“Sweet County Wexford”


"On Moniseed of a summer's morning" the Shelmaliers fight British and Gorey cavalry. After driving the British back the Irish rest. "Had we the wisdom to follow after ... We'd have saved the lives of many a martyr That died in Arklow"


Moylan: "According to Denis Devereux, O Lochlainn's source for the words, this song is the original upon which P.J. McCall based his 'Boolavogue'." On the other hand, see the notes to "Father Murphy (I)."

The Irish baronies of Shelmalier, East and West, are in County Wexford. - BS

This is an unusually self-honest assessment of the course of the Wexford rebellion. Wexford itself was abandoned on May 30, and Gorey even before that, but the rebels didn't occupy the latter until June 4. The delay gave the loyalists time to organize and counterattack. (See Robert Kee, _The Most Distressful Country_, being Volume I of _The Green Flag_, p. 115).

Wexford didn't really matter; it was south of the Rebel strong points. Gorey, though, was on the way to Arklow and, eventually, Dublin. Had the rebels headed straight there, it might have given them a chance to really threaten the government. Instead, they went to Wexford, and camped on the Three Rocks hill. They beat off a small force of Meath militia, killing its commander, Colonel Watson (see Thomas Pakenham, _The Year of Liberty_, p. 177). The garrison abandoned the town (Pakenham, p. 178), and the rebels entered. (We note, incidentally, that it was in Wexford that they captured the prisoners to be brutalized at Scullabogue -- for which see "Father Murphy (II) (The Wexford Men of '98)" and "Kelly, the Boy from Killane.")

The attack on Wexford had another side effect: It caused the rebels to appoint Bagenal Harvey their commander (Kee, pp. 116-117), and he had no clue what to do; his ineptitute would contribute much to the defeat at New Ross (for which see "Kelly, the Boy from Killane" and "James Ervin" [Laws J15]).

Finally, in mid-June, the rebels headed for Arklow, which they should have occupied at least a week earlier. Repulsed (see the notes to "Father Murphy (I)"), the rebellion lost its last hint of planning, and fizzled out.

The characters cited in the song are often hard to identify. I can mention the following:

"Gowan" - "Hunter" Gowan, given his nickname because of his earlier career tracking down outlaws, who organized the "Black Mob" (a group of rebel-hunting vigilantes); he is reputed to have marched about with the finger of a rebel at the end of his sword. And worse. "Fiend" seems a suitable word for him.

"Captain Dixon" - there was a Captain Dixon, but he was a rebel sea captain; I think there is some confusion here.

"General Walpole": Presumably Colonel Walpole, ADC to Viceroy Camden? He was never a general, but he did have a brief taste of independent command, which might explain the title.

In early June, Walpole was sent from Dublin with a few hundred men and three cannon to reinforce General Loftus's troops in Wexford. This despite a complete lack of military training and experience. It showed. On June 4, as part of a plan to surround a rebel force at Ballymore, Walpole's force set out from Gorey. He did not follow the battle plan, was intercepted by the rebels, and he and most of his soldiers were killed. - RBW

Historical references

  • May 26, 1798 - Father John Murphy launches the Wexford rebellion; he defeats the Camolin cavalry that night, and the next day annihilates a small militia force at Oulart
  • May 29, 1798 - Father Murphy leads the insurgents against Enniscorthy
  • June 5, 1798 - The Wexford rebels attack the small garrison (about 1400 men, many militia) at New Ross, but are repelled
  • June 9, 1798 - Father Murphy, trying to lead his forces into Wicklow, defeated at Arklow
  • June 21, 1798 - Rebel defeat at Vinegar Hill ends the Wexford rising

Cross references


  1. OLochlainn 79, "Sweet County Wexford" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Moylan 94, "Sweet County Wexford" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Healy-OISBv2, pp. 55-56, "Sweet County Wexford" (1 text; tune on p. 21)
  4. Roud #2997
  5. BI, OLoc079


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1939 (OLochlainn)
Found in: Ireland