Here is the full story as told in Betsy Gray and the Hearts of Down (first published in 1896):
'... THE TOWN of Lisburn not only supplied the noble and generous hearted General who commanded the troops of the United Irishmen, but it also played an important part in the short but sanguinary struggle. During the winter of 1797, a shuttle-maker who lived in an entry off High Street, Belfast, worked eighteen hours of the twenty-four in making pike-heads and handles. He and very many similar experts were, however, outdone by a Lisburn white smith, who, during the winter of 1797 and spring of 1798, forged upwards of 500 pikes without leaving undone any of his ordinary work.
Many years before the rebellion of 1798 the Presbyterians of Lisburn had proposed to build a new house of worship. Lord Hertford gave them a handsome site, and subscriptions were collected towards defraying the cost of erection. Amongst the contributors were the Rev. Father Magee - the parish priest - and several members of his congregation. Father Magee gave £10, and the donation was very much prized by the Presbyterians. He was exceedingly popular, and, when any works of benevolence were to be performed, he was always beside the Rev. Dr. Cupples, Protestant rector of the parish, and the Rev. Andrew Craig, Presbyterian minister.*
There was wonderful excitement in Lisburn and its neighbourhood on the night of the 12th of June, 1798. A report had been circulated that. Harry Monro and a large body of his men would that night descend upon the town and destroy it by fire. Soldiers, horse and foot, paraded the streets in large numbers; the inhabitants were ordered to close their doors and put out their lights after eight o'clock, and every measure was taken to prevent a military surprise.
In a house in Market Square sat an Orange Lodge. At a late hour one of the members of this Lodge looked out of the door and saw the parish priest making his way homewards. The Orangeman was a member of the Rev. Craig's Church, and he had a kindly feeling towards Father Magee, because he remembered his kindness. Stepping up to the clergyman, he said -
"You are out very late, sir, in such troublous times."
"I am, indeed, my friend," replied the old gentleman. "I have been out on a sick call."
"It is a mile to your house, and you can hardly get there in safety," said the Orangeman; "our lodge is now sitting, come in for a moment and we'll see about guarding you home."
The priest entered the lodgeroom, where he was hospitably received, and, having remained there for some time, he was escorted home by four of the members...'
*Rev Andrew Craig is another man with a fascinating story. That's a story for another day.
Here is a fuller account by Hugh McCall, again from this website:
'... Priest Magee.
Reference has been made to the kindly spirit that had prevailed in early times between the people of this town and the clergy of all sects. The Rev. John Magee, who had been curate of the chapel from 1762, and parish priest from 1770, was very popular. When the Presbyterian meeting-house in Market Square was in course of erection, he handed ten pounds to the building fund committee as his own and that of a few of his people's contribution towards the good work. Like the Rev. Edward Kelly, P.P., who has held that position in Lisburn more than one quarter of a century, and while zealously attending the duties connected with the creed of his fathers, never interfered with the private opinions of those of other denominations. Priest Magee delighted in cultivating social harmony with all around him, and by his own followers he was held in special veneration. He took much interest in the Volunteer movement, and, when leisure permitted, was among the spectators who usually assembled in large numbers to witness the parades of the local troops, as the men met for military exercise on Gough's Hill, now a portion of the Wallace Park. And at the tables of Poyntz Stewart, Commander of the True Blues; Thomas Ward, Captain of the artillery; as well as those of other Volunteer officers, Priest Magee was ever a welcome guest. With the popular rector of Lisburn and the Presbyterian minister, he lived on terms of the utmost friendliness. Among the many unwritten histories of the Irish Insurrection, the following incident, as taken by the narrator from the lips of one of the Orangemen who took part in it, will be read with some interest.
The Priest and the Orangemen.
An Orange Lodge was sitting in the front room of a house in Cross Row. Two members of the lodge who had come downstairs to look on the stirring scenes on the street were at the door, and while standing there they recognised the parish priest passing along on the opposite side. Both these Orangemen were well-known to Mr. Magee, and immediately on seeing that gentleman they rushed across the roadway, and, after apologising for stopping him, they added that such was the state of the town, and the excitement of party spirit, it would be very dangerous for him to attempt making his way home, "Gentleman," said the venerable clergyman, "I have been out attending a sick call; one of my people, who lives at Plantation, became suddenly ill, and I have got so far on my return. It is exceedingly kind of you to give me the information about the unsettled state of affairs, but I hope to get on my way without molestation."
"We cannot permit you to go alone," replied the younger of the two; "our lodge is sitting in Jemmy Corkin's, the business of the evening has been settled, and if you come over with us we will arrange for your safe convoy home." It was then nearly seven o'clock: all was excitement in the Square, dragoons were dashing furiously round the Market House, and heavy artillery guns had been placed across the head of Bridge Street. After a few moments' hesitation, the priest said he would place himself in the hands of his friends, and on entering the lodge-room the Rev. gentleman was courteously received by the master and members. Having partaken of some refreshments, half-a-dozen stalwart men, well armed, rose and proceeded to escort Mr. Magee to his cottage home, which was situated about a mile distant on the Moira Road. It was nearly midnight when the party arrived at the priest's dwelling. A suitable entertainment followed, during which the hospitable host once again gratefully acknowledged the special attention that had been paid him; and, to the latest period of long life, the old clergyman was wont to relate the romantic story of his having been escorted to his home at Lissue by six Orangemen the night before the Battle of Ballynahinch ...'
Postscript: In O'Laverty's An Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Connor, he says that Father Magee was from Corbally in Ballee parish near Downpatrick. During his time as a priest in Lisburn he lived on the Maze Road, and was responsible for building a Catholic church at Chapel Hill in Lisburn in 1786 which was then enlarged in 1841. The tower of the building is recorded as having a plaque which read 'This chapel was built by donations from the people of every religion in the county, to preserve in grateful remembrance such Christian concord this stone is erected'. This was assisted by Dean Stannus, on behalf of the Marquis of Hertford, who gave land and money to the project. In 1792 Magee officiated at a Mass in Lisburn chapel which was attended by 'The Volunteers accompanied by many Protestants'. The Northern Star of 16 May 1797 printed this story: '...Daniel Gillan, Owen McKenna, William McKenna, and Peter McKenna, privates in the Monaghan Militia, who had been tried by a Court Martial in Belfast, were conveyed to Blaris Camp on cars, accompanied by two priests (Rev. John Magee and Rev. Peter Cassidy, C.C.Belfast) and by a strong guard of horse and foot, and shot at two o'clock. They seemed very sensible of the awful change they were about to make ; and at the same time behaved with the greatest firmness, choosing rather to die than turn informers ...' More of this story can be read here - beginning on page 11 with an account of the Portaferry-born informer, Bell Martin.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Posted by Mark Thompson at Thursday, November 28, 2013