Remembering 1798 (Sunday Times)

Parity of Esteem in Remembrance

I read with interest the very timely article by Professor Brian Walker entitled “Painful reminder of Ireland’s bloody past”.  Professor Walker makes a number of salient points not least that the ‘real story’ must be told, no matter how unpalatable that might be.

The Burning at Scullagogue

It is only but right that the terrible suffering should not be forgotten remembering that there were atrocities on both sides.  It is encouraging that those who are commemorating ’98 now acknowledge the Massacre at Scullabogue, when thirty-seven Protestants were shot and one hundred and eighty-four men women and children, were burned to death on 5th June 1798.  This was followed on 20th June by the piking of Protestant prisoners on Wexford Bridge.

The Massacre on Wexford Bridge

Professor Walker is correct when he maintains that the emphasis so far has been on the United Irishmen and little on the Loyalists.  Because most of the history books on Ireland have been written from a sympathetic point of view towards Irish nationalism, the Orange part in suppressing the Rebellion has either been neglected, or else mentioned only in passing.  There is the rebuilding of rebel leader, Father John Murphy’s house at Boolavogue, without any equivalent recognition of John Hunter Gowan, the commander of the Wingfield Yeomanry, or the restoration of his homestead at Mount Nebo.  If the commemorations of 1798 are not to degenerate into blatant sectarianism there must be ‘parity of esteem’.

The issues involved in 1798 are as complex as the history of Ireland itself.  The Rebellion in Wexford was largely motivated by agrarian discontent and quickly degenerated into sectarianism as was evidenced by Scullabogue and Wexford Bridge.  The Rebellion in Antrim and Down was of a more intellectual motivation. The influences on radical thinking of the period were more than local. The impact of European radical thinking which had inspired the French Revolution, the experiment in democracy in North America, to which many Ulster Presbyterians had emigrated between 1718 and 1775, as well as the significant influence which came from Scotland with men like Francis Hutcheson – the connection between Scotland and Ireland was cemented by the fact that Irish Presbyterian Ministers had to go to Scotland to be educated.

The Orange Institution can trace it’s history to ‘both sides’ – which make us the proverbial ‘bridge builders’ as far as this issue in society is concerned.  It is true that the members of the Institution in 1798 were Loyalists and therefore supported the forces of the Crown.  In many instances whole Lodges joined the Yeomenary.  But it is not to be forgotten that it was the children of the men who were ‘out’ in ’98 who joined the Institution in the next generation.  The Rebellion in Ulster may have had a more lasting effect if the United Irishmen had not allied themselves so readily with the blatantly sectarian and ill named ‘Defenders’.

The core values of the United Irishmen of 1798 were in the secular tradition of the French Revolution LIBERTY, EQUALITY AND FRATERNITY.  The core values of Orangeism are “Civil and Religious Liberty”. It stands for equality for all with no racial or ethnic privileges.  Therefore in order that the ‘real story’ should be told the Education Committee of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland: has published two booklets to mark the bicentenary.


“Murder Without Sin”, being edited extracts from the publication:-“ORANGEISM; ITS ORIGIN AND HISTORY” by Ogle Robert Gowan, son of John Hunter Gowan, the commander of the Wingfield Yeomanry, first published in Toronto 1859.  Reprinted to mark the bicentenary of the 1798 Rebellion, so as to make available to a wider public an authoritative record from the pen of one who was much closer to the events of the ‘reign of terror’, in Wexford during the course of the Rising.

We have also published another booklet by way of a reprint from the Official history of the Order – “The Sunshine Patriots: The 1798 Rebellion in Antrim & Down” by R.M. Sibbett. Reprinted from:- “ORANGEISM IN IRELAND AND THROUGHOUT THE EMPIRE” [Thynne & Co., Ltd 1938]

An understanding of the events surrounding the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland is a key to an understanding of the divided loyalties in our society today.  The support for the rebellion by many northern Presbyterians was quickly, in historical terms, turned to support for the Crown and Constitution.  R.M. Sibbett writes with an understanding of the motives of the men on both sides and does not attempt to hide the terrible deeds committed by each.  His respect for honourable men from different sides is something we should emulate today.

Rev Brian Kennaway


Education Committee

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland


This article appeared in the Sunday Times 2nd February 1998