Thursday, June 19, 1997

1798 Rebellion in Athy

On 17th March 1798 John Glennan a Protestant was murdered near the Moate of Ardscull and a few days later John Lucas the elderly Parish Clerk of Narraghmore met a similar fate. Alarmed at these atrocities and fearful of the resurgent spirit of rebellion amongst their Catholic neighbours the Loyalists of Athy invited Thomas Rawson of Glasseally House to form a yeomanry infantry Corps in the town. Applying on the 1st April to Dublin Castle for permission to take up the invitation Rawson referred to the “seventy loyal well affected men in the town of Athy for each of whom I would pledge myself, they are anxious to embody themselves as yeoman infantry or to be suffered to arm as free men of a Protestant corporation”. The loyal infantry when formed like all yeomanry forces of the period were badly trained and poorly disciplined. It was primarily to be a policing force intended to protect members of the established church from the radical elements among their Catholic neighbours. The infantry under Rawson numbered 140 men and this group was to play a significant part in local events during 1798.

The town of Athy already had a yeomanry cavalry corps numbering approximately 56 men formed in 1796 and comprised of the gentry and better off inhabitants of the area. It’s first captain was the Duke of Leinster who filled similar honorary positions on all such cavalry units in the County. The second Captain and effective commander of the Corps was Thomas Fitzgerald of Geraldine House, Athy. The first and second Lieutenants were William Sherlock and J. Lewis.

An indication of the rivalry which existed between the different yeomanry units in the area can be gleaned from a letter sent by an Athy resident to Dublin Castle on the 2nd July 1797. The writer informed the Castle authorities of the malicious burning of outhouses belonging to a Mr. Crostwaite about one mile from Athy. Apparently Mr. Crostwaite’s property although within the functional area of the Athy Corps was declared out of their protection because of his refusal to join the local yeomanry. Instead Mr. Crostwaite and three others had given their allegiance to the Weldons of Ballylinan who had formed their own yeomanry unit. The writer did not go so far as to claim that the firing of the outoffices was caused by anyone other than the disaffected Irish.

In December 1797 a man who was to be responsible for undermining the effectiveness of the Athy rebels and causing the imprisonment of many of the leaders of the Rebellion came to live at Kilkea Castle. He was Thomas Reynolds a distance relation of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and a nephew of Thomas Fitzgerald Captain of the Athy yeomanry cavalry. Reynolds was soon admitted into the Athy Cavalry Corps and as a frequent visitor to Athy befriended many of the local townspeople. He also became a member of the United Irishmen and was elected a Colonel of that organisation in Kilkea and Moone and been appointed a County delegate at a provincial meeting. Making use of the information which was then available to him Reynolds informed on his colleagues. As a result twelve members of the Leinster Directory were arrested on the 12th March at the house of Oliver Bond in Bridge Street in Dublin while attending a meeting. Despite being suspected of passing information to Dublin Castle Reynolds escaped the informer’s fate and convened a meeting of six or seven of the local Captains of the United Irishmen in Athy on the 20th March 1798. The meeting place was a room at the back of Peter Kelly’s shop in the Main Street. The unsuspecting rebels were later to pay the price for placing trust in Reynolds while Kelly was imprisoned and suffered a loss of his business for allowing the use of his premises for rebellion purposes.


Early in May 1798 the Athy yeomanry cavalry which was felt to have been less than diligent in search of those responsible for an armed raid at the Athy Docks in December 1797 and whose Captain was under arrest were assembled in the Market Square, Athy. In the centre of their own Athy and before the eyes of their less privileged townsmen they were confronted by Colonel Campbell local commander of the 9th Dragoons stationed in the army barracks who ordered them to dismount. Having done so they were next ordered to lay down their arms and strip their horses of saddles and bridles. This was an ignominious end to the Athy Cavalry Corps for its members who were for the most part members of the local gentry and a humiliating acknowledgment of their betrayal by the spy Thomas Reynolds.

In the meantime the 140 strong loyal Athy infantry commanded by Thomas Rawson of Glasseally was busy showing its loyalty. Constant searches for pikes and arms brought their unwelcome attention on the native Catholics at both ends of the social ladder. With the limited success of searches for pikes and arms floggings were introduced to obtain information from the uncooperative local people. Early in May 1798 a large wooden structure was erected opposite the military barracks in the town. The triangle so called because of their three sided construction was used to secure men undergoing flogging. The man mainly involved in this barbaric practice was a local town Burgess Thomas Rawson of Glasseally House. A contemporary account by William Farrell of Carlow states in relation the Athy floggings “the triangle was put up in the public street of Athy and the work began instantly. There was no ceremony in choosing victims, the first to hand done well enough ……………. The whole weight of the persecution fell on the unfortunate Catholics. They were stripped naked, tied to the triangle and their flesh cut without mercy though some men stood the torture to the last gash sooner than become informers others did not”.

The brutal and systematic suppression of the townspeople during 1798 ensured that thereafter Athy was never again to present any major problems for the Government Forces.

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