THE PORTAFERRY ATTACK
"Rebellion! foul, dishonouring word,
Whose wrongful blight so oft has stained
The holiest cause that tongue or sword
Of mortal ever lost or gained -
How many a spirit born to bless,
Has sunk beneath that withering name,
Whom but a day's - an hour's success
Had wafted to eternal fame." - MOORE.
THE TOTAL NUMBER of United Irishmen enrolled in Ulster has been estimated
at 24,000. Barely a third of these rose to follow their leaders and fulfil
While the inhabitants of the Northern division of the Ards were
assembling, those of a Southern division had marched against Portaferry,
Captain Mathews, a man of bravery and experience, had the command of the
town. On hearing the unwelcome tidings that a section of the Insurgent army
was on its way to attack him he set about making preparations for giving the
Patriots a warm reception. The only force at his command was a body of
yeomanry, and the captain placed but little confidence in their courage or
skill in warfare; he was resolved, however, that the Yeomen should fight,
whether willing or not.
A revenue cruiser lay in the river at the time; Mathews directed Captain
Hopkins, who had command of her, to bring his guns to bear on Portaferry
Street; then he had the arches of the Market house filled up with a dry
temporary wall, to prevent the Insurgents from setting fire to the left;
this done, he enclosed his men in the upper portion of the building, and
awaited the approach of the enemy.
The object of the Insurgents was to take the town; then to cross the
Ferry, and proceed with whatever reinforcements they might obtain in Lecale,
to the attack of Downpatrick. This plan certainly displayed some knowledge
of the best tactics to be pursued; for the presumption was that the garrison
of Downpatrick would have marched to join General Nugent at Ballynahinch,
and this was actually the case.
When the Insurgents were within a mile of Portaferry they halted at a
large and well-stocked public house, the property of a baronial committee
man, They ordered out all that the house contained, and the entire stock
rapidly disappeared. The proprietor, observing that the march was about to
be resumed stepped out to one of the leaders and very civilly enquired - "Wha's
tae pay me, sir?"
There was a shout of laughter at the question, and the only reply the
poor fellow obtained was that his country would pay him, A brother of this
man was in the ranks, and, on hearing what passed, concluded that he had
been long enough in his present company. He accordingly hid himself behind a
hedge and allowed his former comrades to proceed without him.
Confident of success, the Insurgents advanced upon Portaferry,
flourishing their pikes and cheering loudly. A speedy and bloodless victory
they certainly would have achieved but for the foresight of Captain Mathews.
As the Ards men approached the Market-house they were met by a volley of
musketry. A number of pikemen fell and there was a momentary halt. Again the
Ards men advanced, and again they were met with a shower of bullets. At the
same moment the shot from the cruiser in the river began to tell; men
dropped in every direction. The pressure in the rere and the exposed
situation of the street together with the uncertainty as to what force was
exposed to them caused a panic and confusion in front, and, unable to return
an effectual fire, the Insurgents fled,
Mathews congratulated his men upon their success; he feared, however a
repetition of the experiment, and no sooner had the Insurgents got clear off
than he passed over with his Yeomen to Strangford.
The defeated Insurgents made their way some five or six miles along the
shore of Strangford Lough until they came to the residence of Bailey, of
Innishargy. One of the Insurgents thus relates what took place there:----
"The airmy lay doon on the lawn, while the offishers tuk possession, of
the hoose, whaur they sut doon in the parlour, an' made themsel's free wi'
the contents o' the cellar. As they sut enjoyin' themsels's, me and yin or
twa mair o' us went up tae the open wundey and says-'Merry be yer hearts,
genteels, an' what'll ye hae the airmy tae drink?' 'Hooch,' sed this yin and
that yin, `there's a water cart in the yard, tak it doon tae the river an'
gie them a drink!' 'Heck, surs,' sez we `is that the was o' it. Gin we're
tae be soles an' ye the uppers we may jist as weel serve King George'."
And so from the very outset there were jealousies and divisions amongst
the Insurgents as might be expected.
"Lay down your arms," said Nugent,
"And bring me here Monro,
Or I shall let my bloodhounds out,
And lay each dwelling low!" - OLD BALLAD.
A REIGN of terror had begun. The town of Belfast was overcrowded by
refugees, who from all parts of the country had fled thither for safety. The
shops were closed; the streets and avenues were guarded by the military, and
no person was permitted to be upon the streets.
The following proclamation was, on the 11th of June, issued by
Major-General Nugent to the inhabitants and Insurgents of County Down:
"Belfast, 11th June, 1798, 5 pm. "Major-General Nugent commanding his
Majesty's forces in the North of Ireland, being desirous of sparing the
effusion of human blood, and the total devastation of the County of Down, is
pleased to, and does hereby, extend to the Insurgents in said County the
same terms of submission and atonement that have been so eagerly and
gratefully accepted by many of their equally deluded neighbours in the
County of Antrim, to wit:
"That if those unfortunate persons who, by the arts of selfish and
designing people, have been seduced from the allegiance to their true and
lawful sovereign, his Majesty King George the Third, to become Rebels and
Traitors to their country, will return to their duty as faithful and
peaceable subjects, and to their respective houses and occupations, the
General positively and surely engages to them that no one whatever in the
county (with the exceptions hereinafter mentioned) shall be molested, or
their property injured, and that, as a proof of their return to loyalty and
good government, they must in the course of twenty-four hours after the date
of this proclamation (making allowance for more distant parts of the county)
liberate all the loyal persons of every description now in their custody,
and send them to their respective places of abode, and that they also depute
some persons to receive all their arms and offensive weapons of every
denomination, with the ammunition belonging thereto, who shall be sent to
the General to know where they are to be deposited; and that they also
deliver up the principal persons who have been most active in instigating or
compelling them to engage in their late wicked practices.
"Should the above injunctions not be complied with within the time
specified, Major-General Nugent will proceed to set fire to and totally
destroy the towns of Killinchy, Killyleagh, Ballynahinch, Saintfield, and
every cottage and farmhouse in the vicinity of these four places, carry off
the stock and cattle, and put everyone to the sword who may be found in
"It particularly behoves all the well-affected persons who are now with
the rebels from constraint, and who, it is known, farm a considerable part
of their numbers, to exert themselves in having these terms complied with,
as it is the only opportunity there will be of rescuing themselves and
properties from the indiscriminate vengeance of an army necessarily let
loose upon them."
A copy of this proclamation found its way into the hands of General
Monro, who, with same 7,000 men, was in the neighbourhood of Saintfield. He
read it aloud to his army, and the document was greeted with shouts of
laughter. Monro immediately despatched one of his officers, named Townshend,
to take possession of Ballynahinch. The task was an easy one; the garrison
fled at the approach of Townshend, and the town was taken without bloodshed.
On the 12th Monro, with the remainder of his force, marched for
Ballynahinch. On his way he learned that the King's troops commanded by
General Nugent, and supported by General Barber's artillery, had left
Belfast to intercept him.
The tidings were true. On that morning Nugent, with 700 infantry, 150
cavalry, and five pieces of cannon, marched from Belfast to attack Monro at
Oghley Hill, near Saintfield, where he had been encamped. On arriving there
Nugent learned of the departure of the Insurgents for the town of
Ballynahinch, He immediately started in pursuit. Before coming upon the
Insurgents he was joined by the column under the command of
Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart, of the 33rd Regiment from Downpatrick.
Not far from Montalto Monro awaited the arrival of the military. Their
line of approach was painfully visible. As far as the eye could reach the
soldiers had fired the country along their line of march.
The two contending forces soon came into collision. For more than an hour
Monro was able to keep the Royal forces in check. He had however, no
artillery except a few small ship guns - some six or eight - mounted on
country cars, while the British artillery was effective and well served.
Monro was at length compelled to give way. He sent instructions to Townshend
to evacuate Ballynahinch, a part of which had already caught fire from the
falling shells, and drew off his forces to the hill of Ednavady.
In the evening the British troops entered Ballynahinch, and began
plundering, burning and drinking. During the night, exhausted by their
orgies, the soldiers lay helpless in the streets. News of the state of
affairs was brought to Monro, and a council of war was held. Immediate
action was urged by all except Monro. In vain his officers appealed to him
to march into the town, and make prisoners of all the drunken soldiers.
"No," said the General, "we scorn to avail ourselves of the ungenerous
advantage which night affords! We will meet them in the blush of day; we
will fight them like men, not under the cloud of night, but with the first
rays of to-morrow's sun." This fatal mistake of Monro's doing more credit to
his heart than his death, was the cause of his overthrow and defeat.
A scene of confusion followed, and a clamour of dissatisfaction was raised.
The best-armed division of Monro's men, numbering about 700, were marched
off by their leader, and many others deserted also.
During the night nothing worthy of note occurred, but the morning sun
ushered in a day of blood and carnage.
THE BATTLE OF BALLYNAHINCH
"The combat deepens! On ye brave,
Who rush to glory or the grave!" - CAMPBELL.
GENERAL NUGENT succeeded in getting possession of the Windmill Hill on
the afternoon of the 12th of June. He found the task no easy one to
accomplish. His line of march, as he approached Ballynahinch, lay by the
side of the steep hill. The ground on each side of the road was divided into
small fields, and, from the acclivity of the situation, the fences rose one
above the other, forming a kind of ampitheatre. Here Monro had posted some
of his best musketeers ambuscaded behind the fences. These were under charge
of a young officer named McCance, throughout the entire action, displayed
the most steady and determined courage.
No sooner had Nugent, the head of the King's forces, advanced within
range of the United army upon the Windmill Hill than he set about dislodging
it. Instantly McCance opened fire from his am buscade and with such effect
that the whole British line was interrupted in its advance and kept in check
for more than an hour. Nugent lost many men, while the little band of
marksmen commanded by McCance sustained no injury. Several bold attempts
were made by Nugent to storm and carry the Windmill Hill, but so well
directed was the fire from its summit that many of the British skewed
unwillingness to approach it, and in the case of one particular regiment the
utmost exertions of the officers were necessary to induce the men to
Nugent's army now formed between the Windmill Hill and the town of
Ballynahinch, presenting front to and directing their fire upon both. Monro
was totally defective in cannon; a few ship guns of small calibre were all
he had, and these were of very little service when opposed to the British
artillery under General Barber, an efficient and experienced officer.
It was in this posture of affairs that Monro considered it prudent to
withdraw his men from the Windmill Hill and to concentrate his entire force
on Ednavady, preparatory to a general attack on the British line. He sent
orders to McCance to retire from the post which he had so ably defended,
while Townshend received orders to evacuate Ballynahinch, where some of the
houses had caught fire from the discharge of shells.
When the first order to retire reached McCance he refused to obey it. A
second order came, and he refused, at the same time earnestly pleading for a
reinforcement from the Commander-in-Chief. A third messenger came bearing
the same order. He then quitted his post with reluctance and an agitation of
mind which he was unable to conceal.
No sooner did McCance quit his post than a British regiment advanced and
took possession of it. And here occurred an incident illustrative of the
courage and heroism of the Hearts of Down. When McCance's men retired from
the hill, two of their number were left behind. One had actually refused to
quit his post; the other was suffering from extreme fatigue. He had fought
at Saintfield on the 9th, was incessant in every pursuit connected with the
duties assigned him, but, exhausted with toil and unable to follow his
division, he lay down on the ground and fell asleep. The former, on the
advance of the enemy up the hill, maintained his position, and, being a
splendid marksman, continued to fire with effect. At last, having discharged
his last round, he leapt over the fences and joined his division in safety.
The latter was roused from his sleep by the rush of feet over his body. He
started up, and was immediately seized upon. He was at once brought before
General Nugent, who ordered his instant execution. The brave fellow never
flinched. Fixing his bold gaze upon Nugent, he exclaimed -
"I came here to die; and whether on Ednavady or Windmill Hill can make
"Hang him upon a blade of the old windmill!" cried Nugent.
The infuriated soldiery were only too glad to have some object upon which
to wreak their fury and vengeance. A rope was speedily procured, and in a
few minutes the lifeless body of the poor fellow was dangling in the air,
suspended to one of the arms of the windmill, where it remained till the
close of the following day.
The night was one of deep anxiety with the United army. Harry Monro never
thought of seeking rest. He was always on the alert, passing from rank to
rank, cheering, encouraging and relieving the wants of his companions.
It was during the night of the 12th that our heroine, Betsy Gray, reached
Ednavady. Despite the remonstrances of her father, he carried out her
original resolution. Putting a fine mare to an old blockwheel car, and
lading the car with cheese, butter and homemade bread, she started, alone
and undaunted, upon her perilous journey. She reached Ednavady in safety,
was immediately recognised and was received with every demonstration of
enthusiasm. Her brother and Willie Boal were soon by her side, and the
former, in he excitement of the moment, readily forgave his sister for her
disobedience of his orders.
The summer of 1798 was a glorious one. It was remarked as a singular
circumstance that, during the whole period of the rebellion in Ireland, not
a single drop of rain fell. Starry nights and days of brilliant sunshine
prevailed. Upon what a scene did the sun look down as he rose from his ocean
bed on the morning of the 13th of June! On the Windmill Hill stood the
forces of the King, trained in he ways of warfare; on the bold summit and
sloping sides of Ednavady were thousands of poorly armed and untrained men,
prepared to do battle unto the death for the land and the people that they
loved. In the valley below slumbered the pretty little town of Ballynahinch.
At the first dawn, Monro formed his men for action, and though their
numbers had been noticeably diminished during the night, they betrayed no
lack of courage or confidence in their commander.
General Monro commenced the attack by a discharge from eight of his small
cannon, which were drawn up against the town. Barber promptly replied by his
heavy artillery. A strong division marched from the hill with the view of
penetrating the town on the right; while Monro, in person, headed a more
formidable column, directing his march to the left. General Nugent
despatched a body of troops to contend the ground with the former, who
waited their approach drawn up in a solid square, and received them with a
destructive fire, which checked their advance. The officer commanding the
British troops was shot dead; his men gave way, and retreated hastily back
into the town of Ballynahinch.
The men led by Monro displayed great enthusiasm in their advance. They
bore down all opposition; forced an entrance into the town under he most
destructive fire of musketry and cannon, re peated rounds of grape shot
sweeping down whole ranks which were as rapidly replaced. The pikemen
charged to the very muzzle of the guns, and carried off a heavy piece of
Quite close to Monro, mounted on a magnificent horse, dressed from head
to foot in green silk, and waving aloft a slender glittering sword, to cheer
on the men to their deadly work, rode Betsy Gray! She dashed into the very
thickest and hottest of the fight, and, with a heroism that never failed,
emboldened the Insurgents by her daring of danger and of death.
Monro's ammunition became exhausted. He gained the very centre of the
town, where, exposed to a cross-fire of musketry in the Market Square, and
raked by the artillery, he pressed boldly on the enemy with bayonet and
Above the din of musketry and the clash of steel came his cheery cry -
"Charge, lads, for the honour of Down!"
And they did charge, with a fury so irresistible that Nugent ordered a
And here followed a scene so extraordinary as to be, perhaps, without a
parallel in the history of ancient or modern warfare, Monro's troops,
unacquainted with the trumpet's note, and enveloped by the smoke, which
prevented them from seeing the hurried movements of the soldiery, mistook
the retreat for the signal of charge.
In the very flush of victory, victory bloody but complete, in a hand to
hand encounter with trained slayers of men, they turned and fled in one
direction just as their enemies were flying in another.
That fatal mistake decided the fate of the day - the fate of the rising
in the County Down.
The 22nd Light Dragoons, who had borne no active part in the operations
of the day, charged the flying troops of Monro, while the infantry,
recovering from their panic, joined in the pursuit.
And now began a series of horrible outrages which shall be as foul blots
upon the history of Ireland through all time.
A BOY'S REVENGE
"He suffered bravely, and he fought
The bloody contest through;
But there remained a something yet
The noble lad could do". - OLD SONG
THE DEFEAT of the Insurgents was sudden and complete. Nugent's cannon,
laden with grape shot, and fired point blank into that mass of human beings
which crowded Dromore Street, cut the people down in hundreds, opening up
lanes through the crowded ranks, through which, to use the words of an
eyewitness, a coach-and-six might have been driven without touching a soul
right or left.
In irretrievable confusion the panic-stricken Insurgents fled in every
direction. The town of Ballynahinch was in flames. Only seven of its
inhabitants remained in the town. Three of these were burned to death, two
were shot down at their own doors, and the other two escaped. The flying
Insurgents were mainly composed of men from Bangor, Donaghadee, Newtownards,
Greyabbey, Killinchy and the Cottown. Escape was now their only object, and
flinging down their arms they ran for dear life. Some sought refuge in the
turf bogs, others lay down amongst the green rushes and waving corn which
grew luxuriantly in the surrounding fields, and hundreds were thus saved
from the murderous steel of the pursuing horsemen.
The cavalry was mainly composed of the Hillsborough Horse Yeomanry, which
was made up of the fiercest and most relentless Protestants from South Down.
To it, with the Yeomanry Infantry not engaged till the crisis of the battle,
was entrusted the work of pursuit and slaughter. They did their work well,
and with brutal ferocity, unequalled by even the bloody dragoons of
Claverhouse. Breaking up into small parties of fours or "double threes" and
armed with pistols and sabres, they spread themselves over the townlands
surrounding Ballynahinch, cutting down, with fiendish savagery, friend and
foe alike. Many incidents of the terrible slaughter have been handed down
from father to son, and to the present day the bitterest hates exist amongst
the descendents of the pursued and the pursuers. Two men, named respectively
Adair and Mawhinney, natives of Greyabbey, were amongst those who stood in
the thickest of the fight. Adair was a wealthy farmer, the owner of
considerable property, and a man of note in Greyabbey and neighbourhood.
Mawhinney was also a man of means. These two, flinging down their arms,
joined in the general flight, and breathless and exhausted had reached
Ballykine, when they were pounced upon by a party of the Hillsborough men,
who were on the prowl for victims. Unable to proceed further, the poor
fellows were easily caught, and the work of murder began. The men were
literally hacked to pieces, and Adair was mutilated in a manner too horrible
for relation. In an adjoining field, tending his cows, was George Jackson,
the owner of the farm upon which this bloody deed had been perpetrated. He
was a peaceable and harmless man, loyal to the King, and had resolutely set
his face against the rebellion. Thirsting for more blood, the butchers fell
upon Jackson, and speedily left him a hacked and disfigured corpse upon his
own field. The body of Adair was left in so hideous a condition that those
who saw it never forgot the sight. His remains and those of Mawhinney were
buried by some friendly hands in a moss field, on Alexander Douglas's land.
Adair's grave is about ten yards from the road leading to Lisburn. Some
twenty-five years ago the grave was opened - with what object cannot be
said. It was found to contain the skeleton of the unfortunate man. Hat,
boots and clothing were in a perfect state of preservation. The coat, which
was of a superfine green broadcloth and long skirted, the waistcoat,
knee-breeches, and green silk kerchief had suffered but little by their
sixty years subjection to the soil under which they and their wearer had
been laid. The hat was removed to the Belfast Museum. The clothing was cut
into small pieces, and, with the buttons, distributed among the people of
the district, who still preserve them as interesting souvenirs of the
terrible struggle. Douglas, has evinced the utmost reverence for the grave
of Adair. With his own hands he built a strong stone structure to the height
of about three feet. The grave he covered with verdant sods and planted
thereon a sally, which now stands some fourteen feet in height.*
Amongst the flying fugitives was Tommy Burns, the lad who worked in the
smiddy of Mat McClenaghan, and who was brutally tortured there on the night
of the christening. The brave lad, burn ing to avenge that fearful outrage,
accompanied the Granshaw and Cottown men to Ballynahinch, and now he lay by
the roadside, alone, weary, hungry and thirsty. He had fallen asleep, but
was aroused by the tramping of feet. Cautiously lifting his head from the
dry ditch in which he lay, Tommy saw a company of soldiers marching in his
on. Their bayonets flashed in the sunlight, and, as they drew near, Tommy
could hear their shouts of noisy laughter as they discussed the incidents of
the recent fight. He was about to crawl into the adjoining field for safety,
when his quick eye recognised the features of the officer under whose orders
he had been whipped and mutilated at the Six-Road-Ends. Yes, it was he,
jauntily he marched at the head of his men, joining in their laughter, and
evidently in the best of humour.
Tommy drew towards him a musket which he had carried in the fight, and
examined the priming. It was a clumsy old-fashioned weapon, with which he
had brought down many a crow and magpie. He had higher game in prospect now!
The soldiers leisurely advanced. When within a dozen paces off Tommy's
hiding-place they came, unbidden, to a sudden halt as the lad started from
his lair, musket in hand, and faced them upon the roadway.
"What have we here?" cried the officer, with a laugh.
"Some damned young rebel, you may be sure," replied one of his men.
"Come here, boy!" said the officer, advancing a pace.
The recognition was now mutual.
"Upon my soul," laughed the officer, "but it's the brat who was cropped
by Morris. By God, were he here now he would have his other ear!"
The brutal joke was the last the fellow ever uttered. Quick as lightning
Tommy raised his musket to his shoulder and discharged it straight in the
officer's face. The man's head was literally blown to pieces, and his brains
were scattered upon the faces and uniforms of the men nearest to him!
A moment of silent horror followed. Then there was a shout and a rush,
and Tommy's body was pierced by a score of bayonets.
*The author of this story has visited the grave of Adair. While there he
cut a twig from the sally, and from this twig manufactured the pen-holder
which he has used in the writing of this tale.
THE SEARCH FOR MONRO
"Sad is my fate, said the heart-broken stranger;
The wild deer and wolf to a covert pan flee;
But I have no refuge from famine and danger,
A home and a country remain not for me.
Never again in the green sunny bowers,
Where my forefathers liv'd, shall I spend the sweet hours,
Or cover my harp with the wild-woven flowers,
And strike to the numbers of Erin go Bragh." - CAMPBELL.
THE TOWN of Lisburn not only supplied the noble and generous hearted
General who commanded the troops of the United Irishmen, but it also played
an important part in the short but sanguinary struggle. During the winter of
1797, a shuttle-maker who lived in an entry off High Street, Belfast, worked
eighteen hours of the twenty-four in making pike-heads and handles. He and
very many similar experts were, however, outdone by a Lisburn white smith,
who, during the winter of 1797 and spring of 1798, forged upwards of 500
pikes without leaving undone any of his ordinary work.
Many years before the rebellion of 1798 the Presbyterians of Lisburn had
proposed to build a new house of worship. Lord Hertford gave them a handsome
site, and subscriptions were collected towards defraying the cost of
erection. Amongst the contributors were the Rev. Father Magee - the parish
priest - and several members of his congregation. Father Magee gave £10, and
the donation was very much prized by the Presbyterians. He was exceedingly
popular, and, when any works of benevolence were to be performed, he was
always beside the Rev. Dr. Cupples, Protestant rector of the parish, and the
Rev. Andrew Craig, Presbyterian minister.
There was wonderful excitement in Lisburn and its neighbourhood on the
night of the 12th of June, 1798. A report had been circulated that. Harry
Monro and a large body of his men would that night descend upon the town and
destroy it by fire. Soldiers, horse and foot, paraded the streets in large
numbers; the inhabitants were ordered to close their doors and put out their
lights after eight o'clock, and every measure was taken to prevent a
military surprise. In a house in Market Square sat an Orange Lodge. At a
late hour one of the members of this Lodge looked out of the door and saw
the parish priest making his way homewards. The Orangeman was a member of
the Rev. Craig's Church, and he had a kindly feeling towards Father Magee,
because he remembered his kindness. Stepping up to the clergyman, he said -
"You are out very late, sir, in such troublous times."
"I am, indeed, my friend," replied the old gentleman. "I have been out on
a sick call."
"It is a mile to your house, and you can hardly get there in safety,"
said the Orangeman; "our lodge is now sitting, come in for a moment and
we'll see about guarding you home."
The priest entered the lodgeroom, where he was hospitably received, and,
having remained there for some time, he was escorted home by four of the
On that eventful day numerous arrests were made, and amongst the
prisoners were quiet men, who had never joined any political institution.
The prisoners were taken to the guardhouse, where they were ordered to stand
with their backs to the wall of the dark, damp cell, in which position they
stood in silent agony and suspense as to what their fate might be.
At the hour of midnight the tramp of a trooper's horse was heard dashing
up the street; the rider pulled up his steed at the prison, held a short
conversation with the Sergeant of the guard, and then rode off.
No sooner had the trooper ridden off than one of the prisoners put his
mouth to the keyhole of the door and cried out -
"For God's sake tell us the news!"
"My written orders are," replied the sergeant, "that if a gun be fired in
Market Square it will be the signal that the Rebel troops are at hand, and
all the prisoners must then be put to death."
What a night of agony and suspense was that! Many of the prisoners almost
lost their reason. Well for them it was that the rumour concerning Monro was
false. Had it been true they would have been butchered in cold blood.
Parties of dragoons and yeomen were sent out into the country in quest of
General Monro, and in the course of their search it fared ill with all the
persons upon whom they chanced to come. They may have been acting loyally
and legally in shooting down persons positively known to be rebels, but
these bloodhounds shot at and hewed down nearly every person they met,
without asking questions. A party of dragoons, riding from Ballynahinch to
Belfast, observed a farmer digging potatoes in his field, near Dundonald.
"How far is Belfast?" shouted one of the troopers.
The man was deaf, and, not hearing the question, did not look up.
"He's a rebel, I'm sure," said the trooper, and raising his carbine he
shot the poor man dead.
Near to the same place, the same party seized upon an inoffensive man,
and strung him up to a beam which projected from a farm house, where he was
strangled to death. That beam was only recently cut down.
A dragoon, immediately after the fight, galloped up to a house, swearing
that he would have twenty lives that day before he would sleep for the
murder of his brother Billy (a soldier who had been killed near Saintfield).
The person thus threatened, with a child on each arm, begged for mercy. The
dragoon lifted up his gun, took aim, and pulled the trigger; but the piece
did not go off. When preparing to fire again he observed a man, on his
right, running across a field, whom he pursued; but when leaping a stone
fence his horse fell. The rider, however, overtook the man in the next
field, and struck him repeatedly with his sword. The third blow caused him
to fall, and, when lying the dragoon cut at him with the point of his sword.
When night came two men buried him in a bog, where the grave is still
pointed out. The spot, however, is now arable land.
It is well known that the same dragoon killed fifteen men on the day
referred to, within half a mile of the house specified: He shot two brothers
while they were swimming in Ballykine Lough. He overtook in a field a person
named William Fee, and having nearly severed his hand from his wrist, and
wounded him severely on the head, another dragoon came up and exclaimed -
"You have given him enough; come with me."'
A person passing through the field observed the wounded man, who, in the
most piteous terms, pleaded for some milk. The person thus addressed, at the
risk of his own life, brought him the desired draught. While he was drinking
it, his blood was dropping into the vessel. He must afterwards have made his
escape during the night, for he was nowhere to be found next morning.
Thirty years afterwards, this man saw a person leaning over a half-door
in Weighouse Lane, Belfast, and thought he recognised in him the man to whom
he had given the milk. He was confirmed in the opinion he had formed by
looking at the wounded wrist. The Ballynahinch man asked him,
"Do you know me?" "No", was the rely. "Well," continued the other, "I am
the man who gave you the bowl of milk on the day that wrist was wounded." He
immediately clasped his benefactor in his arms, brought him into the house
and treated him with much kindness.
The blood-thirsty dragoon above alluded to kill a poor simpleton while
herding cattle. On the Wednesday morning after the battle, as the rebels
were flying in all directions, General Nugent, in giving orders to the
dragoons to disperse them, observed, "Now, boys, be merciful." This was much
to the credit of the general; but to the disgrace of the soldiers be it
told, his orders were by no means strictly obeyed. There was a fearful and
indiscriminate slaughter made during the afternoon of the battle. While
passing the house of a farmer in Ballylone, the dragoons stopped and asked
for milk. Basins of cream were carried out to them. One of the soldiers
remarked, "He (the master of the house) is a rebel; look at the cloth round
his hand; he has been wounded in the battle." On uttering these words, the
trooper shot the ill-fated farmer. He and his family were staunch Loyalists.
Before leaving the dying man, the rest of the soldiers examined his hand,
and found, instead of the suspected wound only a common boil, over which a
bandage had been rolled. On seeing this, one of the party said to his
comrade who had fired the fatal shot, "I'll never remain in the company with
such a murderer." For his bloody deed, the inhuman soldier was tried by a
court-martial, and is reported to have been shot in Belfast.
The dragoons, when "scouring the country", entered houses and hacked the
cheese with their bloody swords.
They frequently seized the farmers' horses, pretending to take them away,
and exacting five or ten pounds for their return. Two young men from
Newtownards left the rebels on the evening of Wednesday, and saw no way of
escaping but by giving themselves up to the Yeomanry stationed on the hill
in the rere of the Third Presbyterian Church. The Yeomen had just taken them
under their protection, when some dragoons galloped up the hill, and seeing
the young men, shot one of them in the presence of the captain. A soldier
standing by resolved to kill the other, but, having no weapon, lifted up a
long piece of nailrod, bent it in the middle, and was in the act of rushing
forward to put the two ends into the rebel's eyes when the captain
interposed. The young man thus saved was protected by the Yeomen for three
days, and afterwards reached home in safety. A few days before the fight, a
person in Ballynahinch had a party of rebels in his house drinking.
Observing some Yeomen passing, the Insurgents resolved on making them
prisoners. One of them caught hold of a gun in the hands of a Yeoman, and,
while wrestling for it, was shot. The Yeomen were then captured, and a guard
placed over them. The sentinel afterwards fled to Newry; but, being
recognised by one of the men over whom he had kept watch, he was
apprehended, tried, and condemned to death. He being a tall and handsome
youth, the colonel offered him his freedom, provided he would renounce his
rebellious principles and join the army. He firmly refused, observing, "You
have hung my father; you may do the same to me." At the place of execution,
he ran up the ladder, and fixing his head in the noose of the rope, he flung
himself off without the aid of the hangman.
A United Irishman, who gave his name as Crabbe, was the first person
hanged for treason in Lisburn. He suffered death on a lamp post at the
corner of Castle Street, and right opposite the Market house. The charge
against him was that of having a pistol in his pocket and a green cockade
hidden in his hat. Some reports went to say that he had been a clergyman,
but no direct proof of the fact was ever brought forward, nor did a single
secret connected with his history transpire, from that day to the present.
He was taken prisoner in one of the bye-lanes in Lisburn, and in three hours
afterwards was tried, convicted and executed. A very fine looking man, named
Armstrong, was at the same time taken into custody. Several letters were
found sewn up in the inner lining of his waistcoat, and the contents of
these communications shewed that he must have been engaged in the
proceedings of the Insurgents. As in all other cases, the members of the
military court were very easily satisfied respecting a prisoner's guilt, and
promptitude in trying persons being. very popular, their deliberations were
short and conclusions were rapidly arrived at. Norbury himself,
blood-thirsty as he wasĄ never delighted more in the destruction of human
life than the members of the. court-martial at Lisburn.
Armstrong was sentenced to die, but in the hope' of exacting private
information from the condemned man, he was told by persons in authority that
if he gave full information of all he knew respecting the Insurgent leaders
his life would be spared, and a large reward bestowed upon him. To
strengthen this proposal, or rather to give greater force to the temptation,
his wife was sent to him, and the poor woman, in the frenzy of her
affection, flung herself on her knees before her husband, beseeching him to
accept the terms. Terrible was the struggle of the poor fellow under this
trying appeal; but after a moment's thought, his firmness, which had partly
forsaken him, returned with renewed strength, and no influence could be
brought to induce him to give any information likely to inculpate his
comrades. "My life," he said, "is only one, and God will watch over my widow
and children. Were I to become informer, torrents of blood would be shed,
numbers of wives would be made widows and hundreds of children left
fatherless. In after days many persons may brand me as a rebel, but no one
will dare say I was a traitor." No matter what opinion may be held as to the
righteousness of the cause for which Armstrong suffered; every
honourableminded man will, however, admit that in this instance he displayed
dignity sufficient to throw a halo round his memory, and that, under all
circumstances, his death was that of a hero. Armstrong came from Tullyrush
where he now lies buried.
Whole volumes might be filled with romantic incidents, both as regards
deeds of mercy and doings of darkness.
The little town of Hillsborough was the theatre of many tragic scenes.
This ancient stronghold had for at least two centuries been famed as a
military depot, and to the present the head of the house of Hill retains the
title of Chief Constable of the Fort. The uniform worn by castle men who are
supposed to do duty there is that of the antiquated style worn by the Dutch
guards which formed the personal staff of William the Third. Hillsborough
lies convenient to Blaris, where for several years before and after the
breaking out of the rebellion, a camp of soldiers was quartered and
detachments of those troops guarded the town all that period. Immediately
after the fight at Ballynahinch, a party of dragoons - that had been ordered
to search the country and seize all stragglers likely to have been engaged
in the battle - overtook a lad eighteen years of age, and who travelled on
his way towards Hillsborough. He turned out to be a weakminded creature,
most unlikely to have carried arms or taken part in the recent warfare, but
on being interrogated by the troopers he stated without hesitation that he
had witnessed the battle, and that he fled from the scene of strife with the
united army. This confession was considered quite sufficient to justify his
arrest, and he was dragged into Hillsborough tied to the saddle of one of
the dragoons. After his arrival in the town he was tried, and found guilty,
for having taken part with the rebels, although it appeared quite evident
that his visit to Ballynahinch had been one of mere curiosity. But the fate
was pronounced, he was led to the church gate - the Tyburn of the town -
where speedy preparations were made for his execution.
While this part of the tragedy was being enacted the poor simpleton
looked on with the utmost unconcern, never for a moment supposing that the
dragoons really intended to take his life; and even when the cord was placed
around his neck he said: "Now, boys, ye're jist makin' too much iv the
joke." But scarcely had he uttered the words when two stout soldiers caught
the end of the cord which had previously been thrown over the top rail of
the gate and commenced to pull with all their might. In a moment the
imbecile was hauled up several feet from the ground writhing in the death
gasp, amid the jeers and mocks of the savage spectators.
Next day a poor looking traveller, weary and footsore, was passing down
the hill leading through the same town, and in the direction of Belfast. The
sergeant of the guard went up to him and put the usual questions, in reply
to which the stranger said he had come from Dublin, on his way to Derry. Not
being satisfied with this statement, the sergeant brought him to the
lock-up, a small room used as temporary guard-house by the Dromore Yeomanry
then stationed in Hillsborough. Some slight refreshment was given to the
prisoner, after which he begged permission to throw himself on a bed in one
corner of the room. The request was granted, and in a few minutes the
fatigued prisoner fell sound asleep. While he slumbered one of his shoes
dropped off, and was picked up by a soldier of the local infantry, who, on
examining it, found concealed between the inner and outer sole a medal, or
"pass"; which proved the owner to have been concerned with the United
Irishmen. On finding this symbol, the Yeoman handed it to his superior
officer. An impromptu court had been sitting at the time, and the mysterious
medal, having been duly examined, was considered sufficient proof of guilt.
The man was immediately aroused from that rude couch to learn that he had
been tried and condemned, and in fifteen minutes afterwards his lifeless
body swung from the very spot at which, twenty-four hours before, the poor
idiot had suffered a felon's death. An antiquarian has in his possession the
rebel pass which was found in the shoe of that unfortunate traveller. It is
made of copper; in size it is about that of a penny piece of the old
coinage. The obverse has the words: "May Orr's fate nerve the impartial arm
to avenge the wrongs of Erin." On the reverse there appears the Irish harp
with the spear and cap of freedom, and the motto "Liberty - remember William