Important new book on United Irishmen researched and written during lockdown

AN Antrim historian has co-written a trail-blazing new study into the fallout from the United Irishmen rebellion.

Last year Stephen McCracken published ‘The Battle of Antrim: The Story of 1798’ to much critical acclaim, but now he has moved his focus to what happened next.

‘United Irishmen Emigres of Erin’ has painstakingly compiled the names and backgrounds of exiles and fugitives from the ill-fated uprising.

And it is a rich treasure trove for local historians, for 20 per cent of 600 biographies featured are from County Antrim.

“From the foundation of the United Irishmen in 1791 the Government led a crackdown against its members,” explained Stephen.

“It soon went underground and membership increased.

“At the same time there was a movement of people away from the shores of Ireland to America, France and other parts of the world.

“The United Irishmen rebellion escalated which led to numerous Irishmen to flee from Ireland or indeed were banished.

“This book is their story.”

Incredibly it was written and researched during lockdown, with his friend Colum O’Rourke.

Colum hails from County Wicklow and has been fascinated by the 1798-1803 period since his childhood.

His enduring interest in history carried on into his studies. He carried out a licensed non-intrusive metal detection at Vinegar Hill in early 2009 for his Applied Archaeology under-graduate thesis.

After spending several years in Australia, he returned to Ireland and established the 1798 Rebellion Casualty Database, with the intention of recording as many casualties of the 1798-1803 period available.

When complete, it will undoubtedly be a rich source for another revealing study on the period.

Among the people included in the book is Antrim man John Barr.

He was born in 1766 and was a participant in the Battle of Antrim on June 7 1798. In the ensuing clampdown, he fled to the United States.

Barr was recorded to have been a member of a Masonic Lodge, previously situated on Farranshane Road, the home area of William Orr, who was executed at Carrickfergus in October 1797.

Notes claim that the Antrim Lodge paid for Barr’s voyage and looked after him in the United States.

He is still remembered today by Antrim Masonic Lodge which is now situated in Antrim Town.

Barr settled at Sugar Grove Township, Warren County in Pennsylvania, erecting a house upon a summit of a hill, living with his wife, Sarah McFall.

The History of Warren County contains a small anecdote about Barr: ‘Among his personal possessions was an old-fashioned ‘bulls-eye’ watch, more weighty than accurate.

‘He was, for some reason, perpetually annoyed by questions as to the time of day, to which he invariably replied: ‘Six past nine, and be damned to ye’.

Barr died on January 9 1839 and was interred at Cherry Hill Cemetery.

George Gordon was also a native of Antrim Town and he too was implicated in the 1798 Rebellion.

He fled to New York to start a new life

During the War of 1812, he joined the ‘The Irish Blues’ which was a regiment raised by the Caldwells of Salisbury County.

Many were fellow ’98 exiles originally from Ballymoney.

Probably one of the biggest finds in the book was that the City of Denver was named after the grandchild of Patrick Denver who participated in the Battle of Ballynahinch.

The book is also full of ministers, doctors, printers and much else besides - all with fascinating stories to tell.

Quite an achievement when many traditional avenues of research were not available thanks to COVID-19.

“This work was compiled during the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 without any state archival assistance,” said Stephen.

“We relied heavily on county histories, 1798 publications, online newspaper subscriptions and applying genealogical techniques to delve deeper into the lives of these individuals.

“It was challenging but hugely rewarding.”

The book can be purchased from www.lulu.com or email stmccracken@hotmail.com.

Leave your comment

Share your opinions on Alpha Newspaper Group

Characters left: 1500

BREAKING