Father Murphy’s forces were finally defeated at the Battle of Vinegar Hill just outside Enniscorthy.
The rebels were armed mainly with pikes while the British army had heavy artillery.
Father Murphy managed to escape but was captured soon afterwards in Tullow in County Carlow. He was tortured and as the song says, his “body was burned upon the rack”.
Father Murphy and the rebels are defeated but the song ends with a spirit of confidence and optimism.
Heaven is invited to open its doors to the rebels. The last line of the song then turns away from the past and for the first time looks to the future: “The cause that called you may call tomorrow in another fight for the Green again”
McCall was writing partly with hindsight and partly with foresight when he wrote this line.
He knew that the cause of Irish independence had inspired further rebellions including the uprising organised by Robert Emmett in 1803.
What he couldn’t have known for certain but what he clearly anticipated was that there would be more uprisings to come in future.
McCall, of course, was right because the struggle continued into the 20th century with the Easter Rising of 1916 which finally proved the catalyst to bring about Irish independence.
There were dozens if not hundreds of songs written about the 1798 Rebellion, both at the time and for several years afterwards.
However, Boolavogue is the best known and the one that has most captured people’s imaginations. This is partly down to the strength of the melody that McCall used, an old Irish air known as Eochaill or Youghal Harbour.
The lyrics are also hugely important in making the song so popular.
McCall was a very clever writer and he manages to tell the story of Father Murphy very succinctly using only four verses of four lines each.
In that short space, he gives us the history, the emotion and even that note of optimism at the end. The strength of the lyrics combined with that beautiful, haunting melody means the song still strikes a chord with audiences to this day.
Read more about Father Murphy – reluctant hero of 1798 rebellion