Battle of Oulart Hill


Battle of Oulart Hill

The battle of Oulart Hill took place on 27 May 1798 when a rebel gathering of 1,000 annihilated a detachment of militia sent from Wexford town to stamp out the spreading rebellion in county Wexford.

Background

When news of the long expected rising on May 23 of the United Irishmen in the midlands reached county Wexford, it was already in an unsettled condition due to fears brought by the recently instituted anti-insurgent disarmament campaign in the county. The measures used included pitchcapping, half-hanging, and house burnings to uncover rebel conspirators. The recent arrival of the North Cork Militia in Wexford, who were notorious for their brutality in the "pacification" of Ulster, terror raids by local yeomen and finally news of the massacres at Dunlavin Green, Carlow and Carnew, had the effect of drawing people together in large groups for security, especially at night.

One such group of one hundred or so had gathered on the evening of the 26 May at The Harrow, near the parish of Boolavogue under the tutelage of Fr. John Murphy when they encountered a patrol of about 20 yeomen on their way to the house of a suspected rebel. They burned the suspect's dwelling but returning empty-handed, they encountered Fr. Murphy’s band again. The patrol were pushing their way through when a skirmish began in which they lost two of their number, the rest fleeing with news of the killings.

Night of 26 May

The reaction on both sides was rapid, vengeful yeomanry patrols roaming, burning and killing indiscriminately while the rebels roused the countryside and made several raids on manors and other houses holding arms, killing more loyalists and yeomen. News of the skirmish and raids had by now reached Wexford town and the bulk of its garrison, 110 of the North Cork militia with 20 yeomen cavalry were ordered north to crush the nascent rebellion.

Battle of Oulart Hill

The militia reached the village of Oulart on the afternoon of the 27th having refreshed themselves on the way by sacking a suspect’s public house and drinking the contents. Finding a mass of 1,000 rebels occupying the high ground of Oulart hill, they proceeded to burn cabins at the foot of the hill in an attempt to lure down the rebels. The ruse failed but the nervousness of the poorly armed rebels, among whom there were many women and children, was clearly visible with numbers of them slipping away from the impending confrontation. The rebel leaders desperately tried to stem the tide but had little success until the yeomen cavalry were seen moving to positions to cut off this escape route, which had the effect of stemming the tide of desertions.

The militia then confidently advanced up the hill without waiting for artillery support, contrary to orders according to one of the few survivors, the militia leader, Colonel Foote. Unknown to the militia, the rebels had prepared an ambush line at right angles to their position on the hill and placed those of their number with guns at the front of their positions. The militia advanced and fired a couple of loose volleys but the rebels held their positions until the soldiers reached killing range, then pouring concentrated gunfire upon the soldiers. The rebels then unleashed a ferocious charge on the surviving militiamen who were quickly overwhelmed and pursued for miles across the surrounding countryside, only four of them escaping to temporary safety of Wexford. The supporting yeomen cavalry fled after losing one of their number to rebel gunfire.

Following this victory, in which the rebels lost only six of their number, almost all of North Wexford joined the rebellion and Crown forces and loyalists civilians ceded control of the countryside, withdrawing to towns such as Enniscorthy, Gorey and Wexford.


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