Rising of 1798 in Castleisland

A thinly disguised fictionalised account of the attack on Castleisland Barracks in 1798 is reproduced below. It was published in The Kerry Magazine in 1856, close enough to the event to take its content from local history.[1]  The author was not given.


Characters and Facts in 1798 at Castleisland Barrack 

Daisies had opened their little hearts to the light of Phoebus who struggled through volumes of misty haze to take his matutinal promenade, sa-vue over the valley of the Mang, across the ring of mountains that circle the verdant grasses, lucid springs, limestone stratifications, architectural ruins, and varied geological, zoological, theological, agricultural, horticultural, historical, and general bon bons that enrapture the visuals, from the descents of Knocknanuller (Mount eagle) along to the fauxbourgs of Tralee.

Like a young horse escaping to beloved freedom from a tenebrious prison in which it appears to have been too long pent, the full grown, ready made river Mang, precipitated its aggregation of waters forth in single gush from earth’s entrails, into the reservoir that bore it, with the characterized progression of spring water, softly, and slowly, towards the capital of the Powis Seigniory, ‘The Island of Kerry.’

Two girls in teens tript lightly along the bank to chapel, for it was a Roman Catholic holiday.  Their light laugh rang in unison with the amenities of the season and scene.  It was harmony and melody all in one.  It was music on the stream.  No less beautiful too was the conformation of member and of feature in the taller virgin, straight and slender was she; glowing in red and white.  Then her turn of thought and of phrase, and her enunciation, affected the ear with a pleasing sensation.  ‘Does not that current,’ her kinswoman queried, ‘remind of your father, Margaret?’

‘Yes, Lucy Langford,’ was rejoined more subduedly, ‘full of rushing impulse, and of true enthusiasms and sensibilities, he goes forth from the quiet seclusion of Kooilosogth, but alas! poor mother thinks latterly that the direction of his feelings, like this water as it goes on, flows more turbidly since he began to love the companionship of Teige Lahun.’

‘Truly,’ replied Lucy, ‘Tim Nowlan bears the stamp of beastly bad passions, the mark of the beast upon his brow.’

‘And he wallows in their indulgence,’ Margaret urged, ‘for he gambles, wenches, boxes, riots at fairs, gets drunk, and turns day into nights.’

‘And under guise of love,’ Lucy Langford observed, ‘he hates those three good, plain, honest gentlemen, who have care of the Barracks,’ pointing to that edifice.

‘And you know, Lucy,’ Margaret proceeded in more qualified tones, ‘Nowlan is maliciously steeped in the dangerous politics of Lord Edward.  Wexford is blazing, and Ireland is boiling; how much his friends wish that father with his unsuspecting ardour of mind, were out of reach of that bad influence.  Teige Lahun  infects with his own fancour – I see it – against Mr Harold, and the two Boyles, who are near neighbours to us.  Father’s besetting hobby is to be armed, and to lead armed men if necessary, these stirring times.  God save us from Teige Lahun’s  temptations.’

‘You would not fancy such a governor for better, for worse? You would not give him up for your chance of Aeneas!’ said the brilliant and intelligent Lucy.  The blush of Margaret was witchery personified, and she recapitulated this voluntary.

‘From a profane and impious hypocrite, from a false and subtle ambidexter, as also from a reckless wrench, deliver me.

‘From the leaven of starched and ignorant arrogance, of restless and unscrupulous speculation in religion or politics, and from a base and undermining coward, deliver me.

From envy and avarice, from one that loves himself better than anything else, or who loves anything except what is just and honourable better than me as a wife, and from all slippery faith and masculine meannesses, deliver me.

‘But give me him who has never called a man friend or affected it, only to deceive him for private gain – who loves generosity, charity, and love, - of a fair education, without dependence upon it among an odious people for support – one heedless of flattery, and resentful of affront, and whose beauty of mind exceeds that of his face or person.’

This extemporaneous ejaculation gushed up in a shower of soul-felt fervour from her heart.  The girls entered their chapel.  But far away among the Abbeyfeale mountains rattled along with the noise and with many more of the similitudes of an Alpine Sar a banc, a carriage conveying four interior passengers, and as many outside, besides the cocher, and a species of guard, who, like the eight others, was armed with sword, pistol, and carbine, while the box under the front seat exhaled powder and lead.

The panel exhibited the armorial heraldry of Upton.

Arms: Diamond, a Cross Moline, pearl.
Crest: On a ducal coronet topaz, a war-horse, passant, diamond caparisoned, topaz.
Supporters: The Dexter, a war-horse caparisoned as the crest: the Sinister, a man in full armour, proper, garnished topaz, in his right hand a spear erect, on his left arm a shield of the arms bordered topaz, and on his head a steel cap, with a plume of feathers, ruby.
Motto: Praemium virtutis avorum (the reward of forefathers’ gallantry)

After a bemired journal over hills and glens, into which the sun scarce ever insinuated his rays, the cavaliers detoured about four o’clock upon invitation to Bally-M__, where Mr M___, leaning upon Mr S___, of B___, received them.

‘Coming to welcome Monsieur parlez vous at Bantry Bay, my lord?’ said Mr M__, after the customary ritual of first meeting was over.’

‘Avant coureurs of our respective companies,’ said Lord Templeton, ‘Massey, Leeson, Boyle, Nugent, Beresford, Brabazon, and the rest of us,’ presenting his friends in due form of introduction, ‘and we come to your fowl and mountain mutton.’

‘Apropos, there speaks the dressing bell, gentlemen,’ said the entertainer.  ‘The footman will show your apartments, you’ll find us in the drawing-room with the ladies.’

A military man’s toilet is not tedious, and those exquisites were soon handing the gentler inmates of the drawing-room down to dinner.

If valour and gastronomy move at equal pace, those belligerent visitors were unimpeachable fighters.

‘Pleasure of wine, Mrs M__,’ said young Beresford, ‘your friend at my elbow, madam, who is of theCollege corps, as well as a regular, has made a Ciceronian debut in parliament the other day, on the subject of the Wexford outbreak.’

‘You mean Mr Leeson, sir,’ said that lady, ‘did he second the address?’

‘No; but his father, who carried the Cap of Maintenance seconded in the Lords, as my dad with the Sword of State moved it.  The Provost of TCD moved in the Commons, and bligh seconded.’

‘What was the flash incident of the session after Lord Castlereagh’s head scene?’ the symposiarch inquired.

‘The fracas between Ogle of Wexford, and the two Floods, touching a petition against the Kilkennyman.  It evaporated in barks, without the barking irons,’ said Lord Templetown, ‘the Secretary Hobart, and Accomptant-General Burgh, brought healing on their wings.’

‘A Tragical Scene’ 

The ladies had retired, and the butler crept round to the chair of Mr S__, of B__, whispering him; the words ‘Buck Grady’ were merely audible.  Mr S__ withdrew, and after an interview of a few minutes with a wiry, intelligent, handsome man, he returned to the sale a manger, where that local justice soon after made his apologies to the company, and was not seen until the following morning when his initials on a silken pocket handkerchief picked up in the barrack yard, the theatre of a tragical scene, attached to him a suspicion of a silly and inconsiderate secret ambition at least. 

About half after twelve o’clock a gun-shot startled the inhabitants of Castleisland Barrack street; four hours after or so the whistling of the blackbirds, and the melodies of morning evoked the young officers from their beds at Bally-M__.  Having inspected the caverned waters that supply the Mang, and look upon the feudal ruins of that neighbourhood, they lighted upon the identical path where we made our preliminary acquaintance with Margaret and Lucy.  It was a causeway by a soft river, prankt with daisies and shamrocks on a limestone soil.  The noble remains of Lord Deputy Geoffry De Marisco’s castle interposed their towering stacks against the sky, in front, against which the barrack seemed to lean, just seen over a twig yard; near all was the bridge.  Here were stone steps where women usually beetled clothes. The tubs and pails were deserted, and consternation mingled with horror characterized the few visages that crossed the bridge.  Our gentlemen approached.

‘There is something astir,’ said Captain Nugent.

‘It is like the voice of blood crying from the ground,’ said Major Massey.

‘Or disaffection,’ said Boyle.

‘We shall see,’ said Captain Beresford.

‘I say, girl,’ said Adjutant Brabazon, addressing one genteelly dressed in country fashion, who leant against the battlement with her face concealed within her hands. ‘Why do people run to and fro, and look like the day of judgment? Has one risen from the dead, ma’amselle?’

The young woman’s face was averted, she was ghastly pallid, and tears streamed through her fingers.  It was Margaret: ‘No one has risen from the dead, gentlemen, there,’ said the agonized girl, ‘but alas! some good and honest men have passed from the living.’

Leeson peeped, on the sly, at the tearful belle, and vowed, under breath, that she was an incarnation of charms.

A few onward steps brought them to the barrack gate, crowed with the surrounding population.  The yard was in occupation of a corps of yeomanry.  But our military sight-seekers followed to the point of attraction, which was the right wing of the barrack; there the stair fronted the hall-door.  At its bottom were two masses of flesh and clothes, clotted with blood, corpses of two yeomen.  Higher, on the landing place, was an incarnadined lump, covered with brains. His head was broken wide open, and within it was buried the lock of a gun, separated by the force of the blow from the stock.  A bloody impression of his hand was on the wall above him, where it continued unerased for many years, perhaps does still.

‘Let us penetrate into the town,’ said Captain Leeson.’  There the horses of some of the governors and magistracy of the county caracoled in front of the Market-house.  Messieurs Chute, Herbert, Meredith, Saunders, Knight of Kerry, Twiss, Crosbie, Blennerhassett, &c, gave directions to constables and yeomen who seemed to look more vigilantly into the throng.  One athletic man clad in a frieze coat, with short breeches and boots, came very close to one of the governors of the county, who at once perceived the man’s truculent expression of feature, and also the ensanguined marks on his open shirt-collar, and on his shirt sleeves.

‘Those blood stains, Nolan?’ said the magistrate, abruptly.

‘Killed a kid this morning, your honour,’ answered Teige Lahun, starting, and unable to conceal an overpowering prostration of nerve.  It was a lie; and Teige Lahun was deposited in the filthy hole called a bridewell behind the Market-house.

‘That’s the approver, the cat’s out of the bag,’ said a voice.  Margaret’s lips turned livid, for she stood in that concourse and heard.

‘Bad luck to such vain and treacherous ambition as yours, Mr S__, of B__,’ she apostrophised not loudly but heartily.

‘You are a vindictive beauty,’ said one of our officers, and he whispered other things which have escaped the historian.

Every one in the multitude had an anecdote of the characters and of the facts of the butchery, and so the officers learned that Castleisland barrack was a little arsenal, and those three doomed men its depot.  Living on free familiar terms with the people, they even admitted some to their social post prandials; card playing was the staple entertainment.  On the night before the catastrophe there was a numerous attendance.  They slipt in one by one as the night advanced.  At length a huge black dog, supposed to be a hungry brute from the town, but said to be the enemy of mankind jumped on the table, made the solitary candle his spoil, and left all in darkness.  The act was a signal to fly from the room, and run up stairs to the arms.  ‘The just shall live by faith,’ was a maxim of the three yeomen.  Their trust nor their courage did not save them.  A scuffle occurred on the stairs in defence of the arms. ‘Dead dogs tell no tales,’ said Teige Lahun, and the fatal stroke fell which discharged the gun upon cock, and buried the lock in the yeoman’s skull.  The others were then dispatched by numbers.

Two moons had not waned when the hostile visitors from Too long and Too loose (Toulon and Toulouse), thought proper only to show themselves in Bantry Bay, and then to turn that part that should not be presented to a friend or a foe.  The detachments forwarded thither were drafted back, and the officers found themselves again in Castleisland.  As they drove onward a shocking spectacle was manifested, helping to interpret why ‘law was made for the evil doers.’  Human bodies were deprived of skin and flesh in a vast lime pit, saturated with water, outside the barrack, and a head was being fixed upon an elevated pole.  Our gentlemen were shocked, but could not pass on, for Barrack-street was impracticable; so, entrusting the carriage to the servants, they adopted the old walk.  The river bank at that time was a shorter, as well as a pleasanter route to Bally-M__.  On a meadow path over the subterranean river they overtook our two fascinating friends Margaret and Lucy Langford, with whom they entered into gallant parley.  Margaret was pensive, and Lucy was thoughtful, yet both seemed to enjoy the converse that was put upon them.  So great however was the influence of the occurrence, co-operated in by Mmr S__ and Mr M__, that it ended with an exchange of a man of their recommendation, to guard in place of the over-harassed soldier left sick with Mr M__.  It was Buck Grady, who, having lurked since the barrack scene in various concealments, effected his escape in that disguise.  He composed many songs, the following one was popular in the neighbourhood where he resided:

Woe, woe was the day when John was young!
With the spring in his foot, and with fire on his tongue!
That he went not a tar
On a bold man-o-war,
Or fought for his country and king afar,
Ere nights he had wasted doing wrong.

Where then is the boasted G__y blood?
It was said it could very much practise good,
Yet, in trembling incog,
Only fit for a dog,
It scarce gets a shelter in glen and bog.
While enemies thirst to drink his blood.

Companionship bad, avaunt to you!
As a will-o-the-wisp to the mental view,
You’re a vampire on life,
So to children and wife,
You press on their hearts like a heated strife;
How many a ductile man you slew!


Castleisland District Heritage Collection Reference IE CDH 189 consists of a coloured photocopy of an A3 calendar (2012) produced by the Military Archives entitled, ‘The Collection of Maps, Plans and Drawings of Military Barracks in Ireland.’ The cover depicts Arbour Hill Church.  The Barracks (month by month) are: Wellington/Griffith Barracks, Dublin; Camden Fort/Meagher, Cork Harbour; Beggars Bush Barracks, Dublin; Oughterard Barracks, Galway/Loughrea Barracks; Cavalry Barracks, Grangegorman/Marlborough/McKee Barracks; Newbridge Barracks; Linen Hall Barracks, Dublin; Birr Barracks; Magazine Fort, Phoenix Park; Buttevant Barracks, Cork; Baldonnel/Casement Aerodrome/Training Depot RFC; Tipperary Barracks.  Also held in this series three images of Tralee Barracks at Ballymullen which date to the late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries.


[1] The Kerry Magazine, No 27, Vol III, March 1856, ‘Characters and Facts in 1798 at Castleisland Barrack.’  An account of the event is given at this link http://www.odonohoearchive.com/rebellion-of-1798/