Fascinating History 0f Romance And Revolution
(Part 2)

About this time, Nicholas Bagenal appeared on the scene, having obtained employment as a mercenary soldier with the O’Neill clan. But, in fact, he was a double-agent, also employed by the Crown, from whom he received a “general pardon for all murders committed.”

His star was in the ascendancy, and he was eventually appointed Marshal King of Arms for Ireland. And he was also granted “a lease of the Newrye” for 21 years. However, Sir Nicholas Bagenal regularly complained to Queen Elizabeth about the activities of the O’Neill clan, though with the death of the clan chief Shane O’Neill, the situation became more peaceful.

Bagenal set about improving the town of Newry, walling it in, building two churches, a jail and courthouse, as well as a stone bridge across the Clanrye River. He was responsible for the construction of St Patrick’s Church, the first Protestant church in Ireland. Dying in 1590, he is buried there, beside his coat-of-arms. In succession came his son, Sir Henry, grandson Arthur, and finally Nicholas Bagenal.

Another local dynasty was the Corry family, headed by Edward, a prosperous merchant and seneschal, who was elected to the Irish parliament in Dublin as MP for Newry in 1774. However, when a general election was called, two years later, he declined to stand again, due to the death of his brother, Sir Trevor Corry, who had made a fortune in the international market.

So when young Isaac Corry, son of the outgoing MP, contested the seat and was elected to the Dublin parliament, he embarked on a highly controversial political career. This was a time of turmoil on the national and international fronts, as the Declaration of American Independence whetted the appetite for self-rule in Ireland, from which British forces had to be withdrawn.

Becoming a member of Henry Grattan’s Patriot Party, Isaac Corry also joined the Volunteer Movement, being appointed Adjutant-general. The movement was outside government control, and was utilised by Grattan, in an effort to secure free trade, election reform and the independence of the Irish parliament.

Since British troops had been withdrawn from protecting Ireland, and the British government could not afford a militia to defend the country, wealthy merchants raised companies of volunteers, who received no pay, but were a great success. Newry was one of the first towns to raise such companies, well-drilled and numbering about 1,800.

The merchants had “shown that men of wealth in land or property had the ability to defend themselves and, by organising to defend the nation, had proved their ability to administer for themselves.” And the Volunteer movement became the focus for political agitation, with demands for reforms, including the Penal Laws, as well as measures which gave greater freedom to industry and commerce.

When many of these reforms were enacted by the Dublin parliament in 1782, despite the objections of the government in England, the Volunteers demanded that “having achieved a degree of economic freedom, we are seeking to achieve political freedom, with an independent legislature, and the end of English influence.”

The approval of the Irish parliament meant that the majority of Newry citizens could participate in the commercial and public life of the town, as well as having political influence. It made the town one of the most democratic in Ireland.

However, Westminster moved to counter-act the growing rebellion across the water. And it used the power of patronage to achieve its objective. A principal target was the youthful, influential and ambitious MP for Newry, Isaac Corry, who had been to the forefront in the campaign for civil liberties and political independence.

In 1788, the British Viceroy offered him the post of Surveyor-general, which was accepted. But Sir Isaac Corry suffered no political damage, being re-elected to the post, which he held for a record 30 years. He was appointed Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer in 1799, and also became spokesman in favour of the Union between Ireland and England, the terms of which were drafted on a table at Derramore House, where it still remains.

Meanwhile, the United Irishmen, led by Wolfe Tone, had taken over the militant role from the Volunteers, and had many adherents in the town, including Protestant merchants. Tone was called on to help reconcile local Catholics, who were fighting among themselves. The Yeomanry were openly insulted on the streets, so that the government sent in a Welsh regiment, called `Ancient Britons,` who were responsible for many atrocities.

But when the Rebellion erupted in 1798, Newry was not affected. Arrests and seizure of arms had left local republicans disorganised and disheartened. They did not rise to support comrades elsewhere in the North, - so the town was spared the worst excesses of the insurrection.

Defeat of the `98 rebellion was swiftly followed by the Act of Union, when the Irish parliament was dissolved. Stormy debates, especially between Henry Grattan and Sir Isaac Corry, had taken place in the parliament on College Green, - now the Bank of Ireland. They resulted in a duel between the two former comrades, in which Corry was wounded.

Incidentally, the majority of Newry voters supported the Union, since they were promised that it would be followed by Catholic Emancipation. When this failed to materialise, Sir Isaac Corry lost support, and moved house to Derramore in 1802. He had a special road built between his home and the Dublin Road, so that he would not have to travel through the town of Newry, en route to the capital. That is still known as Chancellor’s Road!

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008