Wednesday, 2 November 2011

United Irishmen

Formed in Belfast in 1791 The United Irishmen was formed to get equal Parliamentary representation for all people in Ireland. However, it soon became a 'Republican' Movement, demanding Home Rule for Ireland, and was opposed by the Government. By 1798 the Government had effectively quashed any possibility of insurrection, including winning the 'Battle of Antrim', an attack on the town on 7th June of that year. Fifty to sixty men from middle and lower Island Magee took part. They had assembled at the foot of Knowhead brae, and had set off in marching order. However, we have the following vignette recorded by Dixon Donaldson in his History of Island Magee:

As the company had just disappeared from view, a man, named Andrew McIlhagga was seen hurrying forward from the opposite direction, carrying over his shoulder a long thorn stick to which he had tied one of the blades of a pair of sheep shears, while the other blade, stuck in his belt, "might come in handy", as he said, "at close quarters". While pausing to get his breath, an old "lady of the road", who had been an onlooker, took off her garters and tied the man's trousers below the knee, which, she remarked, would enable him to run easier. She then dismissed him with - "Noo, stretcht yer shanks tae the road and see and fecht for ye're wife and waens the day ma man".

This colourful story may tell us something about the men who determined to 'take' the important town of Antrim, one of whom was for some reason late in joining them, but our main interest is in asking what it might tell us about our clan? Here is a man of whom I have not heard before, who appears to be from middle or lower Island Magee, one Andrew McIlhagga - and note with interest our present-day spelling of his surname. If the woman who lost her garters actually knew him then it appears that he had a wife and children. In any case he was old enough to fight and was possibly in his mid-twenties. If so, he would have been born about 1760-65. He could well have been a son of Nathaniel McIllhago who seems to have relinquished his land lease in Ballytober in 1770, so providing us with a name for a generation between him and siblings James and Samuel, though alternatively he could have been a son of Samuel. Perhaps he was from a separate, though related family on Island Magee or on the nearby 'mainland'.

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