The Heroic Blacksmiths of 1798

Henry Hammond was re-arrested and hanged.

We have heard of the great names of the leaders and organisers of the 1798 rebellion, the men who tried to break the iron rules which oppressed the country and had the vast majority of the population treated little better than animals. Their names are remembered in song and story and enshrined in the history books of the period. We are proud of their efforts and remember they came from more religions than one. We must also remember that all walks of life were there, from the landowner through the shop assistant and the farmer to the common worker no matter what his, or her, trade.

We read of their heroic actions on the field of battle and their deeds in other places. But let us remember that there were also many unsung heroes, men and women, who deserve a place in the history of our country, and among them were a number of men who were working for the cause long before the first engagement at the Harrow set the heather blazing. They were the Blacksmiths of ‘98, the men who forged the pikes.

Blacksmiths in almost every county did their bit for the cause. Some of them we have been told about in the balladeer of other days, others we have never heard of, men who were brought out and hanged by the forge they had been trying to make an honest living out of, others who had to flee their native place, and more who used the pike they had to good effect on the battle fields in their efforts to free their native land. While we salute them all let us recall for a few moments the deeds of some of the better known of this gallant band who are now, alas, a fading breed.

I think they there is scarcely a school child who had not heard the poem by Patrick Archer, which recalls some of the deeds of that well-known blacksmith from county Meath, Paid O’Donohoe. Perhaps the best known episode in the life of O’Donohoe was when he killed a Yeoman captain in his forge after he had been forced to shoe his horse. A few lines from the poem brings into focus the thoughts of all those brave men who took their lives in their hands when they commenced tapping out the pike on the anvil.

“But ‘98’s dark season came and Irish hearts were sore,
The pitch-cap and triangle the patient folk outwore
The Blacksmith thought of Ireland and found he’d work to do;
“I’ll forge some steel for freedom”said Paid O’Donohoe.

A beautiful sculpture of Paid O’Donohoe working at his anvil can be seen at Curraha, Co. Meath.
The stories of the blacksmiths in the counties of Wicklow, Wexford and Carlow are legion and each deserves a story on its own. The story of Suzie Toole the child of a Wicklow blacksmith has a call that is all its own, while the story of the journey of Michael Connors back to his forge in the Watchhouse, Clonegal, following a battle in Co. Wicklow, although severely wounded, is one never to be forgotten. He died a few hundred yards from his forge, the stone of which is still to be seen in the Watchhouse. Let us finish this short account of some of the deeds of the Blacksmiths of ‘98 with a Carlow story.

The following story is based on the story of Michael Murphy as told in Bill Murray’s Epitaph of 1798. It tells the story of a Blacksmith named Henry Hammond who worked in his forges at Aclare and Coppenagh beside what was then the main road between Graiguenamanagh and Thomastown, Aclare being his home. The Hammonds came to Ireland with the Normans as blacksmiths and settled in the Graiguenamagh south of Carlow area where they set up in business and married into local families. At the time of the rising Hammond was doing well in business and would have enjoyed a position in society held by a Catholic at the time. He was married and had children. In the course of his work he travelled to different places and this made it easy for him to distribute information. Well known among the gentry of the area he would not come under suspicion. However he was arrested after the raising, tried in Kilkenny for making pikes and sentenced to death by hanging. It was now that his standing with the upper or middle class landed Gentry came to his aid. On the intervention of Miss Eleanor Doyle, one such person, he was released. This Miss Doyle had the power to pardon three condemned souls each year, which otherwise would have been put to death; this time Hammond was one of the three. On his way home from Kilkenny gaol he met up with three friends at Murphy’s Ale house in Thomastown.

As the evening wore on the three became more and more careless and commenced singing rebel songs and making derogatory snipe remarks about Yeomen. It was not long until the news of this was brought to the Yeomen, and Henry, whose release had angered the Yeomen anyway, was again arrested and brought back to Kilkenny gaol. This time there was no release and the sentence of public hanging was carried out. His remains were later released to his relatives and were brought to Garage by common cart. There was a delay in the journey when a wheel broke on the cart and a replacement had to be got. The next day the burial took place in St. Mullins cemetery beside the Penal Altar.

After Henry’s execution the Yeoman burned the forge and dwelling house. A woman lived in Graiguenamanagh up to the 1940’s whose Grandmother had witnessed the burning when she was a young girl. The dwelling house was reroofed later, using sods cut from a field at the back of the forge. But how the family survived is unknown. The forges were in later years turned into a cow shed and stables. An area of land in the region is still known as Hammonds Hill. Members of the Hammond family moved to Graiguenamanagh where they continued to work as Blacksmiths until about the 1940’s and examples of their work still survives today.

There are many more interesting stories about the Blacksmiths of 1798 and I am sure that in many a village and cross roads forge the sound of the hammer on the anvil can be heard if you listen hard enough in the sill of the night, although the forges and the Blacksmith have long since gone.

Thanks to Willie White and the Carlow Nationalist