ON THIS DAY: 29 May 1798 : Massacre of unarmed United Irishmen in 1798 at Gibbet Rath

Hundreds of unarmed United Irishmen were killed by British forces in the Gibbet Rath massacre on the Curragh of Kildare following their surrender OTN in 1798.

The rebellion of 1798 was strongly supported in Country Kildare and the rebels managed to take a number of towns and hold the British forces at bay for more than a week. However, when it became evident that the rebellion could not succeed the United Irishmen negotiated surrender with Lieutenant General Sir Ralph Dundas, Commander of the Midland District Militia for the Crown.

The rebels were told to go to Gibbet Rath on the Curragh on May 29th to hand over their arms, with the promise that they would be allowed to leave unharmed.

British militia and cavalry under General Sir James Duff attack a surrendering force of United Irishmen at the Gibbet Rath. Some 350 rebels are killed in the ensuing massacre.

British militia and cavalry under General Sir James Duff attack a surrendering force of United Irishmen at the Gibbet Rath. Some 350 rebels are killed in the ensuing massacre. Picture Credit: Curragh Military Museum

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However, General Dundas wasn’t there to meet the surrendering Irishmen. In his stead was a cruel and ruthless English officer, General Sir James Duff, a ruthless English Officer, who arrived at Gibbet Rath with his army which Stair na hÉireann says  included a regiment known as Roden’s Foxhunters led by Viscount Jocelyn, a leading racing man whose father the Earl of Roden was one of the original founders of the Turf Club in Kildare town.

On the previous evening, according to reports from Kildare town, several of Roden’s Foxhunters, in a riotous and drunken state, marched through the streets with fixed bayonets swearing loudly “we are the boys who will slaughter the croppies tomorrow at the Curragh”.

That is precisely what happened. Some1,000 rebels (though some accounts put the number at up to 2,000) assembled at the Gibbet Rath to surrender and handed in their weapons. They were then surrounded by Duff and his forces who were ordered to “charge and spare no rebel”.

At least 350 of the unarmed men were slaughtered mercilessly as they fled in panic, with many more badly injured. Duff himself boasted that he left “500 rebels bleaching on the Curragh of Kildare” – that the “Curragh was strewed with the vile carcasses of popish rebels and the accursed town of Kildare has been reduced to a heap of ashes by our hands.”

It was reported that in one street alone in Kildare that night, 85 widows were counted. Within a 10 mile radius of the Curragh there was hardly a house or cottage that didn’t have a father, brother or son killed. Locals held that a catholic priest was amongst those slaughtered.

Some of the rebels were buried in Kildangan and their names are recorded there. Others were buried in the Grey Abby in Kildare and some in Nurney.

Far from being censured for the massacre, Duff  upon his arrival in Dublin the following day, was feted as a hero by the British establishment who honoured him with a victory parade

The statue of Saint Brigid at the Market Square of Kildare is dedicated to the memory of the victims at Gibbet Rath.

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