Republican News · Thursday 1 October 1998

[An Phoblacht]

Croppies Acre

By Aengus O Snodaigh

Little marked the mass burial sites of the 1798 Rising and they were mentioned in hushed tones.

It was true for the mass grave by the Liffeyside of up to 300 defeated rebels until in 1985 a 12-feet-high memorial in the form of a simple slab of granite, with a cross and ``1798'' inscribed was paid for and unveiled by the men of the 26-County army's Eastern Command.

Embarrassed by a campaign by interested groups in Dublin, nationally and internationally in 1997 the Office of Public Works at the behest of the government's National Commemoration Committee designated the area know as Croppies Acre as a 1798 Memorial Park. Work commenced this month on the Park and will be completed by November.

Croppies' Acre lies in the Esplanade below the new National Museum (formerly Collins Barracks and the Royal Barracks) and between Benburb Street and Wolfe Tone Quay.

The laying out of the Military Esplanade in 1850, and the diversion and walling in of the river Liffey drastically altered the appearance of the Croppies' Acre and this lack of definition may have contributed to its neglect over the years. Prior to this the acre seems to have been marshy wasteground to the back and sides of a number of houses. It was into this marshy ground that the `Croppy Pit' or Croppy Hole' was dug and into which the lifeless bodies of captured, tortured and hanged bodies of United Irish soldiers or suspected sympathisers were flung.

Many of the ``unknown soldiers'' buried here had drifted leaderless into the city after the collapse of the 1798 risings around the country. Seeking the anonymity of the crowd, their cropped hair was a dead giveaway. They were hunted down and killed by marauding yeomen or captured, tortured and hanged by other crown forces. In order to help the rebels to evade capture, the city's Guild of Lamplighters refused to light the lamps on the bridges, quays and principal streets. For this act of compassion, several of the lamplighters were hanged and a curfew was imposed on the city.

Of all the bodies cut down from the gallows or shot or put to the sword and dumped into Croppies Acre, we unfortunately have information on only 13. As a result of the miserable rising at Rathfarnham, a man called Ledwich, who was the brother of the parish priest of Rathfarnham, and a man named Wade, were hanged on Queen's Bridge on 26 May 1798. They were yeomen and were court martialled for desertion on the word of Thomas Keogh, son of a well-to-do Rathfarnham farmer.

elderly Volunteer officer, Major Bacon, was hanged from the scaffolding on Carlisle (O'Connell) Bridge as a suspected United Irishman. He had been found hiding in a hansom cab dressed as a woman.

From the same scaffold later on that day, Dr John Esmonde was hanged before a huge crowd, his yeoman's coat turned inside out to brand him as a deserter. Esmonde was the United leader of the Kildare County Executive, a Catholic from Sallins and brother of Sir Thomas Esmonde, a Wexford baronet.

Dr Esmonde, a trusted lieutenant in the Sallins loyal Yeomanry, is believed to have led the Unitedmen's attack on the garrison at Prosperous. There 50 of Captain Swayne's men were butchered by about 500 rebels, mostly farmers and a number of unemployed cotton factory workers. One of the attackers was the son the English proprietor of the disused cotton factory and may be the man called Carroll who is on record as having been buried in Croppies' Acre.

Dr John Esmonde, ``his hair dressed, his boots and breeches quite clean and himself fully accoutred'', returned to his troop of Yeomanry as though nothing had happened, but one Philip had already told all and he was clapped into jail, court-martialled, hanged on the makeshift gallows on Carlisle Bridge and his corpse carried back in a cart and flung into a heap of offal in Croppies' Acre on 14 June 1798.

other pair of unfortunates, Adam and Fox, were hanged at the Provost Prison while Fennell and Raymond met theirs ends on Church Street Bridge. Not hanged but killed in the Rathfarnham uprising were Byrne and Kelly, whose lifeless bodies were hung the morning after their deaths then consigned like the others to Croppies' Acre.

The most famous names to be recorded in the sad saga of Croppies' Acre are those of Bartholomew Teeling and Matthew Tone, both hanged at the Provost Prison on Arbour Hill after the Battle of Ballinamuck on 8 September 1798. Bartholomew Teeling was a brother of Defender and United Irish leader Charles Teeling. Having come under suspicion himself he fled Ireland in 1796. Bartholomew was commissioned into the French Army at the instigation of Theobald Wolfe Tone, who also arranged a commission for his own brother Matthew, and took part in the failed expedition of General Hoche in December of that year. Teeling went under the name of Veron.

It was Teeling as Humbert's aide-de-camp who'd been sent under a flag of truce to seek the English General Lake's surrender during the Races of Castlebar. The English ignored the normal conventions of negotiations, shot his escort and sent Teeling back to his own lines. At the Battle of Colloney, south of Sligo, where Humbert's force clashed with over 1,000 English soldiers Teeling's actions in capturing the enemies artillery helped turn the tide against the crown. He also took a central part in the battle at Ballinamuck. His role in the French army and the fact that he was Irish resulted in his being singled out from among the other captured French officers by an English spy after the battle. Despite Humbert's protestations that he was a French officer, Teeling was arrested and sent to Dublin to be court-martialled.

At his court-martial Teeling that the military tribunal ``has stamped me traitor. If to have been active in endeavouring to put a stop to the blood-thirsty policy of an oppressive government has been treason I am guilty. If to have endeavoured to give my native country a place among the nations of the earth was treason then I am guilty indeed. If to have been active in endeavouring to remove the fangs of oppression from off the heads of the devoted Irish peasant was treason I am guilty.

``I leave you with the heartfelt satisfaction of having kept my oath as an United Irishman, and also with the glorious prospect of the success of the cause in which we have been engaged. Persevere my beloved countrymen. Your cause is the cause of truth. It must and will ultimately prevail.''

Similar to Bartholomew Teeling, and unlike the other captured French army officers, Matthew Tone was to be captured, court-martialled and hanged. The French were treated royally, being brought from Granard to Dublin to be shipped to Liverpool and eventually back to France.

Matthew Tone had failed in the cotton industry in Prosperous, County Kildare, and left for America and the West Indies. He later joined his brother in Paris and sailed with Teeling on Humbert's expedition. When they landed successfully at Killala Matthew wrote to his sister-in-law in France: ``The people will join us in Myriads as they throw themselves on the knees as we pass along, and extend their Arms for our success. We will be Masters of Connaught in a few Days. Erin Go Bragh''.

During the short campaign Matthew acquitted himself well and after the battle at Ballinamuck he escaped the immediate area disguised as a beggar. On reaching Belturbet in County Cavan the following day he was recognised and arrested by members of the Killeshandra Yeomanry. He was brought to Dublin, and following evidence from Captain Faris and Thomas Armstrong of the Killeshandra Yeomanry he was hanged.

Several others who'd fought at Ballinamuck are also believed to have been buried at Croppies' Acre, in all up to 300 are thought to have been dumped into the Croppy Hole. The site's connections with Ireland's tragic past did not end there.

The park is also historically linked to the Famine of 1845-50, as the first of Soyer's soup kitchens was built on the site in 1847. It opened on 5 April and was described as ``a wooden building, about 40 feet long and 30 feet wide, with a door at each end; in the centre was a 300-gallon soup boiler, a hundred bowls, to which spoons were attached by chains, were let into long tables.

``The people assembled outside the building, and were first admitted to a narrow passage, a hundred at a time; a bell rang, they were let, drank their soup, received a portion of bread, and left by the other door. The bowls were rinsed, the bell rang again, and another hundred were admitted.''

Despite Sir John Burgoyn's misgivings about feeding the destitute like wild animals, when the soup kitchen was fully operational it supplied soup daily to 8,700.

Bartholomew Teeling was hanged on 24 September and Matthew Tone was hanged on 30 September.

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