The Minutes of the 1805 Methodist Conference in Dublin show that it permitted the chapel in Richhill to be built and this is the date that is usually given for its construction.
Ill-health obliged William Richardson to stand down at the 1820 election,
William Richardson died in Paris on 23rd March 1822, aged 77. Hs daughters inherited debts of £47,040, equivalent to c£4 million today.
The first Presbyterian Minister in Richhill after the separation from Vinecash was the Revd. James Sinclair. He departed in 1836 and left a “virtually extinct” congregation without a leader. Fortunately, his eventual successor was a most able man, the Revd. James Patterson, who quickly reversed the decline and built up attendance. Mr. Patterson married a Miss Crozier in 1844 but died during the famine, having helped establish and operate the Relief Committee.
At five in the morning the church bells in Armagh “began to ring a merry peal in commemoration of the battle of the Boyne”.
At ten o’clock the Orange lodges began to arrive:
“… about 100 branches, containing 50 to 200 members each, came into town […] and from thence to Richhill, where they were met by 150 branches, all of whom stopped for about an hour in Richhill; after which they assembled in the great square opposite the gates of the late William Richardson Esq MP. They then formed in a circle and gave three cheers for the King; three for the Duke of Wellington, three for Mr. Peel and three for the Earl of Eldon. They then waved their flags and hats in the air three times in solemn silence for the late Duke of York and King William. […] Not less than 30,000 persons were assembled.”
Louisa Bacon married Edmund Bacon, heir to Sir Edmund Bacon, premier baronet of England and owner of late estates in Norfolk and London. The wedding took place at St George's, Hanover Square in Mayfair, then -as now - the scene of many high society weddings.
In 1837 the Archbishop of Armagh, Lord John George de la Poer Beresford, determined that the parish of Kilmore was “of very large extent” and found that
“the mother church of the said parish not being sufficient to accommodate the number of Protestant inhabitants who resort thither for divine worship, and, on account of the great distance at which many of them reside they cannot conveniently resort thereto.”
It followed that
“it would greatly tend to the comfort of the inhabitants of the said parish as well as the advancement of religion if part of the said parish were erected into a new and distinct parish.”
St Matthew’s church was accommodated in the old market house, built in 1753, which was converted, re-configured and redecorated in keeping with its new function.
The first dispensary in Richhill was opened in 1836 by Dr. Richard Crozier , a native of the village. A single man, he lived with his mother and sister and was paid a salary of £50 per annum.
Potato blight arrived in Ireland in 1845. The lower-class population of Richhill was already weakened by poverty caused by the decline of home weaving. The potato was the staple food for their families and the failure of the crop meant there was little option but to seek help in the grim workhouse in Armagh.
Even in January 1845 the health of people living in the Loughgall and Richhill areas was already declining - before the arrival of the blight. The Dispensary Committee found that demand for medical services had been so great that there had been an overspend of £61 14s 11d. There were concerns that the institution would have to be dissolved but instead it was agreed that the subscribers, who covered the costs of the poor, would double their contributions.
The arrival of the blight in County Armagh in November 1845 led to the loss of between one third and one half of the potato crop. This ‘partial blight’ led to the price rising from 3s per cwt to 6s per cwt by March 1846 . The impact of this rise was felt by the existing inmates of the workhouse, who saw their rations reduced from three meals a day to two.
In Richhill during the night of the 9th December 1846, a notice was posted on a door, creating much excitement in the village.
“Gentlemen of Richhill,
I and Brothers thinks proper to inform you that before we take any proceedings that is not legal to warn you in time. We must have either Blood or Bread for we cannot stand no longer. We give you time by notice before we proceed.
(signed) Molly Maguire”
The ‘Molly Maguires’ were a Catholic rural secret society, similar to the Defenders in the previous century, which originated in the mid 1830s .
The landlords and farmers of Richhill established a relief committee that raised funds and distributed assistance to the starving. £1,236 pounds was raised, the largest sum disbursed by any committee in the county other than Armagh city.
Despite this effort, the population of the village and the surrounding townlands fell from 4,892 to 4,002 in the ten years between 1841 and 1851. At least 18% of the population had died or emigrated.
The famine troubled certain types of worker in Richhill far more than others. In general, the tenant farmers were almost unaffected by the blight. They grew grain crops; tended animals and were not reliant on potatoes for sustenance.
The group most afflicted were those home weavers who had, by the most dreadful coincidence, seen their livelihoods undermined by the increasing industrialisation of their occupation at almost the same time as their ability to support themselves on a potato crop ended.
Thus, in Richhill, almost side by side, there were families in the deepest distress and others whose lives were almost entirely untouched.
If the potato blight was not a grave enough crisis in itself, 1847 also saw a failure of the oat harvest following which its price rose from 9s cwt in 1846 to 15s 6d . Similarly, the flax crop was affected by a distemper which pushed up its cost. A slump in commerce affected the linen and cotton trades.
The journey between Belfast and Richhill took an hour and a half; that between Armagh and Richhill ten minutes. Six trains ran daily in each direction, leaving both Belfast and Armagh at 8am, 10am, Noon, 2pm, 4:30pm and 6:30pm. The fare for the entire journey was four shillings first class, three shillings second class and two shillings for those in third class.
Mary Littlewood was admitted into the Armagh Workhouse with her parents and siblings in 1846. Her father had been a weaver who ad fallen on hard times. He and his wife died in the workhouse, leaving their children orphans.
In 1848, the government established a scheme under which female orphans were sent to Australia to work as servants. Mary was sent to Melbourne where she experienced hardship and ill-treatment at the hands of her employers.
Very few details have survived of those who perished in Richhill as a result of the Great Hunger. We can only estimate the extent of the impact from comparing the population figures between the two censuses taken in 1841 and 1851. The drop in population was the result not just of deaths caused by lack of food, but by emigration and by the adverse impact on the birth rate.
On 10th April 1852, a short notice appeared in the Armagh Guardian:
“We learn from unquestionable authority that Miss Richardson of Richhill was lately received into the communion of the Church of Rome at Birmingham.”
The inhabitants of staunchly Protestant Richhill did not react well to this, stoning her carriage when she travelled to Mass. She gave generously to the Catholic church at Stonebridge, her donations including a large altar.
Edmund Bacon died of hepatitis aged 49, while visiting his uncle at Thonock Hall near Gainsborough. He and his wife Louisa had no children. Had he outlived his father he would have inherited a large estate and baronetcy. Louisa would have become Lady Bacon.
On 2nd February, the mail train from Armagh was approaching Richhill station when the driver noticed a body lying by the side of the track. Later enquiries determined that the remains were those of a local shoemaker who, it was surmised, had been following the line home on foot when he had been struck by an evening train .
A few weeks later a greater loss of life was narrowly avoided when a passenger train from Armagh, containing the Hon. Baron Fitzgerald and several members of the North-east Bar, hit a thick iron rod that had been placed across the tracks by some ill-disposed person or persons. Fortunately, the engine had an iron ‘cow catcher’ on its front and this deflected the obstacle and avoided any great damage .
On 6th August the Ulster papers reported a third accident at Richhill. An excursion train had been run from Armagh to the Giants’ Causeway for a group of lawyers and other professional men. At about 10:45pm the returning locomotive ran into a luggage train standing on the points at the station. Twenty passengers were said to have been injured.
Despite her conversion to Catholicism, Elizabeth was buried in the family vault at Kilmore Parish Church. The newspaper reported that “The cortege was very large and respectable”.
On 28th February 1860, two months after the death of her daughter Elizabeth, Louisa Richardson died at her house at Warren Wood from what her attending physician described as “decay of nature” . She was 87 and had lived a widow for 38 years.
On 3rd August, the two sisters Isabella Richardson and Louisa Bacon were out walking on a cliff at Biarritz when a gust of wind caught Isabella’s parasol and carried it off. Stretching to retrieve it, Isabella missed her footing and fell over the edge of a steep cliff, falling some 200 feet. She was taken home and a doctor was called. Over the next nine days she appeared to be recovering but on 12th August her condition suddenly deteriorated and she died. Isabella’s body was returned to Richhill and her funeral was held on 30th August.
The 1850 Party Procession Act was used against twenty men of Richhill who, in November 1865,
“unlawfully did assemble together and join in procession, and had forearms – to wit guns and pistols, and other offensive weapons and did carry banners, flags and symbols, the display whereof was calculated to create animosity between her Majesty’s Protestant and Roman Catholic subjects; and that they were accompanied by others playing fifes and drums.”
The local clergymen gave the accused good characters and the prosecutor agreed that if they pleaded guilty he would not press for a heavy punishment. The judge lectured the men on the folly of their conduct and bound them over to keep the peace.
Mrs Bacon's passing
“cast a gloom over this town and neighbourhood that will not likely be soon effaced. […] Her many deeds of benevolence and acts of charity will long be remembered amongst the people of her large and prosperous estate.” (Armagh Guardian)
The funeral “was certainly one of the largest and most respectable that has ever been witnessed in this part of Ireland”.
On June 4th 1886, a police sergeant found a body of one hundred unarmed Orangemen practising drill in the castle demesne. He took the names of forty of them. They included eminently respectable men.
The charge was that the Orangemen had feloniously
“assembled at Richhill demesne for the purpose of practising military exercises […] without lawful authority.”
The defendants appeared at the Armagh petty sessions. The government was concerned that, if drilling were permitted in Richhill, the precedent thus established would lead to the further extension of bellicosity into the political sphere. Instead of just having to confront sectarian thugs, the administration would have to take on well trained and organised sectarian thugs.
The facts of the case were not disputed. The defence was that the law under which the charges had been brought dated back to George III, had never been used before and was daily ignored in schools up and down the country. Having considered the arguments of both sides, the magistrates found for the defendants.
The acquittal was celebrated noisily in Richhill. Despite heavy rain, a band paraded through the town and tar barrels were set alight. Four hundred people crowded into the Temperance Hall for an impromptu celebration. The Rector, Mr. Williams, led the tributes to those released.