“Few events in modern Irish history, especially in the history of revolutionary nationalism, haunt the imagination like the massacre that took place in the townland of Scullabogue in southern County Wexford on 5 June 1798.
In Northern Star, near the end of Act One, the Scullabogue massacre is mentioned in conversation whereby Captain says to McCracken: ‘They’ve been slaughtering innocent Protestants down in Wexford […] put to the torch a barn in Scullabogue, in which they incinerated three hundred Protestant men, women and children. Entire families. In the name of the United Irish nation.” After reading this section, I decided to take a further look into what really happened on that fateful day in Co. Wexford.
On 5 June 1798 in the townland of Scullabogue, which lies just six miles from New Ross, a barn which was used by rebels to detain men, woman and children, mostly local Protestants who were considered loyalists, was set on fire, killing all those inside. The killing of well over a hundred government supporters by rebels has been immortalised in the illustration that George Cruickshank produced for William Maxwell’s narrative of the rebellion, published in the middle of the last century.
“This, along with the vivid descriptions of other historians in the last century, have immortalised the event in the Irish historical consciousness.”
The massacre occurred in a farmstead that was located at the foot of Carrickbyrne Hill, the main campsite of the southern division of the Wexford rebel army. As the battle for New Ross raged between government and rebel forces, the army hauled close to forty men out of the dwelling house of the farmstead and shot them, four at a time, on the lawn. At the same time, other rebels attacked a larger group of prisoners being held in other parts of the farm and drove them into a large barn; they shot at them and piked them until some of the prisoners slammed shut the barn doors. The guards then set the building on fire. Between trampling, smoke and flames, all of those in the building died.
The victims included men of all ages, a number of women, and several children. Most of them were Protestants, although around twenty are claimed to have been Catholics. It was the single largest case of mass murder, by either side, and, very significantly, it was the only case in which rebels killed women and children
“There were many atrocities that summer, perpetrated by both sides, but none can match Scullabogue in terms of raw brutality.”
St Mary’s Church of Ireland church in Old Ross now has a memorial remembering the deaths of this massacre. The inscription on the memorial reads:
In this place the people of Wexford
remember the victims of Scullabogue Barn
interred here and at Templeshelin,
used to detain some one hundred
men, women and children.
The barn was set on fire on 5 June 1798,
the day of the Battle of Ross.
The remorse of the United Irish
at this outrage, a tragic departure
from their ideals, is shared
by the people of Ireland.
IN IOTLAINN DÉ GO DTUGTAR SINN.’
Dunne, in his memoir, Rebellions: memoir, memory and 1798 explains how the ‘men, women and children’ were, in an earlier version of the text, referred to as ‘prisoners’ but this wording was subsequently dropped. According to Dunne, the inscription suggests that the real trauma of the Scullabogue Massacre was experienced by the United Irishmen and not those persons killed.
“The emphasis is on the ‘remorse’ and ‘ideals’ of the United Irishmen and not the suffering of the victims.”
The Scullabogue Massacre sits uneasily within the nationalist version of Irish history. In a rebellion supposedly driven by the ideals of uniting Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, the Scullabogue Memorial – ‘this modest stone, hidden away in a quiet corner of the little Church of Ireland churchyard’, as Dunne writes, is an uncomfortable and regrettably lonely reminder of this tragic and ugly event.
“The failure to satisfactorily commemorate the killing of more than 100 men, women and children in a massacre in which sectarian hatred played a part says as much about modern attitudes as it does about events more than two centuries ago.”
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