1798 Ireland


JULY, 19, 1798: The French Directory authorises the sending of three expeditions to Ireland and gives command of the first one to General Humbert.

AUGUST 6, 1798: General Humbertís Army of Ireland, 1,100 strong, sails from Rochefort in three frigates, taking a circuitous route to avoid detection by the English navy.


"After several unsuccessful attempts, behold at last Frenchmen arrived amongst you . . .

"Brave Irishmen, our cause is common. Like you we hold as indefeasible the right of all nations to liberty. Like you we are persuaded that the peace of the world shall ever be troubled as long as the British ministry is suffered to make with impunity a traffic of the industry and blood of the people . . .

"Union, Liberty, the Irish Republic! Such is our shout. Let us march. Our hearts are devoted to you; our glory is in your happiness."

From General Humbertís Proclamation of 22nd August, 1798.

AUGUST 22, 1798: French forces land at Cill ChuimŪn, County Mayo and capture Cill Ala. Irish insurgents join them.

AUGUST 23-24, 1798: The Franco-Irish Army captures Ballina. The three frigates return to France.

AUGUST 25-26, 1798: Cornwallis, the Lord Lieutenant, takes the field and sends an urgent request for reinforcements to England. General Lake, Hutchinson and Trench reinforce Castlebar, the major garrison town of north Connacht, against possible attack.

AUGUST 26-27, 1798: Humbert leaves 200 men to protect Cill Ala and takes 1,500 French and Irish troops on a forced march across the mountains to the west of Loch Con and descends "anair aduaidh" on Castlebar from the Bearna Gaoithe.

AUGUST 27, 1798: At 6.00am the English are surprised and outmanoeuvred at Castlebar. By mid-day the town is liberated and 11 big guns and huge supplies captured. The English flee to Hollymount and Tuam and some as far as Athlone, in what Thomas Pakenham in The Year of Liberty calls "one of the most ignominious defeats in British military history" and what the Irish have since called the "Races of Castlebar". Humbert sends a report to France and asks for immediate reinforcements.

"Dublin Castle, 28th August, 1798

"It appears by Advices received from the Honourable Major General Hutchinson, dated Castlebar, 26th in the Evening, that the Enemy had not then attempted to move from Killalla. Their three Frigates had sailed from the coast. The Major General expected shortly to be in Force to move against the Enemy. The Province of Connaught continues in perfect Tranquillity."

AUGUST 28, 1798: The English garrison evacuates Foxford and retreats to Boyle. Insurgents seize Westport, Newport, Ballinrobe, Swinford and Hollymount. Claremorris has already been taken. Cornwallis has arrived in Athlone but decides not to counterattack until he has assembled a massive army.

"Dublin Castle, 29th August, 1798

"Advices were received last Night from Lieutenant General Lake, by which it appears, that early on the Morning of the 27th the French attacked him in his Position near Castlebar, before his Force was assembled, and compelled him, after a short Action, to retire to Holymount. The Lieutenant General regrets that six Field Pieces fell into the Enemy's Hands; but states that the Loss of the King's Troops, in men, has not been considerable."

"Dublin Castle, 30th August, 1798

"Advices have been received this Morning from the Head Quarters of the Lord Lieutenant, at Athlone, by which it appears that his Excellency, having collected a very considerable Force, intended to move forward this Morning, with a View to bring the Enemy to Action as soon as possible.

"There are yet no Accounts of the Enemy having advanced beyond Castlebar.

"Lieutenant General Lake was at Tuam, and is to form a Junction with the Lord Lieutenant. Brigadier General Taylor is at Boyle."

AUGUST 31, 1798: Humbert, having extended his bridgehead, proclaims a Republic of Connacht, sets up a civil administration and trains more Irish recruits, including many who have defected from the Longford and Kilkenny Militias. He is recognised as a strict disciplinarian.

SEPTEMBER 3-4, 1798: The English retake Hollymount and prepare for a dawn attack on Castlebar. Humbert has anticipated this and evacuates Castlebar under cover of darkness, taking his army, now totalling 3,000 men, towards Sligo, covering 58 miles in 36 hours. The long march has begun. Some Irish troops under French officers remain to protect Cill Ala and receive the expected reinforcements.

Army Of Ireland

Liberty, Equality

Head quarters at Castlebar, 14th Fructidor, sixth Year of the French Republic, One and Indivisible.

General Humbert, Commander in Chief of the Army of Ireland, desirous of organizing with the least possible delay, an adminstrative power for the Province of Connaught, decrees as follows:

  1. The Government of the Province of Connaught shall reside at Castlebar till further orders.
  2. The Government shall be composed of twelve members, who shall be named by the General-in-chief of the French Army.
  3. Citizen JOHN MOORE is named President of the Government of the Province of Connaught, he is specially entrusted with the nomination and reunion of the members of the Government.
  4. The Government shall occupy itself immediately in organizing the Military power of the Province of Connaught, and with providing subsistence for the French and Irish Armies.
  5. There shall be organized eight regiments of infantry, each of twelve hundred men, and four regiments of cavalry, each of six hundred men.
  6. The Government shall declare rebels and traitors to the country all those who having received clothing and arms, shall not join the army within four and twenty hours.
  7. Every individual from sixteen years of age to forty, inclusive, is REQUIRED in the name of the Irish Republic, to betake himself instantly to the French Camp, to march in a mass against the common enemy, the Tyrant of ANGLICIZED IRELAND, whose destruction alone can establish the independence and happiness of ANCIENT HIBERNIA.

The General Commanding-in-Chief

SEPTEMBER 5, 1798: An English army from Sligo under Col Vereker attacks the Franco-Irish army at Collooney. Humbert again outmanoeuvres them. Bartholomew Teeling shows outstanding bravery and the English retreat with heavy losses as far as Ballyshannon, County Donegal.

Cornwallis has now divided his army in two, one half under General Lake to pursue the enemy and the other half, under his own personal command, to protect the line of the river Shannon. The French and Irish "must not cross".

Meanwhile, the United Irishmen of Longford and Westmeath have assembled. They capture Wilsonís Hospital near Mullingar but fail to take the town of Granard. Humbert, on hearing of the midlands rising decides to link up with the insurgents there. He is now near Manorhamilton but changes and goes straight for Granard. He abandons some of the heavier guns so as to make more speed. So far he has eluded the cordon closing in around him. With some luck he hopes to slip past the net, reach Granard and then strike for Dublin which is virtually unprotected as most of the garrison have been moved to Connacht.

SEPTEMBER 6, 1798: The Franco-Irish army reaches Drumkeerin in the evening. An envoy from Lord Cornwallis offers terms for surrender but they are rejected.

SEPTEMBER 7, 1798: Shortly before noon Humbertís army crosses the Shannon at Ballintra Bridge just south of Loch Allen, but they fail in an attempt to demolish the bridge behind them. His army shows signs of fatigue and skirmishes with the English advance guard become more frequent. The race for Granard quickens.

The Franco-Irish army reaches Cloone, in South Leitrim, while Cornwallis, with 15,000 men is at Mohill, five miles away. Humbert gets news that he is surrounded and outnumbered but decides to push on even if the best he can now do is to make a token resistance before surrender.

"Dublin Castle, 8th September, 1798

"Advices have been received this Evening from Head Quarters at Carrick on Shannon, by which it appears that the Enemy had passed through Manor Hamilton, and crossed the Shannon at Ballintra. They threw away eight Guns and two Tumbrils in their March, and many of the Inhabitants who had joined, were deserting them. General Lake was following them with his Corps. His Excellency was marching upon Mohill.

"A Body of Insurgents having collected near Granard, on Wednesday last, several Yeoman Corps in the Neighbourhood, and from the County of Cavan, commanded by Captain Cottingham, collected with Celerity, and entirely defeated the Insurgents at the Town of Granard, killing about One Hundred and Fifty, and dispersing the remainder. The Yeomanry experienced no loss.

"On the same Evening Lord Longford, at the Head of a Body of Yeomanry, assisted by a Detachment of the King's Troops, attacked a Body of Rebels at Wilson's Hospital, and put them to Flight, with much Slaughter."

SEPTEMBER 8, 1798: Cornwallis has got ahead and blocks the road to Granard at Ballinalee, while Gerneral Lakeís army attacks from the rear. This is the Battle of Ballinamuck, County Longford. The French surrender after a fight of half an hour and are treated as prisoners of war. Five hundred Irish are massacred, while 1,000 escape. More are hanged at Longford, Ballinalee, and Carrick-on-Shannon. General George Blake of Garracloon, County Mayo, Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Insurgent Battalions and Gunner James Magee are among those hanged near the battlefield.

SEPTEMBER 21-23, 1798: General Trench heads a three-pronged attack on Cill Ala. On Sunday, the 23rd, the last stand is made by the insurgents, and 300 of them die, most of them being indiscriminately sabred by the dragoons at the spot still known as "casŠn an Šir".

A magnificent pyramid-like monument at French Hill, three miles south of Castlebar, marks the spot where a party of French cavalry, travelling under a flag of truce, were treacherously murdered by English forces. It was erected in 1876 and could be said to commemorate all of the 200 or so French soldiers who died for Irish freedom, mostly at Castlebar and Collooney. The inscription reads: "In grateful remembrance of the gallant French soldiers who died fighting for the freedom of Ireland on the 27th August, 1798. They shall be remembered forever."


English historians have always treated General Humbert's expedition to Ireland with ridicule, but Brian O hUiginn was fond of quoting the military correspondent of the London Times who held a different view. This expert wrote some years ago:

"In these operations described by Cornwallis to the Duke of Portland as a short but very fatiguing campaign, a raiding party of 1,000 French landed in Ireland without opposition, after sixteen days of navigation, unobserved by the British Navy; defeated and drove back the British troops opposing them on four separate occasions; routed a force of second line troops of at least double its strength; captured eleven British guns; held the field for seventeen days; entirely occupied the attention of all the available troops of a garrison of Ireland 100,000 strong; penetrated almost to the centre of the island, and compelled the Lord Lietunant to send an urgent requisition to London for 'as great a reinforcement as possible.' "

This was a fine tribute to General Humbert and his veteran troops who proved more than a match for the British army. No mention was made, however, of the substantial numbers of Irish insurgents who rallied to his flag and acquitted themselves well on the field of battle, particularly at Ballinamuck. They were mercilessly slaughtered, even after surrender, including Matthew Tone and Bartolomew, who held commissions in the French army.

"After having obtained the greatest successes and made the arms of the French Republic triumph during my stay in Ireland, I have at length been obliged to submit to a superior force of 30,000 troops." -- General Humbert's Report to the French Directory after Ballinamuck.

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