Captain Rock

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Captain Rock was a mythical Irish folk hero, and the name used for the agrarian rebel group he represented in the south-west of Ireland from 1821 to 1824.[1] Arising following the harvest failures in 1816 and 1821, the drought in 1818 and the fever epidemic of 1816-19. Rockites, similar to the earlier Whiteboys, targeted the English and Anglo-Irish Feudal landowners. Captain Rock (or Rockites) were responsible for up to a thousand incidents of beatings, murder, arson and mutilation in the short time they were active. Which the rebel acts waning in 1824 with the return of "a bearable level of subsistence". Captain Rock was the symbol for retaliation by "an underclass which had nothing left to lose".[2] Over this period and in subsequent years, well into the nineteenth century, threatening letters signed by "Captain Rock" (as well as other symbolic nicknames, such as "Captain Steel" or "Major Ribbon") issued warnings of violent reprisals against landlords and their agents who tried to arbitrarily put up rents, collectors of tithes for the Protestant Church of Ireland, magistrates who tried to evict tenants, and informers who fingered out Rockites to the authorities.[3] Notable contemporary representations in popular culture include a hand-colored lithograph of "Captain Rock's Banditti swearing in a new Member", caricatures of "Lady Rock" depicting Rockites cross-dressing as women when committing act of violence, and the painting "The Installation of Captain Rock" by the celebrated romantic artist Daniel Maclise (exhibited in London in 1834). The notable poet and author Thomas Moore wrote a popular book titled Memoirs of Captain Rock (1824) and the lesser-known female author Elizabeth Charlotte Tonna wrote The Rockite: An Irish Story (1829).[4]


  1. ^ Ellis, Peter Berresford. Irelands Forgotten Rockite Rebellion, The Irish Democrat, 27 July (2004)
  2. ^ The Irish Examiner. Review of 'Captain Rock: The Irish Agrarian Rebellion of 1821-1824', March 6 (2010)
  3. ^ Gibbons, Stephen Randolph (2004). Captain Rock, Night Errant: The Threatening Letters of Pre-Famine Ireland, 1801-1845. Dublin: Four Courts.
  4. ^ Beiner, Guy (2010). "Captain Rock". Béascna (6): 198–9.

Further reading[edit]

  • Donnelly, James S. Captain Rock: The Irish Agrarian Rebellion of 1821–1824 (2009)
  • Christianson, Gale E. "Secret Societies and Agrarian Violence in Ireland, 1790-1840." Agricultural History (1972): 369-384. in JSTOR
  • Beiner, Guy. "Captain Rock", Béascna, no. 6 (2010): 193-201