Wednesday 18 January 2012

The Volunteers of 1778; The United Irishman, 1798 and the Edict of Nantes, 1685


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The Volunteer movement of 1778, the United Irishmen, and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes are historical events and movements so important, and so intimately related to the history of Lisburn, that a short and concise account of them, and of their bearing and influence on the fortunes of Ulster, will not be out of place here.

The "Revocation" was directly the cause of giving to the town of Lisburn, during the reign of William III., its French Huguenot population and the linen industry. Louis Crommelin, a native of Armandcourt, near St. Quintin, lived in Lisburn, and was known as the "Director of the Linen Manufactory." He died in June, 1727. aged 75 years. In the Cathedral grounds, in the eastern corner, the ashes of many of these exiles have long reposed. A gravestone there bears the following inscription:-- "Six foot opposite lyes the bodye of Louis Crommelin, born at St. Quintin, in France, only son of Louis Crommelin and Anne Crommelin, Director of the Linen Manufactory, who died beloved of all, aged 18 years, 1 July, 1711."

In writing this article the Rev. J. B. Woodburn's valuable work. "The Ulster Scot: His History and Religion," was largely drawn upon.

Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, 1685.

In France the Edict of Nantes, which had been in existence for many years, permitted the Huguenots to enjoy a measure of religious liberty. But for some time Louis XIV. had been treating these Protestants shamefully. Soldiers were billeted on those who obstinately refused to change their religion, and conversion by lodgings was added to the other methods of securing conviction. Many poor men who had hitherto held out changed their religion when they saw the daily insult and outrage offered to their wives and children. After being in existence 87 years, the Edict of Nantes was formally revoked on the 18th October, 1685. The public celebration of Protestant worship was absolutely forbidden; all pastors must leave the realm in 15 days; they were doomed to the galleys for life if they dared to officiate again. All children were to be brought up as Roman Catholics. The result of this revocation was that large numbers of Huguenots emigrated to other countries. Probably half a million left France at this time.

The Volunteers of 1778.

At the beginning of the American War there was no militia in Ireland, and only 4,000 soldiers for the defence of the country. When France joined America in 1778 the English ships that had been stationed on the Irish coast were recalled and sent elsewhere. A feeling of insecurity gained ground throughout the country. The Channel was swarming with American and French privateers, who prevented all trade with England. Paul Jones, the American freebooter, was off the coast, and actually defeated the Drake sloop-of-war off Carrickfergus in April, 1778. A demand was made by Belfast to the Government for assistance. None could be given, so no course was open to the inhabitants but self-defence. A Volunteer corps was raised. The movement spread rapidly. The peers and the country gentry put themselves at the head of the local corps, and gave freely and generously of their means. Every city, town, and village swarmed with Volunteers. Physician, surgeon, and apothecary, lawyer and attorney -- all were soldiers. The plough, the loom, and every industry supplied its quota. The title of reverend, too, was frequently exchanged for that of captain. In a short time a self-created, self-arrayed, and self-supporting army presented itself, which strangers contemplated with wonder, enemies with fear, and friends with pride and exultation. The Catholics, not being allowed to carry arms, could not join the movement, but they subscribed of their means to purchase weapons for others. In a few months 42,000 men were enrolled and gradually becoming disciplined. The Government did not pay, clothe, or arm the Volunteers, nor did the force take a military oath.

The Volunteers very soon became aware of their own strength. They demanded in 1779 Free Trade and Parliamentary Reform. They backed their demand by a demonstration in Dublin, and lined the streets through which the Speaker and members of Parliament passed on their way to Dublin Castle. Later, on King William's birthday, the Dublin Volunteers paraded round his statue, and had two cannon drawn up in front of it, labelled "Free Trade -- or this." The British Parliament understood the force of the argument, and repealed the trade restrictions within the kingdom which had ruined Irish commerce for nearly a century.

The Presbyterians had been the first to join the Volunteer movement in the North, and through their influence the Sacramental Test Act was repealed in 1780. This Act, passed in 1704, made the taking of the sacrament according to the rites of the Established Church a condition of holding any office, civil or military, under the Crown, above the rank of a constable.

The Presbyterians, the Independents, Huguenot immigrants, the Quakers were all swept under the same political disabilities, and at once cut off from the army, the militia, the civil service, the commission of the peace, and from seats in the municipal corporations. The loyal, industrious, law abiding citizens thus persecuted comprised more than one-half, practically two-thirds, of the Protestant population of the country. The Act, of course, also applied to Roman Catholics, but, as Froude, the historian states, "it appeared as if laws against Celt or Papist in Ireland were only made to be laughed at, while against the dissenters they were enforced with zeal and vigour." It was further enacted that the children of all Protestants not married in an Established Church should be treated as bastards.


At the close of 1781, the Volunteers numbered 80,000 men. In 1782 some 242 delegates, representing 25,000 Ulster Volunteers, met in Dungannon and passed resolutions in favour of an independent Parliament in Ireland, and further relaxation of the Penal Laws against Catholics. Up till this date the Irish Parliament legislated subject to Poyning's Law, passed some two centuries before, which forbade the introduction of bills into the Irish Parliament that had not been first submitted to the English Council. Grattan brought forward the Dungannon demand in the Irish Parliament, and in May, 1782, the English Parliament repealed Poyning's Law and granted an independent Parliament to Ireland. Following the Act granting legislative independence came one repealing several oppressive measures in force against the Catholics, and another legalising marriages celebrated by Presbyterian ministers amongst members of their own denomination.

In September, 1783, another convention of the Volunteers was held in Dungannon to press on the Government the necessity for Parliamentary reform and a better representation of the people. Delegates from the Volunteers of every county in Ireland were summoned to attend in Dublin in November. Parliament, was sitting at the time, and the Volunteers deputed Flood and other delegates, who were members of Parliament, to appear in the House and ask for leave to introduce a Reform Bill. Permission was refused. The Catholics were now enrolled in the Volunteer Force, and at its zenith it numbered some 130,000 men, with probably 50,000 actually with the colours. From this time forward the aim of the movement was Parliamentary Reform and Roman Catholic Emancipation. The day, however, on which Flood and the other delegates were refused permission by Parliament to introduce a Reform Bill was the turning-point, and thenceforward the power of the Volunteers began to decline.

In March, 1784 a Reform Bill was again introduced and defeated, and the conviction sank deep into the minds of many that reform in Ireland could only be effected by revolution.

The United Irishmen, 1798.

The government of Ireland under English rule for over a century had been corrupt and oppressive. Now Ireland had an independent Parliament, and yet, save for some amelioration of the lot of Dissenters and Catholics, there was no improvement. There was pronounced discontent throughout the land.

Theobald Wolfe Tone in 1791 founded the first Society of United Irishmen in Belfast. Tone's hope was that the Presbyterians should join hands with the Catholics to secure proper representation in Parliament. Some idea of the constitution of the Irish House of Commons at this time may be gathered from the fact that 50 borough members were each returned by less than 10 electors. Some of the boroughs were absolutely uninhabited. Seats were openly bought and sold. Belfast had a population of 15,000, yet the electors consisted of 13 men. Catholics were not allowed to vote for members of Parliament till 1793.

The United Irish movement at first was non-sectarian. In the North the members for the most part were Ulster Scots and men of the middle class; Catholics did not join to any great extent during the early years. The Volunteers gradually merged into the Society of the United Irishmen, and it is recorded that the Volunteers of Broughshane and of Lisburn attended mass in the chapels of their respective districts to show their good intentions towards their Catholic brethren.

Disaffection was growing throughout the year in 1793 and 1794. About 1794 a body of militia was formed to keep the country peaceful. In February, 1793, a conference was held in Antrim by the United Irishmen, and they decided to arm and accumulate military stores. The Government remained obdurate and refused all concessions. In 1795 the United Irish body reorganised on a new basis as a secret society. Formerly its stated object was an honourable one; from this forward its real aim was to overthrow the Government and establish a republic. At the head was a National Directory of five men, who sat in Dublin and who had charge of the whole Society. About 1796 a military organisation was introduced, and drilling and arming went on apace.

Early in 1795 the celebrated meeting of Tone, Russell, Neilson, and McCracken took place on Cave Hill, Belfast, where they swore to use all their efforts to overthrow the power of England in Ireland.

The Society of "Defenders."

differed from the United Irishmen in being wholly Catholic, and sprung into prominence about this time. On September 21st, 1795, the Defenders attacked the Protestants at the Diamond, Co. Armagh, and were utterly defeated and a large number of them killed. On the evening of that day the Orange Society was formed. It was originally a league for defence. Persecution of the Catholics in Armagh and neighbouring counties followed, chiefly by the Peep of Day Boys, who assumed the name of Orangemen, thus giving colour to the belief that the outrages were committed by members of the Orange body. One immediate result was to undermine the friendliness that had existed for some years between the sects in the North, and to hinder the aim of the United Irishmen -- the co-operation of all creeds against England.

The state of Ulster in 1796 was alarming. Belfast, Lisburn, and the Counties of Antrim and Down were all infected. Great crowds of 500 to 2,000, or even 6,000, assembled in various places, but they were always orderly and sober. In 1796 a new force called the Yeomanry was enrolled, chiefly in Ulster. It was recruited from the gentry and their retainers for the preservation of their own property and to protect the country against the Defenders and United Irishmen.

December, 1796, saw the first attempt of the French, under General Hoche, to effect a landing in Ireland. The expedition consisted of 43 ships, with 15,000 soldiers. Ill-luck, bad seamanship, and storms prevented the landing after they had reached Bantry Bay, and, like the Spanish Armada, they gladly returned from whence they came. While the French lay in Bantry Bay the South remained quiet and loyal to the Government. In the North alone were there signs of disloyalty, accounting in some places to anarchy.

In March, 1797, the Government, fearing a rebellion, instructed General Lake to disarm the inhabitants of the Northern province. There were now forces in Ireland amounting to 15,000 regular soldiers, 18,000 militia, and 30,000 yeomanry. It was the yeomen who in general were employed in the search for arms, as they knew the country and the people. They were without discipline and under no strict martial law. Their brutal treatment of the people stirred up fierce and lasting resentment against the soldiers, and especially against this new force. A Welsh cavalry regiment sent over called the Ancient Britons, in particular emulated the yeomanry. A reign of terror ensued. Flogging was a common punishment. United Irishmen, suspects, people who were perfectly loyal, all suffered. An eyewitness writes:-- "Going to meet the main body of the Ancient Britons I was directed to them by the smoke and flames of burning houses, and by the dead bodies of boys and old men slain by them, though no opposition whatever had been offered, and as I shall answer to Almighty God, I believe a single gun was not fired but by the Britons or yeomanry."

In May, 1797,

a proclamation was made offering a free pardon to all United Irishman who had not committed certain crimes, on condition that they took the oath of allegiance prior to June 25. Many Ulstermen made their submission, for they saw that without foreign aid they could not succeed.

Outside Antrim and Down and the east part of County Derry, where the Dissenters were in the majority, the province began to be loyal. In fact, in Ulster the insurrection was confined to those centres where the United Irish spirit had been grafted on the discontent generated by landlord evictions and long and bitter injustice to the Presbyterians. It is probable that the rebellion which broke out in May, 1798, near Dublin, might not have affected Ulster at all had it not been for the execution of William Orr, one of the leaders of the United Irishmen, at Carrickfergus in October, 1797. "Remember Orr," by F. J. Bigger, tells the story of Orr's life and death.

It was at this time the different parties began to wore distinctive colours; the yeomanry and the Orangemen, who were on the side of the Government, wore orange, and the United Irishmen wore green.

During all its history the United Irish Society was honeycombed with informers and spies. The paid informer was everywhere. Duggan, from Tyrone, took part in the rebellion, and yet in one year drew £500 as a Government spy. Maguckian was the legal adviser of the United Irishmen, and defended Orr at his trial, yet systematically betrayed his clients. Macnally, "the patriot barrister," was for 30 years in receipt of a pension. Magan, who betrayed Lord Edward Fitzgerald, was a United Irishman. Turner, who betrayed Orr, was on the executive of the United Irish Society, and the trusted friend of Lord Edward.

In the beginning of 1798 the Society throughout Ireland numbered about half a million members, of whom about one-half were armed, and of these 111,000 were in Ulster. Lord Edward Fitzgerald, a Protestant, was in command of the rebel forces.

Sir Ralph Abercomby, a brave and honourable gentleman, succeeded General Lake in command of the Government forces in November, 1797. After he took over command and had made a tour of inspection he wrote -- "Within the past twelve months every crime, every cruelty that could be committed by Cossacks or Calmucks has been transacted here. He endeavoured to restore discipline and to put down the excesses of the soldiers. This did not meet with the approval of the Irish Government, and he was forced to send in his resignation in April, 1798. Lake was reappointed in his place and martial law proclaimed. Then began a reign of horror almost unparalleled in modern Europe. The half-disciplined soldiery and the undisciplined yeomanry were quartered on the defenceless people. They lived as if they were in an enemy's country. Torture and flogging were common occurrences. Women were exposed to every species of indignity, brutality, and outrage.

It was arranged that the insurrection should begin on May 23rd, but a few days before Lord Edward Fitzgerald was arrested in Dublin. The rising took place on the appointed day, but was greatly disorganised. In Kildare, Wicklow, and Wexford it broke out with great fierceness, due to the excesses of the military. In County Wexford the rebels were more successful than in any other part of Ireland. The county fell into the hands of the Catholic mob, and they held it for a whole month. On the 5th June occurred the scene of horror at the barn of Scullabogue, where upwards of 200 prisoners of both sexes were destroyed by the rebels. The barn was set on fire, and those who tried to escape were either piked or driven back into the flames; the rest were suffocated or were burnt to death. In the South the rising was essentially religious and Roman Catholic, and although a Protestant was elected leader, the real leaders were the Roman Catholic priests.

In Ulster the rebel forces were mainly composed of Dissenters, and the rebellion did not assume extreme religious bitterness. The rising did not take place in the North for a fortnight after it had begun in the South, owing to the capture of some of the leaders. The rumours, too, of the religious nature of the outbreak in Wexford cooled the ardour of many. Henry Joy M'Cracken was hastily chosen as leader. He laid his plans with skill, but there was, as usual, a traitor in the camp, and the Government knew of his dispositions. The people of Belfast, Carrickfergus, and Lisburn were overawed by the strong garrisons stationed in these towns. They were hemmed in on all sides, and for them a rising was impossible. Risings, however, took place in almost every other town, village, and hamlet of Co. Antrim. Randalstown was attacked and captured. Toome Bridge over the River Bann was destroyed, and on the morning of June 7th the insurgents were converging on Donegore Hill for the attack on Antrim. The risings in Co. Down did not take place till the 9th. The story of Antrim and Ballynahinch is told in another place. The rebellion ended for the rebels in disaster and defeat at Vinegar Hill, Co. Wexford, on June 21st. The scenes there and at Scullabogue impressed the Northern mind, and Ulstermen began to ask themselves the question whether, if the rebellion succeeded, it would not be for them one of the greatest of calamities.

The Bill for the Union of the Parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland took effect January 1st, 1801.

The Church Disestablishment Bill became law on January, 1871.

Irish Land Acts were passed in 1880 and 1881. More recently other Acts were passed by which the farmer has been enabled to purchase and become the owner of his own holding.

Harry Monro,

the insurgent leader at Ballynahinch, was captured near Dromara, tried by court-martial in Lisburn on June 18th, 1798, and condemned to be hanged and beheaded the same afternoon. The scaffold was erected in the Market Square, close to the left-hand, or south-west, corners -- looking towards Bow Street -- of the premises now occupied by Duncan & Sons. In 1798 the corner house was occupied by James Ward, a punter and bookseller, and on the ledge of an upper window of this house part of the scaffolding rested, greatly to the annoyance of the Ward family. The day of the execution was wet, and the handle of the axe was so slippery that the executioner said he could not hold it properly. One of the dragoons present pulled a piece of chamois out of his wallet and threw it to him. Wrapping it round the handle, the headsman put such force into the blow that he not only severed the head from the dead body, but at the same time broke the handle of the axe. The axe, broken handle and all, were put in the grave with the headless corpse. The head was subsequently buried with the body. Before his execution Monro received the sacrament from Dr. Cupples in the rectory.

No stone or monument marks the last resting-place of Monro. As you enter the Cathedral grounds by the main entrance from Market Square, immediately on your left is a small grass square, bounded on one side by the Mercer vault and on the opposite side by the Stannus tomb. Here, in this little square of earth, close to the Mercer vault, repose the ashes of Harry Monro. About the middle of the nineteenth century some excavations were being carried out in the Mercer grounds, when the side of Monro's grave fell in, exposing the contents. The workmen removed the axe and the broken handle, with the chamois still attached. The relics passed into the possession of George Stephenson, a well-known Lisburn solicitor, and on his decease they became the property of Theodore Richardson, Lissue, Lisburn.

Monro, M'Cracken, Orr, Russell, Neilson, Hope, Porter, Dickson, and many other leaders in the North in 1798, must not be confused with their successors in the following century and the so-called "patriots" of Easter Week, 1915[sic]. The men of the North in '98 were not fighting for sentiment, religion, or insane "national aspirations." They were fighting under a grievous sense of injustice and wrong. They were fighting for a small measure of justice and fair play. For long years they tried to gain redress by peaceful methods, and only as a last resort appealed to arms. They would appear at the time to have failed, but who can say? The old, bad days have passed away. There is now justice and freedom in the land for all. The Ulsterman harbours no sentimental grievances out of the past. Given equity and justice, his instincts are to become a good and loyal citizen of his adopted country, wherever it may be. He suffers fools reluctantly, is slow to move, makes a good friend, and is exceeding tenacious of his rights. These same Ulster Scots of '98, it can well be understood, in 1914 would, with their brothers of to-day, have been amongst the very first to spring to arms at the call of Empire. These gallant leaders of a bygone age, we can well imagine, would now look with scorn and contempt on the agitators, politicians, visionaries, and votaries of chimerical national aspirations, who in these days of trial in the Great War have dragged the fair fame of Erin through the mire, and made the name of Ireland to stink in the nostrils of self-respecting nations.

The reader anxious to study further the characteristics of the Ulster Scot and his growth between 1600 and 1800 is referred to an article entitled "The Making of the Ulsterman" in the "Scotch-Irish in America," Second Congress, 1890.

Next Week: John Nicholson.

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 18 January 1918 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week through 1917 and into 1918. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)

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