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
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 ODonohoe. Perhaps the best known episode in the
life of ODonohoe 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 98s dark season came and Irish hearts
The pitch-cap and triangle the patient folk outwore
The Blacksmith thought of Ireland and found hed work
Ill forge some steel for freedomsaid Paid
A beautiful sculpture of Paid ODonohoe 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 Murrays 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
Murphys 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 Henrys execution the Yeoman burned the forge
and dwelling house. A woman lived in Graiguenamanagh up
to the 1940s 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 1940s
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