There is an Irish folk song named "Boulavogue," which tells the story of a Catholic priest, Father John Murphy.
Ultimately, the story of Boulavogue is the story of a priest who convinced his flock to surrender their arms to their government, but upon seeing the slaughter of his flock by that government, came to lead his sheep in rebellion, and was executed in the end.
At first, as the United Irish (founded by Wolfe Tone, a Protestant) struggled to start the Rebellion of 1798, Father Murphy convinced his parishioners to sign an oath of allegiance to the government. The county of Wexford, as Robert Kee writes in the first volume of The Green Flag, was "feebly organized" for rebellion.
The plan of the United Irish was for all of Ireland to rise against the English simultaneously. This was only four years after the revolution in Poland led by Tadeusz Kosciuscko (a veteran of the American Revolution), nine years after the French Revolution, and 22 years after the beginning of the American Revolution.
The spark which set Wexford on fire (quite literally) was the search for illegal weapons (sound familiar?). The English used the local yeomanry to scour the county for weapons and, predictably, the local volunteers were a bit too enthusiastic in their searches and seizures.
The North Cork militia, which searched Wexford for illegal arms, was mostly Catholic. Despite this fact, they were no easier on the mostly Catholic locals than the Protestant militias were in other parts of Catholic Ireland. As Kee observes, the North Cork militia "were the very troops popularly credited with the invention of the pitch-cap method of torture. One of their sergeants named Heppenstal had acquired the nickname of u2018the walking gallows’ for his peculiar skill in half-hanging men over his shoulder."
By May of 1798, men and women in Wexford slept in the fields so as not to die in their houses, should their houses be put to the torch in the middle of the night. News of massacres and uprisings from all over Ireland had tensions running high.
In this atmosphere, Father John Murphy encouraged his parishioners to surrender their arms in exchange for the promise of protection by the English government.
His parishioners did so.
Unsurprisingly, the English did not abide by the rules of their alleged protections.
As Kee reports, "The Arms Proclamation in Wexford had allowed a period of fourteen days for the surrender of arms. But the local magistrates and troops had shown no inclination to wait that long but had begun floggings and other tortures immediately."
Troops who encountered peasants, after demanding the surrender of arms, simply opened fire without waiting for compliance.
This disregard for the rule of law outraged the Irish, as it had outraged the American colonists twenty-two years earlier: "A portion of the men…had now become spiritless. They saw that a Proclamation issued with all the formality and apparent binding of an Act of Parliament was despised and made no account of…Their arms in a great measure surrendered, they became silent, sullen and resolved to meet their fate with such arms as they were in possession of."
In other words, after the Irish had dutifully turned over their weapons, they quickly realized that they were sheep for the slaughter. Having voluntarily deprived themselves of their most effective means of self-defense, they now stood at the mercy of their English oppressors.
The English set fire to one farm after shooting into a crowd of men working the fields. The lieutenant in charge of the torching, a man named Bookey, is remembered to this day in the song Boulavogue. Bookey died that day, stabbed in the throat with a pike.
The next day, Bookey’s regiment rampaged across the countryside in a feat of vengeance that would have pleased Abe Lincoln and General Sherman. Over 170 homes were burned, as well as Father Murphy’s chapel at Boulavogue.
As a result of this destruction, Father Murphy and roughly 1,000 men gathered on Oulart Hill, with perhaps fifty guns and no military leadership.
The group was attacked by 110 members of the North Cork militia, but drove the militia from the hill.
After an encouraging string of early victories, the rebels were soundly defeated. Massacres of Protestants alienated the few Protestants, such as Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey, who had provided a semblance of military leadership. At Vinegar Hill, cannon fire and determined assaults drove the rebels from their base while "mowing them down like grass."
The English, who would come to fight the Germans in two world wars in the twentieth century, relied not only upon local militias, but upon imported German mercenaries — Hessians, as in the American Revolution — to put down the rebellion. The Hessians were ruthless in their depredations.
As Kee reports, one English officer later wrote that the crown’s forces
never gave quarter in the rebellion…hundreds and thousands of wretches were butchered while unarmed on their knees begging mercy; and it is difficult to say whether [regular] soldiers, yeomen or militia men took most delight in their bloody work. In such actions as he saw, all the male inhabitants of any house in which the rebels took refuge were put to death and the German contingent in the king’s army, Hessians commanded by a Count Hompech, won fame for their rape and slaughter of women. The same officer reckons that altogether 25,000 rebels and peaceable inhabitants were killed in this way, u2018by the lowest calculation,’ and the Protestant historian, Gordon, in trying to assess the total number of people killed on both sides in the whole rebellion and reaching the tentative figure of 50,000, says he u2018has reason to think that more men than fell in battle were killed in cold blood.’
The Rising of 1798 at an inglorious end, the English hung Father John Murphy, burned his body in a barrel of tar, and placed his head on a spike on a main street.
Of course, there was tragedy in the deaths of those loyal to the English occupiers as well. Among those killed fighting for English domination of Ireland was Lord Mountjoy, "who, as Luke Gardiner twenty years before, had carried through the Irish House of Commons the first Catholic Relief Bill, permitting Catholics once again to own land."
After the rebellion of 1798, the Irish would wait 150 years to gain their independence. Many more would die during those 150 years, either in war, rebellion, or An Gorta Mor (the Famine).
Only after the Easter Rebellion of 1916, a civil war in the 1920s, and the willingness of Eamon DeValera to declare Irish independence in 1948, did Ireland regain the independence it had lost nearly 700 years earlier.
The story of Father Murphy has rather obvious implications for America today.
Rather than blindly surrender our freedoms and firearms in exchange for paper promises of "protection," Americans are better served to rely upon themselves.
There are an abundance of fools today — Rosie O’Donnell, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Don Wright of the Palm Beach Post, the Million Mom March, and most Democratic politicians — who would have Americans willingly surrender their firearms. The argument is that if only regular citizens would give up the means of self-defense, enjoyment, and hunting, then there would be no crime, no murder.
How utterly stupid.
Crime is caused by criminals — persons with evil hearts and evil intentions. Although it is fashionable today to "understand" why a criminal turned to a life of crime, this should not excuse what the criminal does, nor should it cause one to leave one’s doors unlocked at night, or to leave oneself unarmed within a home. The murdered man or woman, or the rape victim, is not made whole again because we realize that a felon did what he did after having been abused as a child, or because of a chemical imbalance in his brain.
To leave oneself defenseless, at the mercy of criminals and dependent upon someone answering a call of 911, is sheer foolishness.
In the event that an NFL-linebacker sized man (or, the way the NFL is going these days, an NFL linebacker) breaks into your home with the intent of raping, killing, and robbing, do you really wish to rely on your luck to a) get to the phone, b) dial it, c) wait for them to pick up, d) describe to the person on the phone how you are about to die, and then e) wait for the police to arrive?
Your loved ones may get the joy of hearing your screams played over and over on the nightly news while a transcription of "Oh my God! Please stop!" runs across the screen. (The media is so sensitive, especially where the feelings of victims are concerned).
Far better to have the means of your own protection quick at hand. As the old saying goes "God created men, but Sam Colt made them equal." For the very slow, Sam Colt invented the Colt revolver. It’s a gun.
What does this have to do with Father Murphy, aside from the obvious connection to surrendering guns?
Aside from Rosie and the gang of twits mentioned above, the churches have gotten into the gun-banning game.
How many people have to die, how many girls must be raped, before the churches snap out of their latest fad?
The church teaches that one has a moral duty of self-defense. Just as suicide — actively causing harm to oneself — is immoral, so too is the failure to resist when resistance is possible (passively allowing harm to be done to yourself). If you are in mortal danger, respect for yourself requires you to fight back.
Exactly how are faithful Christians supposed to fulfill their duty of self-defense without the means to do so? How are they to protect their children without the means to do so? If there is a better means of defending one’s self than a gun, please tell me and I will buy it in large quantities.
If you are a 100-pound woman facing a 250 pound, 6’2" man — roughly, an NFL linebacker — would you rather have a) a baseball bat, b) a kitchen knife, or c) a pistol or shotgun?
Hopefully, the answer is c every time. If guns are no good for self-defense, one wonders why muscular male police officers feel the need to carry them. Surely, in hand-to-hand combat with knives, clubs, or fists, a tough cop might stand a chance where a housewife stands none.
Americans, learn a lesson from Father Murphy. Don’t trust your government to protect you, and don’t hand over your most effective means of self-defense.
For those of you still foolish enough to listen to anything said by Rosie O’Donnell, or any Democratic politician, such that you might be worried that your kids will find your guns and injure themselves, take a look at the cold, hard facts: guns save lives, and they save the lives of children.
John Lott’s book More Guns, Less Crime and Robert Waters’ The Best Defense: True Stories of Intended Victims who Defended Themselves with a Firearm provide all the data to satisfy the most die-hard ammophobes (gun-o-phobes just doesn’t have a ring to it). Your toddler is more likely to drown in a bathtub than be shot.
Those statistics you hear so often on the nightly news about kids being shot include 17, 18 and 19 year old murder victims, i.e. persons involved in gangs and drugs.
If you want to truly teach your children to understand the importance of gun safety, buy a gun, learn to use it safely, and teach your children as well. The NRA’s Eddie the Eagle program is a model of gun safety — endorsed by the FBI, no less.
[Quotations taken from Robert Kee, The Green Flag, vol. 1. The Most Distressful Country. New York: Penguin, 1972. Part Two, Chs. 10 and 11.]
Mr. Dieteman is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2001 David Dieteman