Ask anyone in Lisburn who Henry Munro is and they will no doubt answer that he was the man hanged in Market Square. Ask them why and you will probably render them speechless!
Some may be able to offer the explanation that Henry Munro met his death through his part in the Battle of Ballynahinch in 1798, but probe further and you will discover that this interesting figure in local history is not so commonly known today.
Henry Munro was a linen merchant in Lisburn. He was a regular buyer at all the linen markets in Ulster, and as a result was well known by all those in the linen markets. He is known to have been a remarkably handsome man, exceedingly fond of dressing with neatness and taste. A portion of his black hair, was fashionably (for that time), worn very long and tied with a black ribbon hung over the collar of his coat.
His conduct in private life has been described as that of a perfect gentleman. He, was fond of fun - a rather dashing personality.
Some instances of his bravery have also been related. When attending a linen market in Lurgan, a.fire broke out in a local church, and Munro, at great risk to himself, was mainly responsible for the quenching of the flames.
He was a member of Lisburn Cathedral and it is said that he was greatly attached to the church. He had been a member of the Old Volunteers, a body which was disbanded in 1793.
He lived in very troubled times in Irish history. The Volunteers, of
which Munro was a member, were raised in 1778. They were mobilised to
fight the French who had been threatening to invade the Irish mainland.
The French were, however, repulsed and their invasion plans came to
Meanwhile another organisation called the United Irishmen was founded in Belfast. This movement spread rapidly throughout Ireland and it soon came to be known that they were in league with the French.
A rebellion occurred in Ulster with the old Volunteers at variance with each other and the United Irishmen rejoicing at the news of an invasion with military aid coming from France.
Battle of Ballynahinch and Ulster Rebellion
The leaders of the rebels in Ulster were men of good social standing. Henry Munro must have known many of them personally, possibly through the notorious Whig Club.
Munro once witnessed a public flogging in Lisburn. It is said that the remembrance of this spectacle hardened his heart against the powers of the authorities.
He therefore accepted the offer to lead the rebels of Down, not realising-the dangerous path he was taking or where it might end, especially as he had no, experience as an Army General.
As soon as he assumed power and counted his forces, which numbered around 7,000 the remnents of the Battle of Saintfield, he gave orders to march and capture Ballynahinch; whose inhabitants, around 800, fled to Lisburn.
The spearhead of his troops was led by a Commander Townsend, who encamped at Creevy Rocks.
On June 11, Munro himself and the main body of his troops marched to Ballynahinch. He encamped at Edenvaddy.
The outcome of Munro's rebellion and the events leading up to his death, will be revealed in next week's Memory Lane feature. -
Saintfield reduced to ashes ..............Ballynahinch in flames.
Munro's camp at Edenvaddy, in preparation for an attack on Ballynahinch, was well organised. Being a very hot day most of his men lay on the ground. A lot of women, mostly servants, were present. They were all making preparations for the offensive.
No uniforms were worn, but all were tolerably well dressed, some were in Sunday clothes, but all contrived to wear something green.
The leaders wore green coats with yellow belts. Munro's forces were armed mainly with pikes, a formidable weapon some seven to eight feet in length with a wooden shaft and a foot of pointed wrought iron.
This weapon was very effective at close range. Other weapons included old swords, pitchforks, old muskets and pistols.
All eyes were not turned to Ballynahinch, A company of soldiers arrived just in time to prevent some rebels from hanging three helpless yeomen whom they had captured. On seeing the military, the insurgents released their captives and fled.
The soldiers' orders were to await the arrival of Nugent's forces to attack Munro's forces at Creevy Rocks. Nugent's forces arrived on Tuesday, June 12, They consisted of 700 infantry,150 cavalry, five field pieces, comprising the Monaghan Regiment, under Captain Leslie; 22nd Light Dragoons and the Belfast Cavalry under Captain Rainey.
They were joined by the Magheragall Cavalry under Captain Wakefield. Major-General Nugent, commanding His Majesty's Forces in the North of Ireland, issued a statement asking Munro's forces to surrender, If they failed to do so then "Major-General Nugent will proceed to destroy the towns of Killinchy, Killyleagh, Saintfield, Ballynahinch and all cottages and farms in the vicinity."
The proclamation was not complied with and Nugent kept his word.
Saintfield was in ashes and a smokescreen from burning cottages and farmhouses announced the approach of the Loyalist Forces.
Warned of Nugent's advance, Munro sent a force of 500 men under a leader named Johnston to occupy a high position at Windmill Hill, Ballynahinch; to halt the Loyalist advance.
This move was a failure on Munro's part, Nugent's army was now between the hill and the town itself. They opened fire at six o'clock in the evening and the battle raged until 9 p.m. when Munro's men were forced to retreat and the town, by now, was in flames. Many rebels were seen to run away and when darkness fell many more made their escape.
The battle was resumed the following day when the fighting lasted until 7 p.m., ending with the rebels being dispersed. The losses were reckoned to be on the rebel side - 500 killed and many more wounded. On the Loyalist side it was stated that their losses amounted to 30 killed and wounded.
After the fight Munro, with only 150 men, decided any further resistance was useless and also fled to the fields. It was now every man for himself.
He wandered about alone, a forlorn and disconsolate figure. Although recognised and fed by many farmers they were afraid to hide him because of what might happen to them at the hands of the Yeomanry.
He moved until he came to a potato field where a Mr. Billy Holmes said he would hide him for £5 and a shirt. He covered him with weeds, assuring him that he would be safe. Holmes then went and informed the Yeomen in Hillsborough.
Munro was then arrested and brought to Dromore; from where he was matched to Lisburn and confined in a temporary prison in Castle Street.
It required little proof to condemn and convict. Only three witnesses were called far the Crown and the deposition being that the prisoner had led the native troops to Ballynahinch.
The sentence of death was written out at once Munro was informed that he had not long to live so he requested that he be taken to the Rectory to receive his last communion.
Having received this, he marched down Castle Street. He was dressed in a black coat, nankeen knee breeches and white stockings.
In Market Square a temporary gallows had been erected in front of his own home. A guard of the 23rd Light Dragoons, under Colonel Wollarston and local yeomanry was drawn up before the place of execution.
Munro, who had remained calm, requested to speak to a friend. This was granted, He then stepped from the street to the ladder, but the rung on which he stepped gave way and he fell against one of the guards,
Righting himself, although his arms were bound, he went up the ladder. Having reached the required height, ascertained by the executioner, who was veiled in a black hood, the rope was placed around his neck, and in a few seconds it was all over.
As the body swung to and fro a large wail arose from many assembled there. When the body was taken down, the final venegance of the law was carried out that of decapitation. A soldier with an axe cut off the head. It was then stuck on a pike and placed on a corner of the Market House.
Munro's relatives had visited him earlier in the week. His wife retired to Dunmurry and lived until 1840. His mother had her shop at the sluice gate in Bow Lane. She died in 1815.