The Recent Lurgan Riots.
Official Report Of The Commissioners.
The Belfast News-Letter,
Tuesday, November 18,
DUBLIN, MONDAY NIGHT – I hasten to forward the following report, the order being received at a late hour this evening to make it public.
The Commissioners, William Ryan, Esq., Q.C., and Edward T. Ffrench Beytagh, Esq., Q.C., appointed to inquire into the circumstances attending the riots in Lurgan on the 15th August last; the provision made on the occasion of the anniversary celebrations for the preservation of the peace in the town; the magisterial jurisdiction exercised within it, and the amount and constitution and efficiency of the police force usually available there, have reported to his Grace the Lord Lieutenant as follows : –
In obedience to the warrant of their Excellencies the Lords Justices (Issued 23rd September, 1879), we opened the inquiry so directed in the Quarter Sessions Courthouse, Lurgan, on Thursday, the 2nd day of October last, at the hour of one 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 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 a memorial to your Grace asking for an inquiry into the subjects above mentioned; Mr. Atkinson, solicitor, appeared for the Town Commissioners; Mr. Hazlett, solicitor, was convened 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 of 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 the neighbourhood, and also representing the different religious denominations of Protestants and Roman Catholics. We shall now lay before your Grace the results 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 thirty years ago, was the sixty-seventh town in Ireland, is now about the nineteenth town in size in Ireland. It contained by the last census 10,000 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 other towns in Ulster, Lurgan contains a Protestant and 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, and the latter of Shankill Street and some minor 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 of residence of persons of a different persuasion is resisted by the inhabitants of these exclusive localities, the Protestants and Roman Catholics appear to live on the most amicable terms with each other, except on the occasion of certain anniversaries – namely, the 17th March (St. Patrick’s Day), the Twelfth of July, the 15th of August (the Festival of the Assumption), and a few days about the time of each of these several anniversaries. The Protestants, 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 Episcopalian 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-off of the Orange displays that take place upon the 12th and also occasionally on the 1st of July.
The particular procession of the 15th 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 country, some as great a distance as ten miles from the town. They were accompanied by bands, and carried banners, some with religious and come with what may be described as “national” inscriptions. The various contingents met, and joined their line in Shankill, the Roman Catholic district already referred to. Thence they proceeded to 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 100 police had come into Lurgan on the 14th August from distant parts of the country, and Capt. Redmond, R.R., 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 the 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 hostile feelings towards them. At this place were stationed Captain Redmond, Mr. Peel, and the county inspector, and a Mr. Johnston, a local magistrate, whose exertions in endeavouring to preserve order were conspicuous during the day. All those 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 170 yards from the top of the latter street, where it joins the corner of Church Place, and 155 yards from the Roman Catholic Church, which is situated further down the street. Just at this place some operatives belonging to the Protestant party, who had left work (for the Protestant part of the community did not observe the day as a holiday), 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 work people 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. Some stones were thrown towards Ulster Street, in the direction of the 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 their attempts they themselves were made to 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 and also that of the local police generally, received a severe wound in the head from a stone, which rendered him unable to take any effective part for some time, and others of these local men were also again struck and more or less injured. It is right to say, however, that the Protestant party took no part in what took place, and are in no 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 Captain Redmond, R.M., 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 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 till the present time. The county inspector, Mr. Reamsbottam, having observed the riot which was going on and the attacks upon the local men, and also that upon Captain Redmond and Quilty, ordered the advance of twenty-eight 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 also struck and hurt by the discharge of stones. The crowd retired a little, but still turning round and throwing stones. Unfortunately at this 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 material to the rioters, who seized upon them and continued their attacks upon the police with incessant violence; the violence 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 that the rioters thought only blank cartridges were used, so 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; but 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 twenty-five yards of the police, was badly wounded in the leg, and died from his wounds within a few days. A boy named Murphy, who was merely looking on at a distance of about 130 yards, was shot dead, and his sister, a girl of thirteen, wounded by the 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 those of the men under his command being in jeopardy. We think its 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 originated among those who formed the extreme end. Under the circumstances above detailed one of the gate lodges or entrances to Lord Lurgan’s demesne was 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 wall which adjoin North Street. This was 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 to what is known in Lurgan as house-breaking. On the night of the 15th, and also on the night of the 16th, of 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 Thornhill Street. Which party commenced the wrecking did not clearly appear, but at least thirty houses occupied by Roman Catholics and fourteen 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 a sum of £800, by no means a low estimate of the property injured. This list, which was appended, represents chiefly the claims of the landlords, who were bound to repair the houses, and is no guide to the religious denominations of occupiers. It was alleged on the part of the Town Commissioners that there had been remissness on 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 engaged in them had been arrested. It appears, however, that the rioters extinguished all the street lamps, except those at the ends of the streets, and consequently were able to discover the approach of the police, while they rested. It appears, however, that the rioters extinguished all the street lamps, except those at the ends of the streets, and consequently were able to discover 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 some openings off them, terminating in fields and gardens – the rioters were able to retreat, disperse, and form again and finally to escape into the country, were 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 neighbourhood, assisted by a residential magistrate, who is stationed at Portadown, within a short distance of five miles. Several witnesses, however stated that in party cases the humbler classes of Roman Catholics think that they cannot be dealt fairly with. Two or three specific cases, in which partiality was imputed, was 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 maintain the allegation, after declaring that he was unjustly convicted by the Protestant magistrates, wound up his evidence by saying – “They thought I was a Protestant boy.” There is , however, but one Roman Catholic gentleman, Mr. Murphy, in the commission in the district; and ere we take leave we mention a suggestion which, having regard to the evidence which we heard of Lord Lurgan’s views on this subject, may perhaps be unnecessary, that, so far as local circumstances will permit, it is desirable that an addition should be made to the justice of the appointment of Roman Catholic gentlemen to the magisterial bench for the Lurgan district, in order to remove the semblance of ground for suspicion on the part of the classes 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. Five Roman Catholic clergymen who were examined before us stated they were occasionally subjected to insults at the hands of young persons in the Protestant districts of Hill Street and Union Street on their way to the poorhouse, 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 alone suggested by giving the means of a more frequent patrol of the town by day and night, would sufficiently provide against a 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 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 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 giving regret that a town ordinarily so thriving and well-ordered as Lurgan, and a people so industrious, should be periodically disturbed by processions and party displays on both sides, which lead to contention, discord, and animosity, and too frequently terminate, as in the present instances, in a lamentable loss of human life, and the destruction of property. And 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 to be groundless, were in almost every instance withdrawn. The proceedings were carried on 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.
This Newspaper Article has been reproduced by the kind permission of the British Newspaper Archive Limited, (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).