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EARLY 19th CENTURY DISTURBANCES IN CREGGAN PARISH

by
Cardinal Tomas O'Fiaich

Reproduced, with the Society's permission, from the 1987 Journal of The Creggan Local History Society


Cardinal Tomas ÓFiaich

The 'Defender tradition' remained strong in Creggan in the early 19th century and meetings of the organisation in Newtownhamilton were reported to Dublin Castle in 1807. At a time when secret societies such as the Caravats and the Shanavests, the Carders and the Threshers, were active further south, it is not surprising that organisations bearing some of these names made their appearance in South Armagh. Within the parish of Creggan they were particularly active in Creggan Lower, around Newtownhamilton.

At the beginning of 1814 it was claimed that several 'Threshers' who had fled from Co. Monaghan were organising the society in Co. Armagh, especially in the Keady area. Simon Langley, a magistrate of Armagh City, received a warrant from a Monaghan magistrate to arrest them, and in the midst of a heavy fall of snow succeeded in arresting one of the leaders not far from Keady.

In announcing the arrest in a letter to Dublin Castle on 10th January, 1814, Langley was in no mood to underrate his achievement.

"Sir, I have at last succeeded in taking one of these fellows called threshers. It took me from 8 o'clock on Saturday to 3 next morning to get through the black mountains and bog some miles beyond Keady, where I surprised him in bed, but having divided my part in order to surround other houses etc. and prevent any alarm or communication, one other (a principal) got off. However, I'm pretty confident I will yet secure him with some others, but with the party having walked so much of them bogs and mountains, he beat us hollow".

The man arrested was known as Tosh and he was examined before Magistrate Henry of Castleblayney. He was charged with having beaten a certain James Waters on the previous 5th October along with others who declared themselves "to be a lawless party called treshers and had bands on their hats to distinguish themselves as such". Tosh claimed that he had been forced into the organisation and denied that he had taken its oath or even knew the oath. According to Langley he supplied the names of some of the members, and Langley sought advice from Dublin as to whether he could make any promises to him in return for further information.

The Castle must have been slow in replying because Langley wrote to Robert Peel, Chief Secretary, on 9th February, pointing out that the following Friday was Keady Fair day and he might be able to surprise the others there if only he had a directive from Dublin in time. He pleaded that he "would have taken the rest before now but couldn't get up the mountains with the snow". In addition he warned the Chief Secretary that something must be afoot in the Keady area because a paper had been left in the post office there for signatures and a local man of loyalist sympathies was not allowed to enter the building. Tosh was tried at the Monaghan spring assizes In 1814 and sentenced to transportation, but it would seem that the others escaped Langley's net. They had their revenge on the magistrate, however, because in March 1814 his corn was burned. By mid-summer they were reported to be holding frequent meetings in Moy and near Blackwatertown, and in July 1814 several windows were broken in Donaghmoyne Church of Ireland and in the house of the new Rector, Rev. John Grey Porten A Protestant hatter named Andrew Thompson, who lived at Carrickmacross, was seriously assaulted when returning home from the August fair in Crossmaglen. And Captain Crawley of the Creggan Yeomanry, who lived at Culloville, had been constantly threatened and was using some of the corps to guard his house.

Rectory, Tullyvallen, Newtownhamilton

Creggan Rectory

Ruins of Rectory, Donaghmoyne, Co Monaghan

By 1815 the scene of action had definitely shifted to South Armagh.

A Protestant who lived outside Newtownhamilton called Warmington had been assaulted. Those responsible were convicted at the spring assizes, but the local Church of Ireland Rector, Rev. William Barker, who was a magistrate, became a marked man. In a later letter to Dublin he gives a long litany of his woes: In September a certain John Bell, who lived a mile from the Glebe House, Newtownhamilton, had his cart smashed because he had lent it to the minister. It was reported that men armed with two muskets and two blunderbusses had kept watch during the incident, and Bell's life was felt to be in danger because he was suspected of having given information. Shortly afterwards the flax of the rector and of his tithe-manager was slashed while in the water, and oats and potatoes belonging to the rector's labourers were cut down. On 24 October Warmington's hay which was already up in cocks was scattered throughout the field and his horse was forced over a precipice into a river and injured. On 28 October unknown persons entered the rector's lands and cut down all the trees planted by him and some of those planted by his predecessor. The rector also referred to an incident which had just occurred in Camlyball, and will be discussed later.

In reporting these incidents to Dublin Castle Rev. Barker asserted that for many years a reign of terror had existed in the Barony of Upper Fews. Before he came to the parish in 1811, he said, the rectory had been twice broken into and plundered during the time of his predecessor, Rev. Robert Tronson. Shortly after his own arrival the Hearth Money collector had been violently assaulted and had required the protection of the yeomanry. Barker concluded by requesting the return of the yeomanry or the stationing of a military force in Newtownhamilton. The Newtownhamilton Yeomanry Corps (of which Warmington's three sons had been members) was reduced under Act of Parliament as it had less than seventy men. Along with his own letter Barker enclosed a statement in the name of several people of the locality, each of whom promised to contribute to a reward for anyone who would supply information leading to the conviction of those who had injured Warmington's property. Unfortunately the list of names is now missing, but the total promised came to 35.4s.9d.

We must now turn to the Camlyball incident which set in motion a chain of events that were to have tragic consequences. On 21 October, 1815 some damage was done to a new house erected there by James Johnson. Next day more than a dozen men with blackened faces and wearing white shirts attacked the house there of Arthur Harrison, who was High Constable of the Barony of Upper Fews. The leaders seem to have been Jack Carr or Kerr (locally Known as Jack the Carder) and Patrick Cuskery or McCusker. For the next month Carr disappeared from the neighbourhood, lying low at the house of Frank Vallely in Clady. He returned on 25th November, the day of Camly fair and was arrested by Harrison in circumstances which will be described later.

The fair of Camly was the occasion of several riots in the early 19th Century and this one was no exception. On the plea that further attacks might be made on their houses some Protestants had asked the rector of Creggan, who was a magistrate, to allow a party of the Creggan Yeomanry Corps to attend the fair. According to the rector's own account of what follows, he declined permission, thinking it would be better to get some regular soldiers from Forkill barracks. He did however advise that two or three local yeomen should station themselves in some of the houses likely to be attacked. A yeoman named Henry took up his position in the house of William Johnston, and the above-mentioned James Johnston, who was also a yeoman, was in a neighbouring house. Both had loaded muskets and were backed up by a further group of Protestants.

For the details of what followed we give first of all the version of Rector Stewart of Creggan, which survives in his own hand in Dublin Castle. During the melee, according to the rector, William Johnston was severly wounded but the attackers were repulsed. Pursued by the Creggan yeomen they took refuge in the house of a man named McMahon. The yeoman surrounded the house and in the rector's words "called on McMahon to send out any respectable people so that they might secure the rascals". The "rascals" however succeeded in capturing Henry and dragged him into the house. He cried out that he was being murdered and the yeomen broke into the house to rescue him, and fired two shots, one of which killed Edward Hanlon. In the early hours of the next morning Johnston, Henry and the others surrendered.themselves to the Forkill magistrate James Dawson.

McMahon's House, Dorsey

Rector Stewart's version, however, was not the only one to reach Dublin Castle. Like the rector, James O'Callaghan of Culloville was also a magistrate, though a Catholic, and on 30th November, 1815 he sent on his own account to Robert Peel. He claimed that at the inquest held on Sunday, 26th November the jury had returned a verdict of wilful murder against seven persons named. All seven were now in custody. He urged the Crown to prosecute them as the family of the deceased would not be able to bear the expenses. Another Catholic (his name was also Hanlon) - had been wounded in the affray. While admitting that the incident was connected with the earlier attack on James Johnston's house in October, he claimed that the damage there had been light - some thatch stripped off and window cases broken. Regarding the severe injuries allegedly suffered by William Johnston, his account of the "attack" is much fuller than and far different from that of the rector. Some people returning from the fair had gone to drink in an unlicenced ale-house kept by a woman named Johnston. A dispute arose and when they left the house they threw stones. Her brother William Johnston lived next door and he was pulled out and beaten. He was so badly wounded, according to himself, that he had to send for his clergyman, Dr. Stewart, on the following day, Sunday. But O'Callaghan and Samuel Ball of Crossmaglen had brought a surgeon to see him on Monday and he showed no ill effects except a small cut on his head. O'Callaghan concluded that Johnston had feigned injury in order to provide an excuse for the crime of which his friends in the yeomanry were guilty - the attack on McMahon's house and the killing of O'Hanlon. O'Callaghan's letter was countersigned by Samuel Ball. O'Callaghan also wrote to Sir Edward Littlehales and in consequence the Brigade Major was instructed to investigate the conduct of the Creggan Yeomanry.

When Dr. Stewart heard of the investigation he wrote a letter of protest to William Gregory on 15th December. He admitted that two of the six men now charged with the murder of Edward Hanlon were yeomen of the Creggan corps but claimed that they were not acting as yeomen on this occasion. Having given his version of the incident as recounted above he went on to praise James Johnston who was accused of firing the fatal shot. No more regular, sober and moral young man lived in the parish. Henry was also an excellent character. The two must therefore have received great provocation. Dr. Stewart then launched into an attack on James O'Callaghan "who has been doing all he can to misrepresent the Creggan Yeomanry". According to the rector O'Callaghan had previously made a report about them to the government and now he said that he would put them down. The rector hoped therefore that Littlehales would suspend the investigation.

Stewart then proceeded to accuse O'Callaghan of having tampered with the jury at the inquest on O'Hanlon. According to the rector the initial verdict was: "We find Edward Hanlon came to his death by a ball discharged from a musket". But after the jury was gone home, O'Callaghan who was one of the two presiding magistrates at the inquest, followed the foreman, a Mr. Smyth, and told him the jury should have said by whom the shot was fired. For this reason the rector claimed that the "Wilful murder" verdict was not the jury's but O'Callaghan's own. In addition the rector claimed that O'Callaghan had kept all the papers connected with the incident.

It is obvious that there was little love lost between Rector Stewart and James O'Callaghan. All the more reason, therefore, for seeking a third opinion, which is available in a letter despatched to Peel by Dawson of Forkill on 15th December. Dawson's attitude fell between the out-and-out defence of the yeomanry adopted by Stewart and the laying of all blame on them by O'Callaghan. His account of the Camly riot states that after the Catholics were put to flight all except one took to the fields. The one who kept to the roadway was pursued by the Johnstons, Henry and a certain McFarland and ran for shelter to McMahon's house. It was only after the people in the house had refused to give him up and had captured one of the Protestant party that the latter fired, something which in his opinion they were not entitled to do. But they immediately came on to Forkill to Dawson's house, which they reached before he was up next morning, and surrended themselves to stand their trial.

Dawson, however, was obviously suspicious of O'Callaghan's conduct in the whole affair. He wrote again to Peel on 17th December to call attention to other suspicious acts of O'Callaghan's. During the riot outside Johnston's House a shot had been fired to disperse the Catholics. When they were fleeing, one of them dropped his hat, which was picked up by William Johnston's wife. She kept it in the hope that it would be useful to identify its owner as one of the rioters. But when O'Callaghan visited Camly on the following Monday he took away the hat. In addition it was O'Callaghan, along with Mr. Patrick O'Haiilon, who left an account of the inquest verdict and of the committal of the Protestants with the editor of the Newry Telegraph. Dawson reported later that O'Callaghan, on his visit to Camly, had challenged Harrison's right to carry arms. Finally, wrote Dawson, O'Callaghan had told Rector Stewart that he was going to America and that he was leaving the country in a very exasperated state. Dublin Castle recommended that O'Callaghan's conduct should be looked into at the forthcoming assizes.

Dawson is the first to give a full account of it in his letter to Peel of 15th December. According to this account Harrison's wife noticed at Camly fair a person whom she recognized as the leader of the party which had broken into their house the previous month. She told her husband who promptly arrested him. Carr's arrest caused a sensation among the Catholics and led to the riot outside Johnston's house on the same evening.

Some days after Carr's removal to Armagh Jail, according to Dawson, he expressed a desire to make a confession in the hope of being admitted as an approver. No statement was taken from him before a magistrate, but Mr. Isles, the Sovereign of Armagh, interviewed him in the presence of Turner the Jailer. The latter then made a sworn statement to Dawson in Forkill and on the basis of this Dawson despatched an officer and twelve soldiers, with two constables and his own nephew, to Camly to arrest those implicated by Carr's statement. They left Forkill Barracks at 1 a.m. and went first to Harrison's house. The latter then joined them and before daylight they had arrested four of the five men involved. All were transferred to Armagh Jail.

A couple of surprising pieces of information came to light during the interval before the spring assizes at which the prisoners were tried. One was that when Harrison went to visit the wounded man, Hanlon, he identified him as one of the men who had raided his own house in the previous October. Another was that one of the prisoners named McDermot claimed that Harrison had bribed another man to give evidence against him and McDermot made a statement to this effect before James O'Callaghan.

Carr's confession, made in Armagh Jail on 3rd December, 1815, is still preserved in Dublin Castle and purports to give a full account of the incidents at Harrison's house the previous October. According to this account Carr had been at Tullynafruog church (i.e. old Cullyhanna church) on Sunday, 22nd October and had spent the evening until near 8 p.m. drinking. He had taken three whiskeys but was not drunk. On his way home he met a group including Patrick Cuskery, Terence Thornton and John McCourt (alias McDermot) and Cuskery forced him to take an oath to join in their proceedings. They took arms from Harriseon's house and also some bacon.

Kerr and Cuskery were put on trial in Armagh on 15th March, 1816 for burglary. Both were found guilty and sentenced to death. In the course of the trial, however, Carr retracted his earlier "confession" thus leaving the prosecution with no evidence with which to secure a conviction against the other three accused. Carr's execution was fixed to take place at Camlyball. In reporting the trial to Dublin Castle James Dawson, the magistrate of Forkill Lodge, announced that Harrison had been given a gun for his own protection - he had already sent his wife and children for safety to Co. Monaghan.

Less than a week after the trial, on the night of 21st March, 1816, an attempt was made to set fire to the outoffices adjoining Harrison's house. The thatch of the building containing a barn, byre and stable with animals inside, was set ablaze, but fortunately for himself

Scene of Jack Carr's Execution, Camly

Harrison had not yet retired to bed and succeeded in checking the fire before it had got out of hand. He received some burns in fighting the flames. On the following day he sent a messenger with the news to Dawson and the latter despatched a second gun for his protection. As soon as Dawson received the permission of Dublin Castle he took steps to have a musket and bayonet purchased for Harrison. A detachment of the Westmeath Militia was stationed in Newtownhamilton at the time and they despatched two privates to protect Harrison's house and property.

Carr's execution is still recalled in local tradition as the last public execution in these parts. I am not sure of the exact date of it but it must have taken place at the end of March or beginning of April 1816. On 25th March, 1816 a proclamation was issued by five local magistrates (Dawson of Forkill Lodge, Rector Barker of Newtownhamilton, Rector Atkinson of Forkill, Rector Stewart of Creggan and Hunt Walsh Chambre of Hawthorn Hill, Killeavy) offering 100 reward for the discovery of those responsible for setting fire to Harrison's property. The proclamation was printed by Wilkinson of The Newry Telegraph office and was widely disseminated. It is interesting that the names of James O'Callaghan and Samuel Ball do not appear on it.

Though sentenced to death, McCusker was not executed. One factor which helped to save him was that a certain Henry (?) Gordon, a Protestant, was also condemned to death for burglary in Co. Armagh at the spring assizes of 1816 and a strong petition was got up for his reprieve. When announcing on 7th April that Carr had been executed Dawson pointed out to Dublin Castle that although he himself considered McCusker more guilty than Carr, it would not be politic to execute the two Catholics and spare the Protestant - he suggested therefore that perhaps one execution was sufficient. Both McCusker and Gordon were reprieved.

A public meeting was held at the Protestant Chruch, Newtownhamilton on 3rd May, 1816, in an effort to bring the troubles to an end. Various decisions were taken and it was agreed to get them printed and circulated. The most important was that each townland would select two to six of its inhabitants (according to its size) and on the first Monday of every month these would report on the state of their own towniand to one of the clergy or to Rector Barker or to the nearest resident magistrate. The assembled people also agreed to give notice to the nearest R.M. of any gathering of people which took place after 9 p.m. to report on any stranger who appeared in the area and to see that in case of further outrages compensation would be paid. The document was signed "by order of nearly 2,000 persons" by Rector Barker and by the parish priest, Fr. John Donnelly, together with two Presbyterian clergymen, Rev. W. S. Maclaine, Dissenting Minister and Rev. Joseph Wilson, Seceding Minister. When the Rector forwarded a copy of it to Dublin Castle, he enclosed a covering note in his own hand conveying the "grateful and humble thanks of the parishioners to the Lord Lieutenant" for listening to the petitions on behalf of Gordon and McCusker.

The decision to report on meetings taking place after 9 p.m. may itself have been the prime cause of the deaths of at least three others, a couple of months later. Acting on information received that an illegal meeting was due to be held at Glassdrummond on 22nd June, 1816 (including the names of fifteen who were expected to attend) a force was sent from Dundalk to surprise the gathering. One of the Dundalk magistrates later regretted that if their guide had not shouted when within a hundred yards of the meeting "we would have taken or killed three-quarters of them. Those who were wounded are concealed in the mountains".

Forwarding his report on the state of the country "within the northern district under my command" from Armagh on Ist July, 1816, Major General John Burnet was able to report that all northern counties were quiet with the exception of two areas - Inishowen, where illegal distillation was rife, and the parish of "Crigan'. He proceeded to refer to the very serious outrage near Crigan on 22nd ult." (June). A number of persons, said Burnet, assembled by night to pull down the house of a man who paid a higher rent than what the banditti prescribed. A party of police from Dundalk attacked and dispersed them, several were made prisoners and three have been committed to Armagh Jail. One of the rioters was killed and several wounded and two of the police were wounded.

It is remarkable how Burnet could have been so definite about the purpose of the meeting unless the locals had already taken action against the supposed offender. But in that case one would expect to find some reference to a statement taken from the would-be victim. I have failed to find any other reference to him, even to his name. The alleged purpose of the meeting is not mentioned by the local magistrate, Dawson of Forkill, who, it will be noticed, puts the Catholic casualties higher. Being a local, his version is probably more accurate, and there are some grounds for suspecting that this was an unprovoked attack by the militia on innocent people-

Dawson who wrote to Dublin on lst July, 1816, describes the affray as a "serious encounter" which "took place between the police of Louth and party of those ruffians at a place in the Upper Fews called Glassdrummin, 2and a half miles from my house". He reports that three of "the ruffians" were killed and several wounded. Of the dead two were buried secretly "in an old Popish burying ground half a mile from this house" (Urney graveyard). An R.C. doctor in the neighbourhood, he goes on, has one or two badly wounded under his care.

Dawson used the Glassdrummond fight to press strongly for something which he had already called for - a complete disarming of the population of the Barony of Upper Fews, and of part of the Barony of Upper Orior. He claimed that the Catholics of the Upper Fews had nearly 500 stand arms, and he enclosed a list of the small number in both Upper Fews and Upper Orior who were registered to possess arms. The list for Upper Fews contains only seven names, of whom two were Catholics:

1. Alexander Donaldson, Tullyvallen, 1 gun, 1 pistol;
2. Arthur Harrison, Camilly Ball, High Constable of the Barony: 2 muskets, 2 blunderbuss, 3 pistols, 1 sword.
3. Thomas McKeowne, Umnewaur (Umrinvore): 1 gun.
4. William Rowland, Tullyvallen Tipping: 1 gun.
5. Thomas Rowland, Tullyvallen Hamilton: 1 gun. 6. John Toner, Newtownhamilton: 1 case of pistols, 1 blunderbuss, 1 pistol, 2 swords.
7. John Wallace, Cloghoge: 2 pistols, 1 blunderbuss.

The Catholics were McKeowne and Toner, but Dawson pointed out that Thomas Rowland was a drunken fellow who courted the favour of Catholics and would give up his arms to them.

Whether the disarming of the Catholic population of Creggan was carried out successfully or not on this occasion, it is a fact that after the "battle of Glassdrummond" the district became more subdued than heretofore