom was severely wounded—came trembling from the brake, where they had secreted themselves for safety.’ (P. 113.)
See Taylor, p. 49.
Compare Byrne's Memoirs. i. 97-101; Gordon, pp. 114-116; Hay, pp. 49-51. Byrne was present in the action, and his account differs in some respects from that of the other historians. He represents Walpole as having been killed in the second fight. All the other accounts place his death at the beginning of the confliot.
Gordon, Taylor, Byrne, Hay.
See the extracts from the ‘Journal of a Field Officer’ quoted in Maxwell's History of the Rebellion, pp. 112, 115. Byrne, however, gives reasons for thinking that an immediate march on Arklow would have been imprudent (i. 114).
This is stated by Taylor (pp. 51, 52) and Musgrave (p. 406); and the ‘Field Officer’ cited by Maxwell says: ‘Time was wasted in collecting and piking Protestants, which might have been employed with far greater advantage to the cause.’ On the other hand, nothing is said about these executions by Byrne, who was present in the expedition, or by Gordon, who was most intimately acquainted with Gorey. Hay says that, before the capture of Gorey, the military stationed there ‘plundered and burned many houses, and shot several stragglers who happened to fall in their way. This provoked the insurgents to vie with their opponents in this mode of warfare, and … enormities, in fact, were committed on both sides.’ (P. 146.) Byrne and Hay pretend that the troops intended to kill their prisoners in Gorey, and were only prevented by the rapidity with which they were driven through the town It seems to me quite impossible to pronounce with confidence on these points.
Gordon says: ‘To shoot all persons carrying flags of truce from the rebels, appears to have been a maxim with his Majesty's forces.’ (P. 118.)
Taylor, pp. 56, 57.
On the death of Mountjoy, see the account by an eye-witness in Taylor, pp. 57, 58. General Johnston, in the official bulletin, says he ‘fell early in the contest.’ Major Vesey says: ‘He was wounded and taken prisoner early. When we stormed their fort, we found his body mangled and butchered.’
Taylor, pp. 58, 59.
Many interesting particulars of this battle, from an eye-witness on the rebel side, will be found in Cloney's Personal Narrative; and from an eye-witness on the loyalist side, in Taylor.
Report of General Johnston, inclosed by Camden to Portland, June 8, 1798.
Record Office. Hay declares that there was not only an indiscriminate massacre when New Ross was taken, but that on ‘the following day also, the few thatched houses that remained unburnt … were closely searched, and not a man discovered in them left alive. Some houses set on fire were so thronged, that the corpses of the suffocated within them could not fall to the ground, but continued crowded together in an upright posture, until they were taken out to be interred.’ (P. 155.) How far such stories were true, and how far they were inventions or exaggerations, intended to parallel the massacre of Scullabogue, it is impossible to say. Madden collected some stories about the capture of New Ross, from two old men who had been there, and their account went to show that there had been very general massacre, but that it had been immediately after the capture. He says, they agreed ‘that, after the battle was entirely over, as many were shot and suffocated in the burning cabins and houses from four o'clock in the afternoon till night, and were hanged the next day, as were killed in the fight.’ (United Irishmen, iv. 445.)
Compare Gordon, pp. 121, 122; Taylor, pp. 64-70; Hay, pp. 156-159; Cloney, pp. 44, 45. Among modern books, the reader may consult the rebel historian Harwood's History of the Rebellion, p. 184. Taylor gives the names of ninety-five persons who were killed at Scullabogue, and he says there were others whose names he could not discover.
Elliot to Pelham, June 1, 1798. (Pelham MSS.)
Camden to Pelham, June 3, 1798.
Elliot to Pelham, June 3, 1798.
Camden to Portland, June 5, 1798.
Camden to Pelham, June 6. Lord Clare, who was never disposed to panic, took an equally grave view. The day after Walpole's defeat, he wrote: ‘Our situation is critical in the extreme. We know that there has been a complete military organisation of the people in three-fourths of the kingdom. In the North, nothing will keep the rebels quiet but a conviction that, where treason has broken out, the rebellion is merely popish; but, even with this impression on their minds, we cannot be certain that their love of republicanism will not outweigh their inveteracy against popery. In the capital there is a rebel army organised; and if the garrison was forced out, to meet an invading army from this side of Wexford, they would probably, on their return, find the metropolis in possession of its proper rebel troops. In a word, such is the extent of treason in Ireland, that if any one district is left uncovered by troops, it will be immediately possessed by its own proper rebels…. I have long foreseen the mischief, and condemned the imbecility which has suffered it to extend itself.’ (Auckland Correspondence, iv. 3.)
Camden to Portland, June 8, 1798.
Colonel Crawford, June 5. Two days later the same officer wrote to General Cradock, that before the attack on New Ross he had so ‘contemptible an opinion of the rebels as troops,’ that he thought the best plan would be to divide the army into small columns, and beat them in detail. ‘Bat,’ he says, ‘I have now totally changed my opinion. I never saw any troops attack with more enthusiasm and bravery than the rebels did on the 5th…. To insure success we must be in considerable force. Should we be defeated, a general insurrection would probably be the consequence. During the affair of the 5th mst., large bodies of people collected behind us in the county of Kilkenny, and certainly were waiting only the event of the attack made by the people of Wexford. In short, I do not think General Johnston's and General Loftus's corps, even wher united, sufficiently strong—not nearly so.’ (June 7, Record Office.)
Auckland Correspondence, iv. 9, 10, 13.
Castlereagh to Pelham.
See Howell's State Trials, xxvii. 412.
Cooke to Pelham, June 3, 1798.
Gamden to Portland, June 10, 1798. See, too, a number of very interesting letters on the situation, in the Auckland Correspondence, iv. 3-10.
‘Our Northern accounts are still very good; no stir there except on the right side. The people called Orangemen (whose principles have been totally misrepresented) keep the country in check, and will overpower the rebels, should they stir.’ (Beresford to Auckland, June 1; Auckland Correspondence, iii, 442.)
Historical Collections relating to Belfast, pp. 479-483; McSkimmin's History of Carrickfergus, p. 97.
McNevin's Pieces of Irish History, p. 204.
Secret Committee, pp. 16, 17.
Tone's Memoirs, ii. 416.
See Mallet du Pan's Essai Historique sur la Destruction de la Ligue et de la Liberté Helvétique. There are some excellent chapters on this revolution in the Annual Register of 1798 See, too, Sybel.
The despatches will be found in full in the appendix of the Annual Register for 1798. See, too, Sybel, Histoire de l'Europe pendant la Révolution (French translation), v. 62-67, 150-152; and Adams's Life.
Dean Warburton to Cooke (Loughgilly), May 29, 1798.
Camden to Portland, June 2, 1798.
Cooke to Wickham, June 2, 1798.
I.S.P.O. This paper is only signed by initials. It is among those of the first days of June. So Beres-ford, on the last day of May, after describing the atrocities in Wexford, says: ‘Bad and shocking as this is, it has its horrid use; for now there is a flying off of many Protestant men who were united, and the North consider it as a religious war, and, by many letters this day, have resolved to be loyal’ (Auckland Correspondence, iii. 439.)
Henry Alexander to Pelham, June 10, 1798. (Pelham MSS.)
Bishop Percy to his wife, May 28, 29, 1798. (British Museum.)
Bishop Percy to his wife, June 8, 1798. On the illuminations at Belfast, see Saunders's Newsletter, June 8. Another remarkable letter on the state of Ulster is from Lord William Bentinck, who had resided in Armagh for two years. ‘The Dissenters,’ he wrote, ‘whom I knew to be the most disaffected a year and a half ago, are now ready to support the existing Government, and I believe with sincerity. I do not fancy that their opinions are much changed or their natural inclination to republicamsm extinguished, but their affection for their properties, which they conceive in danger from what they happily term a popish rebellion, has been the cause of their present inaction. They prefer a Protestant to a popish Establishment.’ (June 21, 1798, I.S.P.O.)
Sounders's Newsletter, June 14, 1798.
Musgrave, p. 194.
See Harwood, p. 203.
Nicholas Magean Castlereagh says: ‘It was upon his information that General Nugent was enabled so to dispose his force—at that time very much weakened by detaching to the South—as to attack the rebels in those points of assembly, and to gain those decisive advantages over them, before their strength was collected, which have completely repressed the insurrection in the North, at least for the present.’ (Castlereagh to Wickham, private, June 22, 1798.) Castlereagh mentions that the informer was in custody at his own desire, but refused to give evidence. This informer's name is also spelt Maguan, Magein, Magin, and Maginn. Pollock, in a letter dated July 13, 1798, mentions that Wickham said that after the trials, ‘a letter should be written by the Lord Lieutenant to the Treasury in England, stating the magnitude and importance of Magin's services, that by his means the rebels in Ulster were prevented taking the field.’ (I.S.P.O. Compare the Report of the Secret Committee of 1798, app xiv; and Madden's United Irishmen, i. 458, 459; iv. 54.) There is reason to believe that he made a stipulation, that no man should lose hislife on his evidence.
According to another account, two, but only one appears to have been brought into action.
See the accounts (differing in many details) in Musgrave, Gordon, McSkimmin, in the official bulletin (Saunders's Newsletter, June 11), and in Teeling's Personal Narrative.
General Nugent to General Lake, June 18, 1798.
Musgrave, p. 184. Musgrave must always be read with suspicion when he treats of any question relating to Catholics; but I see no improbability in this statement, and it is corroborated by the ‘Field Officer’ quoted by Maxwell, who says: ‘The accounts of the bloody goings-on in Wexford had their full share in bringing the Northerners to their senses, as many of them made no scruple of declaring at the plaoe of execution.’ (Maxwell's History of the Rebellion, p. 217.)
Teeling, p. 250.
Musgrave declares that the rebels in the battle of Ballinahinch were ‘Protestant Dissenters, with few if any Roman Catholics, as 2,000 of them deserted the night before the battle, and inflamed the Presbyterians very much against them.’ (P. 557.) Teeling, who gives the best Catholic account of the battle, says that, in the night before, ‘a division of nearly 700 men, and more generally armed with muskets than the rest, marched off in one body with their leader;’ but he attributes this to their discontent at Monroe's refusal to make a midnight attack, and he makes no mention of any religious differences. (Personal Narrative, pp. 255, 256.) The ‘Field Officer’ whose narrative is quoted by Maxwell, believed that there was both military dissension and religious jealousy. (History of the Rebellion, p. 218.)
See the report of General Nugent, June 13; and some interesting letters, describing the battle, sent by Bishop Percy to his wife. See, too, the accounts in Teeling's Personal Narrative, in Maxwell and in Musgrave. The fact that the property of Lord Moira was the centre of the rebellion in Ulster, was not forgotten by the opponents of that nobleman:
Castlereagh to Pelham, June 16, 1798. (Pelham MSS.)
Castlereagh to Elliot, June 16, 1798. (Ibid.)
Bishop Percy, afterwards speaking of the barbarities in other parts of Ireland, adds: ‘Thank God, our rebels in this country, being chiefly Protestant Dissenters, were of very different complexion, and were guilty of no wanton cruelties. I have accounts on all hands that they treated our clergy, and others who fell into their hands, with great humanity, and according to the usual laws of war.’ (Oct. 27.) This was all the more remarkable if, as Bishop Percy said in other letters, the rebels in the North were only miscreants of the lowest kind. ‘All the more rational republicans,’ he said, ‘are disgusted with France for their ill treatment of America,’ and ‘are separating from the popish Defenders, who are only bent on mischief.’ (June 11, 13, 1798.) Musgrave and Gordon, however, state that a party from Saintfield attacked the house of a farmer named McKee (who had prosecuted some United Irishmen), and that, meeting a fierce resistance, they set fire to the house, and all within perished in the flames. (Musgrave, p. 555; Gordon, p. 160.)
Maxwell, pp. 217, 218.
Bishop Percy to his wife, Oct. 27, 1798. The Bishop says that the painter Robinson painted a picture of the battle of Ballinahinch, which contained many portraits of those who were engaged in it. It was raffled for, and won by Lord Hertford. Of the death of Monroe, we have three remarkable accounts: Maxwell, pp. 215, 216; Teeling, p. 260; Musgrave, p. 557. His name—like nearly every name in this part of my history—is spelt by contemporaries in several different ways.
Taylor, pp. 70-73; Hay, pp. 159-161; Cloney, pp. 44. 45.
‘Dear Sir,—I received your letter, but what to do for you I know not. I, from my heart, wish to protect all property. I can scarcely protect myself, and indeed my situation is much to be pitied, and distressing to myself. I took my present situation in hopes of doing good, and preventing mischief My trust is in Providence. I acted always an honest, disinterested part, and had the advice I gave some time since been taken, the present mischief could never have arisen. If I can retire to a private station again, I will, immediately. Mr. Tottenham's refusing to speak to the gentleman I sent into Ross, who was madly shot by the soldiers, was very unfortunate. It has set the people mad with rage, and there is no restraining them. The person I sent in, had private instructions to propose a reconciliation, but God knows where this business will end; but, end how it may, the good men of both parties will be inevitably ruined.’ (Taylor, p. 76)
See Gordon, p. 123. I must acknowledge myself quite unable to draw the character of this priest. Harwood sums up very well the Catholic version, when he describes him as ‘a man abundantly gifted by nature with all the qualities that the post required: of intrepid personal courage, indomitable firmness, a quick and true military eye, immense physical strength and power of enduring privation and fatigue, great tact for managing the rude masses he had to rule, and a generous, humane heart with it all.’ (History of the Rebellion, p. 185.) Maxwell gives the loyalist version: ‘Like Murphy of Boulavogue, Roche was a man of ferocious character and vulgar habits; but, although drunken and illiterate, his huge stature and rough manners gave him a perfect ascendency over the savage mobs which, in rebel parlance, constituted an army…. He evinced neither talent nor activity. His chief exploit was an attack upon a gentleman's house, in which he was disgracefully repulsed; while in a new camp he formed within a mile of Ross, the time was passed in drunken revelry, diversified occasionally with a sermon from Father Philip, or the slaughter of some helpless wretch, accused of being an enemy to the people’ (Ibid. pp. 128, 129) Musgrave describes him as ‘an inhuman savage,’ but Gordon says that, although ‘Philip Roach was in appearance fierce and sanguinary,’ several persons who were in danger of being murdered on Vinegar Hill, owed their lives ‘to his boisterous interference.’ (P. 140.) He admits that he was often intoxicated, but adds, ‘for a charge of cruelty against him, I can find no foundation. On the contrary, I have heard many instances of his active humanity.’ (Appendix, p. 84.) Miles Byrne describes him as ‘a clergyman of the most elegant manners, a fine person, tall and handsome, humane and brave beyond description.’ (Memoirs, i. 86.)
Taylor and Musgrave have printed some curious ‘protections,’ which were taken from the necks of captured or slain rebels.
Gordon, p. 124. Cloney, who was present at the attack, gives an interesting account of it. (Personal Narrative, pp. 48-51.)
Gordon, Appendix, p. 85.
This statement, which has been made by Gordon and also by the rebel writers, is confirmed by the report of Captain Moore, in the Record Office.
See the report of General Needham to General Lake, June 10, 11, 1798; and also an interesting account of the battle by Captain Moore, in the Record Office. Some particulars, derived from those who were present, are also given in a letter from H. Alexander to Pelham, June 10. (Pelham MSS.) See, too, the accounts in Taylor, Musgrave, and Gordon, and in the Memoirs of Miles Byrne, who was present in the battle. Byrne maintains that the retreat was wholly unnecessary, and that Arklow might with little difficulty have still been taken. Beresford wrote to Auckland a description of this battle. He says: ‘The Ancient Britons who made their escape, assured Needham that the priests who attend the army say mass almost every hour, and work up the people's mind to enthusiasm. There are two or three killed in every battle.’ (Auckland Correspondence, iv. 15.) Father Michael Murphy's body appears to have been horribly mutilated after death by some Ancient Britons. (See Gordon, pp. 212, 213.)
Bishop Percy mentions that, on the night of Lady Camden's departure, he was walking with the Bishop of Clogher round Merrion Square, when it was almost dark. When they came opposite Lady Frances Beresford's house, they saw that lady standing on her balcony, and could not help hearing what a lady in the street below was calling to her at the full pitch of her voice. It was the whole story of the departure of Lady Camden. The two bishops, without revealing themselves, contrived to see the face of the indiscreet informant, and found that she was Lady Castlereagh (Bishop Percy to his wife, June 11, 1798.)
Camden to Pelham, June 11, 1798. (Pelham MSS.)
Camden to Portland, June 11, 1798 (most secret). On June 9, Lees wrote to Auckland: ‘We have not yet a single soldier from your side on this.’ ‘Most strange,’ wrote Beres-ford on the 14th, ‘not a man yet arrived in the South or at Dublin…. I hear some are at Carrickfergus.’ (Auckland Correspondence, iv. 11,19.) These passages, and the letters in the text, have an important bearing on the question how far the rebellion was put down by Irish, and how far by English, efforts.
Castlereagh to Pelham, June 13; Castlereagh to Elliot, June 16 (Pelham MSS); Castlereagh to Wickham (Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 219.)
J. W., June 6, 1798. In another letter he says: ‘The secular clergy of Ireland, particularly those of Dublin, have not been the instigators of rebellion; the regulars it is who lighted the brand, and among those the younger were the most active, from their attachment to French politics. This class of men are the political preceptors of country schoolmasters—a class of men who, the judges well know, have been the most successful agitators.’ (J. W., June 26, 1798.)
J. W., June 13, 1798.
J. W., June 12, 13, and also some undated letters, which were evidently written about the same time.
I take these sentences from a number of letters, which are chiefly undated.
Henry Alexander to Pelham, June 10, 1798. (Pelham MSS)
F. H., June 13, 1798. See, too, Saunders's Newsletter, June 15. Sheridan even attributed the rebellion mainly to want of employment and want of bread. (Parl. Hist. xxxiii. 1502.)
Saunders's Newsletter, June 16.
Part Hist. xxxiii. 1493-1512.
Saunders, June 28, 29.
See Musgrave, p. 559.
Gordon, pp. 133, 134. ‘So in-veterately rooted,’ he elsewhere says, ‘are the prejudices of religious antipathy in the minds of the lower classes of Irish Romanists, that in any civilisations however originating from causes unconnected with religion, not all the efforts of their gentry, or even priests, to the contrary, could (if I am not exceedingly mistaken) restrain them from converting it into a religious quarrel.’ (P. 285.)
Compare Gordon, pp. 133-137, with Byrne's Memoirs, i. 147-152.
Gordon, pp. 133-138. The reader should, however, compare this account with that (differing in some details) given by Miles Byrne, who took part in this campaign. (Byrne's Memoirs, i. 148-163.) Byrne naturally minimises the number of murders by the rebels. He says that a clerical magistrate named Owens, who had been conspicuous in putting pitched caps on rebels, was among the prisoners at Gorey, and was not further punished than by a pitched cap; and he palliates the misdeeds of the party, by accusing the yeomen of murdering the wounded who were left on the field. He says nothing about the burning of Tinne-hely, and represents rather more fighting as having taken place than appears from Gordon's narrative. He dishonestly calls Gordon ‘the Orange historian.’
Cloney gives a full account of the retreat, in which he took part. (Personal Narrative, pp. 54-60.) Compare ‘The Journal of a Field Officer,’ in Maxwell, p. 141, and Hay, pp. 200, 201.
Compare the accounts of Musgrave, Gordon, Hay, and Byrne (who took part in the battle). Musgrave gives Lake's despatches in his Appendix.
Gordon, p. 145; Hay, p. 228; Cloney, p. 47. Taylor, who is a strongly loyal historian, mentions that the loyalist prisoners were, by mistake, slaughtered by the soldiers. (P. 119.) General Lake, in reporting the victory at Vinegar Hill, says: ‘The troops behaved excessively well in action, but their determination to destroy every one they think a rebel is beyond description, and wants much correction.’ (Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 223.)
See, for many particulars about Edward Roche, Crofton Croker's notes to Holt's Memoirs, i. 65-69.
Hay, pp. 162, 163.
Musgrave has done the utmost in his power to blacken the Catholic priests in Wexford; but nothing can be stronger than the testimony in their favour, of Jackson, who was an Englishman, a Protestant, and a loyalist, and who was prisoner in Wexford during the whole siege. He says: ‘The conduct of the Roman Catholic clergy of Wexford cannot be too much commended. Dr. Caulfield, the titular Bishop of Leighlin and Ferns, Father Curran, Father Broe, and, indeed, the whole of the priests and friars of that town, on all occasions used their interest and exerted their abilities in the cause of humanity. Every Sunday, after mass, they addressed their audience, and implored them in the most earnest manner not to ill-treat their prisoners, and not to have upon their consciences the reflection of having shed innocent blood,’ (Jackson, Narrative, p. 54.) The same writer says: ‘From what I saw while I was in confinement, or could learn, I think myself bound to say that, in my opinion, such of the rebel chiefs as had been in respectable situations, detested the system of murder and robbery, which was as universally adopted by the upstart officers and unruly mob, over whom they had little more than a nominal command,’ (P. 43.)
Compare Gordon, pp. 149, 150; Jackson, pp. 24, 25.
Hay, p. 199.
Jackson, p. 50.
Gordon, pp. 147, 148. Musgrave, pp. 464-466. Musgrave says: ‘I have heard, from the concurrent testimony of different persons who resided at Wexford at this time, that nothing but the humane and active interference of Generals Keugh and Harvey prevented that indiscriminate slaughter of Protestants there, which took place in many other parts of the country, particularly at Vinegar Hill; but when they lost their authority, the bloody work began…. Some of the gentlemen confined in the prison ship, assured me that the rebel guards frequently inveighed against Keugh, and vowed vengeance against him because he would not indulge the people—that is, because he did his utmost to restrain their desire for carnage.’ (Pp. 465, 466.)
Jackson, p. 53.
Gordon, p. 147; Hay, pp. 142-145. I have mentioned the desire of the more respectable rebel leaders that the Protestant service should continue; but Barrington pretends that the rector was compelled to conform to Catholicism.
Taylor, p. 18; Hay, p. 126.
I have already quoted the very interesting diary of Mrs. Adams, published in Croker's Researches in the South of Ireland. A short fragment of the diary of another lady, who was in the town, is given by Musgrave.
J. W., June 13, 1798.
Hay, pp. 175, 176.
Saunders's Newsletter, June 19, 1798. This address appears to have been drawn up in February. See Cupple's Principles of the Orange Association (1799).
Faulkner's Journal, June 16, 1798.
Plowden, ii. 750, 751.
Hay, pp. 197, 198; Masgrave, pp 470, 471; Gordon, pp. 148, 149; Plowden, ii. 741, 742; Jackson's Personal Narrative, pp. 44-46.
Hay, pp. 204-207.
Hay, pp. 226, 227. See, too, Maxwell, pp. 141, 142, and Sir John Moore's despatches, describing the battle, in Musgrave, Appendix, pp. 156, 157.
This is the statement of Hay (pp. 207-313), and it is confirmed by better authority. Bishop Caulfield, in a private letter to Archbishop Troy, says: ‘I could not find that there were more than two or three of this town engaged in the massacres, for the townsmen had been that morning ordered out to camp near Enniscorthy, and a horde of miscreants, like so many bloodhounds, rushed in from the country, and swore they would burn the town if the prisoners were not given up to them.’ (Plowden, ii. 751.) Lord Kingsborough also, as we shall see, distinctly exculpated the townsmen from complicity in the massacre.
Musgrave (p. 485) and Taylor (p. 121) say that these letters were believed to mean ‘murder without sin,’ an interpretation which appears to me incredible. If the rebels wished to convey this sentiment, they could have done so much more clearly: they would not have used the invidious term ‘murder;’ and it is exceedingly improbable that a banner intended to convey such a meaning, should have been prepared beforehand. Hay says that this black flag had been carried by one particular corps through the whole rebellion, and a member of that corps told Crofton Croker that the letters signified only, ‘Marksmen, Wexford, Shilmalier.’ Shilmalier was the barony of Wexford, most famous for its marksmen, and also, as we have seen, that from which most of the actors in this tragedy seem to have come. (See a note to Holt's Memoirs, i. 89, 90.)
Taylor and Musgrave have accused Bishop Caulfield of having refused, when asked, to interfere to prevent the massacre; but the bishop published a pamphlet in which he most solemnly denied the charge, and declared that, as he was in his house at some considerable distance from the scene, he knew nothing of what was passing. (Reply of the Rev. Dr. Caulfield, and of the R.C. Clergy of Wexford, to the Misrepresentations of Sir R. Musgrave (1801). The courageous interposition of Father Curran is undoubted; but there is a difference of statement about how far it was effectual. Caulfield, in his letter to Archbishop Troy, gives a vivid picture of the terror of the priests. (See Plowden, ii. 749-751, 761.)
Col. Le Hunte was one of these.
I have given the best account I can of this massacre; but the reader who will compare the original authorities, will find numerous inconsistencies and discrepancies among them. Jackson, who wrote his Personal Narrative, was actually kneeling on the bridge, waiting his turn to be piked, when the rescue came. Taylor was one of the forty-eight prisoners who were confined in the marketplace, and one of nineteen who were saved. (Hist. of the Rebellion, p. 124.) Musgrave, who relates the story with his usual research, and his usual violent and evident partisanship, gives an account which, he says, he received from eye-witnesses, who were in a house close to the bridge. (Pp. 485-487.) Hay—who is quite as violent a partisan on one side as Musgrave on the other—was in the town, and (according to his own account) exerted himself greatly to prevent the massacre. His long and confused story differs in several respects from the others, and he pretends (p. 221) that only thirty-six persons were murdered This is inconsistent with the statements of the other writers, and the long period during which the tragedy was going on makes it very improbable. Gordon gives a list of ‘some of the persons massacred on the bridge of Wexford,’ which comprises fifty-three names. (Appendix, pp. 62, 63.) Bishop Caulfield, in a letter evidently not meant for publication, says the rebels called the prisoners out ‘by dozens’ to be executed. (Plowden, ii. 750.)
See an interesting letter written in 1799 by Captain Bourke, an officer of the North Cork Militia (who had been captured with Lord Kings-borough), describing the negotiation, and authenticated by Lord Kings-borough (then Lord Kingston) himself. (Hay's Hist., Appendix, pp. xxviii-xxx.) It appears, from this letter, that Keugh was at first reluctant to surrender the government of Wexford, and that this step was taken on the motion of Hay.
Ibid. See, too, Musgrave, pp. 498, 499.
Annual Register, 1798. p. 128 Hay, pp. 242-244. In a letter to Castlereagh, Lake says: ‘You will see by the inclosed letter and address from Wexford, what an unpleasant situation I am led into by Lord Kings-borough.’ (Castlereagh Correspond-ence, i. 223.)
See Bishop Caulfield's statement of his conduct. (Plowden, ii. 738, 739.)
Compare Plowden, ii. 763; Musgrave, p. 507; and the remarks of the ‘Field Officer’ in Maxwell, p. 141.
Barrington was at Wexford shortly after the rebellion, and saw the heads of the leaders outside the court house. He says: ‘The mutilated countenances of friends and relations in such a situation would, it may be imagined, give any man most horrifying sensations! The heads of Colclough and Harvey appeared black lumps, the features being utterly undistinguishable; that of Keogh was uppermost, but the air had made no impression on it whatever. His comely and respect-inspiring face (except the pale hue, scarcely to be called livid), was the same as in life. His eyes were not closed, his hair not much ruffled—in fact, it appeared to me rather as a head of chiselled marble, with glass eyes, than as the lifeless remains of a human creature. This circumstance I never could get any medical man to give the least explanation of.’ (Barrington's Personal Sketches, i. 276. 277.)
Interesting notices of Keugh will be found in Gordon, Taylor, Jackson, and Musgrave. Compare, too, the vivid sketch in Barrington's Personal Recollections, iii. 296-298. Keugh had an elder brother—an enthusiastic loyalist—who lived with him. When the rebellion broke out, and Matthew Keugh became a rebel leader, the loyalist brother was driven to such despair, that he blew out his own brains. In spelling the name of the Wexford governor, I have followed most of the Wexford writers, as well as Musgrave and Lord Castlereagh; but Barrington (who was related to him) calls him Keogh; and Taylor, Keughe.
A number of facts from different quarters about Grogan, have been brought together by Dr. Madden. (United Irishmen, iv. 502-513.) Compare Musgrave, pp. 447, 448; Appendix, p. 135. Barrington, who had known Grogan intimately for several years, declares most emphatically that he was ‘no more a rebel than his brothers, who signalised themselves in battle as loyalists;’ and he speaks very strongly of the illegal constitution of the court-martial that tried him. (Personal Recollections, iii. 298-300.) There is an elaborate examination, and a very severe condemnation, of this court-martial, in a privately printed law book, called Reports of Interesting Cases argued in Ireland (1824), by Radford Rowe. A long chapter is devoted to the Irish courts-martial.
Gordon, p. 187; see, too, Appendix, p. 85. Gordon relates the exclamation of one of the rebels: ‘I thank my God, that no person can prove me guilty of saving the life or property of anyone.’
‘In the local and short-lived insurrection in the county of Wexford, the tendency of affairs was so evident to Bagenal Harvey and other Protestant leaders, that they considered their doom as inevitable, and even some Romish commanders expressed apprehensions. Thus, Esmond Kyan, one of the most brave and generous among them, declared to Richard Dowse, a Protestant gentleman of the county of Wicklow, whom he had rescued from assassins, that his own life was irredeemably forfeited; for if the rebellion should succeed, his own party would murder him; and if it should not succeed, his fate must be death by martial law—which happened, according to his prediction. Even Philip Roche, whose character as a priest might be supposed to insure his safety with his own followers, made a similar declaration to Walter Greene, a Protestant gentleman of the county of Wexford, whose life he had protected.’ (Gordon's History, pp. 210, 211.)
See the list in Musgrave's Appendix, 160. These executions, however, extended over the whole period from June 21, 1798, to Dec. 18, 1800. Gordon states that nine leaders were hanged on June 25; three others on the 28th. Four only of these leaders were Protestants. (Pp. 180-184.)
See Hay, pp. 243, 247, &c.
Gordon, pp. 188, 197, 222. Hay fully agrees with Gordon in giving the first place in these atrocities to the ‘Hompesch Dragoons.’ (P. 247.) I may mention that, in 1770, Lord Chatham had suggested that, if Ireland was ever invaded by a powerful foreign army, witharms ready to be put into the hands of the Roman Catholics, the task of defending it should be largely entrusted to a subsidised force of German Protestants. (Thackeray's Life of Chatham, ii. 222.)
Compare Gordon, pp. 213, 214; Hay, p. 247. Gordon says he has ‘not been able to ascertain an instance to the contrary in the county of Wexford, though many beautiful young women were absolutely in the power of the rebels.’
See many statistics about chapel-burning in Madden, i. 349-351. Gordon says that hardly one chapel in the extent of several miles round Gorey escaped burning. (Pp. 199,200). Bishop Caulfield, in his pamphlet in reply to the misrepresentations of Sir B. Musgrave, said: ‘In the extent of nearly fifty miles from Bray to Wexford, almost every Roman Catholic chapel was laid in ashes.’ (P. ii.)
See the very emphatic statements of Lord Cornwallis. (Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 357, 369.)
Gordon, pp. 197, 198.