Betsy Gray ... Irish Joan of Arc (Ballynahinch, 1798 Rising)

A heroine, beyond any doubt, our own Irish Joan of Arc, was Betsy Grey  ...   a folk hero to all of Ulster, with both Loyalist and Republicans claiming her as their own,   due to the facts that she was  a known to be a Presbyterian ... with links to the United Irishman, a  non-sectarian  Organization,  because her father, brother and her fiancé William Boal, were all members of this organization

Her father was Hans Gray,  [a widower]  a prosperous north Down Presbyterian farmer and a well-known member of United Irishman. They were intent on bringing before parliament a bill, the aim being to seek to introduce parliamentary reform and set Ireland on its natural path towards a republic. The harsh panel laws had been put in place to punish anyone who was Catholic, or Presbyterian’s who were not loyal to the Crown,  and they had taken its toll on the whole of Ireland and both Catholic Presbyterian, were united in their efforts to free themselves of the shackles of domination by the Crown.

These harsh Penal Laws were as ‘Edmund Burkes notes .” A well-oiled machine of elaborate contrivance. well suited to the degradation, impoverishment, and oppression of the Irish people, predominantly Catholic,”  but used to bully, harass, and intimidate those of the Presbyterian Faith who were ‘not loyal’ to the Crown.

Betsy ever-present at her father’s side in all of this rebellious discussion was known as a beautiful, talented young woman, whose beauty was only matched by her kindness, though and care towards others. She had been raised to be a Lady, cultivated and very aware of the poverty and deprivation in Ireland for Catholics, as well as the need to unshackle Presbyterians from the penal laws system which ruled their lives. Betsy did whatever she could to aid and support the poverty-stricken in every was she could in her hometown. So that combined with her understanding of the Irishman Organization who were driven by the need to free Ireland of the Crown Rule and the harsh penal that were not only restrictive but brutal, she was well versed the struggle for Irish Freedom  An expert horse rider and educated to a very high standard, she as able to participate in any conversation. ... Many suitors had sought her hand in marriage; however, it was William Boal, a member of the United Irishman, and a friend of her brother’s and father, who stole her heart.

The Irishman Organization created a Military structure with elected officers and the elected Leader was Theobald Wolfe Tone.  Within this organization, there was some evidence that supports a United Irish Woman Organization, called ‘the Women of ’98." However, there is no evidence that Betsy Gray was a member ..... Suffice it to say she was always by her father’s side, and some Historians have suggested, and folklore would have it, that, she was indeed a member of the Irishman with her father and knew exactly what was happening within the Irishman Organization.....A rebellion had been on the cards for some time within the United Irishman Organization, with plans all over Ireland in place for this rebellion. Wolfe Tone had gone to America and France to secure aid and support for a rebellion in Ireland. However, while Wolfe Tone had secured the aid from France, this support did not arrive in time for the rebellion, because the Crown Forces had been alerted that a rebellion was due to take place all over Ireland

So knowing this, the Crown Forces arrested Rev William Steel Dickson, United Irishmen in Co. Down who had taken Wolfe Tone’s place while he was away in France. With this arrest, another man, named Henry Munro, a Linen Merchant gentleman, who had no Military experience had taken his place, with dire consequences.

Way too late, however, Munroe was alerted that the British Garrisons with several Cannons had converged on the hills surrounding Ballynahinch Co Down  .. With Ballynahinch now hemmed in by the British Garrisons and Cannons, and more equipped to do battle than the thousands of inexperienced Irishmen, The battle of Ballynahinch, started much sooner than the Irishmen Organization had expected, so they were unprepared and not as highly trained, organized or equipped as the Crown Forces.

While Wolfe Tone was sailing from France with the French consignment of cannons and men, unknown to Wolfe Tone the battle at Ballynahinch started on the night of the 12th June 1798, [some sources say 9th June]  Not fully trained and disciplined the United Irishmen were at a disadvantage and suffered heavy losses from the Cannon fire and slaughter. When nightfall came on the 12th of June 1797, a pause in the battle commenced. However, Munroe now acting Leader of the Irishmen, refused to take advantage of this pause, his rationale being that it was unchivalrous.

Unchivalrous, not being a byword of the Crown Forces, did take advantage of this, so that as dawn broke on the 13th June, the Crown Forces pounded the Town with Cannon fire and attached Ballynahinch from two sides. Betsy Gray, along with her brother, fiancé, and father, rode into battle with their swords, alongside Munro & McCracken.

Betsy Gray had her hand cut off by a Swordsman of the Crown Forces, while trying to protect her Fiancé. Confusion broke out among the United Irishmen, and instead of moving forward in battle they retreated. The Crown Forces took advantage of this by turning this retreat into a massacre. .A fierce bloody battle ensued, sixty-three houses were burned to the ground, with raids taking place all over the Town ..Over four hundred of the United Irishmen were slaughtered so that by July most of the rebellion had been crushed.

Betsy Gray lost her hand while attempting to protect her fiancé from being killed by the Crown Forces, then she lost her life in the battle. Some sources would say she was decapitated, others would say she was imprisoned with her brother, father and William Boal her fiancé .. and all were executed... Whichever source is true, there is no hiding the fact that she was a very brave woman of that era, fighting for Irish Freedom ...... Munroe escaped but was betrayed by a Farmer who he had paid to hide him. He too was executed. 

Note... The French did not land in Ireland until 22nd August, where more Rebellions took place, but that is another story...

On the 12th of October 1798, Wolfe Tone was on board the Frigate ‘Hoche' but refused Bompart's offer of escape before the battle commenced and he was captured at Buchannan.

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Tags: Freedom, Irish, Irish War of Independence, , Struggle", War


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