Perry, Anthony (d. 1798), United Irishman and rebel leader, was born in Co. Down into a protestant family; no further details of his background are known. He acquired a ‘college education’ (Madden, iii, 542). By the later 1790s he had been resident at Perrymount, near Inch, north Co. Wexford, for a considerable time, deriving an income from commercial agriculture, though known also as a ‘gentleman of fortune’ (Byrne, iii, 251). There is some uncertainty as to whether he joined the Gorey branch of the United Irishmen when it was founded in December 1792, though several of his closest friends, all radical in temper, did so (including Edward Sweetman (qv), Robert Graham of Inch, and John Doran of south Co. Wicklow). In c.1796 he enlisted in the Coolgreany yeoman cavalry and was appointed second lieutenant. There is surer evidence that he took the United Irish oath in April 1797 in Dublin at the home of Matthew Dowling (qv), by which time radicals had organised the north Wexford/south Wicklow borderlands. It is believed that he was accorded the rank of colonel before the rising, but the notion that he was an important organiser remains speculative. Under government surveillance in early 1798, he was arrested c.22/3 May that year (several days before the date of insurrection) by a unit of the North Cork militia. Confined in Gorey market-house for several days, he endured forty-eight hours of brutal torture at the hands of militiamen, including the infamous ‘Tom the Devil’. Giving way to his captors after suffering the agony of having his shaven head plastered with scalding tar (this unit reputedly invented the method of ‘pitch-capping’), he disclosed the names of several south Wexford United Irish leaders, including Bagenal Harvey (qv), Edward Fitzgerald (qv) (d. 1807), and John Henry Colclough (qv). As these men were immediately arrested at their residences near Wexford town, the rising in south Wexford was severely compromised.
Perry was released on 26 May and nursed in a house near Gorey. His incapacity badly handicapped United Irish mobilisation in north Wexford on 27/8 May 1798. However on 29 May he rose from his sickbed, mustered local rebels, and marched to Vinegar Hill. Assigned by Edward Roche (qv) as deputy commander of the north Wexford rebel army created on 31 May, he controlled a detachment of some 1–2,000 rebels on Carrigrew Hill (some miles from Gorey) during the first days of June. On 1 June this detachment was dispersed, with some 100 casualties, by a column of the Antrim militia. The lethal ambush of a militia column under the imprudent Col. Lambert Walpole (1757–98) at Tubberneering, near Carrigrew Hill (4 June), was masterminded by Perry. On that occasion he became known as ‘the screeching general’ for having flung himself into combat bawling madly. Whatever the credentials of the Rev. John Murphy (qv) for the office (and there may have been rivalry between the two), Roche appointed Perry to command of the north Wexford army on 7 June 1798, in time for the long-meditated assault on Arklow. On 7 June Perry ordered a diversionary attack on Carnew, razing most of the village.
Though Perry halted certain vengeance attacks on loyalists, when two yeomen implicated in his torture were captured (8 June) and taken to camp in Gorey, he could not restrain himself from killing both. One (James Wheatley) he shot several times and allowed to die over two or three hours. The arrival of written orders from Roche in Wexford saved the lives of others. The unsuccessful assault on Arklow (9 June) was the one major battle under his charge in the rebel campaign; though of great courage and vitality despite his dreadful scars, he did not acquit himself well as a tactician on the day. Deserted by the contingent under the Rev. John Murphy while en route from Gorey, he could not assert sufficient discipline on the force of some 6–7,000 rebels and got to Arklow, where British troops were well entrenched, late in the afternoon. The rebel onslaught failed badly and several hundred were killed during four to five hours fighting. Retiring to Gorey Hill for two days, Perry had a number of loyalist prisoners transferred in safe custody to Wexford, as their lives were in danger in Gorey.
On 12–13 June the army assembled under Perry and Murphy on Limerick Hill, in the vague expectation that British forces might attempt to contest the area on disadvantageous terms. The army was stationary for the next week as the rebel leadership puzzled out the merits of defending territory in Wexford against massing British troops or plunging into guerrilla warfare in the Wicklow mountains. Perry has been placed on both sides of this debate, and indeed (like most of the leaders) may have seen both points of view. Edward Fitzgerald and Murphy were now to the fore in local command. Moving to Kilcavan Hill on 18 June, the rebel army rushed south in heavy rain to Vinegar Hill on 19–20 June, despite Perry's reservations. It was this body of rebels that took the brunt of the British attack on 21 June. Perry led several thousand in retreat to Wexford town, where that evening he, Roche, Fitzgerald, and the others decided to march north. By 24 June Perry was leading a body of rebels into Glenmalure, Co. Wicklow. After failed attempts to replenish arms and ammunition in attacks on Hacketstown and Carnew (25, 30 June), he narrowly evaded a government trap set on the night of 4/5 July near Ballygullen, Co. Wexford. He was present at the affray at Knightstown bog, Co. Kildare, on 14 July, soon afterwards heading towards the Shannon with the Rev. Mogue Kearns (qv). They were captured on 21 July at Clonbullogue, near Edenderry, King's Co. (Offaly), and hanged. It is not clear whether the execution was with benefit of court-martial. Perry is buried next to Edenderry chapel.