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Opinion

1798 'summer soldiers recalled'

THE following article was contributed on this day by the well known historian of the United Irishmen in Down, Colin Johnston Robb.

IN THE turbulent days of the 1798 Rebellion, men, women and even boys were to be seen in the fields of rendezvous in Antrim and Down.

A Presbyterian minister who was present at the Rebel Camp Creevy Rocks, near Saintfield, has left us this picture in the columns of the Belfast Magazine: 'Here were assembled a motley crew of men and boys, women and children. From this rendezvous orderlies were despatched to summon the county to turn out in arms. I was privileged with a sight of two of these messengers.

One of them on horseback, clad in green, traversed the neighbourhood and, with sword in hand, commanded the youth in the name of the nation to turn out and fight for their country's rights. Another, on foot, or rather in disguise, privately whispered his errand to such as he thought he might venture to trust. The battle to which this poor fellow warned others was fatal to himself; for he was blown to pieces by a cannon ball.'

One of these boys who mustered there on that day was Sidney Hamilton Rowan, second son of the celebrated Archibald Hamilton Rowan, the secretary of the Dublin United Irish Society who was himself son of Gawen Hamilton of Killyleagh Castle, County Down. In a letter to Alexander Robb of Ballybeen, Comber, he recalled the events of the 1798 rising in County Down. It is headed 'Chatham, September 10, 1813': 'I was but a small boy of nine years when the late rebellion broke out in the County Down. My poor father was an exile, his only crime against the British constitution being that of his love and devotion to the Kingdom of Ireland and the just rights of her common people. 'So it was that I, fired by his patriotic views, found myself at the Rebel Camp at Creevy Rocks on the night of June 8, 1798, the eve of the Battle of Saintfield. To there I repaired with two other boys from the Down School so that I might have it to say that I was at the glorious fight for the freedom of Ireland. The patriots were there in their thousands from Portaferry to Bangor. They were mostly in their Sunday best but quite a few had green jackets faced with yellow. 'Harry Monroe, their leader was as gay as a peacock in his long-tailed coat of green with yellow facings alas! Poor Harry. Mr Birch, the Minister of Saintfield, was there too and gave much comfort to all the men of the Dissenters and these were many. 'The morning of the ninth day was a fine one as indeed were all the days of that fateful summer. I well recall going to the Windmill Hill above Saintfield to witness the advance of the Royalists under the command of Colonel Stapylton from Newtown [Newtownards]. In the haze of the summer forenoon the blazing houses of many farmers marked the way of advance for Stapylton was a man who exercised his military authority.' (Sent home, Sidney Hamilton Rowan later obtained a commission in the North Down Militia. When Downpatrick Jail was enlarged in 1831, Captain Hamilton was appointed governor. He died in 1847 and is buried in Killyleagh Presbyterian churchyard.)

Edited by Eamon Phoenix e.phoenix@irishnews.com

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