The stories never written about the 1798 Rising

While books poems and Folklore deal with the rising and battles of 1798 and most of us are well acquainted with where and when the battles were fought, we find a great lack of knowledge regarding the aftermath of that period in out history. But then there is also a lacking of knowledge of the happenings in the periods following other struggles for freedom in the country. What happened following the Fenian rising? or for that matter the rising in 1916. We may think we know, but do we. When we say after 1916, we mean the period of time between then and the war with the ‘Black and Tans’, and again the time between that and the Civil War. We have often wondered about the stories that were never written the real truth.

It was because of the inquisitiveness that we set out to try and find some answers, In out efforts we questioned many old timers whom we had the pleasure of meeting in the area where most of the fighting was done. Some of the stories that had been passed down were interesting and could mostly be verified through cross checking and comparing with written accounts, other stories were so farfetched that we could strike them out at once. We also appreciate the help we got from some well known historians and from the Wexford Historical Society. Let us start our story with giving what we are almost sure is the date on which the Wexford Rebellion of 1798 ended. It was on the 10th of July in 1798, that a small band of what had once been the thousands strong rebel force met near Carrigrew Hill, held council, and decided that the fighting was over and that they should return to their homes. Most of them were well known and had to trust the amnesties of the government they had so recently defied. Some were lucky, others were not.

This was not the complete end of violence, even though it was the official end of the rising . Catholic homes had been burned during the rising but so had Loyalists and in most cases the perpetrators involved in the burnings were known, so bitterness remained on both sides for long after the meeting of July 10th. This meant that not only once but many times the same area was raided and anything that was of no use destroyed or burned. One woman whom we believed to know what she was talking about told us that her grandmother had told that when she was a child that she had seen a farm near Enniscorthy/ Bunclody road raided three times, first by the rebels, then by the yeomen and then by the rebels again. ( Don’t forget these stories were collected about 1940). So it seems that during and after the rising some areas suffered more than others. The towns, such as Wexford, Enniscorthy and Ross suffered a lot, as did the smaller town of Hacketstown, Tinahely and Carnew. It was after the rising that the real hardship befell some of the rural homes in Wexford and along the Carlow and Wicklow borders.

Bands of Yeomen under the command of some of the local Loyalists zealots now commenced to get their revenge for deeds, real or imaginary, done by the rebels during the fighting. Few of the insurgent leader escaped with their lives and the amnesties granted by the government were no guarantee of protection to the ordinary soldier. When we spoke to the different areas the suffered at the hands of the victor’s we were told that the area around Wexford Town suffered more than most. This area was patrolled by German mercenaries ( The Hessians) who went on a rampage of pillage and terrorising the local population.

With the same thing happened in other parts of the county and in parts of Carlow and Wicklow the soldiers became feared all over this part of Leinster. Some of the Loyalists were not far behind the soldiers and the Yeomen in their acts of cruelty. Between August 1798 and August 1801 twenty eight catholic chapels were burned down.

Actually there was no limit to what could be done in the name of revenge. A most sickening desecration took place in a half burned chapel in Monamolin in 1799. One Sunday morning when parishioners came to hear Mass they were greeted by the sight of the decomposing corpse of a man named James Redmond, a rebel who had been hanged some weeks previously for the murder of Rev. Burrows of Kyle, a crime he had committed during the rebellion. His body had been dug up during the night and left in the makeshift chapel to intimidate the Catholics.

It took years for this bitterness to be got over and neighbours to become neighbours once more. It was really after the rising that such groups as “The Black Mob” and the ‘Babes in the Wood’ were formed. The Black Mob were followers of Hunter Gowan of Mount Nebo, and it was Hunter Gowan who had the final say regarding the fate of the rebels in the Shillelagh, Carnew and Clonegal area. It was he who ordered De Renzy to shoot six prisoners in the Bay at Clonegal as an example to the other residents of the village of what happened to those who helped the rebels. (Actually we are told that De Renzy managed to save lives of the men by a trick).

The Black Mob were in existence for long after the rising and terrorised the country around the area by their deeds. The Loyalist groups were not the only ones who formed groups following the rising. Bands of rebels also went into hiding in the mountains and the forests and made short sharp raids on the homes of the Loyalists and the bands of Yeomen. One group in particular, numbering about 300, took shelter in Killoughram Forest and made their raids from there. This group became known as the ‘Babes in the Woods’.

It was when they dispersed that the last, and probably the toughest, of the gangs to be formed after the rising came into being, they were known s the ‘Corcoran Gang’. They first came to the notice of the magistrates early in 1802. The leader of the gang, James Corcoran, had fought at the battle of Ross as had other members of the gang. They were some of the men who had fought the rearguard action at Scollagh Gap and were deadly marksmen. The gang was made up of two Byrnes, two Brennans, who were two sets of brothers, another Brennan, a John Fitzpatrick, and a Timothy Breen, along with James Coady. They hit hard and moved fast, and kept to ground they knew and where they could get help, part of Wexford but mostly in the St. Mullins and Borris area of Carlow. In a report of their position to Dublin Castle, Walter Kavanagh, Borris, stated he knew where they were hiding in a house near Borris. He ended his statement with the words “I shall not take any prisoners and have no reason to think that we will come out of this action unhurt”. When he surrounded the house the birds had flown.

After several daring raids they were surrounded in a wood by a detachment of the Kilkenny yeomanry, under Rev. William Eastwood. They put up a fierce resistance and Corcoran was the last man to die when he was shot while lying wounded on the ground. This happened in (February) 1804, 201 years ago. The body’s of the gang were taken to Wexford town and left hanging outside the goal for some time as a lesson to others who might think as they had. The Government had offered 500 pounds for every member caught and after the fight Rev. Eastwood is said to have distributed the money quietly to those who had informed of their position. We wonder how they spent the money.

Courtesy of the Nationalist
February 2005
By Willie White