The Humbert Challenge
Why Humbert? The French Invasion of Ireland 1798
On 22 August 1798, a French expedition of 1,000 men under the leadership of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert (b.1767) landed at Kilcummin, north of Killala. Matthew Tone, brother of Wolfe Tone, was on board General Humbert’s ship when it sailed into Killala Bay. After landing, the French took over the residence of Bishop Stock, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Killala, as a temporary headquarters, before making their way to Ballina and thence cross country to Castlebar.
The French were surprised by the lack of military training among the Irish who supported them. Nonetheless, over 3.000 Irish recruits joined their ranks on the march to Castlebar, many armed only with pikes and pitchforks. This Franco-Irish force marched along the remote west shore of Lough Conn over rough uneven ground. They passed Barnageeha (the Windy Gap) and arrived at Castlebar to face a startled British garrison under the command of General Lake. They broke through the Crown forces and moved from Staball Hill down Thomas Street to what was then the market place. From here, they took Castlebar Bridge, under the command of General Fontaine. With the rebels in pursuit, the Crown forces broke and fled in what became known as the ‘Races of Castlebar’.
But then their fortunes turned. The Franco-Irish forces were finally surrounded by English troops on 8 September 1798 at Ballinamuck in Co. Longford. Here, the French surrender was accepted, but some 2.000 Irish were massacred. Father Andrew Conroy, parish priest of Addergoole (Lahardane) and Father Manus Sweeney of Newport were hanged for their support of the French.