A summary calendar of the Wingfield-Digby papers was made by A. P. W. Malcomson of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and I set out below extracts from this calendar touching on the 1798 period.
In his recent study of the rebellion in Kildare, Liam Chambers states that the eruption of Defender violence there must be viewed in the context of a resurgence in County Meath in July 1795 - the motivating factor being economic. Lord Downshire, also an absentee landlord owned the town and district of Edenderry. He was a tireless advocate to government of stern measures to quell disturbances.
The victory of the rebels at Rathangan in late May 1798 was followed by defeat at Kilcullen and by 30th May, almost all of Kildare was retaken by the Government. The key turning point was at Ovidstown on 19th June, the very day Dean Digby in Dublin was writing to Lord Digby in London. At the end of July, Colonel Perry and Fr. Mogue Kearns were hanged at Edenderry. A month later, Lord Cornwallis was arriving by boat in Tullamore to march west to put down the French invasion forces.
28 April 1795 Dean Digby, Mountjoy Square, [Dublin], to Lord Digby, Brook Street, London, about the disturbed state of King's County.
'Having gone down to Geashill to attend my church at Easter, the rector Crowe communicated to me a plan in agitation in our barony, and some resolutions entered into at the court leet there, tending to conduce to the preservation of the peace and property of the barony in this time of uncommon alarm and danger.
The counties contiguous to us are in so turbulent and disordered a state, that many gentlemen and farmers of property are afraid to continue in their habitations, and take refuge in Dublin, or collect together in the neighbouring towns, to avoid the dangers which threaten them, leaving in many instances their lands and houses to be pillaged by those wretched, deluded people called Defenders. I have communicated to Mr. Pelham, the Lord Lieutenant's Secretary, the plan and measures which your Lordship's tenantry at a barony [meeting] have adopted, and his Excellency has expressed great satisfaction and his hearty approbation of what we are doing. I believe we are the first barony in the kingdom that have so associated for this laudable and perhaps necessary purpose.
A considerable expense is likely to be incurred in the laying in of arms and ammunition and other necessary matters, and a day may shortly come when the welfare and existence of the barony may be dependent on the success of what we are now about to do. Upon this occasion, permit me, my Lord, to mention, it is highly your interest to step forward and to countenance and in a pecuniary way to assist these measures. My present idea is that it will be expedient that your Lordship should order a sum not exceeding £100, and for the present limited to £50, to be expended by your agent in the purchase and provision of such things as the barony, regularly convened, shall deem most expedient, and which shall be laid before me and approved of, and by me reported of to you. If the first £50 be not found sufficient, then and not otherwise the last remaining £50 to be also advanced; for times are so alarming that possibly we could not wait for your further consent and instructions.
Rev. Mr. Jack [sic] is found guilty, and we conclude must, and highly deserves to, suffer.....'
9 June 1795Dean Digby, Geashill, to Lord Digby, Brook Street [London], reporting on the improved state of the country.
'....I have the pleasure to let your Lordship know, not only that this county still continues perfectly quiet, but that in the neighbouring counties, where the Defenders had proved so very turbulent, the disturbances are much subsiding, and I trust in God the whole kingdom will ere long enjoy peace and tranquillity. Should any French ships touch upon our coasts no attempts of that nature can be apprehended, at least until harvest. We have gotten a great addition to our military forces lately from England. We are augmenting our militia also, forming two camps, and taking such measures as I trust will enable us to defend ourselves against domestic insurgents or foreign alarms.
Upon this agreeable change that seems to have taken place in our affairs, we of this barony find no occasion of calling upon you for any pecuniary aid, at least for the present; but we keep up our association plan, to guard the better against future contingencies....'
12 June 1798[Dean Digby in Dublin] to Lord Digby, Brook Street, about the rebellion.
'For the progress of the rebellion, I must refer you to the public papers. Our situation here is dangerous beyond description, and I cannot avoid expressing my surprise that, from the tenour of your last letters to Mr. Sandys and me, you do not seem to be in any way apprised of our lamentable situation. Families are every day flying from this town. I hope still to be able to stand my ground, but if driven to the last extremity, I must strive to take refuge in England with all my family. But whither to go, I have not determined. I for my own part would rather stand or fall with my country, and nothing but extreme necessity shall ever make me to become a refugee, even to England. Not an English soldier around here yet, but it is said some arre at Cork. The rebels [are] very strong and numerous. Many of our [word missing] friends have fallen.'
19 June 1798[Dean Digby] to Lord Digby, Brook Street, about the rebellion, with particular reference to King's County.
'The conspiracy at Geashill has made a most dangerous and rapid progress. My house was marked for destruction, the Protestant families to be murdered, the barracks of Philipstown and Tullamore to be burned. Most of my people are taken up, even James Heany, my old steward. But he is out upon his parole, as it has appeared that his own son was to have murdered him, had he not sworn to join. 23 are in confinement from Geashill only, and I hope in a few days some of them will by martial law be hanged in Geashill.
The yeomanry corps behave with uncommon spirit and under most severe service. About five of the corps lost their horses, saddles and arms at the battle of Rathangan. They have gotten all [my horses? and?] when wanted get my hay [and? provisions? - text defective]. They must receive every mark of support and countenance, and that without loss of time. Of this I herein apprise your Lordship, for the very existence of your estate and tenantry are now at stake, and in a very few weeks the fate of all will be decided.
Capt. Tarleton writes me word, not only of the situation of the yeomanry and how impossible it is for the people themselves to refit themselves, but conveys to your Lordship, through me, their earnest request of a proper pecuniary aid on this emergency, the whole of which may, as in the plan before proposed respecting a guard-room at Killeigh, instead of being advanced to them now, be allowed to them in their rents. I apprehend it essentially your interest to aid and support this body of men. The Marquess of Downshire at Eden[derry] gave £300 to mount and furnish [text defective] corps. It has hitherto [?cost] you but £100, and perhaps were I to state all that their protection and support has cost me, it would prove as much. In the present posture of affairs, my return to Geashill is totally cut off. My title deeds, my account books, the major part of my goods are there, exposed to these savage wretches. Yet still, as the plot has been detected, and as reinforcements from England are come and still continuing to come over, I do not feel much cast down. I still look forward to a spee[dy] day when I shall venture to return. All is in the Almighty's hands and designs[?]
Lord Camden sets off this day, being succeeded by Lord Cornwallis. The Wexford business is of the greatest moment. Their numbers there are said to be 50,000, perhaps in fact but half that. They are as very numerous all over the Co. Kildare, and an important decision is expected in the course of this week. I shall write again when the news arrives.'