Battle of Arklow, County Wicklow

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter VII-13 | Start of chapter

The county of Wicklow was the scene of several sanguinary conflicts during the rebellion of 1798. The town of Arklow, in particular, has acquired a melancholy celebrity on account of a battle fought there between the royal forces and the insurgent army, when the latter were defeated, after a desperate but ill-directed resistance The following particulars of this action may not be uninteresting to our readers:—After the defeat of Colonel Walpole's troops at Gorey, on the 4th of June, the rebels, flushed with success, advanced to attack Arklow on the 9th. Their numbers probably amounted to twenty-seven thousand, of whom near five thousand were armed with guns, the rest with pikes; they were also furnished with three pieces of serviceable artillery. The troops posted for the defence of this, at that time, important station, consisted of sixteen hundred men, regulars and yeomanry. The rebels attacked the town on all sides, except that which is washed by the river, and the approach of the column which advanced by the seashore was so rapid that the guard of yeoman-cavalry stationed in that quarter with difficulty effected their escape through the flames of the thatched cabins, which had been fired by the rebels on entering the town. The further progress of the assailants was prevented by a charge of the regular cavalry, supported by the fire of the infantry.

As the rebels poured their fire from the shelter of ditches, so that the opposing fire of the soldiery had no effect, Colonel Skerrit, the second in command to General Needham, directed his men to stand with ordered arms, their left wing being covered by a breastwork, and the right by a natural rising of the ground, until the enemy, leaving their cover, should advance to an open attack. This open attack was made three times in most formidable force, the assailants charging within a few yards of the cannons' mouths; but they were received with so close and effective a fire that they were repulsed with great slaughter in every attempt, and were at length obliged to retreat in confusion upon Gorey.

The valour displayed by the undisciplined and half-armed peasantry in the various conflicts which took place during this deplorable struggle, would, under different circumstances, have redounded to their eternal honour; but, in the heat of party strife, the voice of the accuser alone was heard, and none had courage to publish the brave or generous deeds of the misguided men, whose virtues are interred in the grave—

"Where cold and unhonoured their relics are laid."