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The History of Ulster
The Insurrectionary Counties: Antrim and Down


Antrim rises—Henry Joy M'Cracken—James Hope's Story—M'Cracken attacks Antrim—Major Seddon warned, prepares to resist—The Rebels make a Spirited Attack—Lord O'Neil killed—Colonel Lumley wounded—The Dragoons retreat—Colonel Durham arrives with Reinforcements—The Rebels defeated— M'Cracken arrested and executed at Belfast—The Rising in Down—Henry Munro of Lisburn elected Leader—His Military Knowledge—Colonel Stapleton's Forces attacked—The Battle of Ballinahinch—Munro defeated—He is hanged at Lisburn—The Rebellion in Ulster suppressed.

But though Ulster as a whole did not take a part in the rebellion, small risings took place in Antrim and Down. In Antrim the person chosen by the United Irishmen as their General having, at the last moment, resigned his appointment, a spirited young man named Henry Joy M'Cracken was induced to accept the hazardous position of chief. The rising in Ulster had been delayed for two weeks after the 23rd of May (the day agreed upon) owing to some misunderstanding among the leaders, the betrayal of all their plans to Government, and the arrest of some of their number.

One of the leaders, James Hope, gives some interesting details which prove the effect the disagreement among the chiefs had on the rising in the north. "At the moment of taking up arms," he says, "Russell, the first-appointed General of Down, was a prisoner in Kilmainham. The Rev. Steele Dixon was appointed in his stead. The General of Antrim was arrested with Russell, but was liberated, and had gone home when the orders commenced. It was agreed between him and another chief, who was to lead a forlorn hope in case of necessity, that I should attend either as aide-de-camp. The General of Antrim either misunderstood, or knowingly and wilfully misrepresented, the signal for rising on the 21st of May, and kept us in suspense until the beginning of June. Blood had been shed in the south, and the people in the north became impatient. I went to the General of Antrim, and told him that an irregular movement could not long be prevented. He said he would certainly call them out; I went among the people and told them what he said; they wanted to know who he was; I said they would know that when he appeared, not being at liberty to tell his name. The General summoned me, and sent me on a command to the south, and said he had called a meeting of his Colonels that day. I was met on my way by Henry J. M'Cracken, who stopped me, and said the General had not obeyed the signal for general action, and must be watched. I went home by his orders, and that evening he came to my house, we learnt that the General had resigned; and John Hughes, the informer, being the medium of communication between Down and Antrim, he sent me with a letter to Mr. Dixon, but he had been arrested that day. Hughes sent me subsequently to different places to look for him, but he knew well my labour was lost.

"The organization of the north being thus disarranged, the Colonels flinched, and the chief of the Antrim men, the forlorn hope party of the Union, not appearing, the duty fell on Henry J. M'Cracken; he sent fighting orders to the Colonels of Antrim, three of whom sent the identical orders to General Nugent, and the messenger he sent to Down proving unfaithful, the people of Down had no correct knowledge of affairs at Antrim, until they heard of the battle of the 7th of June. The greatest part of our officers, especially of those who were called Colonels, either gave secret information to the enemy, or neutralized the exertions of individuals as far as their influence extended. I never knew a single Colonel in the County of Antrim, who when the time for active measures came, had drawn out his men, or commanded them in that character."

On the date above referred to, the 7th of June, 1798, M'Cracken led a body of insurgents in an attack on the town of Antrim, where a meeting of magistrates had that day been called for the prevention of rebellion. M'Cracken's object was to seize the persons of these magistrates and keep them as hostages, and with that view he attacked the town at two o'clock in the afternoon. A quantity of arms was known to be stored in Antrim, and of this the rebels hoped to gain possession.

General Nugent soon received intelligence of their intentions, and lost no time in sending orders to Blaris for the second light battalion, consisting of the 64th Regiment, and the light companies of the Kerry, Dublin, Armagh, Tipperary, and Monaghan Militia, and 150 men of the 22nd Light Dragoons, with two 6-pounders and two howitzers, to march to Antrim with all possible speed. Other reinforcements were ordered to hasten to the scene of danger, and orderlies were dispatched to Major Seddon, who commanded at Antrim, to inform him of the intended attack.

Antrim at that time consisted chiefly of one main street, terminated at one end by a district known as the Scots' quarter, and at the other by the garden wall of a house belonging to Lord Massareene, to the right of which a long narrow street, called Bow Lane, led into open country. Lord Massareene's garden wall commanded the main street, which ran parallel to a river called the Six-mile-water, and about half-way between the garden wall and the commencement of the Scots' quarter, in the middle of the street, stood the market-house, then used as a guard-house, in which prisoners were confined. At the corner of the street, where the Scots' quarter turned off the main street, stood the churchyard, on rising ground and surrounded by a wall.

The plan of the rebels had been laid with deliberation; four columns were to advance upon the town on different sides at the same time. One of these, collected from the district between Antrim and Belfast, was to enter the town by the Belfast road, while a second column, gathered from Ballymore, Ballyclare, and Doagh, marched in by the Carrickfergus road, and joined the former at the end of the Scots' quarter. A third column from Connor, Kells, and Ballymena was to enter by a lane called Paty's Lane, which branched from the main street between the church and the market-place, and a fourth, from Shane's Castle, Randalstown, and Dunsilty, was to enter by Bow Lane, under Lord Massareene's garden wall.

When Major Seddon, at nine o'clock in the morning of the 7th of June, received news of the proposed attack on the town, he ordered the drums to beat to arms to assemble the yeomanry, and the inhabitants of Antrim were called upon to arm in their own defence. In the course of the morning news came in that the peasantry were rising in various parts of the country. Parties of yeomanry and regulars kept coming in, but the advanced guard of the second battalion, commanded by Colonel Lumley, with its two guns, only passed over the bridge from Lisburn (which led into the main street on the opposite side to Paty's Lane, and somewhat nearer the market-house) as the two columns of the rebels converged at the entrance to the Scots' quarter. The guns were placed in position in the main street, opposite to the bridge, but, in spite of the case-shot with which they were greeted, the rebels advanced boldly, their musketeers firing upon the troops by whom the guns were supported.

When the insurgents came within about 150 yards of the guns, they suddenly exposed to view a 6-pounder which they had brought with them, and with which they fired two rounds of grape, and killed or wounded ten or twelve of the military. The gun, however, proved a poor one, for the second discharge damaged it to such an extent that it could not be fired again, and then the rebels rushed forward, and their musketeers, under their leader, M'Cracken, succeeded in getting possession of the churchyard. From this advantageous position they kept up a galling fire on the soldiers in the street; and, the main mass of the pikemen having run across the fields and formed in Bow Lane, to attack the military in the rear, it was found necessary by the latter to retreat with the guns to Massareene's garden wall. To cover this retreat the dragoons under Colonel Lumley charged past the churchyard into the Scots' quarter, driving the rebels before them; but in passing and repassing the churchyard they suffered considerably in killed and wounded, Colonel Lumley himself being amongst the latter. The yeomanry now retreated, and took possession of the Massareene garden, of which the wall (having a high terrace behind it) served as a rampart from which the guns could be protected while they served to arrest the progress of the rebels who were advancing along Bow Lane.

But in spite of the heavy fire which was kept up on them from the wall, this column of rebels continued to advance with the same intrepidity as the others had done, until Colonel Lumley, who was severely wounded, abandoned his guns, and, retreating with his dragoons across the river, proceeded along the Lisburn road to join the second battalion of the royal troops, who were within two miles of the town.

The majority of the magistrates had received timely warning of the state of affairs, and therefore had absented themselves; but Lord O'Neil, who had come from Dublin to preside at the meeting, entered Antrim about half-past twelve in utter ignorance of the rising. He and Dr. Macartney, the Protestant incumbent, being mounted, remained in the street with a party of dragoons during the action. When the dragoons retreated, O'Neil's horse, being wounded, refused to accompany them, and, the rebels coming up, one of them seized the bridle, whereupon O'Neil with his pistol shot him dead. Lord O'Neil was then attacked with pikes, and, being badly wounded, fell from his horse. Dr. Macartney tried in vain to get his lordship away, but he failed, and O'Neil died of his wounds two or three days later. Macartney now galloped through the rebels, and, joining Staples, the Member for the County, they got into a boat and rowed across Lough Neagh into Tyrone, and, landing, hurried to Dungannon to inform General Knox of the trend of events. Knox, hitherto in ignorance of the rising, immediately assembled all the available yeomen of the county, and, marching to Toome with 1500 men, was in time to prevent a rising of the peasantry of County Londonderry.

The insurgents, seeing the retreat of Lumley's dragoons, concluded that victory was theirs, and rushing forward with a cry of triumph they seized upon the abandoned guns, but they were at once driven back by a deadly fire from the yeomanry on the garden wall. A lieutenant in the Antrim Yeomanry, and another in the Royal Irish Artillery, both mere lads, sons of Dr. Macartney, headed a small party of the Antrim troop, and, sallying into the street in the teeth of the rebel fire, succeeded in drawing the guns and ammunition-cart inside the garden wall, where the guns were at once placed upon the terrace and brought to bear with great effect upon the entire street.

A fresh body of rebels now arrived, and being greeted by a heavy fire from the guns were thrown into confusion, and a panic seems to have seized the entire body of insurgents, from which M'Cracken endeavoured in vain to rally them. He might have succeeded but for the arrival of Colonel Durham with reinforcements from Blaris and Belfast. Thinking that the rebels were in possession of Antrim, Durham brought up his cannon, but for its use there proved to be no need, for in the face of such odds M'Cracken's forces fled across the fields, pursued by parties of the freshly arrived royalists. The rebels are deemed to have lost about 200 killed in the engagement and flight. With a small band of followers, who gradually dispersed, M'Cracken retired to the heights of Slemish. He escaped arrest until the beginning of July, when he fell into the hands of the royalists. He was tried and executed at Belfast on the 17th of the same month.

On the same day as the battle of Antrim a body of rebels attacked the town of Larne, where they were repulsed by a small detachment of the Tay fencibles. Some other feeble attempts were made, the insurgents obtaining possession of Randalstown, where fifty of the yeomanry were taken prisoners. The rebels were, however, driven out the same night and marched to Toome, where they remained two days, having broken down the bridge to prevent General Knox from crossing the Bann to attack them. The main body of the Antrim rebels retired to Donagorehill, where, discouraged at their lack of success, and urged by the exhortations of a magistrate named M'Cleverty, whom they had taken prisoner, they surrendered their arms and dispersed.

In Down the rising was more considerable, and the people had several successful conflicts with the military. A body of them, commanded by a Dr. Jackson, of Newtownards, at Saintfield set fire to the house of a farmer named M'Kee, who was accused of being an informer. They then elected as their leader Henry Munro, of Lisburn, who was of Scottish descent, and, like M'Cracken, had been engaged in the linen trade. He possessed some knowledge of military matters, having been trained as a Volunteer to the use of arms. Hearing that Colonel Stapleton was marching against them from Newtownards with a body of cavalry (the York fencible regiment) and two pieces of cannon, the rebels hid behind a thicket hedge in his line of march on either side of the road where it was steep. When about half of Stapleton's force was between the hedges the rebels opened fire, killing a Mr. Mortimer, vicar of Portaferry, his nephew, and some seven or eight yeomen. Several officers were killed or wounded in attempting to dislodge the hidden enemy, by whom many of the cavalry were shot or piked, and the infantry were only rallied by the personal exertions of their commander. They then charged the rebels with coolness and intrepidity, and succeeded in dislodging and dispersing them. The royalists suffered so much in this engagement that they retreated to Comber.

On the 10th of June Colonel Stapleton marched from Comber to attack the insurgents of Newtownards, but changed his route and retreated to Belfast. The people of the southern barony of Ards had risen and attacked Portaferry, where they were vigorously opposed by a small body of yeomanry under Captain Matthews, and after a number of pikemen had been killed they were compelled to retreat. After this engagement, which was fought with obstinacy, Matthews, apprehending a second attack, and knowing he could not resist it, abandoned the town and went to Strangford. On the 10th Newtownards was attacked. The rebels were at first repulsed, but in the course of the day they returned in much larger numbers and found the town deserted by the soldiers. They then went to Saintfield, which had become the centre of operations in Down, and which now contained insurgents to the number, it is estimated, of about 8000 men.

The rebels now proceeded to Ballinahinch, where they established their camp in Lord Moira's demesne, on a commanding eminence skirted by a thick wood. Munro made his preparations with considerable skill. He sent a detachment of his forces, under a leader named Townsend, to take Ballinahinch, which he succeeded in doing, as the royalists fled at his approach. Munro then stationed a strong force at Creevy Rocks to oppose troops from Belfast and preserve his communication with Saintfield.

On the 12th of June the royalist troops, under Generals Nugent and Barber, marched against Munro from Belfast. A good deal of skirmishing took place that evening, and the army, having set fire to the town, passed the night in revelry. Whilst in this state of disorder Munro was urged to attack them, but he considered the attempt would be disgraceful, and refused to take such an advantage of the foe. The action commenced on the 13th. The rebels had eight small cannon, mounted on market-carts, and only a scanty supply of ammunition. The troops, on the contrary, had heavy artillery, and mowed down the insurgents with a well-directed fire of musketry and grape. Charles Teeling, in his personal account, states that Munro had penetrated to the centre of the town, and that General Nugent had ordered a retreat. The sound of the bugle, he states, was mistaken by the rebels as an announcement of the arrival of reinforcements for the royalists, and, discouraged thereby, they were seized with panic and fled.

Munro, although hotly pursued, endeavoured to rally his followers on the heights of Ednavady, but the royalist troops almost surrounded the hill, leaving but one passage for retreat, and by this the defeated Munro led off his men, now not exceeding 150 in all. A little later the rebels of Down surrendered their arms. Munro fled to the mountains, but was betrayed. He was taken, tried by court martial, condemned, and hanged in Lisburn, opposite his own door. His head was cut off and placed on the market-house.

Such was the manner in which was suppressed the small rising by which Ulster expressed her sympathy with the rebellion of 1798.


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