seamus dubhghaill

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


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Assassination of RIC Inspector Percival Lea-Wilson

percival-lea-wilsonPercival Lea-Wilson, a District Inspector in the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) who is stationed at Gorey, County Wexford, is shot dead on June 15, 1920 by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) outside his Gorey home on the orders of Michael Collins.

Lea-Wilson is born in Kensington, London and is educated at the University of Oxford but his route into the British Army begins with a stint as a RIC constable in Charleville, County Cork in the early 20th century.

When World War I breaks out in 1914 Lea-Wilson joins the British army where he reaches the rank of captain in the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. An injury during the war forces him back to Ireland where he is stationed in Dublin, just in time for the Easter Rising in 1916.

When the week long rising ends, the rebels who had fought in the Four Courts and the GPO are marched to the Rotunda Hospital where they are kept overnight under the glare of British troops. Among those detained are leaders of the rebellion such as Sean Mac Diarmada and Tom Clarke. Clarke is singled out and subjected to public humiliation by 28-year-old British army Captain Percival Lea-Wilson.

Lea-Wilson and his soldiers walk among the captured rebels and he picks the 58-year-old Clarke out of the group. He marches Clarke to the steps of the hospital where he orders soldiers to strip him bare as nurses look on in horror from the windows above. Clarke is beaten and left there overnight in his tattered clothes. One of the prisoners, Michael Collins, who witnesses Clarke’s mistreatment at the hands of the British captain vows vengeance.

In the years following the Easter Rising, Lea-Wilson settles in Wexford where he attains the role of RIC district inspector.

On the morning of June 15, 1920, Lea-Wilson is walking back home after paying a visit to the RIC barracks in Gorey. Dressed in his civilian clothes, he stops at the local railway station where he purchases a newspaper and meets Constable Alexander O’Donnell, who accompanies him on part of his walk home.

O’Donnell and Lea-Wilson part company at the railway bridge on Ballycanew Road while further up that very same stretch of road there is a number of men standing around a parked car with its hood raised. Michael Collins had sent Liam Tobin and Frank Thornton from Dublin to meet with Joe McMahon, Michael McGrath and Michael Sinnott in Enniscorthy. They were then driven by Jack Whelan to Ballycanew Road to carry out the assassination of Lea-Wilson.

Unaware of his assassins lying in wait , Lea-Wilson is reading his paper while strolling along the road. The men by the parked car pull out revolvers when their target comes into range and two bullets strike him down. He manages to quickly get back on his feet and attempts to make an escape but his six assassins run after him and finally bring him down in a hail of bullets. A coroner’s report later states that Lea-Wilson had been shot seven times.

When the shooting ends, one of Lea-Wilson’s executioners calmly walks up to the body to make sure he is dead. He then picks up the newspaper from the ground and takes it with him. Later that evening Michael Collins is in the Wicklow Hotel in Dublin when word reaches him from Wexford of the shooting death of Lea-Wilson. Collins greets the news with glee and mentions to one of his comrades, “Well we finally got him!”

Percival Lea-Wilson is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in southwest London. His grave is marked by a plaque which mentions his assassination in Gorey in 1920, a death which has its roots in the Easter Rising four years previously.

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The Battle of Oulart Hill

battle-of-oulart-hillThe Battle of Oulart Hill takes place on May 27, 1798 when a rebel gathering of between 4,000 and 5,000 massacre a detachment of 110 militia sent from Wexford town to stamp out the spreading rebellion in County Wexford.

When news of the long expected rising on May 23 of the Society of United Irishmen in the midlands reaches County Wexford, it is already in an unsettled condition due to fears brought by the recently instituted anti-insurgent disarmament campaign in the county. The measures used included pitchcapping, half-hanging, and house burnings to uncover rebel conspirators. The recent arrival in Wexford of the North Cork Militia, who are notorious for their brutality in the “pacification” of Ulster, terror raids by local yeomen and finally news of the massacres at Dunlavin Green, Carlow and Carnew, have the effect of drawing people together in large groups for security, especially at night.

One such group of one hundred or so gather on the evening of May 26 at The Harrow, near the parish of Boolavogue under the tutelage of Fr. John Murphy, when they encounter a patrol of about 20 yeomen on their way to the house of a suspected rebel. They burn the suspect’s dwelling but, returning empty-handed, they encounter Fr. Murphy’s band again. The patrol are pushing their way through when a skirmish begins in which they lose two of their number, the rest fleeing with news of the killings.

The reaction on both sides is rapid. Vengeful yeomanry patrols roam, burning and killing indiscriminately, while the rebels rouse the countryside and make several raids on manors and other houses holding arms, killing more loyalists and yeomen. News of the skirmish and raids has by now reached Wexford town and, on the morning of May 27, the bulk of its garrison, 110 of the North Cork militia under Colonel Foote, are ordered north to crush the nascent rebellion. They are joined en route by some 16 yeomen cavalry under Colonel Le Hunt. However, these yeomanry are of doubtful loyalty, many (including their sergeant) having joined the rebels that morning.

The militia reaches the village of Oulart at 2:00 PM on May 27. Finding a mass of “from four to five thousand combatants” occupying the high ground of Oulart hill, they rashly advance and pursue the rebels to the summit. The rebel leaders mistakenly believe a large body of yeoman cavalry is waiting to intercept their flight, so their forces desperately turn to face their enemy and kill the whole detachment in an instant, leaving only the commanding officer, Colonel Foote, and four other survivors to escape to their base at Wexford.

Foote reports that, contrary to his orders, the militia had advanced incautiously and were surrounded and overpowered by the overwhelming rebel numbers, mostly armed with pikes, and that “great numbers” of the rebels were killed.

Following the rebel victory, almost all of North Wexford joins the rebellion. Crown forces and loyalist civilians cede control of the countryside, withdrawing to towns such as Enniscorthy, Gorey and Wexford.

(Pictured: The Battle of Oulart Hill by Fr. Edward Foran OSA (1861-1938) who also designed the 1898 Monument in Oulart Village)


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Death of Composer Michael William Balfe

michael-william-balfeMichael William Balfe, Irish composer best remembered for his opera The Bohemian Girl, dies in Dublin on October 20, 1870.

Balfe is born in Dublin on May 15, 1808, where his musical gifts become apparent at an early age. He receives instruction from his father, a dancing master and violinist, and the composer William Rooke. His family moves to Wexford when he is a child.

In 1817, Balfe appears as a violinist in public, and in this year composes a ballad, first called “Young Fanny” and afterwards, when sung in Paul Pry by Lucia Elizabeth Vestris, “The Lovers’ Mistake”. In 1823, upon the death of his father, he moves to London and is engaged as a violinist in the orchestra of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He eventually becomes the leader of that orchestra. While there, he studies violin with Charles Edward Horn and composition with Charles Frederick Horn.

While still playing the violin, Balfe pursues a career as an opera singer. He debuts unsuccessfully at Norwich in Carl Maria von Weber‘s Der Freischütz. In 1825, Count Mazzara takes him to Rome for vocal and musical studies and introduces him to Luigi Cherubini. In Italy, he also pursues composing, writing his first dramatic work, a ballet, La Perouse. He becomes a protégée of Gioachino Rossini‘s, and at the close of 1827, he appears as Figaro in The Barber of Seville at the Italian opera in Paris.

Balfe soon returns to Italy, where he is based for the next eight years, singing and composing several operas. In 1829 in Bologna, he composes his first cantata for the soprano Giulia Grisi, then 18 years old. He produces his first complete opera, I rivali di se stessi, at Palermo in the carnival season of 1829—1830.

Balfe returned to London in May 1835. His initial success takes place some months later with the premiere of The Siege of Rochelle on October 29, 1835 at Drury Lane. Encouraged by his success, he produces The Maid of Artois in 1836, which is followed by more operas in English. In July 1838, Balfe composes a new opera, Falstaff, for The Italian Opera House, based on The Merry Wives of Windsor, with an Italian libretto by S. Manfredo Maggione.

In 1841, Balfe founds the National Opera at the Lyceum Theatre, but the venture is a failure. The same year, he premieres his opera, Keolanthe. He then moves to Paris, presenting Le Puits d’amour in early 1843, followed by his opera based on Les quatre fils Aymon for the Opéra-Comique and L’étoile de Seville for the Paris Opera. Meanwhile, in 1843, he returns to London where he produces his most successful work, The Bohemian Girl, on November 27, 1843 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The piece runs for over 100 nights, and productions are soon mounted in New York, Dublin, Philadelphia, Vienna, Sydney, and throughout Europe and elsewhere.

From 1846 to 1852, Balfe is appointed musical director and principal conductor for the Italian Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. There he first produces several of Giuseppe Verdi‘s operas for London audiences. He conducts for Jenny Lind at her opera debut and on many occasions thereafter.

In 1851, in anticipation of The Great Exhibition in London, Balfe composes an innovative cantata, Inno Delle Nazioni, sung by nine female singers, each representing a country. He continues to compose new operas in English, including The Armourer of Nantes (1863), and writes hundreds of songs. His last opera, nearly completed when he dies, is The Knight of the Leopard and achieves considerable success in Italian as Il Talismano.

Balfe retires in 1864 to Hertfordshire, where he rents a country estate. He dies at his home in Rowney Abbey, Ware, Hertfordshire, on October 20, 1870 and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London, next to fellow Irish composer William Vincent Wallace. In 1882, a medallion portrait of him is unveiled in Westminster Abbey.

In all, Balfe composes at least 29 operas. He also writes several cantatas and a symphony. His only large-scale piece that is still performed regularly today is The Bohemian Girl.


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John de Wogan Ceases to be Justiciar of Ireland

picton-castleSir John de Wogan, Cambro-Norman judge styled lord of Picton, ceases to be Justiciar of Ireland on August 6, 1312 although remaining nominally justiciar until April 1313. He serves as Justiciar of Ireland from 1295 to 1313.

There are several dubious theories about Wogan’s ancestry, and uncertainty exists about his wives, sons, and other relations. He comes from Picton Castle in Pembrokeshire and is a vassal of William de Valence, 1st Earl of Pembroke. He comes to have lands in Pembrokeshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Wiltshire, and Oxfordshire. He represents de Valence at an Irish court case in 1275, and in 1280 he is steward of Wexford, Valence’s Irish liberty. He is an eyre in England from 1281 to 1284, and returns to Ireland in 1285. In 1290 he is a referee with Hugh de Cressingham in a dispute between Queen Eleanor and de Valence and his wife.

In December 1295 Wogan takes office as justiciar and organises a two-year truce between the feuding Burkes and Geraldines. In 1296 he organises a force with Richard Óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, Theobald Butler, and John FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Kildare, to assist Edward I in the First War of Scottish Independence. The king entertains them at Roxburgh Castle in May. After his return to Ireland, Wogan “kept everything so quiet that we hear of no trouble in a great while.” The Parliament of Ireland he summons in 1297 is for long compared to the English “Model Parliament” of 1295, though historical opinion now places less importance on it.

In February 1308, under orders from the new king Edward II, Wogan suppresses the Knights Templar in Ireland. In June 1308 his forces are defeated by the O’Tooles and O’Byrnes, who are harrying The Pale from the Wicklow Mountains. From September 1308 to May 1309 Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall is in Ireland as “king’s lieutenant,” a new position outranking the justiciar, and he has more success against the Gaels. Wogan leaves Ireland in August 1312 although remaining nominally justiciar until April 1313.

Either the same John Wogan or his son of the same name returns to Ireland in 1316 as advisor to Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, who counters Edward Bruce‘s invasion of Ireland.

John de Wogan dies in 1321 and is buried in St. David’s Cathedral, initially in a chapel he had endowed, later in Edward Vaughan‘s chapel.


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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)