seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Joseph Holt, United Irish General

joseph-holtJoseph Holt, United Irish general and leader of a large guerrilla force which fights against British troops in County Wicklow from June–October 1798, dies at Kingstown, now Dún Laoghaire, near Dublin on May 16, 1826.

Holt is one of six sons of John Holt, a farmer in County Wicklow. He joins the Irish Volunteers in the 1780s and holds a number of minor public offices but becomes involved in law enforcement as a sub-constable, billet master for the militia and a bounty hunter. He is involved in the Battle of Vinegar Hill which is an engagement during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 on June 21, 1798 when over 15,000 British soldiers launch an attack on Vinegar Hill outside Enniscorthy, County Wexford.

Despite Holt’s apparent loyalism, he becomes a member of the Society of United Irishmen in 1797 and gradually begins to attract suspicion until finally in May 1798, his house is burned down by the militia of Fermanagh. He then takes to the Wicklow mountains, gradually assuming a position of prominence with the United Irish rebels. The defeat of the County Wexford rebels at Vinegar Hill on June 21 sees surviving rebel factions heading towards the Wicklow Mountains to link up with Holt’s forces.

Emerging to meet them, Holt is given much of the credit for the planning of the ambush and defeat of a pursuing force of 200 British cavalry in the Battle of Ballyellis on June 30, 1798. However, the subsequent Midlands campaign to revive the rebellion is a disaster, and he is lucky to escape with his life back to the safety of the Wicklow Mountains.

Holt largely holds out in expectation of the arrival of French aid but news of the defeat of the French in the Battle of Ballinamuck together with his ill-health brought about by the hardships of his fugitive life, age and family considerations prompt him to initiate contact with the Dublin Castle authorities with a view to a negotiated surrender. Dublin Castle is eager to end the rebellion in Wicklow and allows him exile after incarceration in the Bermingham Tower without trial in New South Wales.

Holt goes out on the Minerva and meets Captain William Cox who has been appointed paymaster of the New South Wales Corps. The ship arrives at Sydney on January 11, 1800, and shortly afterwards Holt agrees to manage Captain Cox’s farm. He always claims in Australia that he is a political exile and not a convict. In 1804 when the Castle Hill uprising occurs Holt, who is not involved, has been warned that evening that it is about to happen. During the night he sets up a defense of Captain Cox’s house. He is nonetheless afterwards hounded by Governor Philip Gidley King and many false witnesses are brought against him. Although there is no plausible evidence at all against him, he is exiled by King to Norfolk Island in April 1804, and there put to hard labour.

Holt is officially pardoned on January 1, 1811 and in December 1812, with his wife and younger son, takes passage to Europe on the Isabella. The ship is wrecked by a reef so the passengers and crew are landed at Eagle Island, one of the Falkland Islands. He shows great resolution and ingenuity in making the best of the conditions on the island. He is rescued on April 4, 1813 but does not reach England until February 22, 1814 as he travels via the United States. He retires to Ireland where he lives for the rest of his life, but regrets he had left Australia.

Joseph Holt dies at Kingstown, now Dún Laoghaire, near Dublin on May 16, 1826 and is buried in Carrickbrennan Churchyard at Monkstown.

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The Races of Castlebar

races-of-castlebarThe Battle of Castlebar occurs on August 27, 1798 near the town of Castlebar, County Mayo, during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. A combined force of 2,000 French troops and Irish rebels rout a force of 6,000 British militia in what later becomes known as the “Castlebar Races” or “Races of Castlebar.”

The long-awaited French landing to assist the Irish revolution begun by Theobald Wolfe Tone‘s Society of United Irishmen takes place five days previously on August 22, when almost 1,100 troops under the command of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert land at Cill Chuimín Strand, County Mayo. The nearby town of Killala is quickly captured after a brief resistance by local yeomen. Following the news of the French landing, Irish volunteers began to trickle into the French camp from all over Mayo.

On August 26, leaving about 200 French regulars behind in Killala to cover his rear and line of withdrawal, Humbert takes a combined force of about 2,000 French and Irish to march on and take Castlebar. In order to avoid a head-on attack, locals advise the French of an alternative route to Castlebar through the wilds along the west of Lough Conn, which the British believe to be impassable for a modern army with attendant artillery train. When General Gerald Lake’s scouts spot the approaching enemy, the surprised British have to hurriedly change the deployment of their entire force to face the threat from this unanticipated direction.

The British have barely completed their new deployment when the Franco-Irish army appears outside the town at about 6:00 AM. The newly sited British artillery opens up on the advancing French and Irish and cut them down in droves. French officers, however, quickly identify an area of scrub and undergrowth in a defile facing the centre of the artillery line which provides some cover from the British line of fire. The French launch a bayonet charge, the ferocity and determination of which unnerve the units stationed behind the artillery. The British units begin to waver before the French reach their lines and eventually turn in panic and flee the battlefield, abandoning the gunners and artillery. A unit of cavalry and British regular infantry attempt to stand and stem the tide of panic but are quickly overwhelmed.

In the headlong flight of thousands of British militia, large quantities of guns and equipment are abandoned, among which is General Lake’s personal luggage. Although not pursued a mile or two beyond Castlebar, the British do not stop until they reach Tuam, with some units fleeing as far as Athlone in the panic. The panic is such that only the arrival of Cornwallis at Athlone prevents further flight across the River Shannon.

Although achieving a decisive victory, the losses of the French and Irish are high, with about 150 men killed, mostly to the cannonade at the start of the battle. About 80 British are killed and some 270 wounded, captured, or deserted. Following the victory, thousands of volunteers flock to join the French who also send a request to France for reinforcements and formally declare a Republic of Connacht, which lasts 3 days and collapses when the French depart.

On September 5, the British forces are again defeated at Collooney however, after that, the rebellion quickly folds. More troops gather and by the Battle of Ballinamuck on September 8, their strength is over 15,000. Ballinamuck is the end for General Humbert, who hands in his surrender. The Irish rebels fight on briefly until scattered. Killala is re-taken on September 12. More French warships sail for Ireland, but are decisively defeated by the Royal Navy near Tory Island. With that the 1798 rebellion ends. The captured French soldiers are transferred to England and eventually repatriated. The French officers of Irish origin are hanged in Dublin with the Irish rebels.