Nowadays Ballymoney seems like a quiet town but it has a turbulent history.
1798 saw the beginning of the United Irishmen Rebellion. This was a cry for freedom and equality from the Presbyterians, Catholics and others against the power of the Anglican establishment. The United Irishmen wanted liberty and equality for everyone.
The ‘rebels’ took Ballymoney, Ballymena and Randalstown but were defeated at Antrim. When the battle was over, those taken prisoner were slaughtered. Many managed to escape and hide.
The Crown considered Ballymoney a ‘rebel’ stronghold and ordered the soldiers to set fire to it. Men, women and children perished in the flames as the soldiers threw torches into their small houses.
After the rebellion, the Crown encouraged magistrates to deal harshly with offenders. George Hutchinson, a magistrate in the town, is remembered for his role in viciously dealing out punishment. Men were given a public lashing, transportation to the penal colonies or execution by hanging, according to their involvement. Legend tells us that he took personal pride in the number of rebels he sentenced to death following the rebellion.
Hutchinson showed no mercy and sentenced two of the leaders, Samuel Bonniton and William Adams, to death at Dungorbery and hanged them from a tree on the top of a hill. The other rebel leader, Alexander Gamble, was tried and sentenced to be hanged also but Hutchinson said that he would spare his life if he informed on his fellow United Irishmen. Reportedly, Alexander replied,
“I will die someday, and know not when; but it will never be cast in the face of my children that their father betrayed others to save himself.”
Hutchinson was so enraged that he made an example of him by publicly hanging him at the Clock Tower at the top of the main street.
This was considered the most notorious of Hutchinson’s heinous acts and although he lived to the ripe age of 103, it is believed that his spirit does not rest easy in the graveyard beside the Old Church Tower. At midnight every Friday 13th, George ‘Bloody’ Hutchinson’s spirit manifests itself and limps its way along the Main Street with a large metal ball chained to his ankle. At the tower he pauses before turning back again.
Some people say that his spirit will disappear forever if he can be prevented from completing his journey. Others say that if you are unlucky enough to see him, even from afar, you will disappear.
As yet, only one man, drunk enough to accept the challenge to spend the night in the graveyard, appeared the next morning naked, his hair having turned white and speaking in gibberish about the ‘ghosts.’
Beware of visiting his grave at Halloween, because “Bloody” Hutchinson may appear before you and entice you into some supernatural shenanigans. Err on the safe side- remember that it’s best not to tamper with the dead.
(The bodies of the three rebels were discovered and re-interred in there in 1883)