“All quiet on the Dungannon front”?

The Irish Times’ Irishman’s Diary today has an edited account of the “self-perpetuating cycle of provocation and retaliation [which] has bedevilled the North for decades” – from August 18th 1880. Along with the original, longer, report in the IT’s digital archive [which has the detail of the riot mentioned] there are also reports of disturbances in Belfast and Portadown, and of the discovery of “two large barrels of gunpowder [] at the Blackpool end of the Great Southern and Western Railway tunnel entering the City of Cork. The tunnel is at this point directly under the military baracks, and it is suspected that there was a design to blow up the latter.” Updated below the fold.From the Irish Times digitally archived report

So far as can at present be learned it appears that yesterday evening a small procesion of Catholics, headed by a band and carrying a banner, marched from the rendevouz to the railway station, where they joined several other contingents arrived by train, with bands and banners, some bearing green costumes, and others merely green sashes, emblazoned with the significant crest of a bloody hand. The combined parties marched through a back street leading from the station to the Protestant quarter. Passing along their route without molestation, they wheeled into the main street of the neighbourhood in which they then were – Church street – and marched through it into the Market Square, from whence, with music still playing lively airs, the processionists moved through the town, and afterwards to Donaghmore Field, a place some miles distant from Dungannon.

In the evening, about four o’clock, they returned, the main body advancing through Irish Street, which, it should be explained, forms a continuation with Church street, the lower end of the square intervening, and a somewhat less numerous contigent through Scotch street, which leads from the central portion of the lower end of the square, and is at right angles to the two former roads. A party of police numbering 30, under command of Mr Ryan, R.M., and Sub-Inspector John M’Govern, of Mohill, were stationed across the entrance to Church Street, as if with the intention of preventing the procession taking that line of route. However, as the processionist advanced, the line of police drew to one side, and allowed them to pass. All the party, however, did not march forward, a large body remaining in Irish street and other portions of the Catholic quarter. The police at Church street, thinking the whole procession had passed, followed pretty close upon the rear, so as to prevent any disturbance that might arise from a collision between the two factions, and also to guard against the possibility of an attack being made upon the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, situated farther down the street. For a few minutes it seemed as if all were about to pass off peaceably, when suddenly a scene of dire confusion ensued. So far as can be gathered from a careful sifting of various accounts, it appears that the procession was marching gaily by, flaunting their banners, one of which bore the names of the heroic achievements formerly inscribed upon the colours of the Irish Brigade, and playing enlivening national airs, when one of some half dozen Orangemen that had collected on the pavements rushed forward and endeavoured to burst in the head of the big drum. At once he was set upon by the bandsmen, and several of his comrades running to his assistance, in another second there was a general melee, although, as might be imagined, no doubt could exist as to which side would be victorious.

Not satisfied with protecting themselves and their property, the Catholics commenced to smash the glass in the windows in the houses in the street, and for some time the greatest consternation prevailed. As many of the inhabitants as could hurriedly put up their shutters, for many remembered the “sack” of Listamlaght and feared that it was about to be indiscriminately avenged by mob violence. Sub-Inspector M’Govern ordered the police to fix bayonets, and formed them in two files across the road in order to prevent the processionists returning to join their comrades in the square, where already the firing of shots and the throwing of stones could be heard. The rioters having at length been driven down the streets, and two of their number arrested, John Smith and Charles Hagan, both of Armagh, the former being captured by the sub-inspector, and the latter by Constable Rawe, the police formed a hollow square, in the centre of which were the prisoners, and moved down towards the square, whither Mr Ryan had already gone at the urgent request of Sub-Inspector Webb stationed there. In the meanwhile that portion of the procession which had not passed through Church street had commenced a desperate onslaught on a party of 25 police who were drawn up in the square, under the command of Sub-Inspector Webb, near the corner of Church street and the square. Suddenly perceiving a rush of the crowd into the lower end of Church street, Sub-Inspector Webb ran round the corner, and, finding a large number of processionists beating a man whom they had surrounded, endeavoured, with a few of his men armed with batons, to rescue him. Immediately the mob commenced to fling stones at the police, the missiles coming in showers.

A large and excited crowd were by this time seen advancing from Irish street, while another equally large body of processionists were observed rapidly moving up the ascent of Scotch street into the lower end of the square, all animated by the one design. The assembled contingents helped their comrades in stoning the police. Sub-Inspector Webb having without avail called on the people to disperse ordered his men to fix bayonets and charge, but the mob merely retreated a short distance so as to avoid the gathering line of steel, while remaining sufficiently near for their stones to take effect. A shot was then fired by them on the police, upon which, after driving them a few yards further on at the point of the bayonet, the sub-inspector called a halt, and, advancing alone, amid a shower of stones, thirty of forty yards, towards the rioters, besought them to disperse and go home. They however would not listen to him, and the only answer he received was volley after volley of stones that simply rained upon him and his men. Emboldened by their efforts many of the rioters then drew revolvers and opened fire on the constabulary. Perceiving that expostulation was useless, and that he was but heedlessly exposing his life by remaining any longer where he was, the sub-inspector returned to his men, and sent a messenger to ask the presence of Mr Ryan, the magistrate. The stones continued to pour without intermission, and the ominous sound of pistol shots to be heard, and four or five of the police fell stricken to the ground. In the midst of the confusion the church bells rang out loudly and clearly what was supposed by very many to be a summons to the Orangemen to arm and hasten to the conflict. But if such was the intent of the ringers the alarm was wisely disobeyed, and merely served to excite the fears of the rioters without causing the disastrous result that might so easily have been occasioned had the Protestant party attacked the Catholics. Others, however, say that the bells were not heard in the Orange neighbourhood, owing to a contrary wind that blew. Mr Ryan still not arriving, a second messenger was sent for him, and in a few moments afterwards he came.

By this time the police had been drawn nearer the corner of the square, but the stones and shots continued to be fired, and the sub-inspector was repeatedly struck. Mr Ryan ordered the police to again charge the mob with the bayonet, but it failed to disperse them. Indeed the charge seemed rather to irritate than alarm, for many rushed desperately amongst the points of the bayonets. Mr Ryan then read the Riot Act, and again called on the people to disperse. They replied by a volley of stones, and then he gave the order to fire. The police loaded with buckshot, and fired six or seven rounds. The mob retired a little down Irish street, but rushed back, and the constabulary then fired about a dozen shots, but without deterring the rioters. The police again fired on them, taking aim at the three great divisions of the people – those in the square, in Irish street, and in Scotch street. William O’Rourke, who was killed, was standing among the party at the corner of the square and Thomas street, which runs parallel to but higher up the square than Irish street, and was struck by a bullet in the thigh. He ran backwards about twenty yards and then fell. Evidently at length cowed by the determined attitude of the police, the mob began to cease throwing stones, upon which Sub-Inspector Webb ordered his men to stop firing. The people then began to disperse and the riot had practically ended.