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  • The Wexford Rebellion 1798

The Battle of Vinegar Hill

While the southern rebels were struggling in New Ross, the northern rebels were suffering similar problems in Arklow. They lost many men trying to break the government defences of the town, and were unable to draw them out for a battle. They retreated back to Gorey, badly defeated. The result was a two-week stalemate. Both the southern and northern rebel divisions moved frequently, getting into skirmishes along the way.

By 19 June, the rebellion had petered out in most of the rest of the country. Wexford was one of the last remaining rebel strongholds. Thousands of reinforcements had arrived from Britain to boost the government army. General Lake was their commander, and he decided the time was right to make a move against Wexford. He collected 10,000 troops in five different points around the county.

The Battle of Vinegar Hill
Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

The Battle of Vinegar Hill changed the course of the Wexford rebellion. From that point on, they had to fight on the run, which prevented them from raising a bigger army.

The northern rebels had been forced to retreat to Vinegar Hill by 20 June. The government army of 10,000 formed a ring around the hill. It bombarded the rebel headquarters with artillery. Around 20,000 rebels, including women and children, were located there.

The bombardment soon became too much for the rebels, who managed to escape through a gap in the ring of attack. While withdrawing through Needham's gap, they were chased by the government forces. Although most of the rebels got away, many were brutally murdered in the chase. These included women and children. The surviving rebels were now scattered. It was a big victory for General Lake and the government.

On the Run

After the defeat, the rebels split into two groups again. One of them, led by Father John Murphy, fled as far as Laois before becoming trapped in the Blackstairs Mountains. Father Murphy was captured and executed.

The second group headed in the direction of Ulster, where they hoped there would still be rebels fighting. After attacking several government outposts along the way, they marched towards the Timahoe Bog in Co. Kildare. Then they attacked Clonard in Co. Meath. They were defeated in Knightstown on the border of Lough and Meath. Several hundred rebels escaped and headed back south on horseback. However, they were surrounded in a small village in North County Dublin called Ballyboghill. Although they put up a good fight, the Wexford rebels had finally been fully defeated.