The Wexford Rebellion refers to the outbreak in County Wexford, Ireland in May 1798 of a United Irishmen rebellion against the English domination of Ireland. It was the most successful and most destructive of all the uprisings that occurred throughout Ireland during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, lasting from 27 May 1798 until about 21 June 1798. The Wexford Rebellion saw much success despite County Wexford not being thought of as an immediate threat by the government because of the spontaneous risings that occurred both before and after the significant rebel victories in Oulart, Enniscorthy, and Wexford town.
The County Wexford United Irishmen organisation had remained relatively intact during the pre-rebellion repression that saw much of the organisation in other counties severely weakened. However, in May 1798, just as the rebellion broke out in County Kildare, the authorities began to move against suspected rebels and arrested Anthony Perry of Inch, an ex-military officer and senior United Irishman. Breaking down in tears, Perry named a number United Irish leaders, including Bagenal Harvey, who were quickly rounded up. In the rising tension news of the rebellion and of a massacre in Dunlavin swept through Wexford and on the night of 26 May, rebels mobilised throughout north county Wexford attacking military and loyalist targets for arms. Next morning they gathered at Oulart Hill and Ballyminaun Hill. At Ballyminaun the rebels were easily crushed but won a significant victory at Oulart Hill led by Father John Murphy and others, annihilating a company of militia sent to destroy them. Next, the rebels moved to Enniscorthy and increased their numbers to about 6,000 men along the way. The rebels achieved victory in Enniscorthy on 28 May and two days later, the rebels were able to take Wexford Town after Colonel Maxwell fled with his militia. The seizure of the county on 30 May closed the first phase of the Wexford Rebellion and increased the rebels numbers to 10,000 men.
The second phase of the rebellion occurred between 1 June 1798 and 21 June 1798. The citizens of county Wexford were able to establish a republican regime where civilian leadership took a central role. This “republic” decided to split up the rebels of Wexford; one group was to move north toward Dublin while the other was to move west toward New Ross. The rebel group sent toward New Ross faced much opposition and suffered nearly 2,000 deaths.They attacked on 5 June and took most of the town. fierce street fighting commenced with huge causulties. Rebels retreat after counterattack while facing no ammunition. This group was practically dismantled after the Battle of New Ross and gradually dwindled following the failed battle. After several small victories, the second rebel group was defeated at Arklow which would have been a significant victory, but lost on 9 June due to a lack of ammunition. David Joyce was the commander of 4,000 strong.
The Wexford Rebels were finally defeated after General Lake launched several decisive offensive attacks to regain the county. As heavy rain poured on the county for the first time since the rebellion began, General Lake's men entered the county from five points: Duncannon, New Ross, Newtownbarry, Carnew and Arklow. By 20 June, the remaining rebels were pushed back to Vinegar Hill. When the rebels went to Wexford town for support, they found that Thomas Dixon, the man responsible for leading several rebel military groups, had taken about 90 suspected government loyalists to the Wexford bridge where he proceeded to hold hurried trials after which most of the prisoners were executed and thrown into the harbour. General Lake took Vinegar Hill on 21 June and eventually pushed all the way into Wexford town where the republic was dismantled and rebels fled. Many of the rebellions significant leaders both politically and on the battlefield were captured and executed. This included Father John Murphy who was hanged at Tullow, Matthew Keogh the rebel governor of Wexford Town, hanged on Wexford bridge on 25 June, and Bagenal Harvey the rebel commander-in-chief, Cornelius Grogan and John Henry Colclough who were hanged on Wexford bridge on 28 June 1798.
Local historian William Sweetman published a collection of the transcripts of the 1798 trials in 2013
It is widely held that the Wexford Rebellion was fuelled by sectarian tensions added to the unjustified government reign of terror which included pitchcapping, public executions, and the burning of homes. However, throughout the rebellion, prominent rebels advocated that the rebellion was purely political and not an issue of religion. Although some massacres that occurred throughout the duration of the rebellion do suggest sectarian tensions as motives, the fact that the United Irishmen were both Protestant and Catholic in addition to the “republic” formed in county Wexford suggests that this rebellion was indeed political. Primarily, the rebels fought for a reform of legislature and the redistribution of political power.
- Bagenal Harvey, John Henry Colclough, Cornelius Grogan, Matthew Keogh, Philip Roche, John Kelly of Killanne - Insurgent leaders hanged on Wexford bridge, 25/28 June 1798
- Anthony Perry, Mogue Kearns, John Murphy, Michael Murphy - Other insurgent leaders.
- Bartlett, Thomas (2003). 1798: A Bicentennial Perspective. Four Courts Press. ISBN 1-85182-430-8.
- Hay, Edward (1803). History of Insurrection of Wexford. John Stockdale.