James Dickey (United Irishmen)

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James Dickey
Died26 June 1798
Corn Market, Belfast
Political partyUnited Irishmen Flag of Leinster.svg

James Dickey (1775/1776 – 26 June 1798) was an Irish Presbyterian barrister and member of the Society of the United Irishmen, a revolutionary republican organisation in late 18th century Ireland.

The United Irishmen[edit]

The United Irishmen were initially founded as a group of liberal Protestant and Presbyterian men interested in promoting Parliamentary reform, and later became a revolutionary movement influenced by the ideas of Thomas Paine and his book ‘The Rights of Man’. In 1791 Theobald Wolfe Tone published the pamphlet ‘Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland’ where he set out that religious division was being used to balance “the one party by the other, plunder and laugh at the defeat of both.” He put forward the case for unity between Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter.

This pamphlet was read by a group of prominent Belfast Presbyterians interested in reforming Irish Parliament. They invited Tone and his friend Thomas Russell to Belfast where the group met on 14 October 1791. It was there that the Belfast Society of the United Irishmen was formed.


In May 1798, the United Irishmen instigated a rising against British rule. Beginning in Kildare, it spread to other counties in Leinster before finally reaching Ulster. On 5 June the Antrim Society of United Irishmen met in Templepatrick where they elected textile manufacturer Henry Joy McCracken as their General. The next day McCracken issued a proclamation calling for the United army of Ulster to rise. The initial plan met with success, as the towns of Larne, Ballymena, Portaferry and Randalstown were taken and the bridge at Toome damaged to prevent the government rushing reinforcements into Antrim from west of the Bann. Dickey himself commanded the rebel force that took Randalstown.[1]

Although the plan met initial success and McCracken led the rebels in the attack on Antrim, the Roman Catholic Defenders Group whom McCracken thought would assist were conspicuous by their absence. McCrackens United Irishmen were defeated and his army melted away. On June 15, Dickey, together with McCracken, James Hope, James Orr and about 50 other rebel survivors from Antrim arrived at Slemish, near Ballymena.[2] There they set up camp for 3 weeks before leaving under threat of attack from Colonel Green of the Tay Fencibles.[3]

Capture and death[edit]

Dickey was captured by the Sutherland fencibles on the Divis Mountain where he hid out. He was court-martialled and hanged at Corn Market, Belfast on 26 June 1798. Famously; before his hanging Dickey refused to wear a black hood saying to the hangman, "Sir, don't cover my face!" According to local legend he shouted, "Don't think gentlemen, I am ashamed to show my face among you, I am dying for my country!"[4] He was 22 years old. His head was placed on a spike outside the market house.


  1. ^ Young 1893, pp 38.
  2. ^ Young 1893, pp 32.
  3. ^ Young 1893, pp 32.
  4. ^ Anonymous 1799.


  • Robert M. Young 1893, Ulster in '98 : episodes and anecdotes, Belfast, Marcus Ward & Co., Limited, Royal Ulster Works, London and New York
  • Anonymous 1799, A Letter From an Irish Emigrant to his Friends in the United States Giving an Account of the Commotions in Ireland of the United Irishmen, and Orange Societies and of Several Battles and Military Executions. Philadelphia, printed and sold at the Book-Sellers 1799.