State of Ireland during the Eighteenth Century

Taken from The British Empire in the Nineteenth Century (Chapter V.) by Edgar Sanderson (1898)

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The Irish Catholics were goaded by these horrors into premature and unsuccessful revolt. In March, 1798, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, one of their leaders, died of wounds received in his desperate resistance to arrest in Dublin. In May, detached risings took place, chiefly in the counties of Wexford and Wicklow, and the rebels at first gained some successes over the troops. Enniscorthy and Wexford were taken, and cruel massacres of Protestants occurred. After repulse from New Ross and Arklow, the insurgents were finally and decisively defeated by General Lake at Vinegar Hill, near Enniscorthy, on June 21st. This event was followed by an exciting episode, not very creditable to the rulers of Ireland and their instruments.

In August three frigates, under English colours, dropped anchor in Killala Bay, county Mayo. About eleven hundred Frenchmen, with two guns, under General Humbert, landed. Killala and Ballina were taken, and the invaders were joined by some fourteen hundred Irishmen. With this small force Humbert advanced on Castlebar, which was held by about four thousand yeomanry and militia, in the bad state of discipline denounced, as we have seen, by Abercrombie. Humbert showed much skill, took the British in flank and drove them away in disgraceful rout, which amply fulfilled Abercrombie's prophecy as to the probable value of lawless troops in action. General Lake was in command, and he left behind him all the artillery, ammunition, and small arms. The fleeing troops scarcely halted until they reached Athlone, eighty miles from the field. They there encountered the viceroy, Lord Cornwallis, and so ended what the Irish called "the Races of Castlebar".

A brave resistance was made at Castlebar, when the French occupied the town, only by a small body of Highlanders, who scorned to flee rather than fight. The Irish Republic was proclaimed by the French victors and their friends; but there could, of course, be no hope of ultimate success against the large British forces in Ireland. On leaving Castlebar for Sligo, Humbert found his march followed or watched by bodies of men, with Lake, General Moore (afterwards Sir John, the hero of Corunna), and Cornwallis in command. He defeated, in a fierce battle, the Limerick militia who faced him forty miles north-east of Castlebar, but was at last surrounded by an overwhelming force, and, after a resistance made for honour's sake, the French general was driven to lay down his arms—less than nine hundred Frenchmen thus becoming prisoners to above thirty thousand foes on or near the scene.

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