William Farrell - Eyewitness to 1798

William Farrell wrote an account of the 1798 Rebellion in Carlow. As an eyewitness he gave a graphic description of the Rebellion and the harrowing experiences following its suppression. However his story was not actually written until Farrell was an old man, between the years 1832 and 1845. He directed that it would not be published until after his death.

William Farrell was born in the year 1772. The Farrell family were originally from County Longford. His grandfather, Ambrose Farrell moved to Dublin where he worked as a merchant tailor. He later moved his family to Carlow. His son John was the father of William Farrell. Farrell left school at the age of twelve years and then served as an apprentice. He became a saddler by trade and worked for his brother in law called Fitzgerald. Despite the fact that he had had but a few years of education he was keenly interested in literature and was particularly impressed by the writings of Pope, Swift and Goldsmith. He was took a keen interest in sport and mentions a variety of sports in his book including hurling, football, cudgelling, tennis or handball. He refers to the fact that Carlow had "one of the best ball courts in Ireland". Farrell enjoyed a reasonable standard of living and as he says he "could afford to keep myself dressed suitable to my station in life".

By the time William Farrell had completed his apprenticeship the United Irishmen had spread to Carlow. He was invited to join the society by various acquaintances but initially he declined. He wanted to ensure that membership would not conflict with the law. However he eventually decided to join the United Irishmen and later became treasurer for the movement in County Carlow. He was himself only a reluctant participant in the Rising. He had advised Mick Haydon to lay down his arms but he refused to do so. Haydon was the commander of the Rebels in Carlow. Farrell's narrative describes the unfortunate and tragic events of the Battle of Carlow. It tells of the tragic fate that befell the Rebels and the inhabitants of the town. He recalls that orders had been issued "to spare no man that was not in regimentals".

William Farrell's account continues with details of arrests in the aftermath of the fray. He himself was imprisoned and witnessed the horror of the executions of those accused including that of Sir Edward Crosbie. He was interrogated also despite the fact that he was well known to the gentry and the military in his work as a saddler. He also recalls his summons before the dreaded Major Dennis of the Ninth Dragoons. Major Dennis was next in command to Colonel Mahon and as a consequence was charged with attending all of the executions and courts martial that took place. William Farrell frequently found himself in danger from the authorities. He was even faced with a choice of service in the West Indies with the Thirty - second Regiment of foot or of standing trial at a court martial. When Farrell refused to enlist with another Recruiting sergeant he was coutmartialed and had to write letters of appeal to both Major Dennis and to Lieutenant Fitzmaurice. The latter gentleman had given him his protection in writing on the 27th of May 1798.

Farrell's story is one of high personal drama and in the penultimate chapter of his memoirs he records that in the course of one day he underwent "four most extraordinary changes". He was under sentence of death in the morning, received a respite then later put under death sentence again and then respited once more. William Farrell through the orders of General Henniker, who had recently arrived in Ireland and who had taken a house in the vicinity of Carlow town, was duly granted a pardon. This crucial connection had come about through the intervention of a local Protestant gentleman Mr. Henry Rudkin and so he was liberated on a bail of five hundred pounds and a condition that he should "remain in the town (Carlow) for twelve months". William Farrell lived to tell his story and the story of his comrades and acquaintances. His original manuscript was edited by Roger J. McHugh and published in 1949 with the title Carlow in '98 The Autobiography of William Farrell of Carlow. In the Bicentennary year of 1998 another edition of Farrell's autobiography entitled "Voice of Rebellion" as edited by Roger J. McHugh and with an introduction by Patrick Bergin was published by Wolfhound Press.

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