#OTD in 1798 – United Irishmen Rebellion: The Battle of Antrim.

Henry Joy McCracken issued a proclamation calling for the United army of Ulster to rise. The initial plan met with success, as the towns of Larne, Ballymena, Portaferry and Randalstown (captured by James Dickey) were taken and the bridge at Toome damaged to prevent the government rushing reinforcements into Antrim from west of the Bann. The rebels then assembled at Donegore Hill in preparation for the march and attack on Antrim town where an emergency meeting of the county’s magistrates called by the county governor, Lord O’Neill, was due to take place.

Although almost 10,000 rebels assembled at Donegore, many displayed reluctance for the coming fight and stayed on the hill in reserve or deserted later so that probably fewer than 4,000 actually took part in the attack. The United Irishmen in Ulster were mostly Presbyterian but were joined with Catholic Defenders and the tension between the two groups on the march may have caused some desertions. These difficulties led to a loss of momentum and the attack was delayed. McCracken was forced to make adjustments to his plan of attack which had envisaged a simultaneous overwhelming assault on the town from four separate points.

The British won the battle, beating off a rebel attack on Antrim town following the arrival of reinforcements but the county governor, Lord O’Neill, was fatally wounded. When the military entered the town they began a spree of looting, burning and murder of whom the most enthusiastic perpetrators were reported to be the Monaghan militia who were anxious to prove their loyalty and expunge the shame of the recent executions of their comrades for sedition. McCracken, Hope and their remaining supporters withdrew northwards establishing camps of ever dwindling size along the route of their retreat until news of the defeat at Ballynahinch caused their final dispersion.

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