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The United Irishmen

We pass on then to the next century. The early part of the 1700's was peaceful. At least nothing of note was recorded until the United Irishmen's time in 1798. It had a tremendous impact on this district. In 1796 an organiser came here from Belfast and enlisted a large section of the population, especially the young, as United Irishmen. The name of the man from Belfast is unknown to me but the man who laid and executed the plans here was a Captain Thompson. He was a native of the district, but brought up in Belfast. He was a loyalist of Protestant stock, but had become interested in the philosophy of Wolfe Tone. It was this man who organised the United Irishmen in the Roslea area.

The problem for them was how to get arms. It was decided that the only way to get arms was to raid houses in the area that were known to possess guns and ammunition. In 1797 two raids were carried out here, one on the house of the Hon. Mrs King who was one of the Madden family (the landed gentry at the time). The other raid was on a house of Samuel Mayne who lived at Tattygormican. Things went alright for a short time, until one night some of the men who had taken part in the raid were drinking in a public house in Roslea, belonging to a man named Green. When they had some liquor taken their tongues got loose and they talked about the raid and who was with them on the night. Now some yeomen who were drinking in another part of the bar overheard what they said and swore this information against them to a Captain Hawkshaw, who was an agent for the Madden family at that time.

Captain Hawkshaw lived in that house in Annamartin where Lily Montgomery resided. When they informed Captain Hawkshaw, he then swore this information against them. They were arrested, brought to Enniskillen jail and put on trial. Of the four men put on trial three were convicted and one acquitted. The three who were convicted were in due course hanged and their bodies were brought back for burial to Roslea Chapel. There was an enormous cortege, which came all the way from Enniskillen over Carnmore Mountain, on top of which a vast funeral pyre had been lighted. This vast crowd stopped at the top of Carnmore and then brought them on to Roslea where they were buried. I was told - it was in the 1930', that one of the convicted men, a young married man before he was executed made a will leaving all his possessions to his young wife. The will was still in the possession of his descendants who live in the townland of Allygesh in the Scotstown area. This capture and execution broke up the United Irishmen in the district. Some who were not identified went back home and led normal lives, while others fled elsewhere.

About half a dozen or more continued in the movement. Some of these men went up North and took part in the Battle of Antrim, where one of them was killed. Also taking part in the Battle of Antrim on the loyalist or Establishment side were the Monaghan Militia, who were sent to quell the rebellion. One of the officers was a Captain Ebbit of Mount Louise, Smithboro, whose family were resident there until comparatively recently. He was killed at that battle and four of these Militia men were actually found to be United Irishmen and they were hanged at Antrim. The other braver spirits went West to join up with General Humbert's invasion from France to Killala in August 1798.

They joined Humbert's army and went with him all the way to his defeat at Ballinamuck. They were with him when he marched from Killala to Castlebar (where he had a great victory), but his luck changed then and instead of moving on towards Dublin he decided to move North to the County Leitrim. He went up North then, and the Roslea men went with him along the Via Dolorosa (as they called it) and everywhere they went they suffered hardship and privation, and they also lost a lot of soldiers. They went up to Drumahair in Co Leitrim, on to Drumkerrin and down the West shore of Lough Allen to Drumshambo and from there to Ballinamuck. Here General Humbert met General Lake's forces and there was a tremendous battle but the Irish troops were decimated and slaughtered on the field. But strange to say the two Roslea United Irishmen taking part escaped unscathed, and after a time returned home to the townland of Cornacrieve, and lived to be old men. Any of you interested in General Humberts campaign should read "The Year of the French" which I found to be a most interesting and exciting book. I read it and I was so interested I went by car to follow most of the route General Humbert and his troops had taken. However I got lost at Drumshambo and as it was near nightfall I didn't get to Ballinamuck, so 1 didn't see where the final defeat took place.

Looking at the 1798 Rebellion and the French help I don't think France were seriously interested in helping the Irish people at all. They only sent 1,000 troops without any supporting ammunition or food, although these 1,000 men who arrived at Killala were well-trained and seasoned soldiers. Analysing it myself, I don't think Napoleon was a bit interested in the invasion of Ireland. His sights were already turned towards , Egypt. He looked at Ireland as being too hazardous a place, and when he considered all the maritime obstacles that he would have had to overcome getting an invasion going, it would have been almost impossible. He tried at Bantry Bay a couple of years before. When the ships arrived, they had a look at the place but when a mild storm blew up General Hocke decided they would turn back. The people at the time said it was a 'Protestant wind' that blew him away. Then the Wolfe Tone venture a year after that was pure madness; the rebellion was quelled in Ireland so they would have had no support, only capture and extermination if they had landed. The whole French effort was badly managed and half-heartedly done, which makes me think Napoleon only wanted to get rid of the Irish lobby in Paris and get on with his Egyptian adventures.

Land War

Things were quite peaceful during the nineteenth century. In the 1880's the 'Big' Meeting, was a major event in local history that fixed itself in people's minds for years. It was held in 1883 and it is still talked about even to this day. It was primarily a Nationalist meeting in support of Home Rule and it was fixed for a certain date. Lord Rossmore in Monaghan on hearing of this, decided it would be a great counterblast if he would hold an Orange meeting on the same day.

The authorities got alarmed about this, as they thought it might lead to confrontation, riot and possibly loss of life. So the meeting was proclaimed. Despite the proclamation Lord Rossmore proceeded with his plans. Two special trains were hired in Monaghan to bring an Orange contingent to Clones and they proceeded to march to Roslea. The authorities were well prepared. Having a big force of R.I.C and a battalion of the Lancer Regiment they managed to keep the two crowds apart. This large crowd came out from Clones by two different roads. One lot came by the direct road from Clones to Roslea and the other came by Lackey Bridge. The fields where the demonstrations were held were about three quarters of a mile apart and as things turned out there was no confrontation and nobody injured whatsoever. An old man, before he died (he would be 110 if he was alive now), told me that at that time he was a young fellow making hay out at Cordoola, and that he heard shots and saw puffs of smoke going up into the air. My own grandmother who lived in the village at the time told me that something occurred which frightened the Nationalist crowd. She said they ran up the street to her back yard and into the loft where they stayed for a time until whatever the trouble was, had passed. The meeting got considerable press coverage at the time and there were questions asked about it in the Westminster Parliament and even cartoons about it appeared in 'Punch'. Lord Rossmore who was a J.P.lost his Commission of the Peace. He was demoted and I think prosecuted and had some nominal fine for breaking the peace.

An interesting side-line to that meeting was, a certain journalist attended there to report matters but this journalist had incurred the antagonism of one of the factions. When they saw him in Roslea, he was assaulted in a minor way, and thrown over the wall into the cattle-pound near Barney Mc Donalds. In the scuffle he sustained minor injuries and bruises. He was brought up to the Roslea doctor at the time but it was said that the doctor had to be flattered before he would wash his wounds or dress his cuts. Forty years went by until the 1921-1922 times and nothing more had been heard from this journalist. At that time after the establishment of Partition and the Border, a Boundary Commission was formed.

The duty or function of the Boundary Commission was 'to comb the uncombed fringe of the border'; that meant that there were certain nationalist pockets that would be transferred to the Free State and vice versa. Certain Protestant or Orange sections were to be transferred to the North. But as things turned out the Border was left exactly as it was. Now at this time this same journalist wrote an article, which I read. He must have had bad memories of Roslea as to what had happened to him earlier because he said 'that in the deliberations of the Boundary Commission, if they ceded Roslea to Southern Ireland nobody would miss them, as it was a barbarous place and it would be no loss to the country'. He must have remembered what had happened to him 40 years before .

After the Big Meeting the next event of note was the burning of Roslea Manor in 1885. This was the house of the Madden family, the landed gentry in this area. They were having a small dinner party and the house got burned to the ground, although the cause of the fire was never established. It was the beginning of the end of the Maddens as a powerful family. They left Roslea and went to live in a big house near Clones in Co Monaghan. Just after that the various land acts came in, (the 'Wyndams Act' and other land acts which enabled tenants to buy out their land), with the result that the Maddens lost their rents and became progressively poorer.

Eventually John Madden the last squire, died in 1903 at the age of 83. He is buried in Clogh graveyard. At his funeral four horses drew the hearse and six chosen R.I.C men acted as pall bearers. The family lingered on until 1940 when the last local member of the Madden family, Miss Isobel died. From reading the Clogher Record I think there is a member of the Madden family still resident in New Zealand and he is a member of this society. He is one Ian Madden and the name of his house in New Zealand is 'Roslea'. One of the late John Maddens sons went out to New Zealand where he became a school master and led a very successful life. This Ian Madden may be a grandson of his.

Old schoolhouse at Roslea (now the heritage centre) - photo from Mary Portman

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