1798: The Carnew executions

Add comment May 25th, 2019 Headsman

The Carnew Massacre blackened this date in 1798, in the Irish village of the same name.

It was the morrow of the outbreak of Ireland’s 1798 rebellion against British rule. This rising commenced on May 24 and foundered within weeks leaving a harvest of patriotic martyrs in its wake but those in the moment had not the advantage of hindsight — so as news of the fighting reached County Wicklow, adjacent to the rebel epicenter of Wexford, loyalists there authored a couple of notable summary atrocities by way of pre-emption.

On May 25, the British garrison at Carnew took 28 United Irishmen prisoners already being held in Carnew Castle and had them shot out of hand in an alley.

A similar mass execution of 36 nationalist prisoners occurred on the following day, May 26, at Dunlavin Green.

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1798: Father John Murphy, Wexford Rebellion leader

Add comment July 2nd, 2018 Headsman

Catholic priest John Murphy was executed on this date in 1798 for his part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798.


The Black 47 jam “Vinegar Hill” celebrates Father Murphy, imagining him confronting and embracing the choice to rebel …

I return to my prayers
And reflect upon Your tortured lips
But not a word do I hear
Just a veil of silence around the crucifix
And I remember the Bishop’s words
“When faith is gone, all hope is lost”
Well, so be it
I will rise up with my people
And to hell with the eternal cost!

An exemplar of that rare type persuadable to follow his moral commitments all the way out of the safety of a status quo sinecure, Father Murphy initially eschewed the trend towards armed rebellion in 1798.

This outbreak was itself a response to a violent martial law-backed campaign of repression to crush Ireland’s growing United Irishmen movement for self-rule, republicanism, and Catholic emancipation — each of them scarlet fighting words to the Crown. The risings that finally broke out had only scanty success, weakened as they were by months of arrests.

By far the strongest rising occurred in Wexford, so much so that the Wexford Rebellion is nearly metonymous for the Irish Rebellion as a whole. And our man, John Murphy, was a priest in Wexford Town.

Giving due heed to Ecclesiastes, Murphy pivoted quickly from his previous counsel that prospective rebels surrender their arms once he saw an enemy patrol gratuitously torch some homes, a decision that would immortalize his name at the cost of greatly shortening his life.

During the brief existence of the Wexford Republic, the padre surprisingly became one of its prominent combat commanders, and also one of the signal martyrs after the rebels were shattered at the Battle of Vinegar Hill on June 21, 1798.*

Murphy escaped that tragic battlefield only to have his remnant definitively routed a few days later.

He had only a few days remaining him at that point, days of hiding out with his bodyguard, James Gallagher. At last they were captured at a farm on July 2, and subjected that same day to a snap military tribunal and execution delayed only by the hours required to torture him.

After hanging to death, Murphy was decapitated so that the British could mount his head on a pike as a warning.

This 1798 rebellion they were able to crush, but Murphy has survived into legend. He flashes for only an instant in the sweep of history, springing almost out of the very soil into the firmament as an allegory of revolutionary redemption, brandishing together (as Black 47 puts it above) both his missal and his gun.


The ballad “Boolvague” by Patrick Joseph McCall for the 1898 centennial of the rebellion pays tribute to Father Murphy:

At Vinegar Hill o’er the River Slaney
our heroes vainly stood back to back
And the yeos of Tullow took Father Murphy
and burned his body upon the rack
God grant you glory brave Father Murphy
and open heaven to all your men
The cause that called you may call tomorrow
in another fight for the Green again.

* There was a “Second Battle of Vinegar Hill” … comprising Irishmen but not in Ireland, for it was a convict rebellion in Australia in 1804. One of its leaders, Phillip Cunningham, was a survivor of the 1798 Irish Rebellion.

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1798: Dennis Nugent, for child rape

Add comment November 28th, 2016 Headsman

Dennis Nugent was hanged on this date in 1798 for raping an eight-year-old girl — a crime whose particulars were so revolting that “The Court ordered that the evidence upon this trial should not be published.”


Bell’s Weekly Messenger, Sept. 23, 1798

Nugent denied committing the crime all the way to the end.

Part of the Themed Set: Sexual Deviance.

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1798: Anthony Perry and Mogue Kearns, Protestant and Catholic

Add comment July 21st, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1798,* two Irish rebels — a Catholic and a Protestant — were hanged side by side at Blundell Hill, Edenderry for their parts in that year’s Irish Rebellion.

Their biographies were a study in contrast: Anthony Perry, “a Protestant gentleman of independent fortune, liberal education, and benevolent mind”; Mogue Kearns, the brooding and ordained stock of Catholic farmers. Legend has it that Kearns even survived a mob lynching in Paris during the French Revolution.**

If so, it didn’t dampen his revolutionary ardor.

The two men were major movers in the Wexford Rebellion, one of the more successful and (to the British) surprising centers of insurrection in 1798. Perry, still half-broken by British torture,† returned to the field to help rout the Brits at the Battle of Tuberneering, obtaining the nickname “the Screeching General” for his barbaric vociferations in battle.

But after this successful ambush, the United Irishmen were driven from pillar to post — a failed attack on Arklow followed by the rebels’ defeat at their Vinegar Hill encampment.

A few weeks later, the multiconfessional leaders were captured, and quickly hanged at Edenderry, with “benefit” only of a summary court-martial.

Perry was extremely communicative, and while in custody, both before and after trial, gratified the enquiries of every person who spoke to him, and made such a favourable impression, that many regretted his fate …

Kearns was exactly the reverse of his companion — he was silent and sulk, and seldom spoke, save to upbraid Perry for his candid acknowledgments … [he had] an hypocritical and malignant heart, filled with gloomy and ferocious passions — He seemed rather to be an instrument of Hell, than a minister of Heaven, for his mind was perpetually brooding over sanguinary schemes and plans of rapines, while he assumed the sacred vestments of a servant of Christ!

Their capture marked the final collapse of Wexford’s rebellious “republic”; by September of that same year, all Irish disturbances had been definitively, and bloodily, quelled.

* Some sources have July 12, an apparent transposition of the correct date; both men appear to have skirmished in Clonard on July 11 and again at Knightstown Bog on July 14, and only captured thereafter, followed by several days’ captivity before hanging.

** “The history of the Priest is somewhat extraordinary — he had actually been hanged in Paris, during the reign of Robespierre, but being a large heavy man, the lamp-iron from which he was suspended, gave way, till his toes reached the ground — in this state he was cut down by a physician, who had known him, brought him to his house, and recovered him.”

† Perry’s troops happened to capture two men involved in Perry’s torture in early June. He had his ex-tormenters executed.

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1798: Henry Joy McCracken

1 comment July 17th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1798, Henry Joy McCracken was hanged by the British for that year’s Irish Rebellion.

The Belfast Presbyterian and cotton trader co-founded the republican Society of United Irishmen in 1791, and spent that revolutionary decade trafficking in ideas that the British crown did not approve at all.

He got busted in 1796 for his radical politics, but ill health prompted his release from prison shortly before the misfortunately ill-organized rising.

McCracken led an attack on Antrim — he dated his call to arms with a French Revolution-esque calendar reboot, “the first year of liberty” — but lost the fight and was captured a few weeks later.

He spurned offers of clemency in exchange for informing on his comrades and was parted at the gallows from his sister, Mary Ann McCracken — herself one of Ireland’s best renowned social reform activists. (She lived to the ripe old age of 96, a furious anti-slavery activist to the end.)

Say what you will about those Irish Republican revolutionaries, they know how to commemorate a body in song:

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1798: Rigas Feraios, Greek poet

Add comment June 13th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1798, the Greek revolutionary Rigas Feraios and five co-conspirators were strangled by their Ottoman captors on the Danube River en route to Constantinople to prevent their rescue.

A Vlach by blood, Feraios was a hero — and ultimately a martyr — of Greek independence years before the revolution against Ottoman rule that would deliver it.

A Renaissance man for the Greek Enlightenment, Feraios had a variegated youthful career knocking about the Ottomans’ Balkan possessions and absorbing the revolutionary Zeitgeist abroad in Europe.

Settling in Vienna in his mid-thirties, he brandished his pen in the service of an imagined pan-Balkan, pan-Hellenic uprising to shake off the Turkish yoke. He edited the first Greek newspaper, published a map* and constitution for the imagined realm of the “Inhabitants of Rumeli, Asia Minor, the Islands of the Aegean, and the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia”, and churned out blood-stirring poetry in Demotic, the vernacular tongue — most memorably, the Thourio, i.e., “War Hymn”.

… and a little taste of the gist, in English:

How long, my heroes, shall we live in bondage,
alone,like lions on ridges, on peaks?
Living in caves, seeing our children turned
from the land to bitter enslavement?
Losing our land, brothers, and parents,
our friends, our children, and all our relations?
Better an hour of life that is free
than forty years in slavery.

This sort of fire-breather is not the sort of man the Ottomans were keen on seeing involve himself with Bonaparte, most especially now that the French kingpin had started outfitting Oriental adventures. The Turks’ Austrian allies nabbed Feraios in Trieste en route to confer with Napoleon’s Italian subalterns about interfering in the Balkans.

Shipped to the governor of Belgrade, Feraios was to be sent to Constantinople for adjudication by Sultan Selim III. A Turkish buddy of the poet’s, however, happened to be blocking the way with a sizable force of his own who’d been administering a rebel statelet carved out of Ottoman territory. Tipped that this gentleman was keen to liberate the Turks’ unwelcome prisoners if they tried to pass, the local authorities had them summarily strangled and their bodies dumped in the Danube.


A Rigas Feraois monument in Belgrade. (Author’s photograph, in terrible light.)

* Including Constantinople. The dream of “Greater Greece” would persist long, and die hard.

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