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.


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Death of John Kelly, United Irish Leader

john-kelly-markerJohn Kelly, also known as Kelly of Killanne, a leader of the Society of United Irishmen, is hanged along with seven other rebel leaders on Wexford bridge on June 22, 1798.

Kelly lives in the town of Killanne in the parish of Rathnure and is a United Irish leader who fights in the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

While Kelly is obviously well known to rebel and loyalist alike during the short duration of the Wexford Rebellion, almost nothing is known of him outside this time. He is one of the leaders of the rebel victory at the Battle of Three Rocks which leads to the capture of Wexford town but is later seriously wounded while leading a rebel column at the Battle of New Ross.

Kelly is under orders from the Wexford commander Bagenal Harvey to attack the British outposts around New Ross but on no account to attack the town itself.

The rebels outnumber the British forces and so Harvey sends a messenger to give them an opportunity to surrender. The messenger is shot while carrying a white flag. This angers the rebels who begin the attack without receiving the official order from Harvey.

Kelly’s column of 800 men attacks and breaks through Ross’s “Three Bullet Gate” and proceeds into the town itself. After initial success, they are eventually beaten back by British troops and Kelly is wounded in the leg. He is moved to Wexford to recuperate but, after the fall of Wexford on June 21, he is dragged from his bed, tried and sentenced to death.

John Kelly is hanged on June 22, 1798 along with seven other rebel leaders on Wexford bridge, after which his body is decapitated, the trunk thrown into the River Slaney and the head kicked through the streets before being set on display on a spike.

Kelly’s exploits are commemorated in the famous Irish ballad Kelly the Boy From Killanne written by Patrick Joseph McCall (1861–1919). Don Partridge records a solo acoustic version of the song in 1964, and later regularly plays the song during street busking, before and after his hit records in the late 1960s.

(Pictured: The grave of John Kelly, Kelly of Killanne, in Saint Anne’s Churchyard, Killanne, County Wexford)


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The Battle of New Ross

battle-of-new-rossThe Battle of New Ross takes place in County Wexford in southeastern Ireland on June 5, 1798, during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. It is fought between the Irish Republican insurgents called the United Irishmen and British Crown forces composed of regular soldiers, militia and yeomanry. The attack on the town of New Ross on the River Barrow, is an attempt by the recently victorious rebels to break out of County Wexford across the River Barrow and to spread the rebellion into County Kilkenny and the outlying province of Munster.

On June 4, 1798, the rebels advance from their camp on Carrigbyrne Hill to Corbet Hill, just outside the town of New Ross. The battle, the bloodiest of the 1798 rebellion, begins at dawn on June 5 when the Crown garrison is attacked by a force of almost 10,000 rebels, massed in three columns outside the town. The attack has been expected since the fall of Wexford to the rebels on May 30 and the British garrison of 2,000 has prepared defences both outside and inside the town. Trenches are dug and manned by skirmishers on the approaches to the town while cannon are stationed facing all the rapidly falling approaches and narrow streets of the town to counter the expected mass charges by the rebels, who are mainly armed with pikes.

Bagenal Harvey, the United Irish Leader recently released from captivity following the rebel seizure of Wexford, attempts to negotiate surrender of New Ross but the rebel emissary Matt Furlong is shot down by Crown outposts while bearing a flag of truce. His death provokes a furious charge by an advance guard of 500 insurgents led by John Kelly who has instructions to seize the Three Bullet Gate and wait for reinforcements before pushing into the town. To aid their attack, the rebels first drive a herd of cattle through the gate.

Another rebel column attacks the Priory Gate but the third pulls back from the Market Gate intimidated by the strong defences. Seizing the opportunity, the garrison sends a force of cavalry out the Market Gate to attack and scatter the remaining two hostile columns from the flanks. However the rebel rump has not yet deployed and upon spotting the British manoeuvre, rally the front ranks who stand and break the cavalry charge with massed pikes.

The encouraged rebel army then sweeps past the Crown outposts and seizes the Three Bullet Gate causing the garrison and populace to flee in panic. Without pausing for reinforcement, the rebels break into the town attacking simultaneously down the steeply sloping streets but meet with strong resistance from well-prepared second lines of defence of the well armed soldiers. Despite horrific casualties the rebels manage to seize two-thirds of the town by using the cover of smoke from burning buildings and force the near withdrawal of all Crown forces from the town. However, the rebels’ limited supplies of gunpowder and ammunition force them to rely on the pike and blunts their offensive. The military manages to hold on and, following the arrival of reinforcements, launches a counterattack before noon which finally drives the exhausted rebels from the town.

No effort to pursue the withdrawing rebels is made but when the town has been secured, a massacre of prisoners, trapped rebels and civilians of both sympathies alike begins which continues for days. Hundreds are burned alive when rebel casualty stations are torched by victorious troops. More rebels are believed to have been killed in the aftermath of the battle than during the actual fighting. Reports of such atrocities brought by escaping rebels are believed to have influenced the retaliatory murder of over 100 loyalists in the flames of Scullabogue Barn.

Casualties in the Battle of New Ross are estimated at 2,800 to 3,000 Rebels and 200 Garrison dead. Most of the dead Rebels are thrown in the River Barrow or buried in a mass grave outside the town walls a few days after the Battle.
The remaining rebel army reorganises and forms a camp at Sliabh Coillte some five miles to the east but never attempts to attack the town again. They later attack General John Moore‘s invading column but are defeated at the Battle of Foulksmills on June 20, 1798.

(Pictured: The 1845 illustration “The Battle of Ross” by George Cruikshank)