The historical events which led up to the formation of the Yeomanry Corps in Ireland in 1796 had their roots in the American War of Independence, which had an important influence on Irish politics at that time.
Withdrawal of Irish troops to fight in America, and disruption of trade, led to a growing awareness of Ireland's grievances, which in turn led to greater pressure for reforms. The granting of parliamentary independence to the Irish Parliament in 1782 was followed by a period of comparative quiet, but Irish politics were stirred up again by the advent of the French Revolution in 1789, with its emphasis on liberty and equality. Pressure groups began to be formed, notably the Belfast Society of United Irishmen in 1791, with a fair following of Protestants mainly Presbyterians. The Dublin Society of United Irishmen followed in the same year, and in 1792 a Catholic Convention was held in Dublin with its main aim the abolition of the penal laws. These protest movements were partially successful, as a relief act was passed in 1793 which swept away many, though not all, of the disabilities.
Discontent, however, still persisted in the country, and the attempted suppression of pressure groups by the Government only served to drive the subversive element underground and to become even more highly organised. Realising this, the Government decided on more positive action, and in 1796 passed an insurrection act and encouraged the formation of a Yeomanry Corps, which were to be a paid home defence force under Government control.
It is of course the Yeomanry Corps of Co. Armagh that chiefly concern us in this article. Here the formation of these Corps was enthusiastically taken up, authority being granted by the War Office from Dublin Castle in 1796 and 1797, to prominent members of the local gentry. The following list gives the titles of the Yeomanry Corps (which were either Infantry or Cavalry) and their commanding officers:
|Ardress Infantry||Capt. Thomas Verner|
|Armagh Cavalry||Capt. The Earl of Charlemont|
|Beleek Rangers||Capt. Wm. Reed|
|Castledillon (Hockley) Infantry||Capt. Sir Capel Molyneux|
|Churchill Infantry||Capt. James Verner|
|Crowhill Infantry||Capt. J. Atkinson|
|Keady Cavalry||Capt. Lord Viscount Caulfeild|
|Killevy Cavalry||Capt. Jonathan Seaver|
|Lurgan Cavalry||Capt. William Brownlow|
|Mullaghglass Cavalry||Capt. Savage Hall|
|Portadown Cavalry||Capt. Archibald Eyre Obins|
|Richhill Cavalry||Capt. William Richardson|
|Seagoe Infantry||Capt. William Blacker|
|Summerisland Infantry||Capt. W. Clarke|
|Upper Orior Cavalry||Capt. Ogle|
|Markethill Cavalry||Capt. the Hon. Archibald Acheson|
|Tandragee Cavalry||Capt. J. B. Sparrow|
|Tynan Infantry||Capt. Rev. James Stronge|
There is also some evidence that Corps were raised at Acton, Creggan, Drumbanagher and Newtownhamilton but the names of their commanding officers are not available.
The history of the Seagoe Yeomanry is of local interest and will serve as a typical example. The records show that the commanding officer at its formation was Capt. William Blacker of Carrickblacker, whose estate was situated two miles from Portadown, on the Portadown -Gilford Road. The original letter of authority to William Blacker from the War Office, Dublin Castle, dated 31st October, 1796 can be seen in Armagh Museum. This Seagoe corps was to consist of one Permanent Sergeant, three Sergeants and 100 rank and file.
A log book entitled "SEAGOE YEOMANRY JOURNAL OCCURRENCE AND MEMORANDUM BOOK, 1820" and Description Book of the Seagoe Yeomanry, gives quite a lot of information. Officers of the Corps were as follows:
- William Blacker of Carrick, Capt.
- John Watson of Drumgor, Lieut.
- Thomas Mathers of Drumgor, Lieut.
- Toulerton Lutten of Breagh, Permanent Sergeant.
- Parade days, Saturday and Sunday of each week.
On January 2nd 1797, the Corps marched to Charlemont Fort where they received their arms and accoutrements, returning via Armagh, a distance of at least 25 miles. On April 2nd of that year they marched to Dungannon and were reviewed with many other corps by Major-General the Hon. John Knox.
At Drumclogher Hill, Ballyhannon, the highest point in the neighbourhood a flagstaff 73 feet high was erected to serve as a rallying point to which the men were instantly to repair when an alarm was raised, indicated by the hoisting of a flag.
YEAR 1798. Hostilities broke out in the south on the 23rd May and on the 7th June the rebels attacked the town of Antrim but were dislodged by H.M. forces.
On the 10th June the Corps marched to Lisburn to cut off communication between the insurgents of the counties of Antrim and Down and to reinforce the King's troops.
The victory of Ballynahinch a week later crushed the hopes of the rebels and the Corps was ordered home. The day after their return, they were directed to occupy the village of Gilford as the area to the south was considered to be far from loyal. They remained there until the defeat and capture of the French at Ballinamuck in Co. Longford, (23rd September) put a final close to the rebellion.
YEAR 1799. Clothed and augmented to 211 men.
YEAR 1805. The Corps was increased into a Battalion of 311 men and became entitled to a permanent adjutant, Mr. Bushe of the 22nd Light Dragoons was appointed, but being removed, Capt. Thomas Woolsey was on the recommendation of Major Blacker, nominated to the situation.
YEAR 1815. A body of 130 rank and file of the Yeomanry, with a proportion of officers and sergeants, marched to Drogheda under the command of Capt. James Blacker and carried out the duty of the garrison for six weeks.
YEAR 1821. Issued with new uniforms. Each man was furnished with a printed copy of the Standing Orders and Regulations (copy in Armagh County Museum).
August 20th William Stuart, eldest son of the Lord Primate was appointed 1st Lieutenant in place of Lieut. John Calvert, deceased.
The officers of the Seagoe Yeomanry Corps from its formation in 1796 were as follows:
|William Blacker||appointed 31st Oct, 1796|
|Thomas Woolsey (Adjutant)||appointed 1805|
|Thomas Fulton||appointed 1st Dec, 1826|
|1st and 2nd Lieutenants:|
The Permanent Sergeant from the formation of the Corps was Tolerton Lutten (also spelt Lutton) who still held this position in 1815. On August 26th 1815, he was presented with a silver cup which is preserved locally. It is inscribed as follows:
The Gift of Lieut. Col. Blacker
to Mr. Tolerton Lutten.
In approbation of His conduct As Sergeant Major of the Seagoe Battalion of Yeomanry Since its formation in 1796. During the most eventful and trying years recorded in the Annals of Europe.
Presented August 26th 1815.
As far as can be ascertained, the Seagoe Corps of Yeomanry never fired a shot in anger. There are few recorded incidents in which they were engaged. In 1798 they formed a guard at the execution of Henry Monroe the Adjutant-General of the insurgents in Market Square Lisburn (Henry Monroe was a linen merchant of Lisburn and was hanged in his native town, almost opposite his own house).
The Seagoe Yeomanry were under the command of Lieut. Col. William Blacker who recorded the event in his diary and described in detail the last minutes in the life of Monroe.
Another incident which indirectly affected the Corps was that one Alexander Bell, who was a member of the Corps, murdered a man named Birmingham on a farm outside Portadown and was executed by hanging for this crime on the Common, Portadown, somewhere in the area where St. Mark's church now stands.
The Irish Yeomanry Corps started to decline after 1812 and finally died out about 1844 though most of them ceased to exist long before this date. A number of the Corps started as cavalry but eventually became infantry. As cavalry they cost too much to maintain and it had been proved in the 1798 rebellion that horses not fully trained to the sound of gunfire, were liable to bolt at the sound of the first shot on the battlefield.
The Yeomanry Corps were formed at a time when civil war seemed inevitable and not far distant. They were first formed in Co. Tyrone and afterwards all over Ireland and their numbers eventually rose to 50,000 men. To them, probably more than to the regular forces which were weak and scattered, is due the suppression of the 1798 Rebellion.