The Moat and Thomas Archer

EVERY day thousands of people drive past the 'Moat Hill', perched high over the dual carriageway which runs between Ballykeel and Harryville.

Few even give it a second glance, but let me tell ye (as all good stories go) thon's a scarey place on a dark winter's night when the gales are howling through the trees.

And it's even scarier when you consider the use the mound has been put to down through the years!

Among the more active spirits engaged in the uprising of 1798 was Thomas Archer, of Ballymena.

He was leader of a band of social outcasts which took advantage of the disorganised state of society to intimidate, plunder, and, maltreat those who in any way opposed them. Thomas Archer was born in Castle Street, Ballymena, and in due time he was apprenticed to the trade of shoemaker.

After serving his allotted term he enlisted in the Antrim Militia, thus getting a training which served his pupose when he became an insurgent leader.

Archer was somewhat short in staure, strongly built, and of dark complexion.

During the rebellion there was a brief but violent clash in the town centre of Ballymena and this was followed by what one source describes as a reign of terror.

It was in the aftermath of this social upheaval that Archer, who had thrown in his lot with the 'rebels' became a wanted man.

The authorities were anxious to bring Archer to justice but they needed reliable information as to where he might be surprised and taken.

Everyone knew that the life of even a suspected informer would be in imminent danger, while that of a known one was over.

One of those whom Archer placed implicit confidence, and to whom he doubtless spoke freely and confidentially of his doings, was James O'Brien, of the Star Bog, about a mile and a half from Ballymena, whose house he used to frequent.

There he believed he was secure or at least as secure as he could be. But O'Brien, who was a chandler by trade, proved to be a treacherous friend. Since handsome rewards were given to those who placed leading insurgents within the power of the authorities.

O'Brien was induced to enter into a conspiracy for the betrayal of his friend. With a view to this end, arrangements were made with a shopkeeper residing in Ballymena, to the effect that when he received a half crown bearing a secret but perfectly understood mark, no matter by what means conveyed, such was to be regarded as indicating that Archer was under O'Brien's roof , that circumstances were favourable to his capture, and that the said shopkeeper should at once forward the half crown to the Military authorities.

Accordingly, one evening after darkness had set in, a woman, totally ignorant of the plot, presented for purchase of goods at the shop referred to the half crown bearing the mark agreed.

In less than half an hour a Military contingent, under the charge of Captain Dickey, was on the move in the direction of the Star Bog, and to James O'Brien's house there, for the purpose of making Archer their prisoner.

The man appears to have been in the habit of sleeping without undressing, with loaded arms by his bedside, so as to be ready for an emergency.

On the night in question he was suddenly awakened by the son of O'Brien, who was unacquainted with the plot, exhorting him to fly for his life, as soldiers were approaching the house.

At once realising his danger, Archer rose, seized his pistol, and fled, but a bullet followed him from the Military, which struck and wounded, though it did not disable him.

Notwithstanding this mishap, Archer succeeded for a time eluding pursuit, and baffled all efforts at capture. After fruitless searches in different parts of the neighbourhood, the movements of a water spaniel which accompanied one of the Military attracted special attention.

It soon became evident that the dog was aware of the presence of something unusual, and which the soldiers were not aware of, being at the time by the side of a deep hole in a bog.

The restlessness of the spaniel led to closer investigation, when the dim outline of a suspicious object was observed in the distance, which, on further research, proved to be the head of the hunted outlaw just above the surface of the water, with his hand raised above it grasping his pistol.

Captain Dickey told him that the game was now up, and that he had better surrender quietly. But Archer was not disposed to accept the advice and was determined to sell his life as dearly as possible.

On their approach, he attempted to fire but his weapon was useless.

O'Brien had added insult to treachery by wetting the powder and putting a nail in the touch-hole of his victim's weapon; consequently Archer found himself completely at the mercy of his captors.

Archer was at once conveyed to Ballymena, where he was subsequently tried by court-martial, found guilty of seditious practises, and condemned to be hanged.

The sentence was carried out with some attendant circumstances calculated to excite terror in the popular mind. It was at first decided that he suffer on the Moat, but in deference to Archer's own wishes, a tree standing near was decided upon, and he was conveyed there on a cart.

When all arrangements for the final scene weres completed, he attempted to address the multitude who had gathered to witness his last moments.

He said, "If all had kept their secrets in their breasts as I have done" - when a dozen muskets were levelled at him, and cries of "Silence", "Drive on the car", arose from those assembled to see the dread sentence fulfilled.

He met his fate with an unsubdued spirit. His body, after hanging a sufficient length of time, was taken to a building in the Castle demesne, where it was disembowelled , and then hung in chains on the Moat.

When time had bleached the bones, and when the country had become quiet, and a better spirit prevailed, it was felt that the spectacle might with propriety be removed; and so a number of young men took upon themselves the responsibility of procuring a coffin, in which they placed the remains, and surreptitiously buried them in the parish churchyard.