Some years ago I came across a pamphlet published in 1641 by Mr. Hierome, described as ‘Minister of God’s word at Athigh in Ireland’ with the title ‘Treason in Ireland’ and subtitled ‘For the blowing up of the Kings English forces with a hundred barrels of gun powder with the names of the chief agents.’ Not content with this alarming claim the reverend gentleman added two further subtitles which bearing in mind the pamphlet was intended for distribution in England was clearly designed to provoke a reaction against the Catholic rebels. ‘With a relation of the cruelties of the Irish rebels used against the English protestants there, killing them, ravishing the women, cutting them to pieces, hanging them by the hairs of their head, scalding them, cutting off their heads and firing their towns and houses.’ The title page was completed with a further subtitle ‘With two battles fought betwixt the Protestants and the rebels, the rebels having the worst in both. With a plot discovered at Athigh’.
The five pages of text accompanied by a pictorial depiction of Athy on Page 6 claimed that a captured rebel by name William Rafter confessed that Irish rebels numbering 500 and including ‘popish priests, friars and Jesuits’ intended to take Athy and the castle. With its capture English troops were expected to march from Dublin to relieve the town and the road to Athy was undermined with gun powder ready to be exploded as the troops passed. However, having discovered the rebels plans the English troops surprised the awaiting rebels and ‘slew three or four hundred of the rebels and the rest fled into the woods.’
The rebels, according to Hierome’s account, regrouped and marched on Athy but ‘God prevented their intention by one master Carot Topey, an English colonel appointed by the Lord’s Justices over 500 foote and 100 horse who with his regiment fell upon them and slew 300 of the rebels and put the rest to flight. The regiment of rebels are about 2,000 strong. Colonel Topey lost in this skirmish 55 men, that is 50 foote and 5 horse.’
The following year Athy was again the centre of military activity when the English army under the Earl of Ormonde marched out of Dublin to attack the Irish rebels in and around South Kildare. The resultant campaign was the subject of another pamphlet which claimed to explain ‘How God had fought his own cause miraculously, manifesting his mighty power by delivering the protestants, miserably distressed under a cruel and inhumane adversary.’ On 5th April 1642 the English troops having camped overnight near the rebel held castle of Ballyshannon marched towards Athy. On their way they burned houses and killed a few straggling rebels and on reaching Athy found ‘the greater part of the town all burned by the protestants the day before to prevent the rebels, who in great multitudes had entered in and were about to fire the castle – church and other places, wherein the protestants to the number of 300 besides children were preserved.’
The army marched to Ballyadams where having been entertained liberally they then drove 200 head of cattle and 1000 sheep to Athy where the inhabitants were in great distress for want of meat and drink. On 12th April 1642 the Irish rebels were repairing the bridge at Maganey which had earlier been destroyed to prevent them attacking the English settlers. Up to 700 men were involved in this work and the intention was apparently to march over the bridge when repaired and intercept the English troops on their way from Maryborough to Athy. The rebels however were attacked by 30 dragoners and 30 horse and prevented from finishing the bridge repair work. On 14th April all the English troops previously dispersed throughout South Kildare and the Queens County marched into Athy where the soldiers were quartered and the horse troops assigned to several locations in and around the town.
The second pamphlet printed by G. Miller for W. Bladen in 1642 included the following account of hangings in Athy. ‘On 15th April one Brocke, an English papist, of whom the corrupt part of the protestant clergy thereabouts made use of in former times for vexing of the honest clergymen and their hearers, with divers other rebels were hanged. The number of rebels hanged during the time of our army being there is conceived to be about 70’. That same day the army left Athy and on the march back to Dublin they encountered rebels at Kilrush and in the ensuing battle about 1000 Irish rebels were killed and 15 rebel colours were captured.
The centuries old pamphlets record events which for the most part have slipped out of our historical narrative. Their recovery adds much to our knowledge of the unfolding story of post medieval Athy.