The Affidavit of Thomas Davis of Prosperous
After the battle of Prosperous and following a truce, the authorities tried to piece together events that lead to so many deaths in the village. Several statements were recorded, some were given by rebels and others by residents. This eyewitness account was given by Thomas Davis who had watched the attack unfold from his house close to the scene.
Thomas Davis’s account of the battle of Prosperous.
THE examination of Mr Thomas Davis, late of Prosperous, in the county of Kildare, who being duly sworn on the Holy Evangelists maketh oath and faith, That for many nights previous to the night of the twenty-third of May last, this examinant and his family were very much alarmed lest they should be attacked by the rebels, commonly called United Irish men that examinant thought that he and his family were in some degree secure by the arrival of detachments of the Ancient Britons, and the North Cork militia ; that, however, examinant still continued to be alarmed, as his house was at a considerable distance from the barracks.
Examinant says that he was awakened about the hour of one o'clock in the forenoon, by the barking of a large dog and sometime after he was alarmed by the firing of some shots.
Examinant says, that on looking out of his window, he perceived a great body of people, armed with pikes and fire-arms, between whom and the soldiers in the barracks a constant firing was maintained ; that as the balls passed by this examinant’s house and one of them close to his head, he withdrew and let down the window that soon after examinant saw the barracks on fire, and heard the soldiers exclaim, " The house is on fire, We shall be burned or suffocated, We can fight no longer !" That soon after examinant saw the roof of said barrack fall in. Examinant says, that the said rebels, whose numbers had increased so much as to fill the streets of Prosperous and to cover the adjacent fields, on the falling in of the roof of said barrack, gave many shouts, which seemed to redden the skies and made this examinant and his family thrill with horror.
The said rebels exclaimed, “That the day was their own, and they would then plant the tree of liberty”.
Examinant says, that the said rebels knocked at his door, and desired to have it opened, expecting to find there a party of soldiers, who had been billeted there a short time before, and Mr. Stamers, who had lodged there in when he went to receive his rents, as part of the town of Prosperous aforesaid belonged to the said Stamers.
Examinant says, that as the said rebels approached his house in a large body, six of them preceded the rest, mounted on some of the horses which they had taken that morning from the Ancient Britons at Prosperous. the examinant, as soon as he came out of his door was surrounded by a party of the said rebels, who presented their pikes at him and who he expected, from the ferocity of their looks would instantly have put him to death that one of said rebels held a musket at examinant's breast, with his finger on the trigger that another of the said rebels, who was a turf cutter held a drawn sword over examinant's head and examinant verily believes, they would have instantly put him to death, but a young man in the crowd, who seemed to have some influence, interposed, beat down the musket which was pressed at his breast, and said, they should not kill him.
Examinant said , that he knew many of the said rebels to whom he and his family had been very kind, that soon after the said rebels went in quest of the said Stamers who lodged at some distance from the said town that having seized him, they led him through the street, by examinant's house, surrounded by a number of pikemen, while a low fellow held a pistol at his head.
Examinant says, that as he passed by the house of examinant, the said Stamers cast a melancholy farewell look at examinant and his family that soon after the said rebels massacred the said Stamers.
There are a number of accounts of the bravery shown by some of the women during the battle.
Best know is Ruth Hackett who was shot delivering lighted furze in an attempt to burn down the barracks.
A young Tobin girl was also shot while bringing forward bundles of straw to burn the barracks, she may have been related to Patrick Tobin, a tailor of Prosperous, who was killed while attacking the barracks.
Examinant says, that soon after he went out, with an intention of enquiring for his friend Mr. Norris, an inhabitant of Prosperous aforesaid and that before examinant had gone far, he was again surrounded by the said rebels, who, he verily believes would have put him to death but for the interference of the person who had saved him before.
Examinant says, he discovered soon after that Mr. Brewer, a respectable manufacturer of said town, who had employed many of the said rebels, had been massacred by them, and that his body had been mangled with savage barbarity.
Examinant says, that they also massacred a poor old man of the age of seventy years and upwards who served as a sergeant in his majesty's forces having considered him as an Orangeman though examinant is convinced in his mind that the only reason why the said rebels murdered the said sergeant was his being a protestant.
Examinant says, that when the said rebels had committed the said barbarities they exclaimed with savage joy, “Where are the heretics now? Shew us the face of an Orangeman!"
Examinant says, that many women who were acting with the said rebels used expressions of that tenor as often and as loud as the men and that some old women who were amongst them seemed to brighten up on the occasion and to shew at much joy as the youngest amongst them. That some of the said women kissed and congratulated their fathers, their husbands, or their brothers, on the victory they gained, and exclaimed with joy, "The kingdom is our own for Dublin and Naas have been taken and are in possession of our friends—down with the heretics ! Down with the Orangemen!"
Examinant says, that many of the wretches who had been actors in that bloody scene had come into the town of Prosperous the preceding day and in the presence of captain Swayne, of the city of Cork militia whom with a party of his regiment they had massacred that morning (twenty fourth of May) and also in the presence of their parish priest of the name of Higgins had declared their contrition for their past errors and gave the strongest assurance of their loyalty in future, that many of the said rebels surrendered their pikes to the said Swayne and as such surrender was considered as a test of their repentance and as necessary to entitle them to a written protection, numbers of them lamented that they could not obtain such protection as they never had a pike and that many of them declared, they would sell their cow to purchase a pike if they knew where it could be bought.
Examinant says, that notwithstanding these declarations, many of the said rebels appeared in the rebel ranks well-armed with pikes.
Examinant says, he is convinced in his mind that the said rebels would have plundered and burned all the other loyal houses of Prosperous and would have murdered the remaining protestant inhabitants thereof, but that a patrol of the Ancient Britons and the city of Cork militia, being a part of the detachment they had murdered that morning unexpectedly approached the town and that the said rebels on their appearance fled towards the bogs and morasses.
Examinant says, he could not refrain from shedding tears at seeing such scenes of savage barbarity and that a servant who continued faithful to him desired him not to show any
Signs of concern, lest he might draw on him the anger and vengeance of the rebels.
Sworn on the 16th of September, 1798,
NARRATIVE OF BERNARD DUGGAN (A rebel at Prosperous)
(By R.R MADDEN 1846)
The following statement of the events connected with the attack on the barracks of Prosperous, and the fate of the persons engaged in it, was drawn up by one of the principal rebels in it, Bernard Duggan and presented to me. This man is spoken of in Musgrave's Paper, as Barnaby Dougall, a cotton-weaver, who appeared in the attack " mounted on the horse of Captain Swayne fully accoutered, and boasting “that he was a much better man than the captain." It was a poor boast, if he made it; Duggan denies it and the fact of his being mounted on the horse likewise. “The man who distinguished himself above all others in 1798 in cruelty, in mischief of every kind to the people, hunting them, terrifying their families, burning their cabins, ill using his prisoners and flogging them was the celebrated Richard Longueville Swayne, a nephew of Lord Longueville.
He got unlimited power and had a number of troops under his command sufficient to execute his inhuman deeds. He arrived in Prosperous on a Sunday evening, the 22nd of May 1798 and took possession of the barracks, immediately after the Armagh militia marched away part of that regiment that lay there until Captain Swayne's arrival with his party which consisted of one company of the city of Cork militia and a troop of the Welsh horse commonly called the Ancient Britons, sixty in number.
These took possession of a large building that had been a cotton factory opposite the Fort Barrack and was occupied by a man of the name of Wylde and his family but many of both parties’ horse and foot were sent to different places amongst the inhabitants to live on “free quarters”. The country was in a horrid state of alarm and ferment, for there seemed no safety for the people.
There were twelve men arrested and lodged in the guard house of Prosperous on the 23rd, in order to be executed on the 24th without judge or jury under Swayne's command. He burned fifteen houses indiscriminately on the same day, the 23rd and picketed one man on the same day by the most severe method of torture.
The Picketing consisted of a sharpened peg about one foot from the ground a rope was hung from a beam and one of the man’s arms fixed to it. The man was then strung up and should either support his weight on the sharp peg on his bare foot or by the outstretched arm, he then would be whirled round and called upon to inform.
One of these houses belonged to the landlord of the town, a magistrate, and as great a loyalist as could live, namely, Henry Stammer, Esq, brother of Alderman Stammer of Dublin who was killed by some of the countrymen, on the morning of the battle whether by mistake or design, I shall not pretend to say, but there were five men executed in Naas for that murder. However, no one considered themselves safe in all the country, by the coercion that was going forward. “Meantime, there came an order from the United Men's committee, for all to rise in arms; and the signal was, the stopping of the mail coaches in the different directions as they passed from Dublin.
The people were mostly scattered away from the town of Prosperous for fear of being arrested but soon got the word and began to assemble towards evening near the 18th lock of the Grand Canal, convenient to the wood or domain of Donore where some concealed themselves through the course of the day and in a deer-park that was also convenient for communication with each other. Dr. Esmonde was the commanding general over the people and appointed an aide-de-camp, whose name was Philip Mite, who kept a public-house close to the canal at the Cock-bridge.
Besides these, there were a number of officers chosen by the people, and some of them would do honour to the best army in the world. I shall give the names of a few of the most distinguished on this memorable occasion, Andrew Farrell, a farmer's son, who led the attack on the barrack at Prosperous ; John Mahon, from Bishop's-court, a servant of Mr. Fitzgerald ; Thomas Wylde, son of the English manufacturer; Bryan Rourke; Bernard Duggan, a cotton weaver in Prosperous ; Bryan McDermott, son of a farmer ; Edward Hanlon, farmer ; Patrick Tobin, a tailor of Prosperous, killed at Prosperous and Denis Hanlon, a cotton spinner, who served as the guide to Dr. Esmonde, in the attack.
On the 19th June 1798, the Crown forces launched an attack on the rebel stronghold of Prosperous. They discovered a banner and a drum bearing the motto “ Prosperous Strength Exists in Union and Liberty”
There were about five hundred men with pikes, and only eight firelocks, one musket, one fusee, and five pistols, and one blunderbuss to begin the battle they came nearer the town coming on day when they began to march towards the barracks and by twilight they came to the rear of it and at the end of the guard house. At the first challenge by a sentinel the answer was a shot by Mahon by which one of the sentinels fell the other, (for there were two sentinels,) ran into the barracks. Meantime a number of the people rushed into the guard house and soon despatched twelve men and a sergeant, four men rushed into the barracks, after the sentinel and got into Captain Swayne's room where he slept and after a few words shot him through the body with a blunderbuss one of the four who attacked him was Bryan Rourke, (brother of Felix Rourke,) by which he instantly died.
He proposed to join the people but it was of no avail. The four men were obliged to leap out of a window for the hall of the barracks was then filled with the soldiers who were roused up by the firing of shots from all parts of the town. The other troops lay on the opposite side of the way in the cotton factory the Ancient Britain’s were attacked at the same time with the city of Cork militia that lay in the main barracks, but in the middle of the action a circumstance took place that prevented any ultimate advantage being gained by our victory for a foraging party of the military was on foot all night plundering in another part of the country towards Rathcoffey and appeared eastward and seemed to the General, Dr. Esmonde, (who was at some little distance from the town at the time of the attack on the barracks, being in command of the whole party,) to be an army from Dublin, and that the whole plan of the people was discovered. Thus, deceived, he despatched his Aid-de-camp, Philip Mite, to ascertain, and inform him, how the battle was going on but that cowardly villain returned with a false report of the destruction of the people, and caused the general to give the word of retreat, in order to save all he could of his men and all that heard the word fled away, and left only a few about the barracks, until it was demolished at least by fire that was set to it, and destroyed it by the magazine exploding, then all the men returned into the town again, but the General, and his Aid-de-camp, they belonged to a corps of yeomen under the command of Captain Griffith.
Dr. Esmonde was first Lieutenant, and Mite was Sergeant. Esmonde went into Naas to join his corps of yeomen but chiefly to see the state of affairs; but Philip Mite put on his regimental clothing, and went immediately to Millicent where his captain lived awoke the captain, who was in bed, and told the whole affair to him, who went directly into the town of Naas and arrested Dr. Esmonde. He was sent soon after to Dublin, and was executed on Carlisle Bridge. This gentleman was one of the finest looking men in the whole kingdom.
His death was greatly lamented by all who knew him and only for misfortune the people would have got him in exchange for a prisoner that they had in custody, the son of General Eustace, who was a clergyman; the rebels proposed to exchange him for Dr. Esmonde, the proposal was made, but during the time Eustace bribed the party who had charge of him in a Quaker's meeting house, and effected his escape.
After the battle of Prosperous, the men all came back into the town and soon got plenty of arms, muskets, etc, and made an attempt on the town of Clane, where some of the Armagh militia, and a party of yeomen cavalry lay, but to little effect, as both parties withdrew, without much ado.
A few days passed over. When there was tranquillity in the town, the dead soldiers were buried, in all about one hundred and fourteen—fifty-six Ancient Britons, and eighty-seven of the Cork militia.
* Some twenty were buried in one hole, in a garden and others in different places about the town where they fell, as not one of the militia escaped, except by mercy, which was fortunately shown to a few. In a day or two after the people formed a camp at a place near Timahoe and that camp continued in the country within eighteen miles of the city of Dublin and five from Naas, and was joined by many from the adjoining counties, until the government sent a flag of truce and proposed a peace by order of Lord Cornwallis.
When a peace was proposed and hostages were sent, namely, Major Cope and Captain Courtney, both of the Armagh militia, and kept in custody until eighteen of the officers of the Wexford, Wicklow, and Kildare militia went to conclude the peace with General Wilford. Two hours elapsed before they returned, after peace was concluded, and pardon promised, and the leaders were to be allowed to leave the country.
The party that proceeded to attack the troops at Prosperous, on the morning of the 24th, 1798, was commanded by five young men, of undaunted courage, from the ranks of the people,—Thomas Wyle, John Mahon, Andrew Farrell, Bryan Rourke, and Bernard Duggan. The force was accompanied by Dr. Esmonde to the verge of the town of Prosperous, but in what capacity why he was posted there or how the panic spread I have never seen clearly pointed out. He did not accompany the party who attacked the barracks he remained with the main body on a hill overlooking the country round the town and when some false intelligence of the approach of the army was brought the men under him fled and he returned by day-break with a few stragglers.