Defenderism in Co Leitrim in the 1790's (3rd half)

Defenderism in Co Leitrim in the 1790's (3rd half)


Rev. Liam Kelly

..magistrate. However he continued to plead on behalf of the poor and as late as October, 1798 after the French had passed through the county (and visited his house) he was doing his utmost to have two locals, Deane and Garty, who were in prison since the previous year, released.

Defenderism had two high points in Leitrim in the 1790's--the months of March, April and May in 1793 and the corresponding months in 1795. During those months it was a mass popular movement, one which dared meet publicly in numbers and even taken on the military. They suffered much for their naivety in thinking that their superior numbers alone would bring success. Defenderism did not disappear after May 1795 but it did take on a different character. It now lived a mole-like existence, alive but underground, only surfacing whenever it was considered safe to do so. The area was saturated with military, militia, and, from 1796, with yoemen too. The peasantry still had their grievances. In fact they had more grievances than ever because of the misconduct of the soldiers. But Defenderism was powerless to redress these grievances and could only confine its activities to isolated acts of violence against people and property.

At first the Defenders had great hopes of success and they had visions of a French invasion to help them. But Defenderism had shot its bolt three years before the French arrived. And when the French did eventually march through Leitrim in the first week of September 1798 very few of the peasantry joined them. Had the French arrived three or five years earlier this situation would most likely have been different. And yet after 1795 things could never be the same again. The peasantry of Leitrim had learned to be subversive, and would continue with sporadic violence against those they considered most responsible for their plight. Secret societies, having got a foothold, would continue. But they would be called by different names. The name "Defender" would not evoke happy memories.

Hugh McTernan III, Hugh McTernan IV and Bryan McTernan from Sheskin were most likely living during this time.

Michael McTiernan

N40 03' 09.4"
W75 24' 14.1"


Last updated Mar. 20, 1999

Return to the Top of Page

Return to the beginning