Wednesday, June 10, 2015

217 years ago

... the predominantly Presbyterian "United Irishmen' of the Ards Peninsula attacked the Market House in Newtownards, on the night of 9–10 June, known as 'Pike Sunday'. A similar attack was launched on Portaferry Market House.

A Ballywalter man called William Wallace was in the thick of it. Fellow Ballywalter men William Stuart, James Kain, and brothers Hugh and David Maxwell were killed in the fray, and their gravestones can be seen today at old Whitechurch graveyard - surrounding the old Anglo-Norman church ruins which Sir James Hamilton had restored in the 1620s, and which had been the scene of the public signing of the Solemn League & Covenant in 1644, an event led by Hamilton's nephew and namesake Rev James Hamilton.

As the photos here show, both buildings still stand today and have changed little over the centuries. SR Keightley's 1903 novel The Pikemen, A Romance of the Ards of Down has a chapter entitled "The Prison at Newtownards" - a cell which can still be seen today in the Market House, which is now the Ards Arts Centre. The book has a good smattering of authentic Ulster-Scots speech for some of the characters.

I plan to head south to Enniscorthy in Wexford some time soon to visit the 1798 Rebellion Visitor Centre, in particular to see how the story of the Northern risings in Antrim and Down is told.

Here is an account from the Northern Star on activities in our area here, Ballyhalbert and Portavogie, from just over a year before in April 1797.

Portaferry Market House would make a fine "1798 in Ulster" interpretive centre!

(Harry Allen's 2004 book The Men of the Ards is an outstanding account of the local events of 1798)

"The Ards with its peculiar dialect is rich with anecdotes ... 'by my saul, gin they dinna ca' that a ratrate they may gang tae Hell for ane..." – from Ulster in '98, Episodes and Anecdotes.