“The Boys of Wexford”


"In comes the captain's daughter, the captain of the yeos Saying 'Brave United Irishmen, we'll ne'er again be foes.'" They win at Ross and Wexford, lose at Vinegar Hill. "For bravery won each battle But drink lost evermore"


Re "In comes the captain's daughter, the captain of the yeos": "Following an affray at Loughgall in Co. Armagh in 1795 the Orange Order was founded [the successor of the earlier Peep o' Day Boys - RBW], while the Yeomen were also established in June 1796. These were made up mainly of men from the Orange Lodges." (source: _The 1798 Rebellion_ on the Hogan Stand site).

Zimmermann p.64 and fn.20: "'The Boys of Wexford' was ... one of the rallying songs of the Parnellites" [in the 1890's]. "Some of Parnell's well-known supporters were from County Wexford."

Moylan attributes Moylan 68 to Robert Dwyer Joyce; Moylan 69 is a revision by Edmund Leamy (1848-1904) and published in 1922. They are similar enough that I have not split them. - BS

The riot that turned the Peep o' Day Boys into the Orange Order was a Protestant/Catholic clash known as "The Battle of the Diamond" (for which see "The Battle of the Diamond"). A group of Defenders attacked a smaller party of Peep o' Day Boys, but were driven off "leaving twenty or thirty corpses on the field" (see Robert Kee, _The Most Distressful Country_, being Volume I of _The Green Flag_, p. 71).

It would be hard to claim that alcohol ruined the 1798 rebellion; that was foredoomed by lack of planning and the fact that the United Irish leadership was informant-riddled. (As, indeed, some versions of this song note: "...for want of leaders We lost at Vingegar Hill"). But the Fenians of the nineteenth century did often fall prey to drink. A still later rebel, Vinnie Byrne, claims it nearly cost them even after the 1916 rebellion: "[Michael] Collins was a marvel. If he hadn't done the work he did, we'd still be under Britain. Informers and drink would have taken care of us." (See Tim Pat Coogan, _ Michael Collins_, p. 116.) - RBW

P.W. Joyce, in _A Concise History of Ireland. 1916_, Chapter LXVI "The Rebellion of 1798 A.D. 1798 - George III" discusses the part played by drink in the defeats after Vinegar Hill. For example, "But there was no discipline; they fell to drink; and the soldiers returned twice and twice they were repulsed. But still the drinking went on; and late in the evening the military returned once more, and this time succeeded in expelling the rebels." (source: A Little Bit of Ireland site at Celtic Cousins). Drink in battle, after defeat, is a theme of "The Boyne Water (II)"; in 1798 that ballad was apparently still in wide use, at least among Orangemen. - BS

Historical references

  • October 1791 - Society of United Irishmen founded in Belfast
  • September 1795 - The Battle of the Diamond
  • May 23, 1798 - United Irishmen seize the Dublin mail coaches as a signal to start the uprising
  • May 26, 1798 - 34 suspected United Irishmen executed at Dunlavin
  • May 26, 1798 - Father John Murphy launches the Wexford rebellion
  • May 27, 1798 - Murphy's almost-unarmed force defeats a small militia force at Oulart (called "Oulast" in one version)
  • May 29, 1798 - Father Murphy leads the insurgents against Enniscorthy
  • May 29, 1798 - new leaders appointed to head the Ulster Provincial Council of the United Irishmen
  • June 5, 1798 - The Wexford rebels attack the small garrison (about 1400 men, many militia) at New Ross, but are repelled
  • June 7-8, 1798 - Rebel defeat at Antrim
  • June 9, 1798 - Father Murphy, trying to lead his forces into Wicklow, defeated at Arklow
  • June 12, 1798 - United Irishmen under Henry Monro defeated at Ballynahinch
  • June 21, 1798 - Vinegar Hill is lost
  • [some dates from _The 1798 Irish Rebellion_ by Professor Thomas Bartlett at the BBC History site)]

Cross references


  1. OLochlainn 48, "The Boys of Wexford" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Moylan 68, "The Boys of Wexford" (1 text, 1 tune); 69, "The Boys of Wexford" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. ADDITIONAL: C. Day Lewis, editor, English Lyric Poems (1961), "The Boys of Wexford"
  5. Roud #3015
  6. BI, OLoc048


Author: Robert Dwyer Joyce (1830-1883) (source: Moylan)
Earliest date: 1873 (Joyce's _Ancient Irish Music_, according to Moylan)
Found in: Ireland