Memorials of 1798 in County Carlow

I suppose it is getting a little bit boring to talk about 1798 to the present generation. Whenever 1798 is mentioned most of the younger Carlow people today associate that period of time with county Wexford and possibly now county Wicklow. Now strange to say, Carlow was actually more prepared for the rising than Wexford was, but what has often been the curse of plans for Irish freedom, the 'thirty pieces of silver' or their equivalent, saw Irish hopes dashed and Irish blood spilled. Carlow were actually in their field before Wexford and had plans for the capture of Carlow town made and endeavoured to put them into action before the first stroke was struck in Wexford. But again the informants got to work and the garrison commanders were informed of what and when it was going to happen. This led to the massacre of 640 United Irishmen in Tullow Street on the 25th May in 1798. A Celtic Cross at Graiguecullen is all that now reminds us of their gallant effort and the price they paid for Ireland.

Mention of the Celtic Cross reminds me of the fact that there are 57 '98 memorials in county Carlow. They are scattered over the length and breadth of the county. I wonder how many Carlow people could tell a stranger where they are, even those in his own town, village or sacred spot let alone tell what is the inscription on them or incidents connected with them. Let us take the Celtic Cross we have just been talking about, the inscription on it reads first in Irish and then in English "In memory of the 640 United Irishmen who gave their lives for their country, at the Battle of Carlow May 25th 1798". Other memorials at the Croppy Graves read " Talk not of their dismal failure, mock not at their courage vain, For today we reap the harvest, which they sowed that here were slain (Wm Nolan, Ballon) and at Potato Market "To unite the whole people of Ireland, To banish the memory of all past dissensions and to substitute the common name of Irishman in the place of the denominations of Protestant Catholic and Dissenter (Wolfe Tone). There are many other inscriptions at scenes of battles, hangings and other events which took place both before and after 1798 throughout the county.

Then there are other memorials to people of whom we have heard little or little about or the stories attached to them. One such story is associated with the headstone of Denis Carew in Leighlinbridge. Denis was hanged in Murdering Lane in Leighlinbridge on June 13th 1798 and the story is told that as he walked to the scaffold, his wife walked with him and handed him a clean shirt. As she handed him the shirt he looked at her and said "What will become of you and the children now?" Her reply was "God and the good neighbours will look after myself and the children" and then staring him straight in the face she gave him the shirt and said " Never leave a widow but myself". By this she meant that he was never to betray any of his comrades. He had already been tortured and his shirt was covered in blood, the clean shirt was a symbol of his innocence. His wife brought home his body, as was the usual procedure after a rebel was hanged, he had been beheaded as she carried his head in her apron. This is but one of the many stories that were told of the brave women who were prepared to loose everything sooner then turn informer themselves or see their loved ones disgrace a family name. While in that part of the county let, us take a look at another memorial, this time also to another brave Carlow woman, Teresa Malone, it is in Ballinkillen graveyard.

The story goes that nine ancient Britons rode to the home of a man by the name of John Murphy and set it on fire. They did not know that four of the Wexford rebels were sheltering in the barn following the battle. While five of the soldiers were still in the yard, the Wexford men decided that they had often faced greater odds and attacked the five in the yard. In seconds the five horses were a rider less and the remaining four spurred down the road towards their camp. It was then that Teresa Malone ran from where she had been hiding and picking up a pistol mounted a horse and sped after the soldiers. As she swept around a bend in the road she found herself face to face with one of the Ancient Britons. He demanded her to stop and without a moments hesitation she shot him with her pistol, spun her horse around and headed for the rebel camp upon the hill and upon reaching it was warmly greeted by the rebels.

She is said to have lived to be 90 years old and died at the time of the Fenian Rising of 1868. Even at her funeral a big force of military were present, fearing that it might be the cause of more trouble. She is interred in the burial plot of the Murphys of Ballyellen Mills. These Murphys were of the same family as John Murphy of Kilcumney, owner of the house which had been burned in 1798. The plaque to her memory reads "To the memory of Teresa Malone, Heroine of the battle of Kilcumney. This is followed by the last lines of the ballad of the Battle of Kilcumney".

I suppose I would never be forgiven if I did not include a strange story about a field off the Garryhasten Road near Clonegal. The field in question is known as "Sheils field". It was known that a family named Sheil once lived there but no one now living in the Clonegal area knew anything about them. In 1998 the Clonegal Pike Group travelled to almost every commemoration parade in Leinster and a good few outside it. One of the outside Leinster parades was Killala, Co. Mayo on 22nd of August 1998. As the lads and lasses were walking back from the landing place in Killala they passed several cars parked by the roadside. As they were passing one particular car the driver who was sitting in the car remarked "Well done Wexford men, my ancestors came from your county". Some of the lads stopped and the late Eamonn Whelan R.I.P asked him from what part of Wexford did they come. This was his reply "Oh it was from a town land that I suppose you never heard of, It was called Garryhasten". At this he was asked what his name and he replied Sheil's. He was truly amazed when the lads told him that it was in their parish and that they actually had Garryhasten people in their group. They went on to tell him about Sheil's field and he told them that he had often heard his father say that he had been told there were six brothers in the family in 1798 and that the six went to fight on Vinegar Hill. Only one returned the other five were killed. Shortly after that the family left Garryhasten and went to live in Co. Mayo. This was surely a strange coincidence and it made such an impression on the group that they had a sign erected at the entrance to the field with the words "Sheils Bro's 1798 Homestead" and an arrow pointing towards the field. There are stories to be told about almost every sign or plaque in the county. Maybe sometime in the future we will tell more.

Courtesy of Willie White and the Carlow Nationalist
August 2005