Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Irish Rebellion

by David Cook

What is that in your hand?
A green bough
Of What?
Of the Tree of Liberty
Where did it first grow?
In America
Where does it bloom?
In France
Where did the seed fall?
In Ireland
When will the moon be full?
When the four quarters shall meet

United Irish catechism, the "four quarters" being reference to the four provinces of Ireland uniting.

The Irish Rebellion (the second) of 1798 was an uprising against British rule in Ireland lasting from May to September of that year. The first, in 1641, was against Protestant settlers from England and Scotland, which saw great swathes of land given to them from Irish landowners.

The Society of United Irishmen, a republican revolutionary group founded in Belfast, 1791, and heavily influenced by the ideas of the American and French revolutions, were the main organising force behind it. Their doctrine was to secure a reform of the Irish parliament and did this by uniting Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, other Protestant "dissenters" into their party.

From the very beginning, Dublin Castle, the seat of government in Ireland, viewed the new organisation with deep suspicion, and with the outbreak of war between Britain (including Ireland) and France in February 1793, mistrust turned to naked hostility. The Society members were viewed as traitors and it was supressed in 1794. Led by Theobald Wolfe Tone, a barrister, he vowed to "break the connection with England" as the group was driven underground and into the arms of the French.

A planned uprising with French military help in January, 1797, resulted in a series of blunders (mainly due to the weather), and so the first invasion faltered and the fleet sailed home.

The government, often criticised as being lazy, corrupt and callous, responded to the widespread disorders by launching a counter-campaign of martial law in early 1798. Its principles used tactics such as planting spies, half-hangings, house burnings, pitch-capping and murder of suspected United oathmen, particularly found in Ulster as it was the one area of Ireland where Catholics and Protestants had achieved a common cause of revolt.

Leaders of Pro-United Irishmen groups began to circulate that every Protestant was an Orangeman, and seeking Catholic blood-letting. The Orangemen were of the Orange Order whose aims were to preserve Crown, Church and Ireland's Constitution, harking back to the days when their ancestors won the Williamite Wars a hundred years before. Rebels impersonated Orangemen, spreading fear and calamity. A plan to take Dublin was thwarted, but just after dawn on 24th May, pockets of insurgents rose and the fighting quickly spread throughout the country over the next five months like a straw-fed fire.

The aftermath of the fighting was marked by the massacres of captured and wounded rebels with some on a large scale, such as at the attack of New Ross and Enniscorthy. Rebel prisoners were regarded as traitors to the Crown, and were not treated as prisoners of war. They were simply executed.

County Wexford, once wealthy and industrious from the large swathes of its corn fields and long coast-line, was the only area which saw widespread atrocities committed by the rebels during the rebellion. After the defeat of the rebel attack at New Ross, the ‘Scullabogue Barn Massacre’ occurred where between one and two hundred mostly Protestant men, women, and children were imprisoned in a barn, which was then burned to the ground. Anyone that managed to break free of that inferno was piked to death by the mob outside. In Wexford town, on 20th June some seventy loyalist prisoners were marched to the bridge and piked by crowds of United supporters.

On 22nd August, one thousand French soldiers under General Humbert landed in County Mayo. Joined by several thousand rebels, they inflicted a humiliating defeat on the British at the Castlebar, mockingly known thereafter as 'the Castlebar races' to commemorate the speed of the retreat. Hundreds of Militia deserted. But the French were then roundly defeated at the Battle of Ballinamuck, 8th September and repatriated to their homeland in exchange for British prisoners of war. For the hundreds of captured Irish rebels, their fate was the hangman's noose, firing squad, or the penal colony of New South Wales.

On 12th October, another French force, including Wolfe Tone, attempted to land in County Donegal near Lough Swilly. They were intercepted by the Royal Navy, and finally surrendered after a three hour battle without ever landing in Ireland. Tone slit his own throat rather than wait for the noose and died a week later. But by then, with most of the rebel leaders dead, imprisoned or exiled, it was all over.

Small fragments of the rebel armies did survive and fought on in a form of guerrilla warfare. It was not until the failure of Robert Emmet's rebellion of 1803 that the last organised force finally capitulated.

Prime Minister William Pitt’s ‘Act of Union’ came into effect on 1st January, 1801, where the red diagonal cross of St Patrick was incorporated into the Great Union Flag. The Irish parliament was abolished. The Act was passed largely in response to the rebellion and was founded by the perception that the rebellion was provoked only by the brutish misrule of the Irish Ascendancy (descendants of the Tudor and Stuart settlers) as much as the efforts of the United Irishmen.

The rebellion caused thousands of deaths. Modern accounts estimate the death toll from ten to as many as fifty thousand men, women and children killed by fighting, starvation and disease.

My debût ebook ‘Liberty or Death’, is an authentic historical story set against the brutal backdrop of the rebellion, the first novella in The Soldier Chronicles series. Here is the description:

It is May, 1798, and Ireland is a country at war.
One hundred thousand peasants have risen up against the Crown to the tales of men, women and children butchered as traitors. It is whispered that the feared and despised ghosts of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model army have returned seeking bloodshed, and no one is safe.
Major Lorn Mullone, a man forged by war and torn by past failures, is sent by the government to apprehend Colonel Black, a dangerous and shadowy figure, who is harming the fragile peace talks with his own murderous retribution.
In a race against time, Lorn must journey across a country riven by fighting, where at the walled town of New Ross, he discovers a new horror.
In the desperate battle for peace, Lorn must survive for the sake of Ireland's future.


David Cook is from Chandlers Ford, Hampshire, but now lives in Leicestershire with his wife and young son.
David has been interested in history since his school days, and developed a love for the Napoleonic Wars era from his father, who painted and amassed a lead model army of the Battle of Waterloo. From there David became fascinated with The English Civil Wars, The Wars of the Roses and English medieval history, particularly the legend of Robin Hood. David is currently writing a novel entitled 'The Wolfshead', a story of Robin Hood, but based on the original medieval ballads as the source.

David is keen to answer any questions about his stories, or about anything else history related, and can be found on twitter @davidcookauthor and the official Liberty or Death facebook page.

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