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


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The Battle of Carlow

battle-of-carlow-monumentThe Battle of Carlow takes place in Carlow, County Carlow on May 25, 1798 when Carlow rebels rise in support of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 which had begun the day before in County Kildare.

The Society of United Irishmen organisation in Carlow, led by a young brogue-maker named Mick Heydon who had taken over the leadership following the arrest of the previous leader, Peter Ivers, who was arrested with several other leading United Irishmen at Oliver Bond‘s house in March of that year, assemble on the night of May 24 and set off at dawn to attack the county town. Picking up more volunteers along the way, their numbers swell to around 1,200 and they march completely unopposed.

The attack on the town is planned to take place simultaneously from four different directions, through the four main streets. All are to converge on Potato Market.

As the various contingents advance, they are unaware that Colonel Mahon of the Ninth Dragoons has the military in the barracks and the town on the highest alert. Their every move is known to him. A strong party of military is stationed in the court house, which is now known as the Deighton Hall, situated immediately to the north of the bridge across the River Burren. Another party with two small cannon are stationed on the bridge. On Graigue bridge, there is an officer’s guard of yeomen. In Dublin Street and to the north, well-armed loyalists fill some large strong houses, but without military support, as the attack is known to be weak from that quarter. Tullow Street is left open and to all appearances undefended against what is expected to be the strongest attack of all. The trap is laid.

When the Rebels enter the town of Carlow they are joined not only by the Catholic inhabitants but also by people who have secretly arrived there during the previous day and night. A crowd of approximately two hundred people break away and march through Tullow Street but when they reach Potato Market their fortunes change.

The forewarned garrison had prepared a deadly ambush, posting men at every window and rooftop. As the rebels relax after their apparently easy victory, the concealed soldiers pour volley after volley of gunfire into the masses of exposed rebels. Taken completely by surprise, the shocked and poorly armed rebels break and flee only to run into another army ambush. The survivors try to escape by breaking through adjoining houses and cabins which are set afire by the pursuing soldiers causing the deaths of 200 of the inhabitants.

In the meantime, the County Laois Rebels, on their way to aid the Carlow rebels having heard mixed reports of the battle and hearing the fate of their comrades, decide it is too late to help and change their plans. They are led by men called Redmond and Brennan. They proceed to Ballickmoyler instead, some miles outside Carlow in County Laois and there they set fire to many loyalist houses and attack the home of John Whitty, a Protestant clergyman. Twenty-one of the Rebels are killed in the fray but despite this they eventually overcome the loyalist inhabitants.

An estimated 500 rebels and civilians are killed in the streets of the town with no reported losses to the military. Another 150 are executed in the repression over the following ten days. A local man who becomes known as “Paddy the Pointer” is reported to have helped to identify escaped rebels to the military by riding around the town and pointing them out.

A memorial, pictured above, is located at Carlow-Graigue, or Graigue-Cullen as it is now known, where remains of many of those who perished that day were flung into a mass grave.


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Death of Samuel Nielson, Society of United Irishmen Founder Member

Samuel Neilson, one of the founder members of the Society of United Irishmen and the founder of its newspaper the Northern Star, dies in Poughkeepsie, New York on August 29, 1803.

Neilson is born in Ballyroney, County Down, the son of Presbyterian minister Alexander, and Agnes Neilson. He is educated locally. He is the second son in a family of eight sons and five daughters. At the age of 16, he is apprenticed to his elder brother, John, in the business of woollen drapery in Belfast. Eight years later he establishes his own business.

Despite his commercial success, Neilson is naturally drawn to politics and is early on a member of the reformist Irish Volunteers movement. In 1791, inspired by the French Revolution, he suggests to Henry Joy McCracken the idea of a political society of Irishmen of every religious persuasion. He establishes the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast. The following year he launches the newspaper of the United Irishmen, the Northern Star, which effectively throws away his fortune. As its editor he is a high-profile target for the authorities and is prosecuted for libel several times, being twice imprisoned between 1796 and 1798.

Along with several other state prisoners, Neilson is released in February 1798 following several petitions by influential friends, on grounds of bad health. Upon release he immediately involves himself in the United Irishmen aligning with the radicals among the leadership who are pressing for immediate rebellion and oppose the moderates who wish to wait for French assistance before acting.

The United Irishmen are however, severely penetrated by informants who keep Dublin Castle abreast of their plans and discussions. In March 1798, information of a meeting of the United Irish executive at the house of Oliver Bond leads to the arrest of most of the leadership, leaving Neilson and Lord Edward FitzGerald as the only figures of national importance still at liberty. They decide to press ahead as soon as possible and settled on May 23 as the date for the rebellion to begin.

As the date looms closer, the authorities go into overdrive to sweep up the rump leadership and on May 18 Lord Edward is betrayed in his hiding place and critically wounded while resisting capture. Neilson, now with responsibility for finalising plans for the looming rebellion, decides that Fitzgerald is too valuable to do without, and decides to try and rescue him from Newgate Prison in Dublin. Wary of confiding his plans too early for fear of betrayal, Neilson goes on a reconnaissance of the prison but is spotted by chance by one of his former jailers and after a fierce struggle, he is overpowered and dragged into the prison.

Neilson is indicted for high treason and held in Kilmainham Gaol with other state prisoners for the duration of the doomed rebellion outside. After the execution of Oliver Bond, and the brothers John and Henry Sheares, Neilson and the remaining prisoners agree to provide the authorities with details of the organisation of the United Irishmen, plans for the rebellion, etc. in return for exile.

Following the suppression of the rebellion, Neilson is transferred to Fort George in Inverness-shire, Scotland, and in 1802 he is deported to the Netherlands. From there he makes his way to the United States, arriving in December 1802, and settling in Poughkeepsie, New York.  He has little time to enjoy his liberty  before his  sudden death on August 29, 1803 of yellow fever, or possibly a stroke.

Nielson is not idle during his short life in America as he completes plans to start a new evening newspaper in Poughkeepsie and also has plans in the works to establish a version of the Society of United Irishmen in the United States. Since his death, his remains have been moved to three different cemeteries before coming to rest in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in 1880.

(Photograph: (c) National Museums Northern Ireland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation)