Monaghan Unionists, a people betrayed

The period of the Home Rule Crisis, contrary to the belief of many, is not a clear cut black and white tale. During those turbulent years there are many different stories to tell. Different perspectives, viewpoints and experiences. An event on Wednesday 12th June 2013 sought to bring together two very different perspectives, namely the story of the Ulster Volunteers within the context where they where a minority community, and their ‘opposite’ number in the same area, the Irish Volunteers. County Monaghan was 25% Protestant, with that community raising an army of over 2000 men for the Ulster Volunteers, whilst the Irish Nationalist Volunteers raised just over 5000 from Monaghan’s Catholic and Nationalist population.

Organisers of the night were CADOLEMO and Monaghan Council, who facilitated an evening in Monaghan Museum that examined both of the opposing groups. I gave a presentation on the formation and exploits of the local Ulster Volunteers, whilst Professor Terence Dooley gave an address on the County’s Irish Volunteers.

The Regimental Colour of the 2nd ‘South Monaghan’ Battalion of the County Monaghan Ulster Volunteers

Professor Dooley it should be noted has done fantastic work on Monaghan Unionists worthy of reading, but his address on the night told the story of the Irish Volunteers. Effectively forming as a direct response to the Larne Gun Running and the Howth incident, he outlined the role of several incredibly extreme and aggressive Monaghan Irish Nationalists involved in the local movement, much of their tone far exceeding even the excesses of Unionism during the period. In addition there was a large contingent of the local Catholic community who simply disregarded the Irish Volunteers, the same majority also eventually heavily critical of the Easter Rising. Appropriately the museum also currently has a banner display on show which includes the Regimental Colour of the South Monaghan UVF Battalion (2nd Battalion County Monaghan Regiment).

For myself the subject has a particular interest given my maternal great grandfather John Barber signed the Ulster Covenant in Castleblayney Parochial Hall South Monaghan, and in all likelihood was a member of the UVF in the ‘Blayney suburb of Annyart. Events experienced on that side of my family were to echo much more of Monaghan history in the following decades, and they eventually decided that South Monaghan was no longer a comfortable place for them to live. They moved north to Keady in County Armagh, and history has by 2013 repeated itself, with no longer any of the family left there. Yet again they did not feel comfortable or safe. Unfortunately the last 45 years is littered with events that prove they had good reason.

In all a very interesting evening, yet again demonstrating the importance of examining history as holistically as possible. Simply taking bits and pieces where it suits leaves holes in both what you take as well as what you leave behind. The following is the presentation I gave on the Monaghan UVF (a version of this originally appeared in the Belfast Newsletter, however this version has been heavily amended and added to). The Monaghan Volunteers… a people betrayed.

My Great Grandfather John Barber Castleblayney, and his signature on the Ulster Covenant


The Counties of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan had minority Protestant and Unionist populations in 1912, however many within their number were no less committed to the cause of maintaining Irelands place within the United Kingdom than their brothers in far off Antrim and Down. County Monaghan Ulster Volunteer Force were undoubtedly sincere in their desire to stamp out Home Rule. There dedication was such that it would in fact come to be one of the best armed Regiments of the UVF.

The boundaries of County Monaghan as they are known today were originally first defined in 1585. Done so under the English Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir John Perrot had actually been requested by local clan leaders to carry out the task. During the following one hundred years it was to see major changes. In the first major wave of plantation in the early 1600’s it was relatively unaffected, but by the 1650’s Scottish and English settlers were making their homes in the territory. In 1659 its population is recorded as being 3649 ‘Irish’ and 434 ‘English’, and by 1859 26% of County Monaghan was Presbyterian or Church of Ireland.

A the turn of the 20th Century whilst a minority, this community played a considerable role within the County. Protestants made up a substantial proportion of the County’s businesses, with for example, the town centre of County Capital Monaghan Town being noted as being ‘completely enveloped by Protestant businesses’ even in 1912.  It was this strong business foundation that was the prime motivation for the support of the Union. The Protestant population was prospering under its relationship with the United Kingdom and Empire, and it had no desire to do anything that might endanger that. Railway links from Monaghan and Clones to a Belfast going through an economic boom, ensured that most of its exports went to the City and most of its imports came from it. This support for Union became even more vociferous when the genuine fear of Catholicism and Irish Nationalism was also factored in.

When the first large scale organisation against Home Rule, the Ulster Defence Union, was formed following the 2nd Home Rule Bill in 1893, each parliamentary constituency was given delegate spaces in its ruling council in direct relation to its Unionist electorate. North Monaghan had 13 representatives (the same number as South Down and Mid-Tyrone constituencies), and South Monaghan 6. Many of the names listed were still involved in the cause some 20 years later, and the delegates included in their number five ministers, five JP’s and an array of businessmen, doctors and landed gentry.

Politically the Monaghan landscape was controlled by the Protestant gentry families of Leslie’s, Madden’s, Dawson’s and Shirley’s right up to the 1880’s; but by the introduction of the local Government Act of 1898 the picture had changed. In 1912 Monaghan County Council had 37 paid positions. All 37 jobs were given to Catholic’s, giving some genuine evidence to back up Protestant fears of discrimination. Of the County’s 27 councillors only 3 were Unionists. In July 1912 an Orange parade in Castleblayney was attacked adding to concerns, and the possible implementation of the Third Home Rule Bill magnified these fears to a level that both men and women were prepared to bear arms.

Over 10,000 Monaghan Protestants signed the Ulster Covenant and Declaration in September 1912 out of a population of 18,000, meaning almost all eligible men and women availed of the opportunity. Drilling was taking place to a lesser degree than elsewhere in Ulster according to surviving sources, indeed some intelligence reports suggest it didn’t actually begin until 1913, but there is little doubt however that it was taking place within its borders in early 1912. By May 1912 Clones Unionist Club were drilling twice a week under the charge of an ex Royal Irish Fusilier, with new Unionist Clubs formed and doing the same in Newbliss and Castleblayney in June. When the Ulster Volunteer Force became officially active, the drilling reached astounding levels. Almost a third of the County’s eligible Protestant males would eventually be in its ranks.

The County Monaghan UVF had an organising committee established before most of the rest of Ulster, and by the 20th December 1912 its members read like a veritable who’s who of local Unionist and Protestant society. The Chairman was the Earl of Dartrey while other County representatives included Colonel Leslie, Lt Colonel Madden, Major Richardson and Michael Knight. The entire Ulster Volunteer Force was organised under military lines, directly mimicking many common British military conventions of the day, however the full efficiency of the Force varied considerably from County to County. By examining its level of organisation and activity however it can be reasonably concluded that Monaghan had a high degree of military competence, no doubt a direct result of the strong military pedigree of several of the main organisers.

In August 1913 Edward Carson visited Newbliss and this caused a surge in local volunteer membership. In its first official returns to UVF HQ at the end of that month it lists a force of two battalions consisting of some 1155 men. The Regimental Commander was Colonel John Leslie, with its Headquarters at his ancestral home of Castle Leslie in Glaslough. The 1st Battalion was known colloquially as the North Monaghan Battalion, based in Monaghan Town, and were commanded by Major E. J. Richardson of Poplar Vale. In August 1913 it returned 747 men, but by August 1914 that had increased to 1037. Its main drill centers were Clontibret, Glaslough, Ballinode, Monaghan, Smithboro and Shanroe. The Orange Order played a particularly important role within Unionism in the County, and unsurprisingly this followed through to the Volunteers, with most units appearing to be the locations of Orange Halls (note: in 1914 there were 65 Orange Lodges working within the County Monaghan Grand Orange Lodge structure).

Clontibret was divided into Castleshane, Cashel, Scots corner and Brackclose; with Monaghan into Monaghan Town, Foragh and Crosses/ Ballinagall. Smithboro consisted of Smithboro, Lissarley, Mullahara and Three Mile House. Ballinode included Poplar Vale (the home of Major Richardson), Caragh, Ballinode, Raffenan and Kilmore. Not surprisingly Glaslough with its large protestant population provided 10 units, with 257 men even in 1913. They included Emyvale, Templetate, Silverstream, Mullapike and Glaslough itself.

The 2nd Battalion, South Monaghan, was based in Clones and under the command of Lt Colonel Madden of Hilton Park in the town. After the outbreak of World War 1 Madden was replaced by prominent solicitor Michael Knight, also Grandmaster of the County Orange. In August 1913 it was listed as having just 408 men, but within 12 months had became bigger than the first battalion with 1058 men enlisted. Main Drill areas were Drum, which included Scotshouse, Corrygarry, Drum and Carn; Clones including Clones, Stonebridge and Drumully; and Ballybay which included Laragh and Aughnamullen/ Lyardew. Newbliss had a section, as did Dartrey in the form of Doohat and Dartrey. The Castleblayney and Carrickmacross area was not listed on the original returns, and appears to have been slow to organise, but by early 1914 it too had men drilling. The Mullyash area of East Monaghan had a large Unionist presence, but its natural hinterland was the South Armagh Town of Newtownhamilton, and it appears that the area drilled with County Armagh. A local Orange Lodge, Knocknanin, has its hall within Monaghan, but it is listed in the County Armagh UVF returns of October 1913.

At its peak the County Monaghan Regiment of Volunteers had 2095 men, approximately 40% of those (males) that signed the Ulster Covenant. Available Intelligence Reports from the Chief Secretary Office Judicial Division, noted the County as having 1209 men in September 1913, broadly in line with UVF official documents of the period. By May 1914 R.I.C. intelligence was actually crediting the County with an extra 100 men than it had. A sign of very bad intelligence, or some very clever misinformation from the Regiments officers. Like its fellow regiments across Ulster, the County also boasted several specialist units. Its nursing corps was under the charge of its President Miss Murray-Kerr, whilst a strong Signaling and Dispatch Riding Corps was also in place. The Dispatch Corps worked closely in conjunction with the County’s two UVF post houses. In Clones a Miss Ruddell was post mistress, while in Monaghan Town Miss Irwin was in charge at the office in Beech Hill.

County Monaghan was a particularly active Regiment of Ulster Volunteers. Its activities included drills, church services and route marches in line with the rest of the movement across Ulster, but it is most notable for several large camps of instruction for officers and men. There was a determined effort within the leadership to ensure the Regiment was militarily ready for any eventuality. In February 1914 Knockballymore, the residence of the Earl of Erne near Clones, was the setting for a massive camp of instruction. Over 300 men took part, with Fermanagh and Cavan also participating, and with each mans costs either being paid personally or by their unit of Volunteers. The entire Regimental and Battalion officers were joined by each Company’s Commander, Half Coy Commanders, Section leaders and squad leaders. Monaghan had 125 men billeted in the demesne. Regimental Commander Leslie was Camp Commandant for the few days, with Michael Knight appointed Quartermaster. The commitment of the Volunteers was very apparent, with many losing pay from their normal jobs to attend, and each volunteer also having to pay the sum of £1 for their meals. At the conclusion of the camp a telegram was received from Edward Carson himself stating ‘Please thank all men in camp and express my admiration for their devotion to the cause.’ The entire endeavor had been meticulously organised, with not a minute wasted. The schedule for just a few hours on the Tuesday included a lecture by chief instructor on outposts for 30 min’s, musketry and snap shooting 30 min’s, flank and rearguards 30 min’s, company drill 15 min’s and lecture on military subjects and outpost duties 30 min’s. The camp made national news for a short period after its conclusion, with some controversy arising when local RIC officers attempted to search baggage carts leaving the grounds. Their attempts being refused by Volunteers.

The Regimental Colour of the 1st ‘North Monaghan’ Battalion of the County Monaghan Ulster Volunteers

The south west of Monaghan was always regarded as a particularly Nationalist part of the County, however the Castleblayney Company of the Volunteers was very out-going despite being a tiny minority. Primarily based in Annyart the unit drilled twice weekly and were very forthright in their views. In February 1914 they had a fund raising concert in Callan Memorial Orange Hall Annyart to raise the fees for the Knockballymore Camp, to which they sent five officers. Mr. John Gillespie Company Commander, a solicitor and agent for the Hope estate, stated at the gathering that ‘We come here to practice our drill and for no other purpose. We stand for what our forefathers bled and died for at the Boyne, for civil and religious liberty. We want every man to be a free man. That is our doctrine.’ Not all local Unionists where behind the movement however, and very notably during his address he chastised them saying ‘there are a number of people who do not come to this hall. Are they ashamed to join and stand alongside us?’

On Easter Monday and Tuesday two major field days were held. The 1st Battalion met at Glaslough on the Tuesday, while on Monday the 2nd mobilised at Dartrey. In all 1300 men participated. Later in April a shooting competition was held at Glaslough, and opened to all the men of the Glaslough, Hand and Pen, Mullapike, Shanco, Emyvale and Corragh half company’s of Volunteers. The 2nd place trophy was won by Volunteer John ‘Jock’ Hazlett, a man who would achieve infamy in the area in 1921 when he opened fire on an IRA unit raiding his house for arms. He left one IRA man dead and wounded several others.

In 1912 it was the belief of the RIC that almost every rural household in Ulster had a firearm of some description, and that many of those in the town’s possessed revolvers. Domestic ownership aside  it is apparent that the Monaghan Regiment possessed its own arms prior to the gun running exercise of late April 1914, having been engaged in its own minor gun running operations.  It too however did its bit on that April night, with the Monaghan consignment of weapons coming from Donaghadee and being of the Vetterli design. On paper Monaghan in terms of ratio of man to weapon was the most well armed unit of the UVF following the gun running. It had an incredible 1678 rifles for its 2,095 men.

The largest total gathering of the Regiment came in late July when Glaslough was again the venue, this time for the presentation of Colour’s. Two special trains were put on for the event, the first stopping at Carrickmacross, Inniskeen, Culloville, Castleblayney, Ballybay and Newbliss; the second coming from Clones, Smithboro and Monaghan. A massive parade took place accompanied by the Brass and Reed Bands of Monaghan and Clones, and the part flute band of Crosses, with the men forming a square at 3pm. Regimental and Kings Colour’s were presented to both Battalions, with speech’s including the reading of a telegram from Carson stating that ‘I know you will all keep your colour’s unsullied, and win for them honour and respect’.

By the late summer tensions were rising in the County, RIC inspectors reports noting that in Clones and Castleblayney they were particularly high. The situation had been exacerbated by the formation of the Irish Volunteers, who had over 5000 members in the County by June. A rivalry complicated further given that a very small number of Monaghan Protestants, including some from the landed gentry, drilled with and supported the body. The most high profile being the son of County UVF Commander Sir John Leslie, John later known as Shane, who had converted to Catholicism in 1908 while at Cambridge University. Ironically Shane’s youngest brother Lionel was one of the youngest members of the Ulster Volunteer Force across the Province, being noted as mustering with the Volunteers at age 14.

In July 1914 there were genuine fears of civil war and many truly believed it was inevitable. Local Unionists were very conscious of being in a minority position, almost considering themselves hostages and in constant danger. Their fears were not totally unfounded. A commander of the Irish Volunteers in Belfast, George Berkley, recounted a Southern friend in 1914 telling him of hearing a fellow Home-Ruler stating that ‘For every Catholic shot by the Orangemen in the North, I’ll get five Protestants down here’.

The out-break of War almost instantly changed the situation. Generally rural Ireland did not join the regular army in great numbers, but a significant amount of men from Monaghan did enlist. For the Ulster Volunteers their 36th Ulster Division Battalion was the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers, alongside their comrades from Armagh and Cavan, with most Monaghan recruits forming the ranks of the Battalion’s D Company. On one day alone in Monaghan Town almost 50 Volunteers enlisted at the Johnstown and Madden Memorial Orange Hall in North Road. The close relationship between the 36th Divisions and UVF was emphasized with enlistment facilitated by members of the UVF HQ staff, alongside two Captains from the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The fight against Home Rule was over for the Ulster Volunteers of Monaghan. The next 10 years was to bring major changes for its Unionist community, eventually delivering what they came to regard as a betrayal of their Ulster Covenant pledge. Partition.

Article Copyright Quincey Dougan 2013
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