John Wayne’s Irish Rebel Roots

By Pauline Murphy

In 1791, a group of radical liberal men got together in Belfast and founded the Society of United Irishmen. This was a time when penal laws discriminated against Catholics and non-Anglican Protestants, and this new society crossed the religious divide to unite in the fight against unfair British rule in Ireland.

The Society of United Irishmen had up to 20,000 members and one of those was the great-great-grandfather of Marion Mitchell Morrison, better known to you and me as Hollywood icon, John Wayne!

Duke’s great-great-grandaddy was born Robert Morrison near the banks of the River Maine in Trandalstown, Co. Antrim, in 1782. He was baptised in the Connor Presbyterian Church, and at the age of 16, he joined the United Irishmen.

It was in June 1798 when the teenage Robert Morrison, like so many others, followed Henry Joy McCracken in what was locally termed ‘The Turn Oot’ in Co. Antrim. Morrison was one of the lucky ones who escaped certain death at the hands of the Red Coats, but upon hearing a warrant was issued for his arrest, his mother took him away on an emigrant ship across the Atlantic ocean.

They landed in New York in 1799, one year after the United Irishmen failed rebellion. They then made their way to South Carolina before going on to Kentucky. Robert Morrison finally settled in Adams County in Ohio, where he lived for the rest of his days, dying there at the age of 81.

Over a century after his death, Robert Morrison’s great-great-grandson would display some of that fighting Irish spirit on the silver screen.

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