“The Men of the West”


"Forget not the boys of the heather Who rallied their bravest and best When Ireland was broken in Wexford And looked for revenge to the West." The brief success and final failure of the western rising are recounted.


The 1798 rising had already been crushed (see the notes on ""The Shan Van Vogt" and "Boulavogue") when French general Humbert landed, largely on his own initiative, in County Mayo (August 1798). A few local peasants rose, and the local British forces were defeated at the "Races of Castlebar."

Castlebar was one of the most ignominous defeats in history: The Loyalists were on the defensive, in prepared trenches; their forces are thought to have been larger, and they had the overwhelming edge in artillery. But their Irish militiamen fled, and the handful of steadier forces could not hold in those circumstances.

Humbert, however, had only three ships, all frigates -- not enough men to do anything of significance. There was supposed to be another French force, under Hardy -- but it was delayed while its commander tried to get the money needed to pay the troops out of the French government.

Nor was the country particularly receptive when Humbert landed. Connaught had not rebelled at the height of the 1798 rising; a few French troops could not inspire a real rebellion. Worse still, the recruits he did get were Catholics, with few weapons, poor training, and no contact with the United Irish movement.

Humbert hardly helped his cause by an explosive temper. Nor did he help his cause by having no money; he issued drafts on the "Republic of Connaught," but in a country that had no banks, few even understood the cheques they were given in lieu of payment for what was requisitioned.

It's probably no surprise that Humbert soon had to surrender. He chased around the west of Ireland, and tried to open a way to Dublin, but eventually was trapped between forces led by Cornwallis and Lake; with no reliable troops except his French veterans, he had no choice but to yield to superior force on September 8, 1798. That was the effective end of Humbert's career; indeed, most references I checked don't even list his death date.

(If it matters, Robert Kee's _The Most Distressful Country_, being Volume I of _The Green Flag_, gives a brief account of his later career on page 140: He fell out with Napoleon and went to the United States, participating in the Battle of New Orleans. He participated in Mexico's 1815 rebellion against Spain, then went back to the U.S. where he died in 1823.)

There would be two more French naval expeditions in 1798; for the second, a single ship carrying Napper Tandy, see the notes to "The Wearing of the Green." The third and largest expedition, with Wolfe Tone aboard, is described under "The Shan Van Vogt." - RBW

"Eoghan Coir" [the listed tune for this piece in some Irish sources] is a poem by Riocard Bairead (1740-1819) (source: "Riocard Bairead" in the _Ar gCeantar and Beyond_ project at the Inver National School site). - BS

Historical references

  • 1798 - Irish rebellion
  • Aug 22, 1798 - 1100 French troops under General Humbert land at Killala Bay in County Mayo. He would surrender on Sept. 8, and by May 23 the Mayo rising had been suppressed with some brutality

Cross references


  • The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, "The Men of the West" (on IRClancyMakem03)


  1. PGalvin, pp. 30-31, "The Men of the West" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Moylan 114, "The Men of the West" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. BI, PGa030


Author: William Rooney
Earliest date: 1959 (IRClancyMakem03)
Found in: Ireland