On Saturday last, August 4, Wicklow republicans gathered in Newtownmountkennedy, County Wicklow, to commemorate one of the largest battles of the 1798 rebellion, ‘The Battle of Newtown’.
The march began at 2pm, assembling opposite the monument to Michael O’Neill on Main Street. O’Neill was part of the 1,000 strong force of United Irishmen who took part in the battle. Lead by an éirígí colour party and a detachment of ‘Pike Men’, the commemorative march made its way through the heart of the town to the 1798 monument.
The commemoration was presided over by local socialist republican Seán Doyle, a member of the Independent Workers Union [IWU] and Clann éirígí. Seán gave an account of the battle to those assembled and outlined the importance of socialist republicans continuing to work tirelessly for our national and social freedoms and never to lose hope in the vision of Ireland put forward by Lalor, Tone, Connolly and Costello.
Local North Wicklow republican Noel Hempenstall then laid a wreath at the 1798 monument, which was followed by a minute’s silence and lowering of the flags in honour of all those who have given their lives in the pursuit of Irish national liberation. Seán Doyle then called on Lawrence Collins to play a lament on the whistle, after which the commemoration was brought to a close.
Speaking after the commemoration, éirígí Cill Mhantáin representative Adrian O’Reilly said, “Today republicans from throughout Wicklow and beyond have gathered to pay tribute to the memory and the vision of the men and women of 1798. Today’s commemoration is about honouring the sacrifices of the generations of Irish men and women who have given their lives in pursuit of our freedom. It is also about recommitting ourselves to the goals of the United Irishmen who fought here in Newtownmountkennedy.
“Commemorations have an important role in making local people aware of the wealth of republican history around them, especially in a county like Wicklow. It is important to link that history and sense of pride, to the ongoing socialist republican struggle today.
“Two hundred and fourteen years after that battle of Newtown, Ireland remains unfree and our people continue to be exploited on a daily basis. Six Irish counties remain under an illegal British occupation, while the Twenty-Six County state has been reduced to a mere province of European imperialism. It is the duty of all those who wish to honour the United Irishmen of 1798, to become involved in the struggle for a New Ireland. The generations who have given their lives in the fight for freedom can truly be honoured, only by the establishment of an Irish Socialist Republic!”
The following is text from the main oration by Seán Doyle:
Today we gather here to remember and honour the 1,000 united Irishmen from the baronies of Ballinacor North and Newcastle who gave siege to Newtown-Mount-Kennedy to drive the British out. On the 30th May 1798 the rebellion commenced. They attacked the village from both sides. The scene was set for what became the largest and bloodied battle of the North Wicklow rebellion.
They had formed up in secluded locations such as Dunran and the Devil’s Glen, but found it difficult to coordinate for maximum effect. A third column expected from Roundwood district failed to materialise, owing to its partial dispersion during skirmishes in their home area on the 29th.
The alerted garrison consisted of 60 dragoons, the Antrim militia and 80 local Yeomen. They were forced to burn several buildings to create a protective smokescreen. The defenders lost control of much of the town and became locked in an intensive struggle for the market house, which they used as a barracks and prison.
The Coach House stables were fired on by the rebels but not before the Calvary mounts were brought to safety and used in the garrison’s desperate counterattack. Englishman Captain John Burgany and nine of his men were killed in the action and many others were seriously wounded. But the attack was repelled and over thirty rebels were killed although many more perished in the brutal mopping up operation where no quarter was given.
The bulk of the rebels’ dead were thrown into a mass grave at Warble Bank sandpit just like dead sheep, over the road from here. Gravel was drawn from the pit until the 1940s when council workers uncovered human bones.
I hope even after 214 years that these local heroes will be remembered. I hope that their ancestors will give them the respect they deserve. I hope they will assist us to exhume them. I hope together we will give them an honourable, respectful burial. I hope we will raise a monument for future generations to honour these heroes. Because I believe only in the presence of hope will we have the vision and fortitude to become a free people in a free country!
“If you strike at, imprison, or kill us, out of our prisons or graves we will still evoke a spirit that will thwart you, and perhaps, raise a force that will destroy you! We defy you! Do your worst!”
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