We continue with the second of a three part promised discussion on Thurles during the 1798 Irish Rebellion period; asking the question: “Why was a memorial to the 1798 rebellion erected in Thurles; a town and indeed a county who took little or no part in this same Irish rebellion?”
[ Note: Part one of this same discussion (June 19th last), can be read by simply clicking HERE ]
Basically the failure of Thurles and County Tipperary to take a more active role in the 1798 rebellion was down to the excessive political zeal and barbarity of just one man, Sir Thomas Judkin Fitzgerald, High Sheriff of Tipperary, (better known as “Flogging Fitzgerald”). He resided at Goldenhills, in the Civil Parish of Relickmurry & Athassel, near the village of Golden, Co Tipperary.
Positioned as Judicial Representative of King George III here in Co. Tipperary during 1798; Fitzgerald’s obvious social importance, held not just a ceremonial role, but also an administrative function, e.g. executing High Court Writs etc. Later, on August 5th 1801, this same Sir Thomas Judkin Fitzgerald would receive the title Baronetcy of Lisheen, Golden, Co. Tipperary; as his reward for suppressing the United Irish Rebellion of 1798, here in Co Tipperary.
Fluent in the spoken native Irish language of Gaelic, Fitzgerald was described by his peers as, “a parody of the more extreme kind of loyalist: brave and energetic, but arrogant and reckless to a degree, verging on insanity.” During 1798 Judkin Fitzgerald rode his horse, leading a column of 100 men through Tipperary, searching for stashes of arms. Historians described him as being, “like an avenging demon, haranguing the people [speaking] in Irish for hours at a time, making them kneel down and pray for the King.”
Court Case of Wright v Fitzgerald Clonmel Assizes
Some recorded examples of his reign of terror during 1798, which failed to endear him to the Tipperary populace, included his arrest of a French teacher / professor in Clonmel; “a respectable Protestant of unimpeachable loyalty”, named Mr. Wright. Unable to understand the French language, but finding a hand written note, penned in French, on Wright’s person; Fitzgerald assumed, wrongly, that he was engaged in treasonable activities. The previous activities of United Irishmen, e.g. Wolf Tone, and attempts to bring about a French invasion of Ireland were known; the French being already at war with England.
Fitzgerald, based on the word of an informer, seized the professor, (the latter employed by local public schools and private families in the area), dragging him by his hair to the ground. Reports claim he then kicked him and cut him across the forehead with his sword, before imprisoning him. When Wright protested his innocence the following day, Fitzgerald ordered his prisoner to go, “Down on your knees, rebellious scoundrel, and receive your sentence.” His sentence was to be flogged and then shot. Wright was then immediately stripped to the waist and tied to a ladder, to receive 50 lashes from a cat-o’-nine-tails, (Multi-tailed whip).
During this public flogging, one Major Rial from the local Clonmel garrison came up and inquired of Fitzgerald why the man was being flogged. Presenting what he believed was evidence Fitzgerald, handed the officer the note written in French. He admitted that he did not understand the language himself, but added that the Major would find ample evidence to justify “flogging this scoundrel to death”. Major Rial, who did read French, explained that the note was harmless and simply read, “I am extremely sorry I cannot wait on you at the hour appointed, being unavoidably obliged to attend Sir Laurence Parsons. — Yours, Baron de Clues.”
The Sheriff remained unimpressed and ordered 50 more lashes for the professor, which were inflicted with such severity, that the bowels of the bleeding victim could be observed pulsating through his wounds. The waist-band of his trousers were then cut and a further 50 lashes were added, as the wretch still remained tied to the ladder. Finished, the Sheriff went to the Barrack to find a firing squad, but being refused by the commanding officer, he came back and sought a rope to hang him, but same, conveniently, could not be located. He then ordered him to be cut down and returned to prison, where he was confined in a small dark room, with no furniture other than an uncovered pallet containing straw. Here he remained for seven days without medical attention, before being eventually released.
Almost a year later, an action for damages was brought against Judkin Fitzgerald by Mr Wright, for having ordered him to be given one hundred and fifty lashes, on the 29th of May, 1798. The trial of T. J. Fitzgerald, Esq. late High Sheriff of Co. Tipperary was heard at the Clonmel Assizes before the Right Hon. Baron Lord Yelverton and Mr Tankerville Chamberlain, a Justice of the Kings Bench on March 14th, 1799.
Wright’s innocence was proven and he was awarded £500. Fitzgerald himself, however, was saved from any punitive fine himself, by the later action of Mr John Toler (The Lord Norbury – nicknamed the “Hanging Judge” and regarded as one of the most corrupt legal figures in certainly that period of Irish history), and Robert Stewart (Lord Castlereagh), who both arranged a statutory indemnity for ‘over-zealous’ magistrates.
Court Case of Doyle v Fitzgerald – Clonmel Assizes
From yet another trial; that of Doyle v. Fitzgerald, we learn that Mr Francis Doyle, while in the street and for the purpose of flagellation, was also seized by Fitzgerald. Doyle was highly regarded as a respectable merchant and cloth-manufacturer in Carrick-on-Suir.
In vain he declared his innocence as indeed did some of the most respectable of the towns inhabitants, who all tendered evidence in support of his declaration. Doyle was a yeoman, and he begged that Captain Jephson, his commanding officer, might be consulted. His request was refused, despite him offering to be ‘instantly executed’, if any further inquiry revealed any claim of sedition brought against him. This offer was also declined, as was Bail Moneys offered, with Fitzgerald refusing to fall back on his initial decision; declaring that he knew Doyle, ‘by his very face’, to be a ‘Carmelite traitor.’
Doyle, now tied to a whipping-post, received one hundred lashes from two Army Drummers, until his ribs appeared. His knee-breeches were then removed, and a further fifty lashes were administered. “I have preserved the country”, Fitzgerald later boasted. In reference to his habit of soaking his cat-o’-nine-tails in brine (salty water); another was heard to reply, “Rather say that you have pickled it.”
Doyle’s complete innocence was later proven when he sought redress at the Clonmel Assizes, but a packed (corrupt), Jury then assembled by the Sub-Sheriff Samuel Waller, ensured the acquittal of the late High Sheriff, Judkin Fitzgerald.
The Castleiney, Co. Tipperary, Incident
In yet another case, Fr James Mullally, who became Parish Priest of Loughmore / Castleiney in 1798, recorded an incident in Castleiny village chapel. The Penal Laws had begun to be slowly mitigated from around the 1790’s, and at some time around then, a simple mud-walled Chapel had been erected in the village, across the road from where the present church exists today. The Penal Laws were, according to Dublin born Edmund Burke; [Orator, Philosopher, Author and Whig Party MP in the House of Commons from 1765], was “a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.” Despite this penal mitigation, these times could still be dangerous for practising Roman Catholics.
Fr James Mullally records that the infamous Thomas Judkin Fitzgerald, “accompanied by his flying column, entered the Chapel of Castleiny [The village to be found 2 miles from Templemore, & 11 miles from Thurles], on Sunday during Mass. Standing on the platform of the altar, he closely viewed the congregation in hope of detecting some rebellious spirit among them. Failing in this, when Mass was over, he betook himself to a rustic seat under the shadow of a large tree in the Chapel yard and ordered so many of the affrighted people as he pleased to kneel down before him, as if he were in the tribunal of penance. He then interrogated as to whether they were United Irishmen, or whether there were any in the neighbourhood.” Fitzgerald would later claim that notification in advance of his church visits were always posted.
Local legend states that the Parish Priest was dragged from the altar in his vestments. The reason; it would appear that on entry to this chapel, Fitzgerald; no doubt for convenience, had placed his Tricorn Hat (18th century three-cocked brimmed hat), disrespectfully on the same bench that bore the Blessed Sacrament. In an act of most singular daring on the part of the priest, he removed this ‘terrorist’s hat’, and handed it to an acolyte, (person assisting a priest during a religious service). Local legend also states that many of the parishioners in attendance that day were whipped in Castleiney village centre.
Proceedings later taken in the House of Commons seeking indemnity for the numerous acts of barbarity undertaken by Judkin Fitzgerald, in his attempts to suppress Tipperary 1798 rebels, were eventually deemed as justifiable in common law. It was argued that Tipperary, though apparently displaying tranquillity, were everywhere organized for rebellion. According to the House of Commons the ordinary Tipperary people were sworn to a man, and all were armed and officered in every department from a Sergeant up to General.
Lord Mathew bore testimony in the House of Commons to the conduct of Judkin Fitzgerald, stating that from being a local residence in the county, he as a ‘meritorious magistrate’, had the frequent opportunity of observing and acted on a very principal means of putting down rebellion, while preventing escapes and preserving lives and property. However apart from some small reprisals, e.g. Cahir in March 1798 some two months before the rebellion began; Tipperary United Irishmen refrained from serious participation in the belief that it would be better to wait for the arrival of a hoped for French invasion. Most certainly some of his barbaric actions did gather intelligence, with quantities ‘of arms of every kind’, being discovered, and in consequence we are told that cart loads of weapons were discovered daily and confiscated.
Death Of Judkin Fitzgerald, High Sheriff of Tipperary
Fitzgerald’s illegal and high-handed activity in Tipperary ended with his death in September 1810. “The history of his life and loyalty,” were observed by one historian, again relating to his love of whipping, as; “written in legible characters on the backs of his countrymen.”
Perhaps it was “Karma” (The Buddhism spiritual principle of cause and effect); or perhaps it was the Old Testament promise of Divine judgement holding credence, (See Bible – Book of Numbers – Chapter 14 – Verse 18); latter which informs us that God will visit “the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.“ Certainly this latter quote was to reflect on the future family of Sir Thomas Judkin Fitzgerald after his death.
Call it Karma or Divine Judgement; I let you the reader decide, but his son Sir John Judkin Fitzgerald, (1787–1860), Mayor of Cashel and also High Sheriff of Tipperary, was drowned on the steamer Nimrod while on a passage from Liverpool to Cork in 1864.
His grandson, also named Sir Thomas Judkin Fitzgerald, (1820–1864), Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant for the County Tipperary, reduced to an impoverished state, committed suicide, (Officially recorded as ‘Death from temporary insanity’ in June 1864), drowning himself in the River Suir.
A deeply upsetting letter previously sent by Sir Thomas to a friend Edmund Dalton, and read to the Coroner at his later post-mortem (dated, April 26, 1864), stated:-
“Dear Ned — I am going to ask a favor of you, and that is, that you will get Mrs. Dalton to break the sad news of my death to poor Lady Fitzgerald. I go down this evening, and my poor body will be found in the Suir, at Pig’s Hole, where all the salmon are taken,
near where the white thorn stump is that was lately cut. The Lord have mercy on me and my poor family. Yours Truly, Thomas J Fitzgerald.”
Alas the letter was received too late to intervene in this distressful event. Local residents however felt differently following this tragedy. People, attending his funeral at Ballygriffin, Golden, attempted to stop his body being deposited in the intended grave; filling it with large boulders, while declaring that they would never allow the ashes of such a man to mingle with the dust of their ancestors. It appears that the coroner’s verdict had not returned a verdict of ‘felo de se’, or ‘felon of himself ‘, (suicide). The earthly remains were later buried in private as intended, overseen by a large police force being present for both the burial and to guard the grave from further interference over days following.
Again that year, 1864, the son of the latter, hanged himself accidentally while playing, supposedly on a garden swing. However according to a more popular version of this sad occurrence, the boy was engaged in demonstrating to his young sister and brother, how ‘the Flogger’, used to hang ‘Croppies’ (Irish Rebels) in 1798. In doing so he had accidentally hung himself by means of a nail fixed in a wall, and a piece of cord.
Watch out for our third and final blog dealing with Thurles, during the 1798 Irish rebellion period, over the coming days.