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

The Battle of Ballynahinch was fought outside Ballynahinch, Co Down, between British forces led by Major-General George Nugent and the local United Irishmen led by Henry Munro.

Munro was a Lisburn linen merchant and Presbyterian United Irishman who had no military experience but had taken over command of the Down organisation following the arrest of the designated leader, Rev. Willam Steel Dickson on 5 June. Upon hearing of the victory at Saintfield on 9 June, Munro joined the rebel camp there and then moved to Ednavady Hill, Ballynahinch to join the thousands who had gathered in support of the rebellion. The response of the British garrisons was to converge on Ballynahinch from Belfast and Downpatrick in two columns accompanied by several pieces of cannon.

Munro escaped the field of battle but was betrayed by a farmer who he had paid to conceal him and was hanged in front of his own house in Lisburn on 16 June. Ballynahinch was sacked by the victorious military after the battle with sixty-three houses being burned down. Cavalry scoured the surrounding countryside for rebels, raiding homes and killing indiscriminately, the 22nd Dragoons being guilty of some of the worst atrocities. The most famous victim was Betsy Gray, a young female rebel who, with her two brothers, was slaughtered in the post-battle massacre, ensuring her place in legend to this day.

Because of his family’s involvement in this event, Robert Stewart, the future Lord Castlereigh, was made chief secretary of Ireland.

Image: Cover of W. G. Little’s classic novel Betsy Gray or, Hearts of Down

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