What I’m writing about this week, No2: Raparees

I’m writing a novel about the wars in Ireland between the forces of William of Orange and King James II (Blood’s Campaign, published in October 2019), which stars my semi-fictional hero, the brilliant artilleryman and sometime spy Holcroft Blood. I was expecting to write about bitter sieges and pitched battles, great slaughters and heroic last stands. And there are plenty of those in the history of the period and in the novel. But some of the most important fighting in this savage war was conducted by small gangs of irregular Irish soldiers known raparees.

17th-century Irish guerrillas

Raparees were what we would now call guerrillas, although the term would not be coined until the Peninsula War more than a hundred and twenty years later. They set ambushes, attacked supply lines, skirmished for the main armies and killed stragglers from the marching columns. They were small bands of men, thirty to fifty strong, usually mounted and fast-moving, who conducted hit-and-run raids and depended on their intimate knowledge of the local countryside to escape the consequences of their bloody actions. Their name comes from the Irish word ropairí, plural of ropaire, meaning a half-pike, a sort of spear that some of them may have carried. Apparently, they would hide their weapons, spears, swords, axes, in the bogs after an attack and blend back into the civilian population.

The Williamite Wars in Ireland (1688-1691)

The Williamite regular forces looked on them as no better than bandits, thieves and murderers, men who wore no uniform and who stole and killed indiscriminately. Orders were given that they were to be put down like vermin. John Childs, the pre-eminent British historian of the period, writes in The Williamite Wars in Ireland: “In the movie Full Metal Jacket [still pictured above], the USMC helicopter skims across South Vietnam, its machine gunner fires indiscriminately at everyone in sight despite the fact that they are obviously civilians, drawling, ‘if they run they are VC, if they stand they are disciplined VC’. The attitude of William’s Protestant soldiers was identical: anyone in arms, or not demonstrably opposing the irregulars, was regarded as a raparee to be hunted down and killed.”

Galloping Hogan – a hero in song and verse

One of the most famous raparees was named “Galloping” Hogan – so called for his horsemanship skills (see figurine above). Hogan was involved in a daring raid at Ballyneety in August 1690, he guided Patrick Sarsfield’s men when they successfully attacked and destroyed almost all of the Williamite artillery train as it trundled towards the siege of Limerick (this exploit will be told in Blood’s Campaign). There are several traditional Irish folk songs about Galloping Hogan; this verse about his recruitment by General Sarsfield for the dashing Ballyneety raid gives you a flavour:

“And yet one blow for freedom –
One daring midnight ride!
And William may be humbled yet,
For all his power and pride!
“Go! Bring to me ‘The Galloper’,
To Highway Hogan say
‘Tis Ireland has need of him,
And him alone today!”

Devil-may-care and a drinker – but dangerous, too

But little is known about the real man, even his real name is a bit of a mystery: John Childs calls him Daniel Hogan, the internet almost unanimously calls him Michael Hogan. And friend of mine who knows this period well says there may actually have been two Galloping Hogans. I’ve chosen to call him Michael Daniel Hogan and I’ve made him one of the main characters in my novel. I’ve depicted him as a devil-may-care rogue, cheeky, fun-loving and a drinker, but also extremely dangerous – I rather like the character, to be honest, and hope I’ve done the real man justice.

Irish Robin Hoods

The truth about these raparees is likely to be that they were both bold freedom fighters, battling for the Jacobite cause they believed in, and probably, from time to time, no more than ruthless outlaws and highwaymen. Either way they have entered into the folk legends of Ireland – and I can’t help thinking of them (given the books I’ve already written) as sort of Irish Robin Hoods. I enjoyed learning about them, anyway. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about their exploits in Blood’s Campaign.

Blood’s Campaign

Blood’s Campaign won’t be published till October 2019 – I’ve only written about a third of it so far – but if you are interested in the Holcroft Blood series, Blood’s Game, the first book is available here,  and Blood’s Revolution, book 2, is available to be pre-ordered here.

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