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Old 07-12-2021, 02:44 PM   #131 (permalink)
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Before I close out what has turned out to be a much longer article than expected, there is one further aspect of the 1798 rising I want to investigate. I think it may very well be a unique one.

Holy Warriors: Ireland’s Rebel Battle Priests

I know English lords were often made bishops and archbishops and led armies, and of course the Pope and his various cardinals too, but more back in the early part of the millennium; however I have never, up to this, heard of bog (almost literally) standard priests not only fighting but leading men into battle, and yet when I look at the list of commanders of the rebels it’s littered with Father this and Father that. So I’d like now to look at these, and see what led to such men of the cloth taking up arms and standing up for their country, actually fighting alongside the men of their flock rather than just praying for them. Most, of course, would also die in Ireland’s cause for freedom.

Father John Murphy (1753 - 1798)

Perhaps the most famous of the “rebel priests”, his name preserved in the old Irish ballad “Boolavogue”, Fr. Murphy was a native of Ferns parish in Wexford, where almost all of the priests who took part in the rebellion would come from. Like all Catholic priests at the time, he was subject to the Penal Laws holding sway in Ireland, which forbade priests studying or being trained there, seminaries outlawed, and so he had completed his education in Spain.
Returning to Ireland in 1785 he was given the curacy of Kilcomuc, more usually known as Boolavogue, under the parish priesthood of Fr. Patrick Cogley. Fr. Murphy’s family was already involved with the United Irishmen, two of his brothers being in the society, but his bishop, James Caulfield, was a supporter of the Crown and against the idea of rebellion. Nonetheless, Murphy preached from the pulpit to his congregation that they were "better to die courageously in the fields than be butchered in their houses.” He was not exaggerating, as General Lake’s Yeomen swept through Leinster, killing, raping and burning as they went.

As Catholics, and not just Catholics but the leaders of the religion, the priests had a double dilemma on their hands. First, the obvious one: a priest was expected to be peaceful and promote the cause of peace and brotherhood and harmony (though this is hard to do when the enemy is slaughtering and burning all around you, and seems determined to wipe you out) and not supposed to take part in any sort of armed conflict. Secondly, and perhaps more worryingly for them, the Irish rebellion was founded on the notion, hope or promise of support from France. Since the Revolution, the leaders of France’s new republic were staunchly anti-religion, especially anti-Catholic, so if the French were to invade and “save” Ireland, where would the role of the priests be? Might not even those who had fought for the very freedom they would now have attained find themselves exiled, or worse - guests of Madame la Guillotine?

Nevertheless, they fought, and while he wavered between loyalty, both to his bishop and the English king, news of the massacre at Dunlavin and the insistence of his parishioners that he protect them and fight for Ireland made Fr. Murphy’s mind up, and he led an attack at the Harrow, killing two British officers and routing the small force. This led to the burning of many houses in his parish, including his own church at Boolavogue. Murphy’s small victory and subsequent success at Oulart Hill are immortalised in the ballad of the same name:

Then Father Murphy, from old Kilcormack,
Spurred up the rocks with a warning cry;
"Arm! Arm!" he cried, "For I've come to lead you,
For Ireland's freedom we fight or die."
He led us on against the coming soldiers,
And the cowardly Yeomen we put to flight;
'Twas at the Harrow the boys of Wexford
Showed Booky's Regiment how men could fight.”

(Booky refers to Lieutenant Thomas Bookey, one of the two officers of the Camolin Cavalry killed at The Harrow)

Fr. Murphy’s defeat and death at Vinegar Hill is also commemorated in the song.

“At Vinegar Hill, o'er the pleasant Slaney,
Our heroes vainly stood back to back,
And the Yeos at Tullow took Father Murphy
And burned his body upon the rack.
God grant you glory, brave Father Murphy
And open heaven to all your men;
The cause that called you may call tomorro
In another fight for the Green again.”

Murphy did indeed win a major victory at Oulart Hill, as already described, all but wiping out Lieutenant Foote’s command, As they marched to take Enniscorthy, Murphy’s regiment was reinforced by one led by another priest, and indeed another Murphy, Father Michael. They forced the retreat of the garrison there, and marched in triumph on to Wexford town, which they also took, but as we have seen, were unable to keep, Here they were joined by another priest, Father Mogue Kearns as they later marched to Vinegar Hill, preparatory to attacking Gorey. This was, of course, to be their last stand.

On the run from the defeat at Vinegar Hill and the later Battle of Kilcumey Hill, Fr. Murphy and his friend and bodyguard James Gallagher were captured by British forces and taken to Tullow in County Carlow, where they were tried, found guilty of treason and executed. Their deaths were not quick and they were not merciful. Both men were stripped, flogged, half-hanged several times (Gallagher first, as he was exhorted to identify the priest with whom he travelled, but refused, dying on the gallows) and Father Murphy, as both a Catholic priest and therefore mortal enemy of the British, and a rebel, was decapitated after hanging, his body put into a barrel of tar and burned and his head stuck on a spike.

Father Philip Roche

Another priest from the Boolavogue parish, his brother was involved in the attack at The Harrow, and seems to have been less (or more) than the traditional image of a priest; big and burly, given to great tempers and able to fight with ferocity, and given to drinking, he seems - despite his vocation - to have been the kind of man who would respond quickly and eagerly to the call to defend Ireland, and indeed it appears that he joined the United Irishmen before the rebellion began, again much to the disgust and disapproval of his bishop. He seems to have had the equivalent of a problem holding down a job, being moved from Gorey to Bantry, finally ending up in Poulpeasty in Wexford. As soon as the rising began he deserted his post and joined in the fighting.

He took part in the battle for Enniscorthy and was at Vinegar Hill, and secured safe passage for one “Mrs. M”, declaring that her house and that of her neighbour were not to be touched, by his order. He used the power of faith to motivate his troops, giving them religious scapulars and telling the men that they would be under God’s protection by wearing them. He was given command of the rebels after the Battle of New Ross when Bagenal Harvey, the previous commander, resigned, apparently in disgust at the atrocities perpetrated by rebels at Scullabogue. Father Roche was given the rank of general. This did not go down well with the Protestants who had joined the rebels, unsurprisingly.

Father (now General) Roche sent word to the parish of Horeswood that if their parish priest there, one Father James Doyle, did not join them then Roche’s forces would attack the town. He appears to have been something of an uncompromising leader, and you have to wonder if he had missed his calling. Doyle had no choice but to comply, but kept the letter which he used in his trial later to attain acquittal for himself and his men. Roche, meanwhile, despite the misgivings of Thomas Clooney and other Protestants in the ranks, proved to be more than an able commander, proved in fact to be something of a military genius, holding off the British forces by a kind of Beau Geste subterfuge while his men escaped, and later, after the defeat at Vinegar Hill, as the other leaders considered suing for terms to surrender Wexford Town, Roche would have no part of it.

His error though was to believe that General Lake would afford him favourable terms, or deal with him at all, and while Father John Murphy declared they should fight to the last - and every man agreed and stood with him - Roche travelled alone to Wexford. He was quickly disabused of his notions of a noble surrender and thoroughly abused as, entering the town he was recognised and pulled from his horse, kicked and beaten, dragged through the streets and finally imprisoned. When visited there by General Sir John Moore, he advised his adversary that his estimate of the numbers of the rebels was way off - Moore estimated about 5,000 to 6,000 but Roche told him there was three times that number, which there were.

Roche gained for himself in his lifetime as a rebel a reputation not only for battle cunning and planning but for mercy, often saving Protestants from the more vocal and violent factions of his own forces. This unfortunately did him no good when, after being tried and found guilty (duh) of treason, he, along with nine other rebels, was hanged at, and from, Wexford Bridge.

A strange dilemma shows itself in the above clemency shown by Father Roche, illustrated best in the example of the brothers Robinson who, taken by the rebels from their parish of Kilgeny for no other reason than that they were Protestants, and also both quite old and therefore both harmless and mostly unable to defend themselves, were rescued by Roche and given letters guaranteeing their safety. Sent home with these, they were later accused of collusion and treachery by the British for having accepted the pardon of the rebel general. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!
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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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Old 07-12-2021, 03:02 PM   #133 (permalink)
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Epilogue: One nation, indivisible, under an English God - The Act of Union

The rising of 1798 probably marks the only time Catholics and Protestants would join common cause; after its failure Protestants would look to not only the atrocities perpetrated by the “papists” (ignoring of course those carried out on their own side, and vice versa) and see the often treacherous behaviour of Catholics as proving they could not be trusted. From here on in, the word sectarian would be forever engraved into the long and bloody history of Ireland, culminating in the rather bland-sounding Troubles, which would last well into the second half of the twentieth century and ensure Ireland was, and remains to this day, deeply divided along lines of religion and belief.

In the wake of the Rebellion, and with support growing for Catholic emancipation, to say nothing of the renewed fear of further invasion from France, William Pitt, Prime Minister of Great Britain, decided that military suppression alone was never going to quell the tensions in Ireland, and to that effect he proposed the Act of Union, which would unite the Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland, and merge the Irish Parliament with the British one. This measure met, not surprisingly, with stiff resistance from the Irish Parliament (almost all of whom were, after all, Protestants and had no interest in equal rights for Catholics and worried their own power would diminish) but a combination of bribes, coercion and promises allowed the Act to scrape through on a 158 - 115 vote when brought before the House again in 1800. On January 1 1801 it became law, and the Irish Parliament was abolished.

What this meant for Ireland we will see in the next chapter, but one thing was certain: while the cause of Irish independence may have been defeated it was not dead, and would rise again only a few years into the new century to threaten the British establishment again, even though it would take another century and more before we would finally be free. Before that, Ireland would be devastated by a harrowing famine that would rob her of the flower of her youth, either to death or emigration, an even greater divide would develop between north and south - a divide which would never really be healed - and, against all expectations, Irishmen would serve the king as the entire world burned under the threat of a new horror: not just a war, but a world war.
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Old 07-20-2021, 12:22 PM   #134 (permalink)
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Excellant, Trolleybookends now posted chapter V....Thanks and wishing best beaties to you
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