The organization of the north being completed, the leaders, civil and military, chosen from the middle ranks, were exposed to greater danger from traitors, than labourers or tradesmen. The desire of distinction was a motive that induced many to accept of appointments, without seeing the responsibility attached to them, or the consequence to others of their delinquency, which led them to save themselves at any price, even the blood of the men who appointed them. The men of this last sort, were so mixed with the masses, that the derangement of our plans was an easy task to the traitors. Russell, the first appointed General of Down, was a prisoner at 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 tortures 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 of 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, which traitors afterwards made a charge against me. 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. McCracken, 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 learned 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 Dr. 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 deranged, 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. McCracken; 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. They had, however, a sufficient apology, for the General-in-chief whom they had appointed, resigned on the eve of action. We were thus situated, forced by burning of houses, and the torturing of the peasantry, into resistance. Without the due appointment of superior officers in the place of those who had resigned and abandoned the cause. I have already given you some account of the battle of Antrim; on some points, and not unimportant ones, you were misinformed by the Rev. Mr. McCartney. I was present on that occasion, and not a mere spectator of that battle. I pointed out to you, on the spot, the ground we occupied, and the several places where our people, at the onset, had triumphantly charged their enemies, and had been at last repulsed by them. Previous to our march for Antrim I was not appointed to any command; I had refused to accept of any. In the front rank there were eighteen men, most of them personal friends and acquaintances of my own, led by a man named John McGladdery. I was in that front rank; and it was allowed by our opponents the men belonging to it marched up the main street, and met the enemies troops in good order, and did the duty assigned to them in a becoming manner. The first position taken was the church -yard, which commands the main street. There our green banner wets unfurled, and McCracken was stationed with his principal officers about him.
When the street firing on us commenced, a girl came up to us, in the church-yard, and told our leader there was a loop-hole in the wall where he had better go. She had come there in the midst of the firing to point it out to him. When the panic occurred, and the party in reserve mistook the flight of some dragoons for a charge on their companions, McCracken on quitting the church-yard to check the disorder, left me in command of that place, and I maintained it as long as there was a hope of keeping possession of the town.
I wish to correct a few errors in the statement of Dr. Macartney’s, respecting the battle of Antrim. It is not true, that we had two pieces of cannon at Antrim, we had a brass piece which had belonged to the Volunteers. It, and another of the same description, had been buried without the knowledge of the Rev. Mr. Campbell, in his Meeting House at Templepatrick. When the Monaghan Militia were burning the village of Templepatrick, the other piece was discovered, and Mr. Campbell, who knew nothing whatsoever of the concealment of the pieces there, was suspected to have had a guilty knowledge of the fact, and was never forgiven by Lord Templeton. The men who were in the foremost ranks of the people, marching into Antrim, were a small body of the Roughforth Volunteers, remarkably steady men, they came on in three files, six deep. The colunm that followed consisted of Templepatrick and Carnmoney men, and some of the Killead people, who had arms. Those of the Campbell family were particularly distinguished among them for their courage; Joshua and Henry fell in the action.
It is stated by Mr. Macartney, that the people marched to music, or that the air of the Lass of Richmond Hill was played. We had no musical instruments of any kind amongst us. A man of the name of Harvey commenced singing ‘The Marsellois Hymn, as we marched into the town, in which his companions joined, but thinking we needed a more lively air, I struck up a verse of a merry Irish song, which was soon joined in by our party. With respect to persons dressed in green uniform amongst us, the only green uniform at the battle of Antrim was worn by Robert Wilson, which uniform I had succeeded in bringing out of Belfast, in a sack the day that the flogging of the people commenced there. Wilson was a young man of great courage, and excellent con- duct and discretion. He had been very active all along, and always behaved with prudence and resolution. His family were highly respectable, his father held a situation in the Belfast Bank.
Mr. Macartney, and the yeomen he commanded, after the burning of some houses in the town, had taken refuge behind the wall of the park of Lord Massareene, in front of the high street, and occasionally rose up and fired some shots down the street. Close to the market-house, near the castle gate, some yeomen and horse soldiers kept their ground, the yeomen had two pieces of cannon there, which were soon silenced. We were about to attack the horsemen when a body of Ballyclare men entered the town by the west end street, and by Bow-lane. This caused some confusion, and the troops at the market-house profited by it to renew their fire, and took off some of our leaders. The people began to give way, and in attempting to stop the fugitives, McCracken, who proceeding with a party of men, by the rear of the houses, to dislodge the yeomen stationed in Lord Massareene’s park, was borne down, disobeyed, and deserted by the panic struck multitude. He then made his way to Donegore Hill, along with Robert Wilson, where he expected to find a body of men in reserve, but all his plans had been frustrated by the defection of the military chiefs. James Agnew Farrell, and Mr. Quin, a person employed in the salt works at Larne, had been appointed colonels, but neither acted. Farrell either brought, or sent, his fighting orders to General Nugent, and then he went to Scotland.
One of our prisoners was a Captain George Mason McClaverty, who had been taken that morning in his house, and carried to Donegal Hill. He used every argument to prevail on the people to disperse and return to their homes, promising them every protection in his power. He subsequently fulfilled his promise to the letter, not one of the persons in his neighbourhood, many of whom he had seen in arms that day, did he suffer to be troubled or prosecuted. He was one of the most humane and just magistrates in the county. The number of the people killed in the town, that is to say in the action, was very few. James McGlathery, who had a command, wrote a sketch of the action, which Miss McCracken saw in the hands of his sister, Mrs. Shaw, of Belfast, in which it was stated that only five or six of the people were killed in the town in action, and H. J. McCracken said the statement was correct. The dead bodies of both parties were buried in the sands, at Shane’s Castle, but those of the people, who were found slain in the fields, were buried in the cross roads at Muckamore, where it had been customary to inter those who committed suicide.
While any prospect of serving our cause appeared to exist, a few of us remained in arms; our ranks at length diminished, the influence of the merchants on the manufacturers, and that of the manufacturers on the workmen, formed a strong claim of pecuniary interests in the province of Ulster, so that shelter or relief of any kind afforded to those who stood out, was at the risk of the life and property of the giver. The very perfection of our organization in Ulster gave treachery the greater scope, from the greater intercourse it caused in societies and committees, and numbers of persons, thus becoming personally known to each other, the organization of treachery was rendered still more complete, and, if a comparative few had not thrown their lives into the scale, Castlereagh’s plan of keeping the north and south divided, must have sooner succeeded.
When all our leaders deserted us, Henry Joy McCracken stood alone faithful to the last. He led on the forlorn hope of the cause at Antrim, and brought the government to terms with all but the leaders. He died, rather than prove a traitor to his cause, of which fact I am still a living witness, who shared in all his exertions while he lived, and defy any authentic contradiction of that assertion now, or at any future date.
On the 7th of June, 1798, the Braid men had assembled near Broughshane, and marched for Ballymena. They were met, on the way, by some yeomen from Ballymena, whom they took prisoners, and marched back to town. The prisoners seeing their neighbours were suffered to carry their arms, until they should deposit them in the market house, but when they were on the stairs, going up to the market house, one of the prisoners, named Davison, having a blunderbuss, discharged it at the people, killed one man, and wounded another, firing then commenced from both parties, several fell in the streets, and the yeomen got in safety into the house. The people left the street for some little time, until a tar barrel was set on fire under the ceiling, and some shots were fired up through it, one of which killed a yeoman; the smoke of the burning tar, admonished the yeomen of their danger, they threw out their arms, and begged for mercy, which was granted, and they were put into the Black-hole under the market-house.
A jury sat on the man who broke the peace, and he was condemned to die: two imprudent young men went to put the sentence into immediate execution, and were followed by others, but, on entering the cell, they found the man they were in search of, sitting on some timber that lay there. They ordered him to rise, he refused, and one of them struck him with the butt of his musket, he fell back over the timber on which he sat, and one of the young men taking him by the hand, to raise him on his feet, having a dagger in the other, the yeoman seized the weapon, and drove it through the young man’s breast bone, who exclaimed ‘I am killed.’ Another young man then rushed forward and received three wounds, when an old man entered took hold of the prisoner, and though he was wounded by the yeoman in nine places, the old man dragged him to the door, and there he died by the pike. The other wounded man recovered, but the old man was afterwards prosecuted, and suffered death in Ballymena.
The people continued to flock into Ballymena for two days; but treachery was too well organized in the middle ranks, particularly among the rich farmers, who discouraged their neighbours with contradictory reports. An officer of the Volunteers of 1784, had the command of the town of Ballymena at this time. He said he had 11,000 men under his command, with whom he would march for Dublin; that he would put the Kells men in the advanced guard, to prevent them from running home again. We obeyed his order ; joined the Kells-men, who were ordered to Donegore-hill, and on our march were followed by a young man on horseback, who reported, as he rode along our lines, that peace had been made; that Lord O’Neil had forgiven all his tenants a year’s rent, and they had returned home; and that the men at Toombridge had accepted the terms, and dispersed, which news produced a mutiny. We then returned to Kells — this was on the 9th — and on the 10th, in the morning, we learned that the leaders in Ballymena had deserted and the people had dispersed; the Kells-men followed the example. Mr. McCracken had been employed in collecting a few stragglers in the mountains, mostly Belfast-men, who could not go home; and such as were willing to continue in arms marched with him.
On Saturday, the 9th of June, I joined the Kells-men, and was told that there were some boxes of new arms in the neighbourhood, that would be distributed as soon as required. I got a fine-looking new musket, which my comrade fancied, and I gave it to him. He brought it to Themish before he discovered that the touch-hole was only bored sufficiently far into the barrel to prevent discovery, without its being tried by a pin; my comrade threw it on the green. Whether his doing so prevented us from getting more new arms or not, I do not know; but we saw but the one musket. The open danger which we ran, was nothing to the deep treachery which we had to encounter and defeat.
The first authentic account received at Down from Antrim, was from William Kane, a native of Belfast, who crossed the channel in a boat to Holywood. But the principal leader in that district had fled to a tender, that lay in Belfast Lough, for refuge. News went to Bangor, and the people, commanded by James Scott, who afterwards went to New York, secured some guns from a barge that lay in Belfast Lough, and marched to join a body of Killinchy-men, who had defeated a party of the York Fencibles, near Saintfield. They advanced a short distance, when a party of Loyalists, mostly belonging to the towns, who had joined through fear, was met, and permitted to return home. They were reinforced by some men from Holywood, and the surrounding country, and learning that a party from Newtownards had received a check at Newtown, they marched in that direction. The soldiers fled on their approach, and left their drums, baggage, and arms with the people. They then marched to Scraby mountain, and next day joined the Killinchy-men at Creevy Rocks, when Munro appeared, and was appointed, by acclamation, to the chief command.
He marched direct for Ballynahinch; divided his men into two parties, in order to enter the town at either end, and, on their approach, the enemy fled, and loft a baker (the only one in town) hanging at his own door. The main body took post on the hill of Ednavaddy, and next day, about two o’clock, the enemy appeared, — horse, foot, and artillery, from Belfast. Munro ordered his musketry to intercept them at the Windmill-hill, which they did by a well-directed fire. The enemy retreated, and the people followed them some distance; the troops rallied, brought up their artillery, gained the town, and planted out-posts at no great distance from the people.
A company of young men, called the ‘Broomhedge Boys,’ from their having sprigs of broom in their hats, dislodged them, with the loss of seventeen of their number, and thirty-six of the enemy killed, and some prisoners, for the people gave quarter, though the enemy did not. A troop of the enemy’s horse was cut off in the night, by an outpost of the people, which was all that happened during the night. Early in the morning, Scott, of Bangor, led a select party into town under a heavy fire from the enemy stationed in the houses on each side of the street, and grape-shot from the artillery in the street. The guns were taken and retaken three times. The last charge the enemy made, they fell to a man; but the sound of the bugle for retreat, on the part of the enemy, was mistaken by the people for the signal for another charge, which produced a panic, the people fled in all directions; the retreat from the town caused the panic to extend to the hill, and the whole mass dispersed.
The people’s cause was finally lost, (at least in that struggle). It now only remained for the enemy to attack the memory of the dead, and the characters of the living, and to slander all who had dared to resist their cruelty. Such as could be neither intimidated nor corrupted, were put to death, or banished; and those, whose fortune it was to escape, could not contradict the false reports, with any chance of safety or success. At this period, confidence was driven back to the narrow circles of well-tried acquaintance, and every stranger was met with suspicion. The names of the inmates of houses were posted on every door; the situation of such as would not surrender on Cornwallis’s proclamation, can only be conceived by those who felt it. What induced so many to risk the danger of refusing the proffered terms, I will not pretend to determine; but mine was this — having joined the Union in the spring-time of its strength, from a conscientious conviction of its principles being right, and having had no reason to change my opinion, when the society was overtaken by adversity, I felt bound to that cause to which I had pledged my life along with my countrymen, and I considered to surrender under that proclamation, was’ not only a recantation of one’s principles, but a tacit acquiescence in the justice of the punishment which had been inflicted on thousands of my unfortunate associates.
To hold up my hands for pardon to those who had imbrued theirs in the blood of my associates, seemed to me to carry with it a participation in the guilt of the blood of my brethren. Thinking a clear conscience of all things most necessary, and looking to the Most High alone for protection, I could not join in any written or verbal acknowledgment of guilt, or solicitation for pardon to any human being. I resolved never to be taken alive; I knew no danger, but that of wilfully and knowingly doing wrong. They in Ulster, that acted otherwise, gave our enemies an opportunity of shaking the confidence of our countrymen in the other provinces, by constantly reminding them how the Dissenters of the north began the business, and in the time of need were the first to abandon it.
The taunt only served for a time to keep up a desire in the Northerns to show that the cause in the North had not been abandoned by them. There was an earnest watching of the fortunes of the Continental war at this time. The Liberals, or moderate aristocrats, in some instances, affecting to sympathize with the people, became the channel of intelligence to the enemy, of the hopes and expectations that still lingered in the people’s mind. In many instances in- formation of this kind was conveyed without intending perfidy; its being given, arose from the intercourse of the parties with the higher classes. The feelings of the people thus ascertained, kept the government in perpetual apprehension; but their hired spies often raised the apprehension to very unnecessary alarm, fabricating conspiracies, plots, etc.
In this way they fabricated a plot, which they pretended to discover, after the suppression of the rebellion, amongst the state prisoners in Kilmainham gaol. The report occasioned a search to be made, when some papers were taken from a man named Ivers, of Carlow, one of the state prisoners, who immediately after was removed to Fort George in Scotland. The few who were neither to be intimidated nor corrupted, were thus sacrificed in one way or the other, either put to death or banished, or pursued, and forced to fly to foreign countries.’