Account of the Wexford Rising

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Account of the Wexford Rising


Thomas Cloney

This account of the United Irish rebellion in County Wexford in 1798 was written by a relatively well-off Catholic, Thomas Cloney. It has been powerfully argued that Cloney minimized the extent of United Irish preparation for rebellion and of his own involvement because when he wrote three decades later association with violence and conspiracy was much less acceptable among elite Catholics than it had been in the 1790s. (See L. M. Cullen, "The 1798 Rebellion in Wexford," in Wexford: History and Society [1987], pp. 248–295.)

SEE ALSO Eighteenth-Century Politics: 1795 to 1800—Repression, Rebellion, and Union

I at this time was about twenty-three years of age and lived with my father, Denis Cloney, at Moneyhore, within three miles of Enniscorthy, and in a direct line from that town to Ross; he rented large tracts of land, both in the Counties of Wexford and Carlow, a good part of which his father left him in possession of, and the remainder he acquired by industry, and altogether they would, if let, produce him an interest of several hundred pounds a year. . . . I was an only son, and had three sisters, all younger than myself and unprovided for: and as my father was aged, and his health then in a very precarious state, they might be considered almost without any other protector but myself, and they were truly dear to me. . . . I was a Catholic, and that placed me in those days on the proscribed list, and under the ban of a furious Orange ascendancy, and their rapacious satellites, a blood thirsty Yeomanry, and a hireling magistracy, who looked forward to the possession of the property, not only of Catholics, but of liberal Protestants, either by plunder or confiscation; where then was the alternative for me? It became indispensable to divert their attention from those objects by meeting them in the field. . . .

On Saturday night the 26th of May, the chapel at Boolavogue and about twenty farmer's [sic] houses in that neighbourhood were burned, as also the house of the Catholic Curate, the Rev. J. Murphy. It was on that night that the first assemblage of the people took place in any part of the county of Wexford: some of the farmers and their men met a party of the Camolin Yeomen Cavalry, and in a short rencounter, killed Lieutenant Bookey, who commanded the party and one of his men. They then proceeded to rise that quarter of the county, north and east of Enniscorthy, and on Sunday morning the 27th, they appeared in considerable force on Oulart Hill, about six miles to the northeast of Enniscorthy, headed by a man hitherto the least likely of any other Priest in that county to appear in arms, a quiet inoffensive man, devoting his time and entire energies to the care and spiritual instruction of a peaceable, orderly, and industrious flock, in a parish where he was Curate, but whose resentment was so justly raised by the sanguinary persecution of his people. Expresses were soon sent from different quarters to Wexford, for a military force to check the progress of the Insurgents, and a division of the North Cork Militia, which had been for some time commanded there by Lord Kingsborough, was now led out by Lieutenant-Colonel Foote, and consisted of about 110 men, besides six officers, who, on arriving at Oulart Hill, ascended rapidly at the north side, while a body of Yeomen Cavalry appeared advancing towards it on the south. The bold and rapid advance of the North Cork Militia, struck terror for a moment in the people, and they were actually on the point of fight, when they perceived the cavalry coming too close, and found they would, by retreating into an open and level country, be exposed to immediate and certain destruction; a number of them were instantly ordered to conceal themselves behind the fences of a ditch, while others lay in ambush in a sort of trench, and allowed the military to approach within a few yards of their main body, when they rushed suddenly on them, and killed with their pikes, 106 men and their Major, Lombard, and four other Officers; Lieutenant-Colonel Foote, a Serjeant, two Privates and a Drummer, out of the whole division, only escaping to Wexford, while of the Insurgents only five were killed and two wounded. The number of the peasantry who shared in the victory, scarcely exceeded the number of the slain Militia; no doubt that the advantageous ground, the close quarters, and the formidable weapons, of which they made so good a use, contributed to their victory.

One of the Yeomen Cavalry was shot at a great distance by an Irish Rifleman, with a Strand Gun, and the rest betook themselves to an immediate and precipitate flight to Wexford. The conquerors flushed with victory, marched immediately to Carrigrue Hill, where they rested for the night, and very early on Monday morning marched upon the little town of Camolin, where they seized a quantity of arms which had been deposited there for safety. From thence they hastily proceeded to Ferns, and on to Scarawalsh Bridge, where they crossed the river Slaney; here they halted for a short time, to obtain an accession of strength, which they obtained on Ballyorrell Hill, and thence proceeded rapidly to Enniscorthy, having then a force of about 7000 men, about 1000 of which were furnished with fire arms. . . .

While the events which I have related were occurring on the 25th, 26th and 27th, the people in my quarter of the country were in perfect ignorance of those occurrences: they were in the most terror-struck and feverish anxiety, as reports were for some time industriously circulated, that the Orangemen would turn out, and commit a general and indiscriminate massacre on the Roman Catholics. The reports from different quarters of what had been already effected by the Orangemen in this way, confirmed the opinion that the Insurrection would become general. The most peaceable and well disposed fancied they saw themselves, their families, and their neighbours, involved in one common ruin, and that each approaching night might possibly be the last of their domestic happiness. No one slept in his own house—the very whistling of the birds seemed to report the approach of an enemy. The remembrance of the wailings of the women and the cries of the children awake in my mind, even at this period, feelings of deep horror. Such was the state of things in my neighbourhood, yet not one act of hostility against the Government had been even slightly indicated. The dictates of self-preservation are so implanted by an all-wise Creator in the human breast, that the savage in this respect will feel as a philosopher, though his means my be different he will have the same ends in view. . . .

The morning of the 28th having arrived, the people began to collect for mutual protection and advice—and I have often since reflected what a powerful effect mutual adversity has on our passions and prejudices; it soothes and softens down mental asperities, and reconciles the most obstinate differences, while prosperity bursts many a link in the social chain, and often severs the tenderest ties of nature. Grief and despair became now universal; such as had families consulted how they might best provide for their safety, if any one could expect to be safe, or any retreat secure against the licenced incendiary. In the midst of those gloomy forebodings, the firing commenced at Enniscorthy, and continued with little intermission for a considerable time, and was distinctly heard by us, until the town surrendered to the Insurgents; and soon after, a horseman was seen riding in full speed from Enniscorthy towards Moneyhore, the place of my father's residence. When he came within hearing he began to cheer, and continued as he galloped along, crying out "victory! victory!" Never were tidings more joyfully heard, nor more eagerly listened to. After having attended some moments to an imperfect but probably heightened account of the action, which the rude herald gave in an impassioned tone, men, whom consternation, terror, and want of resolve, had a few hours before fixed to the ground on which they stood, proceeded to the roads in groups, and in some cases prepared to search the houses of the neighbouring yeomanry for arms, dreading that the owners would return to them, and sally out at night to murder the families who were still in the ditches, and consume their habitations. This certainly could not be apprehended by any but persons devoid of all reason, as the yeomen had now a full share of those fears for their own safety, which they had been so lately prominent in creating in the minds of others. Some excesses were now committed, which were, on reflection, deeply to be regretted.

On Tuesday, the 29th of May, before day, a large body of men came to my father's house and pressed me to proceed with them to Enniscorthy. I put them off by promising to follow in a short time. Soon after another and a much more numerous party came, who were louder and more peremptory in their demands. There was now no time to be lost in deliberating. The innocent and guilty were alike driven into acts of unwilling hostility to the existing government; but there was no alternative; every preceding day saw the instruments of torture filling the yawning sepulchres with the victims of suspicion or malice; and as a partial resistance could never tend to mitigate the cruelty of their tormentors, I saw no second course for me, or indeed for any Catholic in my part of the country, to pursue. I joined the people, and took an affectionate farewell of my father and sisters, when he, as I before stated, was in a dying way, and my sisters quite unprotected. Their distraction of mind at my parting is not to be described. This was not a moment for indecision. I proceeded as a Volunteer, among many others, to Enniscorthy, without authority or command; and I believe it is a matter of rare occurrence, that those who are invested with power, willingly submit to have that power abridged, or usurped by one who had not the slightest pretensions to seek it, even did I seek for such an unenviable distinction.

Thomas Cloney, A Personal Narrative of Those Transactions in the County Wexford, in Which the Author Was Engaged, During the Awful Period of 1798 . . . (1832), pp. 9–10, 11–12, 14, 15–16.