1798 – the television programme

United Irishmen

United Irishmen – Image via Wikipedia

Here at last! A link to the episode of BBC TV’s Story of Ireland which deals with the Rebellion of  1798 and the United Irishmen.

Earlier this year, this four-part series presented by Fergal Keane took us at some speed through the history of the island of Ireland.

I posted my thoughts at the time it was transmitted (May 30th, 2011) but I’d love to know what you think.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in 1798, Ireland | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Tombstone Tuesday: Sarah’s haunted grave

At last I’m posting a photograph of the grave of my great-great-great grandmother, Sarah Simpson, who arrived in New South Wales as a convict on the Friendship in 1818.

Sarah's grave (Michael Wood 2011)

Sarah’s grave (Michael Wood 2011)

Sarah Marshall, as she was then, was lucky to be sentenced to seven years’ transportation. She had been caught stealing clothes to the value of fivepence – but theft was still, in those days, a hanging offence.*

As I’ve written about earlier on this blog, Sarah died in December 1838 and local legend says that she was murdered and that her ghost haunts Castlereagh Cemetery to this day.

The reason this photo is so special is that it arrived in my inbox today, sent by my cousin Michael Wood, who is descended from Nicholas and Elizabeth Delaney’s son William (9th January 1817 – 14th December 1881).  Michael has just got back from visiting the graveyard, where he took this picture.

Thank you, Michael!

* That makes three of my ancestors lucky to escape the gallows, and who knows, I may discover more.

What’s Tombstone Tuesday? you may ask. It’s an idea by the excellent people at Geneabloggers to prompt genealogy bloggers to write. If you’re one, do visit their website – it may inspire you, too.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Convicts, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

I’m one!

Cropped version of a PD birthday cake image, s...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s hard to believe, but… its one year since I began this blog.

At first I was nervous, and posted, oh, once every two months or so. Big mistake. It’s like everything else; the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

And what to post about? Nicholas Delaney, of course, and family history, but I didn’t want to replicate what’s already on the website. And I didn’t want to just repeat what’s in our book, A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798. That would be dull for anyone who’s already got it.

Then I realised this gave me the freedom to go farther and wider, and talk around the story.  For instance, when I came across the mystery of my other great-great-great grandmother, Sarah Marshall, BBC TV’s series Story if Ireland and finding the Who Do You Think You Are? clip where Graham Norton hears about his yeoman ancestor in Carnew.

Twitter feed for ARebelHand (A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798)

ARebelHand’s Twitter feed

Or to pick up inspiration from other bloggers, like Twigs of Yore‘s Australia Day challenge,  West in New England‘s Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge or National Family History Week from the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations. Geneabloggers has lots of inspirations, too.

I got busy on Facebook and I’ve recently started tweeting as @ARebelHand and joined Google+.

And I’ve got a huge amount to learn still.

But the most important thing I would like to find out is – what would you like to read more about?



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Blogging | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Now that’s a plus!

The battle lines are drawn up. As of yesterday, Google+ has pages, much as Facebook does. Who will win the social media struggle?

I’m quite happy to use them both, so I’ve jumped at getting a G+ page. If you’re on Google+, come and join me here

Or if your prefer Facebook, here’s our page

Or come and chat with Rebel Hand. I’m friendly!

In a hurry? Tweet me @ARebelHand

What do you like about this blog? What can we do better? What else would you like to see?

I’d love to hear from you!



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The song that inspired ‘A Rebel Hand’

At Boolavogue as the sun was setting
O’er the bright May meadows of Shelmalier,
A rebel hand set the heather blazing
and brought the neighbours from far and near.

That’s the first verse of the song Boolavogue, which tells the story of the 1798 Irish rebellion in Counties Wexford and Wicklow, and of one of its leaders, Father John Murphy.

1798 memorial cross, Ballyellis

1798 memorial cross, Ballyellis

Nicholas Delaney, my great-great-great grandfather, was a landless peasant from Ballyellis – a small townland on the Wicklow/Wexford border – and worked near Carnew, scene of a notorious massacre.

Inevitably he became involved in the uprising as a United Irishman and was later accused of murdering four yeomen (from the government’s volunteer military units). Convicted of killing two of them, he was sentenced to death, but this was later commuted to transportation to Australia.

While my mother and I were writing Nicholas’s story, we wanted to give our book a title which had a ring to it. There are many songs about 1798 and we thought about several of our favourites, like The Boys of Wexford, The Croppy Boy and The Rising of the Moon before choosing Boolavogue.

Father Murphy centre, Boolavogue

Father Murphy centre, Boolavogue

I’d loved the song long before I realised I had a connection with it. My friend Tom had the Dubliners’ version on an LP (yes, that long ago) and I’d insist on hearing it. Far too often, probably. And it mentions places Nicholas was in – Ballyellis, Camolin, Vinegar Hill, for instance.

So it wasn’t a hard decision in the end, especially since Nicholas was both a rebel and a labourer – a hired hand.


At Boolavogue as the sun was setting
O’er the bright May meadows of Shelmalier,
A rebel hand set the heather blazing
and brought the neighbours from far and near.

Then Father Murphy from old Kilcormack
Spurred up the rocks with a warning cry:
‘Arm! Arm!’ he cried, ‘For I’ve come to lead you;
For Ireland’s freedom we’ll fight or die!’

He led us on against the coming soldiers,
And the cowardly yeomen we put to flight:
‘Twas at the Harrow the boys of Wexford
Showed Bookey’s regiment how men could fight.

Look out for hirelings, King George of England;
Search every kingdom where breathes a slave,
For Father Murphy of County Wexford
Sweeps o’er the land like a mighty wave.

We took Camolin and Enniscorthy
And Wexford storming drove out our foes
‘Twas at Slieve Coilte our pikes were reeking
With the crimson blood of the beaten Yeos.

At Tubberneering and Ballyellis
Full many a Hessian lay in his gore,
Ah! Father Murphy, had aid come over
The green flag floated from shore to shore!

At Vinegar Hill, o’er the pleasant Slaney
Our heroes vainly stood back to back,
and the Yeos at Tullow took Father Murphy
and burned his body upon a rack.

God grant you glory, brave Father Murphy
And open Heaven to all your men,
The cause that called you may call tomorrow
In another fight for the Green again.

I’ll post more about Boolavogue in a separate post (under this) if you’re interested, but briefly: it was written by Patrick Joseph McCall to commemorate the centenary of the rising in 1898 and set to the old Irish air Youghal Harbour. The lyrics here are from Wikipedia.

PS: to the person who lifted my photograph of the Ballyellis cross today, 12th February 2012, and re-used it without crediting this site, you can’t get away with doing that in secret these days. I won’t give you a link, either. But I know what you’ve done!
If you’d asked to use it, I probably would have said yes. Oh, well…



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in 1798, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

More about Boolavogue

The lyrics to Boolavogue were written by Patrick Joseph (PJ) McCall and set to the Irish air Eochaill, or Youghal Harbour.

There are many versions of this well-loved song on the net. Probably the best-known is the one I heard first, by the Dubliners. The Dubs cut the original song slightly and introduced a riff still used by some other musicians.

1798 memorial, The Harrow

1798 memorial, The Harrow

I also like Brian Roebuck’s take on Boolavogue. Here’s one with a slideshow, and another slideshow. He sings the long version. Less Dubliners-like are the High Kings (with some odd slide editing). There are many other Boolavogues on YouTube.* A word of warning – some of the comments below the clips contain strong language.

PJ McCall wrote many other songs, two of which, The Boys of Wexford and Kelly the Boy from Killane, are also about 1798.

McCall based his song on a much older one, Come All You Warriors, written soon after 1798. Interestingly, Joseph Holt, the Wicklow rebel leader who Biddy Dolan may have had an affair with, mentions the song in his 1837 Memoirs.

Youghal Harbour is a tune many Australians may recognise, as it’s also used for Moreton Bay, written by Irish convict and poet Frank McNamara. Some lines from this song are relevant for Nicholas Delaney, too:

I am a native from Erin’s island
But banished now from my native shore.

* This is possibly the most unusual Boolavogue on the net. I think it’s great!



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in 1798, A Rebel Hand | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book sale – special Christmas offer

This offer is now closed –

thank you to everyone who ordered ‘A Rebel Hand’ at the reduced price!


From today until December 24th we’re offering A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798 at the special price of £6.50, or £6.00 for two or more copies (plus P&P).

All the details of postage and packing are here on the order form on our website.

Of course, we’d be glad to sign and/or dedicate copies for anyone who’d like that.

Posted in Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The day we met the President

The Irish presidential election is in the news these days – it takes place on Thursday, 27 October 2011. There are seven hopefuls in the race, some more controversial than others.

It reminds me of the day, 13 years ago, when we met the current President, Mary McAleese, in Wicklow town.

Wicklow Gaol opening day - Mary McAleese speaking

Wicklow Gaol opening day – Mary McAleese speaking

We were invited to the re-opening of Wicklow Gaol as an interactive visitor centre.  It’s now also famous for its ghosts (a bit of a theme this month, ghosts).

We’d visited the gaol before, when we were researching Nicholas’s story. This is where he spent many bleak months waiting for sentence to be carried out after his trial in December 1799, and many more months after Lord Cornwallis commuted it to transportation on January 17, 1801.

While we were there we met Joan Kavanagh of the Wicklow Heritage Centre. Hugely knowledgeable and helpful, she told us stories of Wicklow in 1798. Biddy Dolan came up, of course, and Joan knew Nicholas Delaney’s name. We swapped stories about Nicholas and she and put us on the trail of other local historians.

Wicklow Gaol was undergoing restoration, ready for the bicentenary of the Irish rebellion, and we were thrilled to get an invitation to its reopening on May 30th 1998.

Opening Day, Wicklow Historic Gaol - ecumenical blessing

Opening Day – ecumenical blessing

It was a memorable day. Speeches, a blessing, a feast and a tour of the new Gaol, including horrific reconstructions of prison life and the transport ships.

After the ceremony, we had a quick chat with the President. Sadly there are no photos of this as we were too busy talking. But here are some of a very special day in our hunt for the story of Nicholas and how a landless peasant became a convicted murderer and an Australian pioneer.

Mary McAleese, the Mayor and other guests at the opening of Wicklow Historic Gaol

Mary McAleese, the Mayor and other guests

Coming soon… more about Sarah Simpson



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in 1798, Ireland | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Was Sarah murdered? Is she a famous ghost?

For a change from thinking about Nicholas, I typed Sarah Marshall into Google. She’s my g-g-g grandmother, a convict who arrived in New South Wales on the Friendship in 1818. She married* John Simpson (Ocean II, arr 1818) and later that year their daughter Lucy was born. Lucy married Nicholas Delaney’s son Thomas in 1834.

And including the details of their crimes and sentences we only had about four pages’ worth of information about Sarah and John. Until now.

Imagine how surprised I was when result after result came up. The first I clicked on had a query about her – did anyone know anything about Sarah, who was murdered?


Murdered? Some mistake, I thought. Not ‘my’ Sarah. But I checked the dates, and the convict ship, and the places, and it looked more and more as if  I’m descended from a woman who was brutally killed in Castlereagh, NSW in 1838 at the age of 42.

How could this not have come up in our research? How could the family not remember such a shocking event? I wondered.


I went on a googleathon. Some very lurid stories came up. Pretty soon I was reading that she haunts her grave in Castlereagh General Cemetery. She was murdered by a gang of men ‘in a fit of lust’.

I also read (and these are urban legends) that she was 17 when she died, that she had eight children out of wedlock with John, ‘an independent, well-to-do man’ who married her as she lay dying so that she could pass into the next life without sin.


Romantic touches, but the truth is that she had a husband, a tailor and freed convict, at the time of the first Australian census in 1828.

I learned that Sarah and John may both have been already married before they were transported to Australia. So that’s two more possible bigamists in my family tree.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any newspaper articles about her death on Trove.

As for the haunting, the net’s full of it. Apparently ‘Sarah’s Grave’ is a well-known scary place in the Penrith area, and she’s been seen by a lot of people, a spirit in white with a strong dislike of men. So many people go there at night that the graveyard has been fenced off. There are even tours to her grave.

I’m not putting an image of her grave up because the ones on the net belong to other people, but I’ll put some links at the bottom (Update – I’ve posted one by my cousin, Michael Wood, here). This is the inscription:



the memory of


died Decr 10th


aged 42 years


And am I born to die
To lay this body down
And must my trembling spirit fly
Into a world unknown
A land of deepest shade
Unpierc’d by human thought**
The dreary regions of the dead
Where all things are forgot

So for the moment I’m stuck.

And more than a bit surprised.

In the space of a few hours my obscure ancestor has become a bigamist, a murder victim and a famous ghost. I’m left wondering how a murder which spawned local legends in the Penrith area could have been forgotten by Delaney family members who lived nearby. Or did they suppress the story, ashamed of its notoriety (especially if Sarah had been sexually assaulted)? After all, our convict origins were hushed up for at least four generations.

Or – is the murdered, ghostly Sarah not my ancestor at all? Was she a woman in another graveyard – whose story has been attached to Sarah Simpson, as Sydney Spirit Stalkers wonder?


And I’m yet again amazed at how different genealogy and historical research is now, with the net, from how it was when we started researching Nicholas Delaney and his family. Finding information like this is what makes writing this blog so worth while – I can put so much in here that’s an add-on to A Rebel Hand.

And of course now I would like to see her grave. I’d like to leave some flowers and wish her peace.

Is there anybody there…….. who has any answers?

*Since writing this, I’m not so sure they were married. They were certainly a couple and Sarah is referred to in the 1828 census as John Simpson’s ‘wife’

** The original epitaph reads ‘Unpeirc’d by humam thought’

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

Here are a few more snippets and links:

I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to Sarah’s story in the future…

And I did – here’s Sarah’s grave and here’s more about her life.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Australia, Convicts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 55 Comments

At the heart of Sydney

‘One of the most historically significant urban spaces in Sydney and Australia’.

Photo: Macquarie Place, Sydney, NSW  © A Rebel Hand

Macquarie Place, Sydney

That’s how another of Nicholas Delaney’s building projects has been described by New South Wales’s Office of Environment and Heritage.

It’s Macquarie Place.

Just over a fortnight after Nicholas and his men finished the construction of Mrs Macquarie’s Drive in the Government Domain on 13 June 1816, he was hard at work again for the Governor.

As Lachlan Macquarie records in his diary:

Monday 1. July !

This Day Nicholas Delaney’s Gang of Labourers commenced clearing and levelling that Piece of Ground in the Town of Sydney, adjoining the Government Domain called “Macquarie Place,” preparatory to its being enclosed by a Dwarf Stone Wall and Paling in the form of a Triangle!

Photo: Macquarie's diary entry about Nicholas and his gang

Macquarie’s diary entry about Nicholas and his gang (Original in State Library of NSW)

Macquarie Place is probably best known now for its obelisk, designed by the convict architect Francis Greenway, who was so important to the Governor‘s plans for Sydney. It was erected in 1818.

Greenway eventually fell out of favour with Macquarie, but his buildings stand as a memorial to two singular-minded men – and to the labourers who carried out their vision.

Inscribed at the base of the obelisk is its purpose:

To record that all the
Public Roads
Leading to the Interior
of the Colony
are Measured from it.

And here are the measurements:

Principal Roads.
Distance from Sydney
to Bathurst }                           157 Miles
From Sydney to Windsor 35 1/2 D
to Paramatta                      15 1/2  “
to Liverpool                        20 “
to Macquarie Tower
at the South Head }              7         “
To the North Head
of Botany Bay }                  14         “

So all roads from Sydney began from where Nicholas made his mark on the city.

Nearly 200 years later, this green space in the centre of Sydney still remains, a little smaller and now dwarfed by buildings.

But nothing should overshadow its significance in Australia’s history. As the Office of Environment and Heritage says:

Picture: Macquarie Place: inscription on the obelisk. Photo © Patricia Owen

Macquarie Place: the obelisk © Patricia Owen & A Rebel Hand


“Although the original importance of Macquarie Place as the main town square of Sydney, the geographic and symbolic centre of the Colony, the setting to First Government House and the landmark qualities of Obelisk are now less apparent than in Colonial times due to the level of surrounding changes, the park and its monuments remain one of the few tangible links to this first Colonial town centre and thereby part of the earliest history of European settlement in Australia.”



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Macquarie, Roadbuilder | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Making roads for Macquarie

Staying in New South Wales for this post, I’ll be looking at Nicholas Delaney’s road building for Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

There are no records to show exactly when Nicholas began working on the roads of the new colony.  He had been an overseer on goverment projects since 1808 and was in charge of a group of convict labourers in 1812. In January 1813 Macquarie signed his free pardon.

It was a good time to be in the building trade. The new Governor made it his business to tidy up the higgledy-piggledy settlement he had found when he arrived in 1810. Sydney would be set out in rational grid lines, the Domain enclosed and roads driven west into the daunting Blue Mountains. Nicholas was to work on all these ventures.

Photo: Mrs Macquarie's Chair, Sydney

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

He and his men were busy with a project dear to the Governor – building  Mrs Macquarie’s Drive, a long road which encircled Sydney’s Government Domain land. Named for, and planned by, his wife, Elizabeth, the road encloses what are now the Botanic Gardens and takes in her favourite viewpoint, still known as Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.

By luck or careful planning, Nicholas and his co-workers finished the entire drive on Elizabeth’s birthday.

Auspicious day

As Lachlan Macquarie wrote in his diary:

Thursday 13. June 1816

This day at 1. P.M. Nicholas Delaney the Overseer of the Working Gang employed for some time past in the Government Domain reported to me that Mrs Macquarie’s New Road – (measuring three miles and 377 yards -) round the inside of the Government [domain] – together with all the necessary Bridges on the same – were completely finished agreeably to the Plan laid down originally for constructing it by Mrs Macquarie.

As a reward for their exertion in having completed “Mrs Macquarie’s Road“, on this particular and auspicious Day, I have given Delaney and his gang of Ten Men, five gallons of Spirits among them – as Donation from Government from the King’s store.

Picture: Lachlan Macquarie's diary entry about Nicholas Delaney and his gang

Lachlan Macquarie’s diary (Original in State Library of NSW)

The Governor was obviously delighted at this extra birthday present for Elizabeth. Nicholas and the other men would have been extremely pleased with their reward, too. Five gallons of rum – that’s 40 pints, or nearly 23 litres. Enough for a good party, and plenty left over for use as currency.

There will be more about Nicholas’s road building in the next blog post.

Macquarie on TV

On Australia Day (26th January) 2011 BBC TV showed The Father of Australia, a drama-documentary about Macquarie. Unfortunately it’s no longer available to view, but there are some clips on the Beeb’s site and here’s a link to a clip provided by the programme-makers, Caledonia TV.

© Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Macquarie, Roadbuilder | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

National Heritage Week in Ireland

This week (August 20 – 28) Ireland celebrates its national heritage. And 1798 is a major part of that history.

So here are some events related to Nicholas Delaney’s life and the men he fought with.


  • a walk in the Wicklow mountains, where he was heading when Twamley and Heppenstall were murdered and where Michael Dwyer and Joseph Holt held out after the rebellion was over
  • In Co Wexford, a talk on 98 in the 1798 Centre in Enniscorthy and another event nearby in Ballinamona

And much more.

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem possible to link directly to these events, but if you’re interested it’s enjoyable trawling through the website.

So here’s the link again.


© Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Ireland | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On board the convict ship (for Australian National Family History Week)

It’s National Family History Week in Australia (until August 10). So I’m going to leave the Irish history theme for now and pick up some of Nicholas Delaney’s story in New South Wales.

Starting with his arrival.

Human cargo

On October 30, 1810, the convict ship Atlas II docked at Sydney Cove after a five month sea voyage. He and the 207 others transported as human cargo were unusually lucky. Not for them the high death toll resulting from poor food, filthy conditions, untreated illness, lack of air and exercise and a voyage spent below decks in chains.

Only four died during the journey, thanks partly to Atlas II being a new ship as well as to the work of surgeon Thomas Davie, the attitude of the captain, Thomas Musgrave, and probably to sheer luck in that no fatally contagious diseases raged through the ship.

By contrast Atlas I, which sailed some months before, lost 65 convicts out of 176.

And when Musgrave’s ship was sighted, bets were laid that only half the convicts would have survived. But, to the onlookers’ amazement, a long stream of men appeared blinking in the strong light, while the ship’s captain shook hands with every one of them.

Musgrave, that enlightened man, who had not insisted that his ‘cargo’ remain in chains once he had set sail, treated them as fellow humans even to the last.*

Political prisoners

Out of the 208 convicts aboard Atlas II, 190 were Irish political prisoners, according to Captain Musgrave. The other men tried alongside Nicholas – Edward Neil, James Dempsey, Patrick Stafford and John Kavanagh – were there. So were other south Wicklow men convicted on Biddy Dolan‘s evidence, including John Nowlan, Richard Carr and Patrick Murray. These Wicklow men, the ‘Forgotten Prisoners’, seem to have stayed in touch once they reached Australia.


Nicholas was about to start a new life working for Major George Johnston, commander of the New South Wales Corps – the infamous Rum Corps.  Interestingly, it was Johnson who was credited with putting down the ‘other’ Battle of Vinegar Hill, at Castle Hill, near Parramatta, in March, 1804.

Later Johnston was himself involved in civil unrest – as a leader of the Rum Rebellion against Governor William Bligh. Piling irony upon irony, Bligh was already well known for another uprising against his authority – the Mutiny on the Bounty.

* There is much more about Nicholas’s transportation and Atlas II on the A Rebel Hand website.

Some useful links

A search on the net brings up a lot about convicts transported to Australia. Two resources I found useful are Peter Mayberry’s Irish convicts pages and Lesley Uebel‘s claim a convict pages (not just Irish).  The National Museum of Australia has some information and there are some great descriptions of transportation to Australia, plus information about free settlers, here (scroll down, it’s quite long).


© Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Convicts, Transportation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Two surprise finds

I’m excited by this.

OK, perhaps I’m easily pleased, but it was a real delight to find the clip of Graham Norton’s Who Do You Think You Are? in which he learns about his yeoman ancestor in Carnew, just days after I posted about it. And when I was looking for something else, too. That’s Google for you. Here it is, with Graham talking to the excellent historian Ruan O’Donnell.

Libidinous wretch

Ruan’s also written about our old friend ‘Croppy’ Biddy Dolan. Here’s possibly the most well-known account of Bid’s character and actions, written by Br Luke Cullen:

‘…in the year 1798 she mostly rode with the rebel cavalry — a buxom vivandiere on horseback. Her lack of morals and indecencies are too disgusting to follow, but it win be sufficient to say, that this pampered informer of the County Wicklow, at thirteen years of age, was an avowed and proclaimed harlot, steeped in every crime that her age would admit of ; and her precocity to vice, as it was to maturity, was singular.’

It gets worse.

‘…this abandoned person, who was brought up without the slightest particle of education, or more regard to morals than the brute that browsed in the field ; and in regard to her knowledge of Christian truths, she was an infidel.’

And as a witness for the prosecution:

Photo: Statue of Billy Byrne, Wicklow

Statue of Billy Byrne, Wicklow

‘She was young, and under judicious teachers had time enough to learn. Her unblushing audacity was firm and boundless. Drunk or sober, her pert and ready replies to all questions helped to restore her to that portion of favour which only seemed to be lost to her.’

As for her evidence against Billy Byrne:

‘Croppy Biddy was the one on whom the prosecutors rested their hopes. The [?]giggling and loud laugh, the levity and whole demeanour of that libidinous wretch, was the most disgusting display that, perhaps, any witness was ever before allowed to indulge in, where the use of a high and honourable gentleman was concerned. Her first plunge on the green cloth this day was perjury, and all her assertions, that were of any moment, to the end of the trial, were of the same dreadful description.’

Informers online

It is possible to portray Bid in a more sympathetic light, and we weigh up both sides in the book, but the point of this post is to signpost a great link I also found today, “The sham squire” and the informers of 1798 : with jottings about Ireland a century ago (1869), a book by William John Fitzpatrick available online as part of the Internet Archive project. It’s well worth a look.

One word of warning – it’s scanned, not transcribed, so some words look odd and need deciphering. It’s worth a look, though, even if it’s just for Br Luke’s inventive invective.


© Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in 1798, Blogging | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Me, Graham Norton and an infamous massacre

Well, Graham Norton’s great-great-great grandfather and my g-g-g grandfather, to be strictly accurate. They would have known each other. They probably wanted to kill each other. (Luckily, I quite like him and he doesn’t know I exist, so that’s all right!)

How did I find this out?

Four years ago, long before this blog was thought of, I was gripped by BBC TV’s series Who Do You Think You Are?

I was fascinated by the unravelling of family myths and mysteries (we’ve got a few of our own) and envious of the fantastic resources that the Beeb could pull together.


Then, on November 2, 2007, I leapt out of my seat punching the air and shouting: “Carnew! The ball alley!”

Graham Norton was retracing his Irish roots and, to my amazement, his ancestor was in that southernmost Co Wicklow town at the same time as mine, in May 1798, when the terrible Carnew massacre was carried out.

On the other side.


While Nicholas Delaney was working in Robert Blaney’s bog – at the moment Richard Twamley and George Heppenstall were being killed – Graham’s ancestor, Thomas Walker, was among the yeomen in the town.

Indeed one of his relations, John Walker, was shot and piked by the rebels. Just as Twamley and Heppenstall were, according to ‘Croppy Biddy’ Dolan.

And there was Graham in the ball alley in Carnew Castle, where the infamous massacre took place. The same ball alley my mother and I were shown by the castle’s owner, who pointed out to us the bullet holes in the wall which still bear witness to the day when unarmed local United Irish prisoners were gunned down in cold blood by the yeos.

It was a strange moment.

Photo: Carnew: the Castle from All Saints' churchyard © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014

Carnew: the Castle from All Saints’ churchyard © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand

I’ll write more about the Carnew Massacre soon. It’s not just a tragic story in its own right, but probably one of the incidents that spurred the people of Co Wexford, next door, to rise in arms and play their colossal part in 1798.

Since writing this I’ve found a clip of Graham in the Ball Alley – it’s just as good second time around.


© Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments