Taylor: A History of the Rise, Progress and Suppression of the Rebellion in the County of Wexford in the Year 1798

Pdf Taylor, George, A History of the Rise, Progress and Suppression of the Rebellion in the County of Wexford in the Year 1798, Dublin: William Curry, Jun And Co. 1829
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A History of the Rise, Progress and Suppression of the Rebellion in the County of Wexford in the Year 1798 by Reverend George Taylor was published in 1829 over three decades after the events described. Taylor was lucky to escape with his life after Irish revolutionaries inspired by the American and French revolutions captured much of County Wexford during the summer of 1798. He wrote his own account to head off pretenders who aimed to publish fake accounts of his own experiences.

Taylor describes the  historical injustices that led to the rebellion, the successes of the rebels who captured Wexford and other towns in the county and their defeat at Vinegar Hill and its aftermath. He describes a descent into lawlessness, fierce fighting, sectarian reprisals and atrocities on both sides. The uprising precipitated the Act of Union 1800 which would have enormous ramifications for Ireland in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In the 16th and 17th centuries religious wars, Gaelic Irish defeat and the arrival Protestant settlers in Ireland resulted in a Protestant Ascendancy and a Gaelic Irish Catholic underclass. Until the late 18th century, Catholics were oppressed by penal laws designed to discriminate against them religiously, politically and economically. Protestants in Ireland and Britain remained wary of Spanish and French support for the Catholic Irish.

Following the American and French revolutions, Henry Grattan and his Whig supporters achieved legislative freedom for the Irish Parliament. A militia known as the Irish Volunteers established to combat a French invasion alarmed Tories who feared Anglo-Irish Protestant rebellion in Ireland . The British government believed a possible French invasion of the British Isles would happen simultaneous with an Irish uprising.

The Irish Parliament remained undemocratic and dominated by the Protestant Ascendancy. Radicals in The Society of the United Irishmen such as Theobold Wolfe Tone, Lord Edward Fitzgerald and many more, sought the overthrow of British rule in Ireland and the establishment of an Irish Republic with equality for Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter.

In 1796 Tone accompanied a French invasion fleet which was forced to turn back after storms prevented a landing at Bantry Bay, Co. Cork. The Irish government responded with a brutal crackdown on rebels throughout much of Leinster. These tactics succeeded in destroying much of the rebel organisation and encouraged the handover of large quantities of weapons. Leading United Irishmen were captured and Lord Edward Fitzgerald was mortally wounded resisting arrest in Dublin. In counties Antrim and Down, a Protestant rebellion led by Henry Joy McCracken and others was also crushed in 1798.

News of a loyalist massacre of rebel prisoners in Dunlavin and Carnew appeared to fuel hysteria about a planned extermination of the Catholic population. In late May 1798, rebels massed and overcame loyalist garrisons throughout County Wexford especially in battles at Oulart, Enniscorthy and Wexford. Throughout the month of June, a civilian republican government was in control of much of County Wexford under the leadership of Father John Murphy, Bagenal Harvey, Matthew Keogh and others.

Taylor describes the establishment of the self-styled government: “No sooner had the rebels entered the town than they immediately began to reorganise the state. A Grand National Committee was set up and a Committee of Five Hundred and a Council of Elders; the premises of Mr. Cullimore was commandeered and was known as the ‘Senate House.”

The rebels marched west toward New Ross and north toward Arklow but both forces were crushed. General Lake who commanding 20,000 troops launched a successful counter offensive from the direction of Duncannon, New Ross, Newtownbarry, Carnew and Arklow simultaneously.

The rebels, the majority peasants armed with pikes, were no match for professional soldiers supported by cannon fire. The rebels retreated on all fronts, their camp at Vinegar Hill was destroyed and organised resistance ceased. Thousands were summarily killed while the survivors dispersed into the bogs and mountains. Father Murphy, Harvey, Keogh and other leaders were executed.

Sectarian reprisals resulted in the massacre of loyalist and Protestant prisoners including women and children. In a notorious incident rebels forced their captives into a barn and burned them to death while other loyalist prisoners were piked to death on a bridge in the centre of Wexford town. Taylor and other captives were rescued just in time by loyalist forces who took Wexford town as the rebels fled.

In August and September, there was a short lived 'Republic of Connaught' after French troops landed in County Mayo too late to help the rebels in Wexford and Ulster. The French commander surrendered he was defeated at Ballinamuck, County Longford. Wolfe Tone was captured at sea and taken to Dublin where he committed suicide.

The Irish Parliament agreed to merge with the British Commons under the Act of Union 1800. A rebellion by Robert Emmet in 1803 was easily defeated and rebels still holding out since 1798 were captured or killed. In 1815 the French Emperor Napoleon was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. Catholic Emancipation would not be achieved until 1829 but conditions for the Catholic poor worsened culminating in the Great Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s.

The 1798 rebellion inspired generations of republican rebels in the 19th century and the 20th century. However the secular principles and Protestant origins of Irish republicanism would often be overlooked by Irish nationalists.

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