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  • THE BATTLE OF BALLYNAHINCH 1798

    Another chapter extracted from Sydney McCullough's book, "Ballynahinch Centre of Down!"

    I - Calendar of Events leading up to the Battle of Ballynahinch.

    1775 Withdrawal of Government Troops to fight in American Colonies and later in Spain and France.
    1778 Gardiner's Act-Catholics given same land-ownership rights as Protestants.
    1778 (March) lst Belfast Volunteer Company.
    1778 (April) Paul Jones sailed into Belfast Lough.
    1780 Irish Free Trade obtained by Grattan backed by Volunteer Movement.
    1780 Test Act Repealed-Presbyterians placed on the same footing as Church of Ireland members.
    1782 Repeal of Declaratory Act of 1719. Repeal of Poyning's Law.
    1783 Period of economic expansion and prosperity begins.
    1784 Foster's Corn Law, a subsidy to encourage export of corn. A tax to discourage import of wheat. Great increase in the number of corn mills.
    1791 Volunteers parade to celebrate storming of the Bastille (2nd Anniversary).
    1791 United Irishmen formed.
    1793 Catholic Relief Act.
    1794 United Irishmen banned.
    1795 Period of increasing English goodwill to Catholics (to encourage loyalty against the French) ends with recall of Fitzwilliam.
    1795 'United Irishmen' revives as a secret society and numbers swelled by disappointed Catholics seeking equal rights. Aim of society becomes separation from England.
    1795 Battle of The Diamond, Loughgall. Orange Order Founded. Protestants (C. of I.) join Government Yeomanry.
    1796 Bantry Bay. French Landing foiled by weather.
    1797 "Lake" Proclamation to hand in arms.
    1798 March. United Irishmen (Leaders arrested).
    1798 June. Rebellion and Defeat.


    II - Plenty of spirit . . .


    Rebellions and wars are like volcanoes. They are vents for hatreds and yearnings which have smouldered deep-seated for ages, building up, under immense pressures, momentum to bursting point. First causes and rumblings are difficult to determine.

    When most regular government forces were withdrawn to meet the demands created by the wars in Europe and North America, Irish people of all creeds felt the need for a Home Guard. The first Belfast Volunteer Company was formed in March 1778, and the following month when Paul Jones sailed into Belfast Lough and Authority could offer no more help
    "than a troop or two of horse and part of a company of invalids,"
    the movement grew apace.

    It was mainly non-Catholic (Dissenters and Episcopalians) especially in the North, for although Catholics were equally zealous to serve they were rejected on the basis of distrust, often with insult.

    By 1782 the Volunteers could boast a membership of 100,000, one third of which was in Ulster. In that year they were a real political force and great gains in freedom were achieved. But fears that Catholic Emancipation and Protestant ascendancy were incompatible led to the gradual demise of the volunteers as an effective force.

    In it Episcopalian and Presbyterian had learned to tolerate each other, and there remained as a result a considerable body of liberal opinion which thought
    "that the gradual extension of suffrage to our long-oppressed brethren, the Roman Catholics, preserving unimpaired the Protestant Government of the country, would be a measure fraught with the happiest consequences,"
    and that
    "taxation without representation was slavery."
    The pressure for reform was maintained by the Whig Club, but dissatisfaction with it led to the formation of the Society of United Irishmen at Belfast on 14th October, 1791, in Crown Entry, High Street. It was to be a
    "brotherhood of affection, an identity of interests, a communion of rights, and a union of power among Irishmen of all religious persuasions."
    It was the Irish translation of the ideals of the French Revolution. Put briefly it was
    "equality of representation without account of religion"
    The growing feeling of universal brotherhood found an echo in the Presbyterian Synod of Ulster 1793 when an earnest prayer was recorded
    "that the time may never more return when religious distinctions shall be used as a pretext for disturbing society or arming man against his neighbour-that intolerance of every kind may be trodden underfoot."
    Two hundred years later it is a classic example of dramatic irony.


    . . . III - and a MATCH

    After 1795 when Pitt inexplicably withdrew Fitzwilliam and Roman Catholics read into it an end to the growing toleration displayed by England over the previous decade, the United Irishmen became the symbol of emancipation and Catholics flocked to join. By then the movement had gone underground having officially been described as a collection of
    "seditious and ill-affected persons"
    That same year out of a clash between the Peep of Day Boys (non-Catholic, mainly Church of Ireland) and the Defenders (Roman Catholics) at Loughgall the Orange Order was born. This became the focal point of distrust of Roman Catholics and although opinions were for and against Union, it was used by the government as 'anti-rebel' opposition. This was aided by the fact that the United Irishmen had absorbed large numbers of the Defenders.

    From the Orange ranks of the Established Church, especially in Down and Antrim were recruited the Yeomanry detachments which helped defeat the rebel forces. Capt. D. J. Bell in his reminiscences recalled that "his great grandfather John and brother William fought at the Battle of Ballynahinch in the Cumber Bridge Yeomanry." No doubt so did many other local Church of Ireland people. There followed several years of intrigue, government counter espionage, ruthless searches for arms and harassing arrests.

    Some like Lord Moira (Ballynahinch, November, 1796) still advocated a policy of conciliation, and many like the Protestant Bishop of Down were appalled at seeing
    "families returning peacefully from mass assailed without provocation by drunken troops and yeomanry, and their wives and daughters exposed to every species of indignity, brutality and outrage."
    Oppression was causing Catholic and some Presbyterian families to move out of the area as Lord Moira recorded in a letter. On the other hand coercion was used to swell the ranks of the United Irishmen.


    IV - REBELLION

    A series of news-flashes from the front line "by our correspondent"
    Saturday, June 9th
    The rebels are camped here at Creevy Rocks, near Saintfield. . .. News has just reached us of a skirmish at Ballynahinch, miles away. Local residents involved. On my way to make further enquiries.
    Later same day.
    Have finished my enquiries. The incident occurred at 10 a.m.this morning. Local residents rescued a rebel prisoner from a party of Castlewellan Yeomanry. One local man killed.
    Saturday, June 9th, 4 a.m.
    Scouts report 800 men approaching from the west under Lieut. Col. Stewart. The inhabitants are terror-struck because it includes the notorious Argyll Fencibles. Young men are fleeing towards the mountains.

    Stewart has entered the town-no resistance offered. Reports are coming in of many killings by the troops of country people, including the innocent.

    Saturday, June 9th, 2 p.m.
    Orders have arrived from Nugent. Stewart is leaving for Downpatrick to secure it. A garrison is being left here.

    As soon as convenient I'm going back to Creevy Rocks in the morning. Have been promised a horse.

    Monday, June 11th.
    No need to make the journey. Have met advance force of the rebels under James Townsend on their way to Ballynahinch.

    Townsend has occupied Ballynahinch and has established a base on Windmill Hill commanding the road from Belfast. The Government garrison discreetly offered no opposition.

    Tuesday, June 12th
    General Munro has arrived. He has chosen to set up his H.Q. on Ednavaddy Hill on Lord Moira's estate.

    Messengers dispatched for reinforcements.

    . . . Rumours are circulating that Nugent left Belfast at 9 a.m.

    . . . No sign of reinforcements.

    Some rebels are defecting.

    . . . Definite news. Nugent has fired Saintfield. Considerable force with him.

    . . . Nugent on his way. He has 8 guns with him.

    . . . Contact has been established at Bell's Bridge.

    . . . Nugent seems to be waiting for rebels to make the first move

    . . . Stewart's back and has joined Nugent.

    . . . Fierce fighting.

    . . . Am stationed on Windmill.

    . . . Rebels are falling back here. Stewart's men seem to be leading the attack. McCance is looking forward to a grim battle.

    . . . Dismay here. Munro has ordered evacuation. Will stay behind if possible.

    . . . Have established my credentials as a reporter. Have just witnessed the hanging of Hugh McCullough from one of the windmill's sails. It appears he was asleep and did not receive the order to retire. The artillery are bombarding Ballynahinch Town. The damage is very considerable.

    . . . Darkness has fallen. The night will be short. Ballynahinch is occupied. Looting, firing and drunkenness.

    A captured rebel has revealed that Munro has turned down the idea of a night engagement. Defections are increasing.

    . . . Still no reinforcements.

    . . . Relief being expressed here.

    Wednesday, 13th June, 3 a.m.
    Daybreak. An artillery barrage is being concentrated on Ednavaddy from two directions, one from Ballynahinch, the other from Crabtree Hill under Stewart.

    Rebels are reacting with sallies across the Bridge and up Bridge Street. Great courage being shown.

    . . . Government dismay. Munro’s forces have executed a neat pincer movement towards the Square.

    . . . Square has fallen. Rebels pushing towards Windmill Hill. Nugent has ordered retreat to be sounded.

    . . . Something strange is happening. Both sides are falling back.

    . . . Nugent has rallied his forces and the rebels are in full retreat towards Ednavaddy.

    . . . Dispatch has arrived from Stewart. His cavalry have broken through on the east. Ednavaddy summit reached. Six guns captured.

    . . . The Battle is over. The Rebels are fleeing to the south and south-west. Mopping-up proceeding.

    Thursday June 14th.
    Am returning with full report. Rebel losses estimated 300-500. Government losses being played down.

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