THE 224th anniversary of the Battle of Vinegar Hill was marked on Tuesday, June 21, with a poignant and moving ceremony on the iconic landmark outside Enniscorthy.
The site of one of the most infamous and bloody battles in Irish history, the event is marked each year with special guest speakers, music and a parade up to the hill.
The speakers this year included Cllr Barbara-Anne Murphy, the chairperson of the 1798 National Rebellion Centre, Cllr Cathal Byrne, in his capacity as outgoing Cathoirleach of Enniscorthy Municipal District, and local historian Sean Doyle, who is also a member of the National 1798 Centre committee.
Other people in attendance at the event included Deputy Johnny Mythen along with the members of Enniscorthy Municipal District and the newly elected chairperson of Wexford County Council, Cllr George Lawlor.
He also contributed to the event with an inspired rendition of ‘Boolavogue’ while the ‘The Croppy Boy’ was performed by Enniscorthy’s, Tim Corrigan.
A solemn aspect of the event saw Cllr Murphy and Emily Murphy, lay wreaths at the commemorative plaque at the site while Derek Meyley, as MC, introduced the guest speakers who included Cllrs Murphy and Byrne, who spoke of the enormous significance of the sight and also the bravery, courage and human cost on those who fought for Irish freedom all those years ago.
Those in attendance were reminded that the Ireland of today is attributable directly to the determination, resolve and fight of those who went before us at a time when Ireland was a very different country and place to what it is now.
Sean Doyle gave an informative and dignified address and having welcomed everyone to the event he thanked the staff of the 1798 centre for their ongoing work in organising the commemoration event each year.
He acknowledged the members of Enniscorthy Historical Re-enactment Society, not just for their participating in the commemoration event itself, but also for their ongoing work in promoting and raising awareness of historical events throughout the county and beyond.
“To our pikemen and pikewomen, our admiration for their steadfastness and reminding us of the heroism of the Insurgents who fought so valiantly for our freedom during the summer of 1798,” said Mr Doyle.
Mr Doyle also remembered the renowned late historian and author, Nicky Furlong, who passed away on March 21.
“He was an active member of Comoradh ’98 and was considered an authority on the 1798 Rebellion,” said Mr Doyle.
“Nicky wrote the definitive biography of Fr John Murphy, who was very involved in the battle fought on this hill 224 years ago,” he told those in attendance at the ceremony.
Mr Doyle referred to the previous year's event at which Brian Ó Cléirigh, gave a very interesting talk on the tricolour which he said was very informative.
Mr Doyle also made reference to the recently published book, ‘Vinegar Hill: The Last Stand of the Wexford Rebels of 1798’, and its joint editors, Ronan O’Flaherty and Jacqui Hynes.
“It is quite comprehensive and covers many aspects of the battle, its combatants, its archaeology, and of the hill itself,” said Mr Doyle.
“I believe it is the standard for anyone with an interest in Vinegar Hill and its famous battle,” he added.
While acknowledging that most of those present were knowledgeable about the battle itself and of the events of that fateful day in 1798, Mr Doyle quoted two people who wrote about “the views and the landscapes as seen from the hill”.
He referenced William Bulfin’s book, ‘Rambles in Éirinn’, which was written in 1907 after the author cycled around Ireland.
In his book Bulfin wrote: ‘The crest is flat topped and covered with thin grass mixed with heather and stunted whins. I plucked some of the heather to send to certain Wexfordmen far away. There is the ruin of an old windmill in the centre of the small plateau which was occupied by the insurgents. On one corner of the crest the rock strata rise slantingly out of the heather and this is the highest part of the hill. I stood there in the glory of a bright September morning and took a good long look over the wide ridges and rolling plains of Wexford and down the pleasant valley of the Slaney. I shall never forget it. The sunlight streamed down between scattered patches of cloud and fell upon the masses of vapour which the wind was rolling from off the fields and streams and woods.
Miles and miles of fertile land well streaked with the track of industrious cultivation were visible on every side, thinly veiled or faintly blurred by the soft transparencies which tinted the fragrant earth with shimmering gamuts of colour, from opal green to amber, from frosted silver to pearl grey, and from chestnut brown to burnished gold. It was a picture which would have impressed me by its superlative beauty at any time, or seen in any land. But the historic glamour of its “glorious pride and sorrow” made its natural loveliness doubly fascinating.’
Mr Doyle then quoted Micheál Tóibín who wrote: ‘In the town of our day, too, there is much that is picturesque and lovable. Looking down on it through the evening mists, it takes on a medieval character, grey, placid, restful; it seems like something that has wandered out of the glamorous past, across the silent centuries, fragrant with the memories of their passing. In how many hearts, some in far-off lands, this kindly spot, this friendly town means Home, with all the magic that simple word conveys! ‘Tis true that time has brought its changes, but as we look down from the hill above, we are impressed by so much that has not changed; from here all the yesterdays, todays and tomorrows seem to merge into that timeless stream we call tradition. And we pray that as the ‘years like great black oxen tread the world’ they leave their footmark here, sparing so much that is old and good and beautiful.’
Mr Doyle address was very moving and inspirational and to finish off he recited a recently composed poem titled, ‘Freedom’s Footsteps’:
It’s my daily privilege to walk where you walked,
A humbling honour to talk where you talked,
My steps are the steps of the free, but the cost of that is plain to see.
Breathe in, and the air is thick with terror, anger, confusion, pride and love,
I breathe in your painful story, breath by breath, an emotional battlefield flooding my senses but love floats above.
To stand where you stood and willingly gave your life,
It’s impossible not to feel love of family.
Love for home; so strong you took on cannon with pike,
Worries of modern life pale next to your bravery.
To walk Vinegar Hill is a march into the past,
But each step taken here, ghostly friends hold you steadfast.
Their spirit and sacrifice inspire and nurture,
As you walk in the past towards a better future.
The event culminated with a performance of the national anthem from piper, Jimmy Cooper.