French Capture Carrickfergus
EIGHTEEN YEARS before John Paul Jones in the American privateer Ranger captured HMS Drake in battle (see our last issue) Carrickfergus was the scene of a minor skirmish with the French. As recounted in Dixon Donaldson’s History of Islandmagee, a French raiding party landed at Kilroot Point and captured the town and garrison of Carrickfergus for a few days. After their departure the town organised a militia to provide a measure of self-defence. A battalion was formed at Bellahill with companies from Glynn, Ballycarry. Islandmagee and Kilroot. This was the beginning of the Volunteer Movement which stepped into the gap left by regular troops who were trying to put down the American colonists’ revolt.
The Volunteer Movement was a citizen army drawn mainly from the Presbyterian community in Ulster. It’s leadership, in return for the security it gave to Ulster from the threat of French and Spanish invasion began to agitate for the removal of civil disabilities that affected Presbyterians and Catholic alike. These Volunteers, who celebrated the victory of the Boyne and the Relief of Derry would occasionally parade to Mass in sympathy with their Catholic brethren who suffered similarly under the Test Act. Many Presbyterian ministers became chaplains or even officers in the Movement.
The Volunteer Movement lost its role after the Peace of Paris and the recognition of independence for the American colonies. The government took this opportunity to disband it, concerned at the revolutionary nature of some of its members. This led to the formation of more openly revolutionary societies culminating in the Ninety Eight rebellion.