The end of the rebellion of 1798 in County Kildare
The battle of Ovidstown hill was one of the principal battles in Kildare.
Most of the United Irishmen of North Kildare encamped in the Bog-of-Allen at Timahoe, Mucklin, Hortland and Drehid. While many rebels from Prosperous, under the command of Captain Farrell were in the camp, some were left behind to defend Prosperous which was attacked on the same day, 19th June.
The North Kildare rebels camped in Hortland under the command of Colonel William Aylmer, numbered on the morning of the engagement, about 5,000 men.
The camp was made up of several Kildare contingents led by their captains;
Prosperous under Captain Andrew Farrell, Timahoe under Captain Bryan McDermott,
Clane under Captain James Tierney and Captain Patrick Hanlon, Rathangan under Captain John Doorley, Rathcoffey under Captain Michael Quigley, Johnstown under Captain Michael Reynolds. With other contingents from Maynooth, Naas and Carbury.
The arrival of the Kings troops to attack them was sudden and unexpected. The men were all preparing to breakfast and the officers seated, when the alarm was received, that a large force of troops was advancing and near at hand. An immediate “stand to arms” was given by some bugle horns of the United Irishmen. The officers strove to arrange their men in the best order which the suddenness of the thing would admit.
The army, it was said by those who saw them, march through Kilcock at 7:00am, amounted to near 400 men, composed of Highlanders, Dragoon Guards and four troops of yeoman cavalry. This force was already in sight and perceiving that their opponents were numerous and not appearing in anyway intimidated or preparing to flee on seeing the army so near, they halted and made quick preparation to attack the insurgents.
The United Irishmen advanced to meet them. The orders given by Aylmer were to rush with their pikes upon the cannons. The strict discipline observed by the military was perceivable to the insurgents, and notwithstanding the intrepidity of their officers, both in their movements and harangue, there was a sudden halt which afforded the opportunity of viewing the irregularity and confused state in which the United Irishmen were advancing. The pikemen, instead of making a rapid advance against the troops wheeled behind a whitethorn hedge and the two cannons moving at the head of four companies of Highlanders were instantly turned on them. The Rebels panicked and fled the cover. The cannons and musket fire cut many of them down. The area is known locally as the “Murdering Ditch”
It was said that if the pikemen had acted according to the orders of Col. Aylmer, the battle would have been undoubtedly lost to the king’s troops. The grapeshot discharged from the cannons cut (according to Captain Dooley’s words) through the whitethorn hedge as if lopped off by a clipping sheer.
The men sheltering in the ditch were safe for the moment, but when panic began to arise among them and they began to flee, it was at this point that the greatest casualties occurred. Col. Aylmer’s gunmen were brave above all praise. They approached and shot the soldiers who served the cannon and a few of them commenced to seize it, but an impetuous charge of cavalry unsettled the few brave men who were in the act of moving one of the cannons to their own side and this enabled other cannoniers of the Kings force to act against the insurgents. Aylmer’s gunmen, who were said to be about 200, stood firmly together until the cannons began to thin their ranks and an uneasiness of the entire body quickly followed. The disorder of the insurgents was now without remedy, no effort of their officers was able to restore any order or rally the men. The army succeeded and claimed almost a bloodless victory.
About 200 of the rebels fell. According to the military returns; two officers, (besides three wounded), two sergeants and twenty privates were killed.
The rebels were pursued by the army until they reached the safety of the bog.