In the spring of 1796, I was sent to Dublin, with a man named Metcalfe, as delegates from the Belfast Society of United Irishmen, to introduce the system among the operatives in the capital. We were promised assistance in money, which did not arrive, and the men to whom we were recommended, showed no inclination to forward our designs, but rather discouraged us; we had to rely on our own exertions. One of them directed us to a man we might rely on, but took care to send Rim word not to see us; the man was denied, but afterwards acknowledged that he had seen us through a hole in the door. I had the pleasure of freeing the same man at a later period out of Roscommon goal, by appearing at the assizes as a recruiting sergeant. I took up my residence at Balbriggan, in the character of a silk-weaver from Scotland, and used to come backwards and forwards, between Dublin and that town, without exciting suspicion for some time.
The man with whom I worked in Balbriggan was a bitter orangeman, and at length I became an object of suspicion to him, on learning which, I returned to Dublin, and succeeded in obtaining my freedom to work in the Liberty, which enabled me to promote the objects of my mission. From Dublin the Union soon reached the other provinces, and a National Committee was formed, which met in Dublin. The leading men were still unknown to the societies, for no one knew any thing of the persons belonging to them, besides those who met in his own society, except the delegates who met in the Baronial Committee, and the delegates from it again who met in the County Committee, and those from the counties who met in the Provincial Committee, and appointed a National Council, or Executive.
After having formed a society, and obtained a deputation to Belfast, I returned to the north, to report, and was again sent to Dublin to complete the organization among the workmen. I got to work on my arrival, and the circle of friends increased; societies were formed through the City and Liberties, and former connections were renewed; but the imprudence of my comrade brought us again under suspicion. He was a Protestant; I a Presbyterian. One of the Dublin societies had entrusted a secret of some importance to him, and there was a breach of confidence on his part. I was brought under suspicion unjustly, and without cause; however, it was thought most prudent to drown us both; for which purpose an appointment was made with us to attend a meeting outside of the Circular-road, by the side of the Royal Canal, where six men were appointed to meet, and drown us.
We kept the appointment until it grew dark, and returned to our lodging. On going to work next day, I observed my employer change colour when I appeared. I inquired what was the matter: I insisted on his candidly informing me what caused his agitation. The truth came out — I was suspected of having betrayed the secret which my comrade had divulged. I had been denounced — my doom had been pronounced — and the man who had left his home to execute his murderous commission, had been accidentally prevented from carrying it into effect: he had met a comrade on the way to the place of appointment, had accepted an invitation to drink with him, and the time of the appointment expired before he quitted the public house.
Such meditated acts even were injurious to our cause; but it was the object of our enemies to have wretches in our ranks to blacken the character of our society, and to have crimes ascribed to its members. Nay, even to have them committed in their name, of which they were wholly guiltless. They had even highway robberies, and house-breaking offences, committed in our name.
I met a man, named Connell, in Dublin, who said he came from the county of Cavan; he lived at Bluebells, and invited me to breakfast there with him. He introduced me to his family, as a friend to our country from Belfast. He had a stout-looking son, to whom he introduced me; and also six of his comrades, whom he said belonged to a society of United Irishmen. He told me they lived about the commons of Crumlin. A few nights after, the young man and his mother called where I worked, and asked my employer and myself to take a walk. Our road was up the canal, and the old woman kept my employer in talk until the young man and I were out of sight, for it was then dusk. She persuaded him to go home, as she said there would be a meeting at her house, and her husband wanted to introduce me to the neighbours. There was a line of high trees, and a path behind them, and she could pass on unnoticed by us. I wished to stop until the old people would come up, but my companion said he would stop at a lock that was before us. We stopped at the lock, and he began to whistle a tune, when a number of men came out on the road, and he then told me I was on a command.
‘What for?’ said I, — ‘to lift some arms,’ was his reply;‘ and we want your north country tongue to give orders.’
I then saw my situation, and asked if there ‘was any money in the way?’ ‘We don’t demand it,’ said he; ‘but if it is offered, we don’t refuse it.’
‘I have no arms,’ said I; ‘Here is a blunderbuss,’ answered one of the company. I took it, drew the ramrod, and found it loaded.
‘I’ll use no arms but what I load myself,’ said I. They gave me a rod, with which I managed to draw the charge; I tried the flint, and put in a heavy charge of swanshot, and, clapping the muzzle to Connell’s breast, I said to his comrades — ‘You cannot save him; if one of you move, he is a dead man; you shall not make me rob. Do you, Connell, walk before me, until I get within a race of the watch; I will not injure you if you obey; turn your back, and walk before me.’ He obeyed, and I warned his comrades not to follow us. I made him keep his hands down by his side, for fear he might have pistols; and when I came within a short distance of the watch, I made him stand; I then walked backwards until I could just see him, and, holding up the blunderbuss, flung it into a meadow, and took to my heels.
I thought it advisable to leave Dublin for some time. I returned home to Belfast; but was soon ordered back to Dublin. I was charged with a message to the Kilmainham prisoners. I stopped with them ail night; and in the morning I was standing, conversing with Tom Storey, in one of the cells, looking into the condemned yard, when I saw Connell crossing the yard, with bolts on him. Storey informed me, that he had been sentenced to death, for a highway robbery, committed by a gang of robbers, called the Crumlin gang, of which he was the chief.
An informer, named Edward John Newell, was procured by George Murdoch, a hearth-tax collector, near Belfast. Among other services performed by him, he had pointed out the soldiers who were shot at Blaris-camp. Newell had also five young men of Belfast arrested, who had been sent to Dublin for trial at the Four Courts. He was to have appeared as a witness against them, but the trials were put off, for that term, for want of a material witness in their defence; H. J. McCracken, who could not attend from bad health. In the meantime a criminal correspondence was discovered between Newell and Murdoch’s wife. The letters which passed between them were sent up from the north, and communicated by me to Murdoch. The consequences were, that the coalition between these worthies, then living in the Castle, were broken up. They quarrelled, and Murdoch shot at Newell, in the Castle-yard, and, for that act, was sent to Newgate, but was only confined a few days; and, on his liberation, Newell fled to the north, taking with him Murdoch’s wife. After a trip, in the direction of the Giant’s Causeway, he returned to Doagh, and lived there in concealment for some time. At length, when he was about to leave the country, he wrote to Murdoch, telling him where he would find his wife. Newell stayed with her at the inn, until Murdoch, and his son Robert, appeared at the door, in a carriage, and then escaped by a back window. What became of him afterwards, little is known; but Murdoch returned with his wife, as if nothing of the kind had ever happened!
If any committee, or body of men, directors, or managers of assassinations, had existed in any part of Ireland, some traces of the proceedings, discussions, or reports, in reference to such an object, would be forthcoming; but none such are in existence, for the best of reasons, because no such committees ever existed. It is the duty of the historian, in handing down the virtues and vices of the age he treats of, as examples to the virtues, and warning to the vicious, to make the information he obtains confirmatory of the maxim — ‘Virtue carries with it its own reward, and vice its punishment.’ In all the societies, or committees, or in any meeting that ever I attended, I never heard a system of assassination advocated. My motion in the Baronial Committee, to exclude any man that would advise it, was opposed, on the ground, that the agitation of the question would only extend an idea, that no good man ought to be thought capable of harbouring.
An attempt was made to form a committee to manage assassination, of which it is only necessary to say, Newell was one of the agents employed for that purpose, he was seen through by the United Irishmen, and disappointed. We all set our faces against it, and our success is evident; for, if such a system had any existence, evidence of it could easily be had; and no such evidence was ever brought forward on any trial. Assassination was the work of individuals, either in defence of their lives, or that of their associates. Neilson, McCracken, and Russell, were altogether adverse to it. It was by their advice that I brought forward the motion in our society, formerly mentioned; and the motion would have been brought forward again, but from the state of the times; the public mind was ill prepared for its calm discussion. Had such a committee been formed in Belfast, it could not have been kept secret, as most of its advocates that I knew, became Orangemen, on our reverse of fortune.
Nicholas Maginn, of Saintfield, the noted informer, and protegee of Lord Castlereagh’s spiritual guide and tutor, the Rev. John Cleland, had a meeting in his neighbourhood, to assassinate the Marquis of Downshire; but the Marquis escaped, by taking a different way home from that by which he was expected to pass; which prevented any further collection of assassins in that county. This account I had from the very best authority.
The preceding account was given to me by one of the Northerns, who was as undaunted in the field, as he was worthy of credit and respect — Thomas Hunter, a native of Killinchey. On his death bed, he was asked, by a woman in attendance on him in his last moments, if he would wish to turn? He seemed not to understand the question, or his thoughts were running on events which had been long uppermost in his mind, he replied — ‘No; I will never turn, or take a bribe.‘ These were nearly his last words. He had stood the brunt of the battles of Saintfield and Ballynahinch.
The following anecdote I had from John Murphy, one of the young men who was arrested with Hart and Weldon, on the evidence of William Lawler, who had caused them to become Defenders, and then had them arrested in 1797. The names of the young men were, John Murphy, John Newburn, John Cusac, John Brady, John O’Leary, Patrick Hart, and a dragoon, named Weldon. Counsellor Curran was employed by Murphy’s mother to defend her son. Counsellor McNally was employed to defend O’Leary, who was tried and acquitted, on the ground ‘that the witness was an atheist;’ upon which admission, Alderman James led the witness to the quarters of the informers, at the Castle, where he had the sacrament administered to him. Hart and Weldon were convicted: the others were liberated: and some of them became my associates and friends, when I was sent from Belfast to Dublin, to introduce the Union.
O’Leary, subsequently, went to Roscommon, and through his imprudence, was committed to jail there. A young man, named Richard Dry, had been sent from Dublin with money to him, and was committed also. Two other men had been sent, and were taken in Mullingar, and were sent to the Provost, in Dublin. I was sent for the same purpose, from Belfast, with a comrade, named Daniel Digney. We went through the counties of Monaghan, Cavan, Armagh, and Leitrim. We formed a County Committee in Castleblayney, and Societies in the other counties, as we passed. But, arriving at Elfin, the gentleman to whom we were directed. Colonel James Plunket, was in Dublin, and all we could learn of him was, that he was recruiting for some regiment. We returned to Belfast, and were sent to Dublin along with William Putnam McCabe, and got beating-orders. We had left five hundred copies of our constitution in and near Elfin, and went there for head quarters, to wait the coming assizes.
Our money failed, and I was sent to Dublin, by McCabe, for more. The man to whom I was directed, was on his death bed, and I had to go to Stratford, in the county of Wicklow, to sell a horse that McCabe had left with the brother of this person. The horse was sold, but the money was not forthcoming. I started for Roscommon, in the disguise of a soldier I took the rank of a serjeant. The assizes had begun. Colonel Plunket was there, and likewise, McCabe, in the character of an officer of militia, on recruiting service. I enlisted Dry in the dock; and when he was called to the bar, and represented as a vagabond, the colonel and the pretended captain interfered, and I got my recruit. I would have got O’Leary also, but for his own imprudence. He made such a noise in the dock, with the chains and bolts he had on, that he had been ordered back to his cell, before the arrangements were completed.
McCabe, Dry, and myself, went to Strokestown, settled our accounts, and started for Athlone, where we parted, — McCabe for Dublin, and I for Cashcarrigan, in the county Leitrim, to join my comrade, and return to Belfast. Dry proceeded to Cork, and there had the misfortune to be recognised by an Antrim militia man, named McDermot, who prosecuted him, and transported him to Botany Bay. O’Leary was left in prison, through his own imprudence, and I never heard of his liberation.
Having assisted in forming the county Monaghan Committee, in Castleblayney, on a market day, when several very respectable linen merchants were there, we planted the Union at Maguire’s-bridge, Clones, Enniskillen, Ballynamore, Cashcarrigan, Carrick-on-Shannon and Strokestown, where we saw delegates from a body of the old Defenders, and initiated them. We left five hundred copies of the constitution in Roscommon, and on our return home, formed committees in Ballyhays, Butler’s-bridge, and Newtown Hamilton, Such of these connections as we were able to visit the second time, were increasing rapidly.
The substance of the reports, however, which we were obliged to deliver in, was communicated to the County Committee, of which Maginn, the informer, was a member; and likewise to the Mudler’s Society, of which Hughes was a member. No real secrecy ever existed among us ; for as soon as any efficient measure was proposed, the government was instantly prepared, if not to prevent its execution, yet eventually to counteract its effects.
The progress of the revolution in France had excited the mass of the people in this country, and had put the aristocrats to their shifts. The people, as appeared afterwards, wished to rise at various times, trusting solely to their own resources; but were always withheld by their committees, who were, for the most part, aristocrats, and foreign-aid men, who contrived to involve the people with France, thereby frightening government, and enhancing their own value as traitors. Many of them thus obtained and enjoyed tolerable advantages, and some hold them, even unto this day.
Mr. Samuel Turner, of Newry, had made great professions of patriotism at an early period. On one occasion, he walked into an inn, in Newry, and was there met by Lord Carhampton, who, seeing a green handkerchief on his neck, proceeded, very quietly, to take it off. Turner sent Carhampton a challenge, and the act served as an apology for him to fly, for fear of arrest. He fled, and settled in Hamburg, where he was entrusted, by the Executive, with carrying on the correspondence between the Irish and French Executives, always taking care to furnish Pitt with true copies of the correspondence.
Another informer, named H, formerly a ship-broker of Belfast, was one of the prisoners in Fort George. A coolness had been occasioned among them, from a conversation between Robert Simms and Arthur O’Connor, in which they agreed, that the then present constitution of France, was too good for Ireland. This idea was resented by Joseph Cuthbert, and some others, and occasioned very warm words, — Cuthbert asserting, that no constitution could be too good for Ireland. ‘I am talking to a politician, not to you, Joe,’ said O’Connor. Joe, and his friends, took that ill. Russell took no part in the debate, but was not of O’Connor’s, or of Simms’ opinion.
Prior to this, some attempt had been made by individuals, to open a communication with the Scotch militia, and H, having had a knowledge of it, wrote to Pitt about it, who, being in communication with Turner, did not answer H’s letter; and the prisoners having notice of an expedition preparing in the Scheldt, were cheered by that prospect, although the misunderstanding still continued individually among them. One night, as they were in society over a glass of punch, H, observing a feeling of distrust prevailed against him, which he could not account for, concluded that his letters had been intercepted, and in a moment of compunction, of fear or of un- guarded conduct, he made a confession with tears and protestations, that he would never follow up his information. Peace coming on, the discharge or banishment of the State prisoners ensued. Messrs. H and Turner were permitted to return.
Mr. John Palmer, of Cutpurse-row, formerly eminent in the hosiery line, and a sincere friend of our cause, had a son named John, one of the warmest and most faithful friends I ever had. He and William Putnam McCabe, met Major Sirr and his party in Bridgefoot-street, on their way to arrest Lord Edward Fitzgerald. The Major stopped them, and McCabe knocked him down, and Palmer made a stab at the Major’s neck, which cut through his neck handkerchief. Palmer would have succeeded in his attack, hut McCabe prevented him, McCabe was arrested the same night. Palmer was arrested two days subsequently; but in the bustle about the capture of Lord Edward, before the Major had time to visit the persons sent to prison. Miss Biddy Palmer, sister to the young man, went to the Castle, and, meeting Major Sirr, she hung on him, and would not let him go until he gave her an order for her brother’s liberation, not knowing that he was the man who wounded him the night before.
McCabe, no less fortunate, through being familiar with the Scotch dialect, and the gaol being under a Highland guard, he passed on a Highland sergeant for the son of a manufacturer in Glasgow, named Brand. The sergeant went to his officer, and, as no complaint lay against him, he was liberated. But when the Major came to Newgate a few hours after, a rigorous pursuit was commenced after both Palmer and McCabe. Palmer immediately fled to France, and from thence to Holland. He had learned that one Bureand, who had formerly been a spy in Ireland, was employed in the same branch of business in Holland. Although this man had run away from the Castle of Dublin, and written against government. Palmer set off on foot, with the design of frustrating this man’s villainy, and travelled from Paris to Hamburg, and mostly barefooted, where he met Samuel Turner, and entered freely into communication with him.
Palmer gave him a gold watch to keep for him, lest distress might force him to sell it, the watch having belonged to his mother, who was dead. His father had sent him thirty guineas by a man named Murky, which he never got. However, under every disadvantage, he had Bureand arrested, and put into the hands of the French authorities. But Bureand’s employers exerted their influence, and caused him soon to be released; while Palmer was forced by want to enlist in a Dutch regiment, and, while bathing with some recruits in the Scheldt, was drowned. Rumour attributed his death to Bureand’s vindictive feelings. When Turner returned to Dublin, and was applied to for the watch by his sister, then Mrs. Horan, he coolly replied, ‘He did recollect something of a watch he got from her brother, but forgot what became of it.’
At Cashcarragan, we learned that a man named Toby Peter, had seen us there as we passed that way before, and that a chapel in the neighbourhood had been searched for us, the Sunday before; We went over the Cash to one Dignum, a school-master, who saw us safe on the Ballynamore road, before day-break next morning. We had formed some acquaintance in Ballynamore, but we changed our rout, and came through Belturbet to Butler’s-bridge, in the county Cavan, and from thence proceeded to Newry. My comrade, being then among his relations and friends, stopped there for some time, but came with me as far as the old four-mile house, kept by Andrew Steward; we went into a room, where six of the City Limerick Militia sat refreshing themselves, being on a march to Carrickfergus, for one of their men had been committed to gaol, on the oath of a woman, charging him with a rape, of which they said he was innocent, being taken for another man, which they were prepared to prove.
As I was for Belfast, I joined their company; and, while we were talking, we heard a scream. As I sat next the door, I sprang into the hall, and the first thing I saw was a horseman riding into the door, with his sword drawn, and a woman, with a child in her arms, creeping under the stairs, at the end of the hall. I had a sword in my hand — I drew the sword, and the horseman, not having room enough to use his sabre, it struck against the ceiling, when he attempted to cut at me; I threatened to run him through, if he did not instantly leave. By this time the soldiers turned out, and drew their bayonets. The horseman, on retiring, ran his horse’s heels against a door in the hall, and broke it; we followed him out, and saw another, they both rode slowly on towards Banbridge. The affrighted woman then told us, that two of the same corps had stopped at the door just before they came up, called each for a tumbler of beer, drank it, and threw the tumblers on the flags at the door, and rode off, without paying anything; that, on account of her standing at the door, and looking after them, she thought it caused the others, who had just come in sight, to behave as they had done. While we were at the door, the main body came up, with an officer at their head, whose name, we were told, was Wardle.
A Limerick soldier, named Maher, demanded of the officer if he had given orders for the ‘raking’ of the house. The officer said, ‘Who are you, sir?’
Maher replied, ‘I am a soldier of the City Limerick Militia.’
‘Where is your officer?’ demanded the English officer.
‘I command this party,’ said Maher, ‘and, being here to refresh, and seeing the house perfectly orderly, I think it my duty to acquaint your honour with the circumstance.’
The officer ordered a party forthwith to dismount the two soldiers of his party, and march them away on foot; and desired Stewart to make out his bill of the damage, and come into Banbridge, and it should be paid. But Stewart said he knew where he lived, and might injure him again, and he refused to do so. I went with the Limerick men into Banbridge, and being, as they thought, in the recruiting service, they got me a billet for two men, which I did not think right to use; but after spending the evening with them, I went to a lodging-house, where some of the aforesaid horsemen (the Ancient Britons) were billeted. I slept but little, and the next day proceeded on my journey to Belfast, and was glad to get home, having travelled —
|To Roscommon, and home to Belfast||200|
|To Prosperous, and back to Dublin||30|
|To Roscommon from Dublin||79|
|To Dublin from Roscommon||79|
|To Stratford on Slaney from Dublin||26|
|To Dublin from Stratford||26|
|Astray in the Mountains of Wicklow||8|
|From Dublin to Roscommon||79|
|From Roscommon to Belfast, by Athlone||100|
Early in 1797, we had been led to expect a movement; but what prevented it I know no more of, than what I was told by William Putnam McCabe. He said he had travelled from Dublin with Colonel James Plunket, of Elfin, and another gentleman, a school-fellow of Bonaparte, who had been a solider, by profession, on the Continent, (whether in the French or German service I do not know), and John Hughes of Belfast, who turned informer in 1798, but was at that time one of Lord Edward’s confidential acquaintances, which confidence continued until the very day of Lord Edward’s arrest. After viewing the camp at Blaris and the adjacent country, the gentleman said, that if the people were firm, and would stand to each other, the conquest of the camp and country would be easy — the counties of Antrim and Down had only so to be directed, to act in concert — to cut off the communication with the camp — to secure some guns that were then in Hillsborough, with the view of using double-headed shot against the wooden houses that were in the vicinity of the camp, and which would render it impossible for the troops to remain there. To ascertain if the organization was as complete as it was reported, the gentlemen went over the mountain to Crumlin, and stopped at John Dickey’s house. His brother James, who suffered in 1798, called a meeting of his company after night-fall, that the gentlemen might see them; but when the men were assembled, and the gentlemen ready to inspect them, James Dickey ran to them with an alarm, that the army were coming to disperse or apprehend them; and they, not knowing why they had been called together, dispersed at once, and were represented by James Dickey as cowards; and when the gentlemen returned to Hillsborough next day, they learned that the guns had been just removed to the camp. They then went back to Dublin, disappointed, and reported that the north was not in a condition to act.
Of this I was not an eye witness, having had the report, as I give it, from Wm. Putnam McCabe, who said he was present. It was soon felt in the societies that some disappointment had taken place, and it began to be whispered that our leaders had refused to act. Plunkett still continued in confidence, and accepted the command of the county Roscommon; but when the French landed at Killala, he surrendered, and was permitted to go to England. He was a man in whom I was deceived, for, when in his company, he appeared to me a person whose fidelity to our cause was not to be questioned. In looking back at the conduct of such men as Plunkett, of which we had many such in the association, I do not rank them with the common herd of traitors, they were rather men who unthinkingly staked more than was really in them — they were like paper money, current for the time, keeping business afloat without any intrinsic value.