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Captain Richard Swayne

The Battle of Prosperous was the first battle of 1798 and from here it would spread like ignited gunpowder through the County of Kildare and into Wicklow and Wexford.

The Battle of Prosperous was certainly hastened by the actions of a Captain Richard Swayne of the Cork Militia and his torturing of the people of the village.

Pitch-Capping was introduced by the Cork militia. This type of torture was principally intended for persons who wore their hair “cropped” short, and who for that reason were supposed to be in sympathy with the United Irishmen. In most cases there was no trial, suspects were simply seized and brought to the guard-house where a cap of coarse linen which was smeared on the inside with hot pitch was compressed on their heads. It was then allowed to cool in order that it could not be easily pulled off. The pitch-cap was then set alight resulting in further anguish of melting pitch trickling down into their eyes. The blinded victims frequently fell, or inadvertently dashed their heads against walls in their way. The pain of trying to disengage this pitch-cap from the head was next to intolerable. The hair was often torn out by the roots and frequently parts of the scalp would come off along with it. What should surprise most people is that this type of torture was carried out in the open day. If a pitch-cap was not readily available, then moistened gunpowder was rubbed into their hair and then set on fire.


Captain Swayne Pitch-Capping the People of Prosperous.

The torture of these men became a popular amusement among the soldiers. A sergeant in the Cork militia, nicknamed “Tom the Devil” was apparently very resourceful in devising new methods of torture. Other methods of torture were, Scourging, Picketing, Half-hanging and the cutting off, of ears and noses.

The people all around Prosperous suffered at the hands of the tyrannical Captain Richard Swayne and the Cork militia who plundered and almost laid waste to the entire district. Swayne only spent two days in the village of Prosperous, but during that time he burned, hunted, flogged. Picketed and pitch-capped the locals. His actions certainly pushed the people of Prosperous to hasten the start of the 1798 rebellion.

What we know of Captain Richard Swayne. He was born in Youghal in County Cork into quite a distinguished military family, the second eldest son of John Swayne, Major of the Youghal Independent Rangers (a volunteer corps). His eldest brother Hugh was lieutenant-general in the army, who served in the West Indies. His brother James was a colonel in the H.E.I.C.S. Another of his brothers, Edward a lieutenant of the Youghal Irish Artillery died in battle against the French in the West Indies.

So, it would appear that Captain Richard Swayne had much to prove in his military circles, and Prosperous would pay the price of this ambitious and incompetent Captain.

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