- The culture, history and people of Ireland and the Irish

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


On the 21st of June, the Marquis Cornwallis, whose name is so familiar in American and East Indian history, arrived in Dublin, to assume the supreme power, both civil and military. As his Chief Secretary, he recommended Lord Castlereagh, who had acted in that capacity during the latter part of Lord Camden's administration in consequence of Mr Pelham's illness; and the Pitt-Portland administration appointed his lordship accordingly, because, among other good and sufficient reasons, "he was so unlike an Irishman."

While the new Viceroy came to Ireland still more resolute than his predecessor to bring about the long-desired legislative union, it is but justice to his memory to say, that he as resolutely resisted the policy of torture and provocation pursued under Lord Camden. That policy had, indeed, served its pernicious purpose, and it was now possible for a new ruler to turn a new leaf; this Lord Cornwallis did from the hour of his arrival, not without incurring the ill-concealed displeasures of the Castle cabal. But his position gave him means of protection which Sir Ralph Abercromby had not; he was known to enjoy the personal confidence of the King; and those who did not hesitate three months before to assail by every abusive epithet the humane Scottish Baronet, hesitated long before criticising with equal freedom the all-powerful Viceroy.

The sequel of the insurrection may be briefly related: next to Wexford, the adjoining county of Wicklow, famous throughout the world for its lakes and glens, maintained the chief brunt of the Leinster battle. The brothers Byrne, of Ballymanus, with Holt, Hackett, and other local leaders, were for months, from the difficult nature of the country, enabled to defy those combined movements by which, as in a huge net, Lord Lake had swept up the camps of Wexford. At Hacketstown, on the 25th of June, the Byrnes were repulsed with considerable loss, but at Ballyellis, on the 30th, fortune and skill gave them and their Wexford comrades a victory, resembling in many respects that of Clough. General Needham, who had again established his head-quarters at Gorey, detached Colonel Preston, with some troops of Ancient Britons, the 4th and 5th dragoons, and three yeomanry corps, to attack the insurgents who were observed in force in the neighbourhood of Monaseed. Aware of this movement, the Byrnes prepared in the ravine of Ballyellis a well-laid ambuscade, barricading with carts and trees the farther end of the pass. Attacked by the royalists they retreated towards this pass, were hotly pursued, and then turned on their pursuers. Two officers and sixty men were killed in the trap, while the terrified rear-rank fled for their lives to the shelter of their head-quarters. At Ballyraheene, on the 2nd of July, the King's troops sustained another check in which they lost two officers and ten men, but at Ballygullen, on the 4th, the insurgents were surrounded between the forces of General Needham, Sir James Duff, and the Marquis of Huntley. This was the last considerable action in which the Wicklow and Wexford men were unitedly engaged. In the dispersion which followed, "Billy Byrne of Ballymanus," the hero of his county, paid the forfeit of his life; while his brother, Garrett, subsequently surrendered, and was included in the Banishment Act.

Anthony Perry of Inch, and Father Kearns, leading a much diminished band into Kildare, formed a junction with Aylmer and Reynolds of that county, and marched into Meath, with a view of reaching and surprising Athlone. The plan was boldly and well conceived, but their means of execution were deplorably deficient. At Clonard they were repulsed by a handful of troops well armed and posted; a combined movement always possible in Meath, drove them from side to side during the midweek of July, until at length, hunted down as they were, they broke up in twos and threes to seek any means of escape. Father Kearns and Mr. Perry were, however, arrested, and executed by martial law at Edenderry. Both died bravely; the priest sustaining and exhorting his companion to the last.

Still another band of the Wexford men, under Father John Murphy and Walter Devereux, crossed the Barrow at Gore's bridge, and marched upon Kilkenny. At Lowgrange they surprised an outpost; at Castlecomer, after a sharp action, they took the town, which Sir Charles Asgill endeavoured, but without success, to relieve. Thence they continued their march towards Athy in Kildare, but being caught between two or rather three fires, that of Major Mathews, from Maryboro', General Dunne, from Athy, and Sir Charles Asgill, they retreated on old Leighlin, as if seeking the shelter of the Carlow mountains. At Killcomney Hill, however, they were forced into action under most unfavourable circumstances, and utterly routed. One, Father Murphy, fell in the engagement, the other, the precursor of the insurrection, was captured three days afterward, and conveyed a prisoner to General Duff's headquarters at Tullow. Here he was put on his trial before a Military Commission composed of Sir James Duff, Lord Roden, Colonels Eden and Foster, and Major Hall. Hall had the meanness to put to him, prisoner as he was, several insulting questions, which at length the high-spirited rebel answered with a blow. The Commission thought him highly dangerous, and instantly ordered him to execution. His body was burned, his head spiked on the market-house of Tullow, and his memory gibbeted in all the loyal publications of the period. On his person, before execution, were found a crucifix, a pix, and letters from many Protestants, asking his protection; as to his reputation, the priest who girded on the sword only when he found his altar overthrown and his flock devoured by wolves, need not fear to look posterity in the face.

Of the other Leinster leaders, Walter Devereux, the last colleague of Father Murphy, was arrested at Cork, on the eve of sailing for America, tried and executed; Fitzgerald and Aylmer were spared on condition of expatriation; months afterwards, Holt surrendered, was transported, and returned after several years, to end his days where he began his career; Dwyer alone maintained the life of a Rapparee for five long years among the hills of Wicklow, where his adventures were often of such a nature as to throw all fictitious conceptions of an outlaw's life into commonplace by comparison. Except in the fastnesses frequented by this extraordinary man, and in the wood of Killaughram, in Wexford, where the outlaws, with the last stroke of national humour, assumed the name of The Babes in the Wood, the Leinster insurrection was utterly trodden out within two months from its first beginning, on the 23rd of May. So weak against discipline, arms, munitions and money, are all that mere naked valour and devotion can accomplish!

In Ulster, on the organization of which so much time and labour had been expended for four or five years preceding, the rising was not more general than in Leinster, and the actual struggle lasted only a week. The two counties which moved en masse were Down and Antrim, the original chiefs of which, such as Thomas Russell and Samuel Neilson, were unfortunately in prison. The next leader on whom the men of Antrim relied, resigned his command on the very eve of the appointed day; this disappointment and the arrest of the Rev. Steele Dickson in Down, compelled a full fortnight's delay. On the 7th of June, however, the more determined spirits resolved on action, and the first movement was to seize the town of Antrim, which, if they could have held it, would have given them command of the communications with Donegal and Down, from both of which they might have expected important additions to their ranks. The leader of this enterprise was Henry John McCracken, a cotton manufacturer of Belfast, thirty two years of age, well educated, accomplished and resolute, with whom was associated a brother of William Orr, the proto-martyr of the Ulster Union. The town of Antrim was occupied by the 22nd light dragoons, Colonel Lumley, and the local yeomanry under Lord O'Neil. In the first assault the insurgents were successful, Lord O'Neil, five officers, forty-seven rank and file having fallen, and two guns being captured; but Lumley's dragoons had hardly vanished out of sight, when a strong reinforcement from Blaris camp arrived and renewed the action, changing premature exultation into panic and confusion. Between two and three hundred of the rebels fell, and McCracken and his staff, deserted by their hasty levies, were arrested, wearied and hopeless, about a month later, wandering among the Antrim hills. The leaders were tried at Belfast and executed.

In Down two actions were fought, one at Saintfield on the 7th of June, under Dr. Jackson--where Colonel Stapleton was severely handled--and another and more important one at Ballynahinch, under Henry Munro, on the 13th, where Nugent, the district General, commanded in person. Here, after a gallant defence, the men of Down were utterly routed; their leader, alone and on foot, was captured some five or six miles from the field, and executed two days afterwards before his own door at Lisburn. He died with the utmost composure; his wife and mother looking down, on the awful scene from the windows of his own house.

In Munster, with the exception of a trifling skirmish between the West-Meath yeomanry under Sir Hugh O'Reilly, with whom were the Caithness legion, under Major Innes, and a body of 300 or 400 ill-armed peasants, who attacked them on the 19th of June, on the road from Clonakilty to Bandon, there was no notable attempt at insurrection. But in Connaught, very unexpectedly, as late as the end of August, the flame extinguished in blood in Leinster and Ulster, again blazed up for some days with portentous brightness. The counties of Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon and Galway had been partially organized by those fugitives from Orange oppression in the North, who, in the years '95, '96, and '97, had been compelled to flee for their lives into Connaught, to the number of several thousands. They brought with the tale of their sufferings the secret of Defenderism; they first taught the peasantry of the West, who, safe in their isolated situation and their overwhelming numbers, were more familiar with poverty than with persecution, what manner of men then held sway over all the rest of the country, and how easily it would be for Irishmen once united and backed by France, to establish under their own green flag, both religious and civil liberty.

When, therefore, three French frigates cast anchor in Killalla Bay, on the 22nd of August, they did not find the country wholly unprepared, though far from being as ripe for revolt as they expected. These ships had on board 1,000 men, with arms for 1,000 more, under command of General Humbert, who had taken on himself, in the state of anarchy which then prevailed in France, to sail from La Rochelle with this handful of men, in aid of the insurrection. With Humbert were Mathew Tone and Bartholmew Teeling; and immediately on his arrival he was joined by Messrs. McDonnell, Moore, Bellew, Barrett, O'Dowd, and O'Donnell of Mayo, Blake of Galway, Plunkett of Roscommon, and a few other influential gentlemen of that Province-- almost all Catholics. Three days were spent at Killalla, which was easily taken, in landing stores, enrolling recruits, and sending out parties of observation. On the 4th, (Sunday,) Humbert entered Ballina without resistance, and on the same night set out for Castlebar, the county town. By this time intelligence of his landing was spread over the whole country, and both Lord Lake and General Hutchinson had advanced to Castlebar, where they had from 2,000 to 3,000 men under their command. The place could be reached only by two routes from the north-west, by the Foxford road, or a long deserted mountain road which led over the pass of Barnagee, within sight of the town. Humbert, accustomed to the long marches and difficult country of La Vendee, chose the unfrequented and therefore unguarded route, and, to the consternation of the British generals, descended through the pass of Barnagee, soon after sunrise, on the morning of Monday, August 27th. His force consisted of 900 French bayonets, and between 2,000 and 3,000 new recruits. The action, which commenced at 7 o'clock, was short, sharp, and decisive; the yeomanry and regulars broke and fled, some of them never drawing rein till they reached Tuam, while others carried their fears and their falsehoods as far inland as Athlone--more than sixty miles from the scene of action. In this engagement, still remembered as "the races," the royalists confessed to the loss, killed, wounded, or prisoners, of 18 officers, and about 350 men, while the French commander estimated the killed alone at 600. Fourteen British guns and five stand of colours were also taken. A hot pursuit was continued for some distance by the native troops under Mathew Tone, Teeling, and the Mayo officers; but Lord Roden's famous corps of "Fox hunters" covered the retreat and checked the pursuers at French Hill. Immediately after the battle a Provisional Government was established at Castlebar, with Mr. Moore of Moore Hall, as President; proclamations addressed to the inhabitants at large, commissions to raise men, and assignats payable by the future Irish Republic, were issued in its name.

Meanwhile the whole of the royalist forces were now in movement toward the capital of Mayo, as they had been toward Vinegar Hill two months before. Sir John Moore and General Hunter marched from Wexford toward the Shannon. General Taylor, with 2,500 men, advanced from Sligo towards Castlebar; Colonel Maxwell was ordered from Enniskillen to assume command at Sligo; General Nugent from Lisburn occupied Enniskillen, and the Viceroy, leaving Dublin in person, advanced rapidly through the midland counties to Kilbeggan, and ordered Lord Lake and General Hutchinson, with such of their command as could be depended on, to assume the aggressive from the direction of Tuam. Thus Humbert and his allies found themselves surrounded on all sides--their retreat cut off by sea, for their frigates had returned to France immediately on their landing; three thousand men against not less than thirty thousand, with at least as many more in reserve, ready to be called into action at a day's notice.

The French general determined if possible to reach the mountains of Leitrim, and open communications with Ulster, and the northern coast, upon which he hoped soon to see succour arrive from France. With this object he marched from Castlebar to Cooloney (35 miles), in one day; here he sustained a check from Colonel Vereker's militia, which necessitated a change of route; turning aside, he passed rapidly through Dromahaine, Manor-Hamilton, and Ballintra, making for Granard, from which accounts of a formidable popular outbreak had just reached him. In three days and a half he had marched 110 miles, flinging half his guns into the rivers that he crossed, lest they should fall into the hands of his pursuers. At Ballinamuck, county Longford, on the borders of Leitrim, he found himself fairly surrounded, on the morning of the 8th of September; and here he prepared to make a last desperate stand. The end could not be doubtful, the numbers against him being ten to one; after an action of half an hour's duration, two hundred of the French having thrown down their arms, the remainder surrendered, as prisoners of war. For the rebels no terms were thought of, and the full vengeance of the victors was reserved for them. Mr. Blake, who had formerly been a British officer, was executed on the field; Mathew Tone and Teeling were executed within the week in Dublin; Mr. Moore, President of the Provisional Government, was sentenced to banishment by the clemency of Lord Cornwallis, but died on shipboard; ninety of the Longford and Kilkenny militia who had joined the French were hanged, and the country generally given up to pillage and massacre. As an evidence of the excessive thirst for blood, it may be mentioned that at the re-capture of Killalla a few days later, four hundred persons were killed, of whom fully one-half were non-combatants.

The disorganization of all government in France in the latter half of '98, was illustrated not only by Humbert's unauthorized adventure, but by a still weaker demonstration under General Reay and Napper Tandy, about the same time. With a single armed brig these daring allies made a descent, on the 17th of September, on Rathlin Island, well equipped with eloquent proclamations, bearing the date "first year of Irish liberty." From the postmaster of the island they ascertained Humbert's fate, and immediately turned the prow of their solitary ship in the opposite direction; Reay, to rise in after times to honour and power; Tandy, to continue in old age the dashing career of his manhood, and to expiate in exile the crime of preferring the country of his birth to the general centralizing policy of the empire with which he was united. Twelve days after the combat at Ballinamuck, while Humbert and his men were on their way through England to France, a new French fleet, under Admiral Bompart, consisting of one 74-gun ship, "the Hoche," eight frigates, and two smaller vessels, sailed from Brest. On board this fleet were embarked 3,000 men under General Hardi, the remnant of the army once menacing England. In this fleet sailed Theobold Wolfe Tone, true to his motto, nil desperandum, with two or three other refugees of less celebrity. The troops of General Hardi, however, were destined never to land. On the 12th of October, after tossing about for nearly a month in the German ocean and the North Atlantic, they appeared off the coast of Donegal, and stood in for Lough Swilly. But another fleet also was on the horizon. Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren, with an equal number of ships, but a much heavier armament, had been cruising on the track of the French during the whole time they were at sea. After many disappointments, the flag-ship and three of the frigates were at last within range and the action began. Six hours' fighting laid the Hoche a helpless log upon the water; nothing was left her but surrender; two of the frigates shared the same fate on the same day; another was captured

on the 14th, and yet another on the 17th. The remainder
of the fleet escaped back to France.

The French officers landed in Donegal were received with courtesy by the neighbouring gentry, among whom was the Earl of Cavan, who entertained them at dinner. Here it was that Sir George Hill, son-in-law to Commissioner Beresford, an old college friend of Tone's, identified the founder of the United Irishmen under the uniform of a French Adjutant-General. Stepping up to his old schoolmate he addressed him by name, which Tone instantly acknowledged, inquiring politely for Lady Hill, and other members of Sir George's family. He was instantly arrested, ironed, and conveyed to Dublin under a strong guard. On the 10th of November he was tried by court-martial and sentenced to be hanged: he begged only for a soldier's death--"to be shot by a platoon of grenadiers." This favour was denied him, and the next morning he attempted to commit suicide. The attempt did not immediately succeed; but one week later--on the 19th of November--he died from the results of his self-inflicted wound, with a compliment to the attendant physician upon his lips. Truth compels us to say he died the death of a Pagan; but it was a Pagan of the noblest and freest type of Grecian and Roman times. Had it occurred in ancient days, beyond the Christian era, it would have been a death every way admirable; as it was, that fatal final act must always stand between Wolfe Tone and the Christian people for whom he suffered, sternly forbidding them to invoke him in their prayers, or to uphold him as an example to the young men of their country. So closed the memorable year 1798, on the baffled and dispersed United Irishmen. Of the chiefs imprisoned in March and May, Lord Edward had died of his wounds and vexation; Oliver Bond of apoplexy; the brothers Sheares, Father Quigley, and William Michael Byrne on the gibbet. In July, on Samuel Nelson's motion, the remaining prisoners in Newgate, Bridewell, and Kilmainham, agreed, in order to stop the effusion of blood, to expatriate themselves to any country not at war with England, and to reveal the general secrets of their system, without inculpating individuals. These terms were accepted, as the Castle party needed their evidence to enable them to promote the cherished scheme of legislative Union. But that evidence delivered before the Committees of Parliament by Emmet, McNevin, and O'Conor, did not altogether serve the purposes of government. The patriotic prisoners made it at once a protest against, and an exposition of, the despotic policy under which their country had been goaded into rebellion. For their firmness they were punished by three years' confinement in Fort George, in the Scottish Highlands, where, however, a gallant old soldier, Colonel Stuart, endeavoured to soften the hard realities of a prison by all the kind attentions his instructions permitted him to show these unfortunate gentlemen. At the peace of Amiens, (1802), they were at last allowed the melancholy privilege of expatriation. Russell and Dowdall were permitted to return to Ireland, where they shared the fate of Robert Emmet in 1803; O'Conor, Corbet, Allen, Ware, and others, cast their lot in France, where they all rose to distinction; Emmet, McNevin, Sampson, and the family of Tone were reunited in New York, where the many changes and distractions of a great metropolitan community have not even yet obliterated the memories of their virtues, their talents, and their accomplishments.

It is impossible to dismiss this celebrated group of men, whose principles and conduct so greatly influenced their country's destiny, without bearing explicit testimony to their heroic qualities as a class. If ever a body of public men deserved the character of a brotherhood of heroes, so far as disinterestedness, courage, self-denial, truthfulness and glowing love of country constitute heroism, these men deserved that character. The wisdom of their conduct, and the intrinsic merit of their plans, are other questions. As between their political system and that of Burke, Grattan and O'Connell, there always will be, probably, among their countrymen, very decided differences of opinion. That is but natural: but as to the personal and political virtues of the United Irishmen there can be no difference; the world has never seen a more sincere or more self-sacrificing generation.

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


This is a website about Irish history and culture.