“William Johnston of Ballykilbeg”


The singer loves Ireland and "Fenians and traitors I'll ever disown," but cannot "set Erin's old harp above the crown." The Protestant boys wave Purple and Orange flags, hold King William's memory in esteem and toast William Johnston of Ballykilbeg.


"The redoubtable William Johnston [1829-1902] of Ballykilbeg [near Downpatrick, Co Down] was a legend in his own lifetime ... an Orange and Protestant folk hero second only to that other William of 'glorious, pious and immortal memory'." He led the campaign against the Party Processions Act. "It was his opposition to this legislation which was to make William Johnston of Ballykilbeg a folk-hero." [see "Bangor and No Surrender" and references there] Johnston was elected M.P. in 1868. The law was repealed in 1872. After some time away from Commons he was reelected in 1885 and remained until his death. He opposed Gladstone's Home Rule bills. (source: Ian McShane, "William Johnston of Ballykilbeg" on OrangeNet site) - BS

Jonathan Bardon, _A History of Ulster_, Blackstaff Press, 1992, pp. 354-355, describes Johnston's rise to prominence as follows: "Against the advice of the Irish Grand Lodge of the Orange Order, William Johnston announced that he woul lead a great parade from Newtownards to Bangor on 12 July 1867 in open defiance of the Party Processions Act. Johnston, owner of a small Co. Down estate and publisher of loyalist ballads, novels, and tracts, believed that if Catholics could turn funerals an unveilings into political demonstrations, Orangemen should be able to march ummolested by the law." (Which sounds reasonable until one realizes how often such marches ended in violence.) Reportedly the crowd occupied eight acres, which means it probably numbered in the tens of thousands.

Bardon, p. 355: "Johnston defiantly refused an apology to the authorities and in February 1868 he was sentenced to serve a short spell in prison.... Seen now as a martyr, 'fearless' and 'indomitable', on his release he was given a rapturous reception." He went on to call for the formation of an Orange Party.

Robert Kee, in _The Bold Fenian Men_ (being volume II of _The Green Flag_), Penguin, 1972, pp. 101-102, writes, "The radical streak in the Orange Society's activity was represented by William Johnston of Ballykilbeg House, the Grand Master of County Down, who, in March 1868, was sentenced to a month's imprisonment for marching, in defiance of the Party Proessions Act, from Newonards to Bangor at the head of a crowd of twenty to thirty thousand with beating drums, orange flags and a band playing the 'Protestant Boys' and other provocative tunes.

"Though educated opinion in Ulster disliked the Act under which Johnston was sentenced, it did not condemn the sentence itself. And the Protestant Defence Association... was to go out of its way to dissociate itself from the Orange Society altogether....

"Nonetheless, it was with the radical Orangement that the real vitality of the movement lay, and when Johnston was released from prison in April[,] special trains were run to Belfast for the celebrations."

Bardon, pp. 355-356: "A general election was called soon afterward, and when the Conservatives failed to nominate Johnston for Belfast, he put himself forward in any case" (and of course won).

Bardon, p. 358: "To the delight of his adherents, Johnston of Ballykilbeg got the Party Processions Act repealed by a private member's bill in 1870. The act had become completely unenforceable and was in danger of bringing the law into contempt owing to ludicrous [court] decisions.,, it seemed barely reasonable to impose fines of forty shillings each on John Kerr, for cursing the Pope, and on George Murray, for cursing the Pope and the Pope's granny; but it was plainly silly to levy the same fine on Teresa Brown for the even-handed naming of her two cats, 'Orange Bill' and 'Papist Kate'."

Johnston would later declare in the Commons that if the Home Rule Bill passed that Ulster would resist "at the point of the bayonet" (Bardon, p. 383), and warned that if the Union between Britain and Ireland were dissolved, "there would at once be a civil war in Ulster" (Keep, p. 104).

Interestingly, in all areas except religions tolerance, Johnston seems to have been well ahead of his time. According to R. F. Foster, _Modern Ireland 1600-1972_ Penguin, 1988, 1989, pp. 389-390, he was born at Ballykilbeg, educated at Dublin's Trinity College, joined the Orange Order in 1848, was MP for Belfast1868-1878, then became inspector of fisheries, byt was "dismissed for violent speeches against the Land League and Home Rule party?; returned to parliament in 1885, he remained a member until his death in 1902. He was an "advocate of security of tenure, temperance reform and women's sufferage." Foster lists two novels he wrote: _Nightshade_ (1870) and _Under Which King_ (1873); they are said to be strongly political. As literature, all his writings seem to have been complete failures; while a few things are (of course) found on the Internet, my library reveals nothing at all -- though his poem "Bangor and No Surrender" is in this Index. - RBW


  1. OrangeLark 37, "William Johnston of Ballykilbeg" (1 text)
  2. BI, OrLa037


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1987 (OrangeLark)