“Father Murphy (II) (The Wexford Men of '98)”


Remember '98 when we lost Father Murphy. The victories are listed until Kilkenny. "Father Murphy was taken ... The blessed priest they burned him sore." The time is coming. "We'll be commanded by some pious teacher Like Father Murphy and his Shelmaliers."


One line of Zimmermann 11B and the Bodleian broadsides seems unusual to me: "On our retreatment burned Scullabogue"; Zimmermann explains: "After the battle of Ross, about one hundred Protestant prisoners, including women and children, were burnt alive in the barn of Scullabogue used as a temporary jail by the insurgents, (5th June, 1798)." In the texts, there are no bad consequences attributed to, or justification ascribed to, this act. For example, this act is not why "we" lost;

If we had conduct to march on forward

And not returned back to Gorey town,

We would have saved the lives of ten thousand heroes

That died in Arklow God rest their souls.

It was by their means Father Murphy was taken ...

I expect there must be other examples of acknowledged terrible acts by the singer's "side" that have no acknowledged terrible consequences, but I don't know them. My point is not that I am surprised at an "atrocity" on the singer's "side" but that it is acknowledged. There were atrocities as well on the British side but are they recorded in songs from that side? Perhaps my quote is out of context; the preceding part of the verse is

When reinforcement came down upon us,

Just in the evening, with fire and smoke,

We were forced to leave them, the town then blazing,

On our retreatment burned Scullabogue."

For more information see "The Scullabogue Massacre 1798" by Daniel Gahan, _History Ireland_, Autumn 1996, republished on the Republican Sinn Fein site.

For one of innumerable Biblical examples with weak justification and acknowledged bad consequences for the singer's "side" see Genesis 34 (Dinah and Shechem). Even Psalms 137, "Fair Babylon, you predator, a blessing on him who repays you in kind what you have inflicted on us; a blessing on him who seizes your babies and dashes them against the rocks!" is not recounting an actual event and wishes it conditional upon God's blessing after claiming justification. - BS

This is one of those instances where feelings are so strong that genuine historical perspective is hard to come by. Thomas Pakenham, in _The Year of Liberty_, pp. 198-199, describes Scullabogue: "a ghastly scene...which was to leave a still more indelible mark on Irish history [than the Battle of New Ross]."

At least a hundred Loyalist prisoners, and perhaps as many as two hundred, were penned in a barn, jammed so tightly that they could not all sit down. The majority of those imprisoned were male Protestants, but there were some women, children, and Catholics.

Somehow a rumor started that British forces were executing captured soldiers. The officer in charge of guarding prisoners refused to engage in retaliations. But after three alleged orders came to kill the prisoners, one allegedly endorsed by a priest, the guards shot some three dozen prisoners and burned the rest in the barn where they were confined. It was pretty definitely the worst atrocity of the 1798 rebellion.

Interestingly, the pro-British Pakenham does not list any consequences either.

Robert Kee, on p. 118 of _The Most Distressful Country_ (volume I of _The Green Flag_) devotes only a couple of sentences to Scullabogue, and in effect justifies it by the condition of the Irish peasantry. Jim Smyth's _The Men of No Property_ mentions it only in passing (p. 179) as a "sectarian atrocity." My other pro-Irish histories do not seem to mention the massacre at all.

Similar uncertainty seems to surround the fate of Father Murphy himself. For this, see the notes to "Some Treat of David"; also "Father Murphy (I)" and "Boulavogue." For the general situation at New Ross, leading to Scullabogue, see "Kelly, the Boy from Killane." - RBW

Historical references

  • May 26, 1798 - Beginning of the Wexford rebellion
  • May 27, 1798 - The Wexford rebels under Father John Murphy defeat the North Cork militia
  • June 5, 1798 - The Wexford rebels attack the small garrison (about 1400 men, many militia) at New Ross, but are repelled
  • June 21, 1798 - The rebel stronghold a Vinegar Hill is taken, and the Wexford rebellion effectively ended
  • July 2, 1798 - Father Murphy (1753-1798) captured, executed and cremated.

Cross references


  • Bodleian, 2806 b.9(238), "Father Murphy" or "The Wexford men of '98," W. Birmingham (Dublin), c.1867; also Harding B 26(188), 2806 b.10(11), 2806 c.8(51), "Father Murphy" or "The Wexford men of '98"


  1. Zimmermann 11B, "Father Murphy" or "The Wexford Men of '98" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Healy-OISBv2, pp. 64-66, "Father Murphy (1) or The Wexford Men of '98" (1 text)
  3. BI, Zimm011B


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1798 (Zimmermann)