Published in Artefacts, Issue 2 (March/April 2022), Volume 30

By Lar Joye

Above: Detail of its firing mechanism. (NMI)

On 23 August, after the 1798 Rebellion was essentially over, about 1,000 French troops under the command of General Humbert landed in Killala, Co. Mayo. Over the following two weeks these veterans defeated the British at Castlebar and Colooney before being overwhelmed by greater numbers at Ballinamuck, Co. Longford, on 8 September. While the British treated the captured French as prisoners of war, they considered their Irish prisoners to be rebels and slaughtered them without mercy.

The 1798 Rebellion had come as a surprise to the French, who had decided, after the disaster of their attempted landing at Bantry Bay in 1796, not to invade Ireland and were fully committed to supporting Napoleon’s army in Egypt. Nonetheless, it was decided to send a force of 8,000 soldiers from Rochefort, Dunkirk and Brest to Ireland, and the first part of the invasion force led by General Humbert left in three ships with 888 infantrymen, 42 artillerymen, 57 cavalrymen and 35 officers. The artillery gunners brought three four-pounder field guns and the infantry were equipped with this flintlock musket, called the ‘Charleville musket’ after the armoury in which it was designed. This type of musket, which was manufactured from 1717 to 1840, fired a smaller musket-ball than the British ‘Brown Bess’ musket, making it a lighter weapon. Like the Brown Bess, it was not very accurate and was most effective in volley fire. This version is the 1777 model, and around 7,000,000 of these muskets were produced during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. They had a major impact on the design and development of muskets in America, Spain and Italy until the 1840s.

General Humbert’s force landed on 22 August at Kilcummin near Killala, which they attacked the next day, quickly defeating the local yeomanry. Humbert issued a proclamation declaring an Irish Republic and calling on the local population to join him. The French brought an additional 3,000 muskets to equip the Irish rebels. About 7,000 Irish volunteers enlisted with the French at Killala and later, after their success at Castlebar, another 3,000 joined. The Irish rebels were placed in groups of 50 but the French found it very hard to turn these new recruits into disciplined soldiers. The first town to be taken was Ballina, and on 27 August a mixed British force of regular army, militia and yeomanry, under General Hutchinson, was defeated at Castlebar. This led to a mass rising in Mayo to support Humbert, but his force was too small and it was only a matter of time before they were defeated, with terrible repercussions for the people of Mayo and surrounding counties.

Lar Joye is Heritage Officer of Dublin Port.

Above: One of the French muskets landed by General Hubert in Killala, Co. Mayo, in August 1798. (NMI)


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