Bold ’98 Irish Whiskey

Join in the rebellion and learn more about the backstory of our Bold ’98 Irish Whiskey here!

In 1798 Wexford declared itself a Republic and fought off the might of the British Army with little more than pointy sticks, holding out for more than three days!

But what exactly happened? Well to tell that story we must draw in one of Irelands most famed heroes, a man by the name of Wolfe Tone and an understanding of life in Ireland at that time.

For many years the native Irish, had found themselves increasingly abused, put upon and restricted in horrendous ways. Denied the right to vote, purchase property, educate their children and even own a horse better than their Protestant neighbour!

It was against this backdrop that Wolfe Tone was born into in Kildare. The son of a comfortable middle-class coach maker. As socially rising members of the Church of Ireland, they sent their beloved son to Dublin to continue his education to train as a Lawyer in Trinity College.

He was a pretty terrible student, constantly “mitching” and far more interested in attending parties, performing in plays, playing the violin, and just hanging out around Grafton Street with his friends. But he did manage to graduate and begin working as a lawyer. However, this idealistic and romantic young man wanted to change the world!

Inspired by his families Huguenot background he felt that Ireland could choose a better path and that the Irish people should unite against British Rule, that they, his fellow countryman of whatever religious belief should be free to govern themselves. And as societies and clubs were the most fashionable thing to join at the time, the United Irishmen was founded.

At first, it was a simple social club, an opportunity to converse and debate the politics of the day but buoyed by their increasing numbers and inspired by Revolutionary talk coming from the newly formed United States, and Republic of France Haitian Revolution.

By the mid-1790s it had almost 1/4 million members and was declared as an illegal assembly. It wasn’t long before Wolfe was arrested, but he convinced the British Authorities to release him on the condition that he left Ireland for good and so off he went to America.

Eventually arriving in Pennsylvania, Wolfe and his new family did not settle in well. In fact, he hated it. The clothes, the customs, the weather. And to make it all the worse, he got ripped of buying some land.

However, it was during his time there that he got further acquainted with the French community, and here he made friends and decided to move to France. Wolfe had convinced the French that he could help them use Ireland as a base to invade Britain and finally put an end to the beef between their two countries and liberate Ireland at the same time!

By the summer of 1796 the plans were made, and a force of almost 14,500 French soldiers were ready to head to Ireland, but the British Navy was so powerful that getting to Ireland in secret was going to be an issue, so it was decided that they should wait until winter came. No one would be crazy enough to sail an army over to Ireland at that time of year and so they should be able to slip by the British fleets unnoticed.

It was a total disaster, many of the ships were sunk before they had even left French waters. A combination of bad weather, heavy fog and high winds and snow, coupled with inexperienced Captains meant the mission had failed even before it began. Less than half the ships made it to Ireland, and despite being close enough, they could not land. It was said that a “protestant wind” blew them back to France!

The British were understandably infuriated when they discovered how close the French had come to taking Ireland, and over the following year (1797 -1798) began to crack down on any perceived rebel activity.

Stories from this time are truly grim, the plan was to ensure that people would be too scared to join a planned rebellion and would hand over any weapons, information or plans to the British Yeomanry. In many parts of Ireland, the campaign worked but not here in Wexford. Instead across the county, iron was hoarded, blacksmiths made pikes, and farmers and labourers hid them in thatched roof’s waiting for the call from Wolfe!

During this time, the United Irishmen still met, plotting and planning and it was here that Wexford enters the centre stage!

It began in Dublin, in a small bookstore that distributed rebel pamphlets and hosted meetings when a British solider entered. Rather than hiding their illegal goings on, they rather strangely invited the Solider to attend those evenings planned meeting. A meeting that would include many delegates from rural counties, men who would hold information on their individual regions plans and the names of those who would be involved.

And the British Soldier did indeed attend…. along with all his mates. All the attendees were arrested, interrogated and in due time executed. Almost every county in Ireland lost their Rebel Commanders in one foul swoop, all except Wexford. Our delegate had stopped for a wee nip of gin, that auld Dutch courage in a bottle, in the Bleeding Horse pub on Camden Street, and got chatting to a young lady. Well, he spent the evening enjoying her company along with more gin and never actually made it to the meeting, our secrets were safe!

By May the country was in a full-blown heatwave, each day hotter than the day before. Mid-May tempers began to flare, and skirmishes began to break out here and there. Finally rebel forces in Wolfe’s home area of Kildare broke out, word spread, and risings began in Wicklow too.

Meanwhile in Wexford the rebel Commander Anthony Perry was arrested and in Gorey’s Market house building, he was tortured by the notorious Tom the Devil himself. Forced to give up names of fellow commanders, the rebels rose up and went into battle.

A fierce battle at Oulart Hill ended in victory, routing the British troops from the area. The following day the Rebels took Enniscorthy creating a new central command area, but seriously damaging the town at the same time, more than 400 buildings were burnt to the ground. But undeterred and drunk on their success the Rebels marched on to Wexford Town next. The battles were bloody and brutal, but the native Irish fought hard.

None were trained in battle and their weapons were farm implements and our famed pikes. Their secret stockpile of weapons had been sharpened and polished in readiness for this time. Men and women fought together, in close combat and it is said the lanes and fields of Wexford ran red under the hot June sunshine. But in that same sunshine Wexford declared itself a Republic.

Across Ireland, other Risings were reported, in Ulster, Wicklow, Kildare, Carlow and scattered Risings along the West coastline. Small groups of rebels attacked and while some where successful, without the promised aid from France, it was difficult. Wolfe Tone was on his way though, with ships filled with soldiers having spent the previous year readying his return. But he would not be in time.

Despite great acts of bravery and epic stories, the tide began to turn, and the skies began to darken. As rain began to fall, British Commander, General Lake’s men entered the county from five points: Duncannon, New Ross, Newtownbarry, Carnew and Arklow. By 20 June, the surviving rebels were pushed back to Vinegar Hill.

On the hilltop were also followers of the rebel soldiers, wives, children, the injured or displaced. A large campsite was established on the hills summit, campfires scattered about and even the odd goat or chicken could be seen! It is thought in total around 20,000 people were waiting to confront General Lake and his forces.

The rebel Commanders felt that they were in a strong defensive position, as the soldiers approached, they would be met with pikes. However, unbeknownst to the rebels, the army had returned with significantly more men and much more advanced weaponry.

Under cover of darkness the British encircled the hilltop and town, blocking off exit routes. Just before Dawn broke, they attacked, both town and hill simultaneously. While the battle on the streets of Enniscorthy was vicious, ultimately it was unsuccessful and the men and women were driven across the Slaney and up the hill, the ring began to tighten.

As expected, the British army brought out their canons but instead of the cannon balls the army was using a new experimental ammunition, known today as Shrapnell Shells. The battle lasted just two hours but thousands were killed, and 100 British soldiers died.

Many did manage to escape into the surrounding fields and get back to the small villages and farms that they had left behind earlier in the summer. Many of the dead lay where they fell, their relatives either lying alongside them or too afraid of retribution to collect their bodies so they were covered in a loose layer of soil and left behind. The following summer, barley picked and chewed on last year’s long marches, grew from their pockets.

Wolfe Tone did finally arrive but plagued with delays, it wasn’t until October that his fleet finally reached the coast of Donegal. Here they were met by the mighty British Navy and after a pitched battle that lasted three days, they were defeated. Wolfe Tone was arrested, transported to Dublin and gaoled to wait his sentence.

Guilty of Treason, his punishment was to be hung, drawn and quartered. He then decided to take his own life, he was only 36.

As news broke of his death, along with the arrests of the last Rebel Commanders, the Rebellion slowly ended. But the memories of this time burned in the hearts of the survivors and their descendants would go on to fight in the war of Independence. 120 years after the first attempt, Wexford would indeed be a Republic again.