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4 - Coleraine Garrison and The Rebellions
Coleraine was used as a garrison town by English troops long before the Ulster Plantation. Just prior to the Plantation, Sir Arthur Chichester selected Coleraine as part of the necklace of garrison towns around Ulster because he considered Coleraine to be a barrier between the O’Cahans of County Coleraine and the Scottish Islanders of County Antrim. The town was also on the best land route to Derry city.
section will discuss the history of the standing army garrisoned
in Coleraine after 1600 and how the garrison and volunteer troops
coped with the major rebellions.
attempts to garrison Coleraine in 1601 and 1602 failed because of
a perceived threat from O’Neill’s men during the latter
stages of his rebellion. During 1602 O’Cahan deserted the
O’Neills and transferred his allegiance to the English. This
act of treachery allowed Coleraine town to be garrisoned by the
English. Captain John Sydney and his company of 100 men moved
into the town in November 1602 (Mullin 1976, p26).
In 1605 Sir Arthur Chichester asked Sir Thomas Phillips to
take command of the garrison and develop Coleraine town. There
were at least eighty foot soldiers garrisoned in Coleraine when
he was developing the town between 1605 and 1610 as a private
town garrison was maintained into the 19th Century
until Northbrook Mills barracks were sold in 1859.
troops used to garrison the town were usually accommodated within
the town so that they could man the ramparts and the town gates.
During his tenure Sir Thomas Phillips built 30 thatched houses in
Coleraine town to accommodate his troops. There were times when
the officers were billeted with well-off families in the town.
1614 Alexander McDonnell’s servant was about to be hanged in
Coleraine as “an idle person”.
(Curl, 2000, p95) He saved his life by claiming that he
had knowledge of a conspiracy to attack Coleraine town. He
alleged that a meeting had taken place near Macosquin, three
miles from Coleraine on the banks of the Bann.
It was further alleged that Rory O’Cahan and others had
planned to obtain weapons from a disaffected guard in the town.
After that, they would use the guard to gain access into the town
after the curfew. Their next step was to take two London Agents
as hostages for ransom, kill the remainder of the inhabitants and
then burn the town down.
From other information given under torture it was shown
that this rebellion was in contrast to the O’Doherty rebellion.
That rebellion was an individual response to the physical abuse
and broken promises inflicted on O’Doherty by the English.
The O’Cahan plan was more elaborate and involved
simultaneous attacks on Lifford, Derry, Culmore and Limavady
(Gillespie, p15). Of the seventeen conspirators, eleven were
acquitted and the remaining six including the priest O’Laverty
were hung, drawn and quartered in Derry and their severed heads
spiked over Derry’s gates.
Then in 1616, three years after the town received its
Charter the Irish Society became responsible for the town
garrison and Nicholas Elcock had been appointed the agent
responsible for the development of Coleraine. Elcock was captured
by one of the McDonnell’s who held him for ransom until he
managed to escape with the help of the Native Irish. McDonnell
was eventually captured and beheaded; his head was displayed in
Coleraine (Curl, 2000, p378).
The Philips and Hadsor Report of 1622 mentioned by Mullin
(1976, p73) stated that there were 206 houses in Coleraine town.
Sir William Windsor’s Company of Foot occupied sixteen of these
as well as six houses outside the town.
the early 1630s the Irish Lordships were in despair due to the
crop failures and their poor management skills under the English
system. To add to their despair, Wentworth was appointed by King
Charles I to raise money by any means and enforce High Church
conformity. Wentworth’s tactics became the catalyst for the
rebellion led by Rory O’Moore in 1641.
At the start of the rebellion the Standing Army only had
943 horse and 2,292 foot in the whole of Ireland. Despite that,
Coleraine mustered over 650 men in eight companies of a
citizens’ militia to deal with the rebels. But the town had to
disarm a company of fifty Roman Catholics after they received
news of the Portna Massacre. Irish and Highlander troops sent out
to stop the advance of the Irish across the Bann into the Route
had turned on the loyal troops and then advanced through the
Route, burning and killing as far as Ballintoy where they laid
siege to the Protestants in Ballintoy Church. The Protestants,
sustained on oatmeal smuggled in by Father McGlaim, called out
‘No Surrender!’ to their besiegers (McNeill, 1910).
The first attempt to halt the rebels took place in
Garvagh. Edward Rowley and William Canning were put in command of
300 men at the Battle of Garvagh. During the second battle they
fell to 1,000 Irish rebels on 13 December 1641 at
Rowellan’s Hill just outside Garvagh. Most of the settlers were
killed, including Canning
The rebels continued their slaughtering and burning on
their way to Coleraine. At Aghadowey a dozen rebels on horseback
hunted the refugees into the bogs, dismounted and then
slaughtered all the men. John Hunter of Carnkirin came into
Coleraine stripped naked and grievously wounded with 15–16 pike
stabs to his back. Thophilus Vesey, the son of the Rector of
Macosquin and six other Vesey children were stripped naked by the
rebels and then had to make their way to Coleraine town.
One of the early criticisms of Coleraine was that it was
too large to be defended. It now proved to be barely adequate to
house the thousands of refugees flooding in. Due to the
overcrowding and malnutrition, the refugees were dying at the
rate of 150 each day. A mass grave was dug to accommodate 2,000
bodies at one stage of the 140-day siege. There are no records to
show the location of this mass grave and it is reasonable to
assume that because of the physical state of the besieged it was
probably easier to dispose of all the bodies in the River Bann.
During that rebellion at least one in every five settlers was
killed throughout Ireland.
On 11 February 1642 one of the Coleraine Captains of the
citizens’ militia, Archibald Stewart deployed from Coleraine
and attacked the rebel army at the Laney in Ballymoney. He had
300 English and 600 Scottish Protestant troops under his command
that day. The rebel army fired one volley from their muskets and
then mounted a Highland charge on the Coleraine forces who were
routed. One of those killed in this battle was the Rev John
Campion, the Rector of Killowen church
Then in early May 1642 the second Earl of Antrim routed
the rebels. The navy also sent small boats up the Bann to relieve
Coleraine. The Laggan Army based in the Foyle area slaughtered
many rebels to the north west of the Bann and then relieved the
town on 16 May 1642. The Scottish Presbyterian troops of
Major-General George Munroe also relieved the town near the end
of June and the Scottish Army became the garrison troops until
The firm grip of the Presbyterian Scots on Coleraine was
only broken on Sunday 23 October 1649 when Sir Charles Coot’s
Parliamentary army crossed the Bann at the Barmouth and
Lieutenant Colonel Tristram Beresford rowed up the Bann to
Coleraine with enough troops to win Coleraine back again.
By June 1650 Cromwell had defeated the last of the Irish
rebels in Letterkenny and the rebellion was over (Mullin, p96).
Siege of Derry - 1689
Roman Catholic James II came to the English throne in 1685. His
late brother, made this possible. Charles II had dissolved
parliament and rid himself of the anti-Catholic opposition in the
In 1688 William, Prince of Orange landed at Torbay with an
army of 14,000 and replaced James II on the English throne. James
fled to France and then in March 1689 he headed for Dublin. He
intended to seize Ireland and launch an attack on England. If he
had been successful that would establish a Royal Catholic dynasty
in England. To that end the Earl of Tyrconnel ensured that the
army in Ireland was now commanded and manned with Roman
Catholics. Through a process of gerrymandering the Catholics also
returned a majority in the Dublin parliament.
north west of the province held out against this new regime but
by 15 March 1689, the Irish army had approached
Coleraine Lundy had all the officers in the garrison gathered and
emphasized the necessity to re-organise the broken forces that
had fallen back on the town. Once their numbers were known, these
men were formed into companies and battalions with officers
appointed to command them; of the nine regiments that retreated
from Down and Antrim, the colonels of only two had thus far came
to Coleraine. Lundy assured them that the forces of Derry,
Donegal and Tyrone were marching to support them and that Lord
Blaney with his men were also on the march, from the south of the
province. Once these units were in place there would be a
considerable body of men in Coleraine which Lundy considered ‘a
good post and easy to be kept, considering their number and the
strength of the place’.
A plan for the defence of the town was drawn up. While the
garrison would be posted in Coleraine itself, the remainder of
the force would deploy along the Bann to oppose the Jacobites if
they attempted to cross the river. The latter element should be
no more than an hour’s march away so that it could move quickly
to Coleraine if the town were to come under attack. Lundy’s
proposals seemed to have impressed the officers so much that they
urged him to stay and command the garrison as governor but he
told them that he could not do so, although Colonel Hamilton
would return to command in two days’ time. This seemed to
pacify the bulk of the officers.
However not everyone was happy, and some of the subaltern
officers and almost all the soldiers ‘began to be very
troublesome’. The soldiers claim to have been betrayed by their
officers and drew up the drawbridge to prevent Lundy leaving the
town, even threatening him with their weapons. Showing
considerable coolness, Lundy asked them to put up their arms and
explain their grievances to him. They had no satisfactory answer
although the bridge was let down. Lundy was compelled to stay all
day to pacify the garrison and commented that he had never seen
such disorder and distraction with ‘everybody running up and
down like mad men’. Next day the garrison was still mutinous
but still under arms, and Lundy, keen to return to Derry, had to
ask Rawdon to place some of his reliable men on the bridge so
that he could leave. Rawdon did so, but it was not until that
night that Lundy was able, with considerable difficulty, to get
from MS, The Siege of Derry: A Military History by Richard
Doherty (page 47)
Over 3,000 men were involved in the defence of Coleraine
at that time under the command of Sir Tristram Beresford and
The enemy marched on the town on 28 March. They used three
cannons protected by dragoons at the River and Blind Gate. Two
cannons supported by a body of horse were used at King’s Gate.
The attack only lasted for one day and the Irish army withdrew
under cover of snowfall that night.
One week later, on Sunday 7 April, the Irish army had
crossed the Bann at Portglenone and there was a threat of the
town being outflanked. Coleraine was evacuated and the refugees
made their way to Londonderry city. The Coleraine Regiment of the
citizens’ militia took part in the successful defence of
Londonderry from 18 April until 31 July 1689. They
were under the command of a Coleraine man, Colonel Thomas Lance.
Ireland was used as a killing ground for the English who
were opposed to the establishment of the Royal Catholic dynasty
in their country. Despite that, the victory over James II and his
forces at Londonderry and later at the Boyne and Aughrim is only
celebrated in parts of the old province of Ulster.
the year 1709 a barracks was built in Coleraine to accommodate
the garrison troops. The Barracks front occupied one third of
Bridge Street and extended back as far as the location of the
Methodist church. All that remains of this area now is the
barracks square. That is the small car park located between
Bridge Street and the Methodist church, just opposite Dunne’s
6 Bridge Street Barracks
1717 the military establishment in Coleraine was three companies
of foot. By 1772 the relationship between the regular soldiers
and the townspeople had deteriorated. For example, on one
occasion several people were sentenced to be whipped because of
the quarrelling and abuse they used on garrison troops.
Barracks and the Methodists
the Bridge Street Barracks had been offered for sale by public
auction in 1774 the Methodists used it as a place of worship in
July 1784 the 49th (Hertfordshire) Regiment, the Royal
Berkshires later were deployed in Coleraine, Londonderry and West
Ulster. In 1785 the barracks were still occupied. This time it
accommodated two companies of the 5th Regiment, three
companies of foot and a small detachment of the Royal Irish
Artillery from 1793 – 1800 (Kerrigan, p246).
Society of United Irishmen
1791, two years after the French Revolution, Wolfe Tone
established The Society of United Irishmen. This was comprised of
a group of dissident Presbyterians and Catholics. The Society’s
aims included the ending of British rule in Ireland with armed
French help if necessary.
The 1793 Gunpowder Act that led to the dissolution of the
Volunteers also forced the United Irishmen into armed
insurrection in 1798 (Connolly, p569). That rebellion degenerated
into a series of sectarian massacres on both sides. The 1803
rebellion never evolved beyond a general riot.
Although the rebels captured Ballymoney on 6 June 1797,
the United Irishmen never challenged Coleraine, but the Loyalists
prepared for the worst again. The local gentry and businessmen
raised the citizens’ militia again and formed the Coleraine
Cavalry while others formed the Yeomanry Corps. Other local
volunteer units were raised; these included the Moycosquin
(Macosquin) Infantry, Coleraine Infantry, Dunluce Cavalry,
Dunluce Infantry and the Cary Yeomanry. The Antrim Yeomanry Corps
moved to Coleraine after losing the Battle of Antrim. This was a
time when his treacherous tenants in Antrim had piked Lord
O’Neill to death.
also garrisoned many troops who were killed in subsequent battles
and others were hung from the trees in St Patrick’s churchyard
for breaking the law. The first execution in the town took place
on 25 June 1797 when a Ballymoney rebel was hanged.
Pike Meeting House
was a lane located 100 yards up Captain Street leading to the
Presbyterian Meeting House. This building was the forerunner to
Terrace Row Presbyterian Church. During the rebellion a stock of
pikes was found in the roof space and under the floor. The place
became known as The Pike Meeting House.
Kilrea an enterprising mechanic had constructed a guillotine and
after testing the infernal device on a few cats and dogs it was
declared fit for purpose. A list of potential Protestant victims
from the vicinity was drawn up and in the meantime the guillotine
was kept in the Lisnagrats corn mill (McSkimin p33).
1796 the Kerry Militia were garrisoned in Coleraine. At that time
the town had also raised the Coleraine 1st Company of
Volunteers with Captain Richard Heyland in command.
was a threat from the United Irishmen and eventually the Kerry
Militia were implicated in that plot. The Somersetshire Regiment
replaced the Kerry Militia in 1797. As the Kerry Militia passed
through Stewartstown on 12 July between eight and ten of them
were killed by a mob.
Manx Fencible Regiment
10 May 1798 Lord Henry Murray was in command of the
Manx Fencible Regiment garrisoned in Coleraine. At one stage of
their campaign Lieutenant Kewley was ordered to move to Portrush
and prevent the rebels escaping by boat (Manx Soc., Vol VI, p 18,
On Saturday 9 June 1798, Lord Henry Murray, Colonel of the
2nd Royal Manx Fencibles marched out from Coleraine
Barracks with part of his own corps, the Dunluce Cavalry led by
Captain Macnaghten and the Dunluce Infantry led by Captain
Stewart of Gracehill as well as two field pieces.
force of 327 troops made their way to Ballymoney but met no
United Irishmen so they contented themselves with burning down
the houses of anyone connected with the rebels.
During that period William Dunlap from Priestlands and
Francis McKinley from Conagher were seized, tried for rebellion
and hanged in St Patrick’s churchyard on 7 June 1798. The
bodies were buried in Derrykeighan. Francis McKinley’s uncle
James was the great-great-grandfather of William McKinley US
President from 1897 to 1901.
1800 the Armagh Regiment may have been garrisoned in Coleraine
because on 21 January two Lieutenants had an argument at the Mess
Dinner. Their affections for the Rector’s daughter were to
remain unrequited but they fought a duel on the matter.
Lieutenant Benjamin Hay of the Armagh Regiment was killed. He is
buried in St Patrick’s graveyard (Mullin, 1979, p122).
Freedom of the Town
1803 the Corporation of Coleraine conferred the freedom of the
town on the Volunteers. The honour was paid to the members of the
Corps of Yeomanry and Cavalry for their loyal conduct during the
United Irishmen’s insurrection.
was a second barracks in Coleraine. Dragoons (mounted infantry)
were quartered in a mansion house at the rear of Northbrook
Mills. That was located where the bus depot and railway station
now are. The Northbrook Barracks were still in use in 1824.
James Stewart raised a local Corps of Pensioners in 1846. They
probably made use of Northbrook Barracks because they were
observed in 1847 drilling in a field adjoining the Ballymoney
Road. The company strength at that time was fifty men (Mullin,
End of the Coleraine Garrison
Northbrook mansion was offered for sale in 1849. After the
Northbrook Barracks closed Coleraine ceased to be a garrison
town. Between the years 1880 and 1889 the garrison strength in
the whole of Ireland was maintained at 30,000. During 1881-1882
there were 50 permanent military garrisons and 50 part-time
stations that could be raised to meet any threat (Hawkins, 1973).
It was not until 1939 that Coleraine became a garrison town