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An Editorial: Joseph, 1798 and the Aftermath

Joseph's 1798 battle successes at Balleyellis, Aughrim and the Hills of Glenmalure in South Leinster came from his ability to surmount most of his problems and unite his men in an effort to obtain freedom from Britain for an United Ireland. His charisma and determined military prowess attracted many to his banner. Even the Ancient Briton Captain, James Kelly, who escaped from the Battle of Balleyellis when his piked horse leapt over Joseph's carts' barrier, recognised that the United Irishmen were fighting for Ireland's independence and subsequently joined Joseph's army, (Memoirs of Joseph Holt General of the Irish Rebels in 1798, Vol. I, P. 92, T. Crofton Croker, editor, 1838; Rebellion in Wicklow General Joseph Holt's Personal Account of 1798, p. 45, Peter O'Shaughnessy, 1998; Rebellion in Wicklow 1798, p.392, Dr Ruan O'Donnell). As well as such members of the regular army, he also attracted yeomen deserters and certain of the professional Hessian troops to join his Wicklow men for the United Irish cause. He then took his opportunity to make full use of the Hessian deserters' military training by having them drill his inexperienced volunteers to prepare them for battle.

The authorities took care to politically manipulate the factions so that a common purpose amongst the members of the Church of Ireland, Ascendancy, United Irish, Orangemen, Roman Catholic Church, Defenders, Dissenters and other Protestants could never be achieved.

Joseph's efforts for an United Ireland were lampooned, particularly following his surrender. Criticism of him is rife to this day. Fr Kavanagh's 1870's book purposely down-played the original Protestant Church of Ireland United Irish leaders' initiation of the 'Rebellion'. It is interesting to note that the military doyen of the Roman Catholic Byrne's family, Myles Byrne, had praised the Church of Ireland Joseph years before in his, Myles Byrne's Memoirs, published after his retirement from Napoleon's Grand Army. These memoirs include their exploits together against the combined British forces as United Irish Colonels and those following the Protestant Joseph Holt's "appointment in the field" to replace the Roman Catholic General Edward Roche as facilitated by his brother, Father Philip Roche as the Commander-in Chief. Together with General Edward Roche's men, his army apparently totalled 12,600 men. After these Vinegar Hill remnants joined him, he proudly stated, "I was the only Protestant Irish General in charge of 10,000 Roman Catholic soldiers."

It is a matter of record that Joseph was recognised internationally as an important Irish General. He dealt directly with both the revolutionary French Directory and subsequent Napoleon Bonaparte administration, hence his wearing of a French military officer's uniform as he awaited the French arrival. There is a contrast between the news from the contemporary French reporters to their Irish counterparts' reporting, as shown in 'Bien Informe, No. 405, 6 brumaire VII' (26 October 1798).

"Whenever Ireland was reported in newspapers it was to tell of the exploits of Joseph Holt, who became the symbol of Irish resistance." (The United Irishman, David Dickson, Daire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, p.266, 1994).

The use of quotes as in "General" Joseph Holt by authors, and/or editors, either shows a lack of knowledge or a desire to promote biased propaganda as in the newspapers of the day. The original editor of Joseph's memoirs in 1838, T. Crofton Croker, saw no need to use quotes despite his employ in the British Admiralty. If quotes are prompted because of the lack of qualifying troop numbers for Joseph to be considered a General, why are they not applied to his predecessor, the Roman Catholic General Edward Roche who obviously had less soldiers, or to certain Generals of the victorious armies in what has become the United States of America?

Joseph's adroit use of the Wicklow Mountains was vital to his successes. Joseph Holt became the most successful United Irish General of 1798, hence the perceived military need to ship him to the other end of the world where Napoleon's administration still managed to contact him in 1802 through the naval geographical explorer and cartographer, Thomas Baudin, who carried sealed despatches to him (pers. comment, Dr Ruan O'Donnell). With more United Irish convicts in New South Wales than government troops, this recent knowledge could be the hidden reason for Governor Philip Gidley King's peremptory decision to have this successful United Irish General suddenly removed from court and, apparently illegally deported to the penal colony of Norfolk Island after the United Irish convict's Vinegar Hill uprising outside Parramatta, despite his protestations of innocence. It also could explain why Captain William Cox was powerless to help his friend.

Arriving in Norfolk Island, May 19, 1804, Joseph suffered severe, harsh treatment under Commandant Major Joseph Foveaux. It ceased before Foveaux was replaced as commandant by Captain John Piper thanks to the intervention of surgeon, Darcy Wentworth. Joseph was later sent back to Sydney in charge of the Norfolk Island government's and settlers' sheep and cattle aboard the Sydney, bound for Hobart in preparation for the closing of the first Norfolk Island Penal Colony. They were disembarked on the 3rd December 1805 at Sullivan's Cove. Lt-Governor Collins was impressed as they were in better order and condition than those already present in Van Diemen's Land. This substantiated his knowledge of Joseph's abilities gained from Captain John Piper's despatches received the day before. Seizing his opportunity, he requested Joseph to survey The Great River (Derwent) in the Lieutenant Governor's whale boat to find good agricultural land for the planned resettlement of the Norfolk Island population. The current city of New Norfolk, where most of Norfolk island's former settlers and harshly treated United Irish convicts were settled on the Derwent River, resulted from this exploration (Memoirs of Joseph Holt, General of the Irish Rebels, in 1798. Vol. II, T.Crofton Croker, editor, 1838, A Rum Story, Peter O'Shaughnessy, editor,1988; A History of New Norfolk and the Derwent Valley, K. R. von Steiglitz, O.B.E., 1961). The names of Joseph Holt and his 1805 Derwent River expedition companion, Denis McCarty, were included on the Memorial to Settlers in St David's Park, Hobart, unveiled by Queen Elizabeth in 1954. Amongst others, it honoured the arrival from Norfolk Island of the freemen, convicts, marines, sailors and soldiers. (Looking for Joseph, 2008, p.36, Pamela Goesch).

The reason given by the Vatican for their lack of support of the United Irishmen in 1798 and the Fenian's cause in 1867 was that these societies required a secret oath to be sworn. It still holds for the Masonic Lodge to this day.

Because of the mounting criticism of the Roman Catholic Church's official Ascendancy stance in both instances, they belatedly reversed their stance to reduce this criticism by having Father Patrick Kavanagh write a biased 'Rebellion' history which was published, in 1870 as, A Popular History of the Insurrection of 1798. It demeaned the United Irish involvement, "riddled by spies, ruined by drink, with self important leaders...", (p. 170, The Tree of Liberty, Radicalism, Catholicism and the Construction of Irish Identity 1760 - 1830, Dr Kevin Whelan) and eulogised the previously denied 'renegade' active priest leaders of the '1798 Rebellion', such as, Frs. Mogue Kearns, John Murphy, Michael Murphy, Philip Roche, Thomas Clinch and others. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Thomas Troy (1786 - 1823) had then described these modern-day heroes as, "excommunicated priests, drunken and profligate couple-beggars, the very faeces of the church.", (A Vindication of the Roman Catholic clergy on the tour of Wexford during the late unhappy Rebellion, 1799, courtesy of David Flood, http://www.struggle.ws/andrew/1798.html).

Seventy two years after Archbishop Dr John Troy's excommunication of his insurgent young rebel priests, his disgust was conveniently ignored by the Roman Catholic Church to achieve the desired result. Father Kavanagh's bias countered the earlier Protestant bias of Sir Richard Musgrave's, Memoirs of the Various Rebellions in Ireland, published in 1801. It had portrayed the Roman Catholics as the villains against the British and the Protestant Ascendancy. It was no accident that it was published in the same year as The Act of Union 1801 which bound Ireland to England. The Irish Roman Catholic Church learnt from this propaganda success and countered it with their 1870 version. Its contents were used to good effect by the Irish Nationalists in 1898. It formed the basis for the dichotomy which has pervaded Irish society throughout the world for over 100 years, spread through the biased evangelism of unquestioning Irish Roman Catholic priests, nuns and brothers. Its influence was still palpable at the 1998 bicentenary celebrations in Ireland.

It was initially pleasing to see General Joseph Holt's efforts for Ireland's independence had been recognised through the effigy of him in his cell at the Wicklow Gaol. It was left to Dr Ruan O'Donnell to reveal the history inaccuracy. Joseph had never been a prisoner there! Joseph did enter the prison but as a barony-constable with his prisoners. He gave his evidence at the adjacent Wicklow Court.

The ill General, realised that he could not control the ever increasing butchery on both sides. His younger brother, Johnathon, had already been killed at Greenane in October. Henry Grattan, a cousin of Elizabeth LaTouche had been accused of being a member of the United Irishmen and removed from the Irish parliament. Despairing, and devoid of practical help from the French, he surrendered to Lord Powerscourt IV at his demesne as a political prisoner at 11 O'Clock on the 11th November, 1798. The Bank of Ireland employers of his wife's sister, the Ascendancy Huguenots, Peter and Elizabeth LaTouche, arranged for Joseph to be smuggled into this Wicklow demesne the night before. The next day, Joseph surrendered to Lord Powerscourt IV and was taken directly for imprisonment in Dublin Castle by the Powerscourt Cavalry, who had long been hunting for him.

In fact, this Co. Wicklow exhibit skews history and unwittingly adds to the slurs that Joseph's memory continues to endure, if he is mentioned at all.

Joseph was honoured correctly by the inclusion of his name with other United Irish Glenmalure notables on the impressive 1998 granite memorial there. Strangely, their United Irish military titles were not recognised. Earl Camden would have felt vindicated that year, if he had been alive, as his , 'The Insurrection Act', of 1796 also did not recognise the United Irishmen's military titles, nor their army, thus sanctioning the butchery. It was left to the wider Holt family's energetic descendant, the late Sean 'Sonny' Holt, to combine with the Roundwood and District Historical and Folklore Society and Wicklow County Council to erect a memorial beside Joseph's former Mullinaveigue farm which was unveiled by Sonny Holt at the request of the Society and the Council. Unlike many of the Roman Catholic 1798 memorials, this Protestant's memorial is not mounted on a plinth and is subject to the passing vehicles' mud from the busy road and the growth of the surrounding vegetation.

The magnificent, architect-designed, 1798 memorial in Aughrim, where Joseph's sister, Mary, had lived in 1798, resulted from the submission of the award-winning Aughrim Tidy Towns Committee, with Sonny's similarly energetic wife, the late Annie Holt, nee Doyle, as secretary. Another of our Irish patrons, Dr Ruan O'Donnell, then of Greystones, was also actively involved with this and other 1998 County Wicklow commemorative projects.

Sonny and Annie had also been involved with the naming of Holt's Way in 1978 when the Irish Tourist Board was renaming various historical areas to promote tourism. They celebrated this by holding a Holt family reunion unaware that their Australian brethren, directly descended from General Joseph Holt, existed.

In 2006, Sonny's and Annie's sons, Fergus and Pascal Holt, also arranged for the design and unveiling of the Holt Family Fellowship Memorial to Joseph at the Holt Developments' site at Tinahely during its official General Joseph Holt's 250th Birthday Tour. The evening 250th birthday party was arranged by Sonny and Fergus Holt and was held in Aughrim. Before his death, Sonny was also involved in the current move to erect a memorial to commemorate General Joseph Holt's victory of The Battle of Aughrim over Hunter Gowan's murderous 'Black Mob' in 1798.

That there was a need to find and publicise the truth about the Protestant General Joseph Holt was blatantly obvious in 1998. It stimulated his descendants to create The Holt Family Fellowship at Lake Parramatta, New South Wales, in portion of the grounds of his former Mt. Hester Estate on January 11, 2000; the bicentennial date of Joseph's and his family's arrival in Sydney aboard the Minerva. (op. cit., Peter O'Shaughnessy).

It was our hope that it would be a means to redress the biased post-rebellion, political and religious history writings since at least 1801 and counter the history neglect of our ancestor despite Peter O'Shaughnessy's publication of Joseph's re-edited original text; the Australian volume as, A Rum Story, in 1988 and the Irish volume, Rebellion in Wicklow General Joseph Holt's Personal Account of 1798, in 1998, as well as the publications of Drs Thomas Bartlett, Davis Dickson, Daire Keogh, Ruan O'Donnell, Bob Reece, Kevin Whelan and other modern historians. The Fellowship was also necessary as an aid to authenticate the many claims of direct descent from General Joseph Holt throughout the world, particularly from the Northern Hemisphere, ignoring the history and without the benefit of the physical presence of his two sons, Joshua and Joseph Harrison Holt! His Australian descendants now number over 3,000.

By 2007, Dr Ruan O'Donnell had confirmed that Joseph's Ballydonnell (now Ballydaniel) siblings; John Jnr, Thomas, William, Joshua and Mary; were all involved in the United Irish cause. It led to the welcome membership extension of free inclusion of their descendants as members of The Holt Family Fellowship from birth. Because of Joseph's mention in his memoirs of William's and Jonathon's active involvement, this possibility had been recognised from the outset by Lionel Fowler and discussed with Sonny & Annie Holt in 1998. Their discussion was aided by the new knowledge gained during the 1998 SAG tour through the accidental discovery in ireland's National Archives of the summation of the Rathdrum magistrate, Captain Thomas King's spies' reports by Peter Mayberry, a John Mernagh descendant. It reported the 1798 United Irish recruiting activities of John Jnr, as well as Joseph's and William's movements. At that time, despite the research help of Diana Hardy Wilson, a Tasmanian descendant of Joseph Holt's grandson, Joshua, Sean 'Sonny' Holt was unable to link his ancestry to the General. He was embarrassed by the County Wicklow Council's insistence for the word 'descendant' being placed on the new 1998 memorial, which he unveiled, beside Joseph's former Mullinaveigue farm. This was overcome by the Fellowship honouring both Sean and his wife, Annie, as our Irish patrons, together with Dr Ruan O'Donnell and Joan Kavanagh (the inaugural manager of the Wicklow Family History Centre, wfh@eircom.net) in recognition of their promotion of our ancestor. The result of Ruan's research meant that we were then able to open The Holt Family Fellowship's membership to the whole of John Holt Snr's United Irish descendants across the world. This lessened to some extent Sonny Holt's embarrassment with the word, 'descendant' on Joseph's 1998 memorial which he had done so much to achieve.

We look forward to all of Joseph's siblings' descendants informing us through The General's Chat Room of their ancestors' journeys through life. The children's father, John Holt of Ballydonnell (Ballydaniel), a builder and farmer himself, apprenticed his other sons into the building trades. William was both an architect and farmer. With all his children implicated in the United Irish movement, it is likely that John Snr. was similarly aligned.

Joseph's brother, Johnathon, was killed in the cavalry charge at Greenane bridge whilst substituting for the bed-ridden General. He was just 21 years old. Modern historians spell his name, 'Jonathon', suggesting that this able General, the former Wicklow barony-constable as well as diarist, did not know how to spell his brother's name after having known him personally for those 21 years! His spelling of his other siblings' names is accepted.

The centuries of political and religious bias since 1798 have frustrated researchers searching for the truth of past events in Ireland. It has made life difficult for family researchers, such as the late Sean 'Sonny' Holt, as certain historical facts cannot be proven through primary sources. Both family and official papers were often destroyed to deny factual history in an attempt to protect the lives of the surviving United Irish family members from the 1798/99 War of Terror officially conducted under General Lake and, in addition, those subsequently of the officials' families.

Following his death in 1826, Joseph's memoirs were published in 1838 in two volumes as, Memoirs of Joseph Holt, General of The Irish Rebels, in 1788., under the editorship of T. Crofton Croker who was an employee of the British Navy. It was the year that Joseph's Minerva-born, younger son, Joseph Harrison Holt left ireland for New York, returned, and then sailed back to Port Jackson with his family to join his brother, Joshua. He financed his and his family's voyages by selling his ownerships in Dublin. His father's hand-written memoirs and notes he sold to Sir William Betham. Joseph had revised his memoirs during the period he spent shipwrecked on Eagle (Speedwell) Island where he tried to make certain that the names he mentioned of his fellow United Irishmen were only those either killed or captured, thus giving his book verisimilitude for the authorities and protecting his army personnel from them. As a former feared sub-constable, he was happy to include those who were downright criminals against their fellow Irish men and women.

Fascinated by his story, the Australian actor, dramatist, and producer, Peter O'Shaughnessy, used the resources of The Mitchell Library in Sydney to re-edit Joseph's memoirs from the original papers as purchased by it. He discovered political manipulation, several anomalies, omissions and biased interpretations. He corrected as many of these as he was able. Peter reversed the publishing order of the two volumes by publishing the contents of the second volume first in Australia in 1988 and the first volume second in Ireland in 1998. He titled the first volume A Rum Story. It dealt with Joseph's time spent in Australia and his return journey to Dublin. The second volume dealt with Joseph's birth, life and insurgency time in Ireland and was titled, Rebellion in Wicklow General Joseph Holt's Personal Account of 1798. Unfortunately, Peter's two books also reveal some personal bias and a failure to check the veracity of all his sources. During his current quest to have both books published together as an 'omnibus' edition, he has since acknowledged that his claim that Joseph Holt shot Sir Thomas Hugo is possibly his major error.

We were fortunate recently to find a book review of the original 1838 edition on the web, as above, written in January of that year, thanks to Google. It exposes some of the bias which followed the Insurgency period after the quixotic 1798 quest by The Society of United Irishmen to establish the ideals of freedom in Ireland as already expressed in France after their exposure to the world in the Englishman, Thomas Paine's book, The Rights of Man. The critique gives us a basis for understanding the period and some of the 19th Century actions and views being expressed forty years after that Irish Insurgency. Ten years after Joseph's memoirs' publication, middle-class graduates of Trinity College, Dublin, headed by Thomas Davis, Charles Gavan Duffy, John Blake Dillon and William Smith O'Brien led The Young Ireland Movement in yet another quixotic failed quest for Irish independence. One is thus left to ponder if there was a further reason which prompted Sir William Betham's decision to publish Joseph's memoirs at that time?

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