Kilfinane - 1st Feb. 1947


Kilfinane: Text Version

Feb. 1, 1947


Those who have read Miss Porter's splendid tale, 'The Scottish Chiefs,' will remember the gallant William Wallace, who strove so hard to free Scotland from the English yoke. Ireland, too, had a hero of that name, a man whose story will be told as long as courage and honour are esteemed and respected by men. He was born at Tiermoor, about three miles north of Kilfinane, in the County of Limerick, in the year 1733. His ancestors had resided in the district for many generations, and the family is still represented in the neighbourhood of Kilfinane. In his native countryside he is better known, perhaps, as 'Staker' Wallace. (Sometimes the name is written 'Wallis;' it is so spelt on the family headstones). William Wallace was a small farmer of 6 or 8 cows. In 1759 he married Hanora Riordan of Glenroe. He had two sons and three daughters, who settled down near their parents' home.


In the last years of the eighteenth century a reign of was begun in the South -– as in the other Provinces. England had determined to goad the people into rebellion. Ireland's answer was the founding of the United Irishmen. Branches of the organization sprang up all over the country. William Wallace was made Captain of the Martinstown Branch of the United Men, which shows us the trust reposed in him by his associates. But if the Irish people were combining for their own protection their enemies were not idle, either.

In Captain's Lane, in Kilfinane, lived Captain Charles Oliver, who was a magistrate of the local yeomanry corps, which was made up for the most part of Palatines from the settlement at Castle Oliver. Oliver's cruelty and severity earned for him the title of 'Bloody Sucker'. A company of was also quartered in the town. As well, Oliver compelled many farmers' sons, who had good horses, to join the forces he had mustered for the maintenance of 'law and order'.


Every evening during the late spring and early summer of 1798 horsemen, native and foreign, rode into Kilfinane to take part in military exercises. Among the local youths compelled to join Oliver's Yeomanry was one Michael Walsh, the son of a well-to-do farmer from Martinstown. His father had intended that he should have a profession, and for that purpose had him sent to school in Limerick. Young Walsh was a relative of William Wallace's wife, his mother being one of the Riordan family of Glenroe. Another young man who joined the corps was Roger Sheedy – and not altogether through compulsion, it is said. He and Walsh were the best mounted and furnished men in the corps. Walsh soon learned that Wallace was being watched, news of his association with the United Irishmen having reached Oliver, and he determined to warn him, but before he had the opportunity of so doing an order was issued for Wallace's arrest. When young Walsh asked his father what he'd do if he were ever compelled to chase Wallace, the elder man, knowing that in all probability the wanted leader would dash off towards the nearby bog, looked at his son's fine animal and said:- 'Sink him: money would buy us a good horse; it would never buy us a good name'.


One foggy morning in the latter part of '98 a large body of armed men, with Captain Oliver at their head, rode out of Kilfinane, towards Tiermoor. When they descended the slope they advanced at a brisk trot for about two miles. On approaching Wallace's house one of the foremost soldiers noticed a man without his coat running across the fields. It was William Wallace, the 65 years old Captain of the United Irishmen. Oliver's men immediately gave chase. The poor fugitive, knowing only too well what was in store for him, dashed towards the Red Bog, hoping to shake off his mounted pursuers in the dangerous ground. His plan was partly successful and the horsemen were slowed up –- all, with the exception of Michael Walsh, whose splendid animal carried his rider forward at break-neck speed. When Walsh found himself drawing dangerously close to Wallace he resolved on a desperate deed. He spurred his matchless beast straight ahead towards a dark bog hole and jumped him to his death into it, springing to safety himself in the nick of time. Only by such means could he avoid capturing his friend.


Finding himself gaining from his fierce pursuers, Wallace ran on towards Kilmurry, then headed for Cush. His age began to tell, his pace slackened, and Oliver's men thundered ever closer behind him. Tired and spent, he ran past Moorestown and started up the Killeen mountain, where he hoped no pursuer would follow. But one man followed hard on his heels; and, when at the end of his two-mile run Wallace stumbled into a bog hole, Roger Sheedy rode up and arrested him. Sheedy compelled a herdsman named Michael Casey to help him bring Wallace down the mountainside to the house of a man named Hayes, to await the arrival of the main body. They were not long in coming, and soon rode back to Kilfinane with their hapless prisoner in their midst.



Next day Oliver visited Wallace in his cell and offered him his freedom and a large sum of money if he'd give him the names of his comrades in the ranks of the United Irishmen. 'No, Oliver; never! I'll see you blind first.' Many times Oliver repeated his offer, but seeing that it was all to no purpose he resolved to try different methods. He had the prisoner brought out into the barrack yard, his hands tied in front of him and stripped to the waist. He was then tied to the back of a cart, which was driven through the main street of Kilfinane, while a big muscular fellow named Bartmann walked behind him, and lashed his body with a cat-o-nine-tails. This continued until he was unconscious. After this savage punishment the bleeding victim was thrown back in his cell.


After a few days Oliver again visited him expecting to find his spirit broken. But William Wallace was not to be cowed. He refused to inform on his friends. Once again he was publicly flogged through Kilfinane. He never murmured. A soldier of the North Cork Militia who was detailed to do the flogging on this occasion sickened at his task, and had to be relieved by a fresh hand. This time Wallace's wife witnessed her husband's torture, and called on him to be brave and not to divulge his secret. The sufferer kept his silence, and when for the second time he was thrown back unconscious into his cell the names of his companions were still unknown to their enemies. Oliver returned after a week. He remonstrated with Wallace and told him he was a fool. Once more the bribe was offered, the prisoner replying: - 'It is better that one old man should lose his life than that half the young men of the parish should be put to death.' Oliver strode out of the jail; and after a while he sent one of his bodyguards to Wallace, asking him to write on a piece of paper the name of one United Irishman, promising him his freedom if he did so. Wallace took the slip of paper and wrote on it -

'William Wallace'.


Oliver now resorted to a fiendish plan to try and discover some other United Irishman who might more easily be persuaded to give him the information he sought. A fair was to be held in Ballinvreena, about 3 miles north of Kilfinane. Thither Wallace was brought on the fair day and publicly flogged for the third time. Oliver hoped that some of those assembled would attempt to rescue the prisoner, and so put into his power someone who might reveal the secret. But no hand was raised to save poor Wallace. The Yeoman Captain was shouting to Barkmann to lay on the cat with greater force, when an officer named George Wheeler Bennett rode up and cried:- 'Shame!' at Oliver. After a few words with the newcomer, Oliver reluctantly ordered Bartmann to stop the flogging. Once again the prisoner was conveyed to Kilfinane and deposited in the jail.


At last the people shook off their fear and made a determined but vain attempt to storm the jail and rescue Wallace. Oliver then made up his mind to execute him. A scaffold was erected in the jail yard, and on it died the gallant William Wallace, a humble Irish peasant, who could neither be bought nor intimidated by the might of the British Empire. After being hanged his body was taken down and quartered, and his head set on a stake in the market place as a warning to his country men. Some say that it was on account of being so staked he was called 'Staker' Wallace. His mangled body was thrown unwept and unhonoured by heedless hands into a quick-lime grave in front of the jail. After Wallace's a lamentation was composed for him. In all likelihood it was in Irish, the language of that countryside then. The following lines would surely seem to be a translation from the Gaelic:-

'Oh, Michael Walsh, the noble,

Who went drowning in the boghole.

Loyal and straight was the proudest old man.

'The son of Sheedy,

May not Christ grant you victory,

Who followed him through the boghole.'


To the very kind lady who supplied nearly all the above information about William Wallace, but who didn't wish that her name should be disclosed, I am very grateful; and I am sure that my readers, when they have read this tale of the heroism of a brave Irish countryman, will be grateful to her, too. Isn't it a pity that accounts of happenings like these should be allowed to pass unrecorded? I wonder has any Limerick reader any tale of '98, or other stirring period of history, from his district? In many houses there must be old papers and records that if made available would be of the greatest interest. So, look and listen, and see who will be the first to come on something worth while.


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