The Dunlavin Green executions, the summary execution of 36 suspected rebel prisoners in County Wicklow by the British military shortly after the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, take place on May 26, 1798. There are several accounts of the events, recorded at differing times and differing in detail.
The British government had begun raising yeomanry forces from the local Irish population in 1796. The force, composed of both Catholics and Protestants, was raised to help defend against a possible French invasion of Ireland and to aid in the policing of the country. The Society of United Irishmen have long threatened a rebellion in Ireland, which finally occurs in late May 1798. Major uprisings of the rebellion only occur in Ulster, Wicklow and Wexford, a county in the province of Leinster. For several months prior to May 1798, Wicklow and many other areas of the country have been subject to martial law which had been imposed in an effort to prevent the long threatened rebellion.
The campaign extends against the military itself as some corps of yeomen and militia, especially those with Catholic members, are suspected as United Irish infiltrators who have joined to get training and arms. Several days after the outbreak of the rebellion, the yeomanry and militia at Dunlavin are called out on parade and informed by their commanding officer that he has information on the identities of those in the corps who are affiliated with the United Irishmen among them. The British do not actually have such information, but twenty-eight fall for their bluff and come forward in hopes of receiving clemency.
Those who come forward are immediately arrested and imprisoned while several are subjected to flogging in an effort to extract information about the rebels plans and organization. Those who are outed as affiliates of the United Irishmen are imprisoned in the Market House of Dunlavin, while the British officers decide what to do with them.
The following day, Captain William Ryves of the Rathsallagh yeomanry has his horse shot from under him by rebels while on patrol. Ryves rides to Dunlavin the next day and brings eight suspected rebels imprisoned by his corps with him. There he meets with Captain Saunders of the Saunders-grove yeomanry. It is decided that their prisoners, a total of 36 men, should be put to death. On May 26, Market Day, the 36 are taken to the green, lined up and shot in front of the townspeople, including, in some cases, their own families.
The firing squad returns to the Market House where others are flogged or hanged. Before the bodies of the shot men are removed, soldiers’ wives loot them of valuables. The bodies are either removed for burial by their families or interred in a common grave at Tournant cemetery. One man survives, despite grievous wounds, and lives to “an advanced age.” Two more men, either hanging or about to be, are saved by the intervention of a “respectable Protestant” and escape.
One loyalist account details the events leading up to the execution differently. According to this account, Captain Ryves, a yeomanry commander at Dunlavin, receives word that a large number of rebels are set to attack Dunlavin and he observes that many Protestant houses have been set on fire in the surrounding countryside. Under the circumstances, he expects that the rebels’ intention is a pogrom of Protestants and loyalists in the town and its environs. A foray by the troops into the countryside fails and the garrison’s officers are aware that they are outnumbered by the prisoners held in the Market House.
The executions appear to have been motivated by simple revenge and intimidation, rather than fear of the prisoners and the ongoing rebellion. Though the public exhibition may have been designed to intimidate and discourage rebels in the immediate area from taking to the field, news of the executions, as well as those at Carnew spread rapidly and play a part in the rapid mobilization of rebels in northern County Wexford over the next few days.
The story of Dunlavin Green is quickly commemorated in the famous ballad “Dunlavin Green,” which tells the story from the view of a sympathetic local eyewitness. In 1998, a commemorative stone was installed in St. Nicholas of Myra Roman Catholic church, adjacent to the green.