In 1798 an organisation called the United Irishmen incited a revolt in Ireland, with the aim of expelling the British. While it was clear what they were against, not so much what they were for, but given that they were keen supporters of the French Revolution and the Terror, nothing very good. And given the anti-Catholic nature of the French revolution, it is doubtful if the Catholic population of Ireland would have been very enthusiastic about the Ireland they would have found themselves in. Hundreds of Catholic priests had been murdered in France, and many more imprisoned, whilst the Pope had been imprisoned just a few months before.
The aim was to revolt over all Ireland simultaneously, but in many cases, especially Dublin, the revolutionaries were discovered and dispersed before that could happen. Although later portrayed by Republican propaganda as British vs. Irish, in fact it is more accurate to say Crown vs Revolutionary, as many of those fighting on the Crown side were Irish, volunteers and regular soldiers. Also, lack of support amongst the general population gave excellent intelligence to the Crown forces, and, of course, most of the victims of the revolutionaries were Irish.
Fortunately, Crown forces in the west of County Cork were under the command of Sir John Moore, later to be famous for establishing light infantry regiments in the army, and as the victor of Corunna in the Napoleonic wars. After offering an amnesty for weapons, he organised raids all over area, collecting 3,400 firearms and 800 pikes, and arresting many revolutionaries. Consequently, when the insurgency started in June in the rest of Ireland, Cork was relatively safe and unaffected. Relatively, there was still one battle to fight.
The Westmeath militia had been raised a few years before, one of several militia regiments formed to counter an expected French invasion. Note that, contrary to the Irish vs British narrative, they were an Irish militia. The Lieutenant Colonel of the Westmeath Regiment of Militia, Sir Hugh O’Reilly, came from an interesting military family, his younger brother Andrew O'Reilly becoming a General der Kavallerie in the Austrian Army, and a Count of the Austrian Empire.
In June 1798 the Westmeath militia were stationed in the village of Clonikilty, a small town at the head of Clonikilty Bay. They were then transferred to the town of Bandon, where John Moore was the Governor, to be relieved by the Caithness Legion, a militia regiment raised in Scotland. It was during these movements that the following events took place. Incidentally, note that insurgent numbers are unknown, but estimated at about 400 in total. Without the disarmament campaign mentioned above, the consequences could have been much worse. What happens next is described in a report from Sir Hugh O’Reilly, as recorded in the London Gazette.
Copy of a letter from Sir Hugh O’Reilly, Lieutenant Colonel of the Westmeath Regiment of Militia to Lieutenant General Sir James Stewart, at Cork
Bandon, June 20, 1798
I have the honor to inform you, that a part of the Westmeath regiment, consisting of two hundred and twenty men, rank and file, with two six-pounders (under my command) were attacked on our march from Clonikilty to Bandon, near a village called Ballynascarty, by the rebels, who took up the best position on the whole march.
The attack was made from a height on the left of our column of march, with very great rapidity, and without the least previous notice, by between three and four hundred men, as nearly as I can judge, armed mostly with pikes, and very few fire arms. We had hardly time to form, but very soon repulsed them with considerable loss, when they retreated precipitately, but not in great confusion; and when they regained the height, I could perceive they were joined by a very considerable force. I, with the greatest difficulty and risk to the officers, restrained the men, halted and formed the greater part of them, when I saw that the enemy were filing off a high flank, with an intent to take possession of our guns.
A detachment of one hundred men of the Caithness legion, under the command of Major Innes, was on its march to replace us at Clonikilty, and hearing our fire, pressed forward, and very critically fired upon them whilst we were forming, and made them fly in every direction with great precipitation. At the same moment, a very considerable force shewed itself on the heights in our rear. A vast number of pikes appeared some with hats upon them, and other signals, I suppose in order to collect their forces. I ordered the guns to prepare for action, and very fortunately brought them to bear upon the enemy with good effect; as they dispersed in a short time, and must have left a considerable number dead. Some were killed in attempting to carry away the dead bodies. It is impossible to ascertain the loss of the enemy, but a dragoon, who came this morning from Clonikilty to Bandon, reports that their loss is one hundred and thirty.
I feel most highly gratified by the conduct and spirit of the officers and men of the Westmeath regiment; and had only to complain of the too great ardour of the latter, which it was almost impossible to restrain. I cannot give too much praise to Major Innes, Captain Innes, and all the officers, non commissioned officers and privates of the Caithness legion for their cool, steady conduct, and the very efficient support I received from them. Our loss was one serjeant and one private.
I have the honor to be, &c
Lieut Col. Westmeath regiment.