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Lurgan Riots Inquiry Commission 1879

Lurgan Riots Inquiry Commission.


RETURN to an Order of The House of Commons,
dated 15 March 1880; for,

COPY “of Report, dated the 31st day of October 1879, made by the
Lurgan Riots Inquiry Commissioners to His Grace the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.”


REPORT to His Grace John Winston, Duke of Marlborough, K.G.,
Lord Lieutenant General and General Governor of Ireland.


             May it please Your Grace,
¬† THEIR Excellencies the Lords Justices having been pleased to issue to us a Warrant bearing date the 23rd day of September 1879, whereby, having recited that certain riots and disturbances of a serious character had recently taken place in the town of Lurgan, and that their Excellencies deemed it expedient that inquiry should be made in respect of the several matters set out in their Excellencies’ Warrant, in order that such measures might be adopted as might be found expedient; their Excellencies authorised and directed us to hold a Court of Inquiry at Lurgan aforesaid, on the 2nd day of October 1879, and following days, and to inquire into the circumstances of the said riots and disturbances, the existing local arrangements for the preservation of the peace of the town of Lurgan, the magisterial jurisdiction exercised within it, and the amount and constitution and efficiency of the police force usually available there, and the proceedings and action taken by the magistrates and other local authorities, and the police force, on the occasion of the said riots and disturbances; and whether these authorities and the existing police force are adequate to the future maintenance of order and tranquillity within the town, and whether any, and what steps ought to be taken, and whether any, and what changes ought to be made in the local magisterial, and police jurisdiction, arrangements, and establishment, with a view to the better preservation of the public peace, and the prevention or prompt suppression of riot and disorder.
¬† In obedience to their Excellencies’ Warrant we opened the inquiry so directed in the Quarter Sessions Court House, Lurgan, on Thursday the 2nd day of October last, at the hour of 12 o’clock. The Warrant under which we sat was read by the senior commissioner, who stated shortly the scope and purport of the investigation upon which we were about to enter, and also the mode in which we proposed to carry it out. When this was done we at once entered upon the inquiry. Mr. McHugh, barrister-at-law, represented certain Roman Catholic inhabitants of the town, who had signed the memorial to your Grace, asking for an inquiry into the subjects before mentioned. Mr. Atkinson, solicitor, appeared for the town commissioners; Mr. Hazlett, solicitor, was concerned for Lord Lurgan; Mr. Ussher, solicitor appeared for certain ratepayers; and Mr. Harris, solicitor, was professionally engaged for Mr. Redmond, R.M. The inquiry continued every day from its commencement (with the exception of Sunday the 5th) until Saturday the 11th October, inclusive, upon which last-mentioned day it was concluded. One hundred and one witnesses were examined, representing the various classes in the town and its neighbourhood, and also representing the different religious denominations of Protestants and Roman Catholics. We shall now lay before your Grace the result of our inquiry, following as nearly as possible the order in which the various subjects are mentioned in the Warrant.
¬† The town of Lurgan, which about 30 years ago was the 67th town in Ireland is now about the 14th town in size in the Kingdom. It contained by the last census, 10,600 inhabitants, of whom 4,712 were Church of Ireland Protestants, 4,600 Roman Catholics, and the remainder Protestants belonging to the Presbyterian and other religious denominations. Like some towns in Ulster, Lurgan contains a Protestant and a Roman Catholic quarter; a distinction which it would be very desirable should cease to exist. The former consists principally of Hill-street and Union-street; the latter, of Shankill-street and some smaller streets adjoining. Edward-street is the common approach to both these districts from the main or principal part of the town, and is itself inhabited by a mixed community of Catholics and Protestants. Although any intrusion by residence of persons of a different persuasion is resisted by the inhabitants of these exclusive loyalties, the Protestant and Roman Catholic inhabitants appear to live on the most amicable terms with each other, except on the occasions of certain anniversaries, namely, the 17th of March, St. Patrick’s Day, the 12th July, the 15th August (the Festival of the Assumption), and a few days about the time of each of these several anniversaries. The Protestant, and notably the Orange party in the town, have been in the habit for a long time back of celebrating the 12th of July by marching in procession with Orange sashes, banners, drums, fifes, &c., and it has also been their habit¬†to decorate the exterior of the Protestant Episcopal Church upon that day. The Roman Catholics (since the “Party Processions Act” ceased to be law) have been in the habit of marching in procession upon the other two days above mentioned, but although both these days, namely, the 17th of March and 15th of August, are celebrated as¬†festivals in the Roman Catholic Church, the processions¬†referred to have not any religious significance or sanction whatever. On the contrary they are, as far as possible, discountenanced and discouraged by the Roman Catholic clergy of the parish, and there can be no doubt that they are meant as a sort of set of to the Orange displays that take place upon the 12th, and also occasionally on the 1st of July.
¬† The particular procession of the 15th of August 1879, out of which the transactions the subject of our inquiry mainly arose, consisted of about 5,000 persons, a very small proportion of whom belonged to the town of Lurgan itself, and even those who formed that small proportion in joining the procession acted in opposition to the earnest and repeated advice and exhortation of the Rev. Mr. McKenna, the parish priest, and the other clergy of the parish. The main body came from different parts of the surrounding county, some from as great a distance as 10 miles from the town. They were accompanied by bands and carried banners, some with religious and some with what may be described as “National” inscriptions. These various contingents met and formed their line in Shankill, the Roman Catholic district above referred to. Thence they proceeded by Edward-street to Church-place, near the Protestant Episcopal Church, where they crossed the main street, and from that into North-street, in which latter street the Roman Catholic Church is situated. This route would lead them along Lord Lurgan’s demesne wall towards a place called Milltown, about a mile and a half from the town, to which place the processionists intended to march, and at that point to disperse.
  We may here mention that a body of 200 police had come into Lurgan on the 14th of August from distant parts of the country, and that Captain Redmond, R.M., and Mr. Peel, R.M., had also been ordered to Lurgan, with a view to giving their advice and assistance to the local magistrates towards the preservation of the peace. The magistrates had several conferences among themselves on the evening of the 14th, and the result was that a body of police was sent out on the morning of the 15th to a place called Derryadd in order to protect the procession while passing through an almost exclusively Protestant part of the country, in case any attack should be made upon it, and on return of that body of police, these men with the remainder of the force of 200, were stationed in the neighbourhood of Church-place, which is a central point, and were so disposed as to prevent, as far as possible, any collision between those who formed the procession and those who might entertain feelings towards them.
¬† At this¬†place were stationed Captain Redmond, Mr. Peel, the County Inspector, and Mr. Johnstone, a local magistrate, whose exertions in endeavouring to¬†preserve order were conspicuous during the day. All these arrangements appear to us to have been as good as could have been made under the circumstances. Nothing of any importance occurred until the main body of the procession had gone down North-street, and passed the corner of Ulster-street, which runs at right angles into North-street, at a distance of 175 yards from the top of that latter street where it joins the corner of Church-place, and 155 yards from the Roman Catholic Church, which is situated farther down the street. Just as this place some operatives belonging to the Protestant party (for the Protestant part of the community did not observe the day as a holiday), who had left work in order to go to dinner, came up to where the end of the procession was passing. A man in the procession, who was carrying a flag, waved it towards these factory workpeople as if in defiance. Some of his own party, obviously dissatisfied with his having acted in a way likely to give offence, attempted to take the flag from him. A scuffle took place, and the factory operatives, especially some girls, observing this trifling dispute among the processionists themselves, indulged in an ironical cheer. This appeared to have caused some irritation among those composing the end of the procession, or the crowd of followers attached to it, and some stones were thrown towards Ulster-street, in the direction of these factory people. Some of the local police (unarmed, except with batons) were stationed at this place, and endeavoured to stop the stone throwing, but so far from succeeding in the attempt, they themselves, were made the objects of attack and were struck several times. They succeeded, however, in arresting three of the persons engaged in throwing stones; but two of these three persons were rescued by the crowd, and a most violent and determined attack with stones was made upon these policemen, who did not exceed six in number. The Head Constable, Henderson, a man whose conduct received the approbation of all parties, as he did also that of the local police generally, received a severe wound on the head from a stone, which rendered him unable to take any active part for some time, and others of these local men were also again struck, and were more or less injured. It is right to say, however, that the Protestant party took no part in what took place, and are in now way responsible for the consequences which ensued. Their coming up to the procession was wholly accidental, and no attempt on their part was made either to molest or interrupt it. At this juncture the action of Captain Redmond, R.M., and the force under his command, commenced. Mr. Redmond, observing the disturbance in the neighbourhood of Ulster-street, and the attack upon the unarmed policemen stationed there, rode down, accompanied only by a mounted constable, as orderly. Both Captain Redmond and this orderly, a man named Quilty, were immediately assailed by the stone-throwers. Captain Redmond was struck several times with stones, and Quilty received three severe blows, from the effects of which he has been in hospital up to the present time. The county inspector, Mr. Reamsbottom, having observed the riot which was going on, the attack upon the local men, and also that upon Captain Redmond and Quilty, ordered the advance of 28 of the armed police, under Sub-Inspector Barry, to proceed to Captain Redmond’s assistance. Upon their coming up to Captain Redmond he ordered them to charge. They did so, but with very partial success, as the stone-throwing continued, and several of these men were struck and hurt by the discharge of stones. The crowd retired a little, but still turning round and throwing stones. Unfortunately, at that part of the road to which they retired there were large heaps of freshly broken stones lying, which had been put there as a depot for the purpose of repairing the roadway. These heaps of stones supplied materials to the rioters, who seized upon them and continued their attack upon the police with increased violence. The evidence satisfied us that the lives both of Captain Redmond and the men under his command were at this time endangered. Captain Redmond gave an order to fire. Mr. Barry gave the order to load. Two shots were fired by the police, apparently without effect.¬† It is probable the rioters thought that only blank cartridges were used, as they cheered on hearing the shots, and, indeed, some of them were heard to make observations to that effect, and instead of being deterred they increased their violence, if possible. Two more shots were fired, also by order, and a fifth shot (apparently without an order) just as the order to cease firing was given. The result of the firing was that a man named Smith, who stood upon a heap of stones within 25 yards of the police, was badly wounded in the leg, and died from his wound within a few days. A boy named Furfy, who was merely looking on at a distance of about 130 yards, was shot dead, and his sister, a girl of 13, was wounded by the same shot, but has since recovered. Deeply as we deplore the consequences which ensued, we are bound to say that we are satisfied, upon the evidence before us, that Captain Redmond was justified as a magistrate in giving the order to fire, and that the occasion called for that extreme measure, both his own life and the lives of the men under his command being in jeopardy. We think it right to add that although a riot of a most serious and dangerous character took place, such a termination was not contemplated by those who organised and formed the main body of the procession, and that it originated among those who formed the¬†extreme end, under the circumstances detailed above. Two of the gate lodges at entrances to Lord Lurgan’s demesne were attacked and greatly damaged by the rioters during the disturbance. There was an attempt made to show that some stones had been thrown among the processionists from his lordship’s demesne over the garden and boundary walls which adjoin North-street. This was positively denied, and several respectable witnesses (some of them in his lordship’s employment) were called to negative the statement. From their evidence we are convinced that nothing of the kind took place, and from a personal inspection we are able to say that such an occurrence as was alleged was all but physically impossible.
¬† The next matter to which our attention was directed was what is known in Lurgan as house wrecking. On the night of the 15th and also on the night of the 16th August very considerable damage was done by riotous parties on both sides, who wrecked a number of houses, situated principally in Hill-street, Edward-street, and Shankill-street. Which party commenced this wrecking did not clearly appear, but at least 30 houses occupied by Roman Catholics, and 14 occupied by Protestants, suffered more or less damage. We were furnished with a list of the claims sent in for compensation in respect of the damage so sustained, amounting in the whole to the sum of 800 ∆Ė., by no means a low estimate of the property injured. This list, which we append, represents chiefly the claims of the landlords who were bound to repair the houses, and is no guide to the religious denominations of the occupiers. It was alleged¬†on the part of the town commissioners that there had been remissness upon the part of the police, as far as regards those wreckings, that they did not sufficiently exert themselves towards suppressing them, and that none of the rioters who were engaged in them had been arrested. It appears, however, that the rioters extinguished all the street lamps except those at the end of the streets, and consequently were enabled to discern the approach of the police, while they themselves remained in darkness, and from the formation of Hill-street and Shankill-street, two long streets with lanes opening off them, terminating in fields and gardens, the rioters were able to retreat, disperse and form again, and finally to escape into the country, where pursuit by night was practically impossible; indeed, according to the evidence of one witness, without having recourse to the extreme measure of firing upon the rioters, they could effect but little towards putting an end to these scenes of outrage during the night.
¬† With respect to the magisterial jurisdiction exercised within the town of Lurgan, all parties concurred in expressing their perfect confidence in the present bench of magistrates in ordinary cases. It consists of gentlemen who reside in the town of Lurgan and the immediate neighbourhood, assisted by a resident magistrate who is stationed at Portadown, within a distance of five miles. Several witnesses, however, stated that in party cases the humbler classes of Roman Catholics think that they are not fairly dealt with. Two or three specific cases in which partiality was imputed, were brought before us. We investigated them thoroughly, and found the charge to be wholly without foundation; indeed, in one of them, a Roman Catholic who came forward to sustain the allegation, after declaring that he was unjustly convicted by the Protestant magistrates, wound up his evidence by saying, “they took me for a Protestant boy.” There is however but one Roman Catholic gentleman, Mr. Murphy, in the commission in the district; and here we take leave to make a suggestion which, having regard to the evidence we heard of Lord Lurgan’s views on the subject, may be unnecessary, that so far as local circumstances will permit, it is desirable that an addition should be made to the justices by the appointment of a Roman Catholic gentleman to the magisterial bench for the Lurgan district, in order to remove even the semblance of ground for suspicions on the point by the class to whom we have referred.
  In accordance with the opinion of almost every witness examined before us, we are of opinion that the permanent police force of the town should be increased by at least ten additional men, and that a sub-inspector of constabulary should be permanently stationed at Lurgan, but without interfering with the present arrangements at Portadown.
  Two Roman Catholic clergymen, who were examined before us, stated that they were occasionally subjected to insult at the hands of young persons in the Protestant districts of Hill-street and Union-street, on their way to the poor-house, which could only be approached through these streets, and to which their duty as chaplains called them, and they urged the establishment of a police barrack in Hill-street. This was also supported by other witnesses, but we think that the additional force of police above suggested, by giving the means of a more frequent patrol of the town, by day and night, would sufficiently provide against the repetition of these annoyances, as well as tend to the prevention of riot and outrage, and that there is no sufficient reason for calling for an increase of police barracks in the town.
  Mr. Hancock, Chairman of the Town Commissioners, and one of the oldest magistrates in the county of Armagh, furnished us with statistics which showed that Lurgan had not, in proportion to the number of its inhabitants, its full complement of police. He also suggested that the sub-inspector to be appointed should be appointed for that part of the Lurgan district which extends into the county of Down.
¬† All the witnesses, with the exception of one or two members of the Orange Society, expressed an earnest desire for the suppression of all public demonstrations on the anniversaries to which we have referred, or, at all events, for their exclusion from towns; but none of them were able to suggest any other means to that end than the re-enactment of the “Party Processions Act,” a species of legislation which seems to have been deliberately condemned by Parliament after several years’ experience of its operation.
  We cannot conclude without expressing our regret that a town ordinarily so thriving and well ordered as Lurgan, and a people so industrious, should be periodically disturbed by processions and displays at both sides, which lead to contention, discord, and animosity, and too frequently terminate, as in the present instance, in a lamentable loss of human life and the destruction of property.
  In conclusion, we desire to say that our inquiry was greatly facilitated by the manner in which the professional gentlemen concerned discharged the duties which devolved upon them. Some charges were made against individuals which, as the investigation proceeded, turned out to be without foundation, and, when they proved groundless, were, in almost every instance, frankly withdrawn. The proceedings were carried out with good temper and good feeling, and all parties, however much they differed upon various questions, seemed sincerely anxious for the future peace and welfare of the town of Lurgan and its inhabitants.

  Dated this 31st day of October 1879.

(signed)              William Ryan.
Edward Beytagh.


To read Newspaper Articles on the Lurgan (Lady Day) Riots, 1879, click Lurgan Riots 1879

My sincere thanks to Todd Langtry for providing the Lurgan Riots Inquiry document.

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