The Ulster Land War of 1770



The war was now at its height and a regular army ot troops was called into the field. The Crumlin agent wrote to Dublin in great trepidation calling for assistance. The following shows how he felt, free quarters are promised and a free attendance and a free meeting at “the place.”

Letter, H. L. Rowley to sir G. Macartney (Irish civil correspondence, No. 5844, Record Tower collection).

Dublin, 12th March, 1772.
I received an account by yesterday’s post that a number of the violent insurgents in the county of Antrim were, on Saturday night, at Moyra, Ballinderry, and other adjacent places, and tooke up all the fire arms from the inhabitants, making severall threats that on this night they were to be at Glenavy, and visit that neighbourhood. One of these rioters was heard to say great threatenings against the great mills built by Rowley Heyland, and said they would visit them. They are built on the river Cromlin, at Ballytromery, adjoyning lord Hertford’s estate, and are of great value, besides four or five thousand pounds’ worth of grain and flower now in the granerys. Should these be demolished, it would not only utterly mine mr. Heyland, but be a great publick loss to that part of the country. For these reasons I am very desirous to have half a company, with sufficient ammunition, sent to these mills to protect them and the adjacent country from the depradations of these people. Hercules Heyland, who is a majestrate, will attend the troops and officers sent, and provide quarters for them, and will meet them at the place. Moyra is within four or five miles of it; Lurgan abt sixteen; and Belfast abt the same distance. If orders for the soldiers coud be sent this night for them to goe there as soon as possible, it woud be of great service.
I am, Sr.,
Yr. most obdnt hble servt.,”
“Rt. honble. sr. G. Macartny.”

In several places the enraged people assembled in large bands, and stubbornly fought the troops sent to suppress them and take them prisoners. The following extracts give vivid accounts of these engagements. Of course they are mostly written by the garrison or their friends, which largely accounts for the “valour” displayed by the military.

An authentic extract of a letter from an officer in the army to his friend in Carlow, dated 25th March, 1772:–

“A few days ago a detachment belonging to the 55th regiment of foot came up to a considerable body of insurgents at a place called Clody, in the county of Derry, whereupon they immediately posted themselves on a hill, which was covered by a wood, under the protection of which they fired upon our troops, who returned it with the greatest intrepidity, though greatly inferior in numbers. At length, after an engagement of two hours, the enemy fled precipitately, leaving nine of their men dead upon the spot; we had only a few of our men slightly wounded. From thence we marched to Grange, in the same county, where we met a body of 2,500 of them, all well armed, who at first sight discharged their pieces at us, of which, however, only a few went off, owing to the wetness of the night. We returned their fire, and galled them so severely, that after a short resistance they retired in the greatest confusion, with the loss of seven killed and many more wounded. In the engagement I received a slug in my leg, by which I was slightly hurted. From Grange we proceeded to Tully, where we received intelligence that there was a body of upwards of 3,000 hearts of steel, which account proved groundless.”

This is quite in the military tone of the period one-man-slays-a-thousand style of writing, especially if he has a slug in his leg. The last sentence is probably quite true.

” Extract from a private letter from a gentleman in the county of Antrim, dated 29th March, 1772:–

“‘I have this inst. (Sunday morning, 12 o’clock) heard
of an engagement, of which the following are the particulars.

A gentleman near Ballymenagh [Ballymena] received a threatening letter last week from the hearts of steel, commanding him to leave a sum of money in a certain place. He took no notice of the first; they then sent a second, which had no effect; then the third, in a most gigantic, terrifying stile; but all to no purpose. They then sent him a fourth, telling him in so many hours if the money was not left as desired, they would burn hell and fire the devil, etc. This last he answered properly and with spirit; and as he did expect they would visit him, he had a serjeant and twelve men privately conveyed into the house. In a short time after the steel boys came and fired into the house. Meantime the serjeant and men stole out backwards unperceived, and came unexpected round on them with fixed bayonets, fired on them, killed one, wounded several others, and took two prisoners, who have since turned king’s evidence and impeached numbers. They were all in great confusion, and fled precipitately on seeing the soldiers. I suppose the place is now quieted.

Eleven o’clock, Monday night. This instant a report prevails, and is credited by the better sort of people, that Savage is taken. He cut one of the light dragoon’s hands almost off, and another down the back in a most terrible manner, upon their entering the house where he lodged; he is now said and believed to be in Omagh gaol.'”

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