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Huge McKee 1798 Ireland - Rebellion and Murder
Posted by: linda mckee (ID *****5772) Date: August 19, 2006 at 08:08:28
  of 5279

Turned up the following on a google search. The book by W.G. LYTTLE, written in 1896 and listed as a historical novel, is free online.


A Tale of Ninety-Eight
Betsy Gray or Hearts of Down


"No hope of help! No chance of flight! ?Better to die in open fight!" - OLD BALLAD.

ONE MILE from Saintfield and about three hundred yards off the Lisburn Road stood the house occupied by Hugh McKee and his family. It was new, substantially built of blue stone, slated two storeys high, with windows in front and gable, but none in the rere. The foundation was partly cut out of the fade of a hill.
McKee was a comfortable farmer; he and his family had received numerous prizes from the Linen Board for their success in cultivating flax and spinning yarn. Several old spinning wheels which they obtained as prizes are still to be seen in the neighbourhood, given by them as presents to their relatives.
The household consisted of McKee, his wife, five sons - the youngest sixteen years of age - three daughters, grown-up women - as daring as the father and sons, and afraid of nothing; the whole family large, stout and robust, so much so that they were generally described by their neighbours as "a lot o' big, fat, course folk." There was also in the house a blind girl, aged about thirteen, who was a relative, and a servant named John Boles,
McKee and his family were most unpopular. The father had made himself obnoxious by persecuting United Irishmen, and by his offensive ultra-loyalty. The family were in the habit of going out at night, challenging every one they met on the road, and firing shots, to the terror and indignation of people who passed their house. So great was the fear they thus inspired that many persons were in the habit of making a detour through the fields. One night a United Irishman, named Samuel Adams, was shot through the arm and side. Nelly McKee, a daughter of Hugh, seized a hatchet and attempted to hack off the man's head, remarking that "deid men tell nae tales!" Two Scotch soldiers who were in the house at the time prevented the perpetration of the deed.
When Nicholas Price, of Saintfield House, brother-in-law to Lord Camden, tried to raise a corps of Yeomanry, the McKees were the only parties who could be induced to join. McKee evidently dreaded the resentment which his conduct was calculated to bring about, and he applied to the authorities for protection. A guard of two or three soldiers was frequently kept in the house, but previous to the outbreak of the rebellion this guard was withdrawn. He had a liberal supply of arms and ammunition from Dublin Castle, and he and his family were well trained to the use of weapons of warfare.
McKee's name and doings were familiar to the immense army of United Irishmen that on the morning of Saturday, 9th of June, was under march to Ballynahinch. A council was held by the leaders, at which it was resolved to put an end to the insults of the McKees, and what was even more important, to seize the large store of arms and ammunition which they held. A party was detached for the purpose, headed by John Breeze, of Killinchy. When the object of the attack became known, the entire of the insurgent army in Saintfield turned out to witness the affair.
On that memorable morning McKee was apprised by a friendly neighbour that an armed host was under march to his house, and that unless he consented to join the insurgents he might expect to be strung up to the nearest tree. '
"Then a'll niver join them," said McKee, "an' a'll sell my life dearly."?
He kept his word!
McKee entered his house, summoned his family, and told them what he had heard. No surprise was expressed; the tidings had been long expected, and with the utmost coolness and deliberation the McKees began to barricade the doors and windows. A daughter of the yeoman kept watch from an upper window in the gable of the house, which commanded a view of the road along which the Insurgents were expected to approach. As she kept watch her father and brothers loaded their guns, collected their ammunition and arranged their course of action. If attacked, they were to fire from the windows; the women were to load the weapons, the men to fire with sure aim, and all declared that they would die rather than surrender.
McKee's daughter kept watch at her little window. Every now and then from the kitchen below came the query -
"Dae ye see ocht?"
And in a voice that quavered not was sent the answer - "Na, naethin' yit."
All was in readiness. The defences of the little citadel had been made as complete as possible, and the time seemed so long that a ray of hope struggled for entrance into the father's heart - a hope that the alarm had been a false one.
But that hope was strangled in its birth. From the upper room came the message, conveyed in a suppressed shriek -
"Da, a see sumthin' noo!"
McKee sprang to the window. His sight was not so keen as that of his daughter, and he saw only what looked like a cloud on the distant horizon.
It was the cloud of dust raised by the feet of ten thousand men!
Then there were flashes, like rays of sunlight bursting from the cloud.
It was the gleaming of the polished pike heads in the morning sun!
"Cum wa frae the windey, dear," said McKee, taking his daughter by the arm. "Gang wi' the tithers, an dinnae be yin bit feered."
Ere long the distant shouts of the Insurgents could be plainly heard.
To McKee and his family it was a sound of terror. It drove the blood from their cheeks and quickened their feverish pulses.
It was the hour of noon, and the sun shone with a fierce brilliancy. There had been a long season of drought; the grass was scorched, and the dust lay piled upon the roadways. Parched with thirst, wearied by marching, and panting for vengeance, the mass of men moved onward. They crowded on the rocks and hills round about, pikemen with shouldered pikes in the rere, and the musketeers in front to watch the attack of John Breeze and his men.
They had not long to wait!
To the inmates of the doomed dwelling every minute seemed an age. From without there came the confused hum of many voices but no words were audible.?
Suddenly a hand was laid upon the latch. But the door was bolted and barred, and heavy articles of furniture were piled against it from within.
"Open the door!" cried a voice, and immediately a shower of blows was rained upon it.
"What do you want?" cried McKee from within.
"We want you and your sons to join the Patriot Army", was the reply.
"It's what we'll niver doe!" was McKee's firm response.
There was a momentary silence without. The crowd awaited the result of the parley between their leader and McKee.
That result was quickly communicated. No sooner was it made known than there arose a shout so wild, so fearful, that froze the blood in the veins of the unfortunate informer and his family.
"Hang the informers!" "Burn the house over their heads!" "Teer doon the wa's an' let us at them!" yelled the crowd as it surged and swayed around the dwelling.
"Ready!" whispered McKee to his sons, as he threw his musket to his shoulder and pointed to a window.
His example was followed by his sons.?There was no need to take aim. The veriest novice in the use of fire-arms could not fail to strike some one in that dense mass of human beings.
There was a crash of musketry and breaking glass; there were shouts of fury and the shrieks of wounded men.
Breeze himself received a bullet in the leg, and howled in agony.
The volley from the house was promptly replied to by one from without, but no one was injured by it.
"Now!" cried McKee, "it's life or death; load, lasses, an' we'll fire."
The women never quailed. Mother and daughters loaded the muskets; father and sons stood ready to fire.
It was slow work in those days loading the heavy guns, fixing the priming, looking to the flints and adjusting the locks. Ere a second volley could be fired the space in front of the house was cleared of men, and those who had fallen were dragged away.
There was a hurried consultation; brief and decisive.
"Burn them!"
Such was the sentence, and it was speedily carried into effect. ?
The attacking party made a detour to the hill at the back of the house. There were no windows there, and they were safe from the musketry of the McKees. Some of the men were sent to the house of a man named William Dodd for a ladder, which they obtained. On their way back they met two young men, William Shaw and William McCaw, whom they compelled to carry the ladder. The young men, hearing what was about to be done, threw down the ladder and refused to carry it to McKee's house.t Some of the others took up the ladder, and on reaching the house placed it against the back wall. One of the men, by name Charles Young, climbed to the roof and removed a few slates. The aperture thus made displayed a pile of flax. The fellow laughed at the discovery, and shouted for a light. Some one handed him a blazing wisp of straw, and this he flung on the flax inside. The next instant the huge dry mass was in flames.
The hapless creatures within soon discovered the appalling fate in store for them. Driven to madness by the near approach of a death so horrible, and by the impossibility of escape, the imprisoned men tore away the barriers which they had put up against the windows and fired into the crowd in front. Every shot told, but they were few and far between. The women, who had realised the true state of affairs, gathered round their male relatives, clinging to them wildly and crying to God for mercy. Shots were fired into the house from all sides, and the frantic inmates huddled together out of the way of the bullets. But they could not long escape the flames. The dried flax and wooden beams burned like matchwood, and the fierce heat scorched the skin and singed the hair of the doomed ones,
In this fearful hour the women displayed remarkable courage and presence of mind. They carried crocks of cream from the milkroom, and, lifting the cream in handfuls, anointed the burns caused by the blazing pieces of wood and flax which fell upon them, and threw on each other the milk, to damp their clothes and relieve their sufferings.
John Boles, the servant, threw down his gun with a scream of agony as a mass of burning flax struck his head and face. "Mester!" he cried, "A can stan' it nae longer. Ony death wud be better or this. Apen the daur an' let us mak a dash oot an' fecht fur our lives!"
McKee instantly agreed, and made a dash for the door; but the women pulled him back by sheer force, and declared that they would all die together.
"Then a'll gang mysel!" shouted Boles. As he spoke he dashed through one of the shattered windows, and started to run for dear life.
The race was short. He was impaled upon a pike and fell mortally wounded.*
A minute later the ammunition exploded in the house with a noise like the discharge of cannon; the roof fell in with a sickening crash, burying beneath its smouldering timbers the entire family, and stifling their piteous and heartrending screams.
The spectators fled in terror from the scene of this deed of horror.
Next day a party of soldiers when digging among the burned ruins found numerous guns and pistols at the windows, with the stocks burned away. They also came upon a charred mass that looked "like a load of black sods" piled in a corner. Nothing in that mess could be distinguished as human, but a quantity of calcined bones proclaimed it to be the remains of the ill-fated McKee family. These remains were buried in a garden opposite the house, and the body of Boles was placed along with them a few days later. The unmarked grave is shown to this day.
W Charles Young, who placed the ladder against the house, turned King's evidence, and received a pension for life. James Gardener, another chief actor in the burning, also turned King's evidence, and received a pension. He was not personally acquainted with Breeze, but went to his house in Killinchy under the pretext of buying wheat, and by that means was able to identify him as the man who was at McKee's burning. On this testimony Breeze was hanged. The two young men, William McCaw and William Shaw, who were forced to carry the ladder a short way, were also hanged by the evidence of these scoundrels. It was also chiefly on their evidence that the whole eleven persons were hanged - one for each individual burned; and it is confidently believed that all, except Breeze, were entirely innocent. John Boles made the twelfth victim.
*Singular to relate, Boles was left for dead, and was afterwards picked up by some friendly neighbour. He lived for two days, and told the facts above narrated.?
"It is, it is the cannon's opening roar!" - BYRON.

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