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A Sketch of the Life of the Hon. and Right Reverend Alexander MacDonell
Raising of the Glengarry Fencible, or British Highland Regiment


"At this crisis the missionary conceived the idea of getting these unfortunate Highlanders embodied as a Catholic corps in His Majesty's service, with his young Chief, Macdonell of Glengarry, for their Colonel. Having procured a meeting of the Catholics at Fort Augustus, in February, 1794, a loyal address was drawn up to the King, offering to raise a Catholic corps, under the command of the young Chieftain, who, together with John Fletcher, Esq.. of Dunans, proceeded as a deputation to London with the address, which was most graciously received by the King. The manufacturers of Glasgow furnished them with the most ample and honorable testimonials of the good conduct of the Highlanders during the time they had been at their works, and strongly recommended that they should be employed in the service of their country. A Letter of Service was accordingly issued to raise the first Glengarry Fencible Regiment as a Catholic corps, being the first that was raised as such since the Reformation.

The missionary, although contrary to the then existing law, was gazetted as Chaplain of the regiment. Four or five regiments which had been raised in Scotland, having refused to extend their services to England, and having mutinied when they were ordered to march, the Glengarry Fencibles, by the persuasion of their Chaplain. offered to extend their services to any part of Great Britain or Ireland, or even to the islands of Jersey or Guernsey. This offer was very acceptable to the Government, since it formed a precedent to all Fencible Corps that were raised after this period. The regiment, having been embodied in June, 1795, soon afterwards embarked for Guernsey, and remained there until the summer of 1798.

"Sir Sidney Smith having taken possession of the small island of St. Marcou, in the mouth of Cherbourg Harbor. the Glengarries offered to garrison that post, but the capture of that gallant officer and of the much lamented Captain Wright, who was first tortured and then put to death in a French prison because he would not take a commission in the French navy, prevented the enterprise from taking place.

In the summer of 1798 the rebellion broke out in Ireland, and the Glengarry regiment was ordered to that country. Landing at Ballenack, they marched from thence to Waterford, and from Water- fore to New Ross the same day. At the former place a trifling circumstance occurred which afforded no small surprise to some and no slight ridicule to others, while at the same time it showed the simplicity of the Highlanders and their ignorance of the ways of the world. The soldiers who received billet money on their entrance in the town returned it on their being ordered to march the same evening to New Ross for the purpose of reinforcing Gen. Johnson, who was surrounded, and, in a manner, besieged by the rebels.

"The next day Gen. Johnson attacked and dislodged the rebels from Laggan Hill, who, after a very faint resistance, retreated to Vinegar Hill. The Chaplain, upon this and all other occasions, accompanied the regiment to the field with the view of preventing the men from plundering or committing any act of cruelty upon the country people. The command of the town of New Ross devolved on Col. Macdonell, and the Chaplain found the jail and court house crowded with wounded rebels, whose lives had been spared, but who had been totally neglected. Their wounds had never been dressed, nor any sustenance been given to them since the day of the battle. Col. Macdonell, on being informed of their miserable condition. ordered the surgeon of his regiment to attend them, and every possible relief was offered to the wretched sufferers. From New Ross the regiment was ordered to Kilkenny, and from thence to Hackett's Town, in the County of Wicklow, to reduce a body of rebels and deserters, who had taken possession of the the neighboring mountains. under the command of the rebel chiefs, Holt and Dwyer.

"The village of Hackett's Town had been entirely consumed to ashes, partly by the insurgents and partly by the military. Deprived of this shelter, the troops were compelled to live under tents the greater part of the winter, and the Chaplain considered it his duty to share their privations and sufferings.

"Colonel Macdonell, who now commanded the Brigade, which consisted of the Glengarries, two companies of the Eighty-Ninth Regiment of Foot, two companies of Lord Darlington's Fencible Cavalry and several companies of the Yeomanry, finding that the rebels made a practice of descending from the mountains in the night time to the hamlets in the valleys for the purpose of plunder, adopted a plan of getting the troops under arms about midnight and marching them from the camp in two divisions without fife or drum. One division was ordered to gain the summits of the mountains, the other to scour the inhabited parts of the country; so that the rebels, in attempting to regain their footsteps, found themselves entrapped between two fires. The Chaplain never failed to accompany one or the other of these divisions, and was the means of saving the lives of, and preserving for legal trial, many prisoners, whom the yeomanry would, but for his interference, have put to immediate death.

The Catholic chapels in many of those parts had been turned into stables for the yeomanry cavalry, but the Chaplain, when he came, caused them to he cleaned out and restored to their proper use. He also invited the terrified inhabitants and clergy to resume their accustomed worship, and labored not in vain to restore tranquility and peace to the people, pursuading them that if they behaved quietly and peacefully the Government would protect Catholics as well as Protestants, and impressing upon their minds that the Government having entrusted arms to the hands of the Glengarry Highlanders, who were Roman Catholics, was a proof that it was not inimical to them on account of their religion. These exhortations, together with the restoration of divine service in the chapels, the Strict discipline enforced by Colonel Macdonell, and the repression of the licentiousness of the yeomanry, served in a great measure to restore confidence to the people, to allay feelings of dissatisfaction and to extinguish the embers of rebellion wherever the Glengarry Regiment served.

"The Highlanders, whom the rebels called 'the Devil's Bloodhounds,' both on account of their dress and their habit of climbing and traversing the mountains, had greatly the advantage of the insurgents in every recountre, so much so that in a few months their force was- reduced from a thousand to a few scores. Holt, seeing his numbers so fast diminishing, surrendered to Lord Powerscourt, and was transported to Botany Bay. Dwyer, after almost his whole party had been killed or taken, was at length surprised in a house with his few remaining followers by a party of the Glengarries. Here he defended himself and killed some of his pursuers, till the house being set on fire, he was shot while endeavoring to make his escape, stark naked, through the flames.

"The Marquess Cornwallis, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, commander of the forces, was so well pleased with the services of the Glengarry Fencibles that he advised the Government to have the regiment augmented. In furtherance of this plan, the Chaplain was despatched to London with recommendations from every General under whose command the corps had served in Guernsey or in Ireland, to procure the proposed augmentation and to settle on the terms. Previous to his departure front the measure of a legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland had been brought into the Irish Parliament and miscarried. The Catholic Bishops and Catholic nobles of Ireland having assembled in Dublin to discuss this subject, came to a determination favorable to the views of Government, and communicated their sentiments to the Chaplain, authorizing him to impart them to the Ministry. The Chaplain did so accordingly in his first interview with the Right Honourable Henry Dundas, afterwards Lord Melville, but that statesman considered the Chaplain's information incorrect, and insinuated that the intention of the Irish Catholic dignitaries and nobility was quite contrary to what was stated.

"He also privately informed Sir John Cox Hippesley, who accompanied the Chaplain to the Secretary of State's office, that by a despatch received through that day's mail from Lord Castlereagh, the Secretary of State for Ireland, he was informed that the purpose of the meeting of the Catholics was to counteract the measures of the Government. This the Chaplain took the liberty to deny, and offered to prove his assertion to the satisfaction of Mr. Dundas by being allowed time to refer to the Catholic meeting at Dublin. He accordingly wrote to Colonel Macdonell, whom he had left in that city, and received by return of Post an answer from Viscount Kenmare, contradicting in toto the assertions of Viscount Castlereagh. On this occasion the Government papers indulged in severe reflections upon the conduct of the Irish Catholics. The Chaplain requested that they should be contradicted, which was done very reluctantly and not until he had threatened to have the truth published in the Opposition papers. The correspondence on that subject is now in his possession.

The proposed augmentation, however, did not take place. The views of government were altered, and instead of augmenting the Fencible Corps, they gave commissions in the regiments of the line to those officers of the Fencibles who could bring a certain number of volunteers with them.

"The Glengarry Fencibles were afterwards employed in the mountains and other parts of Conomaragh, where some of the most desperate rebels had taken refuge, and where the embers of rebellion continued longest unextinguished. The Chaplain was their constant attendant down to the year 1802, when at the short peace of Amiens, the whole of the Scotch Fencibles were disbanded."I have obtained a list of the officers of this regiment from an army list of 1798. The regiment was stationed at Kilkenny at the time. It will be observed that Colonel Macdonald is named as Colonel, Glengarry being in charge of the Brigade.

Taken as a whole, the names seem to be somewhat Scotch, and to savor, as did those of the men, of the clan whose suaicheantas was the heather

1 may mention that this is but one of the twenty-six Scottish regiments, almost all Highland, enumerated in the army list of 1798, though a young essayist has gravely assured us that the finer qualities and instincts of the men of that and previous generations had been dwarfed by long subjection to despotism of their chiefs, and that even their physique had degenerated under oppression. and that it required years and another climate and changed surroundings to counteract the stunting influences of centuries.


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