From "The History and Antiquities of Tallaght, In The County of Dublin" William Domville Handcock, M.A.; Dublin, 1899.
"I should not close this History without giving an account of the Fenian Battle of Tallaght as it was called, though it was unworthy of the name.
Early in March, 1867, there were rumours of a rising of the Fenians. They had been drilling, and had prepared pikes, guns, and ammunition in the approved style of such rebellions. We were all expecting something to occur. On Tuesday night, the 4th of March, 1867, large bodies of men moved along the Crumlin, Green-hills, Rathmines, and other roads, towards Tallaght. Their object was known to the police, and they were watched. They were not, however, interfered with, as the Government wished them, apparently, to commit some overt act of rebellion. It is not easy otherwise to account for the indifference with which they were allowed to collect arms and organize their forces, while nearly all their affairs being well known to the authorities, by means of paid informers.
The indifference or cautiousness of the authorities was carried too far. Had the Fenians succeeded in their first encounter, it is impossible to say how far the insurrection would have extended, or how many lives would have been sacrificed. As it was, several unfortunate men lost their lives in this insensate proceeding. To return to the battle. The small force of police at the various stations were unable or unwilling to attempt any interference with the number of men who were proceeding, so far, quietly along the roads. Most of them were decently dressed, and the very lowest order was unrepresented. At Rathgar, a party conveying a box of ammunition was challenged by the police, and ran away, leaving the box behind them.
The unusual number of strangers passing through Tallaght in the direction of the hills alarmed the police at that station. They made what preparations they could. The barrack was barricaded on the inside, and messages were sent to the nearest stations to put the men on the alert. It was soon ascertained that most of the excursionists were armed, and that a rendezvous had been appointed on Tallaght Hill.
About midnight, there were only 14 constables at the station, under command of Sub-Inspector Burke, of Rathfarnham, and Head-Constable Kennedy. They ordered the men to turn out, as the affair was getting serious. Sub-Inspector Burke and two of the constables proceeded a short way down the road towards Dublin. They were met by about 40 Fenians from Rathfarnham escorting a cart or van. One of the police putting his hand into the cart, found it full of cartridges, cap-boxes, and other ammunition. Chief Burke, as he was generally called by the country people, called on the Fenians to surrender. A man, who appeared to be their leader, replied by attempting to strike one of the constables with his sword. He immediately drove his bayonet into the man's body. He fell, and the rest of the party ran off. They took the wounded man with them, and left him in a cottage at Balrothery Hill.
The cart was found to contain several hundredweights of ball-cartridges and percussion-caps, in parcels, boxes, and packets. This prize was taken to the barrack. Soon after, a second party came up from the Green-hills road, who appeared to number four or five hundred. They advanced to within 20 yards of the police, who were drawn up near their barrack, which faces the road. Chief Burke called on them to surrender in the name of the Queen; and said that there was a strong party with him prepared to fire, if his orders were not obeyed. The Fenians halted and hesitated. A few shots were fired, and a few stones thrown. Then, as if panic-stricken, the whole party ran away by the same road. The police did not care to follow, as, the night being dark, they did not know the number of the rebels.
About half-past twelve, another party of about the same number came along the road from Roundtown. On being summoned to stand and surrender, they fled in disorder.
Shortly after a fourth party appeared, coming from the same direction. It was made up, as was supposed, of the runaways from the previous attacks. They advanced in military array, and kept step with a precision that almost deceived the constabulary into the belief that they were regular soldiers. The constabulary were drawn up across the road a few yards from the barrack. Their orders were to fire at once when the word of command was given; and they knelt on one knee, ready to obey.
Sub-Inspector Burke challenged the advancing party, estimated to have numbered about 1,000. When they arrived within 20 or 30 yards of the constabulary, he called on them to surrender in the name of the Queen, and threatened to fire on them if they did not lay down their arms. A person who appeared to be in command, then cried out, "Here's at it; now, boys, now." The words were followed by a volley from the Fenians. Not a shot took effect, probably from the kneeling posture of the police. There were about 60 or 80 shots fired. The constabulary promptly returned the fire, wounding several, and, as it afterwards appeared, one mortally. The Fenians immediately turned and fled, throwing away their arms, and leaving two wounded men on the ground. The police picked up twelve stands of arms, consisting of rifles, bayonets, pikes, and daggers, and plenty of ammunition, which lay scattered about. [About two o'clock on Wednesday morning, Lord Straithnairn, with a detachment of the 52nd Regiment, some squadrons of the Scots Greys and Lancers, and a demi-battery of the R.H.A., passed through Crumlin and Tallaght in pursuit of the Fenians. The military captured 83, but met with no opposition. - Freeman's Journal, March 7th, 1867.]
Thus ended the much-talked-of Battle of Tallaght. In this battle a large number of armed and, to some extent, disciplined Fenians were defeated by 14 constables. To Sub-Inspector Burke, for his prompt action and judicious conduct, great credit is due.
Upwards of 5,000 Fenians collected from other quarters on Tallaght Hill that night. From some cause which was not known, the leaders whom they expected never turned up. The stragglers from the affray at Tallaght carried to them exaggerated accounts of the slaughter of their parry, and of the capture of their ammunition. Worse than all, there fell that night a heavy snow-shower, which quite damped their ardour. Wet, weary, cold, hungry, and foot-sore, with aching or quaking hearts, and empty stomachs, the Fenian army broke up, and slunk back to Dublin in small detached parties. They hid their guns, pistols, pikes, and other weapons in every ditch and hedge, being glad to get rid of them in any way. The police captured as many as they pleased. There were no less than sixty-five arrested, and locked up in Tallaght station-house on Wednesday morning. The police also collected 70 boxes of percussion-caps, some hundredweights of bullets, two swords, 20 pike-heads, 32 pikes with handles nine and a half feet long, five rifles with bayonets. Subsequently, when the snow melted, great numbers of rifles were found; and for many months after, revolvers, muskets, and various other weapons were found about the country.
We heard the firing that night, but did not know the cause. Next morning most wonderful stories came in. Numbers of the Fenians had passed through the village outside our wall, and tried to induce the villagers to join them, but with little success.
At my uncle's place at Kiltalown, the family were in a great fright. They saw numbers of Fenians walking about the lawn all night, and they expected to be attacked every moment. All had disappeared by morning; but in the plantations near the house nearly a cart-load of rifles and ammunition was found. Next day we got a fine pike-head and a neat little dagger, as souvenirs of the latest, and, as I hope, the last, rebellion in Ireland."