In 1798, the United Irishmen Rebellion – between May and September – led to over 20,000 deaths, and some estimates would place the toll as high as 50,000. The Irish were still suffering under the Penal Laws, a system of rule which was called “a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man”, and they’d simply had all they could take.
Vinegar Hill was the base camp for the Wexford Irish Rebels, an estimated troupe of about 20,000 men and women, and even some children who were there seeking shelter, God love them. The Irish were armed, for the most part, not with firearms or black powder, but with long wooden pikes – a spear between 10ft and 22ft long (up to about 6m), topped with a spearhead of iron or steel. On 21st June, 1798, about 15,000 British troops, well armed with musket and cannon, attacked the rebel camp in an attempt to crush the insurgency completely. The Rebel Irish were woken to an artillery bombardment just before dawn, and though they tried at least twice to charge the British lines and break through the encircling forces, they were driven back each time.
A detachment of about 5,000 British soldiers were, at the same time, trying to take the bridge across the River Slaney at Enniscorthy. Although the Irish were slowly driven out of their barricaded buildings in the town, they held the bridge. There are recorded tales of stalwart leadership and valorous women, as well as the ensuing horrific atrocities. Though the Irish had to abandon the hill, the town, and make a tactical withdrawal to re-group the rebellion to the West and North, the battle wasn’t quite the defeat to the Wexford rebels that is often depicted. You can get the full story and decide for yourself at the distinctively designed National 1798 Rebellion Centre, located just off the N11 and N30 roads. They are open all year round, and an adult ticket is just €5.50, but check their website for times and full details.
This is Vinegar Hill, in Templeshannon, Co. Wexford, in the South East of Ireland. The Record of Monuments and Places (RMP) number is WX020-032. For your Sat Nav, the GPS co-ordinates are 52.503266, -6.553774, and it’s in Irish State guardianship, not ownership, so you don’t have permission to walk the site out across the hill, unless you meet the landowner.
The closest hotel is the Riverside Park Hotel, which can be busy and a bit noisy on weekends but great for those who want to experience some of the culture in historic Enniscorthy. There’s a great B&B not too far away on the other side of town, Teach Failte, which does a fantastic breakfast and has a warm family welcome. For something good to eat, the Bailey Café Bar is in a handy location, with free parking, and does a very busy lunch trade for good reason. Treacey’s Hotel does a great Sunday lunch and The Alamo is hard to beat. You’re spoiled for choice round here!
From Enniscorthy, head out over the river to the R744, turning off to the right at first crossroads (signposted ‘Vinegar Hill’). You’re following those brown heritage signs out the road, until you reach GPS 52.500836, -6.547658, and there’s another one there pointing up a narrow lane. Follow it to the end, and you’ll be looking out across the hill where the battle took place.