“The Song of Prosperous”


"We" United Irishmen burned Prosperous. "Our captain he forsook us," "Phil Mite the informer" betrayed us, Colonel Aylmer led us. "If Ireland had behaved like Wicklow, Wexford, and Kildare, The green flag would be hoisted through town and counterie"


Zimmermann: "Philip Mite, one of the assailant party, denounced his leader, a Dr. Esmond, who was hanged. According to John Devoy, this was still the favourite '98 ballad around Naas in the middle of the nineteenth century...." - BS

The story of Prosperous tells us a lot about both Irish historians and about the history of Ireland. It was founded by Richard Brooke around 1780 as a cotton-spinning site. The settlement was on the Grand Canal a short distance north of Naas (in Kildare, west southwest of Dublin)

But English policy was, in effect, to crush any Irish industry which showed signs of competing with British. Tarriffs and other problems caused Prosperous to go bankrupt in 1786.

That much is mentioned in several pro-Irish histories. But they tend to ignore the massacre there. I found details only in Thomas Pakenham's pro-British _The Year of Liberty_ (pp. 112-117). With buildings intact but little industry left, Prosperous made a good place for a garrison; in 1798, there were a couple of dozen Welsh dragoons and about 35 (mostly Catholic) militia from Cork commanded by (Protestant) Captain Swayne.

Swayne, it must be said, was a vicious persecutor of Catholics. His men were not. But, on the night of May 23/24, they were the target of one of the first attacks of the Kildare phase of the 1798 rebellion; reportedly some 500 men took part in the assualt. Pakenham reports that 38 of 57 defenders were killed; Swayne himself was shot then burned in a barrel of tar. (A peculiar outcome; see the fate of Father Murphy described in "Some Treat of David.")

The man at the head of the attacking forces was said to be Doctor John Esmonde, the first lieutenant of Richard Griffiths (commander of the Sallins yeoman cavalry, based nearby at Clane, and one of the senior officers in the area).

Griffith himself came under attack that night, but beat it off easily. He did not feel strong enough to attack Prosperous, and ended up retreating to Naas. A yeoman named Philip Mite soon arrived to tell Griffith of Esmonde's leading part in the massacre. Esmonde arrived shortly after, quite neatly dressed, but was taken into custody. He would eventually be hung, with his coat reversed to show he was a deserter (Pakenham, p. 124). It sounds as if Mite's was the only direct testimony against him, but it was enough. - RBW

Historical references

  • May 24, 1798 - "At Prosperous, County Kildare, a garrison commanded by Captain Swayne was massacred by the insurgents" (source: Zimmermann)


  1. Zimmermann 13, "The Song of Prosperous" (1 text)
  2. Moylan 56, "The Song of Prosperous" (1 text)
  3. BI, Zimm013


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1798 (Zimmermann)
Found in: Ireland