[Rev.] James Porter

Life
1753-1798; b. Tamna Wood, Ballindrait, Co Donegal, farmer’s son; ed. Glasgow; ord. Greyabbey, Co. Down, 1787; edited first two editions of Paddy’s Resource (1785, 1786); a principal contributor to The Northern Star from 1793; reputedly hanged for publishing Billy Bluff and Squire Firebrand (1796), a collection of articles impugning the aristocracy as a ‘fungus on society’ with ‘rotten roots, filthy stems, and spongey heads’, in which Lord Londonderry (father of Lord Castlereagh) was portrayed as Lord Mountmumble, amusingly characterising Paddy’s Resource as ‘Paddy’s Race-horse’ through the mouth of the obsequious Billy; abstained from participation in the United Irishmen’s rebellion but tried for high treason and convicted on evidence of an informer, being hanged at the rere of his own Meeting House (where he had preached ‘Wind and Weather’) in Greyabbey, 2 July 1798; he is the subject of an Abbey play by Séamus Ó Néill (Faill ar an bhFeart, 1967); a son became Attorney General in Louisiana. ODNB PI DIB DIW OCIL.

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Commentary
Also Irish Book Lover, Vols. 4, 13; note also brief account in Cathal O’Byrne, As I Roved Out (1946), pp.111-12; also Denis Carroll, Unusual Suspects: Twelve Radical Clergymen (Dublin: Columba Press 1998).

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References
Dictionary of National Biography, 1753-1798; Presbyt. minister at Greyabbey, Co. Down, 1787-98; Volunteer in 1778; contributed to Northern Star a series of letters forming an admirable satire on local tyranny in Ireland, which were at once reprinted with the title ‘Billy Bluff &c.’, and made his name a household word in Ulster; captured in the hills of Co. Down on outbreak of ’98; convicted on testimony of an informer without defence allowed, and hanged at Greyabbey. Book collector, and owner of scientific apparatus unrivalled in the North of Ireland till today; Wind and Weather (1797), ridicules the fast-day appointed for the dispersal of the French fleet at Bantry Bay. PI tells the substance of Billy Bluff (2nd ed. 1812) and Porter’s fate in more detail than other sources.

Alfred Webb, Compendium of Irish Biography (Dublin 1878), notes that he suffered with fortitude; his remains are buried under marble slab in Grey Abbey Church.

Brian Cleeve & Ann Brady, A Dictionary of Irish Writers (Dublin: Lilliput 1985) has it that he was hanged for Billy Bluff. Henry Boylan, A Dictionary of Irish Biography [rev. edn.] (Gill & Macmillan 1988) gets it right and has a source other than Dictionary of National Biography.

Belfast Linenhall Library has Squire Firebrand, a sample of the times (1796, 1829)

Belfast Central Public Library holds ‘Billy Bluff and Squire Firebrand’ (1796), in Northern Star (1868). See also, Phillips, J. J., Grey-abbey, Co. Down (1874) [Belfast Central Public Library]..

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Notes
In Ulser folkore, he was hanged for Billy Bluff, but this is a telescoping of dates and events. His fate is recorded in Madden, and also in Flann Campbell’s current work on United Irishmen (Protestant Dissenters, 1990).

That Porter is cited in John Hewitt, The Rhyming Weavers (1974).

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