Fáilte Romhat

  An Echo of Emmett Rising in West Cork

An Echo of Emmett Rising in West Cork

On the night of the 27th of July, 1803, Robert Emmett's ill-fated insurrection petered out ingloriously in the streets of Dublin, with no sign as yet that it was to be one of the successful failures of Irish history. In an attempt to discredit Emmett the authorities adopted the line that all those involved were drawn, if not completely from the dregs of humanity, at least from the "lower orders" of society.

That same morning, however, at daybreak, over one hundred and eighty miles away, a little drama was being enacted, which would seem to indicate that much more was involved than a futile riot of a Dublin mob, that in fact the conspiracy was far more widespread than the authorities were prepared to admit. This was the arrest of William Todd Jones, a well-known character of the period, in the home of a friend of his, Dr. Callanan, of Ballymacowen, Clonakilty. He was escorted to Cork jail by a strong detachment of troops, the journey taking two days. Dr. Callanan was also arrested, being forced to leave his sick bed, as were also his son, his friend, Fr. David Walsh, P.P., Barryroe (afterwards of Clonakilty), and his relative, one John Goold, probably of Dunmore, Ardfield. While the others were released shortly after Emmett's execution, Jones was detained until towards the end of October when he was released unconditionally, in his own words "untried, unbailed, unexamined, and un-redressed."

A few words on the two main characters of the two principal characters in this little drama.

William Todd Jones was a Protestant barrister of ample means who first entered public life as one of the six Antrim delegates to the Ulster Volunteer Convention at Dungannon in 1783. Subsequently as a member of the old Irish Parliament he was a fearless and outspoken champion of the rights of Catholics, so much so that in 1793, in company with Wolfe Tone and the Hon. Simon Butler, he was awarded 1,500 by the Catholic Committee " as a reward for their cordially rendered aid." He was in exile during the '98 rebellion, but was in sympathy with its aims and afterwards challenged Sir Richard Musgrave on some statements in his '"History of the Rebellion," which tended to blacken the records of the rebels. Whatever his Catholic fellow countrymen thought of the morality of the duel which followed, in which Musgrave was wounded, there is no doubt that his courage gained him fresh prestige.

His host on this occasion, Dr. Callanan, is almost forgotten in his native district. More is the pity for he was certainly a remarkable character. He was remarkable in that in spite of being a Catholic, he had achieved a considerable standing in the area; a measure of that standing is to be found in the mention of his "seat near Clonakilty," in the Taylor & Skinner Road Map of 1777, and also in the "Post-Chaise Companion or Travellers Directory" of 1786. He was still more remarkable in that he was willing to risk his position of security by associating with the United Irishmen, indeed by assuming a position of leadership in the organisation. The vast majority of well-off Catholics of the time went to great pains to show their loyalty to the British regime.

Very little is known of his background or career. It would seem, however, that in his person the tradition of the modern medical schools was fused with the old medical tradition of his clan, hereditary physicians to the McCarthy Riabhach. There is extant, a medical tract begun by one of the Callinans in Kilbrittain Castle and finished in the Benedictine Priory of Rosscarbery in 1414. At any rate, in 1803, he was living where the Twomey family now live - the site of his herb garden is still pointed out - a man universally respected not for his competence as a physician alone, but as a father to the poor and afflicted of the district. It is not known what became of him after 1803; soon afterwards his house was occupied by Boyle Travers, M.D., who was still living there in 1824.

Were Jones and his friends implicated in the Emmett conspiracy? Admittedly, this question, in view of the circumstances, seems unnecessary. But then Jones is not known to have ever admitted to his part in it and no charge was ever formally preferred against him, in spite of his insistent demands that all concerned with his arrest should be brought before the Bar of Parliament to answer for their actions.

Was his arrest, then, a mistake or a measure of panic, or of vindictiveness? Or does Rickard Deasy (of the Brewery family) come nearer to the truth in his assessment of his character "a giddy light-headed gentlemanly person, with some share of cleverness, but very ill-qualified for a political conspirator." He may indeed have been an envoy of Emmett before coming to Ballymacowen he had travelled through Leinster and Munster. But his stay of eight months at the house of a well-known revolutionary was the surest way of attracting the attention of the Castle spies to his activities.

Is there not a suggestion of the cat and mouse in the circumstances of his arrest? Was it really necessary for the authorities to wait until daybreak on the morning of July 27th to pounce upon him?

In his "Secret Service under Pitt," W. J. Fitzpatrick brings to light a very significant item from the 'Account of Secret Service Money applied in detecting Treasonable Conspiracies.' It is for a payment of 100 to one Francis Magan, whose path had often crossed that of Jones in the past. It is dated, December 15th, 1802, i.e., around about the date of Jones' arrival in Ballymacowen, and it is given by direction of one, Mr. Orpen, who is almost certainly the Orpen who was High Sheriff of Cork at the time.

Whatever the truth behind the mysterious movements of William Todd Jones, it is interesting to speculate on the possibility that the men of the Clonakilty area, active in '98, might also take the field in 1803, if Emmett's rising had gone according to plan. For the skirmish at Ballinascarthy was by no means as conclusive as is believed, the embers of revolt were scattered but not smothered and required but little kindling to bring them to full flame.

J. CQOMBES, C.C.

Clonakilty District Past & Present  - A Tourist guide to the area -[158 pages, forward dated 1959] The guide was published by the Southern Star Ltd for the Clonakilty C.Y.M.S.

My thanks to Henry McFadden for providing this information.