William Orr

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXVI

In the autumn of this year, 1797, Mr. Orr, of Antrim, was tried and executed, on a charge of administering the oath of the United Irishmen to a soldier.

This gentleman was a person of high character and respectability.

He solemnly protested his innocence; the soldier, stung with remorse, swore before a magistrate that the testimony he gave at the trial was false.

Petitions were at once sent in, praying for the release of the prisoner, but in vain; he was executed on the 14th of October, though no one doubted his innocence; and “Orr's fate” became a watchword of and an incitement to rebellion.

Several of the jury made a solemn oath after the trial, that, when locked up for the night to “consider” their verdict, they were supplied abundantly with intoxicating drinks, and informed, one and all, that, if they did not give the required verdict of guilty, they should themselves be prosecuted as United Irishmen.

Mr. Orr was offered his life and liberty again and again if he would admit his guilt; his wife and four young children added their tears and entreaties to the persuasions of his friends; but he preferred truth and honour to life and freedom.

His end was worthy of his resolution.

On the scaffold he turned to his faithful attendant, and asked him to remove his watch, as he should need it no more.

Mr. Orr was a sincere Protestant; his servant was a Catholic.

His last words are happily still on record.

He showed the world how a Protestant patriot could die; and that the more sincere and deep his piety, the less likely he would be to indulge in fanatical hatred of those who differed from him.

“You, my friend,” he said to his weeping and devoted servant—“you, my friend, and I must now part. Our stations here on earth have been a little different, and our mode of worshipping the Almighty Being that we both adore. Before His presence we shall stand equal. Farewell! Remember Orr!”[9]


[9] Remember Orr.—Lives and Times of the United Irishmen, second series, vol. ii. p. 380.