Sunday, 5 August 2012

Laurence Butler- Ch.1: the 1798 Irish Rebellion

Badge of the United Irish

               Motto:  It is new strung and shall be heard

Laurence[1] Butler was born in southern Ireland in c.1750 [2], most probably in northern County Wexford in the Barony of Scarawalsh. In 1798, Laurence was living in the small and ancient village of Ferns, about six miles north of Enniscorthy, in the County of Wexford. He was a cabinet-maker by trade. County Wexford is a small area in the S.E. corner of Ireland, measuring approximately 40 miles N-S and 30 miles E-W, surrounded by mountains to the north and west bordering Counties Wicklow, Carlow and Kilkenny, the Irish sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the south and the Waterford Passage between Wexford and County Waterford in the south-west corner.

Laurence was possibly a descendant of the powerful Ormond Butler family that governed the counties of Kilkenny, Tipperary, and other counties in the southern Irish provinces of Leinster and Munster for over five centuries as Earls of Ormond and Chief Butler of Ireland, several of whom acting as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. As Irish records of Catholic births/baptisms are scarce pre civil registration of births which began in 1864, it will be virtually impossible to establish his exact birthplace and birthparents. It would appear from information gathered about Butlers living in Wexford during the preceding centuries, that Laurence was most likely a descendant of the Mountgarrett line of Butlers that settled in the area around Enniscorthy and Ferns from the 1540’s. Richard Butler, 1st Viscount Mountgarrett, second son of the 8th Earl of Ormond, was appointed Governor of County Wexford and Constable of Ferns Castle in 1540. He acquired the lands of Kayer and Moneyhore near Enniscorthy which he bequeathed to his second son Pierce Butler. Pierce’s descendants inhabited the lands around Enniscorthy and further north in the Barony of Scarawalsh around the lands of Munphin/Mountfin near Ballycarney a short distance from Ferns, until the mid 1700’s. It is this line that is the most likely ancestry of Laurence Butler.[3]  These Wexford Butlers were from a long line of Butlers of the Catholic faith to have suffered land confiscations and the restrictive Penal Laws under centuries of English Protestant rule, resulting in Laurence's involvement in the disastrous Rebellion of 1798.

Catholics in Ireland had suffered severe repression and land confiscations through the period of the Tudors and Stuarts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries culminating in the formation of the Catholic Confederation by disaffected Catholic land-owners in the Irish and Anglo-Irish aristocratic and gentry classes in 1641, an alternative government to the established English appointed government in Dublin, and English rule from London. The ensuing rebellion lasted until their ultimate defeat by Cromwell in 1650, and the resultant land confiscations and disastrous re-settlement of Catholic landholders from the eastern provinces to the poorer western provinces in Connaught in the 1650's.

Although most returned to their county of birth following the death of Cromwell and the restitution of the monarchy in Charles II, they now became tenants of the new owners of their inherited properties- Cromwellian adventurers, soldiers, financiers and Puritan supporters. Very few had their lands returned to them. This "plantation' reinforced the ascendancy of the Protestant minority over the Catholic majority.
Forty years later, this rebellion was followed by the defeat of the Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 by his son-in-law the Protestant William III, and William's subsequent punishment of the Catholic classes was continued by his successors Queen Anne and the Hanovarian line. Between 1695 and 1728, a series of acts, the Penal Acts, were passed by Parliament which forbade Irish Catholics from practicing their faith. The vast majority of wealthy Catholics were progressively stripped of their wealth, positions, rights, estates and homes. Catholics no longer had the right to inherit their father's estate, and, in fact, sons who turned Protestant were given the right to claim the estate from their Catholic father during their father's lifetime. This section of the Penal Law was entitled, "An Act to Prevent the Further Growth of Popery", about which, Sir Toby Butler[4] made a famously eloquent speech to Parliament, in which he emotionally expressed, in part:
“Is not this against the laws of God and man? Against the rules of reason and justice, by which all men ought to be governed? Is not this the only way in the world to make children become undutiful? And to bring the gray head of the parent to the grave with grief and tears?
It would be hard from any man; but from a son, a child, the fruit of my body, whom I have nursed in my bosom, and tendered more dearly than my own life, to become my plunderer, to rob me of my estate, to cut my throat, and to take away my bread, is much more grievous than from any other, and enough to make the most flinty of hearts to bleed to think on it. And yet this will be the case if this bill pass into a law; which I hope this honourable assembly will not think of, when they shall more seriously consider, and have weighed these matters.
For God’s sake, gentlemen, will you consider whether this is according to the golden rule, to do as you would be done unto? And if not, surely you will not, nay, you cannot, without being liable to be charged with the most manifest injustice imaginable, take from us our birth-rights, and invest them in others before our faces.”[5]
Despite this emotive speech, the Act was passed.

Catholic children whose father died, were only given into the guardianship of a Protestant and were denied the right to be raised by Catholic relatives. It was illegal for Catholics to buy land.
Under the Gavel Act, it was illegal for Catholics to inherit estates that had not been divided by gavel-kind among all the sons of the family in each generation. This was designed to reduce the size of landholdings by Catholics over time. The law of 1709 authorized any Protestant who 'discovered' a Catholic-owned estate that had not been divided between the sons, or that in any other way was held to be in breach of the penal code, to take legal proceedings under the ‘discovery provisions’ of the law and claim the land for himself. Within a few generations, most Catholic landholdings had been reduced to just a few acres. By 1758, it was estimated that Catholics only held 5 percent of the land in Ireland, although accounting for 75per cent of the population. It was not until 1778 that an act, the Catholic Relief Act (17 & 18 Geo. III, c.49), was passed repealing the Gavel Act and allowed Irish Catholics who had taken the Oath of Allegiance to enter into 99 years land leases. However, this was barely a token gesture, for land values had increased beyond the reach of all but a few. Many devout Catholics refused to take the Oath. The Catholic Relief Act in 1793 was then expanded to grant Catholics the right to inherit land.[6]

The Penal Act also prevented Catholics from bearing arms and owning horses worth more than £5. Catholic children were restricted in their rights to education. Unless educated in a Protestant school, it was an offence to send their children to a Catholic school, to teach Catholic children, or for Catholic parents to send their children to the Continent for an education. The Act prevented Catholics from buying land, banned them from serving in the army, holding public office, entering the legal profession, becoming MP’s or voting. Catholics in business or a skilled trade, were prevented from joining a guild, which severely restricted their ability to trade, which in turn, gave an unfair advantage to Protestant businessmen. Only Protestant freemen were listed in Trade Directories. Because Catholics were excluded from the guilds they could not become freemen of the city; if they wished to trade in a corporate town, they had to pay an annual fee known as quarterage to the corporation. Any who refused to pay this fee/tax or could not afford to pay the fee, was forced to quit his business. This fee would have to be paid in each of the towns in which the tradesman wished to trade. To do this in more than one or two major centers would have been prohibitive, thus restricting the trader from developing a large, successful business. Nor were they allowed to export their products to the Continent, or to England.

To what extent, Laurence Butler had been affected by these penal acts in relation to his inheritance and his business trade as a cabinet-maker, can only be speculated upon, but one would expect that his life had been severely restricted by many aspects of these repressive laws.

It was not until the Acts of 1782 (17 & 18 Geo, III, c.49; and 21 &22 Geo III, c.24) that Catholics who took the oath of allegiance were enabled to acquire land (except in parliamentary boroughs) on the same terms as Protestants. The practice of the Catholic religion was also recognized and the validity and legality of Catholic marriages. It also freed Catholic education from its former legal constraints and repealed the laws relating to the guardianship of children. It was not however, until, the Acts of 1793, that Catholics who subscribed to an Oath of Allegiance, were allowed admission to positions of responsibility; and conferred on Catholics who registered their freeholds as being worth at least 40s. per annum, the right to vote in elections.
However, many Catholics refused to accept the requirement of taking the Oath to access these benefits.

The resultant bitterness and resentment festered through the decades of the eighteenth century. As Miles Byrne, another 1798 rebel from northern Wexford, explained in his “Memoirs”:
All my father had so often told me of the persecutions and robberies that both his family and my mother’s had endured under the English invaders came to my recollection. How often had he shewn me the lands that belonged to our ancestors, now in the hands of the descendants of the sanguinary followers of Cromwell, who preserved their plunder and robberies after the restoration of that scoundrel Charles II.”
He continues:
“About the time I was born (c.1780), no catholic could purchase land as a perpetuity, tho’ all the soil had belonged to his ancestors. They were allowed to rent it on leases of twenty one years, but as soon as the land was reclaimed and improved, it was let over their heads to some descendants of the followers of Cromwell; these men on account of professing the protestant religion got leases of nine hundred and ninety nine years, or ninety nine years, renewable forever. They thus became the middle men and cruel task masters of the unfortunate Irish serfs; and although at a later period, a law was passed empowering Roman Catholics to purchase land, very few were able to avail themselves of this concession, on account of the difficulty, or I might say the impossibility of getting small portions of land to buy. The titles to the large estates were so disputed in chancery, that no one cared to have anything to do with them.” [7]

Inspired by the 1789 French Revolution and the revolution in America, the United Irishmen Society was founded in 1791 by reformists such as Theobald Wolfe Tone, Archibald Hamilton Rowan, Hon. Simon Butler, James Napper Tandy, Henry Joy McCracken, Oliver Bond, Samuel Neilson, etc. to press for reforms to make Ireland’s exclusively Protestant Parliament more representative, and to unite Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter (Presbyterian) in the cause of parliamentary reform. Their aim was to abolish social, political, economic, and religious discrimination against Catholics and Presbyterians and to prevent the British from interfering in Irish affairs. The Society initially sought to promote political reform by peaceful means. However, in fear of the momentum the Society was gaining, in 1794 the government banned the United Irishmen, which turned the society into a secret revolutionary organization dedicated to republicanism and independence, by whatever means. Initially, the movement was largely led, not so much by Catholics, as by disaffected middle class Presbyterians, both in Ulster and elsewhere. They were subject to much less stifling penal laws than the Catholics, but they had both economic and political grievances against England, much in the same way as the American colonists. They drew their inspiration from works such as Thomas Paine’s “The Rights of Man”, and, in fact, invited Paine to become a member of the Society.

Dismayed by the French Revolution, and awake to the need to take action to prevent a similar uprising in Ireland, the British Government, led by William Pitt, appointed a new Viceroy on 4 January 1795, Lord FitzWilliam, who immediately sought to conciliate the Catholics and remove some of their restrictions. Strong opposition by Protestant leaders led to the Viceroy’s failure and his recall to London.

Republicans took over the Society and sought help from the French. Wolf Tone, a Protestant barrister and one of the leading members of the Society, convinced the French that an invading army would be welcomed by a general uprising. In 1796, an invasion fleet carrying 14,000 men was so badly damaged by extreme weather that it had to return to France. The British and Irish Governments responded swiftly to the failed invasion. Repressive legislation was passed. The Yeomanry, a force linked to the Orange Lodges in Ulster, was established. Militia regiments were sent from England. Both set about looking for arms in house to house searches. Intimidation, torture, rape, murder and house burnings became commonplace.

By 1796 the movement gained recruits rapidly, spreading into the southern counties including Wexford, and by the following year the collection of arms, the making of pikes, and the holding of seditious meetings were rife, particularly in northern Wexford. The situation in Wexford became so serious that in November 1797 the local magistrates declared sixteen parishes in a state of rebellion. On 12 March 1798 the government arrested most of the national and Leinster United Irish leadership at the Dublin home of Oliver Bond, and imposed martial law to crush the movement and prevent the invasion by the French. Magistrates and military authorities arrested suspected United Irish members and tried to exhort from them, by torture if need be the identities of their comrades and the whereabouts of hidden arms. Blacksmiths who were assumed to have been making pikes were especially targeted.  Martial law was declared in Co. Wexford on 27th  April and was followed by arrests, house burnings, judicial torture and arms searches.

Dreadful tortures were applied to many suspected of seditious activity during this time, preceding the initial outbreak of the rebellion. Lord Kingsborough’s North Cork Militia introduced the infamous pitch capping, during which, boiling pitch was placed into a linen cap onto the head of a suspected rebel tied to a chair. When the pitch cooled, the cap was ripped off, taking scalp and hair with it. Sometimes, the unfortunate man was allowed to run screaming around the room or through the town after the pitch was applied, hot pitch dripping down his face and shoulders, sometimes into his eyes and mouth which caused him to crash into walls or objects, much to the hilarity of the onlookers. Others were subjected to half-hanging, then revived and threatened with a repeat of the experience. Houses where arms were found were burned. Floggings were rife. Fear of these reprisals caused many to reveal names of neighbours and friends merely suspected of seditious behavior, whether guilty or not.

Captain Swayne pitchcapping the people of Prosperous
(Wally Cox's Irish Magazine, Feb 1810)

One unfortunate rebel leader and United Irishman from Wexford, Anthony Perry had a lighted candle applied to his head constantly for three days until he could suffer no more, gave in and told them the names of his co-conspirators who were promptly arrested, which deprived the Wexford United Irish of their main leadership prior to the outbreak. When Perry was eventually rescued by his fellow rebels, his scalp was one large blister. Although he continued as an active participant in the Rebellion, he suffered untold agonies from his wounds, not to mention the guilt he must have felt in betraying his friends and colleagues. Many innocent Catholic people were dragged out of their homes and hanged or shot in front of their horrified families, and their houses burned.
Local magistrates and their yeomen militia, and the infamous North Cork Militia, were responsible for these atrocities which caused much resentment and hatred throughout the population of Wexford.

Half hanging suspected rebels.
(Wally Cox's Irish Magazine, Feb 1810)

Miles Byrne, wrote in his “Memoirs”:
“The United Irish laboured for nothing but civil and religious liberty for Irishmen of all persuasions, and for the independence of their country.” [8]

By 1798 around 100,000 members belonged to the United Irishmen organisation. Each county had a civil as well as a military wing. Each parish was required to produce a company of about 30 men headed by an elected captain, and these then formed battalions by barony, each headed by a colonel. In County Wexford, during the rebellion, several Catholic Parish priests acted as leaders. Some individuals who were not actually officers but commanded respect locally, rose into officer ranks during the course of the rebellion. It would appear the Laurence Butler may have been in that category.
Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey of Bargy Castle, a liberal Protestant, had been chosen as Commander-in-chief of the Wexford rebels during the early stages of the rebellion, before resigning after the rebels’ defeat at the Battle of Ross. He was then elected President of the Civil Committee in Wexford Town. Harvey had been introduced to the Dublin United Irish Society by the Hon. Simon Butler, brother of 11th Viscount Mountgarret, 

Under increasing suspicion from Protestant neighbours and one-time friends, many Catholics in Wexford, under the direction of local priests and gentry, signed petitions declaring and pledging their loyalty to the king. These pledges, signed shortly before the outbreak, included ones signed on behalf of their parishioners by Fr. Edward Redmond of Ferns and Fr. John Murphy of the parishes of Kilcormick and Boulavogue, adjacent to Ferns.
The following address was presented to the viceroy the 18th April 1798:
“To his excellency John Jeffries Pratt, earl of Camden, lord lieutenant and general governor of Ireland.
We, the Roman catholic inhabitants of the parish of __(Ferns) , in the barony of ___ (Scarawalsh), and county of Wexford, do think it our duty to come forward at this crisis of internal disturbance, thus publicly to declare our unalterable attachment to his sacred majesty king George the third; and we do hereby declare, and in the most solemn manner pledge ourselves, to support with our lives, fortunes and influence, his majesty’s happy government established amongst us, determined as we are to exert ourselves for the suppression of rebellion and sedition. And we do likewise solemnly pledge ourselves, should any person attempt to disseminate amongst us seditious or leveling principles, all of which we hold in the utmost abhorrence, that we will use our utmost endeavours in bringing such miscreants to consign punishment. And we do further assure all our protestant brethren, of our sincere affection for them, and our absolute determination to co-operate with them in every means in our power, for the support of this happy constitution, the suppression of rebellion, the welfare of his majesty’s government, and in love and loyalty to his sacred person.
And we do request of the right honourable the earl of Mountnorris, and sir Thomas Esmond, baronet, to present these our declarations to his excellency the lord lieutenant.
Signed: (among other priests and congregations who signed) Ferns and the Union ditto, signed by Edward Redmond, parish priest, and others, for themselves and one thousand five hundred of the Union, by and with their consent.[9]
This action was to no avail, as events rapidly unfolded, drawing the general Catholic populace towards the inevitable conflict, and although initially unwilling, towards their inevitable involvement and active participation.

Author, Francis Plowden wrote in 1806:
“After the corps were put on permanent duty, and the officers and magistrates began to torture and burn houses, multitudes of these people became fugitives from fear or actual want of dwellings; many from being exasperated at the sufferings of their acquaintance, friends and kindred; common sufferings brought these persons together and formed the rebellion of Wicklow and Wexford; many atrocious acts were committed in that rebellion, but they were acts of retaliation.
Whatever effects different management might have produced in the County of Wexford, the ebullition of the rebellion in that county seems to have been more a sudden gust of revenge than a pre-concerted design. The insurgents were more numerous and ferocious than elsewhere; and in many instances they were headed by persons who never had been members of the association of United Irishmen, but whom the sudden pressure of circumstances had seduced or driven into that unfortunate rebellion.”[10]
Miles Byrne stated:
“In short, the state of the country, previous to the insurrection, is not to be imagined; except by those who witnessed the atrocities of every description committed by the military and the Orangemen, who were let loose on the unfortunate, defenseless and unarmed population. The infamous Hunter Gowan now sighed for an opportunity to vent his ferocious propensity of murdering his catholic neighbours in cold blood.”  [11]

The remaining leadership in the National Directory in Dublin fixed the 23rd May as the beginning of the rebellion. The national strategy was for the counties surrounding Dublin to assist the Dublin rebels to take and hold Dublin while the outer counties such as Wexford were required to take the county, isolate Duncannon Fort and prepare for a French landing. When the capital was in rebel hands, a communication would be sent to the neighbouring counties to begin the uprising. However, on receiving inside information, the government forces arrested the leaders, Lord Edward Fitzgerald and Samuel Neilson the night before, and on hearing the news their followers who were congregating in the streets and laneways dropped their weapons and made a hasty retreat. The Dublin uprising had been quickly quashed, but due to lack of communication and being unaware of the fate of the Dublin rebels, the rebellion began in earnest in outlying counties including the County of Wexford which became the center of the fighting during the main phase of the rebellion largely due to the fact that it was the only county which had an adequate leadership. However, their failure to break out from their sea and mountain bound county meant the heaviest fighting was concentrated in this small corner of Ireland.

When the former leaders were betrayed and arrested, their place was often taken by locals thrown into a position of command, untrained and unready for the position of leading a large group of untrained and poorly armed insurgents against well-armed and trained professional fighting men. Often, these leaders came from, not only the clergy, but local tradesmen, millers, blacksmiths, carpenters, weavers, and farmers, elected to the position either willingly or reluctantly, and often without any leadership experience or skill. It was often reported that some wore a green cockade or uniform, by which they could be recognised. Each group would carry a standard, or ‘colours’.

Sir Richard Musgrave in his “Memoirs of the Irish Rebellion in 1798” written shortly after the rebellion, noted that quite respectable citizens had taken part in the uprising: “The men who bore formerly excellent moral characters, were guilty of murder, robbery and perjury without remorse”. He went on to say that these men violated “all ties of duty, friendship, gratitude and humanity” in the war.”[12]
(It should be noted that Musgrave was a Protestant loyalist and his writings are heavily biased against the United Irish, and Catholics in general.)

Miles Byrne wrote in his memoirs that he wanted “to have an opportunity of doing justice to Father John Murphy (one of the rebel leaders in Wexford), and to all those brave patriots of 1798 who sacrificed everything dear to them, life, fortune, all the enjoyments on earth, to see Ireland free and governed by Irishmen, and as she ought to be, in place of being the last and most unfortunate country on the face of the globe.” [13]

In the evening of the 26th May, rebel units in a broad sweep of country across northern Wexford, not far from Ferns, attacked the houses of magistrates and yeomen where they knew arms were being stored. After capturing a significant hoard of arms at Camolin, under the leadership of Father Michael Murphy, they proceeded to engage the militia at Kilthomas Hill, just north of Ferns, where they suffered their first defeat. The following day, another Catholic priest Father John Murphy and his followers experienced their first significant victory at Oulart Hill, a few miles east of Enniscorthy.
The rebels then took Ferns, the militia force garrisoned there having fled to Enniscorthy. The survivors of the Kilthomas Hill rout and the victorious group of Fr John Murphy’s marched to Enniscorthy, the second largest town in the county. They took the town in a bloody battle and established camp on nearby Vinegar Hill. Rebel troops went into the neighbourhood to recruit more volunteers. This was the time that Laurence Butler became involved. On Tuesday 29 May, almost 10,000 men were assembled on the hill. Most of them struck camp and marched south to Wexford Town, which they captured with relative ease on 30th  May. The large garrison of some twelve hundred men, had fled the town and were heading for New Ross, a large town on the western border with Kilkenny. The rebel hierarchy set up government in Wexford Town, and declared themselves a republic.

The following day, the leaders decided to split their members into two groups. The first was to march west and attack New Ross. The second group was to head north to take Newtownbarry on the north-western border of Carlow, and Gorey in the north-east on the road to Wicklow. On Friday 1st  June, a small contingent of the second group, led by Father Mogue Kearns and Miles Byrne, was badly defeated at Newtownbarry. The survivors rejoined the main division who were congregating on Carrigrew Hill, between Enniscorthy and Gorey, where they made camp. For a short time there was a stalemate. Then on Monday 4th  June, government forces moved out from Gorey to attack the rebels. They approached Carrigrew in two columns from different directions, not realizing that the rebels were themselves on the move. The rebels met up with one of the columns and defeated it in a major battle at Tubberneering. Laurence Butler’s role in this battle will be discussed later. When the other column retreated, the rebels took Gorey.
The first group was slower in moving to attack the government forces at New Ross. The attack, led by Bagenal-Harvey, took place on 5th June. After initial success, the rebels were defeated, suffering heavy losses.

Atrocities were committed on both sides of the conflict. As reports came in of atrocities committed by one side, revenge attacks would take place. On a number of occasions, soldiers, on discovering a field hospital containing wounded rebels, would set the building alight, burning the unfortunate victims to death. Wounded rebels found in the fields would be cruelly executed on the spot. Many women were dragged from their homes by soldiers and raped. Following the defeat of rebels, the camp followers were slaughtered in large numbers.

Atrocities were not solely committed by the soldiers. One of the most shameful acts committed by some of the rebels under the leadership of the notorious Captain Thomas Dixon, was the cruel torture and massacre of 97 Protestant prisoners on Wexford Bridge, which continued for five hours. Prisoners were dragged out of the jail, taken to the bridge and skewered on pikes, held aloft in agony until they eventually expired, their bodies then maimed and thrown over the bridge into the sea.

Piking the loyalists on Wexford Bridge

At this point the Wexford Rebel Committee and Leaders had lost control, and even the Catholic priests in the town would not or could not do anything to stop the massacre.
Mr George Taylor, wrote a history of the rebellion in the county of Wexford, of which he was a native; and he tells us,
“That while this work was going on, a rebel captain, being shocked at the cries of the victims, ran to the popish bishop, who was then drinking wine with the utmost composure after dinner; and knowing that he could stop the massacre sooner than any other person, entreated him, for the mercy of God, to come and save the prisoners. He, in a very unconcerned manner replied, ‘It was no affair of his;’ and requested the captain would sit down and take a glass of wine with him; adding, ‘That the people must be gratified.’ The captain refused the bishop’s invitation; and filled with abhorrence and distress of mind, walked silently away.” [14]

 Another infamous act perpetrated by a few of the rebels, after their defeat at New Ross, was ‘the massacre at Scullabogue Barn’
A barn at Scullabogue farm near the rebel camp on Carrickbyrne Hill near New Ross, was converted into a prison for the confinement of protestant prisoners, containing men, women and children. A witness stated that the prisoners were placed under a guard of 300 rebels.
 “When the rebel army began to give way at Ross, an express was sent to put the protestant prisoners to death, as the king’s troops were gaining the day. The rebels dragged out 37 and shot them, and then set fire to the barn.
According to the witness, the poor prisoners, shrieking and crying out for mercy, crowded to the back-door of the barn, which they forced open for the purpose of admitting air and that for some time they continued to put the door between them and the rebels, who were piking or shooting them, and that the rebels continued to force into the barn bundles of straw to increase the fire. At last, the prisoners having been overcome with flame and smoke, their moans gradually died away in the silence of death.
It appears, on the evidence of different persons, that 184 protestants were burned in the barn at Scullabogue, and that 37 were shot in front of it. [15] (NB. This atrocity was committed by a few rebels in the southern Wexford division, not the northern rebel division of which Laurence was associated.)

Image of Scullabogue Barn massacre by George Cruickshank
in William H. Maxwell’s “History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798” pub 1845, London.
(NB. there are more rebels depicted than were actually involved)

During the next four weeks, both sides experienced victory and defeat in various skirmishes and attacks on towns and in the countryside throughout Wexford County- thousands were killed and maimed, including many innocent civilians caught up in the crossfire. Large areas of towns such as Enniscorthy and New Ross were burned to the ground, destroying the homes of Catholics and Protestants alike.

Government forces under the leadership of General Lake had by now encircled Wexford County, and were poised to quash the rebellion there. On 9th June, an indecisive battle was fought at Arklow, on the Wexford/Wicklow border, with heavy losses on both sides.
The rebels retreated to Gorey, and later to Vinegar Hill, outside Enniscorthy, where they had made a permanent camp since their initial battle victory at Enniscorthy in May. 
On the 21st  June, General Lake, now in command of about 10,000 troops, ordered the various divisions to surround Vinegar Hill, however, the southern side of the hill was left open when one division was late in arrival. Government forces took nearby Enniscorthy after bitter fighting and terrified refugees from the town poured up the hill into the camp. There were about 15,000 rebels and civilians gathered on the hill. Following the artillery bombardment, Lake began a general assault on the hill. The rebel leaders realized the situation was hopeless, and while a few courageous rebels fought a rearguard action, rebel leaders herded the remaining rebels and civilians down the unguarded southern side of the hill to make their way towards Wexford Town 14 kms to the south. Many of the slower moving civilians and those who were injured were mown down by the troops. The rebel leaders in Wexford Town realised that they had no hope of defeating Lake’s army. They surrendered in the hope of avoiding a massacre, but all of the rebel heriarchy were summarily executed shortly afterwards. Many rebels escaped either from Enniscorthy or from Wexford Town, some to go into hiding, others to continue to harass the government forces that pursued them. Vinegar Hill had been the last stand for the Wexford rebels and the rebellion in County Wexford was now considered a failure.

A much smaller than expected French army contingent of 800 soldiers arrived belatedly in August, in County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland, and was joined by local rebels. After defeating an army led by General Lake, it was itself defeated by a larger force under General Cornwallis.

Wolf Tone finally sailed into Lough Swilly off the coast of Donegal on 12th October with about 3,000 troops. A British flotilla attacked and captured the entire French force, including Tone. Condemned to death, on 10th November Tone cut his own throat.

The United Irish uprising was finally at an end.  Upwards of 30,000 died during the rebellion and its aftermath. Extremists on both sides had indulged in dreadful cruelty. Retribution was about to begin.

When General Lake’s forces converged on Wexford Town on Friday 22nd June, they were let loose on the terrified townspeople, committing many atrocities. In one appalling incident, a rebel’s head was kicked around the town, in a game of football by the soldiers, including in front of the house of the rebel's family, observed by his horrified sister. Women and young girls were reportedly pack raped, their stomachs slit open and then left beside the road, some holding their infant children in their arms.

The hunt for anyone involved in the uprising began in earnest. Many were reported and had their hiding places exposed by their past Protestant neighbours and friends. Bitter reprisals now took place. Two of the governing hierarchy, Bagenal Harvey and John Colclough were discovered hiding with their families in a cave on the nearby Saltee Islands, and brought back for prosecution. On 25th June, nine leading rebel officers were hanged on Wexford Bridge. Several others were hanged on subsequent days. Most were dismembered, their heads decorating the walls of the town hall and court house.

The Wexford rebel leaders such as Fr. John Murphy (of Boolavogue near Ferns), Miles Byrne (of Monaseed in Nth. Wexford), Anthony Perry (of Gorey), Edward Fitzgerald (of Newpark, between Enniscorthy and Wexford Town), Garrett and William Byrne (of Ballymanus, just over the border with Wicklow), rounded up their units and decided not to wait around for retribution. Fr. Murphy and Miles Byrne led their men west through the Scullogue Gap in the Blackstairs Mountains and briefly continued the fight in Counties Carlow and Kilkenny, before splitting up and making their own way to find hiding places near their homes and in the woods.
The others crossed Wexford Bridge and marched on the opposite side of the River Slaney to Lake’s army, and headed north into County Wicklow to continue the fight in the northern counties. However, eventually they too would be unable to continue the resistance, and all who had survived would be captured, executed, or they surrendered, or managed to escape to hide in Dublin or on the Continent. A few retreated into the Wicklow Mountains, where some, namely Michael Dwyer and his gang, remained hidden for upwards of five years, while employing guerrilla tactics to harass local militia. The great military road was built through the centre of the Wicklow mountains and garrisons built along the road so this secluded area could be reached rapidly by large numbers of troops whenever necessary. Michael Dwyer and his gang, which consisted of mostly his relatives, finally surrendered in 1803 under terms of self- exile and were transported to Sydney in the ‘Tellicherry’ in 1806

Of the eighty or so rebels arrested in Dublin just before the outbreak, including the sixteen members of the United Irishmen Directory arrested in the raid on the house of the Oliver Bond, a number were tried and executed, while others negotiated an extraordinary agreement to reveal details of their conspiracy in exchange for their freedom in exile.

An account of the execution of one of the rebel leaders held in Dublin, William Michael Byrne, shows the courage and honour displayed by these gentlemen in the face of paying the extreme penalty of the law. Quoted from a book written in 1845 by W. H Maxwell , who in turn quotes this passage from another book “Lives of the United Irishmen”. Maxwell described the scene as “exceedingly affecting”:
“The 28th of July was the day appointed for his execution; and the negotiations between the state prisoners and the government having been then entred into, there was very little doubt entertained by himself or his fellow-prisoners but that his life would be spared. On the morning of the 28th he was sitting at breakfast in Bond and Neilson’s cell (the wives of the latter being then present), when the jailor appeared and beckoned to Byrne to come to the door and speak with him. Byrne arose- a few words were whispered into his ear- he returned to the cell and apologized to the ladies for being obliged to leave them. Bond asked him if he would not return; and his reply was ‘we will meet again’. He went forth without the slightest sign of perturbation or concern and was led back for a few minutes to his cell, and then conducted to the scaffold. On passing the cell of Bond and Neilson, which he had just left, he stooped, that he might not be observed through the grated aperture in the upper part of the door, in order that Mrs Neilson and Mrs Bond might be spared the shock of seeing him led to execution.” Byrne died with decency and firmness.[16]

Lord Cornwallis, appointed viceroy, was appalled by the vengeance being wrought by the Yeomanry and the Militia. The situation was out of hand. Suspects were executed on the spot, house burnings and torture continued. Cornwallis made strong representations to London. Spurred on by the British Government, the Irish Parliament had passed an Amnesty Act in July which offered a general and unconditional amnesty and a guarantee of safety to the rebel rank and file. This offer excluded those who had acted as rebel leaders- the captains, colonels and generals. Factors relevant to proving that a rebel was of officer rank were: carrying a pistol or sword; riding on horseback; and giving commands and drilling men in ranks. Rank and file rebels who surrendered would be protected from prosecution by the law on showing their ‘protection papers’, unless they were specifically charged with murder or house burning.
Though initially wary of the offer, thousands surrendered within a few months and returned to their homes with their ‘protection papers’. However, they often proved to be a dangerous possession. In many cases, loyalists saw the possession of the papers as proof of involvement, and many rebels who were ‘protected’ were either executed or charged with relevant crimes.

Cornwallis became aware of the practice of coercion of trial witnesses giving evidence for the prosecution at courts martial trials, and ordered that all verdicts of courts martial should be submitted to his scrutiny for approval or otherwise.
In one example of the case of a Wexford rebel, Cornwallis commuted the death sentence of Moses Brien of Tubberoon near Enniscorthy, who was sentenced to death at the local Assizes in May 1801, appealed for mercy claiming he was the victim of a plot orchestrated against him by local magistrate, the infamous Archibald Jacob.[17] He was transported for life, along with his brother John, to the Colony of New South Wales, arriving on the ‘Atlas 1’ in 1802.
Between July 1798 and 1800, a series of court martial trials took place. The Rebellion Bill was passed on 25th March 1799 whereby the courts-martial were established for a period of five years, as part of the normal justice system. It was evident that it would be a long drawn out process dealing with the hundreds of cases.

The Rebellion Papers held by the Irish National Archives in Dublin, holds the courts martial trial papers of many of the rebels. Whether Laurence Butler’s trial is contained in those files is unknown at this stage.
It is clear that these trials relied heavily on the testimony of former friends and neighbours, many of whom gave evidence for the prosecution to save themselves from being sentenced to jail or execution. Without these ‘witnesses’, very few convictions could have been obtained. Often these witnesses were questioned as to why they had agreed to give evidence. The Courts-martial were generally composed of a majority of British officers. Many such as Laurence Butler would conduct their own counsel. A common defence used by those charged before the courts, was that they had been forced into joining the rebels.

Many men who had escaped the initial purge and returned quietly back to their homes, following a tip-off to the authorities, were subsequently brought before the courts and often sentenced to transportation, or, if young and fit, were given a choice of enlistment in the British Army or Navy, sometimes considered a fate worse than transportation, or even worse, to serve in the Prussian army.

Now that the events of the Rebellion and the subsequent trials and punishments have been discussed, we can now explore Laurence Butler’s role in that event and the repercussions, that changed his life forever, and the lives of many of his Wexford rebel associates, transported with him to New South Wales.

© B. A. Butler

Contact email address:  butler1802  (NB. no spaces)

Link back to Introduction:

Links to all the chapters in this blog:

The 1798 rebellion
Laurence Butler's trial for his role in the Rebellion
Analysis of Butler's trial
Laurence Butler at the Battle of Tubberneering
Laurence Butler's imprisonment
Butler's life and family in Wexford
Laurence Butler's transportation to Sydney in 1802 on the Atlas 2
Conditions on Convict Ships
Life as a convict in Sydney
Laurence Butler's property investments in Pitt Street Sydney
Sydney Town in 1800-1810
Laurence Butler's petitions to the Governor
Laurence Butler's 100 acre land grant in District of Petersham
Butler's membership of the Commercial Society of Sydney
Laurence Butler's court cases
Laurence Butler's business interests in Sydney
Laurence Butler's cabinet making business
Laurence Butler's property investments in Sydney
Laurence Butler's colonial family
Laurence Butler's death in 1820
Laurence Butler's issue- Walter, Lawrence Junior and Mary Ann
The Catholic Community of Sydney up until 1820
Genealogy- Butler's possible ancestry and possible descendants in Ireland, and BDM records
Butler's fellow Irish rebels transported to Sydney
Conclusion about the life of Laurence Butler

My grateful thanks to David St.L. Kelly who has helped me considerably in the research of Laurence Butler's life and the writing of his story.
[1] Notably, in various documents Butler’s name is spelt both Lawrence and Laurence. The spelling ‘Lawrence’ was used on his gravestone and in his newspaper advertisements, which may indicate that was his preferred spelling, and it was the form I have used in previous articles, and the form generally used by colonial furniture experts. However, the majority of documents, including his Wexford trial, used the spelling ‘Laurence’, which is the form adopted in this document, and 'Laurence' is generally the form of spelling for this name in Ireland, whereas 'Lawrence' is usually the form used in England.
[2] Laurence Butler’s headstone stated he died December 7th, 1820 aged 70 years, ie. b.c.1750. However, the Atlas (ship) Convict Indent papers of 1802 gave his age as 46, which would date his birth up to 1756.
[3] Refer to the Journals of the Butler Society, and the Butler Society website, for the history of the Butlers of Ireland, Lord Dunboyne’s Butler Pedigress, and specifically the Butlers of Kayer, Moneyhore and Munphin Co. Wexford.
Piers Butler 8th Earl of Ormond d.1539; father of (f/o- 2nd son) Richard Butler 1st Visc Mountgarrett d.1577; f/o (2nd son) Pierce Butler of Cloghnageragh/Kayer (Co. Wexford) d.1599; f/o Edward Butler of Kayer & Moneyhore 1577-1628; f/o Pierce Butler of Kayer & Moneyhore c.1600-1653; f/o (1.) Edward Butler of Moneyhore c.1635-1676 (f/o Pierce Butler & ?), and (2.) James Butler of Clough & Ballinure c.1637-? (father of Richard and Pierce), and (3.)Walter Butler of Munphin c.1643-1717, f/o Walter Butler Junior of Munphin 1675-1725 (married Mary Long b.c.1687); f/o Walter Butler III b. c.1707 and Pierce Butler b.c.1710, and others? b.1718 to1725.
Munphin was about 4 miles east of Ferns. Notably Laurence named his first Sydney-born son Walter.
[4] Sir Toby Butler was Solicitor-General to James II in Ireland, and following their defeat at the Boyne, Sir Toby was the chief draftsman for the resultant Treaty of Limerick on behalf of the Catholic Irish participants in the Jacobite rebellion, resulting in comparatively favourable conditions for the rebels. Sir Toby, a descendant of the Dunboyne branch and closely related to the Cahir branch by marriage, was distantly related to the Butlers of Munphin, Co. Wexford.
[5] Thomas D’Arcy McGee “A History of the Attempts to Establish the Protestant Reformation in Ireland: and the Successful Resistance of that People (Time: 1540-1830)” , pub Patrick Donahoe, Boston 1853,  p171)
[6] Brendan Whiting Victims of Tyranny- the story of the Fitzgerald Brothers” Harbour Publishing Strathfield NSW 2004,  pp.28-32 ; Thomas P. PowerLand, Politics and Society in Eighteenth Century Tipperary”  Clarendon Press Oxford 1993
[7] Miles Byrne “Memoirs of Miles Byrne” edited by his widow; 1st Edition Paris 1863- Irish University Press 1972,  p7, p111
[8] Miles Byrne, op.cit, p.19
[9] Sir Richard Musgrave, Memoirs of the Irish Rebellion in 1798, 3rd  Edition , Dublin 1802, p.707
[10] Francis Plowden, An Historical review of the State of Ireland, (Volume 4 of five volumes), Philadelphia 1806, p.349
[11] Miles Byrne, op.cit, p.31
[12] Sir Richard Musgrave, Memoirs of the Irish Rebellion in 1798, 3rd  Edition , Dublin 1802.
[13] Miles Byrne, op.cit., p.56
[14]  George Taylor, A History of the Rise, Progress & Suppression of the Rebellion in the County Wexford in the Year 1798, 1st Ed 1801, Reprint of 3rd Edition, Abbey Printing Works Dublin 1907, p.107
[15]  Sir Richard Musgrave, op.cit, p.398- evidence given by Richard Sylvestor at the trial of Phelim Fardy.
[16] W. H. Maxwell Esq., History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798, London 1845, p.278
[17] Memorial of Moses Brien, May 1801, National Archives Ireland, Prisoners Petitions No. 635; (NB. Moses Brien mentioned in one of Michael Hayes’ letters- 2 Nov 1802.)