Battle of Vinegar Hill an altogether friendlier affair this time round

Hundreds of participants take place in re-enactment of pivotal battle of 1798 rebellion in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford

Redcoats open fire on the rebels during yesterday’s re-enactment of the Battle of Vinegar Hill. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Redcoats open fire on the rebels during yesterday’s re-enactment of the Battle of Vinegar Hill. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Mon, Aug 5, 2013, 01:00


There is nothing some men like more than playing at being soldiers. Yesterday, hundreds of them gathered on the slopes of Vinegar Hill outside Enniscorthy, Co Wexford to re-enact the last great setpiece battle on Irish soil.

The Battle of Vinegar Hill on June 21st, 1798, was a brief and bloody affair. The Irish rebels had used the vantage point of Vinegar Hill to harry the Crown forces across Co Wexford, but the British army attempted to encircle them in their camps.

The British were outnumbered two to one, but had artillery and muskets and decimated the rebel ranks in an 18th-century equivalent of a turkey shoot. An estimated 1,500 rebels were killed, though many others managed to escape through a gap when a company of British soldiers failed to arrive on time.

Yesterday, the forces were similarly numbered. The Irish rebels, with pikes and just a few muskets marched through the town to Vinegar Hill. They were mostly locals.

They were led on horseback by a Fr Murphy. The original Fr John Murphy was a fabled leader of the 1798 rebellion, who, according to the song Boolavogue, was executed and had his body burned upon a rack. His modern day equivalent was local priest Fr David Murphy.

The Crown forces came from the bottom of the hill. Both sides exchanged cannon fire from guns borrowed from the 1798 National Centre in the town.

Smoke without ire
Then the Redcoats fired on the advancing rebels with muskets which were licenced guns but filled with black powder, rather than shot.

Though it may be the adult equivalent of toy soldiers, a degree of verisimilitude is expected in the dress and weaponry of those participating.

There was plenty of smoke but no ire and the two sides shook hands with each other afterwards.

The ranks of Crown forces in their splendid Napoleonic uniforms of red and white were drawn mostly from the Monasterevin-based re-enactment group, the Lord Edward’s Own. They were joined by a coachload of British re-enactors

Steve Hars, of the 44th East Essex Regiment of foot, a Napoleonic regiment which fought at the Battle of Waterloo, described the hospitality they received in Enniscorthy as “absolutely wonderful. The hospitality has just been Irish.

“We’ve been wanting to do an event in Ireland for ages. The way the political situation has gone, the welcome we have got has been fantastic.”

He joked that he and his fellow re-enactors were “not used to being the bad guys”.

This year’s re-enactment had some 300 participants and was watched by more than 1,000 spectators. It was organised under the Government’s Gathering initiative, designed to attract tourists to Ireland.