When one thinks of rebellious activity in county Wexford in the 1790s, inevitably the events of the 1798 rebellion come to mind…
Indeed, the rebellion of ’98 was the most eventful and prolonged uprising of that decade, but it was by no means the only one.
In nearly every nook and cranny across county Wexford, monuments to the gallant deeds of the rebels of 1798 are to be found. Whether it be to mark battle sites, to commemorate individuals, or to simply pay tribute to the United Irishmen and the ideals which spurred on the rebellion, they can be found everywhere.
It would be very easy to assume that the events of 1798 occurred spontaneously and that Wexford had been tranquil, passive, and without unrest up to that point. However, that is far from the truth.
In fact, half a decade before 1798, an armed rising had occurred against the crown forces in the town. This was on a much smaller scale, being much shorter in duration and barely being marked.
While there are a handful of monuments, almost exclusively confined to Wexford town, the 1793 Rebellion was an important and often forgotten event in Wexford history.
The 1793 rebellion did not occur without cause though as social tension had been building for quite a long time, and by the 1790s, that tension was beginning to come to a head. This tension was mainly caused by the lines along which 18th century Irish society was divided.
Between Irish and British, Catholic and Protestant, rich and poor, there was much bitterness, tension, and hatred. Across Wexford, this tension became clear as the various groups began to arm themselves.
Many hard line conservative Protestants formed the Wexford Militia. However, we must be careful not to tar all with the one brush. Liberal Protestants such as Cornelius Grogan of Johnstown Castle, himself a descendant of a Cromwellian soldier, was staunchly against the formation of the Wexford Militia and had great sympathy for the oppressed masses.
However, equally, the Irish Catholics and Protestants, who were sick and tired of their ill treatment had their own armed organisation, the United Irishmen, which had been formed in 1790. In the midst of brutal public executions and Crown Forces razing homes, many flocked to the United Irishmen.
This tension which had been gradually mounting boiled over in Wexford early in July of 1793 over taxes. On Monday July 8th, a furious crowd gathered at Templescoby, on the New Ross Road, about two miles outside Enniscorthy.
The tax in question was a tithe, which required Catholics and Protestants alike to give 10% of their harvest and of their annual earnings to the Anglican Church. One could only imagine how maddening this must have been.
Imagine being a person with little to no material wealth being asked to hand over one tenth of the little bit that they had to an organisation that does not represent you and one which more often than not acted against your interests and belittled you.
The protestors were filled with rebellious zeal and discontent with the British establishment, two had even arrived to the protest armed. These two men from Bunclody were immediately arrested for carrying arms and thrown into Wexford Jail, then located on South Main Street in Stafford’s Castle, between Oyster Lane and Stonebridge.
It may have seemed to the authorities that they had calmed the tensions, however, on Monday the 11th, the magistrates of the town received a threatening anonymous letter stating that if the two men were not immediately released that 3,000 men would march on the town and raze it to the ground.
The authorities scoffed at this letter. They saw it as a laughable threat from someone taking the chance that this letter would be enough to intimidate them into releasing the two men, and as far as the magistrates were concerned, they would not bend to this idle threat that they felt wouldn’t materialise.
You could only imagine their alarm the next day when two to three thousand rebels marched armed with pikes, scythes, and guns to take the town.
Not only had they marched on the town, they had with them captured a British soldier, Lieutenant Buckby, who had been taken captive. It was decided that Major Charles Vallotton, who was an experienced veteran of the Spanish Wars, and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Nicholl, would march at the head of the Crown Forces.
The Crown Forces were about 50 men strong, but despite their inferior numbers, they were much better armed than the insurgents.
Major Vallotton met the rebels at John Street where he approached the apparent rebel leader, the 22 year old John Moore. The native of Robinstown, near Old Ross, had a scythe slung over his shoulder as he spoke with the Crown Force’s, Major Vallotton.
Vallotton, however, paid little heed to what Roche was saying, his attention was instead fixed on the sight of Lieutenant Buckby who was in rebel custody. In an act which seems very dishonourable and cowardly, the Major drew his sword and without provocation struck Moore. Moore, in turn, was quick to respond to this unprompted blow as he planted his scythe into Vallotton’s groin causing the Major to fall to the ground. Both men were said to have died from their injuries.
The Crown Forces opened fire on the ground and mass panic ensued; some fled, some rushed for shelter, and eleven were shot dead on John Street.
Eight men were caught hiding in a hayloft on John Street, one of them died of their injuries, two turned informer and five refused to engage in such treachery and as such faced trial for their part in the rebellion. These five men James Kenney, Patrick Flannery, Patrick Neil, Michael Carty and John Crawford were hanged on July 26th on Windmill Hill, near the modern Belvedere Road.
However, the heaviest losses of the day were yet to be suffered.
Captain James Boyd led a group of conservative Protestants of the merciless Wexford Militia. They massacred eighty fleeing protestors near Bettyville, where the Wexford Racecourse can be found today. The rebellion had ended with a brutal show of force from Crown Forces aided by the Wexford Militia.
When the Corporation of Wexford met to address this slaughter of their own citizens, did they condemn the brutality? Did they look to what had caused their own people to feel so helpless that they had to engage in a militant revolt? They, in fact, did none of this.
Their first reaction was to bow and scrape to the British authorities, to reaffirm that they were in no way associated with the protestors who they deemed to be “savage”. They wished to condemn the rebellion and reassure British authorities that they were loyal and passive.
Lieutenant Colonel Nicholl was awarded a golden medal for his role in suppressing the rebellion which was engraved with Wexford’s coat of arms and an inscription which heaped praise onto Nicholl and waxed lyrical of his “distinguished aid and active zeal” in combating the “armed mob”.
A memorial to the slain Major Charles Vallotton was placed in St. Iberius Church erected by the “Corporation of Wexford with Gratitude”. It listed his titles and praised him for his display of the “gallantry of a soldier”. On the December 30th 1793 it was that “a monumental obelisk raised on the spot where Major Charles Vallotton was killed at of the corporation to the late Major Charles Vallotton of the 56th regiment of Infantry who fell in defence of Wexford town”.
They erected a great obelisk in 1794 on the junction between John Street and Hill Street to Vallotton which bears his name to this day. The Vallotton Monument’s Inscription which is barely legible today reads:
“To the memory of Major Charles Vallotton murdered at Wexford in Ireland
July 11 1793 whilst in the act of expostulating with a lawless mob”
Yet, it was not just the wear and tear of 228 years which has rendered it illegible. The Corporation may have erected this monument in an attempt to make out the people of Wexford were behind the crown forces and mourned for Major Vallotton, but the reality could not be further from the truth.
The monument became illegible as it became customary in the town every time you walked by it to either spit at it or to throw a stone at the monument. This is a testament to the rebellious spirit of the Wexford people and their disgust at how Crown Forces had responded to ‘the First Wexford Rebellion’.
Later on, a plaque was dedicated to John Moore and to all the rebels who had lost their lives. At a meeting of the Wexford Borough Council in 1997, it was even suggested that the Vallotton monument be rededicated not only to Major Vallotton, but to all who had lost their lives.
Such a proposal must be praised not only from an ethical point of view, but from a historian’s point of view also.
The Wexford Rebellion of 1793 may have been swiftly defeated, but it was notable for many reasons. For one, it was noted that the Wexford Pike was used during the rebellion and shortly after it such pikes and damaged weapons were manufactured and repaired at the bullring in preparation for the next fight.
Membership of the Society of United Irishmen surged and the Wexford people had been shown that they did not have to accept their wretched conditions and unjust oppression. Instead, they could stand up, they could fight, and they could either win freedom or die in the pursuit of it.
It could be very reasonably said that had the seed of rebellion not been planted by the rebels of ’93, the more famous rebels of 1798 may not have risen as they did.
Today, let the Vallotton monument stand not only in memory of Major Vallotton, but instead, in memory of all who fell in the First Wexford Rebellion of 1793.
Fascinating Wexford History, Volume One, Des Kiely, Parsifal Press, 2019.
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