Atrocities of 1798 in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXVI

Alas! there was more to remember than the fate of this noble victim to legal injustice. I have before alluded to that strange phenomenon of human nature, by which men, who, at least, appear to be educated and refined, can, under certain circumstances, become bloodthirsty and cruel. The demon enters into the man, and make him tenfold more demoniacal than himself. But fearful as the deeds of officers and men have been in India, where the unhappy natives were shattered to atoms from the cannons' mouths; or, in more recent times, when men, and even women, have all but expired under the lash; no deeds of savage vengeance have ever exceeded those which were perpetrated daily and hourly in Ireland, before the rebellion of 1798. For the sake of our common humanity I would that they could be passed over unrecorded; for the sake of our common humanity I shall record them in detail, for it may be that the terror of what men can become when they give way to unrestrained passions, may deter some of my fellow-creatures from allowing themselves to participate in or to enact such deeds of blood. Historical justice, too, demands that they should be related.

Englishmen have heard much of the cruelties of Irish rebels at Wexford, which I shall neither palliate nor excuse. Englishmen have heard but little of the inhuman atrocities which excited that insurrection, and prompted these reprisals. And let it be remembered, that there are men still living who saw these cruelties enacted in their childhood, and men whose fathers and nearest relations were themselves subjected to these tortures. To the Celt, so warm of heart and so tenacious of memory, what food this is for the tempter, who bids him recall, and bids him revenge, even now, these wrongs! What wonder if passion should take the place of reason, and if religion, which commands him to suffer patiently the memory of injuries inflicted on others, often harder to bear than one's own pain, should sometimes fail to assert its sway![1]

I shall give the account of these atrocities in the words of a Protestant historian first. The Rev. Mr. Gordon writes thus, in his narrative of these fearful times: "The fears of the people became so great at length, that they forsook their houses in the night, and slept (if, under such circumstances, they could sleep) in the ditches, and the women were even delivered in that exposed condition.

These facts were notorious at the time. ....Some abandoned their house from fear of being whipped; and this infliction many persons appeared to fear more than death itself. Many unfortunate men were strung up as it were to be hanged, but were let down now and then, to try if strangulation would oblige them to become informers." He then goes on to relate at length how the magistrates tortured smiths and carpenters at once, because it was supposed from their trade they must have made pikes; and how they, at last, professed to know a United Irishman by his face, and "never suffered any person whom they deigned to honour with this distinction, to pass off without convincing proof of their attention." He also mentions the case of a hermit named Driscoll, whose name and the same details of his sufferings are given in Clancy's account of the insurrection. This man was strangled three times, and flogged four times, because a Catholic prayer-book was found in his possession, on which it was supposed that he used to administer oaths of disloyalty.


[1] Sway.—An important instance of how the memory or tradition of past wrongs excites men to seize the first opportunity of revenge, if not of redress, has occurred in our own times. It is a circumstance which should be very carefully pondered by statesmen who have the real interest of the whole nation at heart. It is a circumstance, as a sample of many other similar cases, which should be known to every Englishman who wishes to understand the cause of "Irish disturbances." One of the men who was shot by the police during the late Fenian outbreak in Ireland, was a respectable farmer named Peter Crowley. His history tells the motive for which he risked and lost his life. His grandfather had been outlawed in the rebellion of '98. His uncle, Father Peter O'Neill, had been imprisoned and flogged most barbarously, with circumstances of peculiar cruelty, in Cork, in the year 1798. The memory of the insult and injury done to a priest, who was entirely guiltless of the crimes with which he was charged, left a legacy of bitterness and hatred of Saxon rule in the whole family, which, unhappily, religion failed to eradicate. Peter Crowley was a sober, industrious, steady man, and his parish priest, who attended his deathbed, pronounced his end "most happy and edifying." Three clergymen and a procession of young men, women, and children, scattering flowers before the coffin, and bearing green boughs, attended his remains to the grave. He was mourned as a patriot, who had loved his country, not wisely, but too well; and it was believed that his motive for joining the Fenian ranks was less from a desire of revenge, which would have been sinful, than from a mistaken idea of freeing his country from a repetition of the cruelties of '98, and from her present grievances.