June 7th 1798, Battle Of Antrim – Irish Revolutionaries

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June 7th 1798, Battle Of Antrim

June 7th 1798, Battle Of Antrim

On June 6th, McCracken issued a proclamation calling for the United army of Ulster to rise.

The initial plan met with success, as the towns of Larne, Ballymena, Portaferry and Randalstown (captured by James Dickey) were taken, the bridge at Toome damaged to prevent the government rushing reinforcements into Antrim from west of the Bann.

The rebels then assembled at Donegore Hill in preparation for the march and attack on Antrim town, where an emergency meeting of the county's magistrates called by the county governor, Lord O'Neill, was due to take place.

Although almost 10,000 rebels assembled at Donegore, many displayed reluctance for the upcoming fight and stayed on the hill in reserve or deserted later so that probably fewer than 4,000 took part in the attack.

The United Irishmen in Ulster were mostly Presbyterian, but were joined with Catholic Defenders and the tension between the two groups on the march may have caused some desertions.

These difficulties led to a loss of momentum, and the attack was delayed. McCracken was forced to make adjustments to his plan of attack, which had envisaged a simultaneous overwhelming assault on the town from four separate points.

The town was garrisoned by a small force of about 200 yeomen, cavalry under Lt-Col William Lumley and armed volunteers but they also had four artillery pieces, the delay in the rebel attack had allowed them to send requests for assistance to Belfast and Lisburn from where reinforcements were already on the way.

The garrison formed themselves at the base of the solid wall of Antrim Castle, with artillery to the front and cavalry to the rear with their flanks anchored by the Market House and Presbyterian Meeting House. The garrison also burned a part of the Scottish Quarter in the town as it was perceived to be a stronghold of rebel sympathisers.

The attack finally began shortly before 3 pm when the rebels started a cautious march through the town. As rebel front ranks arrived to face the garrison's defensive line, the artillery opened fire on the rebels, causing them to pull back out of range.

Vast clouds of dust and smoke were thrown up which, together with the fires from the Scottish Quarter, obscured the garrison's view of events.

The rebel withdrawal was mistaken for a full retreat; the cavalry moved out to pursue and rout the supposed fleeing rebels. The cavalry effectively ran into a gauntlet of rebels who were protected by a long churchyard wall and stationed in houses along the main street, suffering heavy losses to the gunfire and pikes of the rebels.

After routing the cavalry, the rebels attacked the remainder of the garrison, which then began to pull back to the safety of the castle wall; this was mistaken by a newly arrived rebel column as an attack on them, causing them to flee in panic.

In confusion, the county commander, Lord O'Neill, trapped with his magistrates, was fatally wounded. A rebel attempt to seize the artillery was only narrowly beaten off by troops stationed behind the demense wall.

British reinforcements from Belfast arrived outside the town and, assuming it to be held by the rebels, began to shell it with their artillery.

This prompted more desertions, the rebel army began to disintegrate, but a small band protected their withdrawal under James Hope which fought a successful rearguard action from the church grounds along the main street, which allowed the bulk of the rebels to withdraw safely.

When the military entered the town, they began a spree of looting, burning and murder, of which the most enthusiastic perpetrators were reported to be the Monaghan militiamen, who were anxious to prove their loyalty and erase the shame of the recent executions of their comrades for sedition.

The loss of the Battle of Antrim was a massive blow to the 1798 rebellion, McCracken, Hope and their remaining supporters withdrew northwards, establishing camps to consider their next move.

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