Vine­gar Hill mass graves dis­cov­ery

Wexford People - - NEWS - BY ES­THER HAY­DEN

A NUM­BER of mass graves have been found on Vine­gar Hill.

The large pits which were de­tected on the north side of the hill are be­lieved to con­tain the re­mains of the many women and chil­dren who were mas­sa­cred on the Vine­gar Hill bat­tle­field dur­ing the 1798 Re­bel­lion.

Ar­chae­ol­o­gist Ro­nan O’Fla­herty who is the chair­man of the Vine­gar Hill Re­search project, said the graves won’t be dis­turbed or ex­ca­vated as a mark of re­spect.

‘The large pits were iden­ti­fied through geo­physics which is es­sen­tially a scan of the area which showed a se­ries of deep pits on the north side of the hill. These are the size and scale of mass graves and are also in the right area for where we ex­pected mass graves to be found.

‘These pits are not recorded on any Ord­nance Sur­vey maps or any sur­face records or the 1840 OS maps so they were filled in be­fore that. There are no ear­lier sug­ges­tions of a quarry in this lo­ca­tion. There are quar­ries on the hill but not in this area.

‘It’s very likely that these were pur­pose built pits sim­i­lar to what was found in Cul­lo­den in Scot­land fol­low­ing a bat­tle there in 1746.

‘We are pretty sure now that these pits are mass graves. They are deep pits of rec­tan­gu­lar shape with straight sizes sim­i­lar to a grave.’

Dr O’Fla­herty said it is no sur­prise that mass graves were found on the hill but said it was sig­nif­i­cant that the lo­ca­tion of the graves has now been iden­ti­fied.

De­spite lo­cat­ing the graves he said there are no plans to ex­ca­vate the area.

‘There are no plans to dig there. When peo­ple die vi­o­lently like this and mass graves are lo­cated you tend to leave them alone and don’t dis­turb them.’

He said the coun­cil who ini­ti­ated the Vine­gar Hill Re­search Project were ad­vised about the graves and were aware of all dis­cov­er­ies found.

‘This is a coun­cil led project and they showed a lot of vi­sion do­ing this. There was a large team of vol­un­teers who helped make the project which was led by Jac­qui Hynes and Rory O’Con­nor in the 1798 Cen­tre.’

Dr O’Fla­herty said that a se­ries of be­tween three to four pits were un­cov­ered in the geo-phys­i­cal scan of the hill, one of which was very large. How­ever he said it is dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine how many bodes are buried there.

‘What we do know is that 1,500 rebels, most of which were non-com­bat­ant, were largely buried on the hill. This again is sim­i­lar in num­bers to Cul­lo­den. There were 20,000 rebels on the hill sur­rounded by 15,000 troops. Most but not all of the rebel troops got off the hill so that’s how we know that these graves are largely filled with non-com­bat­ant peo­ple. Some rebel troops did die on the hill too af­ter they be­came trapped there.’

In ad­di­tion to lo­cat­ing the mass graves a rebel prison was also lo­cated by the re­search team dur­ing their work.

‘We found an 18th cen­tury barn which has a direct view of Vine­gar Hill known as Beale’s Barn which was used by the rebel troops as a prison. We thought it would be in ru­ins but its still in­tact and lo­cated in a nearby farm­yard.’

Other items found on Vine­gar Hill in­clude flint­lock pis­tols and mus­kets, swords, and mus­ket­balls which gave greater in­sight into how the Bat­tle of Vine­gar Hill un­folded.

He said they were able to es­tab­lish key phases of the bat­tle through the po­si­tion of mus­ket­balls and other weaponry.

Last week dur­ing a spe­cial talk in En­nis­cor­thy Li­brary en­ti­tled ‘Map my bat­tle­field – un­cov­er­ing the ar­chae­ol­ogy of Vine­gar Hill’ the re­searchers out­lined how they used key find­ings on Vine­gar Hill to tell the story of the 1798 Re­bel­lion with ar­chae­ol­o­gists com­ing from a num­ber of dif­fer­ent coun­tries dur­ing the three year project.

Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal teams ar­rived from Ru­bi­con Her­itage, Earth­sound, Sligo IT and Cotswold Ar­chae­ol­ogy to un­der­take li­censed de­tec­tion work in a num­ber of fields ‘on the back’ of the hill.

Damian Shiels of Ru­bi­con said that they had dis­cov­ered ev­i­dence of the rebel camp, smelt­ing, in­ten­sive fight­ing and close quar­ter en­gage­ment on the Hill. Among the items found were over 60 mus­ket balls that would have been used dur­ing the his­toric bat­tle.

The high­light of Damian’s pre­sen­ta­tion came when he said that Vine­gar Hill was now the most sig­nif­i­cant bat­tle­field in terms of finds in Ire­land. Mem­bers of the re­search team are now fi­nal­is­ing a wide range of re­search in ad­vance of prepa­ra­tion for a pub­li­ca­tion next year.

The team has also un­der­taken re­search into the folk­lore of the 1798 re­bel­lion in En­nis­cor­thy, and record­ing where peo­ple may have found arte­facts from the bat­tles. If you have any in­for­ma­tion that may be of use, they would be de­lighted to hear about it.

To get in touch, call the Na­tional 1798 Re­bel­lion Cen­tre on 053 9237596 or email vine­garhill­bat­tle­field@gmail.com.

Those in­volved also wish to re­mind peo­ple that it is il­le­gal to un­der­take metal de­tec­tion with­out a li­cence and urge peo­ple to con­tact gar­daí should the see any­thing like this go­ing on.

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