15 August has always been a date I remember - especially as it is my birthday and also the birthday of Princess Anne. As a small child I was always impressed that on that date there was a 21 gun salute and for some years my parents failed to tell me it was for Princess Anne. I also noticed that there were parades and bonfires and in due course learned that these were associated with the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the celebration of the Roman Catholic Feast of the Assumption.
Yesterday the AOH held their annual parade on the Falls Road in West Belfast and in the report in the Irish News today the president of the AOH Division 58 commented that 'Today's parade commemorates the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the Battle of Benburb.' This was the first time I ever heard it said that the AOH commemorated that battle but then we learn something new every day.
What I find surprising is that the battle did not take place on 15 August or indeed in August at all. The date usually given is 5 June 1646 but I suppose why not commemorate it on 15 August. However many people will wonder, what was the Battle of Benburb?
It was a battle between the Catholic Confederate Army of Owen Roe O'Neill and a Scottish covenanter army led by Robert Monro. In 1641 there was an uprising by Irish Roman Catholics in Ulster and many Protestants were murdered at that time. Subsequently a Scottish army came to Ulster in 1642, led by Major General Monro, to protect the Scottish and English settlers. They landed in Carrickfergus and linked up with British settlers under Robert Stewart.
It was chaplains from the Scottish covenanter army who established the first presbytery in Ulster on 10 June 1642 and this was the birth of organised Presbyterianism in Ulster. In the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church there is a beautiful stained glass window commemorating that first presbytery and it is known as the 'Carrickfergus Window'.