Brave men who fought and died for their country

It was on a cold wet afternoon when I had to visit the graveyard of St. Mullins in connection with another matter entirely that I stopped to once more read the inscription on the base of the Celtic Cross that marks the grave of 1798 hero Henry Hammond and his great-great-grand nephew, Daniel Murphy of Aclare who died in 1995 aged 74 years. I wonder how many blacksmiths were involved in the rising of 1798 who were never found of or never received the credit they deserved. It is obvious that here must have been a big number, someone that knew how to make the pikes. Several have been named in ballads and stories but many more died without mention. We are lucky that the stories of so many are recorded, and among them was the story of Henry Hammond as told by Michael Murphy.

Henry Hammond plied his trade at Aclare and Coppenagh beside what was in 1798 the main Graignamanagh - Thomastown Road. Aclare was his home. The Hammonds came to Ireland with the Normans as Blacksmiths and settled in the Graignamanagh area. There they set up business and married into local families. At the time of the rising Hammond had a substantial business and would have enjoyed a position in local society, which would normally be given to a Catholic during those years. Tradition tells us that he was married and he had a family.

In the course of his work he had to travel to other forges in the area which made it easy for him to collect and give information. One thing was certain, his presence anywhere in the Graigue, Rower, Thomastown or Gowran areas would not arouse suspicion among the authorities. Apart from other things he was present at the Rower camp during the battle of Ross on 5th June 1798. Henry was arrested after the rebellion, tried in Kilkenny for making pikes and sentenced to death by hanging. On the intervention of Miss Eleanor Doyle he was released. Miss Doyle had the power to release three condemned souls each year, who otherwise would have been put to death. Henry was one of the three.

On his way home from Kilkenny gaol he joined up with friends in Thomastown at Murphy's Alehouse. Delighted with his victory over the other side, he proceeded to get into the spirit of things in a big way. They sang rebel songs and made the odd derogatory remark about the yeoman. Their songs and remarks did not fall on deaf ears.

Henry, whose lucky release had more than likely angered the yeomen anyway, was again arrested and brought back to Kilkenny gaol. This time there was no reprieve and the sentence of public hanging was carried out. His remains were released to relatives for burial and taken to Graignamanagh by common cart. On the way home one of the wheels of the cart broke and a replacement had to be got. Who supplied it is not known. The day following his homecoming he was buried beside the Penal Altar in St. Mullins Cemetery.

After Henrys execution the yeomen burned the forge and dwelling house. Up to the 1940's there lived an old lady in Graignamanagh whose grandmother had witnessed the burning as a young girl. The dwelling house was re-roofed using sods cut from a field at the back of the house.

What happened the family in the aftermath of this hanging was never really known. The forge was never used again for its original purpose but was converted into stables about 1976. The forge at Coppenagh was used as a store and later a cowshed. The Aclare Hammonds concentrated on farming and held about 150 acres stretching from Aclare through Oldgrange and in to Barniarrigh where part of this holding is still known as Hammonds Hill. Other members of the family moved to Graiguenamanagh where they continued to work as blacksmiths until the 1940s. Examples of their work can be seen in some places up to the present time.

During the 1998 commemoration a plaque erected in the graveyard reads “Erected by the people of St. Millins Parish in memory of all those from this area who suffered before, during and after the Rebellion of 1798”. Another plaque erected by the committee of the 1948 commemoration contains a list of names of those who took part in the rebellion and are buried in this graveyard. The following is a list of names: Gen, Thomas Cloney, John Byrne, George Dalton, John Scolardy, James Doyle, William Finn, Patrick Foley, Henry Hammond, Patrick Kearney, John Lacey, Murty Lawlor, Patrick Logan, George Malone, Frank Moore, James Rourke, Sean Ruadh, Darach Doyle, Laurence O'Keefe, John Whelan, Maurice Kavanagh, Col Morgan Kavanagh.

So ended our brief visit to the graveyard of St. Mullins. During my period there I had forgotten the softly falling rain. Only the picture of the brave men, including Henery Hammond, who had gone to their deaths for a cause and a country they loved. The thoughts of widows and children left behind, of the sadness in so many homes yet tinged with pride because it was for a better life for generations yet unborn. May he rest in peace.

Courtesy of Willie White and the Carlow Nationalist
21 October 2005