A man is cast into the street at dawn –
is such a sight the village doors
stay shut against him. Pitched
and scalped, blind in his own blood
he seeks a ditch to die in;
the next day finds him gone.
In the summer he is everywhere,
this revenant. Towns burn; rifles,
pikes and kegs of powder whisk
into the Wexford night; two guards
who made him wear the cap
are strung up from a tree at Gorey.
In the end he’s caught and hanged
and all the boys he led are gone,
most slaughtered in the fields;
and every spring the rooted corn
stands in the wind; and after rain
is sun and rain and more sun.
A practice used by English military against suspected Irish rebels during the period of the 1798 rebellion. It involved pouring hot pitch, or tar, into a conical paper ‘cap’, which was forced onto a bound suspect’s head, allowed to cool, then rapidly removed, taking with it a portion of the suspect’s skin and tissue.
‘Pitchcapping’ appears in the revised and expanded second edition of Rob Hindle’s The Purging of Spence Broughton, a Highwayman. Click here for more details of the sequence, and to order the new pamphlet edition.