Massacre or Battle - Gibbet Rath Analysis

On Tuesday 29 May possibly around four hundred rebels had gathered at the Rath without any topographical cover which must at least indicate their good intentions. Pakenham said that the negotiations were within minutes of being concluded when Duff marched upon them from the rear. If this is so we can only understand the fear of the rebels of a breach of fate and their uneasy situation. This would support the acceptable version of the reason for Duff's attack, that a shot or shots were fired into the air or possibly at the troops. But while this may provide the pretext for a military response it cannot provide a reason for the massacre of about 350 rebels apparently unarmed and in flight.

It was certain that by now the rebels knew that the Carlow men had been disastrously defeated on the 25 May, that Dublin had failed to rise, that communications were open between Naas and Dublin for government reinforcements of men and munitions, and about the surrender at Knockaulin. On the other hand according to Duff's own affidavit the troops were hungry for blood. Some of those who had joined Duff in Monasterevin had defeated the rebels there some three days earlier. Lord Roden's foxhunters it seems were intent on slaughtering the croppies (rebels) that day. The most sinister account was provided by O'Kelly who interviewed witnesses when he wrote his history in 1842. He described it as a premeditated act and claimed that once the arms had been dumped the rebels were forced to kneel and beg the King's pardon, Duff then commanded his men to charge and spare no rebel, an unconscionable act of brutality, but suggestive of a darker reason which Duff implied by his mention of the cruelties committed against the officers.

Confused stories of the massacre and depredation were no doubt well versed at this time but one incident directly affected Duff's detachment. When Wilford had evacuated Kildare to the rebels, the had plundered the Limerick mail and piked to death, a seventeen year old officer, Lieutenant William Gifford. He was the son of a popular Captain of Colonel Sankey's City of Dublin Militia, which constituted a large part of Duff's force. Contiguous to this we must question Duff's ability to competently appraise the situation and his level of understanding of what had happened within the last six days between the beginning of the rising and the massacre on the 29 May.


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