Hugh Montgomery of Grey Abbey
Sovereign Grand Commander 1800-1815
He married the Hon. Georgina Charlotte Emilia Hanna Ward youngest daughter of Bernard Ward Viscount of Bangor by his wife Lady Anne Bligh daughter of John Earl of Darnley in 1782. He was also a cousin to the Montgomery’s of Mount-Alexander and a distant cousin to the Earls of Eglinton.
Rosemount was the name of a defended house built in 1634 by Sir James Montgomery. The original building was burnt down in 1648, and another constructed near the same site was accidentally burned down in 1758, the third house on this site and the present one was built in the 1760`s and it was after the construction of this third house by William Montgomery that it became known as Rosemount Grey Abbey. In 1769, James Boswell, Doctor Samuel Johnson’s biographer was visiting the ruins of nearby Grey Abbey when he met with William Montgomery’s eldest son also called William, who invited Boswell to visit “the excellent house of Mr Montgomery’s own planning.” This son William was a Captain in Burgoyne’s expedition in America was taken prisoner prior to the battle of Saratoga but later exchanged. He subsequently served as a Major in 40th Regiment of Foot and was in Benedict Arnolds * attack on New London Connecticut during the American revolution in September 1781 in which action he met his death and so his brother, the Reverend Hugh became the heir, moved into Rosemount and upon his marriage had gothic windows added to the drawing room on the garden side of the house.
At some stage the Reverend Hugh Montgomery became involved in the 1798 United Irishmen’s Rebellion. The United Irishmen were a republican revolutionary group who were influenced by the ideas and success of the American and French Revolutions and were the main organising force behind the rebellion. The prospect of reform had inspired a small group of Protestant liberals in Belfast to found the Society of United Irishmen in 1791 eventually gaining Catholics, Presbyterians and Methodists in their ranks. At the time of the Rebellion the laws legislated not only against Catholics but also Presbyterians.
In Ulster it was largely a middle-class Presbyterian movement particularly in Co. Antrim and Co. Down and many Presbyterian Ministers were involved with Presbyterian tenant farmers and labourers providing movements rank and file (although not all Presbyterians supported the rebellion). A number of Ministers were directly implicated in the uprising, four of whom were executed including the Reverend James Porter of Grey Abbey (who was hanged outside of is own meeting house). Described as a brilliant satirist he was the author of “Billy Bluff and Squire Firebrand” a series of dialogues written as withering sarcasm between Squire Firebrand and a foolish dim witted Billy Bluff as reported to the writer of the articles by the Squires Catholic butler which appeared in the Northern Star newspaper in 1796. In these articles Porter attacked the suffering of the Presbyterian farmers and used his satire against certain persons by whom that system was represented in his neighbourhood. In so much as he lampooned the Stewart family of Mount Stewart (particularly Baron Robert Stewart of Mount Stewart, later 1st Marquis of Londonderry whom he thinly disguised as Lord Mountmumble (and the father of Robert Stewart who became Lord Castlereagh and their neighbour the Reverend Hugh Montgomery of Rosemount (as Squire Firebrand ) and William Lowry, the Revd. Hugh’s bailiff (Billy Bluff).
A later publication referring more favourably to Robert Stewart and the Reverend Hugh was “The Porciad” a mock epic poem written by William McCormick sought to ridicule English gentlemen and centres on a famous race which took place in 1798. A school friend from England named Egbert was visiting the younger Robert Stewart of Mount Stewart and boasted of his prowess at running at which the Reverend Hugh Montgomery who was in attendance, challenged Egbert to race against the local hog named Marcassino Marcassino and of course the hog won. The tenure of the poem shows both Stewart and Montgomery in a favourable light with the locals at that particular time, but that was to change. McCormick the author of Porcaid was another executed for his United Irish activities.
Eighteen Presbyterian ministers were imprisoned for various lengths of time and twenty either fled (in some documents the Revd Hugh Montgomery is cited as a rebel who fled) or were exiled to America with a number of reports suggesting the Reverend Hugh was one of the leaders of the rebel force and one of the witnesses at the Reverend Porters trial accused Porter of “trying to persuade people in Grey abbey to join the rebellion at the request of the other leader of the rebel force the Reverend Hugh Montgomery.”
Whether the Revd Hugh was a leader of the uprising or not he clearly supported the rebellion, certainly in its early stages which is confirmed in a letter by Colonel Atherton to General Nugent, commanding officer of the Government force in which he talks about his successes in burning houses and hanging a number of people. He also gave a list of inactive magistrates or friends of the United Irishmen and included Sir John Blackwood, John Crawford of Crawfordstoun, John Kennedy etc. “but among others the Revd. Hugh Montgomery of Rosemount who is no friend of the Government or its measures and of whom I strongly suspect I have his bailiff.”
Hugh for what ever reason eventually came to oppose the reforms sought by the United Irishmen and the Rebellion itself as did a number of the Presbyterians including the younger Robert Stewart who although not in favour of violence had sympathy with the patriot cause in the beginning. This Robert Stewart became the infamous Lord Castlereagh the Chief Secretary of Ireland and later one of Britain’s most celebrated Foreign Secretaries who became involved in putting down the uprising and instrumental in securing the passage of the Irish Act of Union which tied Ireland even closer to England and abolished the Irish Parliament
Many Presbyterians eventually ceased to support the uprising and so they were severely criticised for their “defection from the movement of which they were the main instigators.”
Hugh at some stage returned to Rosemount not only making considerable improvements to the property but also extended his landed possessions by purchase. In 1800 he succeeded Maximilian von Habsburg as Sovereign Grand Commander in possible contentious circumstances; Maximilian as we have seen in the previous chapter was a Catholic Cardinal Bishop and also head of the Teutonic Knights, Because he was a descendent of Rene d `Anjou he had demanded to be made Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ordre du Lys and eventually tried to fuse the Lys with the Teutonic Knights. This sparked a backlash from the Scots Presbyterians who ganged up and appointed the Reverend Hugh as the new head of the Order.
Hugh died in 1815 at Rosemount and was buried in Grey Abbey churchyard being succeeded by his eldest son William who became High Sheriff of Co Down and married Lady Amelia Parker daughter of Thomas 5th Earl of Macclesfield. William died in 1831 and was succeeded by his only child Hugh who subsequently became High Sheriff and Deputy Lieutenant of Co Down, a magistrate and a member of the Ulster Defense Union against Home Rule.
Another son of the Reverend Hugh was Captain Hugh Bernard Montgomery who served in the 3rd Guards Regiment from March 1811. In 1813 he was involved in the Peninsula War in which he was wounded; he was also wounded at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 dying in London in1817 and was buried at St James Westminster.
Hugh was also father to Colonel Francis Octavious Montgomery his eighth son who served in the 78th Highland Regiment and the 45th Regiment of Foot. He retired as major in 1854 and later appointed as Lt/Colonel of the Royal North Downs Rifles, the command of which he held for many years. He died in Folkestone in 1885 but was buried in the English cemetery in Nice his wife having died and been buried there some six years previous.
* Benedict Arnold was an American Revolutionary War General best known for his defection from the Continental Army to the British side of the conflict in 1780. He was later described as the most infamous traitor in American history.