The Northern Star
The first number of “The Northern Star” was published on the 4th of January, 1792, the object of the paper being to advocate the cause of the society of United Irishmen. In its preliminary address to the people it declared that its attention would chiefly be turned to a Parliamentary reform founded on a real representation of the people, and to the union of Irishmen. " The Public Will our Guide ; The Public Good our End " continued to be its motto until its final dissolution. For the last twelve months of its appearance its first page was ornamented with a representation of an Irish harp under a crown, but at the beginning of 1793 an alteration, described as important and ominous, was made by substituting a star in place of the crown. The first seven issues of the paper were printed bv John Tisdall for the proprietors, and most of the subsequent numbers by John Rabb. The proprietors were prominent Presbyterians of Belfast, the principal one of whom was Samuel Neilson, who was also the editor, the others being William Magee, printer and bookseller ; Gilbert MclLveen, Junr., linen draper ; William M'Cleery, tanner; John Haslett, woollen draper; John Rabb, clerk; Robert Caldwell, banker ; William Tennant, merchant ; William Simms, merchant ; John Boyle, merchant ; Henry Haslett, merchant ; and Robert Simms, merchant. In January, 1793, the proprietors were prosecuted for publishing the address of the United Irishmen to the Volunteers, but were acquitted. Lord Clonmel, Chief Justice of the King's Bench, being "pleased highly to compliment the proprietors on their conduct in complying strictly with the law." After the trial a number of the citizens of Dublin entertained the proprietors at dinner at the
"Star and Garter " tavern in Essex Street. In May 1794, the owners of the " Northern Star " were again prosecuted, the charge being that they tended to stir up discontent and sedition among His Majesty's subjects. It being urged that the evidence for the Crown applied only to the printer and not against all the defendants, the latter were immediately acquitted, and John Rabb, the printer, was found guilty. The language of the "Northern Star" was of a very vigorous and plain spoken character, and the following article, which appeared during the year 1794, deserves to be rescued from oblivion. Whatever crimes might be laid at the door of that paper, it is clear it could not be charged with lack of local patriotism. " It was some time ago very much the fashion to abuse this unfortunate town, and indeed this propensity still continues amongst the very vile and ignorant, who always take their cue from those above them, and who are incapable of speaking at all without a prompter. Now, as there is per- haps no spot on earth where better morals, more decent conduct, more real virtue, or more of the light of reason prevails, it is curious to weigh the accusers against the accused.
“ Who then is it that dislikes Belfast ? A gang of corrupt courtiers, who build their fortunes upon the ignorance, vice, degradation and religious disunion of this country - they dislike Belfast ! A gang of prostitute and base mercenaries, dependent upon those courtiers, who raise themselves to their favour by all manner of villainy, such as persuading simple people to perjure themselves at elections by laughing at conscience and integrity as a State joke — they dislike Belfast ! A gang of dissolute Bishops, who enjoy a great portion of the lands of the country and a great share in the legislature of it, who, instead of taking any tender or affectionate interest in the welfare of the poor, are no further known to them than as they corrupt them by their example or oppress them by their avarice they and their clergy hate Belfast ! There are several laudable exceptions here. The whole gang of tax-gatherers, pensioners and sycophants cry out against Belfast !
The gentlemen of the standing army, whose duty it is to think, speak, and act as they are commanded, even when their own lives are in question, and who are often slaughtered before they are quite fattened — they swear most bloodily that they'll burn Belfast ! ! ! Booby Squires, who are dupes of subtle courtiers, and who have not sagacity to see that by making common cause with them they are running headlong into the consequence of their vices, "Lives and fortune men " and " Protestant ascendancy boys " they are contemptible enough to spit their little venom at Belfast ! Guzzling corporations, jealous of their absurd monopolies and mock dignity — they drink ****ation to Belfast ! ! ! Old, idle, card-playing tabbies, who complain that the mob have raised the price of chair-hire and butcher's meat — they are at a loss to account for the wicked disturbances in Belfast ! And the disinterested tribe of the law — take no fees for railing against Belfast ! " The dissolution of the Volunteers did not abate the enthusiasm of the citizens of Belfast for the cause of Parliamentary reform. The bulk of them were perfectly loyal to the Crown.
McGuckin, James, attorney, south parade, Here was one of the most despicable men that ever lived in Belfast, he was one of the defence attorneys working in the trial of William Orr, and close associate of the leadership of the United Irishmen, and yet he was a long term paid informer. McGuckin was a Catholic and became a staunch and respected member of the Catholic Society and carried out his profession in Belfast until his death.
From "Belfast 1807" by Joe Graham.