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Old 07-12-2021, 02:58 PM   #132 (permalink)
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Father Michael Murphy (1767 - 1798)

So far as I can make out, he was no relation to the previous Father John Murphy (although he had a brother named John) - Murphy has always been a very common name in Ireland, perhaps as common as Smith in England. Sent to complete his education in Bordeaux in France, Father Michael was trapped when the French Revolution broke out, and imprisoned until he and his fellow students could be repatriated to Ireland, all Catholic priests under an order of expulsion by the new republican government. Perhaps oddly, though treated with disdain by the French (and the president of his college having been guillotined) Murphy nevertheless espoused the revolutionary ideas of his erstwhile captors on his return to Ireland, and while lodging in a house owned by a member of the United Irishmen, became enamoured of their cause and joined up himself.

Although he does not appear to have been present at the incident at The Harrow, he did meet up with Father John Murphy and the rest of the rebels that morning and marched with them to Oulart and then on to Gorey after their success there, leaving his namesake to head to Vinegar Hill. He later found that the house of his old landlord, John Kenny, had been burned, along with others in the village, by the Yeos, and Kenny himself shot. He encountered the forces of Colonel Walpole at Carraig Rua (Red Rock) and dealt them a terrific defeat, leading to the death of the colonel himself. After taking Gorey Town, Father Michael was among those who were - every one - opposed to Father Philip Roche’s intention to seek surrender terms from Lake in Wexford Town. Well, we’ve read how that turned out, haven’t we?

Father Murphy then launched an attack on Arklow, and was killed while leading the charge. After his forces had been utterly defeated, his body was thrown headless into a burning house, General Lord Norris remarking caustically that his body might as well go where his soul had already gone. His intact head and the remains of his body were later recovered by his sister and interred in the family plot.

Father Mogue Kearns (d. 1798)

One thing that seems common to all these “rebel priests” or “warrior priests” or “battle priests”, or whatever you want to call them - and it’s hardly surprising - is that they were all big, bluff strong men. Makes sense really: the kind of man, even priest, likely to take up arms in defence of his country was hardly going to be a local weed. Fighting men, strong men, men quick to anger and essentially it appears all men who could be described as “bears”, but obviously intelligent too (stupid men did not make it through basic training in the Church), and with a strong sense of pride and loyalty to Ireland.

Kearns was also sent to France for his education and got caught up in the French Revolution - literally in his case. Attacked by supporters of Robespierre he was actually hanged from a lamppost, but the story goes that his body was so big, heavy and powerful that it actually bent the lamppost, making it sag towards the ground and so placing his feet back on the ground. When an Irish physician saw what had happened, he had him cut down and resuscitated.

So Mogue Kearns had already had a brush with death in the cause of a revolution, albeit on the wrong side of the conflict, before he returned to Ireland and joined the United Irishmen.

While serving as a curate in the parish of Balyna, he attempted to rouse the people and have them take to the field in defence of Ireland, but his parish priest dissuaded them, had Kearns dismissed and he returned to Wexford, where he took up residence in Enniscorthy. Another trait common among some, but not all, of the rebel priests, Mogue Kearns was a hard drinker and got into many fights. After Enniscorthy was captured by the rebels he sat on the committee alongside Fathers Philip Roche and John Murphy, presiding over some of the meetings. He was renowned for his bravery, going into battle often armed only with a heavy riding whip, however this hot-headedness and impulsive behaviour was to have tragic consequences for him.

During the Battle of Bunclody he rejected advice from one of his commanders, who believed they should send a detachment to secure the Carlow Road and so cut off a possible retreat by the garrison holding the town, sneering “Tell all those you have any control over to fear nothing as long as they see this whip in my hand!” As his subordinate had warned, the garrison, retreating from the attack, ran into another force coming to strengthen them, and the two then turned to face the surprised rebels, driving them out of the town. They lost over a hundred men in the rout, in addition to losing the town. Morale took a dive.

While Father John Murphy took his men to Vinegar Hill and eventual defeat, Kearns went to Enniscorthy, where, when the commander was wounded he had to take over, but receiving a severe arm wound was forced to withdraw, carried by his men as they made their way back towards Wexford. Left to recuperate at the house of a friend he returned three weeks later, though his arm had far from healed, leading a contingent of men. Saying he would rather die on his feet with a weapon in his hand than be taken cowering in a house, he rejoined the fight, and after taking part in many skirmishes he was apprehended in Edenderry and hanged.

Father Thomas Clinch

A man with rebellion in his bloodline, Father Thomas’s grandfather had fought at the Battle of the Boyne, so the hatred of the English was strong there, as if their repression of Catholics had not been enough. Yet another boisterous drunkard, Father Thomas was pretty much a priest in name only, having been dismissed from his pastoral duties by the bishop after serving in several different towns. He joined the rising and, like many of the other priests who fought with the rebels, he had brothers in the United Irishmen too, though whether they were also priests I don’t know. He certainly distinguished himself in battle, stories of his riding a large white horse and leading troops into battle common.

He too seemed to have some sympathy for Protestant civilians, and guaranteed safe harbour for Mrs. Heydon, who took refuge in the house of the postmaster of Enniscorthy, Henry Gill. She was the wife of the Reverend Heydon, the harmless Protestant vicar who was killed by rebels as already discussed, and the Catholics did not trust her, but his brother having been a tenant of the late Reverend’s wife, Father Thomas vouched for her and demanded she be treated kindly. He was another who died at Vinegar Hill, or slightly beyond it, having been keeping a rearguard action so as to secure the escape of as many of the routed rebels as possible.

He engaged in a duel with Lord Roden, commander of the troop known as the “Foxhunters”. Roden had spotted his conspicuous white horse and his massive figure - both of which were hard to miss - and rode after him, receiving a wound in his neck but being saved by one of his own men who came up from behind and shot Father Thomas, who fell from his horse. His men carried him away but he died on the way to Enniscorthy.

Father John Redmond

His story was markedly different to his brother priests, in that the parish of which he was curate was overseen by a man who was generally seen as one of the most liberal of landlords, the Earl of Mount Norris, who was so tolerant of Catholics that he even dined with the priests, and assured the Lord Viceroy of Wexford’s peaceful nature. Like the earl, Father John was completely at odds with the other rebel priests, even going so far as to refuse the sacrament of Holy Communion to anyone in the United Irishmen, or hear their Confession. Given that he lived under such an agreeable landlord, you can understand that. Again, unlike the other priests, whom we’ve seen were almost all rowdy, prone to fighting and fond of drink - and usually censured by the bishop - there was nothing but praise for Father John, a model priest.

So how did he become a rebel? Let’s find out.

Universally despised by the other priests who had joined the rebellion, he was, due to his devotion to Mount Norris, seen as a loyalist, and was in fact called “the Orange Priest”, surely the greatest slur you could aim at a Catholic priest (and not a very nice thing any Orangeman would like to hear either!) and he was constantly in fear of his life during the rising, seen as a traitor by his own people. When the house at Camolin Park was raided for weapons by the rebels, he pleaded with them not to destroy it, and managed to convince them to leave it standing. All for nothing though. When the earl heard word that Father Redmond had been present at the raid he concluded that the priest was in on it, and ordered him to report to him in Gorey to explain himself. When Redmond obeyed, he was seized as he entered the town, kicked and punched and dragged along the ground, and thrown in jail. He must have wished he had rebelled like all the other priests!

While he was languishing in prison, a troop of Yeos who had been in the defeat at Ballyellis rushed the jail, dragged him out, held a quick mock trial and sentenced him to be hanged as a traitor, which was carried out summarily. His one-time benefactor, Mount Norris, believing (without a shred of evidence, but who needed that?) that he faced a traitor, shot Redmond as he hung on the gibbet. Perhaps, in the aftermath of the rising, it might have seemed to the earl prudent to distance himself from these Catholics of whom he had once been such a friend, lest he be seen as a traitor himself.
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