A History of Resistance
South Armagh has, from the earliest times, been an area of resistance to foreign rule. This began with the Anglo – Norman invasion in the latter part of the twelfth century when the Pale was established and South Armagh became a place of refuge from which attacks were launched on the outposts of the invader at Dundalk, Ballymascanlon and Castle Roche.
Even after the defeat of Edward the Bruce on Faughart Hill in 1318 by the Anglo – Norman forces, no breakthrough was made into South Armagh along either of the two important routes -- the Sli Mor which went from Tara to Armagh via Castletown, Dundalk, and the Sli Midhluchra which ran from Tara to Dunseverick in Co. Antrim via Faughart Hill and the Gap of the North.
The first breakthrough by the English by land into the Gaelic province of Ulster took place in 1601 when Lord Mountjoy established Moyra castle and seized the gap. This incursion resulted in the defeat of Hugh O’Neill at Kinsale; his subsequent surrender at Mellifont; the Flights of the Earls from Rathmullan, County Donegal, in 1607 and the Plantation of Ulster in 1609.
The Plantation of Ulster saw the coming of English and Scottish settlers in north and mid Armagh and the resultant dispossession of the native Irish who were pushed into the inhospitable territory of the southern part of County Armagh and the northern part of County Louth. This compression from both north and south was further accentuated by the more thorough Cromwelliam confiscation in the 1650s. The Williamite Wars and the defeat at the Boyne in 1690 ushered in the draconian Penal Laws which further suppressed the native population.
As the Penal Laws relaxed in the latter half of the 18th century this rebellious region came to the fore again when, in the 1790s, it embraced the ideals of the United Irishmen. Jemmy Hope, the weaver revolutionary, came from Antrim and swore the local Defenders into the movement. The foundation of the Orange Order in the northern part of county Armagh meant heightened tensions along the fault line of the plantation where the native Irish and the orange settlers faced each other in close proximity.
The 19th Century was particularly turbulent in South Armagh, North Louth and South Monaghan. The famine took a terrible toll in the region, but it is interesting to note that the secret society know as the ‘Ribbon Men’ was better organised in this area than in any other in Ireland. In the immediate aftermath of the starvation attacks on Landlords, agents and tenants who took evicted land declined in the rest of Ireland- but once again this part of Ireland went against the trend and attacks became more frequent.
Even by 1880, when sentencing the participants in the so-called Crossmaglen conspiracy, the judge said ‘this place Crossmaglen is a running sore on the side of the British Empire’. Therefore, we can see that, as a Gaelic revival took hold in the last two decades of the 19th Century, South Armagh and its two immediate neighbouring sections of Louth and Monaghan were well placed to take part in whatever resistance the new century might offer.