In 1997 a sub- committee of the Slane Historical and Archaeological Society was formed for the purpose of researching the 1798 Rebellion in the Slane area. The members of this committee were Ray Cogan, Marie Meade, Frances Kelly, Frankie Lynagh, Peter Murphy and myself. We were very fortunate in having Peter Murphy on our committee, as it was mainly due to his late father, Garda Richard Murphy, that we have so many factual accounts of the historical events in the Slane area during 1798.
Richard, a keen historian, was stationed as a Garda in Slane from 1935 to 1957. In the late ‘40s and early ‘50s he travelled throughout Meath and even into Cavan, interviewing over 150 senior citizens who gave him oral accounts of the rebellion, which they as children had heard from their grandparents or elderly neighbours. These accounts Richard meticulously recorded, and much of what follows here is based on these recordings, which his son Peter kindly placed at our disposal.
Slane played quite a significant role in the Rising of 1798, both during the early days of the rising in May and seven weeks later on the arrival of the Wexfordmen at the River Boyne.
In October 1796 Viscount Conyngham had been appointed Captain of the Slane Yeomen Cavalry and Gustavus Lambert had been appointed Lieutenant. A band of Armagh militia, together with Slane Yeomen, were billeted in houses in the village, both prior to and during the rebellion. According to Mr. Murphy’s notes yeomanry, under the command of Captain Gettings, were quartered in the houses of Boyne View Terrace, just north of the River Boyne.
The first engagement at Slane took place on May 25th. Maureen Conway ( historian ) in her series of articles – “Towards a History of Meath” wrote “On May 25th the military at Slane were attacked in the houses in which they were billeted. There were about 60 of them – yeomen and Armagh Militia – and the attackers were much more numerous, but as elsewhere, without sufficient weapons and without leaders, the military fought their way out and the attackers had heavy losses”.
Reference is made in Garda Murphy’s notes to three yeomen from Slane – Poyntz, Dean and Blackburne ( from Mullaghdillon ) who took part in the Battle of Tara on the following day – Saturday May 26th.
The summer of 1798 was the dries and hottest in living memory. During that summer mass was celebrated in a barn or outhouse in Slane village. The parish priest of Slane Rev. Fr. O’Hanlon and his curate, Fr. Phillip Mulligan, both lived in the parochial house in Gernonstown. Both men were sympathetic to the cause of the United Irishmen and, on more than one occasion, courageously championed them.
One such incident relates to Fr. Mulligan, who while reading his office one day beside the parochial residence, witnessed an unarmed local man being shot down by an officer of the Yeomanry Cavalry Corps, which was passing by. The officer then attempted to trample the dying man underfoot, but Fr. Mulligan, on seeing this immediately approached and commenced hearing the dying mans confession. He was warned by the officer to desist but bravely refused to do so saying, “Sir if you trample on this poor man you shall also trample on me”. The man, we are told, subsequently died in Fr. Mulligan’s arms.
Another incident refers to the proposed hanging of seven croppies on a gallows which had been erected on Morgan’s Hill, ( since renamed Gallow’s Hill ) just east of Slane Village on the Drogheda road. These croppies had been informed on and were subsequently captured by the Slane Yeomanry while hiding out in Carrickdexter, Slane. Fr. O’Hanlon, the parish priest, interceded on their behalf, with Viscount Conyngham, who ordered the gallows to be taken down. The Viscount then took the prisoners to the castle, from where he gave them free passes to Wexford.
It is widely accepted that the Wexfordmen, when crossing the Boyne on July 13th, on their march northwards, did so in the vicinity of Slane, possibly between Slane Bridge and Stackallen Bridge. The following morning they re-grouped on the Slane to Ardee road, a few miles north of Slane but were quickly disbanded by the Sutherland Regiment with battalion guns and were forced to scatter in all directions. Later that day, after again managing to re-group, they were driven in the direction of Knightstown bog where many lost their lives in the battle which followed.
It would appear that many of the insurgents who lost their lives in the Slane area were Wexfordmen,who after the defeat at Knightstown on July 14th were endeavouring to return southwards across the Boyne or were hiding in “safe” houses. We know that a substantial force had crossed the Boyne at Dowth, two miles east of Slane but that the remainder had split up into splinter groups and either went northwards or tried to cross the Boyne wherever they could.
In Garda Murphy’s notes many references are made to the Croppies who were executed in the Slane area at this time. One account tells of the hanging of seven Wexfordmen from a tree in McGawley’s wood, east of the Demesne wall in Townley Hall. These hangings were carried out by yeomen, under the command of Lord Balfour of Townley Hall. Another account tells of the shooting of 20 croppies on the steps of a granary at Knowth by yeomen from Slane.
Yet another account tells of the capture of 12 croppies at Dowth, two of which were hanged at a circular clump of trees south of the Slane/Drogheda road across from Townley Hall while the other ten were brought to Drogheda for trial and presumably executed.
There is an account of the hanging of four croppies, including two battalion leaders, on Tankardstown Hill, by yeomen from Slane under the command of Captain Gettings. Mr. Morris, the then owner of Tankardstown estate, refused to allow the bodies to be interred on his land so two were buried beside the stream east of Tankardstown and slightly southwest of Creewood school, while the other two were buried near Lacken. One account says the latter were drawn and quartered before burial.
Naturally, in the recounting of this rebellion in Meath, there are many accounts of the cowardly actions of informers, but there are also the very heroic actions of those who befriended the rebels at great risk to there own lives. Of these unsung heroes of ’98 the following are possibly the most noteworthy in the Slane area.
Denis O’Rourke, a steward at Beauparc House, who accidentally came upon a large number of croppies hiding near the north bank of the River Boyne at Beauparc. Under cover of darkness he rowed them across the river to the south bank and sent them safely on their way to Wexford. Some time later, when visiting Wexford with a horse and float, to buy some trees for the Lambert estate in Beauparc, he was recognised and feted by the people of Wexford.
Mary McNally, from Ardmulchan, who fed three Wexfordmen who were hiding in a cave near the old canal lock-house.
Loyal people in Rushwee, who fed some Wexfordmen, thaty were hiding in a cornfield nearby.
A farmer named Madden, from Rathdrinagh, who cared for a wounded croppy named Rowe and nursed him back to health.
Sean Tiernan, from Barristown, who assisted and fed three or four croppies. On discovering that he was being watched he tied the food around the neck of his retriever and got him to take it to them. Unfortunately, due to an informer, these poor croppies were later captured and killed by the Slane Yeomanry and are buried on Barristown mountain.
A yeoman, named Kealy, from Stackallan who befriended croppies who were hidden in a cornfield near his home.
No account of the rebellion in the Slane area would be complete without a reference to the blacksmith. Gilsenan, from Seneschalstown. After all it was he and other blacksmiths like him who fashioned the pikes which were used to arm the United Irishmen. Gilsenan’s forge ( which is now a converted garage ) faced the Seneschalstown/Beauparc road. One day, having just completed 5 or 6 pikes, he saw a band of yeomen approaching, accompanied by a suspected informer, who had previously visited his forge. He quickly threw the finished pikes into an overgrown water channel behind his house. The yeomen, on arrival, thoroughly searched the place but luckily failed to locate the hidden pikes.
The final chapter in the Slane history of ’98 records that on July 18th that year 19 United Irishmen were tried by court-martial in Slane for rebellion and treason and were all found guilty. They received various sentences ranging from death to transportation. The most famous of these men was Thomas Dogherty, who was believed to be from the Slane area and who was sentenced to death. Today, the clash of pikes and the roar of cannon is no more, but the bravery and heroism of the United Irishmen is not forgotten. A handsome croppy memorial stands immediately north of Slane village. This was erected in August 1951 by the then 1798 Committee; a member of which was Garda Murphy. It is a fitting memorial to the many brave and fearless men of ’98 who fought and died in the Slane area during that fateful summer and whose bodies lie in numerous unmarked graves in the surrounding districts.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha