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Vinegar Hill was the site of the decisive battle in the 1798 rebellion, the final major stand against British rule during that period.

It was a desperate battle, the Irish weapon of necessity being the agricultural pike. Many hundreds of Irish died by English cannon and gunfire.

The leader of the stand at Vinegar Hill was Father John Murphy, now still a legendary figure. (My friend Gary is familiar with him by a traditional song -- which he doesn't remember, but often sings anyhow, making up lyrics.)

Father Murphy originally encouraged his congregation to disarm, in favor of a treaty proposed by the British. Disarmed, the people were unable to confront the British, who flouted their commitments to the treaty.

In 1796, a fleet bearing 15,000 soldiers under French command sailed to southeast Ireland. But under bad weather conditions, the troops were not able to land effectively. This fateful quirk seems to be a chance effect that had great influence on the course of modern Irish history. Had the French landed effectively that day, the end of British rule might have been sealed. (And I might be learning to speak French.)

This fact of the French attempt to land and assist in the independence of Ireland -- as well as the successful war of independence in America -- brought inspiration to the Irish of the day, that they too could achieve independence from foreign rule.

But the Irish rebellion of 1798 was poorly organized.

(I'll say nothing about Irish efficiency -- oops there I said it. There is no Irish efficiency -- the phrase is a contradiction of terms. I say this not as a complaint -- though I sometimes have complaints -- but as a blessing upon them. Their ease in letting things work out is a part of the great Irish charm.)

For a military confrontation with 18th-century British rule, though, the lack of coherent organization was tragic. Tragedy was the result.

It was a desperate struggle from the beginning. Britain was imminently powerful in those days; and Ireland hadn't the advantage of the great expanses of ocean that separated most others of the lands conquered by the empire.