Monro, Henry (‘Harry’) (1758–98), United Irishman, was born in July 1758 in Lisburn, Co. Antrim, son of Henry (?) Monro (d. 1793/5), a presbyterian tradesman of Scottish descent. His family was descended from Gen. Robert Monro (qv) who was defeated by Owen Roe O'Neill (qv) at the battle of Benburb (1646). Little is known of his childhood years; it is thought that his mother's maiden name was Gorman. Originally a member of the Church of Ireland, she insisted that he should be educated in the local Church of Ireland school. He enrolled in the Lisburn corps of the Volunteers soon after it was raised (1778), and was quickly promoted to drill sergeant. He served as an apprentice in the woollen and linen business, and c.1788 set up his own draper's shop in Market Square, Lisburn. In addition to his own business, he also worked as a buyer for other linen-drapers, regularly travelling to linen halls in Lurgan, Banbridge, and Tandragee. He was known locally as a keen sportsman and spent his leisure time hunting and shooting. On one occasion when the cupola of the Lisburn Church of Ireland parish church caught fire, he played a prominent part in extinguishing the flames. He married (1795) Margaret Johnston (d. 1840), a renowned local beauty and fourth daughter of Robert Johnston of Seymour Hill, Dunmurry. They had one daughter. Monro was a committed Freemason and a grand master of the Lisburn lodge (no. 193).
Like many of his generation, he was influenced by political events in America and France, and became highly popular as an after-dinner speaker, using these opportunities to advocate parliamentary reform. In 1795 he joined the United Irishmen and rose to the rank of colonel. According to one account he became a United man after witnessing the flogging by the military of a brother mason named Hood (Dickson, 199). In the weeks before the outbreak of the rebellion in the north, he left Lisburn and sent his wife and child away to stay with her father at Dunmurry. At a general committee of United Irishmen, which met at Templepatrick on 1 June 1798, he was nominated in absentia as adjutant-general for Co. Down. This news had not reached him by 11 June 1798, when he met a party of rebels marching towards Ballinahinch. They recognised him and he later claimed that they persuaded him to become their leader.
He found himself in command of a party of around 7,000 rebels and decided to continue the march towards Ballinahinch, from which the crown forces fled at his approach. Having taken possession of the town without opposition, he learned of the approach of Gen. George Nugent (qv), with a force of c.2,000 men, and expertly disposed his own forces on the high ground around the town. He placed men in positions at Saintfield, at Creevy Rocks, and on Windmill Hill. These positions covered the approaches to the town and when Nugent moved to the assault on 12 June, his advance initially stalled due to the casualties inflicted by the rebel sharpshooters. It seemed as though Nugent's attack would fail totally and the United Irish commander at Windmill Hill, Samuel McCance, sent messages asking for reinforcements to help him hold this vital position. Fearing encirclement, Monro's confidence failed and he sent orders to evacuate these positions and abandon Ballinahinch. The town was quickly seized by Nugent and looted that night by his troops.
Despite the entreaties of his junior leaders and the disorder of Nugent's troops, Monro would not sanction a night attack. He is reported to have stated: ‘We scorn to avail ourselves of the ungenerous advantage which night affords; we will meet them in the open blush of day; we will fight them like men, not under the cloud of night but the first rays of tomorrow's sun’ (Teeling,, 255). This naive sense of fair play resulted in the desertion of c.700 of his men that night. There were further problems within his army as catholic Defenders questioned the motives of the presbyterian leaders. The next morning, 13 June, he sent his pikemen into the narrow streets of Ballinahinch and Nugent's troops initially recoiled from the rebel attack. Monro and his men had reached as far as the town centre when their attack began to stall. Thinking that a bugle call sounding the retreat was actually summoning more crown forces, Monro's men broke and fled, and many were cut down by pursuing dragoons.
Monro was captured the next day; it was variously reported that he was found hiding in a potato furrow or in a pigsty. An attempt to bribe his captors failed and he was taken to Lisburn, where he was tried by court-martial on 16 June. At his trial he claimed that he had opposed United Irish plans for rebellion and that the rebel leadership had been pressed on him; he also denied having written a document calling for a ‘no-rent war’. Found guilty, he was hanged opposite his own door on 18 June 1798. According to some accounts his mother, sisters, and wife witnessed the execution. Most sources agree that he faced his death with great fortitude. Having attended a communion service at Lisburn Church of Ireland parish church, he settled a number of debts at the foot of the gallows. He then sprang at the ladder but the second rung broke as he ascended. On reascending, he stated: ‘Tell my country I deserved better of her’, before giving the signal that he was ready. His head was fixed on a pike at Lisburn market house.
Despite his leadership role in 1798, very little is really known of Monro. Indeed, even his name is spelled variously as ‘Munro’, ‘Munroe’, or ‘Monroe’. He was remembered in popular song and the battle of Ballinahinch was later the subject of a dramatic painting by Thomas Robinson (qv), which is now in the NGI. A transcript of his court-martial is held in the library of TCD.