"It is much to be lamented that gentlemen of education, rank and talents are not more deeply impressed with the serious responsibility they incur by making violent speeches full of metaphysical expressions and appeals to physical force at agitation meetings. These are then read with avidity and taken up in their literal sense by an excitable populace who are ready to show by deeds and not by words only, that Irish party politics burn as fierce as ever."
In a society consumed by the debate over marches and demonstrations, the above comment could have been made at any time in the last couple of years. The fact that it was made over one hundred and fifty years ago by Lord Lurgan's agent, John Hancock, illustrates that such issues were as contentious then as now.
Hancock's remarks related to an incident at Derrytrasna cross-roads on 23 August 1845. A crowd of Orangemen had crossed the Bann from Maghery and marched to the cross-roads. The local Catholics, believing that Derrytrasna chapel was to be attacked, gathered on the road in front of the chapel in order to defend it. The details of the incident are best related by those from all sides who later submitted their evidence to Hancock.
I was coming from my work to my own house between eight and nine o'clock. I met a large party of about one hundred going from Derrytrasna towards the Bannfoot. They had two drums and a fife. I did not hear them shouting anything in particular but they were singing some songs on going along the road. Before I met the party I heard two shots fired at the Island Rampart but cannot tell who fired them.
I heard the drums beating on either side of the Bann and I went down to the Ferry. Shortly after two drums came from my uncle Robert Wilkinson's, but I did not know who had them. When the party came over on the ferry, I came up to them and went to Henry McCorry's public house and I sat and drank there all evening. Some of the party went up to 'Trasna and I remained with the rest. After ten o'clock we came out of McCorry's with the drums that remained and went onto the ferry to see the party over. I then came home.
I heard the drum beating on the other side of the Bann from about four o'clock until seven o'clock, when a party of men came to Bannfoot Village in which my house is situated. They had drums and fifes and some of them came to my house. Someone then proposed to go up to the Trasna - some agreed to go and some objected. I do not know who proposed to go for I was scared for fear of some harm being done but I sent Joseph Gibson after them to advise them not to go. About an hour and a half afterwards some of the party came to my house, but I did not know one of them.
My boy and I ferried a number of men with drums and fifes across the Bann - there were about forty people. The drums were beating from the ferry all the way up to Bannfoot. About twenty minutes afterwards I went up to Henry McCorry's and met some of this party, but I did not know any of them.
I was working for Henry McCorry of Derryinver. William Williamson was working along with me and told me the evening before that on Saturday the twenty-third, two or three lodges were to be over from the other side of the Bann and have a night of drinking at the Bann foot. A little boy at the fireplace said that only for David Turkington there would have been bad work at the cross- roads. One of the men made reply that the next time they would come they would give them a "redding up". When they said that they were coming up to 'Trasna chapel I understood them to mean it as a taunt and annoyance to the Catholics in that neighbourhood but not that they intended any injury to the chapel.
I was standing at the ferry and I saw the drum of our lodge come down to meet the others. They all went on lo the Island Rampart and then came back into the new Town and went into Henry McCorry's. After a little, I saw the fife and one drum coming out of McCorry's, playing a tune and going on towards Derrytrasna. I think some of them had got some whiskey. I advised them not to go, for fear they would be shot at. Some time after this, the party that were in McCorry's went down to the ferry with the drums. I saw them onto the boat and then came back with the other two drums to Wilkinson's. I am an Orangeman and belong to lodge 27.
I saw a large number of men coming from the ferry into the Bannfoot village with drums and fifes. They beat up towards the Island Rampart on the road leading to Derrytrasna. On passing through the new Town they fired three shots and then went into Henry McCorry's public house. A short time after, a party came out and shouted that they would go up and 'salute' Derrytasna chapel. I saw three sword staves with them and they brandished them over their heads in the party going up to the 'Trasna. About an hour and a half afterwards, some boys said that there was a great dispute up at 'Trasna and to gather the guns and go to their assistance. When the party came back they beat party tunes for a while and then went onto the ferry. Two boys shouted 'to Hell with the Pope' and 'no Repeal' and that McCaughley, a papist, had gone into my house and that they would pull him out of it. But it was Humphries' house. I barred my doors and windows and saw no more. However, they did not attempt to pull McCaughley out of either house.
From about three o'clock in the day until that night, I heard, at intervals, drums beating and shots firing. At about dusk I heard drums coming up towards Derrytrasna. I had been told that the Killyman Orangemen, the Birches men and Verner's men were determined to come over the Bann and wreck the chapel which has been lately erected near my house at Derrytrasna. I have charge of the chapel given to me by Fr. Morgan, the Parish Priest and when I heard the drums beating I was afraid that the party were coming for the purpose of doing damage to the chapel.
I collected seven other persons, who were also Catholics, and came to the cross-roads with turf-spades and graips and any weapon we could get, to prevent the Orangemen from coming nearer the chapel, which was about twenty perches behind us. When we got there the opposite party had come as far as David Turkington's house and were within two perches of us. The party were beating the drums until they came to Turkington's door, then they stopped.
We directed them not to come forward and said that if they did, we would put the graips into them. Richard Stevenson, David Turkington and his wife, together with my mother, all came in between the parties to make peace. One man spoke up from the crowd and said they would go forward. I made reply if he did I would let his guts out. Some person spoke from the crowd and asked what they would play and David Turkington's son, young David, made reply, 'Croppies lie down.' I think there might be from 100 to 150 persons in the crowd, and through the exertions of David Turkington, his wife and Richard Stevenson, the party returned to the Bannfoot without any more trouble.
I have since heard repeated reports that the party intend to come back, ten for one, to wreck the chapel. On Friday night, the 29th August last, in consequence of the reports, a party of twenty Catholics assembled in my house and the chapel yard for the protection of the chapel. Seven or eight of them were armed with guns and they stayed about three-quarters of an hour until I advised them to go away as I thought the party would not come after that hour in the evening.
I came to the cross-roads on my way to my father-in-law's. I saw the two parties, and got in between them as I thought there would likely be bad work. I did all I could to persuade the Orangemen to go home; I told David Turkington to do so also. I then stepped back to McMahon and the Catholics and told them not to come forward. I think there were from thirty to fifty in the Protestant party while the Catholic party, I think, were less in number. Shortly afterwards the Orangemen were got away without any blows having been struck, that I saw. On their return to the Bannfoot, I heard two shots, one out of the moss and one out of the land. They were not fired by the party who had the drums and fifes. These shots were fired after the party were on their way back to the Bannfoot. Some of the Orange party appeared to have been drinking whiskey. At the cross-roads I heard no party expressions used by either side and, as far as I could judge, I think that the Catholics were as keen for blows as the other party.
I heard drums coming from the Bannfoot and saw a party of men with the drums - they came as far as my gate. When I looked out I saw the Catholic party with graips and pitchforks standing at the cross-roads. I then advised the Bannfoot party to turn and go home - they did not go for a bit, but said they would stay and play a tune. I heard some person ask for "Croppies lie down" and when the drums began the Catholics came forward. I then interfered and prevailed on the Orangemen to return. When they went away the opposite party held up their weapons in their hands, hurrayed and went back. I heard the Catholic party shouting "to hell with them who are not for repeal."
When the Orange party came to my husband's gate I told them to go home. They then commenced to play a tune and the Catholic party hurrayed and came forward with graips, pitchforks and other weapons saying they would put them in the Orangemen. When I asked Pat McMahon where he was going he said he would put his graip into me.
Before the Orangemen came up I heard a woman of the name of Margaret Guthrie say that if they would come up to the cross-roads there would be murder.
At the cross-roads, the Orange party stood their ground and the Catholic party were jumping to get at them. But my father and mother kept them asunder. I saw a man with a pistol in his hand presented towards the Catholic party. He said if any of them came forward to strike him he would stand in his own defence. I put my hand to the pistol and pushed the muzzle of it up, for fear he should fire. When the Orangemen went away, the Catholics shouted "Repeal for ever."
When the Orangemen came to my father's house a boy told me to hold the drum till he would play a tune. The Catholic party then came forward with their weapons and drew a score across the road and challenged the Orangemen to come over it, and that they would do such and such with them if they did. After they returned from the Bannfoot the Derryadd Orangemen stopped in my father's house all night, for they were afraid to go home.
Following consultation between Lord Lurgan, John Hancock and the Constabulary Headquarters in Dublin Castle it was decided to charge the following men with riot and unlawful assembly and to place them under bail to keep the peace for twelve months.
The Orange Party:
William Williamson; John Metcalf; John Walker; Samuel Cordner; Michael Richardson; Thomas Turkington; James Richardson; John Turkington; William Richardson; Francis Wilson and William Turkington.
The Catholic Party:
Edward McMahon; Daniel McGeown; Charles McMahon; Paddy Kennedy; William McMahon and Pat McMahon.
The Dublin authorities, stating that if such assemblies continued there would be sure to be bloodshed, concluded:
"It is absolutely necessary that the Orangemen should be disabused of the notion that since the Party Processions Act has expired they can march with drums and fifes and firearms through the country."
Sources - records in the P.R.O.N.I.