CHAPTER 7 --- CHAPTER 11
"Who is she with aspect wild?
FOR A BRIEF SPACE I shift the scene of my story from the shores of County Down to the old town of Carrickfergus, where, just about the date at which my story opens, an incident occurred, full of melancholy interest, and to which historians largely attribute the memorable rising of 1798.
In the month of February, 1796, an Act of Parliament was passed which punished with death the administering of the United Irishman's oath. The awful consequences of this Act were speedily felt. The country swarmed with villains, who recklessly swore away men's lives, earning thereby the blood-money which was lavishly paid from Dublin Castle. Thus it was a crime to administer the oath; the crime was one easy of proof, and the liberal rewards offered secured to the Government the services of a host of wretches ready and willing to spill the blood of their fellow-men. The English Government intended by this means to stamp out the Society of United Irishmen - a society to which fuller reference will shortly be made in this story. A proclamation was published and posted all through Ireland, stating the provisions of the Act.
The first man tried for the breaking of this law was William Orr, of Ferranshane, in the County of Antrim. He was a farmer, of independent circumstances; a Presbyterian, and of strict religious principles. He was a man of fine figure and handsome face; bold, courageous, warm-hearted, and beloved by all who knew him.
Hugh Wheatly, a private soldier in the Fifeshire regiment of Fencibles, swore that in the month of April, 1796, William Orr, in his own house, administered to him the United Irishman's oath. A comrade of Wheatly's, by name Lindsay, corroborated the statement. William Orr was arrested. On the 18th of September, 1797, he was put upon his trial at Carrickfergus. The event created remarkable interest, the court was crowded to excess, and outside hundreds of people eagerly awaited the result. Orr was defended by that able Irish lawyer, Curran, whose speech on the occasion was one of great ability, but that eminent Irish orator failed to save his client. At seven o'clock in the evening the jury retired to consider their verdict and remained in their room till six in the morning. How they spent the night is a matter of history. According to affidavits, sworn afterwards by some of the jurors, numerous bottles of whiskey were passed through the window into the jury-room. The men drank freely becoming intoxicated, and some of them grew sick from the effects of the liquor. To such men was entrusted the life of a human being! The jury could not agree to a verdict, but ultimately those in favour of an acquittal were, by intimidation, forced to concur in a finding against Orr.
Amid profound silence the jury entered the court, and the crowd of spectators awaited with breathless interest to hear their finding. Addressing the jury, the Clerk of the Crown enquired - "Gentlemen, have you agreed to a verdict?"
There was no reply.
Again the question was put, and, after a long pause, the foreman, an aged man, who appeared to be terribly distressed, answered: "We leave him in your lordship's mercy; he is in your lordship's mercy."
The judge remarked that that was not a verdict, and desired the men to return to their room. Ten of them obeyed, the other two stood outside. Again they returned to court, and again the foreman repeated the same words. A third time did the judge send them to their room, and when they next came into court, the foreman still hesitated. One of the jurors - a man named McNaghten - rebuked the foreman and called upon him to pronounce the prisoner guilty, whereupon he handed in the verdict, accompanied by a recommendation to mercy.
"Prisoner," said the judge, in solemn tones, "have you anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon you?"
"Yes, my lord," was Orr's reply; and then in a clear voice, that never
faltered, he said -
"The law under which I suffer is surely a severe one - may the makers and promoters of it be justified in the integrity of their motives, and the purity of their own lives! By that law I am stamped a felon but my heart disdains the imputation.
"My comfortable lot and industrious course of life best refute the charge of being an adventurer for plunder, but if to have loved my country - to have known its wrongs, to have felt the injuries of the persecuted Catholics, and to have united with them and all other religious persuasions in the most orderly and least sanguinary means of procuring redress - if those be felonies, I am a felon, but not otherwise. Had my counsel (for whose honourable exertions I am indebted) prevailed in their motions to have me tried for high treason rather than under the insurrection law, I should have been entitled to a full defence, and my actions have been better vindicated; but that was used, and I must now submit to what has passed.
"To the generous protection of my country I leave a beloved wife, who has been constant and true to me, and whose grief for my fate has already nearly occasioned her death. I have five children living, who have been my delight. May they love their country as I have done, and die for it if needful.
"Lastly, a false and ungenerous publication having appeared in a newspaper, stating certain alleged confessions of guilt on my part, and thus striking at my reputation, which is dearer to me than life,
I take this solemn method of contradicting the calumny. I was applied to by the High Sheriff and the Rev. William Bristow, sovereign of Belfast, to make a confession of guilt, and who used entreaties to that effect; this I peremptorily refused. If I thought myself guilty, I would freely confess it, but, on the contrary, I glory in my innocence.
"I trust that all my virtuous countrymen will bear me in their kind remembrance, and continue true and faithful to each other as I have been to all of them. With this last wish of my heart - nothing doubting of the success of that cause for which I suffer and hoping for God's merciful forgiveness of such offences as my frail nature may have at any time betrayed me into - I die in peace and charity with all mankind."
THE FIRST VICTIM
"They led him forth from his prison cell!
SENTENCE of death was passed upon William Orr. The Judge wept freely; the people sobbed, but Orr stood unmoved. At the close of Judge Yelverton's sentence, Orr was removed to prison, there to await the final scene.
The 7th of October was fixed for the execution, and in the interval various representations, favourable and adverse to Orr, were forwarded to the Executive. One of these was of so strong a nature that it is impossible to conceive why it could have been overlooked by the Government. Affidavits were sworn by some of the jurors to the effect that they had been driven by threats to concur in the verdict of guilty, and it was also clearly proven that Wheatly, the informer, was a profligate scoundrel, upon whose oath even a dog should not have been hung. As a result of the efforts made by his friends, Orr was respited till the 10th of October, and again till the 14th. Memorials signed by the most influential men in the County of Antrim were sent to the Lord Lieutenant, praying for a pardon, nay, demanding the pardon as an act either of mercy, justice, or policy. But all in vain!
Saturday morning, the 14th of October, 1797, dawned clear and bright upon the old town of Carrickfergus. It dawned upon many an eye red with weeping, on many an untouched pillow for the news had gone forth that William Orr, the idol of the people, was to die. Blinds were drawn, shops were closed, everywhere signs of sorrow and mourning were visible.
At the prescribed hour Orr emerged from his prison cell. His imprisonment and the days and nights of mental agony and suspense which he must have endured had robbed his cheeks of their glow of health; but he stood before the minions of the law erect in all his manly beauty, his handsome face wearing a look of calm resignation, and his eye quailing not in presence of his grim surroundings.
It was intimated to the unfortunate man that a post chaise had been provided, to drive to the place of execution, but he declined to use it, fearing that he might be separated from his friends and that soldiers might be his companions. He expressed the wish to have the company of the Rev. Mr. Stavley and the Rev. Mr. Hill upon his journey to the scaffold, and these gentlemen were permitted to sit with him in the carriage. The authorities evidently feared an attempt at rescue. There was a strong military guard, composed of horse, foot and artillery, detached from different regiments in Belfast and Carrickfergus. At the place of execution the infantry were drawn up in the form of a triangle round the gallows; on the outside of the infantry the cavalry continued to move, while at some distance two cannons were planted, commanding the Carrickfergus and Belfast roads.
But these precautions were unnecessary. The people shunned the sight of this unpardonable butchery, and, shutting themselves up in their houses, prayed for the painless death and eternal happiness of the martyr Orr.
When the gallows had been reached, Orr shook hands with his friends, and with an heroic attempt at cheerfulness which he could not have felt, told them to bear up bravely. With a firm step he mounted the fatal ladder, and drawing up his fine manly figure to its full height, looked unflinchingly upon the dangling rope and the bristling arms of the soldiery. The hangman stealthily advanced and slipped the noose round the neck of the condemned man. As he did so an indignant flush spread over Orr's features, and in a loud voice he exclaimed -
"I am no traitor! I am persecuted for my country. I die in the true faith of a Presbyterian."
The next moment the ladder was kicked away, and the soul of the first victim stood before its God.
Such was the fate of William Orr, one of the noblest men who ever breathed, and thus he died by the hand of a wicked and blood- stained Government. The seeds of revolt which had taken root in the hearts of the people were nourished by his blood, his name was stamped upon their pikes, and in many a bloody encounter which followed upon the fields of Antrim and Down the rallying word of the Irish patriots was
MAT McCLENAGHAN'S CONSCIENCE
"My heart is sair, ay, unto sair;
IT WOULD be impossible to describe the rage and mortification of Mat McClenaghan, the honest blacksmith, when, on the morning after the christening, he awoke and was informed by his wife Bel of the occurrences of the preceding night. For a while he seemed to doubt his wife's sincerity and to regard the matter as a joke, and indeed it was not until he went over to Mr. Hans Gray's and saw Tommy Burns lying in bed, moaning piteously, that he could be brought to realise the true state of affairs.
The sight was more than Mat's kindly nature could bear. He turned away with a moistened eye, and without uttering a word, retraced his steps homeward. He found a kindly neighbour, the wife of a farmer named John Moore, sitting with his wife and doing her best to soothe the poor woman's troubled mind.
"Mat, dear, this is a sayrious business," said Mrs. Moore, as Mat entered.
"Ay wuman, that it is!" said Mat, "but a doot we hae only seen the beginnin' o' it."
"Wuzn't it Guid's mercy that ye had nae pikes lyin' aboot?" went on Mrs. Moore.
"A'm no sae saft as a' that," replied Mat; "but there's yin thing, Mistress Moore, as lang as a'm a leevin' man a'll niver get sae beastly drunk as a wuz last night."
Mat's wife said nothing, but sat rocking her cradle and moaning pitifully.
"Jest tae think o't!" exclaimed Mat, his temper rising, "my helpless waen cloddit aboot like a cat an' that puir crayter Tammy akwelly cut in pieces, an' a' through me bein' drunk. Be haivens if a had been astir they wudnae a had it a' their ain wae. A wush sumbody had drappit a pun' o' gun-pooder in the fire an' blawed the bluidy rid-coats tae smithereens!"
"A wunner what things ir cummin till," murmured Mrs. Moore. As she spoke she passed her hand backwards and forwards over the surface of a teapot which lay upon her lap. She had lent it to Mrs. McClenaghan for the christening and had now called to take it back.
"Ye may weel say that," cried Mat; "ye may weel wunner what things ir cummin tae. Why, wuman, luk here
As Mat spoke he stepped forward and took the teapot from Mrs. Moore's lap, and held it up to view. On one side were the words, "Liberty and property", on the other, "Peace to America."
"Luk here!" continued Mat, "afore lang it'll be a hangin' metter to let the like o' that be seen aboot a buddy's hoose. Nice times indeed tae leev in!"
Mat in his cooler moments would not have made such a statement, and would have laughed had he heard any other person make use of similar language. And yet he spoke truly prophetically. So stringent were the measures adopted by the Government that it was considered treasonable to have possession of any articles bearing such mottoes. That very teapot, which did service in Mat McClenaghan's house in the month of October, 1797, was afterwards buried in the owner's garden for safety, and at this day is in the possession of Mr. George Moore, postmaster, Ballygrainey, Six-Road-Ends, who is the great grandson of its original owner.
Mat went to his work and left the two women together. The door of his smiddy was open, and his tools lay scattered about where they had been tossed by the soldiers. He muttered fierce imprecations as he gathered them together, and then lit his forge fire. He was in no mood for work, but he felt he must do something to drive away the thoughts which had taken possession of him. And here an incident occurred which is talked of in the neighbourhood even to the present day.
As Mat puffed away with his bellows and watched the red flame shooting upwards, two farmers from the Cottown entered, each bringing the "sock" of a plough to be repaired. Both men were in a hurry, and each urged Mat to do his job first in order. Mat lifted both socks and thrust them into the fire. Like a man in a dream he blew his bellows until the irons were red hot, then removing them to the anvil, he siezed his hammer, and, in a fit of utter abstraction, welded the two socks completely together while the farmers looked on in silent amazement.
"There!" he exclaimed, as he flung his hammer into a corner, "awa oot o' this an' gie me peace!"
The men saw how matters stood, and left Mat to his own thoughts. He was
an odd creature, Mat; hot-headed, kind-hearted, and ready-witted. Many of
his sayings are still current. One night as he was busily engaged hammering
out a pike upon his anvil, a confidential friend remarked to him -
Mat paused in his work, and, as he held up the pike-head in his left hand and the hammer in his right, he laughingly retorted
"Dam it, man, shair iverything's beautiful in its saison!"
The saying got abroad and was in common use long after Mat and his smiddy had disappeared. When a farmer came home from Newton market or fair and was being rebuked by his wife for having partaken of too many "half ones," he would quote from Mat's philosophy, and say
"Agh, haud yer tongue, wuman, shair iverything's nice in its saison!"
That afternoon Mat had a visit from George Gray - Betsy's brother - and the two had a long and earnest consultation. George intimated to Mat that there would be a "meeting" that night in his house, that Willie Boal had at last consented to join the popular cause, and that he would that night be initiated into the order of the United Irishmen.
"A'll be there!" said Mat, as a grim smile illuminated his features. "A wuz niver sae earnest in the wark as a feel mysel' noo!"
I want my readers to go also, that they may have a peep at a Lodge of
United Irishmen, and learn something of their mission and of their doings.
Turn your steps with me, kind reader, towards the homestead of our brave
heroine, Betsy Gray, of Granshaw.
THE UNITED IRISHMEN
"They rose in dark and evil days
AMONGST my readers there are doubtless many who know but little of the history of the society or organisation called United Irishmen. To give details of the numerous and varied organisations which, up till the date of my story, had existed in Ireland would certainly weary my readers. These can be found in the pages of Irish history. A word, however, respecting the United Irishmen is here absolutely necessary.
In the month of March, 1791, there assembled in a public house in Sugar-house Entry, Belfast - still in existence - a few young and bold spirits, chiefly Presbyterians, to whom had occurred the idea of uniting Irishmen of all creeds and parties in one common bond, for the purpose of obtaining, or seeking to obtain, a more equitable adjustment of constitutional laws. They believed that the great defect in all previous movements for a redress of political grievances was the sectarian bigotry which excluded the Catholics from any participation in the blessing of reform. They held that the hope of obtaining a full representation of the people in Parliament, whilst two thirds of them were to be excluded from any share in it, was absurd. Some of those who met that day were destined to live in history. The company included Neilson, McCracken, Simms, Sinclaire, McClean, McCabe, Russell, Orr, Hassett and McTiernan. Neilson, in a speech which he delivered upon the occasion said - "Our efforts for reform have hitherto been ineffectual, and they deserve to be so, for they have been selfish and unjust as not including the rights of Catholics in the claims we put forward for ourselves."
Those men at once set about the formation of a society which should be neither sectarian nor exclusive, but whose objects should be the amelioration of the whole people of Ireland. A general meeting was held in Belfast in the month of October, 1791, and the list of members enrolled thereat contained the names of men of the highest standing among the gentry, merchants and traders. The society grew rapidly. Discontent had been filling the minds of the people; the persecuting spirit displayed by Government authorities and the despotism of the military were calculated to create and foster this discontent.
Certain concessions were made to the Catholics in 1793, but these were dissipated by the policy of coercion resumed in 1794, and which increased in vigour until the rebellion exploded in 1798. The Convention Act virtually took away the right of public meeting, and it was the subsequent operation of this Act against the meetings of the United Irishmen that changed their tactics and rendered secret proceedings necessary. They had given offence to Government by the boldness of their views and by the change which they had effected upon the public mind relative to Catholic claims. On 4th of May, 1794, a meeting of United Irishmen in Dublin was attacked by police, the members dispersed and their papers seized. From this period different plans were adopted. The popular name - United Irishmen - was retained, but the text was amended, as was also the method of organisation. Provincial committees, county committees and baronial committees were formed, while an oath of secrecy was added. Each society consisted of twelve members, who chose a secretary and treasurer. The secretary was known as sergeant or corporal; the delegate of five societies to a lower baronial was called in, having sixty men under his command; the delegate of ten lower baronials to the upper or district committee was usually the colonel, and thus a battalion was composed of six hundred. The colonels of each county sent in the names of three persons to the executive, one of whom was appointed by the executive to be adjutantgeneral of the county, and his duty was to receive and communicate all military orders from the executive.
Thus did the military organisation grow out of the civil system and the Government were well informed of this from April 14th, 1797.
I have already informed my readers that, in the month of February 1796, an Act of Parliament was passed which punished with death the administering of the United Irishmen's oath. That year was an eventful one. The Government paid informers generously and the country swarmed with ruffians ready to betray their nearest and dearest friends. In one year the sum of £38,419/8/- was thus paid away. Government spies were in every town and village; outrages of the most terrible kind were perpetrated. Neilson, Russell and McCraceken - three of the leading spirits who at the meeting in Sugarhouse Entry, Belfast, promulgated the objects of the society - were now marked men, and an incident occurred in connection with them which is worthy of mention, standing out, as it does, in noble contrast with the treachery of many worthless scoundrels of the time. A poor weaver, who lived in Brown Square, was an intelligent member of the United Irishmen, and was known to be thoroughly acquainted with their movements. One evening he was called upon by an attorney who, after some conversation, offered him £500 if he would inform upon Neilson, Russell and McCracken. To the man's eternal honour be it told that he indignantly refused the bribe, and going straight to the houses of the three gentlemen he warned them of their danger.
Of a different stamp was Nick Maginn, of Saintfield. Nick was a poor creature holding a few acres of ground. He joined the United Irishmen, attained (according to his own statement) the rank of colonel, and from the 14th of April 1797, he kept the Government fully informed of the operations of the United Irishmen in and about Saintfield. He went to every meeting in his district and immediately afterwards communicated to the Rev. John Cleland all that passed. He also supplied lists of arms and ammunition, names of members, and other information. Wealth he certainly acquired, for Government rewarded him liberally. In a published list of the sums paid to informers the following two items appear:
"August 16, 1798, N. Maginn, £700/0/0.
TAKING THE OATH
"With hopeful hearts we pledge once more
PRIOR to the year 1797, Mr. Hans Gray, Betsy Gray's father removed from the house where he had lived, and in which Betsy had been born. His farm, then a large one, he divided with a brother who took up his abode in Betsy's birthplace, while Mr. Hans Gray and his family - George and Betsy - went to a house which stood upon the ground at present occupied by the office houses of Mr. James Knox, of Granshaw.
It was in this house that the "meeting" spoken of by Mr. George Gray to our friend, Mat McClenaghan, was to be held.
The night was dark and rainy, but neither rain nor darkness prevented the twelve members who constituted one of the Granshaw societies from being punctually at their posts. It is of course a wellknown fact that many females were admitted to the meetings, and there were two present on this occasion. These were Betsy Gray and Eliza Bryson, whose father, a respectable farmer living at the Cottown, had risen to the rank of colonel.
The usual meetings of the United Irishmen were often of a most jovial description. Tea and its accompaniments were served, followed generally, by punch. The qualifications of candidates were discussed; songs were sung; stories told; speeches delivered.
But tonight a shade of gloom was upon every countenance, and the silence was almost painful. In the parlour, tea had been laid and the wants of the guests were attended to by Miss Gray and Miss Bryson; while Mr. Hans Gray did his best to keep up the fitful and flagging conversation. When the tea things had been removed Colonel Bryson suggested a song, and this suggestion was warmly supported. There were frequent calls for Mat McClenaghan, but that worthy was in bad form.
"Agh boys, A'm railly no fit fur singin' the night," he remonstrated several times, but no denial would be taken.
"Betsy!" cried Mr. Gray.
"Bring some hot water and glasses, with something else that you know where to find."
In a few minutes glasses of steaming punch were passed round and Mat, who had very nearly resolved upon being a teetotaller drained his tumbler with a sigh of relief.
"Now, Mat!" said the colonel.
Mat required no pressing. He cleared his throat, and rattled off a song which had already acquired great popularity in Ireland. For the benefit of my readers I here produce it:
THE SHAN VAN YACHT
Oh! the French are on the sea,
Oh! the French are in the Bay,
To the Curragh of Kildare
Then what will the Yeomen do?
What SHOULD the Yeomen do
And what colour will they wear?
What colour should be seen
And will Ireland then be free?
Yes! Ireland SHALL be free,
Hearty plaudits followed Mat's song, and then the company settled down to
business. At a signal from Mr. Gray, who occupied an armchair at the head of
the table, there was silence for a moment or two, and he then said:
Mr. Gray rose and stepped into a bedroom opening off the parlour, and the persons mentioned followed him.
Addressing Willie Boal, he said:
"I do ," replied Boal.
"Then take this pamphlet," continued Mr. Gray, handing Boal a paper consisting of eight pages of printed matter. "This contains the declaration which you will now be required to take, also the rules of our society and other matters. Are you now prepared to take the oath?"
"I am," said Willie, as he took the Bible extended to him by Mr. Gray.
"Then say after me."
The oath, which was as follows, was then administered; Boal, according to the instructions, holding the Bible and the Constitution upon his right breast:-
"In the awful presence of God, I, William Boal, do voluntarily declare that I will persevere in endeavouring to form a brotherhood of affection among Irishmen of every religious persuasion; and that I will also persevere in my endeavours to obtain an equal, full, and adequate representation of all the people of Ireland. I do further declare that neither hopes, fears, rewards, nor punishments shall ever induce me, directly or indirectly, to inform on, or give evidence against, any member or members of this or similar societies, for any Act or expression of theirs done or made, collectively or individually in or out of this society, in pursuance of the spirit of this obligation."
The oath taken, Mr. Gray proceeded to instruct the new member.
"We have a mode of recognising members of the brotherhood," said Gray; "for instance, if a person addressing you repeats the first letter of the word 'United' thus - 'I know U', you are to reply, 'I know N'. Your interrogator will then say, 'I know I', and so you both proceed until the word 'United' has been spelled. There are also several questions and answers in use, for instance -
Q - Are you straight?
At the close of the instructions, Boal was warmly congratulated by the members, the books and papers were put away in a safe place, the parlour door was unlocked, and festivities were resumed.
Little did these people dream of the terrible ordeals through which they
would shortly have to pass. And now, after this necessary digression, let me
proceed with the exciting events which reached their awful climax on the
13th of June, 1798.