Rody McCorley









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Since the formation of the Roddy McCorley Society in 1972 our members have had a long and proud association with the people of Toome, Co Antrim. Our mutual admiration for Rody McCorley, a native of the nearby townland of Duneane, is without doubt the strongest bond in our relationship. The ethos and beliefs that inspired the young Rody McCorley are the same beliefs and political aspirations that have driven the people of Toome and the members of our Society to this day.
The story of Rody McCorley is inspirational and to understand the bond that unites us we need to tell the story of this young man that has inspired generations of Irish Republicans from 1798 until the present day.

Rody McCorley was born in the town land of Duneane a few miles outside Toome, a place where 20 odd years later he was to die in such a cruel and merciless manner. Yet in his short life Rody McCorley wasmto become a hero to his fellow countrymen, a leader of the United Irishmen, he led his men at the Battle of Antrim and successfully captured Randalstown before being routed by a regouped enemy force led by Mc Cracken. After that he was ‘on the run’ for some time before being betrayed by McErlain and Duffin. Heavily loaded with chains, he was court-martialled at Ballymena and sentenced to death. From Ballymena he was marched to Toome for execution so that his relatives and friends could witness his torture and death agonies. He lodged in what was then a barracks, which is now used as a post office. From here he was taken to the bridge, where a scaffold had been erected by the Fencibles and yeomen. It is said many of them refused to attend the dreadful scene. An old castle of the O’Neill’s long stood at Toome on the Bann side, and there was a ferry and ford across the river.

The bridge was erected about 1783 to take the place of these, and the old castle was destroyed, the stones being used to build the bridge and make the roadway. Many a valiant struggle had been here maintained by theO’Neill’s against the stranger and the usurper, many a courageous deed performed, so it was only fitting that these old stones of O’Neill’s castle should form the carn on which the life of Rody McCorley was to be offered up. He had acted as true and as brave a part as any O’Neill, and the site was worthy of him. The scaffold was rudely constructed; a large platform, at the base of which the masked hangman stood to fix the rope. Beside the bridge parapet a stout post was sunk in the ground, and from it at the top was a bar at right angles, over which the rope was thrown. This post was so set in the ground that it could be swung round over the water with the hanging struggling body as an added insult and indignity. Sympathising friends and neighbours crowded round, to whom Rody addressed a few words, not forgetting to call “Cruel Sam”, Finneston to repentance, verycaused by the sight of his cottage as he looked to the north, and then he surrendered his whole soul to prayer and devotion. The old ballad distinctly states that the execution was on Good Friday, and naturally draws a sacred inference. This was in truth an ominous day for such a deed. Rody was attended by Father Hugh Devlin, who ministered to him to the last as far as his cruel surroundings permitted. Some have told me that poor Rody’s body was carried from the scaffold to the barracks to be disembowelled, and that this horrid barbarity was performed at the window adjoining the street, whilst the friends still lovingly hung around. The body was subsequently buried at the rise of the bridge on the roadway, where the traffic from Antrim to Derry and back again would pass over it.

For over 50 years his body lay there until, in 1852 it was decided that a new bridge would be erected on the site of the original bridge in Toome. The foreman in charge of the work was a nephew of Rody, named Hugh Mc Corley, from Portglenone. Knowing where his uncle’s martyred body lay, he carefully laid plans to recover the body. On 29th June 1852 he unearthed his uncle’s remains intact, placed them in a coffin, and with a funeral that was the greatest and largest ever seen in the area, re-interred them in Duneane graveyard.
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”
But Bigger was not satisfied with a simple tombstone to mark the execution of Rody McCorley and set about developing an ambitious plan for a permanent memorial in Toome. This ambition would occupy him for the rest of his life.


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