The ruthless Michael Dwyer
HISTORIAN DR. EMMETT O’BYRNE CONTINUES HIS SERIES FOCUSING ON THE GARDEN COUNTY’S PAST, HIGHLIGHTING ITS MORE PECULIAR ASPECTS
MICHAEL DWYER (1772-1825) was born to John Dwyer of Camara in Imaal and Mary Byrne, daughter of Charles Byrne of Cullentragh.
Dwyer was the eldest of four brothers and three sisters. At Ballyhubbock school in Imaal, Dwyer received his education from its master Peter Burr - a man whom Dwyer greatly admired for his patriotism. In 1784, John Dwyer moved his family to Eadestown in Imaal where they reared sheep - this farm was procured for them with the help of Robert Emmet's family. According to contemporary descriptions, Dwyer stood at about six feet with dark hair and eyes.
Like many in the Glen of Imaal, Dwyer joined the United Irishmen early in 1797. To the authorities in Wicklow during the early months of `1798, the signs of impending rebellion were all too obvious - prompting them to commence a brutal counter insurgency campaign to break up the United Irishman network. The increased government attention forced Dwyer into hiding on Lugnaquilla.
When the rebellion broke on 23 May, the yeomanry attempted to cow the populace through intimidation - shooting Dwyer's ardently republican uncle John Dwyer of Seskin along with thirty-five others on the fair green in Dunlavin.
Through the chaos of conflict, Dwyer made his way to Mount Pleasant near Tinahely where the United Irishmen of Wicklow were gathering under Billy Byrne.
Under Byrne's command, Dwyer fought in the ranks of the Ballymanus Division in the bloody battle of Arklow on 9 June.
In the aftermath of Arklow, he retreated southward with Byrne to Enniscorthy where they fought at Vinegar Hill on 21 June.
After the defeat of the United Irishmen at Vinegar Hill, Dwyer with the Wicklow men escaped into their home county, becoming a captain on 24 June. He was to fight at the second battle of Hacketstown on 25 June and at Ballyellis near Carnew on 30 June.
In the latter encounter, Dwyer distinguished himself by the ferocity of his courage - cutting down at least of one of the government dragoons. In July, he retreated to Glenmalure, declining to join the rebel army's last campaign in the midlands - considering it ill-judged.
With Joseph Holt, Dwyer refused the offer by the government of an amnesty in July and August. He though was in the minority, as most rebels did accept the amnesty. In any case, extreme elements among the yeomanry remained opposed to any act of clemency towards the United Irishmen, murdering several pardoned rebels who returned to their homes. Thus, loyalist vengeance obliged Dwyer to remain a fugitive.
With Holt, Dwyer led fierce resistance in the mountains over the next five months until Holt surrendered in November, raiding the properties and farms of the loyalists.
Dwyer also found the time to marry Mary Doyle of Knockandarragh on 16 October.
Dwyer's continued survival in the mountains was ensured by his reliance on a large and extended kin network that included the families of Anne Devlin and Hugh Vesty Byrne of Kirikee, allowing him to develop a series of dugouts, caves and safe houses.
On the other hand, Dwyer proved himself ruthlessly oppressive in his demands for maintenance and supplies. Yet Dwyer only what did was necessary to maintain the insurgency against the loyalists, killing five soldiers on 8 December, 1798, in revenge for a friend's death, as well as assassinating four witnesses for the state between 1799 and 1800.
Indeed, an insight into Dwyer's disciplined approach is gleaned from the report that Dwyer by his own hand killed three men who attempted to desert from his band, dealing also ruthlessly with informers.
But above all, Dwyer was lucky, as his escape on 15 February 1799 from the Glengarry Highlanders at Derrynamuck in Imaal attests to - creating the aura of legend about him.
Michael Dwyer (1772-1825).