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)


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First Clash of the Tithe War

battle-at-carrickshockThe first clash of the Tithe War takes place on March 3, 1831 in Graiguenamanagh, County Kilkenny, when a force of 120 yeomanry attempt to enforce seizure orders on cattle belonging to a Roman Catholic priest. Encouraged by his bishop, he has organised people to resist tithe collection by placing their stock under his ownership prior to sale.

The Tithe War is a campaign of mainly nonviolent civil disobedience, punctuated by sporadic violent episodes, in Ireland between 1830 and 1836 in reaction to the enforcement of tithes on the Roman Catholic majority for the upkeep of the established state church – the Church of Ireland. Tithes are payable in cash or kind and payment is compulsory, irrespective of an individual’s religious adherence.

After Emancipation in 1829, an organized campaign of resistance to collection begins. It is sufficiently successful to have a serious financial effect on the welfare of established church clergy. In 1831, the government compiles lists of defaulters and issues collection orders for the seizure of goods and chattels. Spasmodic violence breaks out in various parts of Ireland, particularly in counties Kilkenny, Tipperary and Wexford. The Royal Irish Constabulary, which had been established in 1822, attempts to enforce the orders of seizures. At markets and fairs, the constabulary often seize stock and produce, which often results in violent resistance.

A campaign of passive resistance is proposed by Patrick “Patt” Lalor, a farmer of Tenakill, Queen’s County (now County Laois), who later serves as a repeal MP. He declares at a public meeting in February 1831 in Maryborough that he would never again pay tithes and, although the tithe men might take his property and offer it for sale, his countrymen would not buy or bid for it if offered for sale. Lalor holds true to his word and does not resist the confiscation of 20 sheep from his farm, but is able to ensure no buyers appear at subsequent auctions.

Following the clash at Graiguenamanagh, the revolt soon spreads. On June 18, 1831, in Bunclody, County Wexford, people resisting the seizure of cattle are fired upon by the Royal Irish Constabulary, who kill twelve and wound twenty. One yeoman is shot dead in retaliation. This massacre causes objectors to organise and use warnings such as church bells to signal the community to round up the cattle and stock. On December 14, 1831, resisters use such warnings to ambush a detachment of 40 Constabulary at Carrickshock, County Kilkenny. Twelve constables, including the Chief Constable, are killed and more wounded.

Regular clashes causing fatalities continue over the next two years. On December 18, 1834, the conflict comes to a head at Rathcormac, County Cork, when armed Constabulary reinforced by the regular British Army kill twelve and wound forty-two during several hours of fighting when trying to enforce a tithe order reputedly to the value of 40 shillings.

Finding and collecting livestock chattels and the associated mayhem creates public outrage and proves an increasing strain on police relations. The government suspends collections. In 1838, parliament introduces a Tithe Commutation Act. This reduces the amount payable directly by about a quarter and makes the remainder payable in rent to landlords. They in turn are to pass payment to the authorities. Tithes are thus effectively added to a tenant’s rent payment. This partial relief and elimination of the confrontational collections ends the violent aspect of the Tithe War.

Full relief from the tax is not achieved until the Irish Church Act 1869, which disestablishes the Church of Ireland, by the William Ewart Gladstone government.

(Pictured: The battle at Carrickshock, from Cassell’s Illustrated History of England’, volume VII – 1895.)


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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)


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Birth of Henry Charles Sirr

Henry Charles Sirr, Irish soldier, police officer, wine merchant and collector, is born in Dublin Castle on November 25, 1764. He is the founder of the Irish Society for Promoting Scriptural Education in the Irish Language.

Sirr is the son of Major Joseph Sirr, the Town Major (chief of police) of Dublin from 1762 to 1767. He serves in the British Army from 1778 until 1791 and is thereafter a wine merchant. In 1792 he marries Eliza D’Arcy, the daughter of James D’Arcy. He is the father of Rev. Joseph D’Arcy Sirr, MRIA and of Henry Charles Sirr.

In 1796 Sirr is appointed acting Town Major of Dublin. He is responsible for the arrest of Irish revolutionaries Lord Edward FitzGerald, Thomas Russell and Robert Emmet.

In 1802 Sirr is mulcted £150 damages, and costs, for the assault and false imprisonment of John Hevey. His lawyer in this case refers to his “very great exertions and laudable efforts” to crush the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The opposing lawyer, John Philpot Curran, tells a long tale of a grudge held by Sirr against Hevey, the latter a prosperous businessman and a Yeoman volunteer against the Rebellion, who has happened to be in court during a treason case brought by Sirr. Hevey recognises the witness for the prosecution, describes him in court “a man of infamous character,” and convinces the jury that no credit is due to the witness. The treason case collapses. Sirr and his colleague had then subjected Hevey to wrongful arrest, imprisonment incommunicado, extortion of goods and money, and condemnation to hanging. Curran implies that these techniques are typical of the methods used by Sirr and by others to suppress the Rebellion.

In 1808 the Dublin police is re-organised and his post is abolished, but he is allowed to retain the title. Niles’ Register of March 24, 1821 remarks that “Several persons have been arrested at a public house in Dublin, by major Sirr, charged with being engaged in a treasonable meeting, and committed to prison. We thought that this old sinner, given to eternal infamy by the eloquence of Curran, had gone home.”

Sirr is an avid collector of documents and curios. He sells McCormac’s Cross and other valuable antiquities in exchange for second-rate copied paintings. The remains are given by his older son, Joseph, to Trinity College, Dublin at some time between 1841 and 1843. It now forms the Sirr Collection of the Trinity College Library, Dublin.

Henry Charles Sirr dies in 1841 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Werburgh’s Church, while his victim, Lord Edward FitzGerald, is buried in the vaults of the same church.