Loyalism in Fews from 17th century

Loyalism has its roots in the confiscation, followed by the plantation of Irish land by the English rulers from Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century to William of Orange at the end of the 17th century.

The southern part of county Armagh – known as the Fews,  or to give it its Gaelic name Na Feadha (woods or wilderness) – had resisted plantation by nature of its remoteness, its mountainous terrain and because like most of Ulster, it lay outside the control of English domain. 

However in 1572 Queen Elizabeth, who had already shown interest in bringing colonists to Ulster, decided that South Armagh was ripe for plantation. Accordingly on 5 October 1572 the Queen granted ‘Orior, the Fews and Gallowglass country’ (around Markethill) to Sir Thomas Chatterton .1 In spite of Chatterton’s efforts which included building a fort at Camlough, his scheme came to nothing and his grant was revoked. Chatterton was killed shortly after in Orior, his brother was slain in 1585.

A colony of Scots settled at Markethill in 1619 by John Henry Acheson was more successful with a ‘bawn of clay and stone …..and they are able to make thirty men at arms’. 2  The area around Creggan was able to escape the ravages of plantation until Cromwellian times when the lands of Henry O’ Neill were confiscated and Henry transplanted to Connacht. A large part of his estate (6,000 acres) was granted, in lieu of wages to Thomas Ball, a Cromwellian officer. 

Whatever plan the colonists had for Creggan, it was not hugely successful. By 1659 at the end of the Cromwellian era there were still 858 Irish there as against 373 planters in the Parishes of Upper and Lower Creggan. 3

About this time, a small colony of English Protestants settled in the townland of Shillan near Crossmaglen. The principal names were Hale, Mc Alister, and Marks;  the other names are lost to posterity.  The first Protestant Rector of the Parish of Creggan on record The Rev. Dromoren who was appointed to that benefice in 1617.

 Further colonisation took place in the year 1733 when several landed gentry, Edward Tipping, Alex Hamilton, James McCullagh, Adam Noble, and Randle Donaldson invited Presbyterians to settle in their estate.  One of the earliest of the settlers, Alex Donaldson, sublet his land to Robert Mc Knight, Thomas McIlveen, and William Donaldson. William McCullagh, Samuel McCullagh, John Brown and Samuel Moffet also leased land from the Donaldson estate. Amazingly some of these same names appear in the Ulster Covenant some three hundred years later in the Crossmaglen area.

The adjoining townland of Freeduff was settled by David Gray, Matthew Mahood, Sawney Clark, John Stitt, Joseph Perry and Robert Houstan. Also settled in the area were William McGaw, John Dougan, Robert Henry, William Spears and a family of the name of Davison. Many more settled in the north part of South Armagh – at Newtownhamilton which used to be included in the Parish of Creggan.


1 Tomas O’ Fiaich, The O’Neills of the Fews, p.23.


2 John Donaldson, An Account of the Barony of Upper Fews in the County of Armagh, p.9.


3 Kieran Mc Conville, Teer: A Townland in its Historic Setting, p.16 


In spite of plantation, the area, in the eyes of the planters, was still wild and lawless.

In 1710 John Johnson of Aberdeen, an officer of service in Flanders, was duly sworn Constable of the Fews. Johnson was to gain notoriety with his zeal in pursuing outlaws in the district – villains to Johnson, heroes to the Irish. This association of planters with the forces of law would become a feature of Irish life that would last for centuries.

In the service book of 1716, Colonel Nassau wrote, ‘ At the command of Mr. Johnson, the constable of that wild country (The Fews) struck fear in the natives ….We razed their cabins to the ground and whipped the curs, who cursed us in their Irish jargon’..4  The descendants of the British and Caledonian settlers each retained their national customs and had not assimilated into the native population. In great measure this may be attributed to the difference of their religious tenets, few inter-marriages taking place.  Planters and native Irish were apart, ideologically and by temperament. 

‘Some of them (the Irish) are subject to sudden gusts of passion, particularly when they are inflamed by liquors and are jealous with British and Scottish settlers, whom they are taught to believe are intruders and foreigners’.5  

Throughout the eighteenth century, the plantation continued to grow and expand, particularly in the north of the county. Historically Protestant opinion was more entrenched in Armagh than in other parts of Ulster due to a long history of sectarian conflict. By the latter part of the eighteenth century, numbers of Protestants and Catholics were almost equal in the county as a whole causing conflict between the two competing communities.

The folk memory of Protestants massacred by the native Irish rebels in 1641 loomed large in the Protestant mindset. Out of this sectarian strife was born the Orange Order after the Battle of the Diamond – between Protestants and Catholics – near Loughgall in County Armagh in September 1795. After the battle the Protestants assembled in a field and vowed an oath, ‘that would for generations curb popery in Ireland’. 6

That brotherhood became the Orange Order, spreading rapidly throughout Ireland. In 1798 Lodge 117, later named Whitewater Lodge was formed in Newtownhamilton in South Armagh and in 1823, Lodge No 153 was formed in the ‘ mountainous Fews’ and was called Armaghbreague True Blues. 7 In 1834 a Lodge was formed at Tullyvallen in South Armagh though it did not come into operation until much later.  In 1823, Orange Lodge No 687 was formed at Aughragurgan, near Newtownhamilton in South Armagh.  Richard Warmington was the first Master. Knockavannon L.O.L was formed in 1823 under Thomas Heaslip and L.O.L 1158 at Tullinageer, in 1856, formed under the South Armagh District, though it was in fact in County Monaghan. 

Thus some parts of South Armagh were well represented in the Orange brethren while others in the deep South were not.


4 Johnson of the Fews, http://creggan .armagh.org//second. Html


5 John Donaldson, Account of the Barony of Upper Fews, p. 71.


6 Kevin Haddick-Flynn, Orangism, The Making of a Tradition, p.70.


7 Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland County Armagh Grand Orange Lodge, 312 the Anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, Official Souvenir Brochure, p.23 


Mid way through the 19th century in what would be seen by many as the ‘Golden Age of the Empire’, South Armagh was one of the more troubled parts of that Empire.

At the heart of that trouble was the land question because that land lay primarily in the hands of a privileged few.  That few were mainly loyalist by conviction and Church of Ireland by creed. In the Fews district those land owners were principally Thomas Ball, a descendant of a Cromwellian adventurer who usually lived in England, Walter Mc Geough Bond who also lived mainly in England who had estates in Creggan and Newtownhamilton as well as in Upper Orior. James Donaldson also had a large estate in South Armagh which he inherited from his elder brother. Captain McCullagh owned estate near Camoly which had been purchased from another planter. Alexander Hamilton inherited land on the estate of Newtownhamilton and Creggan and James O’Callaghan owned land at Tullydonnell. Other luminaries of the privileged class in the area were John Johnson, descendant of Johnson ‘the heretichead-cutter’, Captain James Eastwood of the militia, Captain Slack, William Armstrong, Marcus Synott ‘who had a house and a beautiful demesne in Ballymoyer.’ 8

With the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869 by English P.M Gladstone, the ‘Empire’ in Ireland had reached its zenith: from then on that Empire would start to decline. Gladstone embarked on a policy of governing Ireland by ‘Irish ideas’.9  It was not the end of English influence in Ireland, it was not even the beginning of the end, but in the words of Churchill, it was perhaps, the end of the beginning. Various land acts passed by parliament had the effect of transferring the land from ascendancy landlords to small nationalist proprietors, reducing further the power of the ascendancy.

The census of 1871 in Creggan revealed that the Protestant population was 361 Church of Ireland, 239 Presbyterian, 26 Methodist, as against 9,754 Roman Catholics, or 16.58% of the total population.  The next census of 1881 showed a figure of 8,380 Roman Catholics against 287 Church of Ireland, 240 Presbyterians, and 9 Methodists.  In total this made 536 Protestants.  The 1891 census revealed 7291 Roman Catholics, 243 Church of Ireland, Presbyterians, 210 making a total of 453 Protestants and 7291 Roman Catholics.10  

 So in a mere 20 years at the end of the 19th century, the Protestant population of Creggan dropped from 626 to 453, a total of 173.  The Catholic population went down also but still left a significant number of people with which to regenerate.

The introduction of the Home Rule Bills of Gladstone and Asquith galvanised Protestant opinion in opposition to Home Rule in South Armagh – as elsewhere.

At a meeting on 30 March 1911, Unionists from Crossmaglen, Forkhill, Clady, Belleek, and other parts of County Armagh met in the Orange Hall in Newry to voice their opposition to Home Rule declaring,

‘We shall feel justified in resorting to any lawful means that may be found necessary to preserve our equal citizenship in the United Kingdom’. 11



8 John Donaldson, Account of the Barony of Upper Fews, p.58.


9 Dr. George Boyce, 18th Century Ireland, The Search for Stability, p.153


10 Census for Ireland 1871, 1881, 1891, Religious Professions of the People.


11 Newry Telegraph, 1 April 1911.


By 1912 and the introduction of the Third Home Bill by the Liberal government, Unionism was in ferment in South Armagh. On 11 January the Newry Reporter was able to tell of a meeting of Unionists in Tullyvallen in South Armagh for the purposes of forming a Unionist Club. The Chairman, the Rev. Tweed said,

 ‘they had to face a great danger and it was necessary for every Unionist to be identified with some Unionist organization, especially as they were on the frontier. He could not conceive of the Protestants of Ulster submitting to Home Rule. They would oppose it to the death.’12

Also in 1912, the Unionists launched The Ulster Covenant, a vehicle whereby they could show allegiance to their cause by signing a document affirming their opposition to Home Rule. 

Various places were appointed at which Unionists might sign the Covenant. In South Armagh that was at Newtownhamilton, Ballybot, Killeavy, Markethill, Mountnorris, Newry, Bessbrook, Redrock, Mullaghglass and Poyntzpass. Although there was no signing place in the Creggan area, some made their way to Newtownhamilton to sign the covenant. We must remember, this was in the days before the motor car and many must have walked from the Crossmaglen area on foot, a considerable effort on 28 September 1912. 

 Among those signing from Crossmaglen were Oswald Hanna, Tom Gordon, Joseph Moles, Thomas Mc Allister, James Brown, Robert Scott, David Buchanan, Mabel Johnson, Anna Johnson, Lilly Donaldson, Emily McElveen, Robert Henry, Elizabeth Muldrew. From Cregganduff, William Symth, Robert Henry, From Dorsey there were Robert Henry, George Henry, George Shaw, Sarah Wylie. Signatures from Freeduff included William Goodfellow, John Hoey, Emily Nelson, Elizabeth Nelson, Ernest Goodfellow, Sam Goodfellow, John Bradley, George Mac Clean: and from Cullaville, George Wilson. Also Alice Goodfellow and Robert Goodfellow from Cullyhanna. 

Notably, the Rector of Creggan, The Rev. S. Mayes was almost alone in his own parish [along with Sam Hooks and William Smyth] in signing the Covenant. The Rector would later add more than his name to Unionist resistance to Home Rule in the area. A mere 34 out of the 285 Protestants living in the Creggan area signed the Covenant in the locality. Some of them might have voted elsewhere where they might not be seen by prying eyes, but all in all Creggan was no hot bed of Unionism. In contrast, in the rest of South Armagh a total of 4,937 Unionists signed the Covenant as a testament to their loyalty.13

  Under the initiative of the Orange Order loyalists had been drilling since 1912 but it was not until January 1913 that the Ulster Council decided that these volunteers should be united into a single body to be known as the Ulster Volunteer Force. Recruitment was limited to 100,000 men who had signed the Covenant and were between the ages of seventeen and sixty-five.  In each county a committee was set up, and a divisional district and representatives chosen with letters sent out to the local Orange Lodges and Unionists Clubs.

  Most of the drilling was done in local Orange Halls or on the demesnes of loyalist landowners. The nearest to Creggan would have been Tynan Abbey and the Stronge Estate, County Armagh, the estate of Sir Norman Leslie of County Monaghan, or Drumbanagher Castle near Poyznpass, all bastions of loyalists and home to the U.V.F in their respective counties.



12 The Newry Reporter, 11 January 1912.


13 hhp://www.proni.gov.uk


Armagh was represented by five companies from different areas of the county. The 3rd Battalion was in the command of Major Maxwell Close of Drumbanagher Castle outside Poynzpass and consisted of companies from Tandragee, Ahorey, Clare, Scarva, Poynzpass, Bessbrook, Mullaglass, Tullyhappy, Tullyvallen, Ballymoyer, NewtownHamilton and Cullyhanna. The County Organiser for the Crossmaglen area was The Rev. S. Mayes of Creggan Rectory along with John Johnson of Ballsmill and Rowland Urcher of Crossmaglen town.  Little was known of the company other than they were there in numbers at a U.V.F demonstration in Armagh city on 4 October 1913. They were led by a man called Mc Donald and it is likely that membership of this company was drawn from as far as Dundalk. It has been suggested that the U.V.F leadership in the county was approached by men from county Louth numbering almost 700 who wished to become part of the Armagh Regiment but their request was denied.14 It is safe to assume that the more committed Unionists on the South Armagh border travelled to Cullyhanna, albeit in small numbers. One must assume that the Cullyhanna contingent faced some degree of hostility in their espousal of the loyalist cause, particularly with its resort to armed opposition to the Home Rule Bill.

  With the outbreak of war in August 1914, in public, the Home Rule Bill was postponed until after the war: in private, the Conservatives along with the Liberal government were plotting a border between parts of Ulster and the rest of Ireland. South Armagh with its small Protestant population was ripe for inclusion in the South.  At this time its near neighbour, county Monaghan had a population of 25.31% Protestant and Donegal had 21.5% so the loyalists of South Armagh had every reason to be uneasy. The years after the war from 1918 saw the increase in the power of Sinn Fein and the popularity of the G.A.A, both of which had the effect of marginalising the unionist community further.

 Further to this, raids for arms by Republicans led to a sense of siege and abandonment by Loyalists. In September 1920 raids were launched for weapons on Unionist houses in Bessbrooke, Whitecross, Killeavy and other parts of South Armagh. According to Republican sources at the time, the Newtownhamilton area was well armed with rifles supplied to the U.V.F. and had at least 70 men to use them. 15

 When in October 1920, details of the Ulster Special Constabulary were released, 237 ‘A’ Specials, 431 ‘B’ Specials and 22 ‘C’ Specials were from county Armagh. The composition of the Armagh units of the ‘B’ men cannot be found until the government lifts its hundred year rule on its contents so one cannot say for sure whether local men played a part in the Specials.

 The ‘B’men had hardly been on the streets a week when they sustained their first casualty.  ‘B’ Man Robert Compton was shot and later died of his wounds when his patrol came under fire outside Crossmaglen. Constable Compton was the first of many ‘B’ men to suffer a similar fate in the South Armagh area. 

 In May 1921 Michael Collins was returned with 12,656 votes in Armagh for Sinn Fein. Nevertheless, even Michael Collins could not turn the Unionist tide and on 22 June 1921 the new parliament of Northern Ireland was opened.

 But the borders of that new state were not yet fixed. That would be the work of the Border Commission set up under the terms of the Anglo-Irish treaty and would determine the status of South Armagh for Protestant and Catholic alike.


14 Quincy Dougan, The Armagh Brigade, Ulster Volunteer Force, p.44. 


15  Newry Telegraph, 7 Sept. 1920. 


The Boundary Commission met on 6 November 1924, almost three years after the Treaty was signed. The remit of the commission was to draw up a border in as far as it could, regarding the wishes of the population, bearing in mind economic and geographic conditions. 16 Each village and town made their submission to the Commission as to their position regarding the border. Crossmaglen, a name synonymous with opposition to the Northern State voted for inclusion in the Free State while their neighbours at Mullyash in County Monaghan wanted to be included in the northern jurisdiction. In spite of the assurances to the loyalists of South Armagh of their guaranteed place in Northern Ireland, behind their backs, P.M. James Craig was negotiating with the Free State to swap the Protestants of South Armagh for ‘a splendid type of loyalist’ in County Monaghan where Protestants were more prosperous and had more political influence.17

  The final version of the Boundary Commission was completed on 17 October 1925 but leaked in advance by the Morning Post. The Commission concluded that large parts of South Armagh, including Crossmaglen, Forkhill, Jonesborough, Camlough and parts of Newtownhamilton were to be included in the Free State. However, the sting in the tail was that parts of prosperous parts of Donegal would have to be included in the northern state. The Free State refused to accede to these demands so in the end the recommendations of the commission came to naught. In spite of being included in Northern Ireland, the dwindling band of loyalists in South Armagh in general, and in near Creggan, Cullyhanna and Crossmaglen in particular would see their numbers diminish in the coming years and with it their political representation.

The census of 2001 had shown the Protestant population of South Armagh to be 16,077 or 18.47% of the population. 18 By the election of 2005 the combined Unionist vote stood at 17.5% of the total for South Armagh with their representation going down from 7 councillors to 5 in just over a decade.19 It is worth noting in nearby Newry Town the Protestant population has shrunk from almost 25% in 1900 to 5% in 2000 with no political representation at all at council level. As in many parts of Ireland, the Protestant population is slowly being absorbed into the greater native population. The reasons for that decline would be sociological, demographic, political, genetic and economic as well as reasons of political violence.


16 Report on the Boundary Commission, p.135.


17 Alvin Jackson, Home Rule, p.210.


18 http://www.ark.ac.uk/elections/lgnandm.htm


19 2001 Census/ Newry and Mourne District, 06/12/2005

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