Historical Happenings for September 2020

Who Fears To Speak Of ’98

by Mike McCormack, NY State Historian

The 1700’s was a Century of Revolution.  When England’s American colonies struck for independence in 1775 during an age of the Divine Right of Kings, it was an unheard of act.  Yet it not only succeeded, it inspired France to revolt in 1789 and 1792 and they too succeeded.  Another attempt inspired by America took place in 1798 as the Irish rose to break the shackles of Empire.   Yet, that one’s not in our history books because it failed, though it was equally justified.  It didn’t even earn the term revolution; if mentioned at all, it is called a rebellion.  Revolution is defined as the forcible overthrow of a social order in favor of a new system while rebellion is defined as an act of defying the authority of an established government.  After King William defeated King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, a century of oppression drove the Irish into a depressed rage.  By that time, the religious prejudice, long a factor in English-Irish relations, had changed.  William offered a fair treaty in 1691 to end the fighting, but it was broken by England’s Irish administrators to insure power to their own class by the subjugation of all others. The basis of that power was a privileged position accorded to Church of Ireland members.  All others were subjected to Penal Laws that restricted their economic existence, including Presbyterians and other dissenting Protestant sects, though not as severely as Catholics.  Then came Theobold Wolfe Tone.

A Protestant graduate of Trinity College, he returned to Ireland after two years as a Lawyer in London and, influenced by Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, he developed a philosophy of national independence based on religious suffrage.  In September 1791, he wrote his greatest pamphlet: An Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland.  Aimed at non-Church of Ireland Protestants, it urged support of Catholic emancipation and was praised by Catholic and Dissenter alike.  He was invited to Belfast and helped organize the Society of United Irishmen. They called for a union of all Irish to peacefully block English influence by parliamentary reform. They even chose a color to symbolize their new Union; it was a blend of St. Patrick’s Blue for the Catholic tradition with Orange for the Protestant tradition. The blended green became identified with Irish nationalism ever since.  Tone then formed a second branch of the United Irishmen in Dublin with patriot Napper Tandy. 

Meanwhile, exaggerated reports of their activities were coming in from informers seeking favor with the Brits.  However, there was no evidence on which to arrest anyone.  Then in 1795, a representative of France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs called on Tone to determine the chances of success for a French invasion.  France had been fighting England ever since they supported the Americans in their Revolution.  France’s representative was arrested as a spy and Tone was exiled to America.  That turned Tone from a parliamentary reformer to a military advocate.  In America, he contacted the French Minister in Philadelphia to determine if the French were serious in aiding a full scale rising of the United Irishmen.  He went to France and secured that aid and in December 1796, a French invasion force sailed for Ireland.  On board, in the uniform of a French Adjutant General, was Theobald Wolfe Tone.

On December 21, a French fleet with 12,000 troops arrived at Bantry Bay, but the ship carrying the invasion commanders had separated from the fleet.  The landing was delayed until their arrival, but as they waited, a full scale hurricane scattered the French fleet.  One by one the ships returned to France.  It was later revealed by a British Admiralty official, that the captain of the commanders’ ship had accepted a bribe to take the Commanders on an alternate route.  Tone returned to France to plead for another expedition.  Meanwhile in Ireland, the United Irishmen were defined as disloyal and had become targets of a new group formed among Church of Ireland men who felt that not enough was being done to exterminate ‘Catholic troublemakers’.  They called themselves the Orange Order; they raided homes d businesses, murdered Catholic tenants and burned their homes to the ground.

Society headquarters shifted to Dublin where men like Lawyer Thomas A. Emmet, Doctor William McNevin and Lord Edward Fitzgerald were involved.  Fitzgerald had served in a British regiment in the American colonies and felt that the guerrilla tactics of the colonists should be used.  Under his influence, the Society grew from a reform movement to an underground army. The leaders argued to wait for French aid, but Lord Edward urged a general rising across the country.  An informer gave the names of the leaders and location of their meeting to Dublin Police who arrested them all except Fitzgerald.  On March 30, the Brits put the country under Martial Law and there followed brutal methods of interrogation – a wooden triangle to hold a man for flogging with a cat o’ nine tails; a portable traveling gallows to half-hang a man and pitch-capping by massaging a mixture of tar and gunpowder into the hair and setting it alight with agonizing effect.  Fear of pitch-capping caused many to crop their hair short even though they ran the risk of being identified as United Irish supporters; they earned the name Croppys.  The song The Croppy Boy may now have more meaning for you.

On May 23, 1798, individual groups of United Irishmen rose in several counties but  were put down by soldiers billeted there.  With no central command to the rising, government successes soon led frenzied Orangemen to engage in ‘croppy hunts’ causing entire villages to flee before them.  The once well-planned reform movement had degenerated into clashes between leaderless mobs and the Brits easily won control.  General Cornwallis, recently defeated by an American army made up primarily of Irish emigrants, was given a chance to redeem himself by a furious King George III.  In June he sailed for Dublin.  Meanwhile, the Brits drove the largest group of rebels in Wexford back to a final stand on a hill near Enniscorthy.  That hill, once covered with wild berrys, had the old local Gaelic name of Fidh naGcaer (Fidh – the Hill; na – of; Caer – the Berrys); it was now covered with people.  Unable to pronounce the Irish, the Brits called it Vinegar Hill, which was also appropriate for what happened there was bitter wine indeed.  On June 21, 10,000 British troops, with 20 pieces of artillery, opened a bombardment on the 20,000 men, women, and children herded together on the summit.  After a day and night of assault, the Irish were massacred.  By August 20 it was over.  The rebellion lasted three months and cost more than 25,000 lives of which only 2,000 were loyalists.  But what happened to the French aid?

That answer came 2 days later on August 22 as General Humbert and a force of 1,000 French troops arrived at the wrong time and at the wrong place – Killala Bay in County Mayo on Ireland’s west coast.  Tone was following with a larger force and behind him the indomitable Napper Tandy with yet more troops.  Could the rising begin again?  The word went out: The West’s Awake!  Humbert recruited a thousand local Irish and marched on the English at Castlebar.  He routed them and marched inland.  Cornwallis consolidated the powerful British army and split his forces to surround Humbert and the Irish.  On September 8, he closed the net at Ballinamuck, County Longford.  Humbert was hopelessly outnumbered.  After a half-hour battle, he surrendered his 850 troops and 1000 Irish allies to the British army of 30,000.  The Irish were slaughtered to a man while Humbert and his forces were repatriated back to France as honorable foes, but not before British Captain Packenham disgraced Humbert on the field of battle by taking his sword and stripping his epaulets.  An angry Napoleon dismissed Humbert to a position in the French colony at New Orleans where he later retired.  However, he and Packenham would meet again 14 years later as now General Packenham led the British forces in an attack on New Orleans in the American War of 1812 and Humbert came out of retirement to fight by Andy Jackson’s side to defeat his old enemy; but that’s another story.

On October 12, Wolfe Tone and reinforcements arrived in yet another disjointed piece of the overall revolution.  They ran directly into a waiting British fleet.  Tone commanded a battery of ships guns, but after 6 hours the French fleet was destroyed, and Tone was captured.  On October 16, Napper Tandy, with yet another fleet, landed in Donegal and learned of Humbert’s surrender and Tone’s capture.  He wisely sailed back to the continent.  Wolfe Tone was taken to Dublin and sentenced to be hanged as a traitor.  He requested to be afforded the death of a soldier, to be shot, rather than hanged, but his request was denied.  He died in prison of a neck wound at the age of 35.  History records his death as a suicide but there remains some doubt.  The rank and file of the United Irish society were pursued and eliminated.  Loyalists, believing that all Catholics had all been part of a conspiracy to slaughter them, intimidated the majority of the population into a slave-mentality that crippled the spirit of resistance for a whole generation.  Ireland remained a most depressed country until Daniel O’Connell began raising the cause of Catholic emancipation once again in the 1840s and the Irish began to raise their heads.  When they did, they heard the voice of Thomas Davis and the Young Irelanders resurrecting the doctrines of Wolfe Tone who was now recognized as the Father of Irish Republicanism.  Tone’s revolution was, in fact, the very first thrust for National independence.  Previous risings were merely attempts at reconfiguring relations with the Crown.  The 1569 and 79 Desmond rebellions; the 1593-1603 Nine Years War of O’Neill, O’Donnell and Maguire; the 1640-42 Confederation War in support of Charles II; the 1690 Rising in support of the Jacobite claim to the Crown would all have left Ireland still a colony of England.  As the spirit of true independence once more began to beat in Irish hearts, a verse appeared in the April 1843 edition of the rebel newspaper, The Nation.   It read:

“Who fears to speak of ‘98?  Who blushes at the name?
When cowards mock the patriot’s fate, who hangs his head for shame?
He’s all a knave, or half a slave who slights his country thus;
But true men, like you men, come fill your glass with us.

Robert Emmet

Two Hundred years ago on August 25 a tragic event befell Irish history.  It all began when the United Irishmen, a group of Catholics and Protestants united to work for Ireland’s independence, rose for that freedom in 1798.  The English put down the rising with extreme brutality and instituted a campaign of frightfulness, as Seamus MacManus called it, to break the spirit of the Irish that they should never dare to dream of liberty again.  They even banned the color green which was a symbol of the United Irishmen’s union of Protestant Orange and Catholic Blue and they annexed Ireland to England in the Act of Union in 1801, so that the Irish would no longer even have a country to fight for.  Terrible atrocities were reported as English militia ran down all who had belonged to, or had sympathies with, the United Irishmen.  In desperation, one young man emerged, contacted the leaders still at large and planned to fight back in another strike for freedom.  Entering into alliance with the Napoleon’s minister Tallyrand, he planned for another rising in 1803.

With promises of French support, cooperation of other revolutionary societies and money from men of high standing, the effort seemed more likely to succeed than the ill-fated attempt of five years earlier.  Further, he now had a secret weapon, not available in 1798, that he felt would make all the difference.  The weapon, developed with the assistance of his nationalist-thinking chemistry teacher, was quite simply a fireworks rocket capable of delivering a bomb.  Their chemical powder mix and a stabilizing shaft made it steadier in flight than anything that had been seen before.  The pair had built and stockpiled enough of the weapons to give them a military edge.  The young man conferred with the French in the fall of 1802 and returned to coordinate plans in Ireland.  His name was Robert Emmet.

Born on March 4, 1778, he was the 17th and final child of Dr. Robert Emmet and his wife Elizabeth.  He was the fifth to bear the name of Robert since four previous attempts to carry on the father’s name had died in infancy1.  A Chemistry student at Trinity College before the ’98 rising, he had been expelled for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to King George.  His older brother, Thomas Addis Emmet, was one of the ’98 leaders, jailed and exiled by the English, who subsequently settled in America.  Young Emmet was to organize volunteer cooperation with the French when they landed.  He contacted surviving fighters of ’98, and was told that 19 counties stood ready.  He then confined his activities to Dublin with three other leaders.  Alas, today we know that one was a Castle spy who relayed the plans to the English.  Emmet received a report that Tallyrand was only using Ireland for his own political ends and began to doubt French support.  On July 16, an explosion in an apartment he was using as an arms depot, destroyed most of his rockets.  Convinced his plans were near discovery; he moved the date of the rising up to July 23.  Assurances came that if Dublin rose, the rest of Ireland would speedily follow.

On July 23, as Emmet awaited his men at an assembly point, word reached him that soldiers were on their way.  Confident that the rest of Ireland would follow his lead, Emmet drew his sword and led a ragged army of little more than 100 men into the Saturday night streets of Dublin.  Contradicting orders (authored by the Castle spy) left the revolution that Emmet had planned little more than a street riot that cost 30 lives.  Emmet went on the run into the Wicklow Mountains, where he would be safe from Crown forces, under an alias of Drake, as arrangements were being made for his passage to France.  Meanwhile, English Major Sirr, sought Emmet with a vengeance.  He arrested Emmet’s young housekeeper, Anne Devlin who, though brutally tortured in Kilmainham Jail, never revealed his whereabouts.  Her story is most inspiring and she remains one of Ireland’s greatest heroines.  Emmet daringly came down from the hills to visit his dying mother and his sweetheart, Sarah Curran.  Sirr was waiting and on Aug 25, 1813, (200 years ago), Emmet was captured, and cast into prison.

At his trial, Emmet secured his place in Irish history with a stirring and defiant speech denouncing the oppressors of his land, and denouncing those who would not vindicate him for doing what he felt every true patriot should do.  He said that since no man spoke up to vindicate his actions it was obvious that no man understood his reasons.  Therefore, he asked, until my country takes its place among the free nations of the world, let no man write my epitaph.  On September 20, the 25-year old rebel was taken to Thomas Street where he was hanged, drawn, and quartered.  It was a horrible death, and it endeared the spirit of Robert Emmet to the Irish.  They took to wearing a leaf, a plant, or a sprig of shamrock in their lapel or hat band in defiance of the government’s ban on green, and to show support for Emmet’s ideals.  And the poets wrote of him with passion.  Even though such sentiments were censored, they simply used an old Irish trick and referred to Ireland by one of her many metaphors.  When it was illegal to write in praise of Ireland, her poets wrote in praise of Dark Rosaleen, Kathleen ni Houlihan, or Nell Flaherty – all understood to be Ireland.  Now a metaphor was used again to damn the British without them being any the wiser.  A verse was written, which became a popular song denouncing the murder of Nell Flaherty’s Drake – a reference to Emmet’s alias.  The Brits thought it a silly ditty about a woman who lost a barnyard fowl while the Irish knew they were singing about the King when they sang:

May his pipe never smoke, may his teapot be broke, and to add to the toil may his kettle not boil,

May he lay in the bed ’till the moment he’s dead.  May he always be fed on spoiled food and fish oil,

May he swell with the gout, may his grinders fall out, may he roar, bawl and shout, with a horrid toothache.

May his temples wear horns, and his toes all grow corns, the monster that murdered Nell Flaherty’s drake.


It goes on for many more similar verses and other ballads continued to be written up to the 1916 Rising when Tom Maguire, IRA Commandant in Co Fermanagh, wrote the moving ballad, Bold Robert Emmet – the Darling of Erin.   The great Irish musicologist  Josephine Patricia Smith, believed that there were more songs about Robert Emmet than any other Irish hero.  Author Terry Folan said it best when he wrote His speech from the dock is the center of Republican sentiment to this day.  Poets often make indifferent generals, but, at least in Ireland, they make wonderfully articulate rebels.

An interesting addendum to this story is that the Brits seized the remaining iron-cased gunpowder rockets in Emmet’s apartment and sent them to the Royal Arsenal where Sir William Congreve was the Comptroller.  He gave them to his son, William Jr, who worked on them and subsequently claimed Emmet’s innovations as his own.  Junior first demonstrated a solid fuel rocket,  40.5 inches long, with a stabilizing stick 16 feet long and a range of 2,000 yards, at the Royal Arsenal in 1805 (just two years later).  It was that Congreve Rocket, as it was now called, that produced the ‘rockets’ red glare’ in America’s national anthem when they were fired on Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.  The saddest part of the whole affair is that many books and articles like the History of Rockets by Mary Bellis have taken research from the Notes and Records of the Royal Society, and the Encyclopedia Britannica which claim that an English chemist named William Congreve invented the modern rocket as a weapon with a significant advance on earlier black-powder versions.2 Not only does the Bold Robert Emmet get no credit, he is still waiting for his epitaph to be written!

Equally interesting is the Emmet legacy in America.  Robert’s brother, Thomas Addis Emmet, the exiled leader of the United Irishmen, had come to America where he became a remarkable American legal mind.  He was described by historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. as the most respected Irish American of his generation.  Ironically, he was serving as the Attorney General of New York State when his brother’s rockets were falling on Fort McHenry.  Thomas left a legacy of remarkable family members as well, from Medal of Honor recipient Robert Temple Emmet to Sister Brigid who was the 9th child in a family of 9 born on the 9th day of the 9th month of the 9th year of the 20th century (she was 90 in 1999).  While other descendants left their marks as prominent lawyers, doctors and artists, none left their mark as visibly as architect Devereaux Emmet, great, great grandson of Thomas, who designed Long Island’s Garden City Golf Course, the Red Course at Eisenhower Park, the Green course at Bethpage, and the courses at the Huntington, Glen Head, Rockville, Seawane, St. George’s, Wheatley Hills and Port Jefferson Country Clubs.



1. Robert Emmet – A Life by Patrick Geoghegan, 2002

2  Sir William Congreve from Encyclopedia Brittanica



When I first began researching the roots of the AOH, I found many groups in Ireland dedicated to opposing the landlord’s oppressive tactics over the years.  The groups ranged from small local bands to regional alliances and although different in their methods, their common denominator was a passion for independence from foreign rule and the courage to stand up for that independence in spite of threatened dispossession, dungeon and death.

In 1776, the English traveler, Arthur Young, had observed:  “A landlord in Ireland can scarcely invent an order, which a servant, labourer or cotter dare refuse to execute. Nothing satisfied him but an unlimited submission. Disrespect or anything tending towards sauciness he may punish with his cane or his horse-whip with the most perfect security; a poor man would have his bones broke if he offered to lift his hand in his own defence. . . . Landlords of consequence have assured me, that many of their cotters would think themselves honoured by having their wives or daughters sent for to the bed of their master; a mark of slavery that proves the oppression under which such people must live.”

Some of these defensive groups, because of their size, have been remembered in the annals of history like the Whiteboys, Defenders, United Irishmen and Ribbonmen, but what of the others?  What of the Whitefeet, Lady Clares, Terry Alts, Rockites and others who were not recorded by the British historian’s pen.  They were no less courageous, opposed colonial aggression and deserve to be remembered.  Take the Rockites, for example.

In the south-west of Ireland during 1821- 1824 there arose a movement, whose leader was a mysterious ‘Captain Rock’.  The Rockites caused a serious insurrection in January, 1822, in Limerick, Kerry, Cork and Tipperary. It was determined so serious that five regular regiments were sent from England to reinforce the local regiments.  An Insurrection Act, with curfew and trial without jury, was proclaimed  and 1,500 Munster men were immediately arrested, more than 200 transported to the Penal Colonies and 36 executed in February, 1822, alone. But raids and ambushes continued.  Obviously the Rockites were  a considerable size, but what did they hope to achieve?

The movement started, like other Irish agrarian movements, as a reaction to landlord’s abusive power in Ireland.  Between 1728 and 1845 the colonial landlord system caused 28 artificial famines which laid millions of Irish men, women and children in their graves while the landlords sent off rich harvests and herds to the English markets.  Then, in 1822 a major artificial famine threatened.  Noted journalist, William Cobbett, wrote against the treatment of the Irish poor and painted a horrendous picture of people starving in the midst of plenty in that year.  In June, 1822, in Cork alone, 122,000 were on the verge of starvation and existing on charity. How many people died is hard to say. A minimum figure of 100,000 has been proposed; most likely it was around 250,000. At the same time, landowners were able to ship 7 million pounds (weight) of grain and countless herds of cattle, sheep and swine to the markets in England.

Some of the Rockite leaders posted notices around Mallow bearing the signature of “John Rock, Commander-in-chief of the United Irishmen”.  That would seem to indicate that the Rockites had inherited the United Irishman philosophy.  One informer said that ‘Captain Rock’ was, in fact, the son of Arthur O’Connor, former United Irishman and later a general in Napoleon’s army, who fled to France after 1798.  John Hickey of Doneraile, another whom  the English suspected of being ‘Captain Rock’, also used United Irishman rhetoric and resurrected the old promise  of French aid.  He also noted that one of the Rockite aims was placing “Catholics upon a level with Protestants”.

The movement started gaining ground back in July, 1821, when a particularly cruel landlord’s son, Thomas Hoskins, was assassinated. The assassin called himself ‘Captain Rock’. His real name was Patrick Dillane.  Troops were called out to search for the assassin and cottages were broken into, doors smashed with sledge hammers and the people ill-treated. In reaction, rural workers began to organize and raid for arms were made not only in Limerick but also in north Co. Cork.  Between October, 1821, and April, 1822, it was recorded that 223 raids for arms and ammunition had occurred in Co. Cork alone. Raids were also occurring in Limerick and Kerry.

On September 15, 1821, a local magistrate, wrote to Chief Secretary Charles Grant (Lord Glenrig): “this insurrection will turn out more serious than any which has occurred in the south of Ireland for some years past.”  Patrick Dillane had gathered a band of followers in the isolated uplands on the Limerick, Kerry and Cork borders.   As the movement grew, Dillane handed his leadership to an elected body. Secret committees were organized with delegates sent to a central committee meeting in Mallow.  In December, 1821, British magistrates in Duhallow discovered a Rockite oath: “I will plant the Tree of Liberty in as many hearts as I can depend my life upon“.  They also found evidence of a widespread organization with co-ordinated groups through the southern counties.  By early 1822, the mountains of west Muskerry had become the central guerrilla base.

The insurrection started on January 24, 1822. The first major engagement between the Rockites and companies of Yeomanry troops, commanded by Lord Bantry, took place when Bantry, led his troops to the Pass of Keimaneigh. He was ambushed and several of his men were killed before he could retreat.  That same day Lt. Colonel Mitchell, commanding the garrison at Macroom, reported that hundreds of men armed mainly with pikes had surrounded the town, attacked and stopped the mail-coach from Cork City. The Rockites fought with “presumption and boldness although so badly armed”.  It was reported that upwards of 5,000 ‘rebels’ had surrounded the town and many houses of loyalists between Inchigeelagh and Macroom were destroyed. The local Millstreet magistrate, E McCarty, added: “The people are all risen with what arms they possess and crown all the heights close to the town ……” Cork City and Tralee were cut off for two days before troops fought their way through.  Reports of battles between the insurgents and troops were growing.

It would seem that according to the local newspapers and military reports, many thousands of people from Limerick, Kerry, Cork and Tipperary were being mobilized by express orders to report to certain rallying points at certain times. That shows an organization at a time when we are told that the United Irishmen had ceased to exist and agrarian unrest was confined to small groups of ‘disturbers’ from isolated communities rising without co-ordination against local landlords.

The so-called Rockite movement was more than just agrarian unrest.  It was trying to give birth to another national uprising. The mobiliztion of such diverse bodies of people, from such a large area, leads one to the inevitable conclusion that there was a directing committee with a premeditated plan for insurrection.  However, it was another example of pikes against cannon and the main bodies of insurgents had few weapons.  Rev. J. Orpen wrote in February, 1822. “by far the greater part were totally unarmed, driven like sheep to a slaughter house.”

On January 25, came the main British victory and the Rockite movement weakened when agricultural prices rose in 1824, allowing rural workers to return to a bearable level of subsistence.  Many insurgents called on magistrates for pardon, surrendering what arms they had and accepting a new oath of allegiance to the Crown. This opened the way for the introduction of more repressive policies by England.  An Insurrection Act was hurriedly passed and a new special police force set up in north Co. Cork where a chain of military posts, and two extra regiments to man them, were established.

However, this did not mean that the Rockites had gone away. In the following two years there were over 300 attacks in which arms were either taken or the produce of the great estates.  If the produce could not be distributed to the starving people then it was destroyed to prevent it being shipped to English markets for sale.  The remnants of the Rockites kept the tradition of opposition alive and passed it to the next generation where it became a building block for a future organization called the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Robert Emmet

The United Irishmen were a group of Catholics and Protestants united to work for Ireland’s independence, and they rose for that freedom in 1798.  The English put down the rising with extreme brutality and instituted a “campaign of frightfulness”, as Suemus MacManus called it, “to break the spirit of the Irish that they should never dare to dream of liberty again”.  Terrible atrocities were reported as English militia ran down all who had belonged to, or had sympathies with the United Irishmen.  This prompted United Irishmen leaders, still at large, to plan another strike for freedom.  Entering into alliance with Napoleon Bonaparte and his minister, Tallyrand, they planned a rising for 1803.

With promises of a French force; of cooperation from revolutionary societies in England and Scotland; and of money and support from men of high military and political standing in Ireland, the effort at first seemed more likely to succeed than the ill-fated effort of five years earlier.  In the autumn of 1802, a young man returned from France to coordinate the plans in Ireland.  His name was Robert Emmet.

He had been a Republican student leader at Trinity College before the ’98 rising and had been expelled for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to King George.  His older brother, Thomas Addis Emmet, was one of the ’98 leaders imprisoned by the English and subsequently exiled to France.  Young Emmet’s prime objective was to organize and arm volunteers to cooperate with the French when they landed.  He contacted surviving fighters of ’98 and reported that 19 counties stood ready. He then confined his activities to Dublin with three other leaders, Michael Dwyer, Myles Byrne, and Bernard Duggin. Alas, today we know that Bernard Duggin was a Castle spy who relayed all the plans to the English.  Emmet, patiently waiting, began receiving reports that Tallyrand was only using Ireland for his own political ends, and the young Irish leader began to despair of French aid.  On July 16, an explosion in an apartment that he had been using as an arms depot convinced Emmet that his plans were near discovery; he moved the date of the rising up to July 23.  Assurances came from all over the country that if Dublin rose, the rest of Ireland would speedily follow.

On July 23, as Emmet awaited his men at the assembly point, a rumor reached him that soldiers were on their way. Confident that the rest of Ireland would follow his lead, Emmet drew his sword and led a ragged army of little more than 100 men into the Saturday night streets of Dublin.  Confused timetables, misleading reports, and contradicting orders (reportedly authored by Duggin) left the revolution that Emmet had so carefully planned little more than a street riot that cost 30 lives.  Emmet was on the run! He made his way into the trackless Wicklow Mountains where he would be safe from Crown forces.  As arrangements were being made for his passage to France, Emmet daringly came down from the hills to be near his dying mother and his sweetheart, Sarah Curran.  Meanwhile, an English officer, Major Sirr, was seeking Emmet with a vengeance. He arrested Emmet’s young housekeeper, Anne Devlin, and, though bayoneted twice and half-hanged, she never revealed his whereabouts.

Sirr finally found Emmet and cast him into prison.  Love letters from Miss Curran (which Emmet carried in the folds of his white neck cloth) were confiscated and Miss Curran was arrested for questioning.  Though she longed to admit her love for him, at Emmet’s strict insistence she denied all knowledge of the rebel leader lest she be incriminated and tortured as had Anne Devlin.  Emmet knew that his last gesture would have to be a defiant condemnation of the English at his trial, but he would not be able to do it if his beloved were in danger of reprisal for his last words and actions.  Obediently, Sarah denied him, but Major Sirr was determined to prove a connection.  During her questioning, Miss Curran was escorted across the prison yard when, suddenly, a door at the opposite end of the yard opened and out stepped Emmet between two guards!  The two young lover’s hearts pounded in their breasts as they were walked toward each other, and passed without the slightest hint of recognition.

In the dock, Emmet secured his place in Irish history with a stirring and defiant speech denouncing the oppressors of his land.  His final request was that, since no one rose to defend his motives, let no one write his epitaph until Ireland was free.  On September 20, the 25-year old rebel was taken to Thomas Street and hanged, drawn, and quartered.  Then sorrowfully was laid to rest the bold Robert Emmet – the darling of Erin.

In the 1850s, one of the early committees of the young AOH was the Emmet Monument Association (EMA) founded by John O’Mahoney and Michael Doheny.  Its purpose was to raise funds to build a monument on which to write Emmet’s epitaph, in other words, to free Ireland.  The EMA became the Fenian Brotherhood.

A Famous Irish Gate

In 1798, a union of Protestant and Catholic Irish, known as the United Irishmen, led an ill-fated rising against the Crown.  One of the main fields of battle in that rising was Wexford.  The courage of the Wexford men, armed with little more than scythes and pikes, fashioned by local blacksmiths to hook, stab and unseat cavalry.  It is a proud chapter in Irish history and many songs and verses recall the valor displayed when terraced thousands died shaking scythes at cannon as Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney wrote.  Among the many valorous actions, one gallant engagement stands out and is remembered yet today.  It took place on June 5, 1798, when Lieutenant John Kelly of the County Wexford insurgents, known to history as Kelly the Boy from Killan, led a group of about 600 Bantrymen in the initial assault on the town of New Ross.  They stormed one of the town’s main gates.  The gate was originally known as Aldgate (old gate), but was later renamed Beaulieu (anglicized to Bewley) Gate after a local Norman family whose name was also on an abbey in Hampshire.  In 1649, during the Confederation War, Cromwell fired three cannon-shot against the walls of New Ross and the town surrendered.  Cromwell marched his troops through that gate and the gate was thereafter known as the Three-Bullet Gate.  However, many years later it would acquire yet another name.

As Three-Bullet Gate, it was the scene of prolonged and fierce fighting that June morning in 1798.  Repelling a cavalry charge by the Fifth Dragoons, Kelly’s pikemen breeched the gate and spilled into the town and drove the Brits out.  The hated Lord Mountjoy arrived with the Dublin Militia as reinforcements although he was killed by a shot fired from a window overlooking the gate.  Kelly, a massive figure of a man, was the central figure in the house-to-house fighting that raged murderously throughout the day.  Then, as Crown forces were in full retreat, Kelly fell, seriously wounded.  Without their leader, the rebel attack slackened giving the English officers the needed time to rally their fleeing troops.  The fury of battle continued into evening, when the courageous, but now leaderless, insurgents broke off the action after 15 hours of furious fighting and the British reinforcements turned the tide of battle.

It was then that the slaughter began, as angry Crown troops ran down rebel stragglers without mercy.  Major Vesey, commanding in place of the fallen Lord Mountjoy, wrote: No quarter was given. The soldiers were too much exasperated and could not be stopped. Dr Jordan Roche, a medical officer filed a report on the night’s activities which read, in part: The remaining part of the evening was spent searching for and shooting the insurgents whose loss in killed was estimated at 2,806 men.

After the fall of New Ross, the Irish were forced back to Wexford town and the final battle at Vinegar Hill.  Today only part of the wall around New Ross remains as does part of an oval tower at the gate and a stone with an inscription noting that the gate was taken down in 1845.  Although it is gone, Bewley Gate, or Three-Bullet Gate will always be remembered for the ferocious fighting and incredible courage displayed there against overwhelming odds.  Another reason that it will never be forgotten is because the gate became known as the Bearna Bhaiol – the Gap of Danger – the name by which it is remembered today in the words of the Irish National Anthem.


Anne Devlin

Irish history is filled with the names of noble souls who fought and died to break her chains of bondage. Some who suffered and died for that cause are less known than others. They led no insurrection; they made no memorable speech from the dock; they held no position of power; but theirs was a martyr’s role nonetheless. They were the common Irish whose quiet sacrifice nurtured and preserved the dream of freedom. One such, was a simple house keeper, born in 1778, and whose name should be as well known as that of Emmet, Pearse, and Tone. Her name was Anne Devlin.

A cousin of two United Irish rebel leaders, Arthur Devlin and Michael Dwyer, she was the devoted Aide to the bold Robert Emmet, leader of the second rising of the United Irishmen. Posing as his housekeeper, she helped him plan the rising and carried correspondence between him and other leaders associated with the ill-fated rebellion of 1803. She was a proud and dedicated Irish woman and Ireland’s freedom was her only dream. When the rising was crushed, Emmet went on the run into the Wicklow Mountains, and Miss Devlin saw to his well-being as they awaited arrangements to smuggle him to France. The British knew that Anne was aware of the hiding places of Emmet and other leaders who had escaped. She was taken prisoner, stabbed and half-hanged to get her to reveal their whereabouts. When she refused, she was placed in solitary confinement in Kilmainham Jail.

For three years, Anne Devlin was subjected to torture and bribes. She suffered the brutal indecencies that only women prisoners can suffer at the hands of depraved jailers. Yet her determination was never broken. She remained loyal to the cause and betrayed not one of the men her jailers sought to capture. In their continuing efforts to make her talk, members of Anne’s family were also incarcerated including her 12-year-old brother who contracted prison fever and died in a Kilmainham cell near her own. Her body and her heart were broken, and still she did not betray Ireland’s heroes. When Prime Minister Pitt died in 1806, there was a change in the British Administration in Ireland and Anne Devlin and her family were finally released from Kilmainham.

When Anne was released, she appeared a broken old woman – at 28 years of age! She had contracted a debilitating case of Erysipelas, which left her limbs numb and feeble, and which plagued her for the remainder of her life. She disappeared into the slums of Dublin where she married a man named Campbell who died in 1845 and left her with a son and invalid daughter. She managed a meager existence taking in wash. In 1842, Dr. Richard Madden, who was researching the history of the United Irishmen and their times, was directed to a poor old washerwoman, Mrs. Campbell, living in a miserable hovel in a stable-yard in the Dublin Liberties. He learned of Anne’s sacrifice and became an ardent admirer, occasionally helping her with donations. Unfortunately Dr. Madden, who worked on government assignment, was transferred to Cuba, and spent many years away from Ireland. Upon his return, he went to the Liberties to seek her out and learned the sad story of her final days and her death two days earlier on the 18th of September, 1851.

He met a young woman, apparently steeped in poverty herself, in whose room Anne Devlin had lodged. He recorded that the woman told him, The poor creature, God rest her, it’s well for her, she’s dead. There was a coffin got from the Society for her, and she was buried yesterday. To his inquiry of what had she died from, the answer was, She was old and weak, indeed, but she died mostly of want. She had a son, but he was not able to do much for her, except now and then to pay her lodging, which was five pence a week. He lived away from her, and so did her daughter, who was a poor widow, and was hard enough set to get a living herself. About ten or twelve days ago a gentleman called there and gave the old woman something. Only for this she would not have lived as long as she did. She was very badly off, not only for food, but for bedclothes. Nearly all the rags she had to cover her went, at one time or another, to get a morsel of bread.

Dr. Madden was heartbroken at finding her grave in the pauper’s section of Glasnevin cemetery. It was an incredibly tragic end to a most noble lady. He had her remains re-buried in the patriot’s part of the cemetery known as the Circle, right near Daniel O’Connell, and erected a memorial over her. He left this account of her in volume III of his monumental history of the United Irishmen, The extraordinary sufferings endured, and the courage and fidelity displayed, by this young woman have few parallels. She was tortured, frightfully maltreated, her person goaded and pricked with bayonets, hung up by the neck, and was only spared to be exposed to temptations, to be subjected to new and worse horrors than any she had undergone, to suffer solitary confinement, to be daily tormented with threats of further privations, till her health broke down and her mind shattered, and after years of suffering in the same prison, when others of her family were confined without any communication with them, she was turned adrift on the world, without a house to return to, or friends or relations to succor or shelter her. The day will come when the name of Anne Devlin, the poor neglected creature who, when I knew her, was dragging out a miserable existence, struggling with infirmity and poverty, will be spoken of with feelings of kindness not unmixed with admiration

But the times are changing and in February, 2004, the South Dublin County Council proudly unveiled a statue of Anne in the village of Rathfarnam, just a few yards from the house in Butterfield lane where she served Robert Emmet and Ireland. Even then, the statue caused controversy since many historians preferred a statue of Emmet he had led the Rising. However, saner heads prevailed and this beautiful statue not only adds a bit of character to Rathfarnham village, it highlight the significance of it’s history. Irish-Canadian poet, Paul Potts, dedicated an entire chapter in his book of essays, Invitation to a Sacrament to all who helped Anne Devlin , and he wrote that, it is true that she was a servant girl; it is equally true that she was one of the glories of the world. Because of her a light shines out, from the slums around the Coombe and from the ploughs on a Wicklow hillside, to equal the brightness of any star. This Wicklow peasant working girl beat the British Empire. They had been beaten by the spirit of unconquered Ireland, housed in the heart and mind of a simple Irish girl. Anne Devlin is an inspiration to all who hold freedom dear.

Father Murphy of Boolavogue

In Ireland in 1796, the United Irishmen, a brotherhood of concerned patriots, planned a rising. Originally a parliamentary movement among Catholic and Protestant Irishmen organized to negotiate political solutions to their disputes with the Crown, they soon came under attack by the Brits who feared that they had become too powerful. Leaders of the movement were arrested and repressive legislation was enacted to divide the remainder. The British military were encouraged to harass the people and goad them into some foolish premature action that would be their undoing. In their frustration and desperation, the leaders remodeled their organization to seek a military solution. They grasped at the straw of promised aid from Napoleon and lost a significant amount of time negotiating for that support. When that aid would finally come, it would be too little, too late, and arrive at the wrong place.

In 1798, in the parish of Kilcormack, Boolavogue, Co. Wexford, a man of God prayed for guidance as British troops continuously harassed his parishioners. Beseeched by his flock for assistance, Father John Murphy finally stepped forward and boldly provided the leadership to oppose the brutality. He called his parishioners in the name of God, united them in the cause of Ireland, and led them into history.

On Whitsunday, 1798, this brave priest, seeing his chapel and home, like so many others in the parish, on fire, and in several of them the inhabitants consumed in the flames, went into a nearby forest, where he was soon surrounded by his besieged parishioners who had escaped the brutality of the Brits. They beseeched his reverence to tell them what was to become of them and their families. He answered them abruptly that since there was no way to negotiate an end to the cruelty, it would be better to die courageously in the field than to be butchered in their homes and that for himself, if he had any brave men to join him, he was resolved to sell his life dearly and prove that the Brits could not continue their devastations with impunity. All answered that they were determined to follow his advice and do whatever he ordered. Well then, he replied, we must, when night comes, get armed the best way we can, with pitchforks and other weapons and attack the Camolin Yeomen cavalry on the way back to Mountmorris where they will return after passing the night satisfying their savage rage on the defenseless country people.

The attack succeeded, and with the arms taken in the ambush that night and in an attack at Camolin Park the following day, Father Murphy’s men reinforced their pitchforks with more effective weapons. The following day he won a victory with his pikemen on Oulart Hill and followed that, in quick succession, with the capture of Camolin, Ferns, Enniscorthy, and Wexford. In a few days, the entire southeastern part of the country was in their hands with the exception of Duncannon Fort and New Ross. An attempt was made to take New Ross on June 5, but it failed after desperate fighting and severe losses on both sides. A few days later the towns of Gorey and Carnew were captured and the way to Arklow lay open. Arklow was assaulted on June 9, but by then British reinforcements had arrived.

A pitched battle ensued that lasted from morning to night ending in defeat for the men whose only crime was being Irish. On June 21, the remaining Irish were attacked by overwhelming forces at their last stronghold at Vinegar Hill. About 500 rebels were killed including wounded prisoners. The Enniscorthy courthouse, used as a hospital, was burned down with 80 wounded Irish inside. Father Murphy was captured, tortured and murdered for his part in leading the insurrection and his body was burned upon the rack. In tribute to the memory of this gallant soldier of God and Ireland, Patrick J. McCall wrote the famous ballad Boolavogue which relates the exploits of the Boys of Wexford led by Father Murphy. Years later, poet Seamus Heaney wrote a poem called Requiem for the Croppys (as Irish Catholics were called) which read, in part:

The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley. No kitchens on the run, no striking camp.

We moved quick and sudden in our own country. The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.

Then retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown. Until, on Vinegar Hill, the final conclave.

Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon. The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.

They buried us without shroud or coffin and in August… the barley grew up out of our grave.

Thomas Davis

There are few events in Irish history as tragic as the death of Thomas Osborne Davis. He was a rare man whose impact on the history of Ireland has never been truly appreciated. Born in Mallow, Co Cork on Oct 14, 1814, the son of a British Army Surgeon, he was educated at Trinity College and called to the Bar in 1838, but Davis heard another call: the call of Ireland. He heard it in the voice of Dan O’Connell when the Great Emancipator visited his home town in 1842, and asked a crowd of 400,000, “Where is the coward who would not die for Ireland?” This was a fiery young O’Connell, not the parliamentarian of later years, and he raised the consciousness of the Irish to a new spirit of nationalism. Men like Davis, filled with the fire of that patriotism, joined his cause. You see, after the brutal suppression of Ireland following the rising of 1798, the country remained depressed until O’Connell began to raise the issue of Catholic emancipation. It was then that the Irish people began to raise their heads again, but when they did it was not the voice of O’Connell they heard, but the voice of Thomas Davis and the ‘Young Irelanders’.

O’Connell fell short of the goals he inspired in other men when he chose to negotiate in the Parliamentary arena. Davis, on the other hand, fired by O’Connell’s early speeches against the tyranny of England, never changed direction as his mentor had. The young Protestant barrister with two colleagues, Charles Gavan Duffy and John Blake Dillon, founded The Nation, a newspaper that would propagate patriotism and a love for Irish national literature like no other tabloid of its time. It was then that the doctrines and principles of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen were resurrected, and Tone was finally recognized as the Father of Modern Irish Republicanism. As the spirit of nationalism once more began to beat in Irish breasts, a poem appeared in the April 1843 edition of The Nation. It was called the ‘Memory of the Dead’, and it read:

“Who fears to speak of ‘98? Who blushes at the name?
When cowards mock the patriot’s fate, who hangs his head for shame?
He’s all a knave, or half a slave who slights his country thus;
But true men, like you men, will fill your glass with us.”

The Nation became a great power whose place in history is that it rekindled the dying flame of Wolfe Tone’s nationalist doctrine of Irishmen – Catholic, Protestant, and Dissenter, together for Irish freedom. The gallant attempt at independence by the United Irishmen of 1798, and by Robert Emmet in 1803 were all but forgotten. England’s brutal and abusive suppression after those attempted risings had all but stamped out the memory of the great Tone and his ideals. The Nation revived that memory, and the sentiment that had inspired it, and in so doing, created a nationalist tradition that has lasted to this very day, due in no small part to the writings of Davis himself.

It is truly written that the bullet of the patriot is soon forgotten while the words of the poet are immortal. Davis was brilliant with words and verse; his poetry captured the nation’s imagination. He lionized Ireland’s hero’s, and gave her some of her most inspiring ballads. His lament for the great Chieftain Owen Roe O’Neill who was poisoned by a pawn of the English in 1649, seethes with fury:

Did they Dare, Did they dare to slay Owen Roe O’Neill
Yes they slew with poison him they feared to face with steel.
May God wither up their hearts, may their blood cease to flow,
May they walk in living death, who poisoned Owen Roe.

His memorable poems about Fontenoy, the Clare Dragoons, and Wolfe Tone were on the lips of every Irishman of the age. He drew to his philosophy such talented future leaders as John Mitchel, Speranza, William Smith O’Brien, Michael Doheny, Clarence Mangan, D’Arcy McGee, and Thomas Francis Meagher. His followers became the Young Irelanders, and their impact on history was considerable for they carried Davis’s philosophy into the origin of Ireland’s greatest nationalist movement – the Fenian Brotherhood. Unfortunately they did so without the master, for Thomas Davis succumbed to a fever brought on by an exhausted condition, and he died at his mother’s home in Dublin on September 16, 1845 – 164 years ago. It was only a month before his 32nd birthday and just at the start of An Gorta Mor – the great hunger that would devastate his beloved Ireland. How he would have faced that tragedy can only be imagined, but there is no doubt that it would have been memorable.

The death of Davis, the brave young hope of his country, was a greater disaster for Ireland than she has ever recognized for he was the bridge between Wolfe Tone’s United Irishmen and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. It was he who insured that the nationalism of Tone was not interred with him in that green grave at Bodenstown which Irishmen cherish as their most prized possession. The only consolation we have is that his songs are with us still. Who has not marveled at the bold courage displayed in The West’s Awake; and who is not moved – to this very day – by the nationalist sentiment in the song he wrote to express his fondest desire – A Nation Once Again.