Life and execution of Roddy McCorley at Toomebridge in February 1800

2nd February 1800
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Information about the life and death of Roddy McCorley, also known as Roger McCorley.

Duneane is the birth, execution and burial place for Roddy (or Roger McCorley), supposedly a United Irishman memorized in a famous song, still sung regularly today. There is an elegant memorial to his life near the bride over the river Toome.

The Newsletter report below makes interesting reading. Obviously propaganda issued by the authorities, it nevertheless reveals that the reason for McCorley’s execution appears to have been that he was part of Archer’s gang that had robbed people in the Ballymena and Toome area over a period of time. There’s no mention of any connection with the United Irishmen whatsoever (nor am I aware of any other evidence that shows he was connected to them).

The other thing to remember is that hardly any United Irishmen were sentenced to death, apart from a handful of well known leaders (McCracken, Wolfe Tone etc). The rank and file were pardoned and the middle ranking officers booted off to the colonies or America. So if he was a United Irishmen, he wasn’t likely to be sentenced to death for that anyway. It also explains why he was betrayed. (He was hiding in a cot on the banks of the Bann). The locals in Toome were sick of him.  So there’s no evidence that he was a United Irishman at all. But we never let the facts get in the way of a good story or song in Ireland.

Some versions of the tribute songs say that he was hanged on Good Friday (which would affront most religious people). However he was hanged on Friday 28th February 1800, which wasn’t Good Friday. So that’s not accurate.

Belfast Newsletter 7th March 1800:

Extract of a letter from Ballymena, Sunday 2nd March.

Upon Friday last a most awful procession took here, namely the escorting of Roger McCorley, who was lately convicted at a court martial, to the place of execution, Toome-bridge, the unfortunate man having been bred in that neighbourhood. As a warning to others it is proper to observe that the whole course of his life was devoted to disorderly proceedings of every kind; for many years past scarcely a Quarter Session occurred, but that the name Roger McCorley appeared in a variety of criminal cases! His body was given up to dissection, and afterwards buried under the gallows.

Tomorrow Caskey will be executed at Ahoghill, and upon Tuesday, the celebrated Dr Linn, at Randalstown; thus of late we have got rid of six of those nefarious wretches, who have kept this neighbourhood in the greatest misery for some time past, namely Stewart, Dunn, Ryan, McCorley, Caskey and Dr Linn – in consequence of some information given by those unhappy men, there is reason to believe that the noted ARCHER will soon be in our guard –room.

Notwithstanding the awful examples that have been made in the course of ten days past, only think of it, that upon last Friday night, the house of a John Montgomery of Dunaird, near Broughshane, was robbed of about one hundred pounds, together with all his bedding, clothes etc, etc! The Court-Martial will recommence upon Wednesday.

Linn derived the name of Doctor, from having served for a short time to a Surgeon and Apothecary in this neighbourhood – he was bred in the parish of Drummaul, and of late was in every respect, a creature of the most worthless description.”

In 1852, when repairs were being undertaken to the bridge at Toome, a relative of Roger McCorley took the opportunity to dig his body up and rebury it in the Church of Ireland churchyard in Duneane, where it remains to this day. According to Wikipedia, McCorley's nephew Hugh McCorley was appointed foreman of construction of a new bridge across the River Bann at Toome. Hugh made plans to recover his uncle's body and on 29 June 1852, buried him in an unmarked grave at Duneane parish graveyard. Various members of his family are also reportedly buried there.

According to this website[1]: “In 1909 Francis Bigger erected a tombstone over the grave with the following inscription: “Rody McCorley who died on the Bridge of Toome, Good Friday 1799.” (The Newsletter newspaper report would indicate the date and year must be wrong).  The tombstone is not there today.  I have read that it kept getting vandalised and now the grave is unmarked.  Looking at the left hand side of the church from the front, his grave is reportedly in the corner of the L formed by the shape of the church building.

[1] http://www.roddymccorley.com/Rody%20McCorley.html

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