"Now with a shout that rends the air, `Remember Orr!' they cry,
And like an avalanche dash on, to conquer or to die."- T.C.S.' CORRY.
THE ARREST of Dickson occurred at a critical moment, the very eve of the
The counties of Antrim and Down had resolved to work together and they
would most certainly have been more than a match for the troops which
garrisoned both. The 7th of June had been fixed for the rising, the
respective duties were assigned, and everything was in readiness. But the
arrest of Dickson left Down without a leader. Antrim was besought to wait
until another had been chosen, but the men of Antrim, already weary of delay
and deserted by Robert Simms, prepared to take the field under the command
of Henry Joy McCracken, of Belfast - a young man well educated, accomplished
The town of Antrim had been selected as the first object of Insurgent
operation. It lay equidistant from the two great military stations - Belfast
and Blaris Camp, and opened up communication with Derry and Donegal, from
both of which counties extensive assistance was expected. The general
rallying places for the County Antrim were the Roughfort and Donegore Hill,
and thither, during the night of the 6th and morning of the 7th, did the
Insurgents march. The men were variously armed with guns, swords, pikes,
pitchforks and scythes like Lochaber axes. They had also two small cannon -
six-pounders - which had long lain concealed in the Templepatrick Dissenting
Meeting House. They cut down a tree, and formed with it a trail for one of
these, and having taken possession of a carriage belonging to Lord
Templeton's agent, they mounted the gun upon its wheels.
Major Seddon was the military commandant at Antrim. Early on the morning
of the 7th a messenger arrived from Colonel Nugent, w ho commanded the
North-East District, bringing the startling in telligence that the people
were in arms, and at any moment the town might be attacked.
The major was astounded and alarmed, but felt somewhat comforted when
assured that he would be reinforced and enabled to repel the attack. By
orders of General Nugent - who had been fully appraised of the movement of
the Insurgents - the Second Light Brigade made a forced march from Blaris
Camp on Antrim, while two hundred and fifty of the Monaghan Militia, a troop
of the 22nd Light Dragoons, and the Belfast Yeomanry Cavalry, marched to
support the garrison by the line of Carnmoney and Templepatrick.
What must have been the feelings of the residents of Antrim when, at the
hour of nine o'clock, they saw the local garrison turn nut, and heard the
drums sounding the call to arms! Within the town itself everything seemed as
usual; without the town, far as the eye could reach, no men bearing arms
could be seen.
In response to the roll of the drum, the Yeomanry quickly mustered. The
other male inhabitants were ordered to come out and fight in the defence of
their town. Then, and not till then, was Major Seddon convinced that General
Nugent's information was well founded. He discovered that the prominent
United Irishmen had left town ere the dawn of day.
In answer to the summons, two hundred men turned out, but these could be
supplied with only eight stand of arms!
Ammunition was also scarce. Eight hundred rounds were borrowed from Major
Seddon, and when this had been distributed, the Yeomanry had but twelve
rounds a man, the Volunteers but five!
Troops shortly afterwards arrived, and the best possible arrangements
were made for defence. The foot occupied a strong position in front of the
Castle gate; the 22nd Light Dragoons, under Colonel Lumley, were covered by
the walls surrounding the church, and here also the Blaris Moor men were
mustered, while the cannon, planted near the centre of the town, commanded
the wide and open street which extended between both.
And thus disposed, they waited for the Insurgent army!
At an ancient mound, called the Roughfort, the Irish flag was unfurled,
when Henry Joy McCracken marshalled the first division of the Insurgent
army. Here he was joined by the united troops of Templepatrick and Killead,
many of whom had belonged to the old Volunteers, and were trained to the use
of musket and artillery. Three other divisions, under different leaders,
were instructed by McCracken as to their line of action.
McCracken formed his men into three divisions; in front were the
musketeers; next came the pike men, and in the rere the gunners, with their
two brass cannon.
"Forward, my lads!" cried the leader, in a clear, commanding voice.
With firm and steady pace, and in the most perfect order, the march
commenced. From the centre of each division waved bright green banners;
absolute silence was observed; no sound but the heavy measured tramp of the
armed men, save now and then when the Marseillaise hymn was sung and its
chorus swelled upon the morning air.
Antrim was in sight!
McCracken halted his men, and, turning round, surveyed them with a glance
of pride and pleasure. His loose flowing locks were confined by the helmet
which shaded his manly brow, and his eye beamed with the fire that animated
his soul. His cheek was pale, for he had lain in a dungeon cell, but his
heart was strong and knew no fear.
"Men of Ulster!" he cried, "the hour has come for you to strike the first
blow for Ireland and for liberty. Victory is certain! Musketeers, let every
bullet find its mark! Pike men, stand firm in the shock of battle, and let
your trusty blades, forged for you by true and trusty men, be a wall of
steel upon which, if our foemen rush, they rush to death. Follow me, my
noble fellows, wherever I may lead you, and let our war-cry be - "Remember
With a wild, ringing cheer the men advanced, and boldly marched into the
town. They were met by a volley of case shot from the cannon, which told
with slight effect upon their close column.
McCracken's men were not unnerved. With the coolness of veteran soldiers
they continued the march over the bodies of the dead and dying. Another
volley, yet they swerved not, waiting but their leader's order. It came at
"Fire!" shouted McCracken.
There was a blinding flash, a roar of musketry, and the cavalry were
forced to give way.
By this time a second division of the Insurgents had entered the town
from an opposite direction and driven the infantry from the castle gate. A
division of the pike men now fearlessly advanced upon the enemy's guns,
intent upon carrying them. Repeated discharges of grape shot made havoc in
their ranks, but with seeming indifference of death they rallied again and
again. Repulsed at last, they gained possession of the churchyard, and,
covered by the musketry, they had time to rally and form.
One of the Insurgent cannon to which reference has been made - that
mounted on McVicker's carriage wheels - was disabled by its own recoil,
observing which, the Light Dragoons, led by Colonel Lumley, made a charge,
but he was received by a band of pike men, and speedily repulsed. Maddened
by defeat and the pain of a wound which he had received, Colonel Lumley
launched some eighty of his men at the Insurgents who held the churchyard.
It was a rash, if gallant deed! In less than two minutes five officers,
forty-seven rank and file, and forty horse were piked. The Colonel fled with
what was left him of his cavalry_ Lord O'Neill attempted to follow, but his
horse becoming restive, he was dragged off by a pikeman and slain.
McCracken, following up his success drove the enemy from their guns, bore
down rank after rank, fighting with the courage of a lion, and, in an hour
from his entry, he was master of the town.
His victory was of short duration. A fatal blunder blasted his success
and changed the fortunes of the day.
The united troops from the northern district of County Antrim had, by
direction of their leader, McCracken, attacked Randalstown, where the
military garrison, after a feeble resistance, surrendered. The troops then
started, as arranged, to join McCracken at Antrim. As they neared the town
they saw approaching them in the distance Colonel Lumley and his routed
cavalry. The leader was a coward. Imagining that what he saw was the charge
of victorious horsemen, and concluding that his arrival had been too long
delayed, he gave the order for retreat, and the men under his control fled
in every direction, Lumley's flying column, observing this, took courage and
halted; they were soon afterwards joined by reinforcements from Belfast and
Blaris Moor, and, thus strengthened, they wheeled about to attack and retake
A small corps of observation had, by direction of McCracken following the
retreating military to watch their movements. These returned to Antrim hot
haste to report what they had seen, and their tidings caused a panic which
It was a trying moment for McCracken. Everything that talent and courage
could suggest was attempted to restore order and revive the flagging courage
of his men, but all in vain. Driven almost to frenzy, he seized a pike, and
placing himself in front, threatened with instant death the man who should
dare to flinch from his colours. All was useless; panic had seized upon the
Insurgents, and they fled for their lives, actually bearing down in their
wild flight the man who had proudly led them to victory. To many of them it
was a fatal flight. They fell into the path of the advancing cavalry who cut
them down without mercy.
One division, called by McCracken "The Spartan Band", remained true and
maintained its position. It was commanded by a man of high honour and great
courage, named James Hope. This position commanded an easy entrance to the
town, and a fierce but futile attack had been made upon it. A detachment of
cavalry, which had debouched to the left, taking it to be in possession of
the division to which they belonged, advanced at full gallop. To their alarm
and surprise they were surrounded instantly, and, believing their slaughter
to be inevitable, they, like brave men, awaited their fate in silence.
But Hope was generous as he was brave. "Go", he said, "your numbers are
too few for the sacrifice - join your comrades and tell them that the Union
feels no triumph in the destruction of the defenceless and the weak "
The fate of the day had, however, been already decided, and Hope was at
last compelled to abandon his post. His men made a last effort. Halting in
the face of a victorious enemy, they presented a bold front; they sustained
the fire of musketry and cannon, and, when all hope of victory was over,
they effected a retreat with order, planting their tattered colours on the
heights of Donegore. Deserted by all but about a hundred men, McCracken
resolved to march to Ballymena and join with those who held possession of
that town. Having taken his post in the lofty Slemish he was surrounded by a
force of four hundred disciplined troops. Still undaunted, he prepared for
battle when the British commander Colonel Clavering offered a full and
perfect amnesty on their delivering up their four leaders, for whose bodies
he further offered a reward of £400. McCracken's men spurned the proposal
with indignation, and offered £400 for the body of Clavering living or dead.
Clavering evidently feared to attack this bold remnant of the United
Irishmen, and ultimately he threatened to destroy the surrounding country by
fire and sword unless the Insurgent leader retired. Humanity compelled
McCracken to leave his position.
It is needless to follow his movements further. He was soon afterwards
captured, brought a prisoner to Belfast, tried by court-martial, and ordered
for immediate execution. He died as only a brave man can.*
*The place of Henry Joy McCracken's execution was the old Market-house,
presented to the town by an ancestor. of his own. The site is now occupied
by the premises of Forster Green and Co. Ltd. The following account of
McCracken's death is recorded by his sister:--
"The time allowed him had now expired; about 5 p.m. he was ordered to the
place of execution - the old Market-house - the ground of which had been
given to the town by his great-great grandfather. I took his arm, and
together we walked to the fatal spot . . . Harry begged I would go. Clasping
my arms around him (I did not weep till then), I said I could bear anything
but leaving him. Three times he kissed me, and entreated I would go, and
fearing any further refusal would disturb the last moments of my dearest
brother, I suffered myself to be led away . . . I was told afterwards that
poor Harry stood when I left him and watched me till I was out of sight;
that he then attempted to speak to the people, but that the noise of the
trampling of the horses was so great that it was impossible he could be
heard; that he then resigned himself to his fate, and the multitude who were
present at that moment uttered cries which seemed more like one loud and
long continued shriek than the expression of grief or terror on similar
occasions . . , Preparations were made for immediate burial. I could not
bear to think that no member of his family should accompany his remains, so
I set out to follow them to the grave . . . I heard the first shovel of
earth that was thrown on the coffin, then I remember little else of what
passed on the sad occasion. He was buried in the old churchyard, where St.
George's Church now stands, and close to the corner of the School-house."
Amongst the numerous letters received by the author during the progress
of this story in the columns of the "North Down Herald" is one from a County
Down gentleman in which he says - "Henry Joy McCracken was buried in St.
George's Churchyard, immediately behind Mr. Lindsay's warehouse. I was
present with my grandfather and Miss McCracken (Harry's sister) in 1836 when
they visited it, and their faces were not dry."
"An Irish maid in heart and soul,
I love the dear old land;
I honour those who in her cause,
Lift voice, or pen, or hand."
THE ARREST of Dickson caused a remarkable sensation in the Ards district.
It was immediately followed by the arrest of Colonel Bryson, of the Cottown,
whose name had been given to the authorities as one who stood high among the
leaders. Consternation and dismay prevailed upon all hands, and the question
went from lip to lip - "who next?"
It was at this juncture, when the word had been given to take up arms,
when Antrim was preparing to take the field and when the hearts of Down
looked on in silent expectation, that Harry Monro, of Lisburn, was, by
general consent of those in authority, appointed General of the Patriot Army
Much has been said and written of Harry Monro. A nobler man never
breathed. A braver man never took up arms in any cause. He was a linen
merchant, residing in Lisburn, and was a regular buyer at the linen markets
held in Ulster. In person he was remarkably handsome, and was exceedingly
fond of dressing with neatness arid taste. A portion of his black hair, in
keeping with the fashion of the time, was worn very long, and tied with a
black ribbon hung over the collar of his coat. His conduct in private life
has ever been spoken of as that of a perfect honour. Light-heartedness and
love of fun were among his leading characteristics. Many instances of his
bravery have been related - of his chivalry I shall speak hereafter. When
attending a linen market in Lurgan, on one occasion, an alarm of fire in the
church of that town was raised. Harry Monro was chiefly instrumental in
quenching the flames, and that, too, at the imminent risk of his life.
Monro was an Episcopalian, and warmly attached to his church, having been
a churchwarden of Lisburn Cathedral. He had been a member of the Lisburn
Volunteers, and when that body was suppressed by the Government he joined in
the general indignation caused by the ingratitude of the State. He never
contemplated taking up arms against the King's Army, and much less had he
dreamed of leading the Insurgent host; but, when the call was given, he
considered his honour to be at stake, and he complied with the wishes of his
brethren. It is told he took this final step after witnessing a public
flogging in Lisburn.
--The tidings spread rapidly, and caused universal rejoicing. Nowhere did
the news cause more pleasure than at Granshaw. It was the hour of midnight
on Friday, the 8th of June, and a party of tried and trusty friends were
assembled at Betsy Gray's. Eliza Bryson was there with her brother, and Mary
Stewart, though timid and fainthearted, could not deny herself the pleasure
of joining in the conference. The three girls sat by the fire; the men,
eight in number, sat around the table, discussing with animation the
position of affairs and the events that were likely to happen.
"One thing must be done," said David Bryson, "my father must be rescued.
He is confined in the Newtownards Market House, and, though I die in the
effort, I shall attempt his rescue."
"I am with you, my boy," said George Gray. "And I, and I, and I,"
exclaimed the others,
"An' a'll be at han' a'll warrant ye," said Mat McClenaghan, who formed
one of the company.
"And now," said George Gray, "this is the last opportunity we may have of
talking quietly together; this is the last time we may all meet under this
roof tree, so let me give you a toast -
"Here's to old Ireland and General Monro!"
All reserve was laid aside. True there were faithful sentinels posted
outside to warn the inmates of the house should an enemy approach. But
caution was abandoned, and the toast was drunk with cheers that made the
When the wild burst of enthusiasm had subsided, George Gray again spoke.
"You all know what the arrangements are," he said. "The hill of Ednavady,
which looks down upon Ballynahinch, is to be our meeting place. From its
lofty summit we can command a view of the country for miles around, and
strong indeed must be the force that will drive us from that stronghold.
From Bangor, Donaghadee, Newtownards, Crawfordsburn, Greyabbey, and other
places, there will be a general march tomorrow. Once at Ednavady, our
General will disclose his plans. But we have a duty to perform tomorrow. We
must rescue Colonel Bryson and take him with us. That done, 'forward' is the
word, and every brave man will do his duty."
"Ay, and woman too!" said a clear, sweet voice. It was the voice of Betsy
"Yes, my good sister," said George, "yours will be a trying duty. When we
are in the heat of conflict you will be here, enduring all the agony and
suspense. But you can pray for our success."
"No, George, I shall not be here!" said the beautiful girl, as she
stepped forward and placed her hand upon her brother's shoulder. "Not here,
Betsy! And where will you be?"
"At your side, wherever you may be," she replied. "Impossible!" exclaimed
"No, not impossible," said Betsy; "I shall not be alone; Eliza Bryson
will be there too."
"Oh, this is madness," said George, while the others shook their heads in
"Not a bit of it, George," said Eliza Bryson; "where should we be but
with our friends, to cheer them and to attend to their wants? Oh, never
mind, Betsy and I have it all arranged."
Betsy darted into her bedroom, and returning, waved a sword round her
"See here!" she exclaimed, as the blade flashed in the light of the
candles, "I am prepared as well as the rest of you. Here is a weapon which
will never betray me, and I shall show you all that I know how to wield it."
George rose, and taking the sword from his sister's hand, surveyed it in
It was a beautiful weapon, and of most exquisite workmanship. The handle
was of green-stained ivory, with a slender chain attached; the hilt was of
silver, beautifully embossed, and bearing the letters N.R. The steel blade
was so fine in quality and so highly tempered that it could be bent until
point and hilt met.
"Betsy, where did you get this?" enquired her brother.
"Ask Willie," she replied, smiling, and looking archly towards her lover.
"Betsy, this must not be," said George; "you must stay at home." "Never!"
said Betsy, drawing up her elegant figure to its full height, "This is not a
time for even women to sit in idleness. George where you go I go, though it
be to slaughter and death!"
"Bravo!" cried Mat McClenaghan, who could no longer restrain himself.
And then it was that Betsy, with flashing eye and heaving breast, with
her white hand grasping her gleaming sword, delivered an address that
stirred the soul of every listener. Her words have been repeated by father
to son, and have been immortalised by a poet who gives them thus:
|An Irish maid in heart and soul
I love the dear old land;
Honour those who in her cause
Lift voice, or pen, or hand.
And may I live to see her free
From foreign lord and knave;
But Heaven forbid I'd ever be
The mother of a slave.
God bless the men who take their stand
In Ireland's patriotic host;
I'd give the youth my heart and hand
Who serves his country most;
And if he fell, I'd rather lie
Beside him in the grave,
Than wed a wealthy loon, and be
The mother of a slave.
Thro' many a blood-red age of woe
Our nation's heart has bled;
But still she makes her tyrants know
Her spirit is not dead.
God bless the men who for her sake
Their blood and genius gave;
God bless the mothers of those sons
Who nursed no dastard slave!
Some on the scaffold place of doom
For loving Ireland died;
And others to the dungeon gloom,
Are torn from our side;
But God the Just, who ne'er design'd
His image for a slave,
Will give our country might and mind
To raise the true and brave.
It was almost dawn when the party broke up. It had been a sleepless
night; a night of anxiety and suspense. Husbands and fathers kissed their
wives and children, many of them for the last time on earth; brothers and
sisters and friends bade each other an affectionate farewell; young men and
old, eager to obey their leaders' orders, grasped their pikes and muskets
and hied them away to the various mustering places. Ere the sun should again
set, who could tell what might have happened!
THE GREYABBEY INSURGENTS
"But stars oft gleam brightly when night's gloom is drearest,
To brighten the pilgrim upon his lone way,
So deeds of past heroes, whose fame we hold dearest,
Still flash through dark chaos a hallowing ray.".
ON the county road leading from Donaghadee to Greyabbey, and distant
about one mile from the latter town, stands till this day the house in which
the first branch of the United Irishmen's Society was organised in County
Down. Grove Cottage, the name by which it is known, is a charming little
house, picturesquely situated, and kept in excellent order.
In the troublous times Grove Cottage was in the possession of Mrs. Sarah
Byers, an aged widow, and her two sons, Alick and William.
On the night of Thursday, 7th June, 1798, there was a meeting in Grove
Cottage of some half dozen of the Greyabbey insurgents. Mrs. Byers was
present at the consultation which was being held, and the occasion was to
her a trying one. Both her sons had resolved upon taking up arms, and a
position of importance had been assigned to each. Their commissions had just
been handed to them by David Bryson, Colonel Bryson's son.
"My father has been placed under arrest," said young Bryson, "but be
assured he will not be long a prisoner. We have laid our plans for his
rescue, and he will march with us to the field of battle."
Then, turning to Widow Byers, he said -
"Next time we meet, Mrs. Byers, there will be stirring stories to relate,
and your sorts will be crowned with glory."
Mrs. Byers shook her head sadly and was silent.
"You are not despondent, surely?" said Bryson.
"I am ," she answered, "I fear no good will come of this, and it is hard,
indeed, to part from my two sons, neither of whom I may ever see again."
"Never fear, mother," said William Byers, "we will both come back to you
hale and hearty. Cheer up!"
"I cannot be cheerful," said the widow; "with one of you I would
willingly part when your country calls, but to take both and leave me
without a friend or protector - oh, it is too bad!"
"It is, mother," said Alick; "one of us must remain."
The mother's face brightened.
"Which will it be?" she asked.
The two brothers looked at each other in silence.
"Will you draw cuts?" enquired young Bryson.
Both nodded assent.
Bryson went outside, and returned a minute afterwards, holding in his
closed hand two straws of unequal length. One end of each was visible.
"Now", he said, "the man who draws the longer straw remains at home."
The brothers drew simultaneously, and held the straws aloft. William had
drawn the longer!
"So be it, mother," he said, "I'll stay with you."
Thus it fell to the lot of Alick Byers to lead the Ballyboley contingent.
So prevalent were informers in those days that almost every movement of the
Insurgents was communicated to the authorities. The appointment of Alick
Byers was that very night made known to Colonel Stapleton. William Byers,
when in Newtownards on the following day, learned from a private source that
his brother was about to be arrested. By a trusty friend he sent this
information to Grove Cottage, and urged his brother to flight. Alick
received the message and told his mother not to be alarmed at anything which
might happen. At the same time he resolved to await William's return before
deciding how he should act. In the dusk of the evening he was standing upon
the road just opposite Grove Cottage, watching for his brother's return.
Suddenly a party of soldiers came in sight. They were too near to afford an
opportunity of escape. The leader of the party shouted to Byers to stand,
and this he did until the party was within a few yards of him, when he
turned and ran into the house. The soldiers dashed after him. Some of them
went into the kitchen and others into the parlour but their man had
disappeared. Suddenly the crash of breaking glass was heard, and, guided by
the noise, the pursuers rushed into the bedroom. The window had been knocked
out of its frame, and the soldiers, concluding that he of whom they were in
quest had made his escape in that direction, bolted after him, and scoured
the country. But Byers had not escaped in the manner supposed. With
remarkable presence of mind he had sent a chair flying through the window,
while he himself crept under the bed, where he lay until the soldiers were
out of hearing.*
On the morning of Saturday, 9th of June, the Cottown and Granshaw men,
armed with pikes, guns and other weapons, marched for Newtownards,
determined to effect the rescue of Colonel Bryson.
David Bryson, the Colonel's son, had gone into Newtownards during the
night for the purpose of ascertaining the exact position of affairs. He
spent several hours with a friend who resided in Francis Street. While here
he learned that at an early hour on Saturday, Colonel Stapleton, with nearly
the entire force under his command, would march for Saintfield, where a
large number of Insurgents had assembled.
This was cheering news for young Bryson, who knew well that the chances
of a rescue were small in the face of the troops quartered at Newtownards
and ready at any moment to respond to a call to arms.
Mounting his horse, he rode to Grove Cottage, where he found his trusty
friend, Alick Byers, and informed him of how matters stood. It was arranged
that during the night the men of Ballyboley, Greyabbey, and neighbourhood
should arm themselves and march for Newtownards, where, next morning, they,
with the contingents from Cottown and Granshaw, should attack the
Market-house and rescue Colonel Bryson. Having rested for a brief period,
young Bryson returned to Newtownards, without interference, and spent the
remainder of the night there.
The morning dawned, and during its early hours the inhabitants of
Newtownards witnessed a stirring scene. A detachment of the York Fencible
Regiment, accompanied by the Newtownards and Comber Yeomanry Cavalry and
Infantry, numbering altogether close upon a thousand men, were marshalled in
the Market Square. Their bayonets and shining musket barrels gleamed in the
light of the summer sun and the men were as gay as though bent upon a
holiday march. Colonel Stapleton, mounted upon a spirited horse, surveyed
his men with a look of pride.
Amongst the officers were Captain Chetwynd, Lieutenant Unit, and Ensign
Sparks. The Newtownards and Comber Yeomen were led by Captains Houghton and
Cleland. The Rev. Mr. Mortimer, rector of Comber, accompanied the Yeomen of
The departure of the troops was witnessed by crowds, but ere the military
had proceeded many hundred yards along the route of march, the streets were
almost deserted, the people retiring to their houses for safety, or to make
preparation for joining in the approaching conflict.
A small armed force had been left in charge of the town, and the men
composing it were posted in the Market-house.
No sooner had Colonel Stapleton and his army marched from Newtownards
than David Bryson mounted his horse and galloped off to join his friends
from Granshaw and Cottown. He met them about a mile from the town, and a
halt was made for consultation.
The Insurgents were led by George Gray and Willie Boal, who it was well
known, were to have assigned to them positions of importance on reaching
Ballynahinch. The two young men were dressed in green jackets turned up with
yellow, white vests, buckskin breeches, and half boots, while their hats
were ornamented with green cockades. The uniform suited them to perfection.
Eliza Bryson. seated on a fine horse. rode in front. She was dressed in
green silk and wore a white feather in her hat. Betsy Gray had remained
behind. Her brother George had peremptorily for bidden her to join them; her
entreaties and tears were of no avail with him, and at last she consented to
stop at home. But in her heart she resolved not to be far behind, and to
join her friends at Ednavady ere the first shot would be fired upon an
The consultation held by David Bryson with his friends, George Gray and
Willie Boal, did not occupy many minutes, and at its close George briefly
addressed his followers, telling them of the work that lay before them, and
how it was to be accomplished. The object in view was simply the rescue of
Colonel Bryson and any other prisoners who might be with him. Bloodshed was
to be avoided if possible, and no man was to use arms unless to defend his
At this juncture a man was seen running rapidly towards them From the
direction of Newtownards. As he ran he waved a green handkerchief.
He was soon recognised as a scout from Greyabbey, and his news was
cheering. Alick Byers and his men were awaiting them close to Greenwell
With a wild "hurrah" the march was resumed. Half an hour later they met
their brother patriots at George's Street, and hearty greetings were
exchanged. The united forces were addressed by George Gray, who briefly
disclosed his plans. Strict silence was enjoined and strictly observed. The
march down Frances Street was at a quick and steady pace. From almost every
window the pale faces of terror-stricken watchers could be seen. Soon the
rere of the Market-house was reached, and the men filed round the corner
into the square. As they did so the single sentry on guard stood for a
moment paralysed, then uttered a shout and fired off his musket in the air.
In an instant the upper windows of the building were thrown open, and a
perfect babble of confused voices, mingled with the clash of arms, was
"Right Mat!" cried young Bryson, "bring your sledge hammer with you and
break in the doors!"
"Keep close, my men!" shouted Gray, making a dash for the door, followed
by his supporters. Entrance was gained in less than a minute, and the men
poured in. At this instant a volley of musketry was discharged by the
soldiers from the windows, but their aim, whether wilfully or through
nervousness, was faulty. Several were wounded, and one man was killed. The
next moment the Insurgents came rushing from the building accompanied by
Col. Byrson and several other prisoners, who, having heard the alarm and
guessed rightly its meaning, boldly attempted an escape, and actually fell
into the arms of their rescuers.
The voice of George Gray was heard above the din shouting his orders,
and, in less time than is required to relate the circumstances, the whole
force had regained Frances Street and re-formed into marching order.
The military made no attempt to follow.
A halt was made near the head of Frances Street, and a supply of liquor
having been procured, it was distributed among the men, who, with hearty
cheers, drank the health of Colonel Bryson and success to their cause. They
then struck out upon the Greyabbey road and resumed their march.
The Londonderry family had sailed for Liverpool on the previous night.
The Granshaw men learned this fact from the Greyabbey and Ballyboley men,
and it was determined to pay a visit to Mountstewart House and grounds. A
few men servants, who had been left in charge, fled on the approach of the
Insurgents, who gambolled about the grounds like a pack of merry schoolboys.
No attempt was made to injure the house or premises, but a visit was made to
the well-stocked dairy, from which Eliza Bryson freely distributed milk and
cream to the thirsty men.
A good deal of chaff was indulged in as to who should be the ultimate
proprietor of the handsome house and grounds, but the fun was interrupted by
the sound of drums. The look-out reported the approach of further
contingents of the Insurgent army, and George Gray, Willie Boal, Colonel
Bryson and Alick Byers hastened away their men to join the others.
Down was in arms by the morning of Sunday, the 10th of June
The men who had been appointed to communicate the signal in the various
towns, villages and districts, and who were called "warners", did their duty
promptly and well, so that the rising was general and all but simultaneous
There were many scenes and instances of a remarkable character. Thousands
of persons, too timid to take up arms on either side, fled to Belfast for
refuge, leaving behind them nearly all their worldly goods.
In numerous places efforts were made to induce loyally disposed persons
to join in the rising, but these efforts met with little success. One
remarkable instance is worthy of mention. Stewart Bell, of Ballywooley,
Crawfordsburn, was a lieutenant in the Bangor Yeomanry, and a man of
unswerving loyalty. Publicly and privately he had frequently remonstrated
with the people against joining in the rebellion, and on this account his
life and property were threatened with destruction. On the morning of
Sunday, the 10th June, at about five o'clock, several men galloped up to the
house on horseback, aroused the inmates, and called upon Bell at the peril
of his life to join the Insurgents. As soon as they had left, Bell went to
Crawford and consulted him. He was advised by this gentleman to get a pass
and cross to Greenock. On his way back he fell in with bands of the
Insurgents going towards Bangor, and in consequence of their threats he was
compelled to accompany them thither. At Bangor he found a large body of men
awaiting the arrival of Hugh McCullough, who was to lead them to
In vain Bell sought for an opportunity to escape from his unpleasant
position. He was compelled to go with the people to Conlig, where, after a
halt, a start was made for Comber. When about half way to Comber news was
received that Colonel Nugent, with a large force, was marching from Belfast
to meet them. Alarmed by these tidings, the Insurgents crossed by the fields
to Scrabo mountain, and planted their standards there. At this point Bell
managed to get free from his company. He was however, afterwards arrested
and thrown into Downpatrick jail. When his trial came on, he owed his life
to the evidence of one of his servants. Similar cases could be cited, but I
must hasten to describe the terrible events which transpired from the 9th to
the 13th of June.
*Alick Byers led his men to the battle of Ballynahinch, and fell in the
fight. His decomposed body was afterwards identified by his linen upon which
his name was embroidered. Singularly to relate, a splendid grey horse, upon
which he had ridden to the battle, was found grazing in a meadow close to
Ednavady many weeks after the fight, and was taken back to the old
homestead. Some time after the battle of Ballynahinch William Byers was
arrested and marched from Grove Cottage to Newtownards in charge of military
escort. Nothing could be proved against him, however, and he was released.
Suspicion was strong against him, and orders were given to burn Grove
Cottage to the ground. Montgomery, of Rosemount interfered, and upon his
representation the cruel order was cancelled.
A FEARFUL FATE
"No hope of help! No chance of flight!
Better to die in open fight!" - OLD BALLAD.
ONE MILE from Saintfield and about three hundred yards off the Lisburn
Road stood the house occupied by Hugh McKee and his family. It was new,
substantially built of blue stone, slated two storeys high, with windows in
front and gable, but none in the rere. The foundation was partly cut out of
the fade of a hill.
McKee was a comfortable farmer; he and his family had received numerous
prizes from the Linen Board for their success in cultivating flax and
spinning yarn. Several old spinning wheels which they obtained as prizes are
still to be seen in the neighbourhood, given by them as presents to their
The household consisted of McKee, his wife, five sons - the youngest
sixteen years of age - three daughters, grown-up women - as daring as the
father and sons, and afraid of nothing; the whole family large, stout and
robust, so much so that they were generally described by their neighbours as
"a lot o' big, fat, course folk." There was also in the house a blind girl,
aged about thirteen, who was a relative, and a servant named John Boles,
McKee and his family were most unpopular. The father had made himself
obnoxious by persecuting United Irishmen, and by his offensive
ultra-loyalty. The family were in the habit of going out at night,
challenging every one they met on the road, and firing shots, to the terror
and indignation of people who passed their house. So great was the fear they
thus inspired that many persons were in the habit of making a detour through
the fields. One night a United Irishman, named Samuel Adams, was shot
through the arm and side. Nelly McKee, a daughter of Hugh, seized a hatchet
and attempted to hack off the man's head, remarking that "deid men tell nae
tales!" Two Scotch soldiers who were in the house at the time prevented the
perpetration of the deed.
When Nicholas Price, of Saintfield House, brother-in-law to Lord Camden,
tried to raise a corps of Yeomanry, the McKees were the only parties who
could be induced to join. McKee evidently dreaded the resentment which his
conduct was calculated to bring about, and he applied to the authorities for
protection. A guard of two or three soldiers was frequently kept in the
house, but previous to the outbreak of the rebellion this guard was
withdrawn. He had a liberal supply of arms and ammunition from Dublin
Castle, and he and his family were well trained to the use of weapons of
McKee's name and doings were familiar to the immense army of United
Irishmen that on the morning of Saturday, 9th of June, was under march to
Ballynahinch. A council was held by the leaders, at which it was resolved to
put an end to the insults of the McKees, and what was even more important,
to seize the large store of arms and ammunition which they held. A party was
detached for the purpose, headed by John Breeze, of Killinchy. When the
object of the attack became known, the entire of the insurgent army in
Saintfield turned out to witness the affair.
On that memorable morning McKee was apprised by a friendly neighbour that
an armed host was under march to his house, and that unless he consented to
join the insurgents he might expect to be strung up to the nearest tree. '
"Then a'll niver join them," said McKee, "an' a'll sell my life dearly."
He kept his word!
McKee entered his house, summoned his family, and told them what he had
heard. No surprise was expressed; the tidings had been long expected, and
with the utmost coolness and deliberation the McKees began to barricade the
doors and windows. A daughter of the yeoman kept watch from an upper window
in the gable of the house, which commanded a view of the road along which
the Insurgents were expected to approach. As she kept watch her father and
brothers loaded their guns, collected their ammunition and arranged their
course of action. If attacked, they were to fire from the windows; the women
were to load the weapons, the men to fire with sure aim, and all declared
that they would die rather than surrender.
McKee's daughter kept watch at her little window. Every now and then from
the kitchen below came the query -
"Dae ye see ocht?"
And in a voice that quavered not was sent the answer - "Na, naethin' yit."
All was in readiness. The defences of the little citadel had been made as
complete as possible, and the time seemed so long that a ray of hope
struggled for entrance into the father's heart - a hope that the alarm had
been a false one.
But that hope was strangled in its birth. From the upper room came the
message, conveyed in a suppressed shriek -
"Da, a see sumthin' noo!"
McKee sprang to the window. His sight was not so keen as that of his
daughter, and he saw only what looked like a cloud on the distant horizon.
It was the cloud of dust raised by the feet of ten thousand men!
Then there were flashes, like rays of sunlight bursting from the cloud.
It was the gleaming of the polished pike heads in the morning sun!
"Cum wa frae the windey, dear," said McKee, taking his daughter by the
arm. "Gang wi' the tithers, an dinnae be yin bit feered."
Ere long the distant shouts of the Insurgents could be plainly heard.
To McKee and his family it was a sound of terror. It drove the blood from
their cheeks and quickened their feverish pulses.
It was the hour of noon, and the sun shone with a fierce brilliancy.
There had been a long season of drought; the grass was scorched, and the
dust lay piled upon the roadways. Parched with thirst, wearied by marching,
and panting for vengeance, the mass of men moved onward. They crowded on the
rocks and hills round about, pikemen with shouldered pikes in the rere, and
the musketeers in front to watch the attack of John Breeze and his men.
They had not long to wait!
To the inmates of the doomed dwelling every minute seemed an age. From
without there came the confused hum of many voices but no words were
Suddenly a hand was laid upon the latch. But the door was bolted and
barred, and heavy articles of furniture were piled against it from within.
"Open the door!" cried a voice, and immediately a shower of blows was
rained upon it.
"What do you want?" cried McKee from within.
"We want you and your sons to join the Patriot Army", was the reply.
"It's what we'll niver doe!" was McKee's firm response.
There was a momentary silence without. The crowd awaited the result of
the parley between their leader and McKee.
That result was quickly communicated. No sooner was it made known than
there arose a shout so wild, so fearful, that froze the blood in the veins
of the unfortunate informer and his family.
"Hang the informers!" "Burn the house over their heads!" "Teer doon the
wa's an' let us at them!" yelled the crowd as it surged and swayed around
"Ready!" whispered McKee to his sons, as he threw his musket to his
shoulder and pointed to a window.
His example was followed by his sons.
There was no need to take aim. The veriest novice in the use of fire-arms
could not fail to strike some one in that dense mass of human beings.
There was a crash of musketry and breaking glass; there were shouts of
fury and the shrieks of wounded men.
Breeze himself received a bullet in the leg, and howled in agony.
The volley from the house was promptly replied to by one from without,
but no one was injured by it.
"Now!" cried McKee, "it's life or death; load, lasses, an' we'll fire."
The women never quailed. Mother and daughters loaded the muskets; father
and sons stood ready to fire.
It was slow work in those days loading the heavy guns, fixing the
priming, looking to the flints and adjusting the locks. Ere a second volley
could be fired the space in front of the house was cleared of men, and those
who had fallen were dragged away.
There was a hurried consultation; brief and decisive.
Such was the sentence, and it was speedily carried into effect.
The attacking party made a detour to the hill at the back of the house.
There were no windows there, and they were safe from the musketry of the
McKees. Some of the men were sent to the house of a man named William Dodd
for a ladder, which they obtained. On their way back they met two young men,
William Shaw and William McCaw, whom they compelled to carry the ladder. The
young men, hearing what was about to be done, threw down the ladder and
refused to carry it to McKee's house.t Some of the others took up the
ladder, and on reaching the house placed it against the back wall. One of
the men, by name Charles Young, climbed to the roof and removed a few
slates. The aperture thus made displayed a pile of flax. The fellow laughed
at the discovery, and shouted for a light. Some one handed him a blazing
wisp of straw, and this he flung on the flax inside. The next instant the
huge dry mass was in flames.
The hapless creatures within soon discovered the appalling fate in store
for them. Driven to madness by the near approach of a death so horrible, and
by the impossibility of escape, the imprisoned men tore away the barriers
which they had put up against the windows and fired into the crowd in front.
Every shot told, but they were few and far between. The women, who had
realised the true state of affairs, gathered round their male relatives,
clinging to them wildly and crying to God for mercy. Shots were fired into
the house from all sides, and the frantic inmates huddled together out of
the way of the bullets. But they could not long escape the flames. The dried
flax and wooden beams burned like matchwood, and the fierce heat scorched
the skin and singed the hair of the doomed ones,
In this fearful hour the women displayed remarkable courage and presence
of mind. They carried crocks of cream from the milkroom, and, lifting the
cream in handfuls, anointed the burns caused by the blazing pieces of wood
and flax which fell upon them, and threw on each other the milk, to damp
their clothes and relieve their sufferings.
John Boles, the servant, threw down his gun with a scream of agony as a
mass of burning flax struck his head and face. "Mester!" he cried, "A can
stan' it nae longer. Ony death wud be better or this. Apen the daur an' let
us mak a dash oot an' fecht fur our lives!"
McKee instantly agreed, and made a dash for the door; but the women
pulled him back by sheer force, and declared that they would all die
"Then a'll gang mysel!" shouted Boles. As he spoke he dashed through one
of the shattered windows, and started to run for dear life.
The race was short. He was impaled upon a pike and fell mortally
A minute later the ammunition exploded in the house with a noise like the
discharge of cannon; the roof fell in with a sickening crash, burying
beneath its smouldering timbers the entire family, and stifling their
piteous and heartrending screams.
The spectators fled in terror from the scene of this deed of horror.
Next day a party of soldiers when digging among the burned ruins found
numerous guns and pistols at the windows, with the stocks burned away. They
also came upon a charred mass that looked "like a load of black sods" piled
in a corner. Nothing in that mess could be distinguished as human, but a
quantity of calcined bones proclaimed it to be the remains of the ill-fated
McKee family. These remains were buried in a garden opposite the house, and
the body of Boles was placed along with them a few days later. The unmarked
grave is shown to this day.
W Charles Young, who placed the ladder
against the house, turned King's evidence, and received a pension for life.
James Gardener, another chief actor in the burning, also turned King's
evidence, and received a pension. He was not personally acquainted with
Breeze, but went to his house in Killinchy under the pretext of buying
wheat, and by that means was able to identify him as the man who was at
McKee's burning. On this testimony Breeze was hanged. The two young men,
William McCaw and William Shaw, who were forced to carry the ladder a short
way, were also hanged by the evidence of these scoundrels. It was also
chiefly on their evidence that the whole eleven persons were hanged - one
for each individual burned; and it is confidently believed that all, except
Breeze, were entirely innocent. John Boles made the twelfth victim.
*Singular to relate, Boles was left for dead, and was afterwards picked
up by some friendly neighbour. He lived for two days, and told the facts
THE BATTLE OF SAINTFIELD
"It is, it is the cannon's opening roar!" - BYRON.
THAT CLUMSY and bungling would-be historian, Sir Richard Musgrave,
attempted very shortly after the '98 rising to write an account of the
Battle of Saintfleld. He succeeded to his own satisfaction possibly, but his
version has generally been pronounced to be the reverse of accurate. He
states, for instance, that Colonel Stapleton having attacked the Insurgents,
"repulsed and killed 350 of them." This should mean that 350 rebels were
repulsed and afterwards killed. In the next paragraph he states that the
rebels retreated towards Newtownards; but further on he records the fact -
and fact it was - that "a numerous body of rebels kept"possession of
Saintfleld till Monday, 11th June," the battle having been fought on the
9th. That is his sole account of the affair. My readers shall know more than
Harry Monro, of Lisburn, accompanied by a considerable body of men,
joined Dr. Jackson, of Newtownards, and those whom he led, shortly after the
destruction of McKee and his family.
Monro, having been unanimously elected as commander-in-chief, he assumed
the position assigned to him, and having been apprised of the fact that
Colonel Stapleton was on the march towards Saintfield, he made preparations
for the first brush with the military.
The men under his command were a mixed and varied multitude. Uniform they
had none, but most of them presented a good appearance, being dressed in the
best clothes which they possessed. Nearly every one wore a rosette or knot
of green ribbon, and most of them had in their button-holes or hats sprigs
of green. The majority carried pikes - deadly instruments of warfare at
close quarters. These pikes had wooden shafts, about seven feet long, with
sharpened heads of iron of different forms, ten or twelve inches in length;
some of these heads consisted of one piece, others had hooks attached to the
blades, for the purpose of cutting the bridles of their opponents' horses.
Not a few of the men were armed with swords, some carried guns, others
Saintfield is a small town about fifteen miles from Belfast, on the road
to Downpatrick. Its Irish name, Tonaghneeve, signifies "the field of the
saint." A writer in 1774 stated that it had, not many years ago, been made a
town, "by the care and industry of General Price, who began to improve here,
opened and made the roads passable from Belfast to Down through it,
encouraged linen manufacturers and other tradesmen to settle here, had a
barrack fixed for a troop of horse, and promoted the repair of a ruinous,
now decent parish church, to which he gave plate and other ornaments." It is
now a clean, neat little town, surrounded by a well-cultivated and populous
country, undulating in hill and dale. But the hills are not so high as to
forbid cultivation; and in the old times the roads ran straight over their
highest points, according to the ancient customs in other parts of Ireland,
where the people had not learned the art of evading a difficulty by going
round it. This change of roads has altered the aspect of many a locality, so
that an old plan of the battlefield would show roads, houses, and other
objects which modern improvement has completely obliterated. For example,
only a small portion of the high road through the defile in which Colonel
Stapleton and his men were entrapped now exists, like a lane running through
some fields. But the grand features of the country, the hills and valleys
still remain - the hills being despoiled of the woods with which they were
then crowned, and the small river flows in its old channel through the scene
of the battle.
The Insurgents had occupied the town of Saintfield, which was altogether
friendly, when news came of the intended march of the troops to attack them.
Partly to save the town, and partly as a stratagem, they took possession of
a wood about a quarter of a mile on the Belfast road, where they lay in
ambush completely concealed. It was an excellent position, affording a safe
means of retreat, and ending at one side in a bog that prevented their being
flanked by the enemy. In front of the wood there was some open ground and
between this ground and the road there was a thick hedge, behind which a
number of the Patriots lay concealed, and through which they opened a
murderous fire on the cavalry, driving them back on the infantry, and
throwing them into confusion. There was also a wood on the lower side of the
road, but this was not occupied by the Patriots at first, although in the
course of the fight a portion of them subsequently availed themselves of its
shelter. When the Royal troops advanced on the Comber road as far as
Shepherd's house. which is still standing, Colonel Stapleton ordered a halt,
suspecting that matters were not altogether right in front. One of three
captives, John Lackey, Alexander Fitzsimmons and John Frame, whom he had
seized on his march, advised him to take the whole force up the grove or
wood, as it would be dangerous to pass between the high hedges and woods
into the town. The Rev. James Clewlew, vicar of Saintfield, and the Rev.
John Cleland then volunteered to reconnoitre. They rode rapidly as far as
the bridge, and on their return reported that there was no enemy to be seen.
It was believed that the main body of the Patriots was still in the village,
as some of them were seen on the Killinchy road, and a number of spectators
on the Windmill Hill. Colonel Stapleton, however, ordered the light company
to advance. They marched along the top of the hill into Shepherd's field
till they came in front of a high close hedge, where they received a heavy
fire of musketry, which they returned. A line of pikemen then rushed out on
the soldiers, and both parties, mingled together, went fighting down the
hill to the road. The pikemen here encountered the main body. A desperate
hand-to-hand struggle ensued in the narrow pass. Cavalry and infantry were
crushed together in a confused mass, and in a short time the Royalists were
driven back by overwhelming numbers to Shepherd's house. The pikemen then
entered Doran's wood at the lower side of the road. Both parties now opened
a general fire, which after a time died away. A sort of truce was hastily
agreed upon, and Colonel Stapleton was permitted to take away his wounded
men, a few of whom were left and taken care of in Shepherd's house. After
remaining a few hours near the field of battle without attempting to enter
the town, the Royal troops retreated to Comber, and were lodged during the
night in one of the Presbyterian meeting-houses, proceeding next morning to
The affair happened about six o'clock on Saturday afternoon, and was over
in less than an hour. On Sunday morning fifty-six dead bodies of the
military and thirty-six of the country people were counted on the field. It
was stated that many more of the latter were killed, but their relatives
carried them away during the night. They appeared to have had no general.
Two men, named Fraizer and McKinstry, led the charge of pikemen down the
hill. So fierce was their onset at the place where they burst through the
hedge, that soldiers and pikemen were found lying together in rows.
McKinstry was killed. Captain Unit, Lieutenant Chetwynd, and Ensign Sparks
were also among the dead. The Royal forces were estimated at 900 or 1,000
men - 800 York Fencibles and about 150 Yeomen. The Patriots are supposed to
have numbered several thousand. The battle extended from the ambuscade to
Shepherd's house; and, by the troops not immediately engaged in the
hand-to-hand fight, a simultaneous fire was kept up from the road and the
field on the hill, directed towards the ambuscade, the troops continuing to
fire during their retreat. Monro was not present on this occasion. There is
no doubt that whoever had the chief command, Richard Fraizer was the leading
spirit of that day.
The Rev. Mortimer, of Comber, was killed by one of the first shots.'
Every bullet has its billet, and that one, true to its aim, brought the
reverend gentleman to the dust.
The United men entered Saintfield and remained in undisputed on of the
Thus the first engagement resulted in the defeat of the military. The
newspaper of the period speak of the Comber Yeomanry as having displayed
much gallantry. Captain Chetwynd received nine pike wounds, at length he was
struck by two musket balls which ended his life.
An incident occurred in Comber which is worth relating. An officer, while
on the march from Newtownards, halted his men at a public-house in Comber
and ordered the proprietor to supply them with drink.
The publican may have been a loyal man, or he may have been the reverse,
at all events he considered that he might have some difficulty in recovering
payment for his liquor, and therefore he enquired -
"An' who'll pye me?"
"Serve the liquor and ask no questions," said the officer.
"A wull whun ye gie me the money," was the dogged reply.
The officer had the publican instantly seized and held fast by a couple
of men, whilst he sent half a dozen of the others into the shop with orders
to carry out to his company as much liquor as they required. No second order
was required. The men drank freely, after which they turned on every tap in
the bar, so that the liquor might escape. The officer then ordered the
release of the publican, and, as he rode off, he shook his sword in the poor
man's face, and swore that on his return from Saintfield he would burn his
house to the ground.
The officer fell, and some days afterwards his dead body was borne
through Comber in a cart. By a singular coincidence, the men in charge of
the body stopped at the same public-house for refreshment. The publican went
out to examine the body, and instantly recognised his troublesome customer.
Taking the dead man's hand, he exclaimed, chuckling inwardly at his little
"An' what wae ir ye the day? Man, but a'm gled to see ya sae quate by
what ye wur the tither day!"
An eye-witness relates a revolting sequel to the battle of Saintfield, to
the following effect: Every one of the fifty-six dead bodies left by the
Royalists on the scene of the conflict was stripped naked by the country
people - not an article of clothing was left on any of them; even the
Reverend Mortimer was found sitting against a gate in the same state of
perfect nudity. Two boys were seen fighting over the body of a dragoon for
his uniform. A grave was dug in the mud bank in the river and into it the
bodies were laid indiscriminately, having been brought down in cart loads.
Upon the little island thus formed the grass grows rich and green, and the
clear stream runs murmuring by, as if no such tragedies could have been
perpetrated in the midst of scenery suggesting nothing but rural happiness,
quietness, and perfect peace, which indeed are now the characteristics of
the place. This island of the dead is still known as "York Island". Many of
the Insurgents were buried in the adjoining
Presbyterian graveyard, suitable tombstones marking their graves.
"By easy steps I regularly rise,
Where Ednavady's top salutes the skies,
And view with pleasure all the distant fields,
The nobler scenes which fair Montalto yields,
Where once a hawthorn bush and bramble grew,
A turf and rocks unpleasing to the view,
Now sprouting groves disclose a smiling green,
And blushing flowers, intruding, glance between;
Here the sublime of nature wakes surprise;
Where there the gentle charms attract the eyes."
THE TOWN of Ballynahinch, in the County of Down, lies about twelve Irish
miles from Belfast. It has long been a favourite resort of those in search
of health, and is widely celebrated for its famous spas, which have occupied
a high place in public estimation for upwards of a century.
The parish name of Ballynahinch is Magheradroll, which signifies he Field
of Difficulties." A hundred years ago the place was most difficult of
approach, and writers of those days speak of the country surrounding it as
being extremely coarse, full of rocks and hills, rendering access to it
troublesome and unpleasant, and drawing bitter complaints from travellers
who could only hobble through the broken and narrow causeways.
All that, however, is now changed. Good roads have been made, and
travellers from Belfast can accomplish the journey with ease by means of the
County Down Railway. The distance by rail is twenty-one miles, and the
railway is one of the smoothest in the kingdom. Harris, in his history of
County Down, speaks of Ballynahinch as lying in the midst of the great roads
leading from Lurgan, Lisburn, Dromore and Hillsborough to Downpatrick. It
was founded after the wars of 1641, by Sir George Rawdon, Baronet, an
ancestor of the Marquis of Hastings, in the possession of which family it
remained till the early part of the last century. The family of Hastings is
of great antiquity, as is shewn by the title deed of their estate, in which
the following lines appear:
"I, William King, the third year of my reign,
Give to Paulyn Royden, Hope and Hopetowne,
With all the Landes, both up and down,
From Heaven to Yearth, from Yearth to Hel,
For thee and thine, there to dwel,
As truly as this King-right is myne,
For a cross-bow and an arrow,
When I sal come to hunt on Yarrow.
And in token that this thing is sooth
I bit the whyt wax with my tooth,
Before Meg, Maud, and Margery,
And my third sonne Henry."
At the period of which I write (1798) Montalto was the property of Lord
Moira, who commenced to improve his estate in 1770, when he expended upon it
some £30,000. This nobleman made many efforts on behalf of his suffering
country. In the March and November of 1797 he moved in the British House of
Lords that an humble address should be presented to the King, praying him to
interpose his parental interference for allaying of the alarming discontents
then subsisting in Ireland. "Before God and my country," said Lord Moira, "I
speak of what I myself have seen. I have seen in Ireland the most absurd, as
well as the most disgusting, tyranny that any nation ever groaned under. I
have seen troops sent full of this prejudice - that every inhabitant of that
kingdom is a rebel to the British Government; the most wanton insults, the
most grevious oppressions, practised upon men of all ranks and conditions,
in a part of the country as free from disturbance as the city of London.
Thirty houses are sometimes burned in a single night; but, from prudential
motives. I wish to draw a veil over more aggravated facts, which I am
willing to attest before the Privy Council, or at your lordships' bar."
These motions were negatived. On the 19th February, 1798, Lord Moira
again brought forward a motion, in the Irish House of Lords, and offered to
produce full proof of many acts of barbarous violence; his motion met the
same fate as his previous ones.
On the west side of Ballynahinch and within a few hundred yards of
Montalto House, rises the grand old hill of Ednavady, crowded with old Irish
earthworks and commanding a magnificent view of the country for miles around
and of the quiet little town that nestles at its foot. This was the place
chosen by General Monro as the camping ground of the Insurgent army, and no
better position could have been chosen. It is said the place was so selected
by the Insurgents on account of the patriotic feelings of the Moiras. The
hill will ever be an object of interest in consequence of the memorable
incidents connected with it, and many a tourist clambers to its summit to
look upon the traces of the old entrenchments or feast his eyes upon the
beauty of the surrounding scenery. On the centre of the hill-top, enclosed
by a high embankment, having a deep trench on either side, is a space
capable of accommodating fully a thousand men. From this spot a most
extensive view can be obtained, and it commands every approach to
The morning of Saturday, the 9th of June, 1798, found the usually quiet
little town of Ballynahinch in a state of bustle and commotion. Work was
given over; business suspended; groups of persons were assembled here and
there in eager conversation or consultation. Some hesitated as to which side
they should join; others decided to join neither, and were chiefly concerned
in securing their own safety. Goods and furniture were carted and hidden. At
many of the doors men stood or sat sharpening their pikes; others, carrying
their weapons, were marching towards the camping ground. One incident of an
exciting nature occurred during the day. A party of the Castlewellan
Yeomanry marched into Ballynahinch bringing with them a prisoner, arrested
under a suspicion of disaffection. The people made a rush at the Yeomanry
and secured the prisoner. In the scuffle a Ballynahinch man was killed, and
the Yeomanry made off as rapidly as possible.
On the following morning, Sunday, 800 men - horse, foot and artillery -
of the King's troops, marched into Ballynahinch from Blaris Camp. The Argyle
Fencibles formed part of the force, and entering the houses helped
themselves to whatever they fancied. Breakfast was prepared by one
inhabitant, and served out to the soldiers. The colonel, on leaving for
Downpatrick, directed a bill to be made out for expense, and said he would
see it paid. The bill was afterwards handed to him in Belfast - the gallant
colonel tore it up and said that that was his answer.