The Ulster Land War of 1770



What of those who were driven from Ulster across the ocean, the “wild geese” of the north; the many thousands, tens of thousands, who were exiled from the land they had thought to live and die in? They were of the Gaelic race; had immigrated to Scotland from Ireland, and returned again, and were now forced to found that greater Ireland beyond the seas. In exile their wrath against the cruel treatment they had received in Ireland never cooled. Like the burning indignation, almost hatred, of the Irish driven to America in the famine years that we know of in more recent days, it was long in dying out. It grew, and grew, and came to a head at the revolution. Many English and Scotch settlers in America sided with the crown at that time, but no Irish were known to do so, whether they came from the south or the north, whether protestant or catholic. They were perfectly unanimous in their common hatred, and their sole desire was to strike a deadly blow against that tyranny in their new land which they and their forefathers had suffered from at home. At Bunker’s Hill, at Germantown, and at Yorktown, where the Ulster Irish carried all before them, they wiped out some of their sufferings when in Derry, Antrim, Armagh, and Down. The Pennsylvania regiments, largely composed of Ulstermen like Henry Knox and Anthony Wayne, bear a record not easily beaten in the whole of the long campaign of the revolution. The artillery of Knox, the bayonets of Wayne, the rifles of Morgan rise up with glory time and again during that eventful period. Stony Point was captured by an Irish rush, when the British ships were glad to slip their anchors and get safely away, although the fight was only on land, and the Irishman Barry, had, as yet, no American navy to command respect. Time and again we read of the bravery of Robinson, the gallantry of Stewart, the ability of Montgomery, and the chivalry of Thompson, all of Ulster stock, in the crush of angry hostilities. William Maxwell raised a whole battalion of infantry. John Dunlap, also an Ulsterman, first printed the declaration of independence, and subscribed 4,000 to the war funds. The Ulstermen unanimously stood to the American army in cash, not what they could spare, but every single dollar they possessed. If a Derry man or an Antrim man or a Down man was worth 5,000 dollars, he subscribed 5,000 dollars. That was not business, it was sentiment. Hard, bitter, cruel sentiment, and a deep-down determination to stand or fall by the destruction of British power in America. Such were the feelings of these Ulstermen in America towards the government which had driven them from Ireland, or had stood by and seen undertakers do so, backed up by all “the forces of law and order.” Such an impulse throbbed in the hearts of John McClure and his “Chester Creek Rocky Irish,” a set of sturdy north Carolina farmers, of Ulster extraction, and thrilled in the breast of the rev. James Caldwell, “the fighting parson,” and the rev. John Craighead, of Chambersburg, two presbyterian Ulster worthies, and men like doctor Cochrane and William M’Crea and Andrew Pickens. William Gregg commanded at Bennington, whilst colonel John White led on many heights. When Washington’s army was starving at Valley Forge, M’Clenachan subscribed £10,000; Sharp Delaney, from Monaghan, put up £5,000; John Murray, of Belfast, added £6,000; John Donaldson, of Dungannon, gave £2,000, as did James Caldwell; George Campbell, of Stewartstown, added £2,000, and another Caldwell, Samuel, added £1,000; John Nesbitt subscribed £5,000. Nor does this end the list; but enough is here given to show the spirit of Ulstermen when Washington’s army was almost compelled to leave the field. Eight names of Ulstermen are subscribed to the declaration of independence; one Charles Thompson was “perpetual secretary of the continental congress.” John Hancock, the first signer, and president of congress, was of Ulster stock. Thomas MacKean and Thomas Nelson, of a Strabane family, also signed. Other names are noted James Moore, of Lurgan; rev. John Murray and John Brown, both of Antrim; Ephraim Blaine, of Donegal; Hugh Holmes, William Erskine, Robert Rainey, Alexander Nesbitt, Oliver Pollock, Samuel Carson, and many others, all well-known Ulster names. These had all pledged themselves: “We do hereby solemnly engage and promise that we will, to the utmost of our power, at the risque of our lives and fortunes, with arms oppose the hostile proceedings of the British fleets and armies agains the united American colonies.” “To avoid oppression and cruel bondage,” and “to shun persecution and designed ruin,” these people had gone forth from Ireland; and so they determined to ran no further risks that way on American soil. In one place these Ulstermen decreed, regarding English loyalists, “that nothing may ever be done for those infernal wretches by this state further than to provide a gallows, halter, and hangman for every one that dare to show their vile coun- tenances amongst us.” There never was in England’s history such a comparatively obscure set of men who dealt her such a blow, and that deliberately. It was the Ulster emigrants, many of them hearts of steel, who supplied Washington with his best troops. They crowded into the army, and wherever any wavering or uncertain note in the cause of independence was heard, the Ulster Irish were the most bitter hi its sup- pression. On one occasion a thousand of them mounted and armed themselves each with a long rifle, a tomahawk, and a scalping knife, and dressed in buckskin hunting shirt, profusely ornamented with fringes and tassels and bead-work. On their heads they wore caps of coonskin, with tails hanging down behind in full Indian fashion. At King’s mountain they met the English bayonets, a thousand strong, with colonel Ferguson at their head. They left Ferguson and a great number of his men dead upon the field, inflicting the only defeat the English received in the Carolines. Mounting their ponies, they returned to their homes behind the moun- tains. The whole truth is that the greater part of the revo- lutionary army was Irish or of Irish descent, all smarting under the bitter wrongs their people had suffered under English rule in Ireland. The men and boys, women and children who sailed from Foyle and Bann and Carrick-road did not sail in vain; wherever a blow was to be struck, they were there; wherever a pound was wanted, theirs was the first offered; and thus, indeed, was brought about the belief that the oppression and wicked cruelty of one man, Donegall, did more than anything else to drive the English government out of America.

The blood of Ulster, coalesced with much southern blood in that struggle, what with the stubborness of the northerners and the dashing impetuosity of the southerners, victory was assured on many a battlefield.

Swordsmen of the south, for two generations and more after Limerick’s broken treaty, robbed of their inheritance, banned in their religion, also sailed away from the “doomed land.” The sheltered harbours of Kerry and Clare saw strange vessels under their headlands in the setting of the sun. Curraghs sped to and fro, taking Brian and Conor and Dermot on board; weeping eyes above sobbing breasts saw them sail away, until only a tiny speck upon the horizon, told heart-broken mothers that Clare’s dragoons or Inchiquin’s foot had other young recruits to join them on the shores of the Danube or the plains of France. Irish names were added high up on the roll of fame in France or Spain, or in the armies of Maria Teresa. Anywhere in the wide world where fame could be found Irishmen were there anywhere but in their own land. From time to time word was wafted to Ireland of the deeds of renown done in fair fight by the “wild geese” at Ramilles, or Cremona, or Marsiglia; or like Sarsfield at Landen; or against the Turk; or, greatest joy of all, crushing back the English at Fontenoy, hurling into their deafened and dying ears their own black apostacy in the cry–“remember Limerick.” And so England reaped abroad what she sowed at home, so far as Ireland was concerned, for “ye cannot gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles.”

The whistling ploughboy may turn up a human skull at Aughrim; the sower may stride free across the battlefields so numerous on Irish hillsides; the drover may shelter in abbey ruins or by castle walls; O’Neill may lie in Rome and O’Donnell in Spain, and newer Ulstermen in every eastern state of America; yet, for all that, the remnant at home is not unmindful of them, one and all, here or hence; their country will ever bear them in her memory in the place nearest to her heart.

Of this aspect of the question the famed Ulster historian,
George Hill, has embodied some thoughts in sweet verse.

By rev. George Hill.

LOUGH Neagh ! they used at close of day

Along thy silent strand,,
To watch the sun set far away,

O’er old Tir-Eoghan’s land;*
The fading light, how like the flight

Of hope from Inisfail–
From holy hill so green and bright,

From haunted wood and vale.
Sweet lake! thy face to them how dear,

With all thy pleasant shore;
And every year, in joy or fear,

They loved thee more and more;
Yet did they seek another home

Beyond the western main,
Where hope, in better days to come,

Might light their steps again.

They settled on the Hudson’s banks,

And prospered day by day;
They gladly joined the patriot ranks,

For stalwart lads were they.
And when the cry ‘gainst England rose,

They grasped their swords in glee,
And bravely smote their brutal foes,

And saw Columbia free.*

But oft, in after days, they turned,

With wistful glance and smile,
To see the “Day-Star” as it burned

Above their own Green Isle;
And often were their children told

Of Lough Neagh’s silent strand,
And of the sunset, spread like gold,

On old Tir-Eoghan’s land.

*Tir-Eoghan, the territory of Eoghan (Owen) O’Neil, the founder of the, great Tir-Eoghan principality in Ulster.
*The Antrim landlords had driven out the Emigrants in time to swell the ranks of the American colonists in their impending struggle with England. In that conflict one of the noblest on record in ancient or modern times the English allied themselves with the most cruel and ferocious of the Indian tribes; or, as Lord Chatham so eloquently told the Upper House, ” they called into civilised alliance the wild and inhuman inhabitants of the woods.” G. H

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