Particulars of history of a North County Irish family
The messenger however obtained a reversal of the order to drive under the gallows and had permission to drive me to the Inn for breakfast and conveyance from thence to ‘solitary confinement’ at the house of Doctor McCheney opposite the Donegal Arms, which latter had been converted into a Provost Prison. At my worthy friends the Doctors I was accommodated with a drawing room and bed chamber and a guard of Fifeshire Fencibles and through the management of the owner of the house and connivance of the guards, I was favoured with the company of some friends, from whom I received the account of the wanton destruction and conflagration of my father’s property, the burning of part of the town of Ballymoney including my venerated Aunts Ball’s house and property. She had packed her little plate, two gold watches and some fine laces in a box and buried it in the yard
This was miraculously saved, though the watches were injured and the plate tarnished. All my troubles hither were nothing compared to this information and I now for the first time learned that my brother Richard then in his eighteenth year had been chosen General and placed at the head of a considerable number of undisciplined and but very partially armed men, in fact an almost ungovernable mass, whose character may be appreciated from the very circumstances of their choosing a young lad of Richards age to command them. However he did what older and more experienced Generals have failed to do, for he kept up the strictest system of subordination and during his short possession of the Town of Ballymoney after the King’s troops had fled to Colerain, he not only protected the properties and person of such loyalist as remained from the fury of the exasperated mob, but throughout his march to Ballymena preserved the strictest order and even punished one of his men, who was detected in stealing two fowl from a barnyard.
What a contrast was the conduct of the youthful rebel chief to that of the veteran martinets of the Royal army, who burned and destroyed whatever came in their way and involved in one promiscuous ruin the innocent , the unoffending and the guilty, not even exempting ‘suspected’ females. Sometime previous to June 1798, Richard had left home, his destination totally unknown to our father and sisterswho were not alarmed at his absence as it was his frequent practice to visit salt works and to attend the linen market without giving them particular notice of his whereabouts. Nor dare he have told his father, as the latter was not a United Irishman and knew nothing of their doings, which was concealed from all but the initiated.
On the morning of that woeful and eventful day, whilst my father, sisters Catherine, Mary, Margaret and Elizabeth and my brother William, the two latter being children, were at the breakfast table, Major Bacon and a party of officers ascended the hill and were invited to breakfast by my father in his usual hospitable manner. They had frequently partaken of these courtesies when scouring the county for arms and on this occasion my father had supposed them to be on a like excursion and never harboured an idea that men in civilises life and most of them in the garb of gentlemen would break the bread, drink the cup and partake of the salt of those against whom they carried a commission of destruction. However on this occasion I believe they declined the invitation. I have already said that my father was not a United Irishmen, nor did he know their secrets, nor to what extent his beloved son was engaged or how deeply he was involved, but he had felt many parental pangs at his frequent attendance of late at nocturnal meetings of the direct object of which he was kept in ignorance and when he heard distant innuendoes of a rising, he bewailed the folly and infatuation of the multitude also to heart breaking, from which as he represented to theme whenever he had the opportunity, nothing would result but slaughter and death and the longer postponement of the triumph of liberty and freedom, which he had so frequently told them, would be ultimately obtained by peaceable perseverance in the great cause of Parliamentary Reform and its attendant blessing.
This finding him adverse to their proceedings and probably fearful of his influence, they withdrew such part of their confidence as he might have possessed and left him totally in the dark as to their affairs. Still many of those who sought his advice followed his council in throwing their pikes into the River Bann within half a mile of his the dwelling. Major Bacon then calling my father out to the lawn in front of the house pulled out a paper from his pocket and without exhibiting that tinge or feeling of shame, which have probably suffused the check of even a hostile Irishman, for the Manx felt no qualm of conscience, abruptly told his victim that this paper contained an order from Lord Henry Murray, the Military Commander of the district, to burn his house and premises and destroy his property, but that as a special favour he would grant him five minutes to bring out his family and to suit the action to the word this military hero held his watch in his hand. This benign order being issued, that presence of mind, which is only seen and felt on such occasions by souls of a superior stamp operated on my father and he instantly returned to the breakfast parlor and announced to his innocent and unsuspecting family the fate, which had gone forth, and urged them to come out on the lawn and save themselves from destruction, for in a few minutes there all would be in conflagration.
The warning was in a moment acted upon and with desperate alacrity and austerity without fainting or hysteric fits, the tea tray and equipage together with the very few pieces of plate within reach, together with the immediate furniture of the room, were huddled from the already ignited house onto the lawn, whilst our affectionate and intrepid Catherine hastened up the narrow stairway to save the infant son of our elder sister Flora, who was happily at Bushbank with her Uncle. The child was hurried to the lawn by my brother William then a boy of nine years old, and was cared for by one of the cottiers, who fortunately had ventured to the hill, to render his or her assistance to their dear Masters family and it was not known for some time what had become of the child.
Catherine’s next object was to preserve a certain chest of drawers, which contained some of the house and the whole of the linen prepared by our elder sister for her approaching accouchement. This chest with supernatural strength she pushed forward and down two or three steps of the stairs, when the smoke from the burning straw and hay filled every apartment and had so nearly suffocated poor Catherine that with difficulty she was dragged over the chest to safety, whilst it was left with all the linen, the labour and savings of years left to it fate. Within the allotted few minutes, which time was needed to bring hay and straw from the barn,, the humble and comfortable dwelling, the seat of genuine hospitality, whose door was never closed to the distressed nor shut on the afflicted, with the office [stables], houses, barns, stock of hay grain etc. were in flames.
The weather being remarkably dry, everything was soon consumed, so that scarcely had the mind time to reflect on the proceeding until the conflagration ceased and the smoke proclaimed to the affrighted neighbourhood that the mansion, of that friends, who had on so many occasions advised them to peace and submission to the law and who had persuaded them to throe there instrument of destruction into the Bann, was the first domicile devoted to the fury of a cruel and unprincipled faction and that this very man, the advocate of the oppressed and the protector of the poor, was now himself with his family sacrificed to the jealousy and hatred of upstart, petty tyrants, whose frauds on the public he had ever opposed and whose insolence of office he had on all occasion endeavoured to check and keep within bounds.
For to the false representations of these reptiles was Lord Henry Murray, as he afterwards avowed, induced to issue the burning order. The ostensible reason was the rebellion of his son Richard, thus as he afterwards told Lord Henry reversing the order of the Decalogue,, but the real cause is already explained and might further be elucidated in his unbending integrity and unyielding love of justice and the consequent esteem of the enlightened and virtuous. Bacon, ever after called the ‘Burning Bacon’, then started to destroy the bleach works and the cloths on the green, but it was represented that some of their own friends, had sent some linen to bleach, so this discriminating Manx Patriot, who could not be moved to compassion by the sight of an aged parent surrounded by the groups of his four innocent daughters and one little boy, was graciously pleased to relent from his purpose on the bleach works and green, for which forbearance he claimed credit. But my father told him he was perfectly indifferent as to his further proceedings, being determined to appeal for such redress from the laws of the country as the violence and outrage merited. Alas he little knew the weight and power beyond the law, which was leagued against him. There he stood with his family in a state of apathy silently gazing on the dying embers of there once happy home. After the departure of the armed banditti, when they were left alone, a realization of their situation so woe worn, so forlorn and deserted came over them, accompanied however with gratitude to heaven for their personal safety.
At this critical moment their worthy neighbour James Hunter, one of the Society of Friends whose residence was half a mile distant, came running across the fields. His presence was cheering, his countenance portrayed sympathy and benevolence, and he spoke words of comfort and life, the Good Samaritan he brought with him wine to reanimate that heart, which but for the unprotected family around would mostly probably have cracked its strings. They then sat down on the grass, but unable to comfort or indeed speak to each other, every eye and feelings was directed to their father, every thought to his suffering and thus there remaining until roused by the arrival of their kind, steady and affectionate friend Mrs Perry, who drove out from the village on seeing the flames and brought a supply of various refreshment, wisely guessing how much they would be wanted. Her appearance and address tended to arouse them, wild, haggard and agitated she cried out "What ails you, you are not crying". She then burst into a hysterical laugh, which roused then from their own forlorn state and a hearty fit of crying brought them to a rational sense of their situation and a determination to exert themselves.
Their first effort was to fix a carpet they had saved over the double hedges planted by our father, and under this shelter they remained some days, being determined to stay together and avoid the risk of bringing persecution on any friend, who might afford an asylum, though our Aunt Ball and two cousins Ann and Flora, ventured to accept the pressing invitation of honest James Hunter of Ballinacree At length my father having ascertained from Lord Henry Murray that the bleach works would not be destroyed, set about fitting up parts of the lofts into lodgings and one sitting room and preformed the culinary operations in the place allowed for the bleachers working apartment and our Aunt having joined them, they once more enjoyed the shelter of a roof and felt thankful that things were not worse with them.