Robert Ashton

Life
?1706-?; prob. ed. TCD; author of Battle of Aughrim or the Fall of Monsieur St. Ruth, a verse tragedy in five acts, first seen in 1728; Dublin edns. of Aughrim in 1756, 1771, 1777, 1780, 1784, 1814, 1839, 1841; another in Strabane, 1785, and one in Limerick, 1819; often printed with Michelburne’s Siege of London-Derry; also wrote unprinted comedy, Love is the Conqueror, and is the prob. author of Congratulatory Poem to Dean Swift (1725), Poem in Honour of the Royal Society of Journeymen Shoemakers (1726), and Poem on the Birth-day of Her Late Majesty Queen Anne (1726), all printed in Dublin as folio sheets by a student of TCD; The Battle of Aughrim, called ‘the Ulster folk play par excellence’ (J. R. R. Adams), was revived in Camden Town, London, in 1990. PI GBI DIW FDA OCIL

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Works
The Battle of Aughrim: or, the Fall of Monsieur St. Ruth. A Tragedy (Dublin 1728), 47pp. [infra]; also prob. Congratulatory Poem to Dean Swift (Dublin 1725), 1p. fol.; Poem in Honour of the Royal Society of Journeymen Shoemakers, who are to Dine at the Bull’s Head, Oct. 25th 1726 (Dublin 1726), 1p. fol.; Poem on the Birth-day of Her Late Majesty Queen Anne (Dublin 1726), 1p. fol.

The Battle of Aughrim (Selected Editions), The Battle of Aughrim: or, the Fall of Monsieur St. Ruth. A Tragedy (Dublin: Richard Norris 1728), 47pp. 8o. [infra]; Battle of Aughrim or the Fall of Monsieur St. Ruth, A Tragedy in Five Acts, verse (Dublin: Sylvester Powell Jnr. 1728), 12o.; Do. [another edn.], Battle of Aughrim or the Fall of Monsieur St. Ruth, A Tragedy in Five Acts, Verse (Dublin & Belfast 1756), 12mo.; The Battle of Aughrim, or the Fall of Monsieur St. Ruth; bound with Ireland Preserved, or the Siege of London-Derry, being the second part of the Battle of Aughrim [20th edn.] (Dublin: William Jones 1795), 56, 96pp; 12mo., with additions; port. frontis. of Sarsfield; Rev. John Graham, ed., Battle of Aughrim or the Fall of Monsieur St. Ruth, with Michelburne’s Ireland Preserved ([1841]) Also in Christopher Wheatley & Kevin Donovan, eds., Irish Drama of the Seventeeth and Eighteenth Centuries, 2 vols. (UK: Ganesha Publishing UK 2003) [incls. The Battle of Aughrim, or, The Fall of Monsieur St. Ruth (1728)].

The Battle of Aughrim (Dublin: Powell 1728) [title-page:] THE / BATTLE / of / AUGHRIM: /Or, the Fall of / Monsfieur St. RUTH. / A /TRAGEDY //By ROBERT ASHTON // ‘Since Heaven that did our Nature first create,/Has fince ordain’d all Men must bend to Fate; / So is it alfo by our Stars decreed, / the Hero by the Force of War fhall bleed.’ // DUBLIN: / Printed by S. POWELL, for RICHARD / NORRIS, at the Corner of Crane-Lane, / Effex-ftreet, MDCCXXVIII.

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Criticism
W. M. Thackeray, Irish Sketchbook (1842; rep. Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1985), pp.184-90 [infra]; William Carleton, The Life of William Carleton, ed. D. J. O’Donoghue, London: Downey & Co. 1896, Chp. III, [infra]; Patrick Kennedy, 'How Aughrim was Lost', The Book of Modern Irish Anecdotes: Humour, Wit and Wisdom (Dublin: Gill 1897), pp.19-20 [infra]; Charles Gavan Duffy, My Life in Two Hemispheres (NY 1898), Vol. I, p.1 [infra]; C. G. Duggan, The Stage Irishman (1937) [infra]; Christopher J. Wheatley, ‘Heroic Palimpsest: Robert Ashton’s The Battle of Aughrim’, in Eighteenth-Century Ireland, Vol 11 (1996), pp.53-73, and Wheatley, Beneath Ierne’s Banners: Irish Protestant Drama of the Restoration and Eighteenth century (Notre Dame UP 1999) [q.pp.]. See also Liam O’Flaherty, Famine (Dublin: Wolfhound 1979), p.134 [infra].

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Commentary
W. M. Thackeray
Patrick Kennedy
William Carleton
Charles Gavan Duffy
C. G. Duggan
Liam O’Flaherty

W. M. Thackeray, Irish Sketchbook (1842; rep. Blackstaff 1985), p.184-90. '[The Battle of Aughrim] is written from beginning to end in decasyllabic verse of the richest sort; and introduces us to the chiefs of William's and James's armies ... Among the supernumaries likewise there is dreadful slaughter ... The author, however, though a Protestant is an Irishman (there are peculiarities in his pronunciation which belong only to that nation), and as far as courage goes, he allows the two parties to be pretty equal.'; also 'the Battle of Aughrim, writ in the most doleful Anglo-Irish verse.' [p. 163].

Patrick Kennedy, ‘How Aughrim was Lost’, The Book of Modern Irish Anecdotes: Humour, Wit and Wisdom (Dublin: Gill, 1897), pp.19-20: ‘Towards the middle of the last century, a certain Richard Aston [sic] wrote the rhymed tragedy of The Battle of Aughrom, and, as peasant authorities maintain, had it acted once. But the tradition goes that the Jacobite and Williamite gentlemen in the pit were so excited by the mimic warfare on the stage that they drew their swords and attacked each other. The amount of lost life is not stated, but as was right and natural, the government of the day forebade any other representation. Although the author’s feelings were decidedly on the side of de Ginckell and his men, there was such goodwill shown to Sarsfield - and his loyalty courage, and humanity were so well brought out, that the printed piece has continued a popular folks-book among the Irish populace for upwards of a century, and may still be obtained on Dublin standings in yellow paper cover at threepence. //In the drama the fall of Athlone is fairly attributed to the vain glory and negligence of St Ruth, but he gets no credit for his military intelligence.’ [Note further comments on the true causes of defeat relating to ordnance and supplies; note also references to O’Callaghan’s Green Book, and Le Fanu’s Fortunes of Col. Torloch O’Brien.]

William Carleton, The Life of William Carleton, ed. D. J. O’Donoghue, London: Downey & Co. 1896, chapter III, [q.p.]: ‘The plays of The Siege of Londonderry and The Battle of Aughrim were acted in barns and waste houses night after night, and were attended by multitudes, both Catholic and Protestant. The Battle of Aughrim, however, was the favourite, and the acting play. I head that The Siege of Londonderry had been also acted, but I never saw it. ... In fact I had The Battle of Aughrim off by heart, from beginning to end. This came to be known, and the consequence was that, though not more than ten years of age, I became stage director and prompter both to the Catholic and Protestant amateurs. ... these senseless exhibitions inflamed political feelings very much. In the town of Augher, this stupid play was acted by Catholics and Protestants, each party of course sustaining their own principles. The consequence was, that when they came to the conflict with which the play is made to close, armed as they were on both sides with real swords, political and religious resentment could not be restrained, and they would have hacked each other’s souls out had not the audience interfered and prevented them. As it was, some of them were severely if not dangerously wounded.'

Charles Gavan Duffy, My Life in Two Hemispheres (NY 1898), Vol. I, p.1: ‘There was [sic] no regular bookseller’s shops in Monaghan, but a couple of printers sold school-books; and at a weekly market there was always a peddlar who supplied, at a few pence, cheap books printed in Belfast, of which the most popular were the “Battle of Aughrim” and “Billy Bluff”. The drama of the battle was in the hands of every intelligent schoolboy in Ulster, who strode an imaginary stage as Sarsfield or Ginkel, according to his sympathies.’ (Cited in Wheatley, ‘Heroic Palimpsest: Robert Ashton’s The Battle of Aughrim’, in Eighteenth-Century Ireland, Vol 11 (1996), pp.57-58.)

C. G. Duggan, The Stage Irishman (Dublin: Talbot 1937), pp.37: ‘To the student of the classics the tragedy has a distinct appeal despite its frequently ludicrous verbiage, the seeker after unintentional comedy can also find here much to revel in. The piece has value, too, as a political curiosity, and its main significance resides in two facts, the first that it persisted as a political play until recent times; the second that, to the uncultured, stilted language which soars to the welkin, and as easily drops to the nadir of bathos, may still appeal as the true clothing of heroic tragedy.’

Liam O’Flaherty writes in Famine (1937), ‘Bridget came and cleared the table. The doctor [young Hynes] tried to read a dog-eared old story called The Battle of Aughrim. After a few minutes he threw it aside ... the memory of the girl’s breasts attacked him whenever he closed his eyes.’ (Liam O’Flaherty, Famine, rep. edn. Dublin: Wolfhound 1979), p.134.

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References
Stephen Brown, Guide to Books on Ireland (London: Longmans 1912), remarks that Aughrim was immensely popular with Catholic audiences for 100 years in spite of its Orange flavour. Thackeray saw a production of it in 1841 (Irish Sketchbook, 1842). The dating of Ashton’s birth is problematic since the editor of the 1841 ed., Rev. John Graham, states that Ashton was 18 when he wrote it (therefore b. 1738), but DIW has a different computation. Another writer, Robert Aston, wrote and printed congratulatory poems to Swift and to Queen Anne, as well as a piece addressed to a Shoemaker’s Guild Banquet in the Tailor’s Hall (Dublin) around 1725. Brown suspects they may be the same, but this can only be the case if Ashton was born not much later than 1700, which clashes with Graham. The explanation - accepted by Duggan - is that the first extant edition is not the first edition. [Similar entry in Cleeve, Dictionary of Irish Writers, 1988.]

C. G. Duggan, The Stage Irishman (Dublin: Talbot 1937), pp.37-38: Regarding the dating and identity of the author, Pref. by Charles Usher lauds ‘the first Hibernian bard who merits Bays’; Duggan remarks on its ‘mediocrity achieving a measure of immortality’; first performance can be fixed about the years 1727 in view of dedication to Lord Carteret; first extant ed., 1756; reprinted Strabane by John Bellow, 1785, as being popular in the then Republican North; reference to it in Annual Register of a few years later; small paper edition issued with Michelburne’s Ireland Preserved by C.M. Warren, 21 Upper Ormond Quay in early years of Victoria [where the age of the author at the time of writing is given as 20]; William Carleton knew both plays as school readers in his youth; rewritten by Rev. John Graham [rector of Tamlaght and Magilligan], ‘the whole remodelled and rewritten from originals of the strangest mixture of noble sentiment and barbarousness of language’, [Graham’s Pref., pp. 85-86], ‘lines being retouched in correction of false concords and metaphors or inharmonious rhymes’; continued a stock play in the North till early 20th c.; Duggan comments, ‘the rapprochement that was taking place between the Presbyterian and Roman Catholic during the years 1770 to 1790 may have kept it alive at that times and gives point to the central incident of the romantic affection of Sir Charles Godfrey, ‘a young English gentleman of Fortune’, for the daughter of the Irish Colonel Talbot, an affection which caused him to become a volunteer in the Irish Army. //The play is written in heroic couplets ... no one less than a Colonel being allowed to speak on either side'.

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Quotations
The Battle of Aughrim: ‘O wond’rous God, who can the battle guide, / And give a conquest to the weaker side. / Sure thy tremendous hand the battle fought / When England’s daring foes were brought to n[ou]ght!’; ‘Since Heaven that did our Nature first create, / Has fince ordain’d all Men must bend to Fate; / So is it alfo by our Stars decreed, / The Hero by the Force of War fhall bleed.’

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Notes
Rev. John Graham, dating The Battle of Aughrim in his 1841 Edn. of the play, calls the author William Ashton and claims that he was eighteen at the unspecificed date of writing. Duggan convincingly places it the date of publication at 1727 on the basis of the Vice-Regal dedication.

Christopher Wheatley indicates that the bookseller and publisher of the first edn. went out of business in 1729, accounting for lapse in printing, presumably drawing on Robert Munter’s remarks on Sylvester Powell, in A Dictionary of the Print Trade in Ireland, 1550-1775 (NY: Fordham UP 1988), pp.217-18. (See Wheatley, ‘Robert Ashton’s Heroic Palimpsest: The Battle of Aughrim’, in Eighteenth Century Ireland, Dec. 1996, pp. pp.53-73.)

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