independent

Wednesday 23 January 2019

Louth and the failure of the 1798 rebellion

Micheal Boylan was the leader of the United Irishmen in the area around Ardee and South Louth. He was the son of Peter Boylan, who was one of the largest and influential farmers in the area. Micheal was only 26 years old when he accepted command of the pikemen of Co Louth and undertook to lead them to Tara. His second-in-command, Dan Kelly from Ardee, played an important par

THE real failure of the ‘98 Rebellion in county Louth, is generally attributed to the defection of one man - Michael Boylan of Blakestown, Ardee, which led to the non-appearance of the Louthmen at Tara and caused the defeat of the men of Meath and Kildare at the Battle of Tara, which was the first major engagement during the rebellion on 26th may 1798.

Micheal Boylan was the leader of the United Irishmen in the area around Ardee and South Louth.

He was the son of Peter Boylan, who was one of the largest and influential farmers in the area. Micheal was only 26 years old when he accepted command of the pikemen of Co Louth and undertook to lead them to Tara.

His second-in-command, Dan Kelly from Ardee, played an important part in organising the rising throughout the country. In his shirt sleeves he travelled the length and breath of Ireland on the pretence of looking for work, while hidden in his boots he carried messages to the leaders of the rebellion.

Between his travels he lived with a farmer called Matthews at Ballygowen.

There is a local tradition that he buried a chest of pikes and other weapons in a garden at Ardee, but the spot has never been searched. Conlon the owner of the garden was subseqently flogged through the streets of Ardee for allegedly having pikes in his possession. The flogging of Conlon, incidently, was the last recorded public flogging in Ardee.

On the night of May 23, 1798, Dan Kelly had assembled all the United Irishmen from the surrounding area on the road near Boylan’s home at Blakestown, to await the arrival of the leader.

Kelly made his way to the Boylan house, where he spoke to Michael. It seems that his mother did not approve of her son’s plans and so had taken his clothes to ensure that he could not go.

From the bedroom window he told Kelly and the other rebel leaders he could not go. He also refused to give them the books to the local organisation.

Needless to say, Kelly was very annoyed at this refusal by Boylan, and he swore that he would have revenge on Boylan, for letting down the Louth rebels. Kelly returned to the assembly of United Irishmen and told them of Boylan’s refusal.

Helpless and without a leader, the 1,500 men dispersed and returned to their homes.

Dan Kelly lost no time. Within a week of the incident, he went before the magistrates in Drogheda and swore that Boylan was a rebel and a member of the United Irishmen. On June 3 1798, as he was playing a game of handball at Collon, Boylan was arrested and taken to Drogheda Jail.

He was tried and on the evidence of Dan Kelly, he was convicted and sentenced to death. For some reason, the family were hopeful for a reprieve through the influence of John Foster who was their landlord, but Foster refused to intercede and the sentence was carried out and on June 22 1798, Boylan was hanged in front of the Tholsel at Peter Street (then called Pillory Street) in Drogheda.

A tragic incident in regard to the execution was its discovery by one of Boylan’s sisters who was married and living in Co Meath. She arrived in Drogheda on the morning to do some shopping.

Seeing the crowd assembled at Tholsel, she made her way to see what was attracting the crowd. One can imagine her distress when she saw the body of her brother hanging from the gallows.

It is recorded that Boylan’s body was buried in the yard of Drogheda Jail. The jail at the time was in James Street on the present site of St. Mary’s Church. The jail in Scarlet Street was not built until 1808. Within a week the governor ordered that the body be lifted and returned to the Boylan family and his body was carried on the shoulders of men the whole way from Drogheda to the graveyard at Kildemock and placed near the famous ‘Jumping Church’.

A simple stone records that ‘Underneath lie interred the mortal remains of Michael Boylan, who departed this life June 22 1798, aged 26 years.’



The last verse of a popular ballard of the time has ... ‘I always did behave myself, the country round can tell, And by Dan Kelly’s treachery It has proved my sad death-knell. Its on the 26th year of my age I die for loyalty, And my name is young Mick Boylan, And good Christians pray for me’.

News