In the Absence of Hope

Sean Doyle with his oration at the wreath laying ceremony on the site of the 1798 Memorial Garden, Newtown-Mount-Kennedy, County Wicklow. Sean Doyle is with the Wicklow branch of the Independent Workers Union and is a member of Clann Eirigi.

I believe that in the absence of hope we are all intellectually blind: as if someone suddenly switched off the light, disoriented, going around pointlessly in circles confused, repeating the same mistakes, walking head on in to blank walls, vulnerable susceptible to resignation and surrender due to the absence of hope.

But with the presence of hope we have the visionaries and presence of mind to heal the wounds of betrayal from struggles past and the positivity to galvanise our resistance and determination to overcome our adversaries.

There is no doubt or denial: for us our adrenaline flows defending our sense of purpose and meaning of life. The essence of our genetics through the generations shared with our visionary struggle for national and social freedom from Lalor, Tone, Connolly and Costello. It is our purpose to keep that hope alive.

Today we gather here to remember and honour the 1000 United Irishmen from the baronies of Ballinacor North and Newcastle who gave siege to Newtown-Mount-Kennedy to drive the British out. On the 30th May 1798 the rebellion commenced. They attacked the village from both sides. The scene was set for what became the largest and bloodied battle of the North Wicklow rebellion.

They had formed up in secluded locations such as Dunran and the Devil’s Glen but found it difficult to coordinate the attack for maximum effect. A third column expected from Roundwood district failed to materialise owing to its partial dispersion during skirmishes in their home area on the 29th.

The alerted garrison consisted of 60 dragoons the Antrim militia and 80 local Yeomen. They were forced to burn several buildings to create a protective smokescreen. The defenders lost control of much of the town and became locked in an intensive struggle for the Market House which they used as a barracks and prison.

The Coach House stables were fired by the rebels but not before the Calvary mounts were brought to safety and used in the garrison’s desperate counter attack. Englishman Captain John Burgany and nine of his men were killed in the action and many others were seriously wounded. But the attack was repelled. Over thirty rebels were killed although many more perished in the brutal mopping up operation where no quarter was given.

The bulk of the dead rebels were thrown in to a mass grave at Warble Bank sandpit just like dead sheep, over the road from here. Gravel was drawn from the pit until the 1940’s when council workers uncovered human bones.

I hope even after 214 years that these local heroes will be remembered. I hope that their ancestors will give them the respect they deserve. I hope they will assist us to exhume them. I hope together we will give them an honourable respectful burial. I hope we will raise a monument for future generations to honour these heroes. Because I believe only in the presence of hope will we have the vision and fortitude to become a free people in a free country.


  1. RE: 'The bulk of the dead rebels were thrown in to a mass grave at Warble Bank sandpit just like dead sheep, over the road from here.'

    Ireland is full of mass graves of the fallen. All deserve a proper burial & respect. We need a Wolfetone to rise up in the 21st century to lead the way... It is so saddening to know/see how shackled Ireland is into the now after so much suffering/losses.

  2. SMH,

    I found that line you cited from sean very descriptive. When I first read his piece my thoughts went back to that a few times.