A MEMORY OF ’98 (1798)
18 Sept. 1901 President M’KINLEY’S Relative Shot in Coleraine
In no country outside the Federal Union will the tragic end of President M’KINLEY awake a keener sympathy than here in Ireland. It is fitting that this should so for many reasons. The country of which William M’KINLEY was ruler, has given shelter to thousands and thousands Irishmen, and he himself comes of a stock that gave a martyr to the Irish cause, for away in the North of Ireland, lies the grave of a kinsman and namesake, who died a hero’s death for Ireland, little more than hundred years ago, in the stirring times of ’98. The William M’KINLEY, who has just died, was the Chief Executive of the greatest nation in the world.
The William M’KINLEY of 1798, fought in the war for Irish independence, sustained in hope, no doubt, by the example of American independence already achieved and defeated in the unequal strife, was not treated as a prisoner of war, but shot in Coleraine market-place, on the finding of a drumhead court-martial. Of course he was a Protestant, one of the race that gave M’CRACKEN and MONRO to Ireland. Nothing is better in these days than to recall to mind the fact that in Ulster and Leinster, at Ballinahinch and Antrim, as well as on the hills of Wexford, Protestants and Catholics fought, and fell together, for the cause of human liberty. The revolutionary idea arose in the North and it’s first adherents were the Protestant friends of the Catholic cause. The great struggle was fought out in Wexford and with Father MURPHY and Father ROCHE and during the terrible, brief campaign, were Bagenal HARVEY and many other Protestants, whose lives were given for Ireland.
There is nothing wonderful, then, in the fact that William M’KINLEY, of the M’KINLEY’S of Dervock, County Antrim, went to his death with the United Irishmen in 1798, although Antrim is the ultimate county of Ulster, the farthest-hung bit of Irish soil that parts the fretting foam of the Northern Sea.
The M’KINLEY’S, of Dervock, were a substantial family. The sturdy stone farmhouse in Dervock, “four square to all the winds that blow”, still stands just as it did when they lived in it, the stone chimneys untroubled by time, the thick walls solid as a fortress against the assaults of age. The roof of the house was thatched until at a recent date the three feet thick of matted straw was replaced with slate. The wide doorway is filled by the familiar “hall door.” The house is not old, as substantial Irish houses go. It was probably built 1765 by the William M’KINLEY of that date, who left his initials cut on an old stone seat that still serves the visitor to rest upon by Dervock door;
W. M’K., 1765
But long before 1765, the M’KINLEY’S had lived on the spot, probably in a ruder dwelling torn down to make room for the present house.
Their precise origin is in dispute. Some say that the M’KINLEY’S were a Scottish race that settled Antrim during James I’s plantation of Ulster; others stoutly maintain that they were of pure Irish stock and a sub-tribe or branch family of the great house of O’NEILL. However this may be, it is fairly certain that during the reign of Charles II., James M’KINLEY, son of another James M’KINLEY, called “Shamus Oge,” or James the Younger, settled upon the lands of Dervock.
The name of Shamus oge may be found among the list of those to whom a contract for the making of a road along the shores of Lough Neagh was issued in the year 1688. In 1709 David M’KINLEY, of Dervock, was a collector of the “hearth-tax” in Antrim. From his time, the names of David and William reappear in the successive generations of M’KINLEY, of Dervock, It was the grandson of David M’KINLEY, the hearth-tax collector, who went with the Ulster United Irishmen and so met death. Of David, of the hearth-tax and his wife, Hannah, were born four stalwart sons, James, John, Peter and William. They were smart, stern men of strong bodies and resolute minds, and with bold brows and prominent noses such as have, for generations, marked the M’KINLEY men. The oldest son, James M’KINLEY, went early to America and from him descended, in regular line, the present William, who, by a strange coincidence, became Washington’s successor, a hundred years after 1798.
It was by a junior line of the family, that the William M’KINLEY of 1798 inherited the family home of the M’KINLEY’S of Dervock. And he was, as his forefathers had been, a sturdy yeoman, tilling his acres, fearing his God and fearing naught else. This William M’KINLEY was a close friend of Henry Joy M’CRACKEN, leader of the Ulster rebels and an ardent admirer of the EMMETS, the SHEARES, Lord Edward FITZGERALD, and Wolfe TONE.
When the great organiser was in France, plying his quest for efficient French aid, the United Irishmen of Ulster were among those who strained the eye, day by day, for the sight of the French ships, with their braided-up sails and floating proudly at their peaks the tricolour, which was then over all Europe the emblem of liberty. But bright hopes faded and in wild desperation the people took the field in Leinster and Ulster, trusting to themselves alone. It was not given to William M’KINLEY to die in battle. A quantity of arms and ammunition destined for the United Irishmen lay concealed in Dervock House one day when a party of troops came upon it unawares and captured the stores and their guardian as well.
For William M’KINLEY’S offence, there was, but one punishment recognised as adequate, in those stern days of brutal tyranny and deliberate persecution. It was death, death to fight, or to stand, to run, or to plot: death to have in one’s possession arms, or ammunition. M’KINLEY was arrested by a detachment of troops headed by a Captain HANNA and away to the town of Coleraine went the procession. There the soldiers took possession of the Market-place, while the unarmed people stood around with swelling hearts, but unable to save or succour. It was the day of the short shift and the swift bullet; not so very far past the time when English hunters returning to some lord’s strong keep after a day’s sport would toss blazing torches into the thatch cabins in pure sport, to see the half-naked children pour out at the low door, their blue eyes wild with terror, their dark hair falling about their faces. And woe betide the prisoners captured by the yeos!
“For them was hot times for an honest gossoon, If missed by the judges he’d meet a dragoon, And whether the sojers or judges gave sintince The divil a much time was allowed for repintince”
In Coleraine Market-place William M’KINLEY and three others were “tried” by drumhead, court-martial. Not even Zola’s trial in France gives us an idea of what the procedure of Irish courts-martial were in 1798. Of the M’KINLEY trial no record remains. Yet well enough we know how it must have fared. It was not long later, in trials supposed to be civil, that one man achieved fame by sentencing twelve men in one day in Kildare.
William M’KINLEY, called, was confronted with his witnesses. They were the men in red coats, whose tongues burred with alien speech, who had taken the ammunition from Dervock and haled its stout-hearted owner to such justice as the wolves give the stricken deer. Witnesses for the defence there were none, could be none. There was no defence. The facts were obvious. In ten minutes the prisoner was sentenced. The young lieutenant who acted as secretary jotted six lines of record, flirted the ink from his cleft quill pen to the cobble stones of the market-place and the trial was over. Within the half-hour its verdict was carried out. With three others, William M’KINLEY stood up facing the firing squad.
One can imagine the scene; the cruel red lines of soldiers; behind them the glowering people; some fierce voice on the outskirts, its owner out of sight, shouting out in the Gaelic curses and cries of anger against the murderous red-coats and their callous officers. Then the four men, their hands and legs tied, but no bandage hiding from their eyes the last sweet look at the blessed day, their backs braced to some bit of dead wall, looking all about for the help that could not come. The firing squad of fifteen or twenty men, armed with flint-lock muskets, stood very near, looking with curious eyes in which there was little hint of kindly feeling upon the doomed victims. The muskets held at the shoulder, with the eye glancing down the brown barrel, were aimed at the condemned. So when “the schooling bullet leaped across and taught them whence they came,” it may be that because of the uncertain aim in the little group some muscle twitched, some tense form writhed, stained with gushing blood, some low voice moaned for mercy. Then all was over.
After that what happened? Who knows? What usually happened in such cases, no doubt, the family hurried from the old home, dispersed over the earth. Presently another name was known in local circles by the added words, “of Dervock.” The children of a happier time, played about the huge stone slab that bears the initials of William M’KINLEY, or in riot glee, chased each other up and down the long boreen and about the tall blackthorn hedge. The family disappeared and were remembered only by the ‘sheannachie’* of the remote district, or by those others, whose business led them to examine the records of the church, until lately, when the old M’KINLEY home has become an object of more than local interest.
But before the M’KINLEY’S of Dervock were scattered far, one sacred duty they performed. Home from Coleraine they brought the broken body of the Irish patriot, and buried it in the churchyard, where to this day the headstone over William M’KINLEY’S grave reminds the passer-by of the stormy times in Ireland’s history.
*sheannachie – story-teller of family history; a genealogist.
The National McKinley Birthplace Memorial
Transcribed & compiled by Teena from the Dublin Evening Telegraph