seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Second Battle of Arklow

The second Battle of Arklow takes place on June 9, 1798 during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 when a force of United Irishmen from Wexford, estimated at 10,000 strong, launch an assault on the British-held town of Arklow, County Wicklow, in an attempt to spread the rebellion into Wicklow and to threaten the capital of Dublin.

A British advance force of 400 is defeated at Tuberneering on June 4. This rebel victory punches a hole in the dragnet the military has attempted to throw around County Wexford and also yields them three artillery pieces. The town of Arklow has been evacuated in the ensuing panic but the rebels content themselves with taking the town of Gorey and staying within the Wexford border. On June 5 the rebels attempt to break out of County Wexford across the River Barrow and to spread the rebellion but are halted by a major British victory at the Battle of New Ross. When the rebels finally move against Arklow, the town has been reoccupied by a force of 1,700 men sent from Dublin under Francis Needham, 1st Earl of Kilmorey, who quickly fortifies the town with barricades and has artillery positioned on all the approaches to the town.

The rebel army that forms for attack on the afternoon of June 9 is a combined force of Wexford and Wicklow rebels led by Billy Byrne, Anthony Perry, Conor McEvoy, Edward Fitzgerald, and Fr. Michael Murphy. The British in Arklow consist of approximately 1,000 militia from counties Antrim and Cavan and 150 regular cavalry supported by 250 Yeomanry. They are joined by 315 Durham Fencibles (Princess of Wales’s Fencible Dragoons) arriving an hour before the rebels.

The area surrounding the town and the approaches is covered by scrub and the rebel strategy adopted is to advance under cover attacking the town simultaneously from several points. Before the action begins, the rebels under Esmonde Kyan open fire upon the town with some of the artillery captured at Tuberneering and have some success by scoring a direct hit on a British artillery position, destroying the cannon and killing the attendant crew. The main assault is quickly launched but at all entry points the Irish are thrown back by the musket fire of the well-trained and disciplined militia and volunteers, and canister shot from the 3 pounder battalion gun brought by the fencibles. An attempt by the British to turn the Irish failure into a rout is defeated when pikemen and sharpshooters drive a cavalry charge back across the River Avoca, but an attempt to force a way into the town through the outlying fishing port is bloodily repulsed.

As Irish casualties mount, the lack of ammunition and proper leadership begin to work against them, and after Fr. Murphy is killed leading a charge, their attacks start to fade. As nightfall comes, the rebels begin to withdraw under cover of darkness and collect their wounded. They are not pursued or molested by the garrison who are, unknown to the rebels, down to their last three or four rounds per man and are themselves at the brink of defeat.

While rebel casualties are estimated at about 1,000 no full casualty list seems to exist on the British side, but are probably in the region of 100 dead and wounded. The defeat at Arklow marks the third failure to extend the fight for Irish independence beyond the borders of County Wexford following the other bloody repulses at New Ross and Bunclody. The Irish strategy now changes to a policy of static defence against the encroaching British armies.


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Execution of Father John Murphy

father-john-murphyJohn Murphy, Irish Roman Catholic priest and one of the leaders of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 in Wexford, is executed by British soldiers on July 2, 1798.

Murphy is born at Tincurry in the Parish of Ferns, County Wexford in 1753, the youngest son of Thomas and Johanna Murphy. Studying for the priesthood is then illegal in Ireland and so priests are trained abroad. He sails for Spain in early 1772 and studies for the priesthood in Seville, where many of the clergy in Ireland receive their education due to the persecution of Catholics as a result of the Penal Laws.

Fr. Murphy is initially against rebellion and actively encourages his parishioners to give up their arms and sign an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. On May 26, 1798, a company of men armed with pikes and firearms gather under Fr. Murphy to decide what to do for safety against the regular yeomanry patrols at a townland called the Harrow. At about eight o’clock that evening, a patrol of some twenty Camolin cavalry spot the group and approach them, demanding to know their business. They leave after a brief confrontation, having burned the cabin of a missing suspected rebel whom they had been tasked to arrest. As the patrol returns they pass by Fr. Murphy’s group, who are now angry at the sight of the burning cabin. As the cavalry passes by the men an argument develops, followed by stones being thrown and then an all-out fight between the men and the troops. Most of the cavalry quickly flees, but two of the yeomen are killed. The Wexford Rebellion has begun and Fr. Murphy acts quickly. He sends word around the county that the rebellion has started and organises raids for arms on loyalist strongholds.

Parties of mounted yeomen respond by killing suspects and burning homes, causing a wave of panic. The countryside is soon filled with masses of people fleeing the terror and heading for high ground for safety in numbers. On the morning of May 28, a crowd of some 3,000 gather on Kilthomas Hill but is attacked and put to flight by Crown forces who kill 150. At Oulart Hill, a crowd of over 4,000 combatants gather, plus many women and children. Spotting an approaching North Cork Militia party of 110 rank and file, Fr. Murphy and the other local United Irishmen leaders such as Edward Roche, Morgan Byrne, Thomas Donovan, George Sparks and Fr. Michael Murphy organise their forces and massacre all but five of the heavily outnumbered detachment.

The victory is followed by a successful assault on the weak garrison of Enniscorthy, which swells the Irish rebel forces and their weapon supply. However defeats at New Ross, Arklow, and Bunclody mean a loss of men and weapons. Fr. Murphy returns to the headquarters of the rebellion at Vinegar Hill before the Battle of Arklow and is attempting to reinforce its defences. Twenty thousand British troops arrive at Wexford with artillery and defeat the rebels, armed only with pikes, at the Battle of Vinegar Hill on June 21. However, due to a lack of coordination among the British columns, the bulk of the rebel army escapes to fight on.

Eluding the crown forces by passing through the Scullogue Gap, Fr. Murphy and other leaders try to spread the rebellion across the country by marching into Kilkenny and towards the midlands. On June 26, 1798, at the Battle of Kilcumney Hill in County Carlow, their forces are tricked and defeated. Fr. Murphy and his bodyguard, James Gallagher, become separated from the main surviving group. Fr. Murphy decides to head for the safety of a friend’s house in Tullow, County Carlow, when the path clears. They are sheltered by friends and strangers. One Protestant woman, asked by searching yeomen if any strangers have passed, answers “No strangers passed here today.” When she is later questioned about why she had not said Murphy and Gallagher had not passed, she explains that they had not passed because they were still in her house when she was questioned.

After a few days, some yeomen capture Murphy and Gallagher in a farmyard on July 2, 1798. They are brought to Tullow later that day where they are brought before a military tribunal, charged with committing treason against the British crown, and sentenced to death. Both men are tortured in an attempt to extract more information from them. Fr. Murphy is stripped, flogged, hanged, decapitated, his corpse burned in a barrel of tar and his head impaled on a spike. This final gesture is meant to be a warning to all others who fight against the British Crown.

Fr. John Murphy’s remains are buried in the old Catholic graveyard with Fr. Ned Redmond in Ferns, County Wexford.