Vinegar Hill mass graves discovery
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 email@example.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.