I REMAINED at work nearly four months, after the failure of our last effort in the neighbourhood of Belfast and Ballymena. No positive information appeared to have been sworn against me, and so far, I was fortunate enough to escape the fate of my noble leader, and of many of my brave companions. But stiff I was a marked man, and was compelled for years to wander from place to place, and avoid my enemies. During this period many circumstances came to my knowledge, connected with our struggle, which made a deep impression on my mind, and some of them ought not to be forgotten.
James Hunter, of Glenely, near Glenarm, was a respectable farmer, and well beloved by every honest man who knew him; when the people assembled in arms, on Bellair Hill, above Glenarm, he appeared among them. Squire Boyd, of Ballycastle, came to his house, some days after the dispersion of the people with his yeomen, early in the morning, roused him and his wife and family out of bed, set a ladder to a tree before his door, and fastened a rope about his neck, and setting his house on fire, had him mounted on the ladder ready to turn him off. While the yeomen were about their hangman’s work, Boyd inquired, of the unfortunate man, if he had any confession of his guilt to make, or any thing to say. Hunter, who had previously in vain supplicated to be heard, cried out — ‘There is a child in that house, an orphan, who was brought up by me — if I saw it out unhurt, I would be content to die: but the house began to burn with such fury that no one dared to enter. Boyd ordered the yeomen to take the prisoner down and let him venture in. He was taken down, and, the moment he was unbound, he rushed into the house. He knew well that no child was there, he ran to a window that was in the gable of the house, and near it was a hollow, where some apple trees grew, which was so covered with smoke, that the yeomen did not observe his escape until they saw him on a lime hill, at a considerable distance, waving his hand for them to follow, which, from his knowledge of the mountains, they knew it was useless to attempt.
Hunter was taken afterwards and prosecuted by a school-fellow of his own, under the following circumstances, — the witness’s name was Daniel McCoy, he had joined the yeomen, and the country people had taken some of the yeomen’s families as hostages to Bellair Hill. McCoy’s wife was one of the hostages, and lay in, on the hill. Hunter had a tent erected on a convenient place, and set a guard over the tent to prevent any annoyance to her or the women that attended her, which McCoy alleged was a proof of his being a commander among the rebels. Hunter was condemned on his evidence, and lay under sentence of death, nine days in Carrickfergus Jail. By the interest of Sir Henry Vane Tempest, of Glenarm Castle, George Anson, McLaverty, of Larne Glen, and some other gentlemen, his sentence was changed to banishment, and he was sent to New Geneva, and from thence to the 11th Regiment in the West Indies, from which he escaped to the United States, and got home to his family. He had not been long at home when he was taken again, and by the same interest that had saved his life before, he got permission to go to Norway.
The same gentlemen subsequently got permission for him to return home with his family. He had not been very long at home, when the cattle of his neighbour, the man on whose evidence he had been convicted, were seized on for debt. As soon as Hunter heard of the distress the man had fallen into, he went to him, entered bail for the debt, and relieved the cattle. I happened to be on a visit at Hunter’s when the prosecutor came to him for a receipt, in discharge for the debt which had been punctually paid by him. He talked of his having kept his promise, and began to boast of his honourable conduct. Hunter took no notice of his boasting, but I did, and took some pains to show him the difference between Hunter’s conduct and his own. I told him he must never think of boasting in the presence of a man who had gained two such great victories, for Hunter must have conquered himself before he was able to conquer his deadly enemy. During Hunter’s exile, his farm which was valuable, had been heavily mortgaged, he sold out his interest in it, and went with his family to the United States. I heard of their safe arrival at Philadelphia, but never had any further account of him or his family since his arrival there.
Joseph Corbally, a tailor, lived near Nawl. He was a well disposed young man, and when Defenderism was introduced into the counties of Meath and Dublin, he was appointed a captain, but a faction sprung up in his neighbourhood, the followers of which began to plunder in the name of Defenders. The Defenders of which he had the command, were under obligation to obey him, not in any violation of the law, but in the defence of life and property. In virtue of this obligation, he procured a warrant, arrested some of the robbers, and delivered them up to the civil authorities. The Volunteers had not then been put down, and he used to discipline his men (the Defenders), as if they were Volunteer recruits, on a hill in the neighbourhood. Archibald Hamilton Rowan, and James N. Tandy, happened to pass, from Drogheda to Dublin, by the road, along the side of the hill, in sight of the parade where the men were mustered, and went up to them and gave them their advice to desist, telling them that their appearing in arms would not serve either themselves or the country ; and their parades were discontinued. A magistrate, named Graham, having discovered the circumstance, induced two of the robbers, whom Corbally had arrested, to swear against him, as a leader of Defenders, and had him committed to jail; while he lay in Kilmainham for trial, Graham offered him his liberty, and a large reward, if he would swear against Rowan and Tandy.
Corbally, after his trial was over, told the offer he had from Graham, to the gentlemen whom it concerned, who commenced, or talked of commencing, a suit against Graham for conspiring against their lives. Corbally had no witness but the jailor, and lie swore that he was drunk at the time, and could not remember the conversation, and Corbally was sentenced to four years transportation to Botany Bay. On his way to his destination, one of the convicts told the captain of the vessel that there was a conspiracy to murder him and the crew, and turn pirates; he pointed out as leader, whose name I have forgotten, and Corbally being observed as the acquaintance of the man that was accused, was put in irons along with him. The man was tried, and condemned, and flogged to death, and Corbally lay for three days hand-cuffed to his corpse, before it was committed to the sea. Before they landed, it was found out that the information was false, and the captain flogged the informer severely. When his term of banishment had expired, Corbally returned to England in a South Sea whaler, came to his own country, and died with his widowed mother at home.
At the beginning of the short peace, the Orange-men of Dublin held their usual rejoicings on the 12th of July. Cavan-street was then the residence of many of them, mostly nailors. An opposite party, in the neighbourhood, took a notion, that being then at peace with France, they might lawfully hold a day of rejoicing on the 14th, which they did by dressing the fountain, in Cavan-street, with green boughs. The Orange party,, who were mostly yeomen, stood inside of their doors with loaded arms. A tall young man, named Ryan, a wine-porter, passing through the street, being a Catholic, but not at all concerned in the business, was shot dead by a nailor named Shiels. The nailer was sought for, and proclaimed by the magistrates, but was concealed in the Royal Barracks. This was disclosed by a soldier from the barrack to a friend of mine; but who dared to go there to apprehend him? I had no knowledge of any of the relations of the deceased; but I had some knowledge of Counsellor McNally, so I went and told him, that if he would procure me a warrant, I would go to the barracks, present myself to the commanding officer, and point out the very room in which the murderer was.
McNally seemed highly pleased, and desired me to call in the evening, and he would have the warrant, which I did. He then put me off until next morning, when he sent his son with me to Justice Greenshields, of Bride-street, with whom he stayed in private for about ten minutes; and then, coming out of the office with the Justice, he said to him, (pointing to me), this is the man. The Justice then asked me my name, and where I lived, my business, and if I was any relation of the deceased; and, being answered no, he asked what interest I had in pursuing Shiels. I said none, but the common interest, that people might feel, who wished, to be able to come and go through the streets, about their business, without being shot ; but if his honour did not think proper to intrust me with the warrant, I had no right to insist; and telling him where Shiels was to be found, I walked away. While I was doing this, word arrived that Shiels was gone off with a party of soldiers. A number of the Liberty-boys set off to keep them in view, if possible. They met the soldiers returning without Shiels, and, being then convinced of his flight, two of the party, one Donally, who had served with Shiels, in the Tipperary Militia, and a lad named Barry, continued the pursuit.
An uncle of the deceased was called on, and acquainted with the step I had taken; he applied to Greenshields for a warrant, and it was granted to him. The uncle, accompanied by Edward Finn and myself, then began our pursuit. Shiels had left the barracks in the morning, and the same day, at sunset, we were at Castleknock, on the track of the murderer. We passed through Dunshaughhn at dusk; we observed Donally standing at a door. He had overtaken Shiels, who said he meant to travel by Enniskillen for Derry; but, a car-man joining them on the road, Shiels agreed for a seat on his car into Navan, and Donally, having no money, was forced to return. At day-break we set out, and passed through the town of Kells, where Shiels had told Donally he expected to meet friends, and stop, perhaps, two days. Barry was left at Navan, on the look-out; others were left on the watch at Kells, and the uncle and I continued our journey in another direction.
The uncle, an old soldier, who had the ague, in the West Indies, was unable to continue the chase, so I proceeded, alone, as far as Butler’s-bridge, where I had some acquaintance closing that pass also ; but, on my return, I learned that Barry had arrived, and had met with Shiels in a public-house in Navan, and being asked by him, or some of his company, to drink a toast which he did not like, Barry went out, seemingly in a huff, and returned with a constable, and arrested him, and had him confined; but the magistrate, having no information to warrant his committal, could only detain him for twenty-four hours. He, therefore, sent Barry forward with a carriage in quest of his uncle, who had the warrant, and thus, our object having been accomplished, I set out for Dublin. Shiels was committed to goal in Navan, and from thence transmitted to Dublin.
When his trial came on. Counsellor McNally called the strongest evidence, which was so clear, that no jury could have acquitted him; but it was so contrived that the jury sat out the commission, and were discharged. A day was appointed for a second trial, he was again brought before a jury. The Judge, in charging the jury, said — ‘Gentlemen of the jury, I see this is party business.’ And so the murderer Shiels, was acquitted, and rewarded by government, by being appointed to the situation of a guard of the mail coach; what became of him afterwards I know not, but Ryan was not his first victim.
Of my many escapes from danger, there was one which I had great reason to be thankful for. I had been working at my trade in Dublin, from the time I came from Tullamore. The house where I lived was next to one in which a tailor, named Oder, lived, who belonged to Major Sirr’s gang. He was what we called a guinea-pig, from the wages which he received weekly, for attending every night, at Smyth’s in Crampton-court, off Dame-street, with such information as he could procure. In the house where my family was, there was a very honest man, named Edward Holmes, who was very kind to my wife and children; he was a slater, and, in the course of his business, he fell into a job, in which the notorious Hugh Woolahan was also employed.
Holmes being a United-man, and an unsuspecting one, was also persuaded by Woolahan that he was a friend also. Holmes invited him to dine at his house, and, while at dinner, told him what a fine fellow lodged up stairs, to whom he would introduce him the first opportunity. When I came home at night, he told me that a friend of our cause had dined with him, from Wicklow or Wexford; and, on hearing his name, ‘Take care,’ said I, ‘It is not Woolahan the murderer you have, for whose acquittal the officers who sat on his court-martial were censured by Lord Cornwallis.’
Holmes met him going to work next morning, and asked plainly if he was that man, he denied it, and said he was only his brother; but as soon as Holmes went to work, he was warned, by stones and brickbats falling near him, that he was not among friends, and he was glad to get his ladders and his life safe out of it. Shortly after, the wife of Oder, the tailor above mentioned, called on my landlord, John Golding, and said she had a secret to tell him, if she durst, that might be useful to some of his friends who were in danger; but he kept his distance, alleging, he knew of none of his friends being in danger at all.
One evening, shortly after this occurrence, I had to go to Cork-street, and did not go straight home, which was fortunate for me, for when I came home, a man at the door told me that men of a suspicious appearance had been inquiring for me, and that one, who called himself Adair, a carpenter, said I had appointed to meet him that evening; that there were several of them, and that they parted three and three, and went different roads. My own son James, then about seven years of age, came up, and said, that bad- looking men were there, he saw their pistols under their coats; I then ran up stairs, but Rosy had been invited to spend that evening at Mr. Palmer’s. I went down stairs immediately, and Mrs. Barry, whose husband had given me the first warning, met me, and showed me three of the gang at the corner of Little Longford- street. I observed a boy under a lamp opposite, in the lane; I left the house and walked smartly down the lane, with a pistol cocked in each hand, expecting to meet some of the party, and, on turning the corner, I observed the boy following me, whom I had seen under the lamp: I went down Great George’s-street into Dame-street, and over Essex-bridge to Chapel-street, to warn a man named Kirkwood, with whom I had been that evening, that he might be prepared if the search came. The boy who had followed me all this way passed me as I entered Bolton-street, and ran before me, I at first thought that Coffey’s house might be guarded, and that he was going to warn the guard of my approach, but observing him stop at a gateway, and place himself close up to the gate, I sprang round the corner into King-street, and then turning down by the front of Newgate, and crossing to Church-street by the lower end of Newgate, went up Church-street, and round by King-street, and into the house of one Patrick Martin, a cooper, where I stopped for the night, and next morning sent to inquire for my family, and learned that I had been only gone from home a short time when the guard returned, they stopped there until Posy came home, accompanied by Mr. Palmer’s son, William, a very undaunted youth, but of a mild appearance.
She passed in through the guard, and they inquired of her if Mrs. Moylan was in, (the name she went by), she said she was going up to see, and bid Mr. Palmer come up — her seeming unconcern deceived them, and she going into the room, next to her own, and biding Mr. Palmer good night, he was not stopped at the door. Two of our children being asleep in that room, and the third in care of the mistress of the house. Rosy threw off her cloak, took the child on her knee, and sat on the foot of a bed, in a few minutes the guard came up, and, my door being locked, they went into the room where Rosy was, in which there were two men and two women in bed, whom they examined very strictly, but they all speaking with up-country tongue, they never seemed to see Rosy at all, and the mistress of the place not being in bed, kept them in talk until they went out on the lobby, and began to talk of searching my room, when Rosy slipped the key to the mistress, and she told them, the woman left it with her when she went out, they then went in, and searched the room narrowly, not forgetting the chimney, but no discovery.
Rosy was represented as a woman whose husband was at sea, but as she had not heard of him for some time he was thought to be dead, but some of my clothes being in the room they remarked she must be a curious widow who had men’s trousers in her room, which the mistress dexterously answered by saying that she was well handed, and mended or made for men or women for the support of her children. They then went away, saying they would call and see their widow again. They took a letter which we had been both writing, which they noticed, but no clue was in it for them. As soon as they were gone, and the hall-door shut, Rosy took her bed, and the children, down to Mr. Holme’s room, for the night, and, at the first light in the morning, the informers returned, and were told she had left the house on hearing of their visit, and no one knew, or wished to know, where she went. Oder, the informer, lost his birth, he was taken and sworn to as a deserter, and sent to a condemned regiment.
When I arrived in Dublin, in 1798, it was then believed, by the best informed of my friends, that Lord Edward’s arrest was occasioned by the imprudence of a girl in Murphy’s house, in Thomas-street. But at a much later period, in 1815, I was informed by the wife of an employer of mine, John Blair, who had been a soldier in the Antrim Militia, that she was in the Royal Barracks, Dublin, the day that Lord Edward was taken; and that it was known to the soldiers’ wives, the whole afternoon of that day, that Lord Edward was in the house of Murphy’s, the feather merchant, in Thomas-street; she said, that one of the soldier’s wives had been employed to wash down Murphy’s stairs, that Lord Edward had been down stairs when she began to work, and had sprung lightly past her, leaving the marks of his shoes on the newly washed stairs, and when he was out of hearing she cursed his feet, but the servant girl, who heard her, said, ‘Why do you speak so rude to a gentleman?’
‘He is some scut,’ was the answer.
‘Oh,’ said the girl, ‘ that is Lord Edward Fitzgerald.’
This agreed so well with what I had heard in Dublin, that I thought it likely to have gone from the barracks to the castle. Nor did I hear any other reason given for the discovery, although I had recourse to Dublin for eight years, immediately after the transaction, and had access to men of all ranks, that had been kindly to our cause.