Joe Graham continues his quest of revealing our hidden history.

William Harbinson And The Belfast Fenian‘s. 1867

By Joe Graham

Very little has been written about the Fenian Movement in Belfast, possibly because it was overshadowed by the horrendous sectarian riots in Belfast in the late 1860’s. And some of which has been written by local ‘historians’ has, to say the least, been insulting to the memory of the Belfast Fenians. But first I must explain how this photo of William became available, it was taken in Dublin prison in 1867 under a then new experiment in which they photographed some prisoners and it later turned up in American photo files, so the first time you ever seen it is right here in Rushlight.

A poster appeared on walls around the Smithfield area on the 9th March, 1867, which proclaimed the intentions of the Fenian Movement which brought the R.I.C and the local loyalists to believe that perhaps the Fenians had planned a rising to begin on the 17th March, St. Patrick’s Day, the poster read....


Irish Republican Proclamation to the People of Ireland

We have suffered centuries of outrage, enforced poverty and bitter misery. Our rights and Liberties have been trampled on by an alien aristocracy, who, treating us as foes, usurped our lands and drew away from our unfortunate country all material riches.

The real owners of the soil were removed to make room for cattle, and driven across the ocean to seek the means of living, and all political rights denied to them at home; while our men of thought and action were condemned to loss of life and liberty. But we never lost the memory and hope of an national existence.

We appealed in vain to the reason of sense of justice of the prominent powers. Our mildest remonstrance’s were met with sneers and contempt. Our appeals to arms were unsuccessful.

Today having no honourable alternative left, we again appeal to force as our last resource. We except the conditions of appeal, manfully deeming it better to die in the struggle for freedom than to continue an existence of utter serfdom. All men are born with equal rights, and in associations together to protect one and other and share public burdens, justice demands that such as associations should rest upon a basis which maintains equality instead of destroying it. We therefore declare that unable to endure the curse of monarchical government, we aim at founding a republic based on universal suffrage, which shall secune to all the enteric values of their labour, the soil of Ireland, at present, in the possession of oligarchy, belongs to us, The Irish people, and to us it must be stored. We declare also in favour of complete separation of Church and state. We appeal to the highest tribunal for evidence.

Today having no honourable alternative left, we again appeal to force as our last resource. We except the conditions of appeal, manfully deeming it better to die in the struggle for freedom than to continue an existence of utter serfdom. All men are born with equal rights, and in associations together to protect one and other and share public burdens, justice demands that such associations should rest upon a basis which maintains equality instead of destroying it. We therefore declare that unable to endure the curse of monarchical government, we aim at founding a republic based on universal sufferage, which shall secune to all the enteric values of their labour, the soil of Ireland, at present, in the possession of oligarchy, belongs to us, The Irish people, and to us it must be stored. We declare also in favour of complete separation of Church and state. We appeal to the highest tribunal for evidence of the justice of our cause.

History bears testimony to the intensity of our sufferings, and we declare, in the face of our Brethren, that we intend no war against the people of England; our war is against the aristocratic locusts, whether English or Irish, who have eaten the vendure of our fields, against the aristocratic leeches who drain alike our blood and theirs.

Republicans of the world, our cause is your cause, our enemy is your enemy, let your hearts be with us.

As for you workmen of England, it is not only your hearts we wish, but your arms. Remember the starvation and degradation brought to your firesides by the oppressor of labour.

Remember the past, look well to the future, and avenge yourselves by giving liberty to your children in the coming struggle for human freedom, herewith we proclaim the Irish Republic“.

The Provisional Government.

Raids on homes and arrests were made immediately to thwart any rebellion, the Mayor of Belfast himself toured the town calling on all gunsmiths to deposit for safety all their guns and ammunition at Queen Street R.I.C Barracks. Must gunsmiths complied and soon cells in the County Antrim Prison (Crumlin Road Jail) began to fill up with Fenian suspects. Road blocks were set up and all carriages and carts were searched, on one such search some guns were discovered by police, in two large crates being carried on a horse drawn cart, they were soon handed back to their owner when he was identified as a “loyal Gentleman”. It was on the same day, after having faced angry protest from the people of the Pound Loney district against the many home searches, that the police decided to prosecute 30 nationalist housewives for not having swept the pavement in front of their houses by 9 am, a local bye law at the time.

In that year , 1866-1867, at least 1,000 people appeared before Belfast magistrates charged with “using party expressions”, that is for shouting, “Up the Fenians” or “God save the Fenians”, the peelers even had their hands full with patriotic drunks. All this as one magistrate explained took up valuable police time and so he showed an example by sentencing many of them to jail terms. Most of these public expressions were merely to ’wind up’ the loyalist police force, because police always were loyal to British, and will always be, however, there was one strange incident. A British soldier, Lance Corporal S, Devlin, stood in the middle of the Falls Road and declared he was going to desert the British Army and join the Fenian Movement. He was promptly arrested and brought Royal barracks, Dublin, and sentenced to fifteen months imprisonment. Many of the prisoners accepted the offered alternative, to go to America and never return.

William Harbinson was arrested, Monday 19th February 1866. during a raid on a house at Peters Hill. He had served in the British army and was lately a sergeant in the Antrim Rifles, from which he purchased his discharge in September 1866, to start a business. The Northern Whig of 23rd February stated, he was discharged from the ranks on suspicion of being involved in the Fenian Conspiracy though there was not enough evidence to charge him He was advised to take proceedings against the newspaper He remained until 21st September when he was released on bail.

At 19 Pound Street police discovered fourteen rifles and as many bayonets buried in the back yard, the tenant of the house, Elizabeth Cassidy, and a man from next door were arrested.

Two days later the police and the Belfast Newsletter were delighted to announce that two top Fenians, Francis Rea and James Burns were arrested following a raid on 22 Pound Street.

Peter McLarnon , of 44 Peter’s Hill landed himself in court after he got into a conversation with a uniformed British soldier in a Carrick Hill bar. Peter tried to induce the soldier to desert the army and join the Fenian Movement after listening carefully to Peter the soldier asked could his two friends also join, when told yes he left to get his two friends. Five minutes later he returned with two peelers, poor old Peter nearly choked on his drink , later he was fined forty shillings.

John Cox of Carrick Hill offered two men, Hugh McIlveen and William McMullan three pounds if they joined the Fenian Brotherhood. Thepair left the bar and returned with the peelers and John was arrested. In court it was learned that John had the sum of nine pounds on his person, the judge on hearing this fined him eight pounds, saying, “... now you won’t be able to recruit any more Fenians and still have a pound left for drink”.

By now loyalists had began calling all Catholics “Fenians”, which prompted “The Belfast Newsletter“ , 10th June 1867, to announce, “ is quite true that the Fenians to a man are Roman Catholic; but we must take care not to be led into a fallacy of supposing that every Roman Catholic is a Fenian. It might well be said that, because every man is an animal, therefore every animal is a man”. regardless the Protestant Irish continued in their “Fenian” sectarian name calling , and have done so to the present day.

During a raid of a house at 17 Hamill Street, the peelers surprised a group of men making bullets from a mould, among them Was Colonel Michael O’Hanlon, the court listed them as ...James O’Leary, a weaver of 36 Hamill Street. Michael Donaghy, Labourer, 36 Hamill Street... Patrick Reilly, A Sweep, 17 Hamill Street. John Levison, Labourer, 18 Winetavern Street. .. Daniel Higgins, A Hackler, Springview Street. Charles McCarroll, 34 Hamill Street. Colonel O’Hanlon lived at Skegoniel, which at that time was a Townland. When his house was searched four rifles, two swords and a large amount of ammunition was found. All these men were later sentenced to years in prison. You may be thinking by now by the success of the peelers raids that perhaps the Belfast Fenian Brotherhood had a “stakeknife” within it’s hierarchy, and you would be quite correct, this informer was a John Murray, a leading member.

Death Of Mrs Susan Harbinson. Wife of Philip Harbinson "Irish News, October 30, 1914"

"The death of Mrs. Sarah Harbinson, which occurred on Sunday last at the residence of her son-in-law, Mr. Charles McLaverty, 39 Clowney Street, is an event of special and melancholy interest to Nationalists in Belfast and all parts of Ireland. She was the widow of the late Philip Harbinson who, in the dark days of 1867, took a leading part in the daring and desperate attempt to assert Irish rights against intolerable tyranny, and was one of the pioneers of the Nationalist movement which has in out own time achieved a notable triumph.

" The chief mourners were:-- Messrs. W.E. Harbinson (son), Charles McLaverty (son-in-law) and also present were the Rev. H. McCartan, C.C.; Messrs. Joseph Devlin, M.P., Daniel McCann, J.P., Frank Dougan and James Nugent." And now back to the funeral of The Noble William Harbinson......

This short account of his funeral appeared in The Freeman's Journal, Monday, September 16, 1867. "Funeral of Head Centre William Harbison (from our correspondent)

Belfast , Sunday Night - The funeral of William Harbison, alleged Head of the Belfast District, took place to-day shortly after nine o'clock a.m. From an early hour, the sympathisers in the cause with which he was identified poured into North King-street. Vehicles of all descriptions were called into service. About half past nine o'clock the corpse was carried out but the bystanders would not permit it to be put into the hearse, preferring to take him to the graveyard on their shoulders. The cortege then moved off, the hearse taking the lead, and in this order it went through North Queen-street, down Donegal-street, Bridge-street, up High-street and Castle-place, and through the Pound. Leaving which, by a circular movement, brought them out on the Falls Road, en route for Ballinderry. The proper course would have been down by the Ulster Railway,and over the Boyne bridge. However, fearing a collision with the Sandy-row district, they wisely took the more circuitous route. There were between 30,000 and 40,000 persons composing the funeral. "

And in ....The Belfast Morning News, Wednesday, September 11. 1867. Death of a Fenian Prisoner in the Belfast Jail.

ON Monday evening, shortly after ten o’clock, William Harbinson, who, for the past fifteen months, has been imprisoned on the charge of being connected with the Fenian conspiracy, was found dead in his cell; in the Belfast Jail. our readers are doubtless aware that he was one of the Fenian prisoners brought up at the last Belfast Assizes, and for whom Mr. John Rea succeeded in getting their cases postponed until the next Assizes; but his confinement dates so far back that the circumstances connected with his imprisonment may have escaped the memory of the majority of our readers. Shortly after the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act he was arrested in Belfast on suspicion of being connected with the Fenian conspiracy. For seven months he was confined in Belfast jail, during which time no steps were taken to establish a case against him, and at the end of that period he was admitted to bail; but scarcely had he regained his liberty than he was gain arrested, not on suspicion of being connected with the Fenian conspiracy, but on the sworn information of John Murray, the informer; and it may here be interesting to state that on the night on which he was arrested Murray and he slept in the same bed. After his committal to the Belfast jail the second time, he, with other Fenian prisoners, among whom were his brother, Philip Harbinson, and Francis Rea, both at present confined in the same jail, was transmitted to Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, and there detained until the beginning of last July, when he was again sent to Belfast to stand his trial at the Assizes. Mr. Rea, who appeared for him there, succeeded in getting his trial postponed on the ground that “General” Massey, whom the Government sent down to identify him, had not sworn his information in the presence of the accused, and that, therefore, the prisoners were taken by surprise. Mr. Rea afterwards applied to get the prisoners admitted to bail, but, not effecting this object, deceased and the other Fenian prisoners were sent back to jail, there to remain until next March Assizes. Harbinson, however, died on the evening of the 9th Sept. He was a native of Ballinderry, and at the time of his arrest was a sergeant in the Royal Antrim Rifles. Dr. Purdon, surgeon of the jail, gave it as his opinion that deceased died from disease of the heart, but his friends being anxious that an inquest should be held, steps were at . Accordingly Dr. Dill, coroner, attended at the jail yesterday for the purpose of holding one. In- the board-room of the jail, where the inquest was held,

The Northern Whig, Monday, 16 September, 1867. CREAT FUNERAL IN BELFAST OF AN ALLEGED FENIAN. —

Yesterday morning, about ten o’clock, the funeral of Wm. Harbinson took place, and was --one of the largest demonstrations of any kind which has ever taken place in this town. The funeral procession started from North Queen Street, where the deceased resided, and the burial took place at Ballinderry, about ten miles from Belfast Harbinson, it will be- remembered, was one of the persons charged before Mr. Justice George at the last Assizes for Fenianism, and was said to have been one of the prime movers in the conspiracy which proved such a contemptible failure. The Attorney-General came to prosecute; but, on the application of Mr. Pea, the trial of Harbinson and two others charged with him was postponed till March next. Nothing further was heard of how Harbinson or his companions were doing in jail until Tuesday last, when it was announced that Harbinson had died suddenly on Monday night. An inquest was held on Tuesday, which was adjourned until tomorrow, in order that a post-mortem examination might be made of the remains, and we understand the result of the examination is that Harbinson died of disease of the heart. After the medical examination, the remains were taken to the residence of the deceased in North Queen Street, and it was determined that the funeral should not take place till Sunday, the object of which it is easy to understand The funeral procession was estimated to number from 5,000 to 8,000 people. The Roman Catholic clergy used great exertions to prevail on those --having the management of the funeral to bury the remains on Thursday or Friday, but their advice was not taken, and, so far as we observed no clergyman attended the funeral through the streets of Belfast yesterday. Although there was a hearse in front of the- procession, the coffin was carried through the streets on the shoulders of four men behind whom walked in semi-profession a vast body of people while the remainder of the streets and footpaths were crowded as the funeral passed along. The procession passed through Donegall- Street, Bridge Street, High Street, Castle Place, Castle Street, Mill Street, Barrack Street, and Found Street to the Falls Road, fully a mile out of its course, and was followed by three carriages and about sixty cars. The funeral cortege passed proceeded as far as Stockman’s Lane, into which they turned, and passed the Model Farm to the Lisburn Road. Contrary to the usual custom, the procession walked the whole way to the burial-place, passing through Lisburn. At various points along the road bodies of police were stationed, and four foot policemen were placed on duty. The magistrates, considering the character of the demonstration, feared a riot, and aLl the- p01-ice available were in readiness had the slightest attempt at disturbance been manifested. Everything, we are glad to say, passed off quietly.

In the 1940's, there was a small Republican commemoration held at the graveside in Portmore, Ballinderry. Many of the men who took part in the ceremony were arrested on leaving the graveyard and taken to Aghalee RUC barracks. Later as they were released in one's and two's from the RUC barracks, they were set upon by a loyalist crowd gathered outside and beaten. Finally, the graveyard where William Harbinson is buried is also known locally as Laloo (Lá Lugh?), probably signifying its existence as an important site goes back to pre-Christian times. The Celtic God Lugh was the God of Light and the harvest (among other things), and festivals were held in many places across Ireland in his honour at the start of the harvest each August.

In the 1940’s people were arrested for daring to assemble to lay wreaths on the grave of William Harbinson. They were taken to the barracks, now a private house, and then released in one’s and two’s to run a gauntlet of waiting Orangemen, being booted and punched along the way. I am not talking here of a procession to Harbinson‘s grave, with flags, crowds and bands like those of the Orangemen at Garvaghy Road. I went along quietly recently and laid a wreath at the grave of this noble Irish patriot, and this will be repeated, and should be visited by Irish people at any time, as this man died serving the aspiration of millions of Irish people that English tyranny should be removed from our land. While we are denied this simple right then we are still second class citizens as decreed by the first ‘parliament ’ of this six county state. One does not need to even visit the grave of Harbinson for here in this graveyard are the ruins of an ancient Chapel, desecrated long years ago by foreign invaders hell bent on obliterating our history, culture and religion, we should always visit these historic sites, reclaim our history and heritage even insist that a Plaque be erected recording the legend and ancient history of this once island graveyard. As i said our history and heritage is being deliberately hidden and indeed neglected while people tour places like Glenravel and City Cemetery’s, which often sadly keeps people ignorant of their own noble and heroic heritage, which isn’t to be found there.



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