The Battle of the Diamond - 1795

The Battle of the Diamond was a violent confrontation between the Catholic Defenders and a Protestant faction including Peep o' Day Boys, Orange Boys and local tenant farmers that took place on September 21, 1795 near Loughgall. The Protestants were the victors, killing between 4 and 30 Defenders. It led to the foundation of the Orange Order.

The background to the so called "Battle of the Diamond" was the increase of Irish republicanism stimulated primarily by the United Irishmen (a Liberal political organisation that sought Parliamentary reform. However, it evolved into a revolutionary republican organisation, inspired by the American Revolution and allied with Revolutionary France. It launched the Irish Rebellion of 1798 with the objective of ending British rule over Ireland and founding an independent Irish republic.), which endangered the whole body of the landed gentry. This fear to their privileged position was also compounded by the proposals of the English Moderate Whigs with concessions to the upper stratum of the Catholic community, and that the English “Liberals” proposed to buy over the wealthier and more moderate Catholics.

The “Castle clique” of the Protestant Ascendancy retorted "by rousing up the more ignorant, debased, corrupt, and reactionary stratum," according to T. A. Jackson. The objective was to create disunity and disorder under pretence of "passion for the Protestant religion". This view was shared by John Mitchel, who wrote “The chief object of the Government was now to invent and disseminate fearful rumours of intended massacres of all the Protestant people by the Catholics." As a result of the efforts and influence of the United Irishmen, sectarian divisions were being replaced by political unity. Religion therefore was the last option left to the reactionaries, and to stock the traditional fear of the Papacy and hostility to the Catholic religion. Dr. Daniel Owen Madden says of this period:

"Efforts were made to infuse into the mind of the Protestant feelings of distrust to his Catholic fellow-countrymen. Popish plots and conspiracies were fabricated with a practical facility, which some influential authorities conceived it no degradation to stoop to; and alarming reports of these dark confederations were circulated with a restless assiduity"

County Armagh, where the population was fairly evenly divided between the sects, had been for years the site of intermittent faction fighting between Protestant Peep-of-Day Boys and Catholic Defenders. This had subsided under the influence of United Irish agitation. When the pro-Catholic reformer Earl FitzWilliam was appointed Viceroy, the Peep-of-Day Boys, after nearly two years of quiescence, suddenly resumed their activity. Jackson notes that it was “impossible to miss the connection between this fact and the lie deliberately circulated by the Clare-Beresford faction that Fitzwilliam was coming to replace Protestant ascendancy with Catholic ascendancy.” The most reactionary Protestant magistrates in County Armagh took advantage of the renewed disturbances to search Catholic homes for “seditious literature”. The Peep-of-Day Boys also began again to “search” Catholic homes for “concealed arms” although it was now legal for Catholics to possess arms. The Defender’ re-organised and began beating off the Peep-of-Day Boys attacks; these “defences” were then described as “Catholic outrages”. Such outrages brought fresh searches for evidence of “sedition” to be followed by a spread of anti-Catholic violence to areas previously peaceful. Ruth Dudley Edwards has stated that the Catholic Defenders might have been better known as the “Aggressors”. According to Marianne Elliott, Defenders regularly attacked Protestant homes. However, in his evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee investigation into the Orange Order on July 10th 1835, James Christie described an orchestrated campaign of 'wrecking' Catholic homes by the 'Peep-o-day' and 'break-of-day boys' who were the precursors of the Orange Order. Christie, a Quaker, said:

"it was termed "wrecking" when the parties broke open the door and smashed everything that was capable of being broken in the house ... they threw the furniture out of the house smashed; and in other cases they set fire to the house and burnt it"

Christie testified that the 'wrecking' actually began in 1794 on the estates administered by James Verner, a Justice of the Peace who lived at Church-hill, on the Dungannon Rd, but that the greatest depredations committed against the Catholics were in the Spring of 1795, and on a lesser scale in 1796 - 97. He told of twelve to fourteen Catholic houses being burned down in one night just a mile or so from Portadown, at Battle Hill, in the spring of 1795.

Peep O' Day Boys

At a Sunday church service in Portadown in June 1795 a Rev. George Maunsell called on his congregation: " to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in the true spirit of the institution" by attending a sermon to be given by a Rev. Devine of the Established Church at Drumcree on Sunday the 1st of July. This 'religious service' gave birth to the 200-year-old tradition of violent demonstrations of Orange supremacy in the parish of Drumcree. And that 1st first Sunday, like so many since, was celebrated with 'wrecking' and bloodletting in the parish of Drumcree. On page 17 of his "History of Ireland" (Vol. I), published in 1809, the historian Francis Plowden described the events that followed the Rev Devine's sermon:

This evangelical laborer in the vineyard of the Lord of peace so worked up the minds of his audience, that upon retiring from service, on the different roads leading to their respective homes, they gave full scope to the antipapistical zeal, with which he had inspired them, falling upon every Catholic they met, beating and bruising them without provocation or distinction, breaking the doors and windows of their houses, and actually murdering two unoffending Catholics in a bog. This unprovoked atrocity of the Protestants revived and redoubled religious rancour. The flame spread and threatened a contest of extermination...

The pogrom against Catholics in the Portadown area quickly spread. The victims, fleeing from their burning homes, spread panic throughout Ireland. The motive actuating this “Protestant” villainy, according to Jackson, became unmistakable when it was seen that it was the most improved farms, on the best land, which were first attacked, and whose occupants were first offered the alternative of “To hell or to Connaught”. Jackson continued: “Poor and struggling Catholic farmers scratching a living from a stony hill-top farm rarely, if ever, excited Protestant zeal even in the heart of Antrim”.

Battle of the Diamond

This pogrom artificially worked-up culminated, on September 21, 1795, in the incident which came to be known as the “Battle of the Diamond,” and which has taken a front place in Orange Order mythology ever since. Several writers, according to John Mitchel, have alleged that the Catholics invited this conflict by a challenge sent to the Orangemen. Mitchel continues:

the Protestants, having abundance of arms, and being sure of the protection of the magistrates, were not slow to accept such an invitation; but nothing can be more absurd than to term the affair a 'battle'. Not one of the Orange party at the so-called 'Battle of the Diamond' was killed or wounded. Four or five Defenders were killed, and a proportionate number wounded; and this is the glorious battle that has been toasted at Orange banquets from that day to the present

The early hours of 21st September 1795 was the climax of the 3 day struggle from opposite hills overlooking the Diamond Crossroads. The Defenders on Faughart Hill (Tullymore). The Orange Boys and their allies on the Diamond Hill (Grangemore). A farmer named Daniel Winter and his sons owned the field of action between the two hills, the ancestral home in the farmyard and the property at the Diamond Crossroads. During the battle, the property at the crossroads was burned and became uninhabitable. Daniel Winter and his sons defended their property as long as possible, having to retreat to the Diamond Hill when the thatch was fired. Tradition passed down the Winter family line from Daniel c 1730, one of the founding fathers of the Orange Society, that the first embyonic meeting of The Orange Society as we know it took place in the ancestral home in the farmyard 200 yards from the Diamond Crossroads. Following the battle, the main leaders including James Wilson, Daniel Winter and James Sloan needed to get away from the throng to plan and think. They needed a representative readily available to act for the whole body. James Sloan was chosen as Secretary. He was an educated man, a farmer schoolmaster, who owned an inn on the main street in Loughgall. Discussion took place to outine the new organisation and it was decided to hold further discussions later in the house of James Sloan.

A similar example of Orange propaganda was the 1860 newspaper report of an OUTRAGEOUS ATTACK ON ORANGEMEN AT DERRYMACASH CHAPEL, also in Co. Armagh. The subheading to the sensational report said '16 Roman Catholics Shot' and the report went on to say that a riot had taken place at Derrymacash Chapel when a parade of 70 Orangemen was attacked by 300 Catholics armed with turf spades and billhooks etc. The Protestant owned newspaper said:

The Catholics had blocked the road at Derrymacash Chapel and attacked the approaching Orangemen who in their defence, fired on the lawless mob, shooting down 16... of their cowardly assailants.... Seven Protestants have been arrested, but none of the attacking party

The “myth-version” of the 'Battle of the Diamond, suggests Jackson, is that a group of “peaceful” Protestants was set upon by a multitude of “cowardly” Catholics whom "the brave Protestants routed with great slaughter." The truth, vouched for by contemporary Protestant testimony, writes Jackson, is that a semi-secret assembly of Catholics in the hills was sniped persistently by Protestant sharpshooters; that this brought on random fighting, which lasted for several days. It was ended only after the intervention of a Protestant magistrate and a Catholic priest. The Catholics, it should be noted, were almost entirely unarmed, while the Protestants were an organised and armed force. According to Robert Kee's account, which seems to rely mainly on the Orange version of history, a large party of Defenders attacked a party of Peep-of-Day Boys and got the worst of it, leaving twenty or thirty corpses on the field. The incident, "which in itself constituted nothing new," is a historical landmark, according to Kee, since it led the Peep o’ Day Boys to reorganise under a new name, the Orange Society. Mr. Emmet describes the affair as such:

The Defenders were speedily defeated with the loss of some few killed and left on the field of battle, besides the wounded, whom they carried away. The Catholics, after this, never attempted to make a stand, but the Orangemen commenced a persecution of the blackest dye. They would no longer permit a Catholic to exist within the country. They posted up on the cabins of these unfortunate victims this pithy notice, “To Hell or Connaught”, and appointed limited time in which the necessary removal of persons and property was to be made. If, after the expiration of that period, the notice had not been complied with, the Orangemen assembled destroyed the furniture, burned the habitations, and forced the ruined families to fly else where for shelter ... While these outrages were going on, the resident magistrates were not found to resist them, and in some instances were even more than inactive spectator.

But the Orangemen, writes Mitchel, by no means confined themselves to mere forcible ejectment of their enemies. He states that "many fearful murders were committed on the unresisting people; and what gives perhaps the clearest idea of the persecution is the fact that seven thousand persons were estimated in the next year to have been either killed or driven from their homes, in that one small county alone."


That same night September 21, 1795 a body of magistrates, squires, squireens, and parsons in County Armagh met together and formed the Mother Lodge of the Orange Society. Under a pretext of fervour for law, order, and the Protestant religion an oath-bound secret society on the Masonic model was organised, which, in practice, "proved a fomenting centre, as well as a cloak of protection, for the organised knavery into which the Peep-of-Day Boys had degenerated.

The Orange Order became an "organised conspiracy of all the most degenerate reactionaries" and were used as an instrument to break up the solidarity prompted by the United Irishmen, and to replace the struggle for democratic advance by "disintegrating it into an embittered war of sect against sect, from which the only ones to profit were the Clare-Beresford clique in Dublin Castle and their hangers-on of every social grade."

R.H. Wallace state that the first Orangemen did not sympathise with the Peep-of-Day Boys or wreckers and never allowed them to join the Orange Institution. Mervyn Jess has stated that some Peep-of-Day Boys might have “slipped through the net” but if so they found themselves in a vastly different organisation. There is evidence according to Jess, that the Orange Order in fact evolved out of the Orange Boys society which had been formed in County Tyrone in 1792 by James Wilson. Ruth Dudley Edwards notes that Wilson was present at the Battle of the Diamond and became one of the first Orangemen. The Irish Volunteering movement (set up in the late 18th century to defend Ireland from possible French attack) she says, was another source of members and inspiration to the early Orange Institution, and that Orangemen were among the first to contribute to repair funds for Catholic property damaged in the violence surrounding the United Irishmen rebellion of 1798.

Shortly after the Order's establishment, the Governor of Armagh, Lord Gosford, gave his opinion of the new group to a meeting of magistrates: "It is no secret that a persecution is now raging in this country… the only crime is… profession of the Roman Catholic faith. Lawless banditti have constituted themselves judges…" However, whoever the Governor believed were the “lawless banditti” they could not have been Orangemen according to Wallace, as there were no lodges in existence at the time of his speech. Against the background of the seditious activity of the United Irishmen, the government backed the Orange Order from 1796. Thomas Knox, British military commander in Ulster, wrote in August 1796, "We must to a certain degree uphold them, for with all their licentiousness, on them we must rely for the preservation of our lives and properties should critical times occur." In the Irish House of Commons, on the 20th of February, 1796, Henry Grattan observed:

"...that of these outrages he had received the most dreadful accounts. Their object was, the extermination of all the Catholics of that county". He described it as " a persecution conceived in the bitterness of bigotry—carried on with the most ferocious barbarity by a banditti, who, being of the religion of the state, had committed, with greater audacity and confidence the most horrid murders, and had proceeded from robbery and massacre to extermination! They had repealed by their own authority all the laws lately passed in favour of the Catholics had established in the place of those laws the inquisition of a mob, resembling Lord George Gordon's fanatics—equalling them in outrage, and surpassing them far in perseverance and success. These insurgents call themselves Orange Boys or Protestant Boys, that is, a banditti of murderers, committing massacre in the name of God, and exercising despotic power in the name of liberty.

Jackson, evaluating the Orange Society, writes "it was founded to disrupt and destroy the United Irishmen and the Defenders. One functioned as a great liberating force, and the other as a tenants’ protection league and an agrarian trade union." The Orange lodges functioned as a "union-smashing" force, operating in the interest of an oligarchical clique threatened by a revolutionary-democratic advance. They constituted, Jackson contends, "the first Fascist body known in history."

Some years later this poem was published by The Ulster Society:

The Orange Lark

It was not in faction, it was not in hate,
That we men of the North assembled;
It was that our own and our children's fate,
In the balance no longer trembled.

For there came - 'twas at night, a lawless band,
Their ranks like a torrent swelling,
With the weapon of slaughter in each man's hand,
Where we in our homes, were dwelling.

Darkly they came, in the dead of night,
They gave no word of warning,
And they laughed at the blaze their brands should light,
And the smoke that should greet the morning.

They paus'd--did they fear the storm they'd woke?
That they faltered as forth we sallied?
For we saw when the light of the morning broke,
On the Diamond Hill they'd rallied.

What though they were many, and we but few,
Yet each to the conflict hasted,
And the shot was sharp, and the aim was true,
While that fearful struggle lasted.

Yes, last it did - aye, many a day!
But the shield of our God was o'er us;
Till at last, like a quarry long held at bay,
We drove them like chaff before us.

Then blame us not, when all was o'er,
And we looked on the dead around us,
If then, and for ever, an oath we swore,
To be found as that day had found us.

Stern and steadfast, and linked as one,
On God and ourselves relying;
Seeking quarrel or feud with none,
But all on our hearths defying.

Traverse who will that wretched land,
Now rife with revolt and riot;
And where'er ye shall hear of our loyal band
There alone shall ye find it quiet.

Yes! cold suspicion, and scoff, and scorn,
And caiumny, have assailed us;
Aye! hard though it was - all these we've borne,
Not once have our true hearts failed us.

We have bided our time - it is well nigh come!
It will find us stern and steady;
It will need not to rouse us with trumpet or drum,
For our hearts and our arms are ready.

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