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Musgrave, Sir Richard (1757-1818)

Author, Politician & Landowner

Sir Richard was the author of one of the most successful early works published on the 1798 Rebellion. He was son of Christopher Musgrave of Tourin House and Susannah Ussher of Ballintaylor House. Aged 21 Sir Richard was elected MP for the borough of Lismore. He was appointed receiver of the Customs in Dublin. In 1782 he married Deborah, daughter of Sir Henry Cavendish and soon after he was made a Baronet. He was appointed High Sheriff of Co. Waterford in 1786.In 1794 he published 'A Letter on the Present Situation of Public Affairs in London'and in 1796 'Considerations on the Present State of England and France". In 1797 the arrival of a new Catholic Bishop of Waterford Thomas Hussey, the collapse of agricultural prices and the activities of the United Irishmen in Co. Waterford alarmed Sir Richard.

In the spring of 1797 Bishop Hussey published a pastoral letter criticising Government policies towards Catholics and referring to the Church of Ireland as a 'small sect'of political trimmers. Later that year Sir Richard contacted the Government about what he perceived to be the treacherous activities of the Bishop and their impact on the peasantry. There was a drop in grain prices after the harvest in 1797, which affected the small tillage farmers in the lower Blackwater area. Farmers were unable to meet tithe demands and an oath-bound tithe strike began. Sir Richard stated that oaths were taken declaring loyalty to the French Convention. He also claimed that he had 'written more in the public prints in 1797 & 1798 against treason and sedition than any other individual in Ireland".

Before the Rebellion was suppressed he published (under a pseudonym) attacks on people such as the Earl of Moira & the Duke of Leinster, he defended the army's role, and felt Government & Magistrates were in no way responsible for causing rebellion. Later in 1798 he published a pamphlet: - 'To the Magistrates, Militia, and Yeomanry of Ireland". The following year he published: - 'A Concise Account of the Material, Events and Atrocities, which occurred in the late Rebellion". His authorship was kept 'a profound secret… For I should be assassinated if it were known, as I attack with great virulence the abominations of popery".

By mid July 1798 people were aware that Musgrave was gathering information for a history of the Rebellion. He was supported by several Church of Ireland Bishops, and was given access to court-martial reports and county-assize indictments. In the spring of 1801 the book was published as:- 'Memoirs of the different Rebellions in Ireland from the Arrival of the English with a Particular Detail of that which broke out on the 23 May 1798; the History of the Conspiracy which preceded it, and the Characters of the Principal actors in it.'It was priced at £1-7-6 and according to Musgrave the 1,250 copies were sold out in 2 months. A second edition was produced later in the year. A third and cheaper edition appeared in 1802. Musgrave made some changes and additions to the second and third editions.

David Dickson in a forward to a new edition of Musgrave's memoirs published in 1995 described the authors agenda: 'The insurrection of 1798 had been in essence a Papist Rebellion aided of course by Protestant dupes and Presbyterian republicans … Musgraves's message in its sectarian outspokenness was too astringent for many Protestants and it is essential to recognise that his work became the political bible for a party, not for the whole Protestant Community. The Irish administration seeking to maintain a delicate détente with the Catholic Bishops, Musgrave's charge of profound Catholic complicity in the rebellion and his unqualified defence of loyalist excesses were politically unwelcome. As a result the retiring Lord Lieutenant, Marques Cornwallis, demanded that Musgrave's dedication to him (which had appeared in the first edition) be removed. He thought the book 'tended to revive the dreadful animosities which have so long distracted this county". While Musgrave's memoirs are undoubtedly biased it is now recognised by historians as an important source for the study of the period. It was ironic that Sir Richard's nephew and heir to the barony joined the Catholic Association in 1826 and became MP for Co. Waterford in the 1830's. Sir Richard did not get on with his wife Deborah and she decided it was time to end the marriage when one night while he was having a nightmare he cried out 'You infernal papist rebel'and tried to choke her to death! Musgrave died at his house in Holles Street, Dublin on 7 April 1818.

Author: William Fraher

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