Monday 5 December 2016

The first to rise and the last to fall, as all Wexfordians know

Published 29/03/2016 | 02:30

Paul Kehoe and Brendan Howlin lay a wreath in Enniscorthy Photo: Patrick Browne
Paul Kehoe and Brendan Howlin lay a wreath in Enniscorthy Photo: Patrick Browne
Were Helen, Nicola and Claire Cosgrove from Enniscorthy, watching a re-enactment of events of Easter 1916 Photo: Patrick Browne

They were the first to rise and the last to fall. Nestled beneath the haunting shadow of looming Vinegar Hill, the people of Enniscorthy yesterday remembered its place in the history books.

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It was on that haunted rock in 1798 that the people of the town would first rise against British forces. It was in this year that the Republican Society of the United Irishmen would proclaim a 'Wexford Republic'.

The newly forged nation lasted only a month before it was bloodily suppressed by the British.

But the events on that hill would forever light a fire in the bellies of the people of Enniscorthy, who would rise and fall for Irish freedom with the centuries.

Unlike Pearse's rebellion in the capital, there was widespread support for the uprising on the Slaneyside. When the Rebels picked up their guns again in 1916, not one single drop of blood would hit the cobblestones. It was a battle "fought with respect", according to Acting Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin, who addressed the thousands gathered.

Armed with just 20 rifles, 200 men took control of the town hall and castle before surrounding the RIC barracks, to which they cut off the gas and the water supply.

In homage to the battle of 1798, many men carried only pikes and occupied the same hill where 1,000 Irishmen had died.

Despite holding the town for four days, the leaders in Enniscorthy knew they could not face the threat of 2,000 British troops. When they heard the news that Pearse had surrendered in Dublin, they were allowed to travel to Arbour Hill Prison to speak with him before their surrender.

"They say Cork is the rebel county. That is nonsense," said local man Philip Byrne.

"We were the first ones to fight in 1798 and the last ones to fall in 1916. What does that tell you?" he added as he enjoyed the state ceremony.

Yesterday, gathered beneath what was once a bastion of British strength, Enniscorthy Castle, thousands of Wexfordians marched through the streets, pikes in hand, but knowing that after centuries of struggle, the war is over.

Some 600 family members of those who had taken part in the Rising gathered amongst great fanfare, choirs, bands and aerial displays to tip their hats to their forefathers.

Among them was Patricia Quinn Murphy. Her father, John Murphy, and uncle William both fought.

"He (John) was involved in blowing up bridges, robbing a mail cart and raids on an RIC barracks. They were difficult times. Sometimes I frown when I think about the things he was involved in, but I walked with pride for him and my uncle today."

Enniscorthy novelist Colm Tóibín was also on hand yesterday to give his views on the Rising. Mr Tóibín recently catapulted the small town onto the world stage with his bestselling book 'Brooklyn', later adapted into a hit film.

"On Easter Thursday, my grandfather and others got up, after being told what to do on Wednesday, and took over the centre of Enniscorthy town," he said.

Irish Independent

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