Massacre at Scullabogue

From An Illustrated History of Ireland by Margaret Anne Cusack

« start... Chapter XXXVI. ...continued

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On Whit-Sunday, the 27th of May, the yeomen burned the Catholic Chapel of Boulavogue. Father John Murphy, the parish priest, who had hitherto tried to suppress the insurrection, placed himself at the head of the insurgents. The men now rose in numbers, and marched to Enniscorthy, which they took after some fighting. Vinegar Hill, a lofty eminence overlooking the town, was chosen for their camp. Some of the leading Protestant gentlemen of the county had either favoured or joined the movement; and several of them had been arrested on suspicion, and were imprisoned at Wexford.

The garrison of this place, however, fled in a panic, caused by some successes of the Irish troops, and probably from a very clear idea of the kind of retaliation they might expect for their cruelties. Mr. Harvey, one of the prisoners mentioned above, was now released, and headed the insurgents; but a powerful body of troops, under General Loftus, was sent into the district, and eventually obtained possession of New Ross, which the Irish had taken with great bravery, but which they had not been able to hold for want of proper military discipline and command. They owed their defeat to insubordination and drunkenness.

A number of prisoners had been left at Scullabogue House, near Carrickburne Hill. Some fugitives from the Irish camp came up in the afternoon, and pretended that Mr. Harvey had given orders for their execution, alleging, as a reason, what, indeed, was true, that the royalists massacred indiscriminately. The guard resisted, but were overpowered by the mob, who were impatient to revenge without justice the cruelties which had been inflicted on them without justice. A hundred were burned in a barn, and thirty-seven were shot or piked. This massacre has been held up as a horrible example of Irish treachery and cruelty. It was horrible, no doubt, and cannot be defended or palliated; but, amid these contending horrors of cruel war, the question still recurs: Upon whom is the original guilt of causing them to be charged?

Father Murphy [6] was killed in an attack on Carlow, and his death threw the balance strongly in favour of the Government troops, who eventually proved victorious. After the battle of Ross, the Wexford men chose the Rev. Philip Roche as their leader, in place of Mr. Bagenal Harvey, who had resigned the command. The insurgents were now guilty of following the example of their persecutors, if not with equal cruelty, at least with a barbarity which their leaders in vain reprobated. The prisoners whom they had taken were confined in the jail, and every effort was made to save them from the infuriated people.

But one savage, named Dixon, would not be content without their blood; and while the army and their leaders were encamped on Vinegar Hill, he and some other villains as wicked as himself found their way into the jail, and marched the prisoners to the bridge, held a mock trial, and then piked thirty-five of their victims, and flung them into the water. At this moment a priest, who had heard of the bloody deed, hastened to the spot; and after in vain commanding them to desist, succeeded at last in making them kneel down, when he dictated a prayer that God might show them the same mercy which they would show to the surviving prisoners. This had its effect; and the men who waited in terror to receive the doom they had so often and so mercilessly inflicted on others, were marched back to prison.

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[6] Murphy.—Rev. Mr. Gordon says: "Some of the soldiers of the Ancient British regiment cut open the dead body of Father Michael Murphy, after the battle of Arklow, took out his heart, roasted his body, and oiled their boots with the grease which dropped from it."—History of the Rebellion, p. 212.


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