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The History of Ulster
Coercion and Conciliation

A Brighter Outlook—Some Popular Measures—Trouble in the North—The Gunpowder Bill and the Convention Act—Irish Interest in the French Revolution—The New Administration—Earl Fitzwilliam's Viceroyalty—His Dismissal of John Claudius Beresford—Fitzwilliam recalled, is succeeded by Lord Camden —Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, becomes an Active Member of the Irish Executive—Lord Carhampton's Vigorous Measures as Commander-in-Chief—General Lake proclaims the Major Portion of Ulster—Grattan's Indignation—Suppression of the Northern Star Newspaper—Trial and Execution of William Orr.

The outlook in Ireland now assumed a brighter aspect. The Emancipation Act of 1793, which was the outcome of the royal command, ensured His Majesty's Catholic subjects in Ireland the electoral franchise; the right of voting for civic magistrates; the privilege of becoming grand jurors; that, sitting as petty jurors, they should no longer be challenged for faith when a Protestant and Catholic were in litigation; the power to endow a college and schools; the right to carry arms, when possessed of certain property; the right to sit as magistrates, and to hold civil and military offices and places of trust under certain qualifications. They were also enabled to take degrees in the University.

Such measures as this caused a friendly feeling to arise between Ireland and England, even the Dissenters wished that their Catholic fellow-countrymen should be granted their desires. The death of Prince Charles Edward removed a bone of contention, and several Bills were passed which gave universal satisfaction, such as the Responsibility Bill, the Pension Bill, and the Place Bill, the last of which excluded revenue officers, and vacated the seats of members of Parliament who should henceforth accept Government situations. With these was enacted Grattan's Bill to encourage the reclamation of waste lands by exemption from tithes for seven years. In spite, however, of these measures, dregs of the bitter spirit of religious animosity remained. A Proclamation issued on the 13th of February stated that outrages had been committed in the counties of Louth, Meath, Cavan, Monaghan, the county of the town of Drogheda, and even in the county of Dublin. Horrible outrages were committed in the county of Donegal, such as burning houses, destroying corn, and houghing cattle. A marauding party entered the house of Mark Cassidy, of Derry, in the county of Monaghan, and plundered the premises, carrying away arms and valuables. A large party of men, well armed, attacked and fired on a body of the King's troops near Ardee, who killed seven of them and wounded many. For some time after this incident the inhabitants of Ardee, headed by the magistrates, kept guard all night, so great was their fear of being massacred. A body of men calling themselves "Green-cockade Men" assembled in great numbers at Moneymore, in the county of Derry. They paraded in arms, and exercised in a public manner, and at last became so formidable that it was found necessary to send General White and a body of troops to suppress them.

Had these disturbances been confined to Ulster, Pitt's policy of reform might have been continued; but, unfortunately for the country's welfare, similar displays of lawlessness were made in the other provinces, and strong measures had perforce to be taken for their suppression. As a preliminary step, the Irish House of Lords appointed a Secret Committee to enquire into the causes of the disorders and disturbances which prevailed in several parts of the kingdom. From the Report furnished by this Secret Committee we learn that "an unusual ferment had for some months disturbed several parts of the north, particularly the town of Belfast and the county of Antrim". It also stated that "stands of arms and gunpowder to a very large amount, much above the common consumption, have been sent within these few months to Belfast and Newry, and orders given for a much greater quantity, which it appears could be wanted only for military operations. At Belfast, bodies of men in arms are drilled and exercised for several hours almost every night by candle-light, and attempts have been made to seduce the soldiery; which, much to the honour of the King's forces, have proved ineffectual."

To remedy this state of things the Government carried through, in the session of 1793, a Gunpowder Bill and the Convention Act. The former is entitled " An Act to prevent the importation of Arms, Gunpowder, and Ammunition into this Kingdom, and the removing and keeping of Gunpowder, Arms, and Ammunition without Licence". The Convention Bill was introduced into the House of Lords by Lord Clare. It purported to be an Act against Conventions, but Grattan declared it to be a false declaration of law, and said it deprived the subject of his constitutional right of petitioning effectually against grievances, by rendering the previous measure of consultation and deliberation criminal. He was particularly indignant because, by implication, it condemned all previous Conventions, including his own Volunteer Convention.

But, indignant as Grattan might be, there was some reason in the move made by the Government; for although the United Irishmen professed the same loyalty as the Catholic Convention, the statements of many of their leaders at a later period prove that much of the Report of the Secret Committee was based on truth, and that the United Irishmen were secretly training the peasantry to arms in support of French revolutionary principles, and were indeed looking forward to receiving assistance from France to carry their designs into effect. Several such societies corresponded with kindred societies in France, and some of the Irish leaders visited France with the object of strengthening the bond of union formed by the correspondence. Among those who thus visited Paris was Lord Edward FitzGerald, who, while in the French capital, lodged with Tom Paine, and at a public gathering renounced his title, proposing, as Citizen Edward FitzGerald, a toast to the "speedy abolition of hereditary titles and feudal distinctions". In the spring of 1793 Napper Tandy, who was to have been tried at Dundalk assizes on a charge of distributing a seditious publication in the county Louth, on learning that bills had been found against him on another and more serious charge—that of holding communication with Defenders at Castle-Bellingham—fled to America. In England the admirers of the French Revolution, becoming bolder, joined in the cry for Parliamentary reform. The Government became alarmed, and, in May, 1794, suspended the Habeas Corpus Act, besides passing an Act against seditious assemblies.

Affairs in France now assuming a very serious aspect, a large part of the old Rockingham party decided to join Pitt's administration, among them being the Duke of Portland and Earls Fitzwilliam and Spencer in the Lords, and Burke, Wyndham, and others in the Commons. Lord Fitzwilliam became President of the Council; Lord Spencer, Privy Seal; the Duke of Portland, Secretary of State; and Wyndham, Secretary for War. Grattan was informed that Pitt was favourable to reform and to the Catholics, and was pressed to accept the Chancellorship of the Exchequer. This he declined, preferring to see Sir John Parnell continue in office, but he subsequently acted as Leader. Ponsonby and Grattan were summoned to England, and held consultations with the Duke of Portland and Pitt, with the result that it was generally understood that the entire emancipation of the Catholics was a condition of Earl Fitzwilliam's accepting the Position of Viceroy of Ireland.

On the 14th of January, 1795, Earl Fitzwilliam landed in Ireland, where his coming was the cause of general rejoicing. On the 22nd the opening of Parliament took place, and the Lord-Lieutenant delivered a vigorous speech. Grattan, in reply, made an eloquent speech for war with France and cordial co-operation with England. He inveighed against the attitude of France, her mistaken views of liberty, the menace such views were to Europe, the danger to Ireland. "As formerly", said Grattan, "you struggled for the British constitution in opposition to the claim of the British Parliament, so now you contend in conjunction with Great Britain for that constitution against France, and for that constitution with everything beside included, you fight for your island."

Fitzwilliam, confident in the power of which he believed himself to be possessed, dismissed, amongst others, John Claudius Beresford from the Revenue Board, where "he was filling", said the Viceroy, "a situation greater than that of the Lord-Lieutenant . . . and subjecting my government to all the opprobrium and unpopularity attendant upon his mal-administration". Beresford flew to the King with his grievance; he was received, and it is believed that the result was the recall of Fitzwilliam, in whom the hopes of Ireland had been centred. On the 24th of March he resigned the government of the country into the hands of the Archbishop of Armagh and Lord Fitzgibbon as Lords Justices.

In spite of the change of government, Grattan brought in a Catholic Relief Bill, the second reading being fixed for the 4th of May. The opposition to the Bill was led by the Solicitor-General, who described it as a plan to overthrow entirely the constitution established by the Revolution of 1688. His motion that the Bill should be rejected was seconded by Lord Kingsborough, who said: "This Bill is to take the power from the Protestants to give it to the Catholics. ... I have been a steady friend to the Catholics; but I never would give up the Protestant interest, or take any step to destroy the Church of Ireland." The connection between the Catholics and the United Irishmen was the chief feature of a long speech against the Bill made by the Member for Hillsborough (R. Johnson), in which he referred to Hamilton Rowan, Wolfe Tone, and other leaders of the United Irishmen as "clamorous harbingers of blood and death". After a long debate, the Bill was rejected by 155 to 84.

Fitzwilliam was succeeded by Lord Camden; Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, became an active member of the Irish executive; and Lord Carhampton, grandson of Henry Luttrell, was given command of the army. Early in 1796 an Insurrection Act was passed, making the administration of an oath like that of the United Irishmen punishable with death; and a discretionary power was given to magistrates to proclaim counties. "Lord Carhampton," says Sir Richard Musgrave, "finding that the laws were silent and inoperative in the counties which he visited, and that they did not afford protection to the loyal and peaceable subjects, who in most places were obliged to fly from their habitations, resolved to restore them to their usual energy by the following salutary system of severity. In each county he assembled the most respectable gentlemen and landowners in it, and having, in concert with them, examined the charges against the leaders of these banditti, who were in prison, but defied justice, he, with the concurrence of these gentlemen, sent the most nefarious of them on board a tender, to serve in His Majesty's navy."

The leaders of the United Irishmen now commenced to graft a military organization on their civil organization. This was commenced in Ulster about the end of 1796, and in Leinster in the beginning of the year following. The secretary of a society of twelve became a petty officer; the delegates to the lower baronial committees became captains; the delegate from the lower to the upper baronial committee was, in most cases, a colonel, but every commission higher than that of colonel was in the appointment of the executive directory. The society spread rapidly among the humbler classes, especially in localities where Orange lodges were established.

On the 13th of March, 1797, General Lake, commanding the northern district, issued a proclamation at Belfast virtually placing a great part of Ulster under martial law, and ordering all persons to surrender their arms and ammunition. On March the 17th, attention was called in Parliament to Lake's proclamation. The attention of the Lord-Lieutenant being drawn to this, he sent a message to the House stating that he had proclaimed the counties of Antrim, Derry, Donegal, Down, and Tyrone in a state of disturbance, owing to their insurrectionary spirit, and had ordered Lake to act. Grattan revolted against "attainting one entire province of Ireland of high treason". Ulster should recover her liberty; military tyranny must fail, though "many of their enemies do not scruple to express a wish for a rebellion in the north". He moved that the Viceroy be asked to recall his proclamation. This was defeated by 127 to 16.

At this time there were in the County Antrim over 22,000 men enrolled in the ranks of the United Irishmen, who, in addition, according to papers seized in Belfast on the 10th of May, 1797, possessed nearly 3000 guns, 1200 bayonets, 300 pistols, 250 swords, nearly 3500 pikes, 20,000 ball cartridges, more than 50,000 balls, 900 pounds of powder, 8 cannons, and 1 mortar.

After his proclamation in March, General Lake increased the rigour of military government in the north, and the people were further exasperated by numerous outrages, sometimes unprovoked and unnecessary, committed by the soldiery. Houses were plundered and demolished on the mere suspicion that the inhabitants were United Irishmen. A newspaper called the Morning Star, edited by Samuel Neilson and printed at Belfast by Robert and William Simms, was seized, and the brothers Simms were arrested and sent to Newgate. The paper was still carried on, and the editor was required by military authority to insert a paragraph reflecting on the loyalty of the people of Belfast. This he refused to do, with the result that the offices of the paper were attacked by the military, and the machinery and plant destroyed. A regiment of cavalry called the Ancient Britons, under the command of Sir Watkin Williams Wynne, was particularly notorious for the part it took in outrages of all kinds. On one occasion, information having been lodged that a house near Newry contained concealed arms, a party of the Ancient Britons was sent to it, but found they had been wrongly informed, and, annoyed at their fruitless search, they set fire to the premises. This happened to be the first dwelling set on fire by the military, and the peasantry, ignorant of the fact, hastened to extinguish the flames, whereupon they were attacked and cut down by the soldiers, and thirty of them were killed, including a woman and two children. A man of seventy fled from the scene, but he was overtaken, and, while on his knees imploring for mercy, his head was deliberately struck from his shoulders with one sweep of an enraged cavalryman's sabre.

In the autumn of 1797 William Orr of Antrim was tried at Carrickfergus, before Lord Yelverton and Mr. Justice Chamberlain, charged with administering the United Irishman's oath to a soldier named Whately, who was the only witness against him. The jury retired at six o'clock in the evening, and remained locked up all night. The court was opened by Lord Yelverton at six o'clock on the morning following, when the jury desired to know if they might not find a qualified verdict, which would not affect the life of the prisoner. This being inadmissible, they retired, and after much deliberation brought in a verdict of guilty, at the same time recommending the prisoner to mercy. On the day following Orr was brought up to receive sentence, when his counsel made a motion in arrest of judgment. This was overruled by the court. The counsel then stated that a most extraordinary event had just come to their knowledge, of which it was their duty to apprise the court. "Two of the jurors had made an affidavit, stating that on the night of the trial a considerable quantity of spirituous liquor had been conveyed into the jury-room, and drunk by the jury, many of whom were greatly intoxicated. The two jurors who made the affidavit admitted themselves also to have been in a state of intoxication; and one of them was threatened to be prosecuted as a United Irishman if he did not concur in a verdict of [guilty; until, at length, worn out by fatigue and drink, he did, contrary to his judgment, concur in that verdict."

The affidavits having been produced, counsel was interrupted by Mr. Justice Chamberlain, who declared that such a statement ought not to be permitted; that it was evidently calculated to throw discredit upon the verdict, and could not be the foundation of any motion to the court. The unhappy Orr was then remanded, and on the day following was again brought up, when Lord Yelverton, in a solemn and pathetic manner, pronounced sentence of death upon him, bursting as he did so into tears. Orr protested his innocence. "The jury", he cried, "has convicted me of being a felon; my own heart tells me that their conviction is a falsehood. I am not a felon. If they have found me so improperly, it is worse for them than for me, for I can forgive them. I will say but one word more, and that is to declare, in the awful presence of. God, that the evidence against me was grossly perjured— grossly and wickedly perjured."

Every exertion was made by Orr's family, his friends, and the country at large to procure a suspension of the sentence. The affidavit of the two jurors was followed up by a solemn declaration of other jurors to the same effect. The only witness, the soldier to whom Orr was stated to have administered the oath, came voluntarily forward, and deposed before a magistrate, on oath, that his testimony against Orr was false. Petitions to the Lord-Lieutenant, praying that the prisoner's life might be spared, poured in from all parts of the country, but in vain. Three times a respite was granted, but notwithstanding all the evidence in favour of Orr, who was a man of high character and respectability, Lord Camden refused to interfere, and Orr was executed at Carrickfergus on the 14th of October, 1797, protesting his innocence to the last.

This judicial murder destroyed any residue of confidence which the people had in the law or the Government, and "Remember Orr" became a watchword with United Irishmen.

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