For other uses, see Rapparee (disambiguation).

Rapparees or raparees (from the Irish ropairí, plural of ropaire, meaning half-pike or pike-wielding person) were Irish guerrilla fighters who operated on the Jacobite side during the 1690s Williamite war in Ireland. Subsequently the name was also given to bandits and highwaymen in Ireland – many former guerrillas having turned to crime after the war ended. They share similarities with the hajduks of Eastern Europe.

Wood kerne and Tories

There was a long tradition of guerrilla warfare in Ireland before the 1690s. Irish irregulars in the 16th century were known as ceithearnaigh choille, "wood-kerne", a reference to native Irish foot-soldiers called ceithearnaigh, or "kerne". In the Irish Confederate Wars of the 1640s and 50s, irregular fighters on the Irish Confederate side were known as "tories", from the Irish word tóraidhe (modern tóraí) meaning "pursuer".[1]

From 1650–53, during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, the tories caused the occupying English Parliamentarian forces a great deal of trouble, attacking vulnerable garrisons, tax-collectors and supply columns and then melting away when faced with detachments of English troops. Henry Ireton first led a sweep of County Wicklow and the south midlands in September–October 1650 to try to clear it of tory guerrillas.[2]

The Parliamentarian commander John Hewson during the 1650–51 winter, led punitive columns into the midlands and the Wicklow mountains to try and root out the tory bands. Although they captured a number of small castles and killed several hundred guerrillas, they were not able to stop the tories' attacks. In Wicklow especially, he destroyed all the food he found in order to starve the guerrillas into submission.[3]

The guerrillas were eventually defeated by evicting all civilians from areas where they operated and killing those civilians then found within those zones. As of April 1651, the Parliamentarians designated areas such as Wicklow and much of the south of the country as what would now be called free-fire zones, where anyone found would be "taken slain and destroyed as enemies and their cattle and good shall be taken or spoiled as the goods of enemies". Hewson ordered the expulsion of Roman Catholic townsmen from Dublin, for fear they were aiding the tories in the countryside.[4] Other counter-guerrilla tactics included selling those captured as indentured labour and finally publishing surrender terms allowing tories to leave the country to enter military service in France and Spain.[5] The last organised bands of tories surrendered in 1653, when many of them left the country to serve in foreign armies.[6]

After the war, many tories continued their activities, "a spasmodic and disconnected opposition to the new regime", in part as Catholic partisans, in part as ordinary criminals who "brought misery to friend and foe alike". The ranks of tories remained filled throughout the post-war period by displaced Irish Catholics whose land and property was confiscated in the Cromwellian Settlement.[7]

Williamite War

In the 1690s, during the Glorious Revolution, the label "tory" was insultingly given to the English supporters of James II, to associate them with the Irish rebels and bandits of a generation earlier. In Ireland, Irish Catholics supported James – becoming known as Jacobites. Under Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, each locality had to raise a regiment to support the Jacobite cause. Most did so, but James and his French backers did not have the resources to arm and pay them all, so many of them were disbanded. It was from these bands that most of the Rapparees were organised. They armed themselves with whatever they could find or take from Protestant civilians, including muskets, long knives (sceana or "skiens") and half-pikes. The rapparees got their name from this last weapon – a pike about 6 feet (2 m) long, cut down from the standard military pike which was up to 16 feet (5 m) long – known in Irish as a rapaire.

Throughout the campaign, the rapparees caused major logistical problems to the Williamite army, raiding their rear areas and killing their soldiers and supporters. Many rapparee bands developed a bad reputation among the general civilian population, including among Catholics, for robbing indiscriminately. George Warter Story, a chaplain with a Williamite regiment, relates that the rapparees hid their weapons in bogs when Williamite troops were in the area and melted into the civilian population, only to re-arm and reappear when the troops were gone. The rapparees were a considerable help to the Jacobite war effort, tying down thousands of Williamite troops who had to protect supply depots and columns. The famous rapparee "Galloping Hogan" is said to have guided Patrick Sarsfield's cavalry raid that destroyed the Williamite siege train at the siege of Limerick in 1690.


Rapparees have been depicted in fiction, for example in Thomas Flanagan's Year of the French, "Joshua's son Jonathan, who in 1690 had raised his company to serve King William at the Boyne and Aughrim and Limerick, rode home to Mount Pleasant and defended it for five years against the sporadic sallies of the rapparees, the swordsmen, masterless now, of the defeated James Stuart."

There is an old folk song devoted to the subject of the Rapparee:

How green are the fields that washed the Finn
How grand are the houses the Peelers live in
How fresh are the crops in the valleys to see
But the heath is the home of the wild rapparee

Ah, way out on the moors where the wind shrieks and howls
Sure, he'll find his lone home there amongst the wild foul
No one there to welcome, no comrade was he
Ah, God help the poor outlaw, the wild rapparee

He robbed many rich of their gold and their crown
He outrode the soldiers who hunted him down
Alas, he has boasted, They'll never take me,
Not a swordsman will capture the wild rapparee

There's a stone covered grave on the wild mountainside.
There's a plain wooden cross on which this is inscribed:
Kneel down, dear stranger, say an Ave for me
I was sentenced to death being a wild rapparee[1]

  1. ^ Glassie, Henry H. (1995). Passing the time in Ballymenone: culture and history of an Ulster community. Indiana University Press. p. 110. ISBN 9780253209870. 

See also


  1. Patrick Weston Joyce, The origin and history of Irish names of places,p. 50
  2. Wheeler, Scott. Cromwell in Ireland, p. 183
  3. Wheeler, pp. 198–199, 214
  4. Wheeler, p. 198
  5. Wheeler, pp. 214, 223
  6. Ó Siochrú, Micheál. God's Executioner, p. 219
  7. Wheeler, p. 236, both quotations above from Scott Wheeler
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