seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Battle of Saintfield

battle-of-saintfieldThe Battle of Saintfield, a short but bloody clash in County Down in what is now Northern Ireland, takes place on Saturday, June 9, 1798. The battle is the first major conflict of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 in County Down.

A rebel force, over a thousand strong, converge on a large house owned by the McKee family. The McKees are a family of loyalists, who are unpopular in the region because they had provided information to the authorities leading to the arrest of a radical Presbyterian minister and some members of his congregation. The McKees know that they are unpopular and are thus armed to the teeth. As the house is surrounded, shots are fired from the fortified house, hitting some of the attackers. Gunfire holds the insurgents back for a short while, until one of them, a fiddler by the name of Orr, manages to sneak around the back of the house with a ladder and sets the roof alight. The house is destroyed, and all eight members of the family inside are killed. News of this quickly reaches the British forces in the area, and a 300 strong force under Colonel Granville Staplyton, consisting of Newtownards Yeomanry cavalry and 270 York Fencibles, as well as two light cannon, march to the region.

The rebels, however, anticipate the move and are waiting in ambush. Stapylton sees the road ahead twisting into woods, and orders a pair of scouts to check for anything suspicious. The men do not seem to be particularly vigilant, as they return and declared the road ahead to be safe.

The redcoats march into the wooded area, a dense hedge snaking along the road on one side. On the opposite side, the ground steadily rises, with the areas higher up the slope dominated by demesne woods. This provides cover for the Irish. The Irish rebels are mostly armed with pikes and the terrain allows them to quickly swarm the soldiers on the road below. In the fierce hand-to-hand combat that follows the British forces are overwhelmed. One of the fencibles, a veteran of wars in Europe who manages to survive the attack later states that he had never before witnessed such fierce fighting.

Over fifty men are piked to death before Staplyton manages to order the soldiers. He then brings his cannon into play against the mass of rebels before him, inflicting enough casualties with canister and grapeshot to blunt their attack. In the meantime, Staplytons force uses the situation to march to safety.

The Battle of Saintfield is largely regarded as a victory of the United Irish rebels. Long after, in the 1950s, two skeletons, a sword and bayonet of the York fencibles are found in the area.

The rebellion in Down proves to be short lived. Only a few days later the rebel army is slaughtered at the Battle of Ballynahinch.

Many of the dead from both sides of the battle are placed in a mass grave within the grounds of the nearby Presbyterian church. Although there is a plaque signifying the location of these graves, the area seems largely neglected with what appears to be temporary vehicle access over the belligerents final resting place. In May 2010 a memorial park is finished and opened. The area has been cleared and landscaped, with several new plaques and information boards being erected. The graves have been refurbished and the headstones relaid.

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The Battle of the Hill of Tara

battle-of-tara-hillThe Battle of the Hill of Tara is fought on the evening of May 26, 1798 between British forces and Irish rebels involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, resulting in a heavy defeat for the rebels and the end of the rebellion in County Meath.

Following the outbreak of the rebellion, signaled in Meath by the prearranged signal of the ceasing of a mail coach near Turvey hill, road blocks are posted on the Navan road. Members of the Society of United Irishmen and rebels in Meath begin to assemble at the Hill of Tara. Tara is chosen as it provides strategic control of road access to the capital of Dublin and cultural significance as the former seat of the High Kings of Ireland. Between 4,000-7,000 rebels gather at the hill. Following the outbreak of the rebellion on May 23, there are incidents of violent encounters throughout the countryside as rallying rebels make their way to Tara.

Picking up yeomanry reinforcements along the way, the combined fencible, yeoman and militia force forms up at the bottom of the hill in advance of the attack on the rebels who have established a large camp on the hill. The lack of any cannon or cavalry places the rebels at a great disadvantage despite their numbers. Disciplined volley fire and flanking cavalry action combined with withering grapeshot delivered from a 6 pounder cannon drive the rebels to within the graveyard walls at the summit. There, at dusk, the rebels make their last stand on the hill until a final grenadier assault finishes them.

The loss to the fencibles, yeomen and militia is minimal. However rebel casualties have estimates running from several hundred to several thousand dead and many wounded. Many bodies are removed during the night of the 26th and 350 dead are counted still lying on the battlefield the following day. Witnesses to the burial recollect many more bodies of those rebels who died of their wounds during the night being collected from the surrounding countryside in carts. It is noted by the witnesses that the bodies are universally disembowelled by the victors. The dead are buried in a mass grave marked by the Lia Fáil stone which is moved to mark the burial site. The defeat effectively ends the United Irishmen’s rising in Meath.

(Pictured: The high cross at the site of the Battle of the Hill of Tara, County Meath)