Michael Dwyer

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900
CHAPTER LXXXII. (continued)

Soon afterward the gallant and noble-hearted Russell was executed at Downpatrick, and for months subsequently the executioner was busy at his bloody work in Dublin.

Michael Dwyer, however, the guerrilla of the Wicklow hills, held his ground in the fastnesses of Luggielaw, Glendalough, and Glenmalure.

In vain regiment after regiment was sent against him.

Dwyer and his trusty band defeated every effort of their foes.

The military detachments, one by one, were wearied and worn out by the privations of campaigning in that wild region of dense forest and trackless mountain.

The guerrilla chief was apparently ubiquitous, always invisible when wanted by his pursuers, but terribly visible when not expected by them.

In the end some of the soldiers[2] became nearly as friendly to him as the peasantry, frequently sending him word of any movement intended against him.

More than a year passed by, and the powerful British government, that could suppress the insurrection at large in a few months, found itself, so far, quite unable to subdue the indomitable Outlaw of Glenmalure.

At length it was decided to “open up” the district which formed his stronghold by a series of military roads and a chain of mountain forts, barracks, and outposts.

The scheme was carried out, and the tourist who now seeks the beauties of Glencree, Luggielaw, and Glendalough, will travel by the “military roads,” and pass the mountain forts or barracks, which the government of England found it necessary to construct before it could wrest from Michael Dwyer the dominion of those romantic scenes.

The well-authenticated stories of Dwyer's hairbreadth escapes by flood and field would fill a goodly volume. One of them reveals an instance of devoted heroism—of self-immolation—which deserves to be recorded in letters of gold.

One day the Outlaw Chief had been so closely pursued that his little band had to scatter, the more easily to escape, or to distract the pursuers, who, on this occasion, were out in tremendous force scouring hill and plain.

Some hours after nightfall, Dwyer, accompanied by only four of his party (and fully believing that he had successfully eluded his foes), entered a peasant's cottage in the wild and picturesque solitude of Imall.

He was, of course, joyously welcomed; and he and his tired companions soon tasted such humble hospitality as the poor mountaineer's hut could afford. Then they gave themselves to repose.

But the Outlawed Patriot had not shaken the foe from his track that evening. He had been traced to the mountain hut with sleuth-hound patience and certainty; and now, while he slept in fancied security, the little sheeling was being stealthily surrounded by the soldiery.

Some stir on the outside, some chance rattle of a musket, or clank of a saber, awakened one of the sleepers within.

A glance through a door-chink soon revealed all; and Dwyer, at the first whisper springing to his feet, found that after nearly five years of proud defiance and successful struggle, he was at length in the toils!

Presently the officer in command outside knocked at the door “In the name of the king.”

Dwyer answered, demanding his business.

The officer said he knew that Michael Dwyer the outlaw was inside.

“Yes,” said Dwyer, “I am the man.”

“Then,” rejoined the officer, “as I desire to avoid useless bloodshed, surrender. This house is surrounded; we must take you, alive or dead.”

“If you are averse to unnecessary bloodshed,” said Dwyer, “first let the poor man whose house this is, and his innocent wife and children, pass through. I came into this house unbidden, unexpectedly. They are guiltless. Let them go free, and then I shall consider your proposition as regards myself.”

The officer assented. The poor cottager, his wife, and children, were passed through.

“Now, then,” cried the officer, “surrender in the name of the king.”

“Never!” shouted Dwyer; “we defy you in the name of Ireland.”

The hills echoed to the deafening peals that followed on this response.

For nearly an hour Dwyer and his four companions defended the sheeling, keeping their foes at bay. But by this time one of them lay mortally wounded.

Soon a shout of savage joy from the soldiery outside was followed by a lurid glare all around. They had set the cabin on fire over the heads of the, doomed outlaws!

Then spoke up Dwyer's wounded companion, Alexander MacAlister:

“My death is near; my hour is come. Even if the way was clear, there is no hope for me. Promise to do as I direct, and I will save you all.”

Then the poor fellow desired them to prop him up, gun in hand, immediately inside the door.

“Now,” continued he, “they are expecting you to rush out, and they have their rifles leveled at the door. Fling it open. Seeing me, they will all fire at me. Do you then quickly dash out through the smoke, before they can load again.”

They did as the dying hero bade them.

They flung the door aside. There was an instantaneous volley, and the brave MacAlister fell pierced by fifty bullets.

Quick as lightning, Dwyer and his three comrades dashed through the smoke. He alone succeeded in breaking through the encircling soldiers; and once outside in the darkness, on those trackless hills, he was lost to all pursuit.

Nor was he ever captured.

Long afterward, every effort to that end having been tried for years in vain, he was offered honorable conditions of surrender.

He accepted them; but when was a treaty kept toward the Irish brave? Its specific terms were basely violated by the government, and he was banished to Australia.

The mountaineers of Wicklow to this day keep up the traditions of Michael Dwyer—of his heroism, his patriotism—of his daring feats, his marvelous escapes.

But it is of the devoted MacAlister that they treasure the most tender memory; and around their firesides, in the winter evenings, the cottagers of Glenmalure, in rustic ballad or simple story, recount with tearful eyes and beating hearts how he died to save his chief in the sheeling of Imall.

The following ballad, by Mr. T. D. Sullivan, follows literally the story of the hero-martyr MacAlister:

“‘At length, brave Michael Dwyer, you and your trusty men

Are hunted o'er the mountains and tracked into the glen.

Sleep not, but watch and listen; keep ready blade and ball;

The soldiers know you're hiding to-night in wild Imaal.’

“The soldiers searched the valley, and toward the dawn of day

Discovered where the outlaws, the dauntless rebels lay.

Around the little cottage they formed into a ring,

And called out, ‘Michael Dwyer! surrender to the king!’

“Thus answered Michael Dwyer: ‘Into this house we came,

Unasked by those who own it—they cannot be to blame.

Then let these peaceful people unquestioned pass you through,

And when they're placed in safety, I'll tell you what we'll do.’

“’Twas done. ‘And now,’ said Dwyer, ‘your work you may begin:

You are a hundred outside—we're only four within.

”We've heard your haughty summons, and this is our reply:

We're true United Irishmen, we'll fight until we die.’

“Then burst the war's red lightning, then poured the leaden rain;

The hills around re-echoed the thunder peals again.

The soldiers falling round him, brave Dwyer sees with pride;

But, ah! one gallant comrade is wounded by his side.

“Yet there are three remaining good battle for to do;

Their hands are strong and steady, their aim is quick and true;

But hark! that furious shouting the savage soldiers raise!

The house is fired around them; the roof is in a blaze!

“And brighter every moment the lurid flame arose,

And louder swelled the laughter and cheering of their foes.

Then spake the brave MacAlister, the weak and wounded man:

‘You can escape, my comrades, and this shall be your plan:

“'Place in my hands a musket, then lie upon the floor:

I'll stand before the soldiers, and open wide the door:

They'll pour into my bosom the fire of their array;

Then, whilst their guns are empty, dash through them and away.’

“He stood before his foemen revealed amidst the flame,

From out their leveled pieces the wished-for volley came;

Up sprang the three survivors for whom the hero died,

But only Michael Dwyer broke through the ranks outside.

“He baffled his pursuers, who followed like the wind;

He swam the river Slaney, and left them far behind;

But many an English soldier he promised soon should fall,

For these, his gallant comrades, who died in wild Imaal.”

The surrender of Michael Dwyer was the last event of the insurrection of 1798—1803. But, for several years subsequently, the Habeas Corpus Act continued suspended and an insurrection act was in full force. Never, up to the hour of Napoleon's abdiction at Fontainebleau, did the specter of a French invasion of Ireland cease to haunt the mind of England.


[2] They were Highland regiments. Through the insurrections of 1798 and 1803, the Highland regiments behaved with the greatest humanity, and, where possible, kindness toward the Irish peasantry.