Category Archives: Irish Rebellion 1798


It wasn’t all that long ago really when Dad, Mom, and the kids joined the vendors around the scaffold of a fine day, in, say, Dodge City or Denver. A row of men (usually, anyway) kicking and bouncing around at rope’s end, trying to touch the ground or breathe, their hands behind their backs, provided entertainment with a morality lesson. If a subject wasn’t an especially repulsive individual, or the executioner got a few pence, the latter might calculate the rope-length/body-weight ratio and the neck would snap with the drop. We Westerners have outgrown treating executions as a spectacle to be looked forward to, though. We’re familiar with the stonings in the Middle East, the amputations for thievery and such, and are properly repulsed.

But like I said, it hasn’t been long since executions were cause for a public outing in our sophisticated world.
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That interest in gruesome fates hasn’t fully faded yet. Picture a group of witnesses, some somber, some thinking right on! Picture them seated on a little set of bleachers so close they can touch the glass of the chamber. A man (again, usually) is strapped into a chair and the cyanide is released. The guests watch him hold his breath, and they watch as the inevitable happens. If they want, they can see every horror-driven distortion of the condemned’s wrinkled face while his lungs sizzle.
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The gas chamber being held in awe in the above photo is at the recently-decommissioned Missouri State Pen, a place with an utterly gruesome past and an oddly active present.
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Cell 76 on the second floor in building 4, or A-Hall, is one with a busy repute, where two inmates slipped in to gouge out the eyes of one of its tenants and let him stew on that while they sliced him further until he crawled out onto the catwalk and bled to death. Shivs have always been a way of life in prison, and that was as true here at “The Walls” of Mo State as anywhere.
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Gougings and related murders were a daily occurrence for long periods of time in this penitentiary, one of which inspired, after the warden offed his own self, Time Magazine to dub Mo State as “The bloodiest 47 acres in America.”
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The prison opened in 1836 and before it closed in 2004, was the oldest operating prison west of the Mississippi. Plumbing came in the 40s, and off-the-floor sleeping probably before that.
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Still, the violence only got worse. So then, do spirits of humans who spent their last seconds here still hang around? Imagine 5 or 6 or 8 guys squeezed into a tiny, frigid or baking cell with straw mats on the floor for bedding, one bucket of filthy water for drinking, and one bucket to shit in, while the din from whipping posts in concert with insane, echoing howls competes with the smells for the attention of the senses. It doesn’t take some childish eagerness-to-believe in unscientific phenomena to imagine that events where human emotion is stretched beyond all conceivability might just be capable of leaving a stamp, or a historical impress, that can be picked up on now and again. As for real-time interaction with the world of the dead, that’s not for me to adjudicate for you.

Below ground in A-Hall, a large number (documentation verifies 13 on one occasion) of inmates are forced into a limestone cubby hole where light equals what one finds in the depths of a cave when the last lantern battery dies.
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Blindness. A thick wooden door covers the steel door to ensure nothing resembling light will find a crack. The prisoner-quarried stone entombs the cell’s denizens at a thickness that promises no cracks of which any accident of sound might take advantage, either. There are two buckets. Which one has the water? The shit bucket will not be emptied by a guard for days. The dead bodies will be removed then too. No sooner.
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James Earl Ray, cell 45, escapes in a 4×4 box in the back of a bread truck. Less than a year later, he kills MLK. (Or was at least arrested for it, but I’d like to stay on target.)

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Sonny Liston’s talents were discovered by a couple of guards here.
Stagger Lee. I know I know that name. Blanche Barrow was put in the women’s facility when she was caught. She hated the movie.

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Cell 40 has made a name for itself, I see, on You Tube. I spent a few minutes in there alone, very quiet I did stay.
But other than the temperature dropping about 40 degrees, not much action. Kidding. It doesn’t matter. The history is enough.

On the east coast of Ireland is a prison that has existed in one form or another for three centuries. Wicklow Gaol. A prison for all the people—men, women, and children—and for all the Catholic people in particular. The rebels of 1798, the croppies. The Popish.
Women were thrown in with the men and if they had children, the British government would be damned if they were going to be babysitters.
They did however provide an area for schooling. One of those children has never left, many people swear.
You slept on the straw or the dirt. You worked.
Sometimes men broke rocks and women took them to pave the road. During the years of rebellion, however, work was much more about punishment.
Back-breaking work to produce nothing—a good way to fuck with their heads. Pick up a cannonball chest high, walk two steps, set it down, repeat for four more hours in the heat of the day.

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Or get on the treadmill for five hours and force it to turn and produce nothing. Mouth off and get shackled, or get your spine and ribs bared with the lash.

Like the decommissioned penitentiary in Missouri, Wicklow Gaol suffers from no shortage of adamant witnesses to the paranormal. The true (verified or silenced) horror stories that accumulated in Wicklow throughout all those decades doubtless left marks that can still be felt.
Humans may grow intellectually, societies may become more sophisticated, but the fascination with horror is a part of us. The chief rule of the sane is to maintain a handle on fascinations.
Finding the truth about what lies beyond may be a hobby for those who don’t deride it as silliness, but it is also, in another sense, a way to get a handle on the dangers that intrigue us.


THE LIFE OF THE 18TH CENTURY IRISH PEASANT ( Real life through the eyes of a fictional character) by glenn kinyon

100_1547_0001Thady was born in the west of Ireland in County Kerry, a ruggedly beautiful land of bald mountains, low forests, and deep blue lakes. During Thady’s time, County Kerry was about as provincial a backwater as one would find in Ireland, and that’s saying something. Thady’s father died when he was a toddler and his mother turned him over to her brother’s family to be raised while she disappeared to God knows where. Ultimately he was raised by the family of a companion after running off at the age of twelve. Hunger and beatings had been his lot to that point. He was always big for his age, which meant he was continually being challenged by older boys to defend himself. And that he did very well.Ireland

Thady’s one refuge was the church. The parish curate took pity on him and he was made to feel at home with Irish Catholic ritual and Bible teachings. As did most Catholic peasants, Thady grew up superstitious.  In Ireland, as in Russia or Ethiopia or Scandinavia, Christianity was blended with the ancient beliefs of the local culture. Certain people could cast spells with good or evil intent. Charms could be worn, potions swallowed. The devil might appear in the form of an animal, and the parish priest might consecrate a batch of holy water to protect a parishioner from a perceived evil omen. Banshees cried out in the night.  Pennies were tossed over shoulders, cards were read, and signs were interpreted.Fighting with sticks

At fourteen, Thady was recruited by an exclusively-Catholic organization known as the Whiteboys. The Whiteboys were protectors, a gang of bloody vigilantes with various local chapters and leaders. They settled the grievances of the poor helpless tenants against powerful landlords, agents, and tithe proctors. If a family’s farm was confiscated to pay outstanding debt, the Whiteboys would threaten anyone who turned up at the auction, or they might raise funds to buy the property back at very low bids with no one else bidding against them. They were as violent as it got, and many a manor house was burned to the ground, many a traitor killed by Whiteboy gangs. In the parlance of the time, to be “up” was to be initiated into the Whiteboys.Irish cudgel fighting

Like the Hatfields and McCoys, their cousins in the old country feuded family against family with fatal results. Massive, deadly gang fights occurred at community fairs—or even at funerals or weddings—like clockwork. Rows between families were called “faction fights.” At times these skirmishes might erupt in the middle of town when a member of one family looked sideways at a member of the other, but more often they were planned. Then there were “party fights,” which were essentially religion-based. Party fights pitted Catholics, or “Popish,” against Protestants, who were commonly represented by the “Orangemen” after the latter’s founding in 1795. Party fights were considered to be even more bloodthirsty than the family feuds, as clans that were enemies at other times would join together under the banner of their common faith. Unlike Catholics, Orangemen were allowed by law to carry muskets, which could make those fights a bit unequal.Pikes In “Beyond the Berezina,” Sir Malcolm discovers Thady while watching a party fight between the Whiteboys and the Orangemen from his hotel balcony. As Irish Catholics had been forbidden from owning firearms for so long, their fighting factions had become proficient with other implements of warfare, and particularly the cudgel. They knew which type of wood made the best weapon, and they learned how to fill them with lead at the end “what’s to make acquaintance with the cranium,” as Thady explains in the story.  After seeing fifteen-year-old Thady fail to so much as flinch when a cudgel is broken over his head, Sir Malcolm takes him under his protection and tutelage, and the rest is history. Well, fictional history.Irish brawler

The rural Irish were overwhelmingly Catholic; the entire country had been Catholic roughly from the sixth or seventh century until Henry VIII founded the Anglican Church and began giving Irish land to the Anglican nobility. His daughter Elizabeth I populated Northern Ireland with Protestants from Scotland and England, transferring ownership of land confiscated from the Irish Catholics. In Thady’s time, the rural Irish spoke both the Celtic language and English, and had an interesting way of Anglicizing the one, and Celti-cizing the other. A statement in English might be capped off with ersha misha, which means “Say I.” A common exclamation was dher manhim, or “by my soul.” The Celtic—or Irish or Gaelic—language is a language of deep emotion and colorful description. One of my favorite Irish phrases is acushla machree (or simply acushla), which means “pulse of my heart.” A mother might refer this way to her child, or a man to his sweetheart. I find it to be a touching way of expressing an intense feeling. Asuillish machree means “light of my heart.” When addressing a close friend or loved one, different Irish words meaning essentially “darling” or “beloved” were thrown in at the beginning or end of a sentence—Alannah, avourneen,  astora, achora, aroon, avick, ahagur, inusha, and musha to name a few. A common term of endearment for little boys was bouchal or bouchaleen. Girls were referred to as colleens. Colleen Bawn means “Fair Girl.” 100_1422

Irish curses in those days, likewise, were evocative and meaningful. For instance, “May the grass grow tall at your door.”  While at first thought that might not sound like such an unpalatable imprecation, when you think about it a little harder the meaning is a bit more chilling. Imagine what would precede grass growing tall at your door. You have been kept from the most basic act of tidiness and concern for appearance. For that to have happened, you and your family have been destroyed. “May the crows have your carcass” is another one set off by a real hatred, considering it precludes a “dacent Christian berril.” Evil charms were known as pisthroges. A few other common Irish words or phrases mixed in with English were: kailyee—a friendly evening visit; fetch—a ghost that assumes the form of a known person living or deceased; collogue—verb meaning to whisper; phatie or pratie—potato; shebeen—a drinking establishment; poteen—whiskey. And speaking of whiskey, the rural Irish were adept at designing and building stills to avoid liquor taxes. These were usually hidden up in the mountains near a continuous source of running water, and the locals were ever watchful for government men, who as often as not took their cut to keep quiet.

100_1570Irish speakers in those days were big on puns and word play, but their humor could be quite sophisticated, too, particularly among the more educated groups, such as estate owners, teachers, clergymen, or students of the priesthood. Teachers were highly sought after, by the way, and it was common for them to entertain competing bids from different parishes or communities. Hedge schools were the standard means of imparting an education to the children of the poor. These were so named because, lacking a building, classes were conducted in good weather beside hedge rows. Sometimes, though, a barn or house might be available. There are stories of teachers being kidnapped from one community and taken to another to be plied with gifts and put to work.100_1571_0001

My intent was for Thady’s interests and manner of speech to accurately reflect those of the Irish Catholics of the 18th and 19th centuries. He is a lover of scrapes and scrimmages and busting heads, an occasional pipe smoker and a very occasional brandy drinker. He is also humorous and soft-hearted when someone or something catches his attention just right. He has to part company with his Russian sweetheart in Moscow, but doesn’t let it get to him. He grew up illiterate, but Sir Malcolm teaches him to read and gives him a general education. Thady’s first duty is as a bodyguard for Sir Malcolm; he’s trained as a battlefield warrior, too, in time to take part in the bloody affray at Vinegar Hill in County Wexford against the British.Vinegar Hill Battle He’s the only person Sir Malcolm takes to Russia when fleeing His Majesty’s army—fleeing Brigade Major Robert Wilson, in particular.

The Ireland of the Rebellion–by Glenn Kinyon

Irish Peasants

In 1798, Ireland was a land of misery and terror where an individual was forced to choose sides. After that choice was made, the family home, the farm, or the person’s source of income was often destroyed by the partisans of the side not chosen. The British Protestant masters of Ireland had imposed suffocating regulations upon the Catholic peasantry as a tool of eradication, and many of those peasants joined forces with a group of liberal republican Protestants—the United Irishmen—to ignite a revolution across the island. Not unlike the American War Between the States, Irish brother fought against Irish brother, son against father, daughter against mother. The loyalist forces—those who fought on the side of the British—enjoyed the upper hand in terms of firepower and organization, and they combed the countryside meting out punishment to any and all suspected subversives whether the latter were guilty of such charges or not. Suspicion alone was enough to earn some poor soul sufficient lashes to bare his ribs, a hanging, a burning, or any of a number of other tortures.1798 Ireland The notorious North Cork Militia devised the “pitch cap,” where a paper sack was filled with pitch, placed on a suspect’s head, and lit on fire. The victim would lose his hair and skin in his attempt to remove the burning material. Sometimes a militiaman added gunpowder for extra amusement. The rebels, however, were just as violent in their reprisals. Some rebel groups buried their loyalist captives alive. One incident, where Catholic militants burned some 150 men, women, and children alive in a barricaded barn, would taint the republican effort throughout the uprising. Catholic priests held court on several consecutive days in May and June in county Wexford, whereupon those they deemed guilty of being traitors to the cause were piked to death on the spot. British soldiers burned down crowded hospitals in the same county to retaliate against that retaliation. And those horrors continued for weeks until the less-organized and more poorly-equipped rebels were beaten, tortured, and massacred into submission.

The government kept garrisons in towns across the island, and the authorities eventually began declaring martial law in county after county as the threat of rebellion increased. Too, the British established the system of free quarters, in which military units could billet on the best houses of suspected individuals, often leaving family members destitute, raped, or dead in the process. By early 1798, the military, the militia, civilian volunteer yeomanry units, and the Protestant-only Orange Order were running roughshod over the peasant population, burning the homes and barns of any person suspected of being involved with the rebel United Irish organization.Irish Peasant Hovel Informers were known to satisfy personal vendettas in this fashion, or debtors would bear false witness against creditors. Commanding officers ordered the citizens to turn over their weapons, and if the number of weapons that turned up was deemed insufficient, the soldiers turned the town to ashes. If soldiers found a weapon on a man’s property, they killed him.  They applied torture without restraint. No considerations of age or infirmity sufficed as protection against loyalist outrages.

There was something notable to the 1798 rising, however, that took place in the counties of Wicklow and Wexford. The rebel effort, which was long assumed to be just a spontaneous insurrection, was, on reflection by many historians of the period, too methodically conducted not to have been the product of skilled military planning. In fact, had it not been for a couple of poorly-followed-up victories against the loyalists, the rebel effort would in all likelihood have succeeded, and driven the British from the island. A minutely-devised uprising in Dublin, commanded by local Protestant aristocracy, was only thwarted as it began because spies had infiltrated the inner circle. The Wicklow/Wexford insurrection commenced at roughly the same moment, and began sweeping in a wide swath toward Dublin, as if a pincer movement had been put in place, intended to surround British forces. This rising lasted for weeks where it should have petered out in a day or two, that is, if it had only been a spur-of-the-moment inciting of the rabble as historians and observers then tended to portray it. The rebellion was extraordinarily successful on many fronts. The question is: Who was the mastermind?

In “Beyond the Berezina,” that individual was Sir Malcolm Ussher, member of Ireland’s Protestant Ascendancy, who wished that the government of Ireland be transferred to the Irish rather than left in the hands of the British. While the Ascendency was at least superficially sympathetic to the plight of the Catholic peasantry, the main Protestant objective was self-government, self meaning the high-born Irish Protestants. Still, Sir Malcolm was genuinely concerned with the betterment of the Catholic condition, as were many Protestants of the day. Not for another 123 years would the Republic of Ireland become a free nation. The rebellion of the Irish Catholics against the loyalist element still goes on, though, to one extent or another in Northern Ireland, whose six counties remain part of the United Kingdom.

Life in 18th and 19-century Ireland for the Catholic—and generally Irish-speaking—peasant was one of servitude. The majority of the island’s land was owned by absentee landlords who left the management of their estates to agents. The tenant peasant was allowed a small piece of dirt to farm potatoes for his own subsistence, but spent most of his time working the landowner’s property to pay the rent. Irish Peasant ChildrenThe agents by and large were brutal and corrupt men who intimidated the tenants into submission. Tenants were expected to evince respect for their superiors at all times. Agents, judges, aristocracy, and nobility dealt harshly with any low-rank insolence—such as failing to yield the right-of-way on a road or cutting down a tree for firewood. (Peasants could dig and burn peat for warmth and nothing else.) The 17th-century Penal Laws, designed to eliminate Popery in Ireland altogether, had only lately been relaxed, and certain severe articles yet remained. Probably the worst of these was the tithe. Catholics (and Presbyterians) were required to pay a substantial percentage of their income to the Church of Ireland, which was a branch of the Anglican Church—a church not attended by Catholics or Presbyterians. Tithe proctors collected tithes from the tenants, often by way of the lash, which made these men despicable to the Irish peasant. For decades Catholics had been forbidden to be teachers, and although that law was rescinded a few years prior to 1798, the Catholic population was overwhelmingly illiterate because of it, and consequently impoverished and dependent. Famine and disease swept through the Irish countryside every several years, and hunger was a way of life for the peasantry. Irish Rebellion

The majority of the Irish who rose up against their government in 1798 had nothing to lose. The wealthy Protestants who provided the leadership and lit the fire, on the other hand, had everything at stake—people such as Wolfe Tone, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and the Sheares Brothers, Henry and John, of Dublin. And then there was that mysterious architect of the Wexford insurrection, known in “Beyond the Berezina” as Sir Malcolm Ussher.