Historical Notes and Stories of the Ballinamuck, Co. Longford II

Historical Notes and Stories
of the
County Longford.
James P. Farrell
1886 – Dollard Printing House, Wellington Quay, Dublin


Humbert had marched from Coollony to Boyle, thence to the north of Carrick-on-Shannon, where he crossed that river and halted at a small village called Cloone, in the County of Leitrim. Here a wretch called Neary, who had originally been a servant to a Mr. West, of Cloone, in the darkness of the night stole the chains of the French cannon and, when about to move in the morning, there could be only some ropes got with which to bring along a few cannon, the major portion of these having to be left behind. And it is but a very few days ago since the writer of this little book was told that the chains of Humbert’s cannon are yet in the village of Cloone, in the possession of a Protestant gentleman there, to whose grandfather Neary had sold them. There are many thrilling tales told of this battle, and the names of a number of brave men who heroically distinguished themselves on the battlefield are held in profound veneration to this very day among the people of the County Longford. Such a one is Gunner M’Gee, whose services to the cause of Ireland at Ballinamuck were of the highest order. He was a soldier in. the English artillery, and was present at the “Races of Castlebar.” Here the inward promptings of a brave and noble heart inspired him to desert from the British ranks to those of his countrymen, and he became in the “rebel” (?) lines a tremendous aid to his brethren in many ways. At the battle of Ballinamuck he had charge of a cannon, which he used to such good purpose and aimed with such precision that he twice confused the British ranks. At length his ammunition ran short, and he had not missiles to place in his gun. In this extremity a number of the camp pots and kettles were smashed to pieces, and with these it was loaded. The British were advancing in heavy order, a massive column having just been ordered up to carry the day. But Magee, taking careful aim, fired his cannon with such precision that a lane of dead and dying was cut through the advancing host. This, however, was his last shot, for the British just then succeeded in capturing the other guns the French had, and they captured poor Magee, too, and strangled him as be bravely stood by the side of his faithful gun. It is related that there were two cousins of his at the gun at the last discharge, whose action was the bravest performed that day. When Magee was ready to fire, having just completed the loading, one of the stocks of a’ wheel broke, and the gun could not be fired, until these two cousins, stepping forward, propped it up with their backs whilst M’Gee applied the match. The discharge broke their spines, and their miserable state was soon put an end to when the brutal British captured the gun.

The following letters, written by British officers, who commanded at this battle, speak volumes for the humanity of the victors ;-

“Ballina, October 3,1798 .
“My very dear Friend,- I was in Dublin the evening the express brought intelligence that the French had landed. I went the same day to Naas; it was eleven o’clock at night when I arrived. You will admit that I had a great escape. The army had marched; I followed, and overtook them at Frankfort. We marched from thence to Athlone, where we joined the Commander-in-Chief’s grand army, destined for Castlebar. We then marched forward and encamped at a little village called Baltimore (Ballymore). The next evening we lay at Knock, on the side of a mountain. From that we proceeded to Tuam, and there encamped; we were then ordered to join General Taylor’s brigade – on their march from Sligo; our regiment (the Armagh) and the Reay Fencibles left Tuam Camp (consisting of 14,000 soldiers), and marched through Castlebar for Ballaghadereen, where we lay that night. Here it was that I met my brother with the Light Brigade from Blairs; you may conceive what I felt on the occasion. About two in the morning we marched from Swinford for Castlebar, but the French had given us the slip and went for Sligo; we encamped at Tubbercurry. The French and Limerick Militia had a skirmish at Colooney; many were killed on both sides; we lost two pieces of cannon. Same evening, we lay at Drumahair. Our advanced guard pressed so bard after the French, that they left seven pieces of cannon and a great quantity of ammunition on the road; the road was dreary and waste, owing to their depredations, the houses being all plundered. Next day we marched upwards of twenty miles, and encamped near Leitrim. They attempted to breakone of the bridges down, but the Hessians charged and. killed many of them, which forced them to retire; the road was strewed with dead bodies. Near Cloon they drew up in line of battle, but on our advance they retreated towards Granard.  At Ballinamuck they drew up again, and extended their line across a bog to prevent the cavalry from charging them, and planted their cannon on a hill to the left of the road. As it led through the bog; and in this order they awaited our approach. The Light Brigade attacked them first; our Light Company after a few fires, leaped into their trenches, and a dreadful carnage ensued. The French cried for mercy.  We ran for four miles before we could get into action; the men forgot all their troubles and fought like furies. We pursued the rebels through the bog; the country for miles was covered with their slain. . We remained for a few days burying the dead ;  hung General Blake and nine of the Longford Militia; we brought 113 prisoners to Carrick-on-Shannon, nineteen of them we executed in one day, and left the remainder ‘With another regiment to follow our example, and then marched to Boyle.-Yours, &c.”

Killeshandra, Sept., 1798.
“My dear Brother,-God only knows my grief of mind for your present situation. You being still alive is a strong argument that the hearts of all men are in the hands of the Most High. Some days before the Battle of Ballinamuck we were much alarmed here, although we little thought the French were so near us. The day previous to the battle our yeomen-horse and foot, Carrick gallon and Oakhill men, 106 in number – went to Ballinamuck, on an information that a vast number of rebels were there the day before; yet, after traversing the mountains, not a man could be seen; they returned by Ballinalee and Bunlahey. That evening, expresses from Ballinamuck informed us that the French we’re there. The yeomen of that place fled to Ballyconnel and Belturbet. The main body of the French lay in Cloon that night. A Lieutenant West had his horse shot under him while re-connoitring the enemy. The wounded beast carried his master two miles, when he fell; the helmet was also shot off the lieutenant’s head. The French general and most of the officers agreed to take some rest at Cloon, giving orders that they should not be suffered to sleep more than two hours; the guard let them sleep four hours, by which time the English army came much nearer than the French expected. This was the place General Lake’s vanguard skirmished with their rearguard, and from thence to Ballinamnck, four miles from Ballinalee, and four from Cloon. The French being closely pursued, prepared for an unavoidable battle. They formed on a hill to very great advantage, having a bog on their left, and a bog and lake on their right. Five flank companies, viz., the Dublin, Armagh, Monaghan, Tipperary, and Kerry, requested General Lake to let them mount behind the Hessians, Carabineers, and Roxburgh, &c., so ardent were they to over-take the enemy. This request was granted, and they soon came up with the foe. Seeing the enemy so advantageously posted, wisdom was needful on the part of our general.  A column of our troops faced to the left, and marched behind an eminence; to this our artillery marched in front. The enemy had their cannon covered with pikemen, who were about to take our cannon under cover of our own smoke. General Lake, aware of their design, ordered the artillery to retreat to another hill, and, finding his men so brave, he ordered his men to charge the French through the smoke. This they did, and, with a terrible war-shout, so overwhelmed the French that they threw up their arms with caps on them. yielding themselves prisoners. Here I should observe that the whole of the French army was not engaged; four hundred and more remained concealed behind the intrenchments, and resolved by treachery to surprise our men. When attacking the rebels the point was to get them from this hold; a volley or two being fired, our men feigned to retreat. The end was answered; the French rushed out and our soldiers as suddenly met them. Here the contest was desperate. In a little time the French fell down, offering up their arms and, as our men advanced to receive them, they treacherously arose and fired on our unguarded men, and then fell again on their knees. The enraged troops rushed in and killed numbers of them before they could be prevented. Thus they overpowered disarmed and made prisoners all the French, before the grand army arrived. The rebels, expecting no quarter, did all possible harm, fired many cannon-shot, but to no effect; they fled into a bog, the whole of which was surrounded by horse and foot who never ceased while a rebel was alive-after which the Marquis marched off with his prisoners. They dead about 500. I went next day, with many others, to see them. How awful to see that healthy mountain covered with dead bodies, resembling at a distance flocks of sheep, for numbers were naked and swelled with the weather! We found fifteen of the Longford Militia among the slain. Our loss were twelve – two of which were Hessians, whom the yoomen took for French, and fired on.”

Related Articles