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The History of Ulster
French Attack on Carrickfergus


The Famine of 1741—The Cruelty of Creeds: A Meditated Massacre—Dr. George Stone, Bishop of Derry, succeeds to the Primacy—An Abortive French Invasion—Thurot's Descent upon Carrickfergus—Attempt at Resistance—The Garrison capitulates—Provisions demanded and sent for to Belfast—John Wesley's Journal—Supplies arrive, and the French depart—Thurot attacked in the Irish Sea—Loses 300 Men, and is shot through the Heart—Death of George II.

Dr. Hugh Boulter, who had been appointed to the Archbishopric of Armagh in 1724, continued to take an active share in the management of Irish affairs until his death in 1742. His principal defect was his bitter hostility to the native Irish. In other respects he was just, and his sentiments were often such as to prompt him to benefit the country. He certainly contributed in many ways to the improvement of Ireland, and he was a great promoter of public works. He promoted, among other schemes of national importance, that for making a navigable canal from Lough Neagh to Newry, for the more effectual carrying on an inland trade in the northern province.

Potatoes had long been almost exclusively the sole means of sustenance of the peasantry, and the entire crop of the popular tuber being destroyed by a severe frost in November, 1740 (it being at that time the custom to leave potatoes in the ground until Christmas), a terrible famine ensued in 1741, when it was estimated that at least 400,000 people died of starvation.

The cruelty of creeds continued without abatement. In 1743, Dr. Curry, the historian, asserts that "an ancient nobleman and privy councillor [whom, however, he does not name] openly declared in council: 'that as the Papists had begun the massacre on them, about a hundred years before', so he 'thought it both reasonable and lawful, in their parts, to prevent them, at that dangerous juncture, by first falling upon them'". Curry, who was a contemporary of the events he chronicles, states that, "so entirely were some of the lower northern Dissenters possessed and influenced by this prevailing prepossession and rancour against Catholics, that in the same year, and for the same declared purpose of prevention, a conspiracy was actually formed by some of the inhabitants of Lurgan, to rise in the night-time and destroy all their neighbours of that denomination in their beds". This inhuman design, he says, was known and attested by several inhabitants of Lurgan, and an account of it was transmitted to Dublin by a respectable linen-merchant of that city then at Lurgan. It was also frustrated "by an information of the honest Protestant publican in whose house the conspirators had met to settle the execution of their scheme, sworn before the Rev. Mr. Ford, a Justice of the Peace in that district, who received it with horror, and with difficulty put a stop to the intended massacre".

In 1742, the Primacy of the Irish Church becoming vacant by the death of Dr. Boulter, Bishop Hoadley was appointed to the See of Armagh, but was in a short time succeeded by Dr. George Stone, the Bishop of Derry, who possessed in an eminent degree the qualifications needed to be the political successor of Archbishop Boulter. In 1745 Lord Chesterfield became Lord-Lieutenant, and the stringency of the Penal Laws was for a time relaxed.

Profound quiet now reigned in Ulster, and even when the Scottish rebellion broke out, in 1745, there was no corresponding movement in Ireland. In Ulster the cause of Charles Edward found no adherents. The rebellion was crushed at Culloden, on the 16th of April, 1746, and on the 25th of the same month three Lords Justices (Archbishop Hoadley, Lord Chancellor Newport, and Henry Boyle, the Speaker of the House of Commons) were appointed to receive the reins of Government from Lord Chesterfield, who was succeeded by the Earl of Harrington.

In January, 1747, Bishop Berkeley asks in one of his letters: "Is there any apprehension of an invasion upon Ireland?" But rumour, though busy, did not justify her alarming statements until twelve years later, when preparations of an intended invasion from France took definite shape. The year 1756 witnessed the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, and hostilities between England and France in Canada culminated in the victory of Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, and the acquisition of the Dominion a year later. In 1759 armaments were being prepared at Havre and Vannes for a descent on some indefinite part of the coast of Ireland. A powerful fleet, under Admiral Conflans, lay at Brest, to convoy the expedition, and another squadron, under the celebrated Thurot, was to sail from Dunkirk to engage the attention of the English elsewhere. At this time, however, England had her Rodney and her Hawke. The latter admiral defeated the Brest fleet on the 20th November, in an action off Quiberon; the expedition from Normandy did not sail at all; the Dunkirk squadron, which consisted of only five frigates, having sailed on the 3rd of October, and proceeded northwards, was driven by storms to seek shelter in ports of Sweden and Norway. On these inhospitable coasts, and among the western isles of Scotland, Thurot passed the winter.

The ships under Thurot's command were the Marechal Belleisle, of forty-eight guns; the Blonde and the Begon, each of thirty-six guns; and the Terpsichore and Amaranthe, each of twenty-four guns; and two cutters as tenders, carrying between 700 and 800 sailors, and about 1400 soldiers.

One of the ships, the Amaranthe, deserted, and returned to France, another disappeared and was never again heard of, and with the remaining three, Thurot, on Thursday, the 21st of February, 1760, appeared off Island Magee, standing inshore for the Bay of Carrickfergus, where the vessels came to anchor scarcely three miles distant from the town and within musket-shot of the point of Kilroot.

The small garrison of Carrickfergus consisted of four companies of the 62nd Regiment, which did not amount to 150 men, who were at the moment exercising in a field half a mile from the town on the Belfast road. At a quarter after eleven o'clock the guard was turned out, made up, and marched to relieve the guard on the French prisoners in the castle, an old and ruinous fortification, built upon a rock which adjoins the town and projects into the bay. The rest of the men continued in the field, where intelligence soon arrived that three ships, which at first were taken for India-men, and then for an English frigate and two store-ships, had seized a couple of fishing-boats, and with these boats and several others were plying between the shore and the ships landing soldiers. An order was immediately dispatched to the castle by Colonel Jennings, the commanding officer, for both guards to continue under arms, and to double the sentries over the French prisoners, with directions that a strict watch should be kept over them until it could be ascertained whether the disembarking troops were friends or enemies.

The garrison soldiers, most of whom were recruits, then marched from the exercise-field to the market-place of Carrickfergus, and the adjutant, Lieutenant Benjamin Hall, was dispatched with a small party to reconnoitre. From the rising ground upon which he posted himself Hall observed eight boats landing armed men, who formed in detached bodies, and took up the most advantageous positions they could find. After posting his little party, Hall left them, with instructions to fire upon the French troops as they advanced, and to retard their progress as much as possible; and he hurried back to Carrickfergus, to inform Colonel Jennings that there could be no doubt of the hostile intentions of the body of men just landed, whom he estimated at 1000. Detachments were immediately made for the defence of the town and the approaches to it. The French prisoners of war were marched off to Belfast in charge of the sheriff, and escorted by forty townsmen under the command of James M'Ilwain.

Willoughby Chaplin, the Mayor, now called upon Colonel Jennings to prepare for a defence; but Jennings said that, considering the smallness of the force at his disposal, and the numerical superiority of the enemy, together with the ruinous state of the castle, he deemed all attempts at resistance would be futile. But the Mayor, notwithstanding the fact that there was a breach in the castle wall towards the sea of 50 feet, that it did not possess a single cannon mounted, and that there were only a few rounds of ball-cartridge for the soldiers, regarded the castle of Carrickfergus as impregnable, and angrily insisted upon resistance, accompanied by the threat that he would report the conduct of Colonel Jennings to the Government if he declined the defence. Upon this the Colonel made the best preparation in his power for a temporary stand, and his small force was joined by the Mayor, Lieutenant Heracles Ellis, and a few other zealous and loyal inhabitants.

The French advanced against the town in two bodies, one marching up to the east, or Water Gate, by what is called the Scotch quarter, the other crossing the fields to the north gate. Twelve soldiers and a corporal were posted on the wall. They fired upon the advancing enemy, when General Flaubert (the commander of the French troops) fell, his leg being broken by a musket-ball, and he was carried into a house in the neighbourhood. The next in command, traditionally said to have been "the young Marquis D'Estrees", then led on the division, and entered the High Street by the Water Gate, where, after a few shots had been fired, it was joined in the market-place by the division that had forced its way down North Street with the loss of an officer and several men.

The small party of the 62nd by whom the town walls were defended, having expended all their ammunition, retired into the castle, and in doing so failed to secure properly the gate behind them, which was therefore easily forced by the French. Here the invaders were met with a very warm fire, and lost, with others, their leader, the Marquis D'Estrees. Upon his fall, the French troops whom he had led took up position under cover of the adjoining houses and an old wall, north of the castle, when Colonel Cavenac immediately assumed the command and formed for the assault. Noting this movement, and being aware that their ammunition was almost exhausted, the besieged determined to beat a parley and capitulate upon honourable terms, stipulating that the town should not be plundered. The number who surrendered amounted to 10 officers, 11 sergeants, 10 corporals, 5 drummers, and 102 rank and file. Of the garrison there had been 2 killed and 3 wounded, and in the encounter about 50 of the French were killed, among whom were 3 officers.

This surrender, which suited both sides, was followed by an agreement to furnish the French troops with provisions in six hours; but that could not be accomplished, there not being a sufficient supply in the town to meet the requirement. "On this," says John Wesley in his Journal, "Mr. Cavenec sent for Mr. Cobham, and desired him to go to Belfast and procure them [provisions] leaving his wife with the general as a hostage for his return. But the poor Frenchmen could not stay for this. At the time prefixed they began to serve themselves with meat and drink, having been in such want that they were glad to eat raw oats to sustain nature."

The French being masters of Carrickfergus, guards were placed by them in the evening on the different roads leading into the town, and sentinels in the houses of some of the principal inhabitants. On the first alarm the more timid had fled; those who remained shut up their doors and windows; but, to the credit of the French, it is recorded that "they neither hurt nor affronted man, woman, or child, nor did any mischief for mischief's sake, though they were sufficiently provoked; for many of the inhabitants affronted them without fear or wit, cursed them to their faces, and even took up pokers and other things to strike them". During Friday the French liberated some prisoners confined in Antrim jail.

As Carrickfergus could not supply the required quantity of provisions, the Rev. David Fullerton, a Presbyterian, left for Belfast, accompanied by a French officer with a flag of truce and a letter to the mayor demanding provisions to the value of about £1200, which, it was stated, would be paid for. The letter also contained a threat that if the provisions were not forthcoming without delay the French would fire both Carrickfergus and Belfast. The town of Belfast contained at that time less than 9000 inhabitants, but it was a prosperous trading-place, and entirely Protestant. Alarm was instantly spread through the counties of Down, Antrim, and Armagh, the most populous Protestant districts of the north, and within a few days 2220 volunteers were thronging towards Belfast. After some slight and unavoidable delay, cars containing the required provisions arrived on Sunday morning at Carrickfergus from Belfast, and these were followed by a drove of live bullocks. A lighter also arrived, laden with food-stuffs, and the French spent Sunday evening and Monday in provisioning their ships and in preparing for their departure.

On Tuesday, the 26th of February, 1760, the last of the French forces, which consisted of volunteer drafts from regular regiments of French and Swiss guards, embarked at four in the afternoon, taking with them, as hostages for the delivery of the French prisoners of war, the Mayor, the Port Surveyor, and the Rev. Mr. Fullerton. They had scarcely left when the volunteers began to arrive from Belfast.

Thurot was of Irish descent, his real name being O'Farrell. He soon discovered that there was little sympathy for his cause in the north of Ireland, and he made what haste he could, in spite of unfavourable winds, to leave Carrickfergus. He was encountered in the Irish Sea by three English ships, one of which, the Æolus, commanded by Captain Elliott, gave battle. Thurot attempted to board her, but was shot through the heart. His ships were shattered, and 300 of his men were killed.

On the 25th of October, this year (1760), George II died suddenly at Kensington of heart disease, and was succeeded by his grandson as George III.


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