Sunday, June 20, 2010

1798 and the massacres in Wexford

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, this is a post from my blog)

Some people eulogise about 1798 as some kind of eutopian cross-community moment. They wish for a time machine so that they, being from community A, could have stood valiantly alongside those of community B, through bonds of brotherhood and common cause that still resonate deep within them. Yawn. It's a nicely airbrushed tale.

I've just finished re-reading David Hume's booklet on the 1798 Rebellion, or "Turn Oot", entitled To Right Some Things We Thought Wrong (Ulster Society, 1998). David rightly points out that, after years of agitation and planning, the eventual Rising in Antrim and Down of June 1798 was suddenly undermined by what had occurred in southern Ireland just days earlier, actions carried out by those who claimed to be fighting for the same cause. Rather than a rising against the state, the headline news from Wexford was of brutal massacres of fellow citizens.

There are two lists online of those who were killed - here and here, giving their names, where they lived and in some cases how they died. Be warned - some make for very grisly reading. (ref: National Library of Ireland, Dublin NLI JLB 94107)

So, when the order was given for Antrim to rise on 7th June, many just stayed at home, hiding in byres, developing instant illnesses, or just staying at work in the fields. Just a week later, at Ballynahinch, hundreds of men deserted the night before the famous Battle at which Betsy Gray and so many others were killed. The Rising was roundly defeated by the government forces; the aftermath was many months of executions and deportations. Shortly afterwards, the Parliament of Ireland was abolished and in 1801 the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was born.

As Antrim poet James Campbell (1756-1818) later wrote:

In Ninety Eight we armed again, to right some things that we thought wrong
We got sae little for our pains, it's no worth mindin' in a song.


Charlie Reynolds said...

Mark, Thanks for the little history lesson its funny how little we really know about our history. Battle of Hastings springs mind or battle of Waterloo. I wonder if the children are still taught English History at school and our History rarely mentioned.

Mark Thompson said...

Charlie - aye, but a freen o' mine fae Manchester (noo leevin in Newtownards) toul me a while ago that a' he was taught at school was aboot Hamilton & Montgomery and the Covenanters!