Battle of Arklow 1798

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Background

The Irish Rising took place on the 24th of May 1798. It was only partial; confined chiefly to the counties of Kildare, Wicklow and Wexford; and there were some slight attempts in Carlow, Queen’s Co., Meath and county Dublin. But Dublin city did not rise, for it had been placed under martial law, and almost the whole of the leaders had been arrested. The insurrection was quite premature; and the people were almost without arms, without discipline, plan or leaders. On the 26th of May a body of 4000 insurgents were defeated on the hill of Tara. On Whitsunday the 27th, the rising broke out in Wexford. There, as well as in some of the neighbouring counties, the rebellion assumed a sectarian character which it had not elsewhere; the rebels were nearly all Roman Catholics, though many of their leaders were Protestants. This Wexford rising was not the result of premeditation or of any concert with the Dublin directory of the United Irishmen; for the society had not made much headway among the quiet industrious peasants of that county, who were chiefly descendants of the English colonists. Though there was a good deal of disaffection among them, chiefly caused by alarming rumours of intended massacres, they did not want to rise. They were drive to rebellion simply by the terrible barbarities of the military, the yeomen and more especially by the North Cork Militia; they rose in desperation without any plan or any idea of what they were to do; and in their vengeful fury they committed many terrible outrages on the Protestant loyalist inhabitants, in blind retaliation for the far worse excesses of the militia.
Father John Murphy, parish priest of Kilcormick near Ferns, finding his little chapel of Boleyvogue burned by the yeomen, took the lead of the rebels, with another priest, Father Michael Murphy, whose chapel had also been burned; but although these and one or two other priests were among the insurgents of Ninety-eight, the Catholic ecclesiastical authorities were entirely opposed to the rebellion. On the 27th of May the peasantry, led by Father John Murphy, defeated and annihilated a large party of the North Cork militia on the Hill of Oulart, near Enniscorthy. Having captured 800 stand of arms, they marched next on Enniscorthy; and by the stratagem of driving a herd of bollocks before them to break the ranks of the military, they took the town after a struggle of four hours; on which the garrison and the Protestant inhabitants fled to Wexford -fifteen miles off. About the same time Gorey was abandoned by its garrison, who retreated to Arklow.
At the end of May the insurgents fixed their chief encampment on Vinegar Hill, an eminence rising over Enniscorthy, at the opposite side of the Slaney. While the camp lay here, a number of Protestants, brought in from the surrounding country, were confined in an old windmill on the summit of the hill, many of whom, after being subjected day by day to some sort of trial were put to death. On the 30th of May a detachment of military was attacked and destroyed at the Three Rocks, four miles from the town of Wexford. The insurgents now advanced towards Wexford; but the garrison, consisting chiefly of the North Cork militia, did not wait to be attacked; they marched away; and while retreating they burned and pillaged the houses and shot the peasantry wherever they met them. The exultant rebels having taken possession of Wexford, drank and feasted and plundered; but beyond this there was little outrage; with one notable exception. While they occupied the town, a fellow named Dixon on the rebel side, the captain of a small coasting vessel, who had never taken part in any of the real fighting – one of those cruel cowardly natures sure to turn up on such occasions – collected a rabble, not of the townspeople, but of others who were there from the surrounding districts, and plying them with whiskey, broke open the jail where many of the Protestant gentry and others were confined. In spite of the expostulations of the more respectable leaders, the mob brought a number of the prisoners to the bridge, and after a mock trial began to kill them one by one. A number, variously stated from forty to ninety, had been murdered, and another batch were brought out, when, according to contemporary accounts, a young priest, Father Corrin, returning to some parochial duties, and seeing how things stood, rushed in at the risk of his life and commanded the executioners to their knees. Down the knelt instinctively, when in a loud voice he dictated a prayer which they repeated after him – that God might show to them the same mercy that they were about to show to the prisoners; which so awed and terrified them that they immediately stopped the executions. Forty years afterwards, Captain Kellett of Clonard, near Wexford, one of the Protestant gentlemen he had saved, followed, with sorrow and reverence, the remains of that good priest to the grave. Dixon probably escaped arrest, for he is not heard of again. All this time the Protestants of the town were in terror of their lives, and a great many of them sought and obtained the protection of the Catholic priests, who everywhere exerted themselves, and with success, to prevent outrage. A Protestant gentleman named Bagenal Harvey who had been seized by government on suspicion and imprisoned in Wexford jail, was released by the insurgent peasantry and made their general.
Besides the principal encampment on Vinegar Hill, the rebels had two others; one on Carrickbyrne Hill, between New Ross and Wexford; the other on Carrigroe Hill, near Ferns. From Carriggoe, on the 1st of June, a large body of them marched on Gorey; but they were routed just as they approached the town, by a party of yeomen under Lieutenant Elliott. They fared better however in the next encounter. General Loftus with 1500 men marched from Gorey in two divisions to attack Garrigoe. One of these under Colonel Walpole was surprised on the 4th June at Tobernierin near Gorey and defeated with great loss; Walpole himself being killed and three cannons left with insurgents. This placed Gorey in their hands.
From Vinegar Hill they marched on Newtownbarry, on the 2nd of June and took the town; but dispersing to drink and to plunder, they were attacked in turn by the soldiers they had driven out, and routed with a loss of 400. The same thin, but on a much larger scale, happened at New Ross, on the 5th of June. The rebels marched from Carrickbyrne, and attacking the town with great bravery in the early morning, drove the military under General Johnson from the streets, out over the bridge. But there was no discipline; they fell to drink; and the soldiers returned twice and twice they were repulsed. But still the drinking went on; and late in the evening the military returned once more, and this time succeeded in expelling the rebels. The fighting had continued with little intermission for ten hours, during which the troops lost 300 killed, among whom was Lord Mountjoy, colonel of the Dublin militia, better known in this book as Luke Gardiner (p. 419); while the loss of the peasantry was two or three thousand. Although the rebels ultimately lost the day at New Ross, through drink and disorder, the conspicuous bravery and determination they had shown caused great apprehension among the authorities in Dublin and produced a feeling of grave doubt as to the ultimate result in case the rebellion should spread.
In the evening of the day of the battle of New Ross, some fugitive rebels from the town broke into Scullabogue House at the foot of Carrickbyrne Hill, where a crowd of loyalist prisoners, nearly all Protestants, but with some few Catholics, were confined, and pretending they had orders from Harvey, which they had not, brought forth thirty-seven of the prisoners and murdered them. Then setting fire to a barn in which the others were locked up- between one and two hundred – they burned them all to death. No recognised leader was present at this barbarous massacre; it was the work of an irresponsible rabble.

The Battle

The county of Wicklow was the scene of several sanguinary conflicts during the rebellion of 1798. The town of Arklow, in particular, has acquired a melancholy celebrity on account of a battle fought there between the royal forces and the insurgent army, when the latter were defeated, after a desperate but ill-directed resistance.

After the defeat of Colonel Walpole’s troops at Gorey, on the 4th of June, the rebels, flushed with success, advanced to attack Arklow on the 9th. The Rebel Forces made up from the combined Wicklow and Wexford forces led by the Ballyman Division under Billy Byrne of Ballymanus, Anthony Perry of Inch, Wexford, Edward Fitzgerald of Newpark, Wexford and Fr.Michael Murphy of Ballycanew. Their numbers probably amounted to twenty-seven thousand, of whom near five thousand were armed with guns, the rest with pikes; they were also furnished with three pieces of serviceable artillery. The troops posted for the defence of this, at that time, important station, consisted of sixteen hundred men, regulars and yeomanry. The Government Forces consisted of 1,360 Infantry, 125 Cavalry, six Yeomanry Corps under Major General Francis Needham, Durham Fencibles under Colonel Skerret, Cavan Militia.

The rebels attacked the town on all sides, except that which is washed by the river, and the approach of the column which advanced by the seashore was so rapid that the guard of yeoman-cavalry stationed in that quarter with difficulty effected their escape through the flames of the thatched cabins, which had been fired by the rebels on entering the town. The further progress of the assailants was prevented by a charge of the regular cavalry, supported by the fire of the infantry.

As the rebels poured their fire from the shelter of ditches, so that the opposing fire of the soldiery had no effect, Colonel Skerrit, the second in command to General Needham, directed his men to stand with ordered arms, their left wing being covered by a breastwork, and the right by a natural rising of the ground, until the enemy, leaving their cover, should advance to an open attack. This open attack was made three times in most formidable force, the assailants charging within a few yards of the cannons’ mouths; but they were received with so close and effective a fire that they were repulsed with great slaughter in every attempt, and were at length obliged to retreat in confusion upon Gorey.

Heavy casualties followed the pike charges. Fr.Michael Murphy was killed. Rebel prisoners were hanged in the Protestant Churchyard. On the Government side, many Durham Fencibles were killed during the pike charge and one Government cannon was destroyed.

Aftermath

The Wexford rebellion; in face of the overwhelming odds against them the rebels lost heart and there was very little more fighting. Wexford had been evacuated and was at once occupied by general Lake. Many of the leaders were now arrested, tried by court-martial and hanged, among them Bagenal Harvey, Mr. Grogan of Johnstown, Matthew Keogh, and Father John Murphy, though Lake had been made aware that several of them had successfully exerted themselves to prevent outrage. The rebellion here was practically at an end; and the whole country was now at the mercy of the yeomanry and the militia, who, without any attempt being made to stop them by their leaders, perpetrated dreadful atrocities on the peasantry. They made hardly any distinction, killing everyone they met; guilty and innocent, rebel and loyalist, men and women, all alike were consigned to the same fate; while on the other side, struggling bands of rebels traversed the country free of all restraint, and committed many outrages in retaliation for those of the yeomanry. Within about two years, while the disturbances continued, sixty-five Catholic chapels and one Protestant church were burned or destroyed in Leinster, besides the countless dwelling-houses.

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The Rebel Forces made up from the combined Wicklow and Wexford forces led by the Ballyman Division under Billy Byrne of Ballymanus, Anthony Perry of Inch, Wexford, Edward Fitzgerald of Newpark, Wexford and Fr.Michael Murphy of Ballycanew. The Government Forces consisted of 1,360 Infantry, 125 Cavalry, six Yeomanry Corps under Major General Francis Needham, Durham Fencibles under Colonel Skerret, Cavan Militia.

The Battle took place as the Rebels advanced on Arklow in two columns. Rebel Pike charges on emplacements received stiff opposition from battalion guns and infantry. The Rebel attack faltered due to lack of ammunition. The second column stood ground against the cavalry, but failed to break the town’s defences. The Rebels withdrew to Gorey Hill.

Heavy casualties followed the pike charges. Fr.Michael Murphy was killed. Rebel prisoners were hanged in the Protestant Churchyard. On the Government side, many Durham Fencibles were killed during the pike charge and one Government cannon was destroyed.

3 thoughts on “Battle of Arklow 1798

  1. as a student of the battle of Arklow i would love to know where the model featured above is located. thanks for any help.

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  2. im only seeing your reply now sorry. Thanks for that info. I would love to re-create such a scene.

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