The last Invasion of Ireland

The French are in our Fairgreen -1798

Bliain na bhFrancach

Part 1

France was declared a republic in 1792 and Connaught was declared one in 1798. The United Ireland movement of the 1790’s was a non-sectarian movement and it was the diplomatic activity of Wolfe Tone that culminated in the French expeditions to Ireland.

In 1796 a French fleet carrying 13,000 troops landed in Bantry Bay in Cork, the objective being to march on Dublin and cross the Irish Sea to invade the United Kingdom.  Wolfe Tone was with the French fleet.  This attempt failed because of poor weather conditions in Bantry Bay. During the same year Napoleon conquered most of Italy; he probably had better weather!

In 1798 France invaded Switzerland, and Napoleon led the French army on an expedition into Egypt. On 22nd August 1798 three French frigates entered Killala Bay, landing at Kilcummin. This was Ireland’s last invasion.

Fr. Lavelle in his book: “Addergoole: Native Parish of John McHale” says: “If A.D. 1798 was to prove a memorable year Ireland in general, it was fraught too, with terrible consequences for Addergoole:” The Conroy Monument in Lahardane was erected in 1937 by Michael Timoney. The part Mayo played in the last invasion of Ireland in 1798 is broadly well known, as is the fate of Addergoole’s Parish Priest at the time, Andrew/James Conroy.

A summary might go like this. The French under General Humbert landed in Kilcummin, close to Killala, on August 22nd 1798, a Wednesday. They then marched with the Irish Forces on Ballina, through Crossmolina, and camped on the Fairgreen in Lahardane, made their way with three cannon up the Gap Road to take the English force by surprise. The first part of this engagement took place on Sion Hill, close to the Sacred Heart Hospital. The English troops were driven back, and eventually down Staball Hill over the bridge at the bottom, up and out of the town. The plaque on the bridge commemorates this engagement; along the route several graves now lay forgotten. Following this victory, the “Republic of Connaught” was proclaimed in Castlebar, and John Moore of Moore Hall was appointed its president.

The new republic lasted less than a month. Humbert surrendered at Ballinamuck in County Longford on 8th September 1798 when he realized that the English had 15,000 troops. The French were treated as prisoners of war and sent back to France; 500 Irish troops were massacred and a further 1,000 escaped, with more being hung across the West over the next few months. A good grasp of the Mayo involvement in the campaign of 1798 can be gained from reading Stephen Dunford’s “In Humbert’s Footsteps Mayo 1798” (2006).

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