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Battle of the Diamond

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The Battle of the Diamond (Irish: Cath na Cearnóige) was a violent confrontation between the Catholic Defenders and a Protestant faction including Peep o' Day Boys, Orange Boys and local tenant farmers that took place on September 21, 1795 near Loughgall, County Armagh, Ireland. The Protestants were the victors, killing between 4 and 30 Defenders. It led to the foundation of the Orange Order.

Background

The background to the so called "Battle of the Diamond"[1] was the increase of Irish republicanism stimulated primarily by the United Irishmen, which endangered the whole body of the landed gentry. This fear to their privileged position was also compounded by the proposals of the English Moderate Whigs with concessions to the upper stratum of the Catholic community, and that the English “Liberals” proposed to buy over the wealthier and more moderate Catholics. [2]

The “Castle clique” of the Protestant Ascendancy retorted "by rousing up the more ignorant, debased, corrupt, and reactionary stratum," according to T. A. Jackson. The objective was to create disunity and disorder under pretence of "passion for the Protestant religion". This view was shared by John Mitchel, who wrote “The chief object of the Government was now to invent and disseminate fearful rumours of intended massacres of all the Protestant people by the Catholics." [3] As a result of the efforts and influence of the United Irishmen, sectarian divisions were being replaced by political unity. Religion therefor was the last option left to the reactionaries, and to stock the traditional fear of the Papacy and hostility to the Catholic religion. [2][3] Dr. Daniel Owen Madden says of this period:

Efforts were made to infuse into the mind of the Protestant feelings of distrust to his Catholic fellow-countrymen. Popish plots and conspiracies were fabricated with a practical facility, which some influential authorities conceived it no degradation to stoop to; and alarming reports of these dark confederations were circulated with a restless assiduity. [4]

County Armagh, where the population was fairly evenly divided between the sects, had been for years the site of intermittent faction fighting between Protestant Peep-of-Day Boys and Catholic Defenders. This had subsided under the influence of United Irish agitation. [3] When the pro-Catholic reformer Earl FitzWilliam was appointed Viceroy, the Peep-of-Day Boys, after nearly two years of quiescence, suddenly resumed their activity. Jackson notes that it was “impossible to miss the connection between this fact and the lie deliberately circulated by the Clare-Beresford faction that Fitzwilliam was coming to replace Protestant ascendancy with Catholic ascendancy.” [2]

The most reactionary Protestant magistrates in County Armagh took advantage of the renewed disturbances to search Catholic homes for “seditious literature”. The Peep-of-Day Boys also began again to “search” Catholic homes for “concealed arms” although it was now legal for Catholics to possess arms. The Defender’ re-organised and began beating off the Peep-of-Day Boys attacks; these “defences” were then described as “Catholic outrages”. Such outrages brought fresh searches for evidence of “sedition” to be followed by a spread of anti-Catholic violence to areas previously peaceful. [2] Ruth Dudley Edwards has stated that the Catholic Defenders might have been better known as the “Aggressors”.[5] According to Marianne Elliott, Defenders regularly attacked Protestant homes.[6]

Within weeks a regular pogrom was in force in Armagh and the neighbouring counties. The victims, fleeing from their burning homes, spread panic throughout Ireland. The motive actuating this “Protestant” villainy, according to Jackson, became unmistakable when it was seen that it was the most improved farms, on the best land, which were first attacked, and whose occupants were first offered the alternative of “To hell or to Connaught”. [7] Jackson continued: “Poor and struggling Catholic farmers scratching a living from a stony hill-top farm rarely, if ever, excited Protestant zeal even in the heart of Antrim”. [8]

Battle of the Diamond

This pogrom artificially worked-up culminated, on September 21, 1795, in the incident which came to be known as the “Battle of the Diamond,” and which has taken a front place in Orange Order mythology ever since. [7]

Several writers, according to John Mitchel, have alleged that the Catholics invited this conflict by a challenge sent to the Orangemen. Mitchel continues:

the [Protestants], having abundance of arms, and being sure of the protection of the magistrates, were not slow to accept such an invitation; but nothing can be more absurd than to term the affair a 'battle'. Not one of the Orange party was killed or wounded. Four or five Defenders were killed, and a proportionate number wounded; and this is the glorious battle that has been toasted at Orange banquets from that day to the present." [7]

The “myth-version”, suggests Jackson, is that a group of “peaceful” Protestants was set upon by a multitude of “cowardly” Catholics whom "the brave Protestants routed with great slaughter." The truth, vouched for by contemporary Protestant testimony, writes Jackson, is that a semi-secret assembly of Catholics in the hills was sniped persistently by Protestant sharpshooters; that this brought on random fighting, which lasted for several days. It was ended only after the intervention of a Protestant magistrate and a Catholic priest. [8] The Catholics, it should be noted, were almost entirely unarmed, while the Protestants were an organised and armed force. [3]

According to Robert Kee's account, a large party of Defenders attacked a party of Peep-of-Day Boys and got the worst of it, leaving twenty or thirty corpses on the field. The incident, "which in itself constituted nothing new," is a historical landmark, according to Kee, since it led the Peep o’ Day Boys to reorganise under a new name, the Orange Society.[1][9]

Mr. Emmet describes the affair as such:

The Defenders were speedily defeated with the loss of some few killed and left on the field of battle, besides the wounded, whom they carried away. The Catholics, after this, never attempted to make a stand, but the Orangemen commenced a persecution of the blackest dye. They would no longer permit a Catholic to exist within the country. They posted up on the cabins of these unfortunate victims this pithy notice, “To Hell or Connaught”, and appointed limited time in which the necessary removal of persons and property was to be made. If, after the expiration of that period, the notice had not been complied with, the Orangemen assembled destroyed the furniture, burned the habitations, and forced the ruined families to fly else where for shelter ... While these outrages were going on, the resident magistrates were not found to resist them, and in some instances were even more than inactive spectator. [10][11]

But the Orangemen, writes Mitchel, by no means confined themselves to mere forcible ejectment of their enemies. He states that "many fearful murders were committed on the unresisting people; and what gives perhaps the clearest idea of the persecution is the fact that seven thousand persons were estimated in the next year to have been either killed or driven from their homes, in that one small county alone." [1][12]

Aftermath

That same night September 21, 1795 a body of magistrates, squires, squireens, and parsons in County Armagh met together and formed the Mother Lodge of the Orange Society. [3] Under a pretext of fervour for law, order, and the Protestant religion an oath-bound secret society on the Masonic model was organised, which, in practice, "proved a fomenting centre, as well as a cloak of protection, for the organised knavery into which the Peep-of-Day Boys had degenerated." [8]

The Orange Order became an "organised conspiracy of all the most degenerate reactionaries" and were used as an instrument to break up the solidarity prompted by the United Irishmen, [3] and to replace the struggle for democratic advance by "disintegrating it into an embittered war of sect against sect, from which the only ones to profit were the Clare-Beresford clique in Dublin Castle and their hangers-on of every social grade." [8]

R.H. Wallace state that the first Orangemen did not sympathise with the Peep-of-Day Boys or wreckers and never allowed them to join the Orange Institution.[13] Mervyn Jess has stated that some Peep-of-Day Boys might have “slipped through the net” but if so they found themselves in a vastly different organisation.[14] There is evidence according to Jess, that the Orange Order in fact evolved out of the Orange Boys society which had been formed in County Tyrone in 1792 by James Wilson.[15] Ruth Dudley Edwards notes that Wilson was present at the Battle of the Diamond and became one of the first Orangemen. The Irish Volunteering movement (set up in the late 18th century to defend Ireland from possible French attack) she says, was another source of members and inspiration to the early Orange Institution, [5] and that Orangemen were among the first to contribute to repair funds for Catholic property damaged in the violence surrounding the United Irishmen rebellion of 1798.[16]

Shortly after the Order's establishment, the Governor of Armagh, Lord Gosford, gave his opinion of the new group to a meeting of magistrates: "It is no secret that a persecution is now raging in this country… the only crime is… profession of the Roman Catholic faith. Lawless banditti have constituted themselves judges…" However, whoever the Governor believed were the “lawless banditti” they could not have been Orangemen according to Wallace, as there were no lodges in existence at the time of his speech.[17] Against the background of the seditious activity of the United Irishmen, the government backed the Orange Order from 1796. Thomas Knox, British military commander in Ulster, wrote in August 1796, "We must to a certain degree uphold them, for with all their licentiousness, on them we must rely for the preservation of our lives and properties should critical times occur."[18]

In the Irish House of Commons, on the 20th of February, 1796, Henry Grattan observed:

"...that of these outrages he had received the most dreadful accounts. Their object was, the extermination of all the Catholics of that county". He described it as " a persecution conceived in the bitterness of bigotry—carried on with the most ferocious barbarity by a banditti, who, being of the religion of the state, had committed, with greater audacity and confidence the most horrid murders, and had proceeded from robbery and massacre to extermination! They had repealed by their own authority all the laws lately passed in favour of the Catholics had established in the place of those laws the inquisition of a mob, resembling Lord George Gordon's fanatics—equalling them in outrage, and surpassing them far in perseverance and success. These insurgents call themselves Orange Boys or Protestant Boys, that is, a banditti of murderers, committing massacre in the name of God, and exercising despotic power in the name of liberty.[19]

Jackson, evaluating the Orange Society, writes "it was founded to disrupt and destroy the United Irishmen and the Defenders. One functioned as a great liberating force, and the other as a tenants’ protection league and an agrarian trade union." The Orange lodges functioned as a "union-smashing" force, operating in the interest of an oligarchical clique threatened by a revolutionary-democratic advance. They constituted, Jackson contends, "the first Fascist body known in history." [8]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Robert Kee, Vol I, pg.71
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 T. A. Jackson, pg. 142-3
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 John Mitchel, Vol I, pg.392
  4. Robert R Madden, The United Irishmen: Their Lives and Times Vol 1, Richard R. Madden, James Duffy (Dublin 1857), Pg.99, cited in John Mitchel’s History of Ireland
  5. 5.0 5.1 Ruth Dudley Edwards: The Faithful Tribe, page 229. Harper Collin, London, 2000.
  6. Marianne Elliott: The Catholics of Ulster: A History. New York, Basic Books. 2001. Page 241.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 John Mitchel, Vol I, pg.393
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 T. A. Jackson, pg. 144-5
  9. The colour orange having long been a popular symbol with which to celebrate the victory of William of Orange over James II a century before.Kee cited
  10. Pieces of Irish History, Emmet, cited by John Mitchel, History of Ireland Vol I, pg. 393
  11. For the time being the Orangemen remained a crude organization, successors to the Peep o’ Day Boy turning Catholics out of their homes with great brutality that often ended in murder. An alternative was to affix to the doors of Catholics such threats as ‘To Hell — or Connaught’ or ‘Go to Hell —Connaught won’t receive you — fire and faggot, Will Thresham and John Thrustout.” Those Catholics thus ‘papered’, as it was called, seeing the barbarous punishments inflicted on those who did not obey, usually took the hint and left for Connaught. Kee cited
  12. Mr. Plowden, cited by Mitchel and who was as hostile to the Defenders as any Orangeman, says from five to seven thousand. Also cited are O’Connor, Emmet, and MacNeven, in their Memoirs of the Union, say seven thousand driven from their homes.
  13. Col. R.H. Wallace, History of the Orange Order: The Formative Years 1795-1798 in , pages 19-20 and 126. GOLI Publications, Belfast, 1994.
  14. Mervyn Jess. The Orange Order, page 18, 20. The O’Brian Press Ltd. Dublin, 2007
  15. Mervyn Jess. The Orange Order, page 17. The O’Brian Press Ltd. Dublin, 2007
  16. Ruth Dudley Edwards: The Faithful Tribe, pages 236-237. Harper Collin, London, 2000.
  17. Col. R.H. Wallace, History of the Orange Order: The Formative Years 1795-1798 in The Formation of the Orange Order 1795-1798, page 37. GOLI Publications, Belfast, 1994.
  18. Thomas Bartlett , Kevin Dawson, Daire Keogh ,pg. 44
  19. The United Irishmen: Their Lives and Times Vol 1, Richard R. Madden, James Duffy (Dublin 1857), Pg.101

Sources

  • Ireland Her Own, T. A. Jackson, Lawrence & Wishart, Fp 1947, Rp 1991, ISBN 0 85315 735 9
  • History of Ireland, from the Treaty of Limerick to the Present Time (2 Vol), John Mitchel, James Duffy 1869
  • The Most Distressful Country, Vol I, The Green Flag, Robert Kee, Quartet Books, Fp 1972, Rp 1983, ISBN 0 7043 3089 X
  • The 1798 Rebellion: An Illustrated History, Thomas Bartlett , Kevin Dawson, Daire Keogh, Roberts & Rinehart, 1998 ISBN 1-57098-255-4
  • The United Irishmen: Their Lives and Times (Vol 1), Richard R. Madden, James Duffy (Dublin 1857)
  • The Faithful Tribe, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Harper Collin, London, 2000
  • The Orange Order, Mervyn Jess, The O’Brian Press Ltd. Dublin, 2007
  • History of the Orange Order: The Formative Years 1795-1798, R.H. Wallace, GOLI Publications, Belfast, 1994
  • The Catholics of Ulster: A History, Marianne Elliott, Basic Books (New York 2001).

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