English troops defeat Irish rebels at the Battle of Vinegar Hill, effectively putting an end to the 1798 rebellion.
With the rebels scattered in the north, attention shifted once again to those still ‘out’ in Wexford, and the army laid plans to attack their camp at Vinegar Hill. On 21st June, General Gerard Lake attempted to surround Vinegar Hill with some 20,000 men, in four columns of soldiers, in order to prevent a rebel breakout. Battle was joined. It lasted about two hours: the rebels were mercilessly shelled, and artillery carried the day. ‘The rebels made a tolerable good fight of it’ wrote Lake, and then pronounced the ‘carnage … dreadful’ among them; hundreds of men may have fallen on the field of battle, though numbers managed to escape. Although a ‘little war’ continued in the Wicklow mountains for some time afterwards, in effect, after Vinegar Hill, the rebellion in the south-east was over.
In defeat, rebel discipline collapsed in some places. After the defeat at New Ross, about 100 loyalists had been killed at a barn in Scullabogue; and now, following the disaster at Vinegar Hill, about 70 Protestant prisoners were piked to death on the bridge at Wexford town. The army repaid these atrocities with interest: the mopping-up operations after Vinegar Hill resembled, to the fury of the newly appointed Lord Lieutenant, Marquis Cornwallis, little other than universal rape, plunder and murder.
Retribution for the rebel leaders was swift and largely uncompromising. Bagel Harvey, Cornelius Grogan, Mathew Keogh, and Anthony Perry, all Wexford commanders (and, incidentally, all Protestants), were executed; their heads were cut off and stuck on spikes outside the courthouse in Wexford town. Father John Murphy, the hero of Oulart and Enniscorthy (or a latter-day mixture of Attila, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, as loyalists viewed him), was captured in Tullow, Co Carlow. He was stripped, flogged, hanged, and beheaded: his corpse was burned in a barrel. With an eye for detail, the local Yeomanry spiked his head on a building directly opposite the local Catholic church, and with great glee, they forced the Catholics of Tullow to open their windows to admit the ‘holy smoke’ from his funeral pyre.
Vinegar Hill overlooks Enniscorthy Town in Co Wexford; it is approximately 400 ft in height.
Photo: Vinegar Hill Windmill