Birr's oldest Military Grave - a veteran of 1798
Previously on this blog we have covered some of the history of Birr Barracks. It’s construction began on 21 February 1809 with its completion in 1812. However, prior to its construction it is quite likely that there was a smaller barracks in the town, newspaper reports hint to its existence in the late 1790s. Other records suggest there was prior military activity in the town. So with this in mind, what is the earliest recorded military grave in Birr?
This grave is located in St Brendan’s Old Graveyard and belongs to Sergeant Major Thomas King of the Wicklow Regiment of Militia, who died on 16 April 1799. While the inscription is worn, it reads:
Here lieth Interred the
Body of Thomas King
Late Serjeant Major
In the Wicklow Regt
of Militia who Depart
ed this life the 16th day
of April 1799 Aged 45
years to whose memo
ry the Serjeants of the
Regiment have Erectd
While we know little or nothing about Sergeant Major King’s life, we can gather some information on the history of the Wicklow militia, and their involvement in the suppression of the 1798 Rebellion.
The Wicklow militia was formed along with 37 other regiments of Irish militia in 1793 with the passing of the Irish Militia act by Irish Parliament. The militia was raised as a means to defend Ireland from foreign invasion and internal insurrection. The militia’s uniforms were red with yellow facings.
Under the Irish Militia act, militia regiments were to be comprised of eight to twelve companies, each company numbering around 50 to 100 men. The militia was embodied for service in June 1793, and was saw its first posted to Strabane, County Tyrone in April 1794 until July 1795. From July 1795 the militia moved to Sligo town where they remained for 10 months. From Sligo the militia moved to Portalington, Queen’s County in November 1796. In December 1796 they were posted to Mitchelstown, Cork and then to Mullingar, County Westmeath in early 1797. Occasionally detachments would be moved around while stationed in various towns. During this time the militia earned a notorious reputation for the brutal tactics they used.
In March 1798 the militia moved to Kilkenny. With the 1798 Rebellion beginning in May, the militia were initially used to as part of the Kilkenny garrison to relief Castlecomber on 23 June. After its relief the town was retaken by the rebels, but then was recaptured by the Kilkenny garrison.
The militia took part in an engagement with 4000 rebels at Kilcomney Hill on 26 June, where 1000 rebels were killed and 14 artillery pieces captured. With the failure of the rebellion, the Wicklow militia carried on with its various postings, arriving in Birr in March 1799. Sergeant Major King died on 16 April and was buried on the 19th.