This is a somewhat edited version of an article which first appeared on the Croppies Acre Rejuvenation FB page on 10th March 2014 https://www.facebook.com/pages/Croppies-Acre-Rejuvenation/691560670864090?fref=ts
CAPTAIN BARTHOLOMEW TEELING (1774-1798)
Teeling is mostly remembered for being an envoy of the United Irishmen to revolutionary France, later landing with Humbert’s expeditionary force in Mayo and for an amazing act during the battle of Collooney. He was captured after the defeat of the revolutionary forces at Ballinamuck, after which most of the French were treated as prisoners of war but the Irish were either slaughtered or taken prisoner for trial on charges of treason. Teeling was tried and sentenced to death; he was hanged at Arbour Hill on 24th September 1798 and faced death, as he had lived, like a hero.
In 1898, the centenary year of the uprising and a year of many commemorations, statues, plaques and the writing of songs, a statue of Teeling was erected in Carricknagat. One of Sligo Town’s main streets, in which stand perhaps ironically the Sligo Courthouse and main police station, was also later named Teeling Street in his honour.
Bartholomew Teeling, a son of Luke Teeling, a Catholic linen merchant who lived in Chapel Hill, Lisburn, was educated at the Dubordieu School in Lisburn and at Trinity College Dublin. His younger brother Charles Teeling (1778–1850) went on to be a writer.
In 1796 Bartholomew enlisted in the United Irishmen and travelled to France to encourage support for a French invasion of Ireland.
The United Irishmen Directorate had intended to lead an armed insurrection with the support of a French landing. France had a republican government, having had its own republican rising in 1989, during which the French King and Queen and many aristocrats had been executed. A French fleet consisting of 43 ships carrying 15,000 troops including Theobald Wolfe Tone had set sail for Ireland in December 1796. The fleet had divided into smaller groups to avoid interception by the Royal Navy and were to reform at Bantry Bay. Most did so but several ships, including the flagship Fraternité carrying General Hoche, leader of the expedition, were delayed; bad weather then set in and, combined with a lack of leadership, to the frustration and fury of Wolfe Tone, who commented that they were so close they “could have tossed a biscuit” ashore, the decision was made to return to France.
BLIAIN NA BHFRANCACH/ THE YEAR OF THE FRENCH
In August, when the other uprisings in Ireland had been suppressed or were stalling, another French landing to assist the Irish rebellion finally took place in Mayo but it was a much smaller one. On the 22nd August 1798, almost 1,100 troops under the command of General Humbert landed at Cill Chuimín Strand, Bádh Cill Ala (Killala Bay), Co. Mayo. The numbers were too few to counter those being massed by the British and some of the other centres of the uprising had already been defeated or were hard-pressed and blocked; still, Humbert hoped for enough Irish to join and to raise other areas in insurrection.
The remote location allowed a landing away from the tens of thousands of British soldiers concentrated in the east in Leinster, engaged in mopping-up operations against remaining pockets of rebels in the province. The nearby Mayo town of Cill Ala was quickly captured after a brief resistance by local yeomen and two days later, Béal an Átha (Ballina) was taken too, following the defeat of a force of cavalry sent from the town against the French. Irish volunteers began to come into the French camp from all over Mayo following the news of the French landing. A victory over General Lake’s 6,000 at Castlebar followed, by which time General Humbert had gained 5,000 Irish recruits.
“Killala was ours at midnight and high over Ballina town
Our banners in triumph were waving before the next sun had gone down.
We gathered to speed the good news boys, we gathered from near and afar
And history can tell how we routed the redcoats from old Castlebar.”
(Men of the West, by William Rooney).
“Seo sláinte muintir an Iarthair daoibh, a chruinnigh le cúnamh san áir;
mar sheas siad in aimsir an ghéar-chaill — seo sláinte fear Chonnacht’ go brách!”
(Chorus Fir an Iarthair, Gaeilge translation of the same song by [researching at present]……..)
But meanwhile a British army of some 26,000 men was assembled under Field Marshall Lord Cornwallis, who had just been appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (i.e. the British Queen’s representative) and was steadily moving towards the insurrectionist forces.
Abandoning Castlebar (where the victorious French held a ball to draw in the locals “of substance”), Humbert moved towards Ulster via Sligo hoping to link up with United Irishmen there, although the United Irishmen in Antrim had been beaten in a number of battles, the last one being at Ballynahinch on June 12th.
ONE MAN AGAINST MUSKETS AND CANNON
The combined Franco-Irish forces marched north-eastwards towards Sligo on their way to County Donegal in Ulster. On 5th September 1798 their progress was blocked by a unit of British troops from the garrison in Sligo, from approximately five miles to the north of Collooney. The British had installed a cannon above Union Rock at Carricknagat, a small townland to the immediate north of Collooney (hence the alternate name for the battle: the Battle of Carricknagat). The cannon was protected by a screen of infantry including a sharpshooter by the cannon itself. Charging the cannon would mean the death of many by cannon shot and by musket fire. On the other hand, a detour would cost valuable time with large British forces following behind.
Suddenly Bartholomew Teeling broke from the Franco-Irish forces and charged forward on his horse. One may imagine the scene: the British at first watch incredulously, then a scattered fire of muskets. Teeling is unharmed, galloping onwards. The British sharpshooter by the cannon coolly takes aim. Teeling eyes him and suddenly swerves his horse; the shot goes past him. The sharpshooter curses and reloads. Another ragged volley from the infantry and again they miss.
The French and the Irish are cheering but they can’t believe he will make it. Teeling’s horse leaps a ditch and gallops on past the infantry, foam flying from the animal’s body – the sharpshooter looks up at him, loses his nerve and fumbles the charging of his musket …. Teeling is up at the gun, he has drawn his pistol and shoots the sharpshooter dead. He draws another pistol and shoots the gunner. The Irish and French are ecstatic and charge forward. The British are stunned; some stand but most of the British infantry flee from the superior numbers and leave the cannon in the hands of the insurrectionist forces, as well as 60 dead and 100 taken prisoner.
Strangely, Colonel Charles Vereker, who commanded the Limerick militia in the stand-off, was awarded a peerage for his role in the battle.
NEW HOPE – AND DEFEAT
Hearing of a renewed United Irish offensive with risings in Westmeath and Longford, and perhaps with hopes of gathering support for a march on Dublin, Humbert turned and crossed the Shannon at Baile an Trá (Ballintra) on 7th September, stopping at Cloone that evening. He was halfway between where he had originally landed and Dublin. But that evening some survivors reached his camp to tell of the defeats of the insurgents at Wilson’s Hospital and at Granard.
Cornwallis was blocking the road to Dublin with a huge army and General Lake, smarting from his defeat at Castlebar, was expected with his forces soon. In addition, Humbert’s rearguard was being constantly harassed and due to sabotage they had lost two cannon.
Humbert knew he was finished but felt military honour obliged him to make some kind of a stand, which he did at Ballinamuck, on the borders of the counties Longford and Leitrim. About half an hour into the battle, Humbert signalled his surrender. The British gave the French prisoner-of-war status but there was no such thing for “rebels”. The 1,000 or so Irish forces and Teeling, perhaps knowing their fate, held on to their weapons but they were charged by British infantry and then dragoons; as they broke, they were hunted down.
Soon the bodies of about 500 Irish lay dead on the field and 200 prisoners were taken in mopping-up operations; almost all were later hanged, including Matthew Tone, brother of Wolfe Tone. Most of the prisoners were marched to Carrick-on-Shannon, St. Johnstown (Ballinalee today), where they were executed in what is known locally as Bully’s Acre (there is also a Bully’s Acre in Dublin, part of the Royal Hospital of Kilmainham grounds, across the Liffey and a little to the west from Croppies’ Acre and Arbour Hill). For some reason, Teeling and Matthew Tone were taken to Dublin.
Humbert and his men were also taken to Dublin, by canal, to be sent back to France. The British army then slowly spread out into the “Republic of Connacht” in a campaign of atrocities and destruction. Many more were hunted down and hanged.
The catastrophe at Ballinamuck made a strong impression on social memory and was strongly represented in local folklore. Numerous statements in the oral tradition were later collected about this event, most of them in the 1930s by the historian Richard Hayes and by the Irish Folklore Commission.
“PERSEVERE, MY BELOVED COUNTRYMEN. YOUR CAUSE IS THE CAUSE OF TRUTH. IT MUST AND WILL ULTIMATELY TRIUMPH.”
As Ireland was under martial law after the uprising, Bartholomew Teeling was tried by court-martial as an Irish rebel, the charge being treason for which the sentence was death. He was identified to the British by William Coulson, a damask manufacturer from Teeling’s home town of Lisburn. Although Teeling had the rank of Captain in the French Army, to the British he was a British subject engaged in treason and Humbert was unsuccessful in his attempt to have Teeling treated as a French officer. The condemned man was hanged at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin (no longer in existence but the graveyard/ and 1916 memorial is still there), in his French uniform adorned with an Irish tricolour in his hat.
“Neither the intimation of his fate, nor the near approach of it, produced on him any diminution of courage. With firm step and unchanged countenance he walked from the Prevot to the place of execution, and conversed with an unaffected ease while the dreadful apparatus was preparing.” (330. United Irishmen, their Lives and Times: Third Series: Robert R. Madden, M.D. 3 vols. Dublin, 1846).
Teeling attempted to read the following statement from the scaffold, but was not permitted to:
“Fellow-citizens, I have been condemned by a military tribunal to suffer what they call an ignominious death, but what appears, from the number of its illustrious victims, to be glorious in the highest degree. It is not in the power of men to abase virtue nor the man who dies for it. His death must be glorious in the field of battle or on the scaffold.
“The same Tribunal which has condemned me — Citizens, I do not speak to you here of the constitutional right of such a Tribunal — has stamped me a traitor. If to have been active in endeavouring to put a stop to the blood-thirsty policy of an oppressive Government has been treason, I am guilty. If to have endeavoured to give my native country a place among the nations of the earth was treason, then I am guilty indeed. If to have been active in endeavouring to remove the fangs of oppression from the head of the devoted Irish peasant was treason, I am guilty.
“Finally, if to have striven to make my fellow-men love each other was guilt, then I am guilty. You, my countrymen, may perhaps one day be able to tell whether these were the acts of a traitor or deserved death. My own heart tells me they were not and, conscious of my innocence, I would not change my present situation for that of the highest of my enemies.
“Fellow-citizens, I leave you with the heartfelt satisfaction of having kept my oath as a United Irishman, and also with the glorious prospect of the success of the cause in which we have been engaged. Persevere, my beloved countrymen. Your cause is the cause of Truth. It must and will ultimately triumph.”
It is the very least we can do to honour the memory of this great man, cut down by oppression at 24 years of age in what would surely have been a life full of achievements, to ensure that where he and many comrades are buried, Croppies’ Acre, is maintained in an appropriate manner and open to visitors, from Ireland and from abroad.
In 1800 the Irish Parliament, which was open to Anglican Protestants (Church of Ireland) only, had met in the current Bank of Ireland building at College Green) agreed to the Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland and voted itself out of existence through Crown bribery and fear.
Cornwallis was later to surrender to a combined American and French force in 1781 at the Battle of Yorktown, which ended the American War of Independence in defeat for Britain.
After many adventures, Humbert settled in New Orleans, where he was once again to fight the British at the Battle of New Orleans in the 1812 War.
General Lake was to have a successful imperial military career with Britain; he was also made an Irish MP (as well as being an MP in England) in the run-up to the vote for the Act of Union 1800 which abolished the Irish Parliament and made Ireland part of the United Kingdom.