Sept. 7, 2023

OTD: Battle of Ballinamuck (September 7th 1798)

OTD: Battle of Ballinamuck (September 7th 1798)

1798 Print Depicting the Position of the English and French armies at Ballinamuck Prior to Surrender

The last major military land engagement of the 1798 Rebellion took place on September 8, 1798 at Ballinamuck in Longford. A combined force of French and Irish Volunteers were overwhelmed by British forces in a battle that lasted little more than an hour.

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Two weeks before, on August 22, 1798, a French force of 1,000 men under the leadership of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert (1767 - 1823) landed at Kilcummin Strand in Mayo. I. Within days, 5,000 Irish rebels rallied to Humbert and the combined forces inflicted a humiliating defeat upon British forces Castlebar in Mayo on August 27. 

On August 27th 1798 in Castlebar, County Mayo the battle of Castlebar occured. With a total of 2,000 French troops and Irish rebel, they fought a force of 6,000 British soldiers. It is now known at the "Castlebar Races or The Races of Castlebar"1887 print depicting the Castlebar Races - a humiliating defeat of British forces under the command of Gerard Lake on Aug 27, 1798

A smaller engagement at Collooney in Sligo resulted in a modest victory for the Franco-Irish forces on September 5th. Despite the two victories, the military situation looked increasingly bleak for Humbert as a force of 26,000 British troops under the leadership of Lord Lieutenant Charles Cornwallis (1738 - 1805) was heading towards the rebels from the East. The French had landed in Mayo under the mistaken impression that far more Irish would rally to their banner. In reality, the French force was too small and had arrived too late. Two months before, the heart of the 1798 Rebellion had been torn out of the irish insurgents at the Battle Of Vinegar Hill in Wexford on June 21. What had remained of the rebel forces was fragmented and never coalesced again into a meaningful fighting force.

By the second week of September, the situation had become Increasingly dire for Humbert. He had made his way from the wild coast of Mayo, initially marching to the North East in the mistaken hope of joining up with Ulster rebels. While hopes for a Northern rebellion were questionable, news of a rebellion in the heartland counties of Longford and Westmeath encouraged Humbert to divert his march from Ulster and he crossed the Shannon at Drumshanbo. Expectations of more rebel support were dashed when the main force encountered defeated rebels. Cornwallis' huge force was not the only problem Humbert faced, another British force of 14,000 men under the command of Gerard Lake (1744 - 1808) was closing in from the rear. Humbert opted to make a stand with his tiny force at Ballinamuck on the Longford-Leitrim border

There was to be no miracles, the engagement was brief.  Humbert realizing his position was untenable opted to surrender his men, his Irish allies chose otherwise realizing they could expect little mercy. They were quickly crushed and driven into a nearby bog where they were drowned or bayoneted. Despite the brevity of the battle, approximately 500 members of the Franco-Irish forces were killed, while British casualties were negligible. More than 800 French prisoners were taken and some 200 Irish. While the French troops and their officers were ultimately repartiated to France in a prisoner exchange, the bulk of the Irish were executed by hanging.

The surrender of French General Humbert to General Lake at Ballinamuck September 8th.1798.

The rebellion was effectively over and British power in Ireland would go unchallanged in any serious way for more than a 100 years. Approximately 25,000 people had lost their lives in the rebellion. Ireland's limited autonomy in the form of the Irish Parliament was another casualty of the brief brutal conflict. The Acts of Union in 1800 saw the rule of Ireland and Britain combined under the singular parliament in Westminister. A reasonable case could be made that the unification paved the way for the Great Hunger some 45 years later. While the rebellion had failed, the notion of a republic had been born, it would come to be in the 20th century.