Opinion

The man from God knows where

THE story of Thomas Russell (1767-1803), 'The Man from God Knows Where', who raised the standard of Robert Emmett at the Buck's Head, near Loughinisland, Co Down, is well known. Russell was a member of a county family, being the son of John Russell of Betsborough, County Cork. According to the register of Kilshanick Episcopal Church, he was born in 1769.

Joining the army as an ensign, he went with his regiment to Jamaica in 1782 where he was slightly wounded. Returning to Ireland with his unit in 1786 he was quartered at Dublin, Belfast and Armagh where he was a frequent visitor at Gosford Castle. He retired with the rank of captain.

How Russell embraced the United Irish cause and was held at Fort George in Scotland is well known. Apart from raising the standard of revolution at the Buck's Head Inn, Russell had returned to Ireland contrary to the terms of his pardon. He was charged with High Treason at Downpatrick and found guilty.

It was arranged that Matthew Forde, High Sheriff of Co Down, would stand by the condemned man but, being a relative, he nominated his agent, David Gordon. Gordon recalls Russell's last hours: "The Rev Mr Forde came to his place of confinement at six o'clock in the morning and he received the Sacrament and again, about 10 minutes before the hour of execution. He had hot coffee and oatcake and made a fair repast. "When the sub-sheriff and his hangman arrived, he turned pale, adding: 'I am ready' and with that we all walked to the place of execution within the Gaol gateway. The hangman then removed the casks and poor Tom was gone, after a short struggle, to eternity. "After an hour hanging, his body was cut down and the hangman cut off his head on the block and, lifting it, exclaimed: 'Behold the head of a traitor. God bless the King.' The great multitude gathered round and the military on guard in one voice said: 'Amen.' "Poor Tom's body was buried in the yard of the Abbey Church. There was something in the death of Russell, for he died for his country, not as an officer of the King but as a patriot." (The other two insurgents executed with Russell were James Drake and James Curry. They were all buried in the 'Criminals Plot' where a stone bearing the inscription, 'The Grave of Russell' was placed by Mary Ann McCracken, sister of the executed Henry Joy who revered Russell in life.)

Edited by √Čamon Phoenix e.phoenix@irishnews.com

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