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One of my many ‘interests’  is the clay tobacco pipe, which came about after finding a cluster of fragments of clay tobacco pipe bowls and stems in a newly ploughed field near to where I once lived.

Being naturally curious I soon set about doing some research into the history of the humble clay tobacco pipe industry and my interest continues to this day.

I have over the years found and collected clay pipes and pipe fragments which I have either found in the ground or purchased.

Going through my ‘collection’ recently I came across a large pipe bowl I purchased from an antique fair some years ago and I became interested again in the decoration on the bowl.

You will see from the photographs it is decorated on both sides, one side reads:

                                ‘WHO FEARS TO SPEAK OF 98’  

On the other side it reads:

                                ‘IRELAND SHALL BE FREE’    with a shamrock in the centre.

A quick search on the internet revealed it refers to the Irish Rebellion of 1798, also known as the ‘United Irishmen’ Rebellion.

I have to admit my knowledge of Ireland’s history did not include anything about this particular vent, so I set about further research to find out more about it.

The rebellion of 1798 only lasted around four months, May to September and was influenced by the revolutions which had occurred in France and America, in fact when the rebellion began the French had supplied French regular soldiers, marines, sailors and ships to aid the rebels.

The British soon responded by sending over 40,000+ militia to quell the rebellion. 

For many years the Irish people had been trying to get self-rule and a more independent parliament away from the control of Britain, a quest which was to last nearly two hundred years more as we know.

The ‘United Irishmen’ organisation had been canvasing for many years prior to 1798, and by 1797 they had some 200,000 members.

The rebellion began on the 24th May 1798, but each attack by the United Irishmen was met with defeat by the British military even when the French arrived in August.

On the 8th September the main rebel force was defeated which resulted in the French surrendering and they were repatriated but sadly the hundreds of captured Irish rebels were executed.   As in all ‘wars’ atrocities tend to  happen during and after such conflicts and the 1798 rebellion was no exception.    The British were particularly responsible for a gruesome massacre where rebels were burned alive.  The Irish rebels were also guilty of atrocities, which included imprisoning Protestant men, women and children in a barn and setting it alight.

Thousands of deaths occurred during that short period, some estimates put it at 70,000.  There are no real winners in such conflicts.

But back to the clay pipe, which doesn’t date back to 1798 in fact it dates back to 1898.

The 1798 rebellion became a major event in the heritage of that part of Ireland and to mark it’s the hundred year anniversary several ’98 Clubs’ were formed to mark the event and to promote ‘the cause’.

Membership of the ’98 Club’ was almost all male and mostly from the working class.  However the Irish women, not to be excluded set about decorating the graves of the 1798 patriots and making home made goods with a 1798 theme.

Clay tobacco pipes were still being produced in Ireland in 1898 so it would be logical to produce pipes to mark the event.

I now know a little more about the history of the Irish conflict, all from a little piece of white clay.

© Penny Vickers

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