The rebellious blacksmiths of County Wexford

Third in a series on the Demspey Cousins Family Research Team.

Within the Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team, our Irish-born great, great grandfather William Patrick Dempsey is affectionately known as “William the blacksmith” — a trade-based nickname that cousin Barb suggested to distinguish him from his son and other same-name descendants.

Wexford Pikeman of 1798. Blacksmiths in County Wexford — birthplace of my gggrandfather, blacksmith William Patrick Dempsey — forged pikes of freedom equipped with hooks to catch the reins of British cavalry and unseat the riders during the 1798 Irish Rebellion/Éirí Amach. By: National Library of Ireland on The Commons

William’s obituary in the Baltimore Sun (shared by cousin John) said he was from County Wexford — where he may have learned the highly regarded blacksmith trade from his father.

So before we Dempsey cousins got down to the serious genealogical business of specifically tracing William’s roots in Ireland, I decided to do some background research on the history of County Wexford and its blacksmiths.

I first learned that County Wexford in southeast Ireland saw incursions by Vikings, invasion by Normans, and later occupation by British forces — each met with a fighting spirit by the Irish population.

Then I discovered that County Wexford’s blacksmiths played a crucial role in the heroic 1798 Irish Rebellion/ Éirí Amach against British rule — an uprising inspired by the earlier American and French revolutions and a landmark on the road to Ireland’s independence.

The Battle of Vinegar Hill/ Chnoc Fíodh na gCaor — the last, great battle of the rebellion, which is still re-enacted today —  took place in County Wexford’s town of Enniscorthy and pitted the fighting Irish against British occupation forces, with about 20,000 on each side.

Lacking firearms, the Irish combatants brandished pikes of freedom equipped with hooks to catch the reins of British cavalry and unseat the riders. Those metal pike tops were forged by Wexford’s blacksmiths.

Well, how about that!

Of course, my great, great grandfather William Patrick Dempsey wasn’t born until about 1828, so his father was probably just a child at the time of rebellion. But that doesn’t rule out involvement by more distant direct or side line Dempsey ancestors, nor the pride with which older generations likely shared this rich local history.

When “William the blacksmith” was taught by the forge, he may have also heard stories about the heroic blacksmiths of County Wexford and throughout Ireland — as immortalized in this verse from a song about blacksmith Páid O’’Donoghue of County Meath:

But Ninety-Eight’’s dark season came and Irish hearts were sore; The pitch-cap and triangle the patient folk outwore;
The blacksmith thought of Ireland and found he’’d work to do: “I’’ll forge some steel for freedom,” said Páid O’’Donoghue.[1]From the song Páid O’’Donoghue by Patrick Archer.

What more did I learn about County Wexford’s blacksmiths? Stay tuned for the next post.

To be continued.

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1 From the song Páid O’’Donoghue by Patrick Archer.

2 thoughts on “The rebellious blacksmiths of County Wexford”

  1. What a great history to share and heritage to treasure.
    I learned so much. Molly’s Canopy is beautifully written, making it a lively and fascinating read. I’m hooked! (No pun intended!)

    As far as the first day of Molly’s Canopy entry in the A to Z Challenge goes, A is for Awesome!

    1. Thanks, Pamela! Great to have you on board as a reader. The Wexford blacksmiths were quite something, and there is more about them tomorrow in the A to Z Challenge, when B is for Blacksmith.

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