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Friday, 8 September 2017

8 September 1798: The Battle of Ballinamuck Béal Átha na Muc - the Mouth of the Ford of the Pigs - was fought on this day. It was the last battle on Irish soil of the 1798 Rising. A vastly superior British force under General Lake cornered a small Franco-Irish Army under the command of General Humbert. After a desultory exchange of fire the French accepted terms and laid down their weapons. No such considerations were offered to the Irishmen who had accompanied him on his march on Dublin. Armed for the most part with pikes and agricultural instruments they were shot and cut down in their hundreds as a general massacre began.

General Humbert was a soldier of Revolutionary France & saw much action in the Republic’s wars against its enemies. He had served in the ill fated Bantry Bay expedition to Ireland in 1796 and narrowly escaped drowning when his ship was attacked by the British navy.

When word reached Paris in the summer of 1798 that a Revolution had broken out in Ireland the Directory hastily organised expeditions to sail to Ireland to give what assistance they could to those Irish in arms against Britain. General Humbert was given a command of some 1,000 men which he successfully brought ashore at Killala Co Mayo on the 23 August. His tiny command  chiefly consisted of infantry of the 70th demi-brigade with a few artillerymen and some cavalry of the 3rd Hussars. It was the only force to make it ashore.

Undaunted at hearing from the Irish that the main rising had already been defeated he decided to strike inland and take the town of Castlebar. Before he conducted his advance he clothed and armed those amongst the population who wished to join him in the endeavour. The numbers are not exactly known but it would appear that about one thousand Irishmen joined him on his march.

Striking across the mountains he surprised the local garrison  on 27 August at Castlebar and against the odds defeated them. Thereafter the battle was known to the locals as the ‘Races of Castlebar’ so hasty was the exit of the Crown Forces after their defeat. The General here took the opportunity the declare ‘The Republic of Connacht’ which however lasted a matter of days after his departure.

Humbert crossed the Shannon at Ballintra on 7 September and stopping at Cloone that evening, he was halfway between his landing-point and Dublin. But by now the British had him well marked and with two large armies under General Lake and Viceroy Lord Cornwallis with a combined force of over 25,000 men closing in for the kill it could only be a matter of time before the inevitable happened.

While terms were offered to the French Army no such consideration was offered to the Irish in arms against His Majesty King George III. That day as the Irish stood defenceless on Shanmullagh Hill overlooking the village, volleys of musket shot was poured into them, followed by a cavalry charge, and an estimated five hundred souls perished in the carnage. After it was all over their bodies were gathered together and unceremoniously buried in a mass-grave, known ever since as the ‘Croppies grave.’ Their final resting place is marked by a modest cross, erected by the local people who care for the site on a voluntary basis. A memorial stone marks the spot.

96 French officers and 748 men were taken prisoner at Ballinamuck. British losses were initially reported as 3 killed and 16 wounded or missing, but the number of killed alone was later reported as 12. Approximately 500 Irish lay dead on the field, 200 prisoners were taken in the mopping up operations, almost all of whom were later hanged, including Matthew Tone, brother of Wolfe Tone. The prisoners were moved to Carrick-on-Shannon, St Johnstown, today's Ballinalee, where most were executed in what is known locally as Bully's Acre.

Humbert and his men were taken by canal to Dublin and repatriated to France in exchange for British POWS held by the French. After the battle the British army slowly spread out into the rebel held "Republic of Connaught" in a brutal campaign of killing and house burning which reached its climax on 23 September when Killala was stormed and retaken with much slaughter.