The Dunlavin Massacre, 24 May 1798

Dunlavin Market House
Image: Chris Lawlor
The 1948 Celtic cross monument
Image: Chris Lawlor
The 1998 commemorative stone
Image: Chris Lawlor
The wall plaque in St Nicholas of Myra Church
Image: Chris Lawlor
The memorial to the dead over the mass grave in Tournant cemetery
Image: Chris Lawlor
A detail from the interpretative panel in the market square of Dunlavin village
Image: Chris Lawlor


The society of United Irishmen was founded in Belfast in 1791, and before its inaugural meeting on 18 October, thirty-six members had been sworn; an additional six were elected on that occasion. The society aspired to achieve a cordial union among the people of Ireland, to reform parliamentary representation, and to include Irishmen of every religion in that reform.[1] The United Irishmen modelled their ideals on revolutionary France, and admitted Catholics into their ranks. However, the outbreak of war between Britain and France in 1793 left the society open to accusations of treason, and the organisation was banned in May 1794. Following this, the United Irishmen began to reorganise on paramilitary lines as an underground mass movement and became much more radical, seeking to break the link with Britain altogether. The society flourished, and by 1796 was growing rapidly in counties Kildare and Wicklow. This led to growing tension in the Dunlavin region. Arms raids by United Irishmen were answered by terror tactics by the military in late 1797, and by early 1798 it seemed that rebellion was imminent. A large number of suspected rebels were arrested, including many members of two local yeomanry corps (Narraghmore and Saundersgrove). These men were incarcerated under guard with other, civilian, suspects in Dunlavin Market House.

The day of the massacre

As 23 May 1798 dawned, Dunlavin and its hinterland were tense, but such was the effect of efficient counter-insurgency measures that fears of a rising were on the wane. However, an express galloped like a bolt from the blue into General Dundas’s headquarters in Kilcullen with news that a rising was expected at any moment in Dublin and adjacent districts.[2] The pre-arranged signal was simple: the mail-coaches from Dublin to the provinces were to be stopped. On that night of 23 May 1798, the Munster mail-coach was attacked and stopped near Naas. The coach was set alight. The rising in Kildare and west Wicklow had begun.

The burning of the Munster mail coach meant that much of Kildare was soon in full revolt and eight military engagements took place in the county on 24 and 25 May.[3] From Clane in the north to Monasterevan in the south and from Ballymore-Eustace in the east to Rathangan in the west, the county of Kildare was in turmoil.

Battles and engagements in county Kildare

Prosperous…………………………   24 May

Ballymore-Eustace………………..   24 May

Clane………………………………    24 May

Old Kilcullen………………………   24 May

Naas……………………………….   24 May

Monasterevan……………………..   24 May

Narraghmore and Red Gap Hill……   25 May

Rathangan………………………….   25 May

(Source: Peadar MacSuibhne, Kildare in ’98.)

The proximity of many of these places to Dunlavin ensured that the reverberations of the rebellion impacted the region. In particular, the links between Dunlavin and both Ballymore-Eustace and Naas were close. The battle for Naas was a vicious affair, and the rebels, led by Michael Reynolds of Johnstown, suffered very heavy casualties. About 300 rebels were killed, and more than 800 pikes and about 25 guns were recovered the next day.

Although the rebel attack on Naas ended in failure, it had an identifiably destabilising impact across the region.[4] In her diary, Mary Leadbeater, a local Quaker lady, attested to the ‘hurry and confusion’ in the village of Ballitore on 24 May 1798:[5]

The morning of the 24th of the Fifth-month [May] orders came for the soldiers quartered here to march to Naas. A report was circulated that Naas gaol had been broken open – that Dublin was in arms, and so forth. All was uncertainty, except that something serious had happened, as the mail-coach had been stopped… the mail-coach had got to Naas before it was stopped, yet its detention there persuaded the people that the day was their own. They threw off the appearance of loyalty, and rose in avowed rebellion … All was hurry and confusion in the village. Several who had kept out of sight now appeared dressed in green, that colour so dear to United Irishmen, and proportionally abhorred by the loyal … The courthouse at Narraghmore was attacked, and many met their death there. We heard the report of firearms, and every hour the alarm increased.

Thus, Dunlavin awoke on the morning of 24 May 1798 to find that the entire surrounding region was up in arms. It was to be a fair day in the village, which was significant in the gathering of information and the spreading of rumour. People were on the road early, and as more people arrived in the town during the morning, the false news that reached Ballitore – heavy fighting in Dublin, the jail in Naas captured by the rebels and other rumours – also reached Dunlavin. There was also an influx of alarmed loyalists fleeing into the garrison town of Dunlavin for protection as they found the surrounding region up in arms. A report sent in by ultra-loyalist clergyman, Rev. Christopher Robinson, provided Dublin Castle with a good overview of events on 24 May in the region:[6]

About 9 o’clock a.m. on Thursday the 24th May 1798 the Rebellion broke out through the entire neighbourhood of Dunlavin, Ballitore, Baltinglass, Stratford on Slaney, Castledermot etc., and the men, women and children joined in procuring arms of all description. They sung horrible songs and never before heard by any loyalist, to excite the Rebellion. They openly declared extirpation to the Protestants; not one Papist out of 100 but assembled that day, first in a tumultuous manner in small parties and then joined in bodies of about 200, 300, 400, or 500. The militia, particularly the yeomanry corps of Dunlavin, Baltinglass, and Hacketstown, as also the light company of the Wicklow Militia under Captain Richardson, behaved most gallantly and by that day’s exertions cut down and dispersed the rebels so effectually as to prevent a plan they had formed of forcing the garrison of Dunlavin and Baltinglass that night, instead of which many of them fled to the mountains and joined their camps on the hills.

This letter suggests the local United Irishmen had a plan to take the garrison towns, including Dunlavin, in the region, but the rebellion in the area was too disorganised for such a plan to succeed. Neighbouring Stratford-on-Slaney did, however, fall into rebel hands, but success was short lived.[7]

Other attacks

The same day [24 May] other attacks were made by rebels in different parts of the counties of Kildare and Wicklow – about one o’clock they appeared in the neighbourhood of Baltinglass to the amount of at least four or five hundred.  Thirty of the Antrim Militia under the command of Lieutenant Macauley and Cornet Love, with twenty of the Ninth Dragoons, were sent to attack them; but the instant that they were advancing upon them in the town of Stratford upon Slaney, Captain Stratford appeared at the other end of the town, with part of his corps. The rebels were attacked on both sides, and completely routed, leaving near two hundred men killed, besides many wounded amongst those who had made their escape.

Ballymore-Eustace also experienced action on the morning of 24 May. The rebel attack there was almost successful, and Captain Beavor’s Ninth Dragoons suffered seven fatalities, along with a lieutenant of the Tyrone militia, before the attack was repulsed.[8] Members of the Ancient Briton[9] regiment then executed twelve captured rebels in reprisal. A party of Ancient Britons subsequently left Ballymore-Eustace for Dunlavin.[10]

News of the attack on Ballymore-Eustace reached Dunlavin via a local youth, Charles Doyle of Merginstown, as John Williams, the son of one of the executed men stated: ‘A young man named Charles Doyle, the son of a wealthy widow farmer from Merginstown, came into the town apparently in a great fright. He had been with the insurgents on the previous night in the attack on Ballymore Eustace. He returned home … he went to Dunlavin. This report filled the ruling party with the greatest alarm’.[11]

Arrival of Ancient Britons

This news was followed by the arrival of the Ancient Britons at Dunlavin. They reported the attack on Ballymore-Eustace and the subsequent executions. This may have set a precedent for Captains Saunders, Ryves and Richardson to follow.[12] John Williams continued his account thus: ‘Morley Saunders, Ryves and Captain Richardson of the Wicklow militia were … made acquainted with Doyle’s report, and being apprehensive of the insurrection becoming formidable they were filled with rage and confusion and the prisoners were ordered out to the fair green, each two men being tightly tied together.[13]

Evidently, the suspected United Irishmen incarcerated in the market house were perceived as a potential threat. If the village was attacked and the prisoners were liberated, loyalists could not expect mercy. If an attack occurred, the prisoners could constitute a dangerous fifth column within the village. Were they to escape (or be liberated by sympathisers in the confusion of such an attack), they had the potential to turn the tide of battle. These unpalatable facts, according to John Williams, filled the captains ‘with rage and confusion’, and the decision to execute the prisoners was taken.[14]

There is confusion as to the actual number of men executed in Dunlavin on that day. This arose because some prisoners were hanged from the market house while others were shot on the fairgreen. Sources do not agree on the names of the victims.[15] Thirty-six prisoners were taken out from the market house and paraded through the town to the fair green, where they were tied together and shot. The Ancient Britons carried out the executions.[16] Up to nine other prisoners were later hanged at the market house.[17]

A vivid account of the events of 24 May 1798 in Dunlavin, written 64 years after the executions, recorded eyewitness testimonies given from memory.[18]

About 8.06 [a. m.] these unfortunate men were marched to the green, which is situated on the rising land of the village of Dunlavin, at an elevation of more than four hundred feet above sea level, commanding a most magnificent prospect. The men were placed in a hollow on the north side of the green midway between the last house of the street opposite Sparrowhouse road and the chapel. A platoon of the Ancient Britons stood on the higher ground on the south side of the Boherboy road and fired on the unfortunate men with dread effect. All fell together dead and dying. Of the thirty-six men a few were only wounded. After the first fusillade the Ancient Britons returned to the market house to complete their savagery by flogging and hanging other unfortunate prisoners to strike terror into those who were going to the market for rations etc. On the green, when all was quiet and the men left for dead; their friends and sympathisers, beholding the remains watching from behind the neighbouring fences, the soldier’s wives came to rifle the bodies of the murdered men. One poor fellow was only wounded; when he felt his watch being taken away made an effort to retain it, but in vain for the savage woman got up her husband who dispatched the unfortunate man by firing a pistol into his ear. Another man, Peter Prendergast, who was wounded in the belly so that his bowels protruded; lay as dead and offered no resistance to the plundering and escaped. Towards evening the bodies, which were not already carried away by their friends, were carried to Tournant cemetery and there buried in a large pit. Prendergast being found alive, a woman replaced the entrails and bound him up in her shawl and had him carried in security to home where he recovered and lived to an advanced age. Some few persons still living have a vivid recollection of these cruel and savage times. One old man remembers going to the market with his father and saw men writhing in the agonies of death hanging between pillars of the market house. He tells of one event which he witnessed and which relieves the savagery of the scene. A man, John Martin, snatched a sword from one of the soldiers. He was dragged to the M[arket] H[ouse], the sword taken and hanged up on a peg. The delinquent was let away at the intercession of a magistrate present. While this was pending a soldier’s wife took the sword from the peg to cut the rope by which one Thomas Eagan, a blacksmith, was hanging and blowing in death’s agony. He came to and found means to escape to Dublin.

In this source, Captain William Ryves of Rathsallagh House is perceived as the chief instigator of the executions. This contrasts with the ballad ‘Dunlavin Green’, where Saunders was repeatedly vilified. Saunders is mentioned three times in the ballad, indicating the level of amazement in the locality that the liberal Morley Saunders could allow such a thing to happen and has certainly increased Saunders’ culpability in the local folk memory. It is, however, likelier that the hardliner Ryves was behind the decision to kill the prisoners. Local oral tradition maintained that the Catholic priest of Dunlavin was the author of the ballad. If this was the case, the author could have been Fr. Paul Byrne, who died on 15 December 1799, aged thirty-four, and who is buried in Tournant graveyard, where the executed men were also interred.[19]  The ballad is a broadside ballad, a genre kept alive in Ireland by the 1798 Rebellion.[20]

Numbers shot

The prisoners were tied together before being shot and this has raised an anomaly about numbers. If the men were tied and executed in groups of five, as one source suggested,[21] this would imply that only thirty-five men (not thirty-six) were shot. However, John Williams stated ‘It was the lot of my father, the only Protestant that was shot, to be tied to Mat Farrel, a brave and resolute man’.[22]  This indicates that the men were tied together in groups of two and/or three. Perhaps some of the twos and threes were shot together, thus causing the later confusion regarding groups of five. However, if thirty-six men were shot that day, only thirty-five died. Considering that the Ancient Britons were shooting at point-blank range and at stationary targets, and ‘the aim was so sure and deadly that the first volley done the business’,[23] the survival of David Prendergast is incredible. Prendergast was shot in the stomach. He fell and lay still among the corpses until the soldiers left the scene of the execution. The seriously-wounded Prendergast was discovered, rescued and smuggled out of the village to Lee’s house in Griffinstown. Prendergast recovered and lived on in Ballinacrow until 1842.[24]

The effects of the Dunlavin atrocity rippled through the area. It entrenched the views of both sides. It represented a crossing of the Rubicon by the authorities and many rebels regarded it as the event that pushed them beyond the point of no return. The rift in the loyalist community and the enmity against the liberal Saunders before the massacre meant that the local circumstances of the preceding weeks made the event particularly chilling.[25] One commentator has noted: ‘At Dunlavin, it is true, the victims were yeomen, and there was good reason to suspect their fidelity. All over that region, the yeomen and especially the Catholic yeomen had gone over to the rebels. The garrison expected an attack at any moment. It is at times like this that one expects atrocities to occur’.[26] However, despite the expectations of the garrison, no attack was made on the village. In this respect Dunlavin was unlike Stratford-on-Slaney, where rebel deaths were caused by fighting, and unlike Ballymore-Eustace, where the executions by the Ancient Britons were a direct reprisal for loyalist casualties during the fighting. It seems more likely that the Dunlavin executions were intended to intimidate wavering rebels in Talbotstown barony, and to punish those whose comrades had inflicted heavy casualties in Ballymore-Eustace.[27] Another commentator has observed: ‘It is probable that the proximate cause of the massacre was fear that if the garrison was attacked the prisoners would escape’.[28]

O’Neale Stratford’s letter

The Dunlavin massacre, then, acted as a deterrent to rebel forces in the village and its hinterland. However, the event may not have hinged on a snap decision. The decision may actually have been taken before the day of the massacre. There is no doubt that the general state of rebellion in the local area on 24 May instilled fear, and possibly even some degree of panic among the garrison, thus acting as a catalyst for the example-setting executions on the fair green, but the fate of the Saundersgrove men at least may have been sealed before that morning. A letter from Captain Benjamin O’Neale Stratford to Edward Cooke in Dublin Castle suggests that the event may have been at least partially premeditated.[29] The letter is dated 23 May – the day before the massacre. The document allows one to formulate a timetable of events and personalities involved in the days immediately preceding the massacre on the green. The contents of the opening section of the letter may shed a new light on the fatal decision. While the letter does not conclusively prove that the decision to execute the Saundersgrove prisoners was actually taken before the day of the massacre, if one reads between the lines, it may suggest that the executions on the following date were already a fait accompli.

The letter was written on Wednesday 23 May and O’Neale Stratford states that he met his nephew, Morley Saunders, in Dunlavin on the previous day, Tuesday 22 May. O’Neale Stratford was visiting Dunlavin because of information which he had received, probably on the previous day – Monday 21 May. This may have been the ‘false information’ referred to in the Ballad of Dunlavin Green. This letter suggests that the information reached O’Neale Stratford via a spy (possibly Joseph Hawkins). Hawkins may also have been in contact with Morley Saunders on the Monday. Perhaps more than one name was mentioned in the information, but it certainly led to one arrest (whether as the sole person informed against or as a ringleader is unclear). This was the arrest of Corporal James Dunn, and he is the man referred to in the letter in the phrase ‘beside the one I had before in custody’. The arrest and interrogation of Corporal Dunn led to his giving information against other members of the corps. Whether Dunn gave this information voluntarily, or whether torture was used to extract it is unclear, but one thing seems certain – by providing this information, Corporal Dunn probably saved his own life as he was not among those executed on the fairgreen. (The executed John Dunne was a member of Col. Keatinge’s Narraghmore corps.) O’Neale Stratford mentions that Saunders ‘the day but one before (Monday 21 May) called on each one on parade and informed them he had heard it [accusations of United Irish membership], and desired that if any were so they would voluntarily confess it’. These yeomen, however, were not asked to take the test oath, not dismissed from the corps by Saunders and not given any chance to resign from the corps.

However, Corporal Dunn’s information, given (or extracted) on the Monday night changed the situation. The Saundersgrove corps was assembled again on Tuesday 22 May (the day after the parade at Saundersgrove House), and this time arrests were made. O’Neale Stratford says that twenty men were taken into custody. Eighteen members of the corps were executed, including all of those named in this letter, so Stratford’s figure may be a rough one, rounding up from eighteen to twenty. Musgrave says that twenty-eight disarmed yeomen were shot on the green,[30] but Dickson puts the figure at thirty (18 Saundersgrove men and 12 Narraghmore men).[31] The members of Saunders’ yeomanry corps who were arrested on Tuesday were marched to Dunlavin and imprisoned in the market house, which was the most suitable local building to hold such a large number of prisoners. The following day, Wednesday 23 May (the same day as this letter was written), they were visited in the market house by Morley Saunders who tried to ease their fears. The duplicitous nature of this visit in the light of subsequent events probably served to vilify Saunders even more in local folk-memory.

It is evident from the letter that O’Neale Stratford is certain that he has finally convinced Morley Saunders about the guilt of the arrested members of his corps. There are several indications of this in the letter. O’Neale Stratford states that he ‘made out to Mr. Saunders’ full conviction that most of his corps and servants were United Irishmen’. O’Neale Stratford maintains that ‘on the clearest proof he (Saunders) yesterday called them out’. Therefore, Saunders, who had procrastinated so long about taking any action against his corps (O’Neale Stratford tells us that Saunders ‘had indeed taken uncommon pains with his corps, and was both their commandant and friend’), was now left with no excuse, and had no alternative but to act. Evidently, Hawkins’ information had been both explosive and convincing. The Ballad of Dunlavin Green refers to ‘false information’, but this was not the case on 23 May in the judgement of Morley Saunders – he evidently believed it. The information referred to a plot to kill Saunders, which O’Neale Stratford states was ‘the most horrid and infernal plan … formed against his life and all his family’. It seems that ‘the clearest proof’ referred to in this letter finally awakened Morley Saunders to the danger that he faced. Saunders’ reaction to O’Neale Stratford is telling – ‘My dear fellow expressed his thanks in the prettiest manner’. This seems most unlike the Morley Saunders who for weeks beforehand had defended his corps, his pride and joy, in the face of mounting hardline Loyalist wrath. Saunders’ reaction is suggestive of a man in a daze, a man who does not know what to think, a man who has learned an awful truth and is now compliant with the suggestions made by O’Neale Stratford.

At this point, it is probable that the liberal Morley Saunders had a change of heart. His defences were down, as O’Neale Stratford obviously noticed. ‘I really pity my dear nephew’, he writes. The avuncular reference may be significant. Though O’Neale Stratford often mentions Saunders in his correspondence, he nearly always gives him his proper title. Thus, the reference to ‘my dear nephew’ may indicate that O’Neale Stratford now felt that he had a degree of control over Saunders, which was hitherto not the case. Indeed, the whole tone of Stratford’s narrative and his use of the past perfect tense in relation to the corps (‘He had indeed taken uncommon pains’) might be taken to indicate that Stratford thinks that the problem is now solved. and that the liberal Saunders has now been converted to a more hardline Loyalist stance. (The past tense is actually used throughout this passage, perhaps indicating that O’Neale Stratford thought that the execution of the men was all but done). It seems that the dazed Saunders was now as putty in the hands of his uncle, O’Neale Stratford, whose hardline perspective meant that he favoured harsh measures. O’Neale Stratford goes on to write ‘He [Saunders] has not as yet satisfied me; the worst are still in his house and the corps must be better thinned’.

Hence, O’Neale Stratford, the arrests were not enough. He states in this letter, dated one day before the massacre, that the Saundersgrove corps ‘must be better thinned’. With the suspects already in jail, could this mean that he wants these men executed? The phrase can be taken to mean that O’Neale Stratford wants more suspects arrested, but the use of the chilling phrase, ‘I trust proper means will be used to put a total stop to this business’, indicates a finality of purpose. O’Neale Stratford was evidently not satisfied with the measures already taken. Had he already advocated a final solution to Saunders? This would probably involve a trial, but with the ‘clearest proof’ contained in the information given to Saunders, and the testimonies of Hawkins and Dunn (and possibly of O’Neale Stratford and Saunders himself) the outcome of such a trial would surely be a foregone conclusion. The fact that rebellion broke out in the locality on the morning of Thursday 24 May meant that there was no time to try the prisoners, but their death warrants may already have been sealed (possibly at the sug­gestion of O’Neale Stratford) before the morning of 24 May dawned at all.

Visit to prisoners

If this was the case, Morley Saunders’ visit to the prisoners in the market house takes on a much more sinister meaning. Was this visit the action of a man who, knowing that he finally had to bow to the pressure of his peers, and realising that his peers were correct about the United Irish element within his corps, was now trying to salve his conscience? Did Saunders visit the men to further convince himself of their guilt, and were his soothing promises simply a front to diffuse the already tense situation? The visit of Morley Saunders to the market house partly explains the sense of amazement and shock felt by the writer of the Ballad of Dunlavin Green regarding the liberal captain’s failure to step in and save the condemned men on the morning of the massacre. However, the balladeer could not have seen O’Neale Stratford’s letter, and could not know that Saunders had possibly agreed to the execution of the prisoners before that fateful morning. The line ‘Bad luck to you Saunders, for you did their lives betray’ was perhaps truer than the balladeer realised, as a preconceived plan to execute the prisoners could have been concocted, between Saunders and O’Neale Stratford, in the days immediately preceding the massacre. While this is not certain, the content and tone of O’Neale Stratford’s letter makes the scenario possible, and perhaps even probable.

Whether proactively pre-planned or reactively perpetrated out of fear, the Dunlavin executions were the most striking manifestation of the overt sectarianism that had developed in the region during the 1790s. Perhaps the authorities were motivated by fear, but the incident is remembered as the Dunlavin massacre. The emotive term ‘massacre’ is often applied to much larger events. It is defined as ‘the act or an instance of killing a considerable number of human beings under circumstances of atrocity’.[32] While other massacres may have been larger, the execution of over forty untried men in a village whose population was less than 1,000 people constitutes a massacre under the terms of its definition. In a regional context, forty-plus men constitutes ‘a considerable number of human beings’. Massacres, though, are not to be ranked in order and judged by scale. Nothing can deflect from the horror and terror in the village of Dunlavin on that day. It was an appalling event, which became indelibly imprinted in the region’s popular folk memory, and became central to how the villagers commemorated 1798 in later times.[33] Paradoxically the massacre, which intended to ensure that rebellion did not break out, actually prolonged resistance in the region. The massacre contributed to the reluctance of Michael Dwyer from the Glen of Imaal to accept a protection and turn himself in after the rebellion, ensuring that the Dunlavin region, especially the upland parts of Dunlavin parish, would become the scene of a five-year guerrilla campaign led by Imaal’s Captain Dwyer.[34]

Naming the dead and injured of Dunlavin in 1798

The names of thirty-four men who were shot on the fairgreen were published in 1944.[35] They are as follows:

Yeomen – Saundersgrove Corps:

  • James Mara (Maher)
  • John Williams
  • Andrew Ryan
  • Patrick Duffy
  • James Duffy
  • John Webb
  • Patrick Curran
  • David Lee
  • Mat Kavanagh
  • Richard Kelly
  • Morgan Doyle
  • Thomas Doyle
  • Mat Farrell
  • James Moran
  • Charles Evers
  • William Dwyer
  • Thomas Brien
  • David Prendergast (survived)

Of these, the two Doyles were farmers from the Rathbarn (Stratford-on-Slaney) area. Mat Farrel was also a farmer. One of the Doyles was also a sub-constable. The Duffy brothers were masons. Five of the men were servants of Morley Saunders and there was also a smith and a slater among them.

Yeomen – Narraghmore Corps:

  • James Keating
  • Thomas Keating
  • Martin Walsh
  • Edward Shaughnessy
  • Andrew Carty
  • Darby Byrne
  • John Dunne
  • Martin Griffin
  • Daniel Kirwan
  • Thomas Kirwan
  • Laurence Doyle
  • Thomas Neile

Of these, the two Keatings were masons and were definitely related. Martin Walsh was a nailor. Edward Shaughnessy, Andrew Carty and Darby Byrne were all labourers.


  • John Dwyer, Seskin
  • Peter Hayden, Imaal (Keadeen)
  • Peter Kearney, Donard
  • Laurence Doyle, Dunlavin

Laurence Doyle was a carpenter. John Dwyer, who had been in the market house for about four weeks, was a relation of rebel leader Michael Dwyer and probably a United Irish baronial delegate for county Wicklow. Peter Hayden’s family were republican sympathisers (if not before the massacre, certainly afterwards) and they helped Michael Dwyer later.

The Shearman Papers in NUI Maynooth also names thirty victims of that day.[36] They are:

  • John Keeravan, {Brothers of Uppertown, Dunlavin.
  • Daniel Keeravan {Printed as ‘Reeravan’ in The Sham Squire.
  • Laurence Doyle, Dunlavin.
  • Martin Gryffin (at 21 he came from Dublin the night before to see his father and was not connected with United men).
  • Duffy (Brothers of Baltinglass.)
  • Mathew Farrell, Stratford on Slaney.
  • Michael Neil [Dunlavin].
  • Andrew Ryan, Shrucka.
  • Richard Williams, Ballinacrow.
  • Keatinge {Brothers of
  • Keatinge {Narraghmore.
  • Edward Slattery, Narraghmore.
  • Andrew Prendergast of Ballina?
  • Peter Kearney, Donard.
  • John Dwyer do, uncle to Capt. Michael Dwyer.
  • John Kearney, Donard.
  •  Peter Headon, Killabeg.
  • Thomas Brien, Ballinacrow Hill.
  • John Doyle, Scrughawn.
  • Morgan Doyle, Tuckmill, Baltinglass.
  • John Doyle do.
  • Webb, Baltinglass.
  • John Wickham, Eadestown.
  • Wickham do.
  • Costelloe.
  • Bermingham {Brothers of Narraghmore,
  • Bermingham {belonging to Col. Keatinge’s corps.
  • Patrick Moran, Tuckmill.
  • Peter Prendergast of Bumbo Hall, wounded in the belly and escaped.

Shearman provides extra names for victims, and given that thirty-six men were shot, the other victims were most probably those hanged at the market house after the shootings.

Names from other sources

John Brien.[37]

Brien was captured on the day of the massacre. He fought under Darby Neill and Captain James O’Doherty in the Ballyshannon area. He was captured in the gravel pit at Narraghmore. He was taken to Dunlavin and was executed. He was survived by his mother. The fact that he was arrested individually and was not part of any of the groups of prisoners housed in the market house before the massacre may account for his name being omitted from both local folklore and Charles Dickson’s book.

Joe Hawkins.[38]

Ironically, he was the spy who gave informa­tion leading to the arrests of the Saundersgrove yeomen in the first place. The fact that he was an informer would certainly have led to his name being deliberately omitted from the local folk-memory. It seems that the order was to execute in groups of five, and finding that one group had only four men, the spy Hawkins, who had already given information leading to the arrests, was forcibly compelled to take his place in the group of four to make up five, and was executed with them.

These lists contain some degree of overlap, but it is certain that more than thirty-six prisoners were executed. The total number of named victims now rises to fifty-two allowing for different Christian names, but some (e.g. Shearman’s Peter Prendergast and Dickson’s David Prendergast) are evidently the same men. However it seems safe to assume that the death toll in the village that day must be revised to a figure somewhere in the mid-forties at least. The probable total is somewhere between forty-five and fifty.

Other violent incidents

[On the morning of the massacre?] the military marched to Dunlavin and passing through Lemonstown halted at the house of one McDonald, a farmer, (one Fox, a miller of Hollywood, having given secret information concerning his (McDonald’s) sons). McDonald, his wife and sons Kit, John, Harry and Tom were at dinner. When the troops rushed into the house the sons were taken into the barn before the door and one of them was compelled to put a burning turf into the thatch of the house, and while doing so his hand was shot off by one of the Ancient Britons. In vain the aged father protested his and his sons’ innocence, and produced a written protection given to him by Captain William Ryves of Rathsallagh. Notwithstanding, two of his sons, Kit and Tom, were put on their knees. The father knelt down then to deprecate mercy or shoot him also. They were shot down in the presence of their parents. Harry and John escaped in the confusion concealed by the smoke of the burning homestead but being perceived they were chased to the recess of [Sluwgad?] Church Mountain, escaping unhurt amid volleys of bullets from the pursuers. Their aged parents concealed the bodies of the others until the following Sunday before daybreak when they buried them in sacks in a churchyard at Hollywood. [39]

[On the morning of the massacre] One old man remembers going to the market with his father and saw men writhing in the agonies of death hanging between pillars of the market house. He tells of one event which he witnessed and which relieves the savagery of the scene. A man, John Martin, snatched a sword from one of the soldiers. He was dragged to the M(arket) H(ouse), the sword taken and hanged up on a peg. The delinquent was let away at the intercession of a magistrate present. While this was pending a soldier’s wife took the sword from the peg to cut the rope by which one Tomas Eagan, a blacksmith, was hanging and blowing in death’s agony. He came to and found means to escape to Dublin…….Nicholas Ryder of Crehelp, while working on Friarhill, was attacked by an Ancient Briton who came with Councillor Fisher of Merginstown, whose house then was burned a few days before. Ryder came on quickly with them but in a narrow lane made a prod of the dung fork at the mounted soldier and unhorsed him, thrusting its prong into his bowels. Fisher begged his life and got away, as also the soldier, who died in Dunlavin from his wounds. Ryder then, desperately wounded, escaped to the valley of Crehelp where some women concealed him in clamps of turf for three weeks until his wounds were healed and [he] escaped. After the rebellion he was taken and imprisoned for two years in Dublin’s Marshalsea prison.[39]


[In late 1798] violent incidents unsettled the military and heightened the tension in Dunlavin parish, where the threat posed by [Michael] Dwyer and his band was uppermost in many loyalist minds. This mindset was demonstrated by the shooting and wounding of Joseph Molyneaux, a member of Ryves’ Dunlavin cavalry unit. Molyneaux was incoherent when giving the password to a vigilant sentry, who took no chances regarding the defence of Dunlavin.[40]

By December, Michael Dwyer’s campaign of guerrilla warfare was well underway in the mountains.


The growth of the United Irishmen during the 1790s meant that the paternalism of the elite was challenged, and the rise of ultra-loyalism at the expense of liberalism provided the conditions in which harsh counter-insurgency measures could sweep through the Dunlavin area, leading to fracture. The Dunlavin massacre was one of the worst atrocities engendered in this climate. The executions spawned resentment in the locality and Michael Dwyer’s campaign in the upland part of Dunlavin parish kept the area unstable until December 1803. This instability also had economic effects, and Dunlavin and its environs had a shattered economy and a war-torn landscape as the nineteenth century began in a climate of mistrust, resentment and bitterness, in which paternalism would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to restore. The Tithe War of the 1820s and 30s was bitter in the Dunlavin area, Famine distress was severe in the 1840s and early 50s, and a Fenian circle existed in the village in the 1860s. Agrarian unrest surfaced again during the Land War (and the Home Rule campaign) of the 1880s and ‘90s. Thus, long-term effects of the massacre overshadowed the Dunlavin region throughout the nineteenth century, which meant that paternalism was indeed impossible to restore, and the early twentieth century witnessed the demise of the old order and the birth of a new polity.

Appendix: The relevant section of the O’Neale Stratford’s letter

My Dear Sir,

… I have not been out of my house since last Monday week, owing to a severe cold, attended with symptoms of fever and a sore throat, which confined me to my bed for a few days and to the house until yesterday, when in consequence of some serious and interesting information, though far from well, I rode to Dunlavin and there made out to Mr. Saunders’ full conviction that most of his corps and servants were United Irish Men. I really pity my dear nephew; he had indeed taken uncommon pains with his Corps and was both their Commandant and friend and had the day but one before, on my mentioning my suspicions more strongly than I had done for some months before, called on each on parade and informed them he had heard it and desired that if any were so they would voluntarily confess it. He offered to swear they knew nothing about any such thing, yet on the clearest proof he yesterday called them out, twenty beside the one I had before in custody, among whom were five of his servants, Moran and the other young lad, Prendergast and Farrel two of his masons, the Duffys, Williams, Sub. Constable Doyle his smith, his slater etc. etc. The most horrid and infernal plan was formed against his life and all his family which I trust in God I have prevented, indeed my dear fellow expressed his thanks in the prettiest manner, yet none did I deserve. I only would have done what common humanity demanded of me by any man and was my duty – a ten fold obligation for affinity friend­ship, esteem, long acquaintance etc. etc. He has not as yet satisfied me; the worst are still in his house, and the Corps must be better thinned. Sorry am I to say that we have now the clearest proof of the intentions of the Catholics’ intention, but as Government are appraised of it, I trust proper means will be used to put a total stop to the business in which the priests (that is the majority of them) will be found deeply con­cerned ……

Stratford Lodge 23rd May 1798.

Yours very truly and sincerely,

Benjamin O’Neale Stratford.


[1] Frank Mac Dermot, Tone and his times (Tralee, revised edition 1968), p. 73.
[2] Thomas Pakenham, The Year of Liberty (London, 1972), p 129.
[3] Peadar Mac Suibhne, Kildare in ’98 (Naas, 1978), p. 3.
[4] Liam Chambers, Rebellion in Kildare (Dublin, 1998), pp 72 et seq.
[5] Mary Leadbeater (ed. John McKenna), The Annals of Ballitore (Dublin, 1986), pp 63-4.
[6] Robinson to Cooke, 29 May 1798 (N.A.I., Rebellion Papers, 620/37/211A). Another passage in this letter once again confirms loyalist suspicions of Saunders and support for ultra-loyalists Benjamin O’Neale Stratford of Baltinglass and Captain Richardson of the Wicklow Militia: ‘It is therefore much to be wished for in that quarter that Morley Saunders Esq. would entirely desist from interfering so incessantly with the other magistrates in favour of rebels, or from enrolling such men in place of those of his Corps of Yeoman that were shot for treason; or from embodying a multitude of the men of Stratford-on-Slaney whom he must know were United Irishmen … and it is equally to be desired that Captain Stratford and Captain Richardson of the Wicklow Light Company would be firmly supported in finding out and bringing such rebels to condign punishment, as they in general seem inclined to do their duty in support of the present establishments but by the interference, and influence, and duplicity of other gentlemen and officers of doubtful character, they are baffled in their endeavours to punish the traitors and protect and cherish the man of honour and loyalty’.
[7] Letter from Lt. Macauley of the Antrim Militia to Major Hardy, undated, cited in Charles Dickson, The Life of Michael Dwyer with some account of his companions (Dublin, 1944), p. 30.
[8] Chambers, Rebellion in Kildare, p. 75.
[9] This Welsh regiment, the Ancient British Light Fencible Cavalry, had acquired a reputation for notoriety in many places, particularly Newtownmountkennedy. For an account of their activities see Myles V. Ronan, (ed) Insurgent Wicklow 1798 (Dublin, 1948), pp 18-28 passim.
[10] Fusillade at Dunlavin green (NUI Maynooth, Shearman Papers, xvii, f. 131)
[11] Dickson, The Life of Michael Dwyer with some account of his companions, p. 34.
[12] Sir Richard Musgrave, Memories of the Irish Rebellion, third edition 1803 (Dublin, Reprint 1995), p. 222.
[13] Dickson, The Life of Michael Dwyer with some account of his companions, p. 34.
[14] There has been some confusion about the date of the massacre. This was caused by the account written in the 1860s by a Dunlavin curate, Father John Francis Shearman. Despite the time lapse, Shearman wrote: ‘The memory of these events is still green in Dunlavin, but few unless one in my position could elicit much information on a subject always dangerous to touch in that locality. I append other episodes, for the truth and correctness of which I can give every guarantee’. Fusillade at Dunlavin green (NUI Maynooth, Shearman Papers, xvii, f. 128). There is one error in his account however. He dated the massacre as 26 May 1798, but the event actually occurred on 24 May. There are at least three pieces of evidence to confirm this. Firstly, if the massacre occurred after Charles Doyle had arrived with news of the skirmish in Ballymore-Eustace, then it was the morning of 24 May. Secondly, the Boolavogue incident with Fr. John Murphy in Wexford definitely occurred on 26 May and he had already received news of the Dunlavin massacre. This would be impossible if the massacre had also occurred on 26 May. Thirdly, the rebellion in the Dunlavin area had failed by 26 May and the danger to the Dunlavin garrison had abated, so there was less likelihood of prisoners being executed. In fact, later dating of the Dunlavin massacre on 26 May probably relied on Shearman’s account for its authenticity. The correct sequence of events was as follows. The arrest of James Dunn, a corporal in the Saundersgrove corps on 21 May resulted in information against other members and their detention on 22 May in Dunlavin. They were there when the rebellion broke out on the night of 23 May, and they were executed the following morning. L. M. Cullen, ‘Politics and Rebellion: Wicklow in the 1790s’, in Ken Hannigan and William Nolan (eds), Wicklow, History and Society (Dublin, 1994), pp 468-9.
[15] A full list of all known victims of the massacre appears in the appendix. Thirty victims are named in Fusillade at Dunlavin green (NUI Maynooth, Shearman Papers, xvii, f. 130). Thirty-four are named in Dickson, The Life of Michael Dwyer with some account of his companions, pp 370-1. One is named in Leinster Leader, 25/9/1948 and one more is named in Mac Suibhne, Kildare in ’98, p. 133. The total number of named victims now rises to fifty-two allowing for different Christian names, but some (e.g. Shearman’s Peter Prendergast and Dickson’s David Prendergast) are obviously referring to the same man. However, it seems safe to assume that the death toll in the village that day must be revised to a figure somewhere in the mid-forties at least.
[16] Mac Suibhne, Kildare in ’98, p. 2.
[17] Ruán O’Donnell, ‘The Rebellion of 1798 in Co. Wicklow’, in Hannigan and Nolan (eds), Wicklow, History and Society, p. 349. More evidence of hangings is given in Mac Suibhne, Kildare in ’98, pp 188-9 in the following passage: ‘Dunne who was hanged in Dunlavin was a forefather of Mick Dunne, Ballyshannon. Another brother was hanged in Carlow. The judge asked him did he know anyone in Carlow who would get him off. He said ‘yes’, pointing to a neighbour from Narraghmore. But the neighbour denied all knowledge of him. There was a good deal of this. This Dunne lived in Blackhall. They moved to Ballyshannon and Dillons moved in. There were different hangings in Dunlavin. Evidence of A. Hendy and Paddy Lynch’. Also, during his address at the opening of the refurbished market house on 25 May 1979, Mr. Frank Goodwin stated: ‘During the rebellion of 1798 [the market house] was fortified and garrisoned for the protection of many families who fled to this town from the battles in the surrounding countryside. It is said also that people were hanged in those days from the colonnades above our heads’. Frank Goodwin, The Market House, Dunlavin – Restoration and History, (Dunlavin Community Council, 1979), p. 11.
[18] Fusillade at Dunlavin green (NUI Maynooth, Shearman Papers, xvii, ff 127v-31)
[19] Fr. Patrick Finn, ‘The View from the Mountains’, Dunlavin, Donard, Davidstown Parish Link, iii, 5 [4?] (Oct 1997), p. 1.
[20] Matthew Hodgart, (ed), The Faber Book of Ballads, (London, 1965), p. 18-21 The use of the present tense in the ballad provides more evidence that it may be a primary source.
[21] Leinster Leader, 25 Sep 1948.
[22] John Williams is cited in Dickson, The Life of Michael Dwyer with some account of his companions, p. 34. See also Leinster Leader, 25 Sep 1948.
[23] Dickson, The Life of Michael Dwyer with some account of his companions, pp 370-1.
[24] Chris Lawlor, ‘Dunlavin in 1798’, Tenth Annual Dunlavin Festival of Arts Brochure, (1992), p. 56. Local oral tradition maintained that Prendergast was dragged out of sight behind a wall on Sparrow Road (known locally as ‘The Grove Wall’), and hidden in a pigsty until he could be spirited away after dark. The pig dung congealed and acted as a kind of poultice, helping to stem the bleeding from his wounds and possibly saving his life. I am indebted to Mr. Michael Deering of Lemonstown for this information.
[25] Cullen, ‘Politics and Rebellion: Wicklow in the 1790s’, p. 469.
[26] Pakenham, The Year of Liberty (London, 1972), p. 156.
[27] O’Donnell, ‘The Rebellion of 1798 in Co. Wicklow’, p. 349.
[28] Dickson, The Life of Michael Dwyer with some account of his companions, p. 34.
[29] O’Neale Stratford to Cooke, 23 May 1798 (N.A.I., Rebellion Papers, 620/37/133). See appendix above.
[30] Richard Musgrave, Memoirs of the Irish Rebellion (London, 3rd ed, 1803) p. 222.
[31] Dickson, The Life of Michael Dwyer with some account of his companions, pp 370-1.
[32] Webster’s third new international dictionary, (3 vols), ii (Chicago, 1986), p. 1388.
[33] An account of some of these commemorations appears in Chris Lawlor, The longest rebellion (Dublin, 2007), pp 154-76.
[34] On Dwyer, see Chris Lawlor, In search of Michael Dwyer (Naas, 2003).
[35] Dickson, The life of Michael Dwyer with some account of his companions, pp 370-1.
[36] Fusillade at Dunlavin green (NUI Maynooth, Shearman Papers, xvii, f. 130).
[37] Mac Suibhne, Kildare in ’98, p. 133.
[38] Leinster Leader, 25 Sep 1948.
[39] Fusillade at Dunlavin green (NUI Maynooth, Shearman Papers, xvii, f. 131).
[40] Finns Leinster Journal, 1 Dec 1798.

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