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Betsy Gray or Hearts Of Down

Betsy Gray – the legendary heroine of story, poem and ballad – is said to have been the daughter of Hans Gray, a prosperous north Down Presbyterian farmer and a United Irishman. Betsy was, W. G. Lyttle tells us, a striking young woman ‘possessed of wondrous beauty, a beauty enriched and enhanced by a warm heart, an ardent temperament and lady-like accomplishments. Her beauty and goodness formed a theme for every tongue wherever she went, and many a wealthy suitor sought her hand in marriage’. This classic novel transports us to those troubled and stirring days of 1798 when Betsy joined her brother George and fiance Willie Boal in the ‘Turn oot’ as the United Irish rebellion is called in the Ulster-Scots communities of eastern Ulster. Dressed in a green silk dress and brandishing a long sword, Betsy rode into the Battle of Ballynahinch on the 13th of June to face the cannon and musket fire of the King’s forces, and to share the fate of her brother and lover. Lyttle skilfully combines legend with local and social history to create an exciting and sympathetic tale of the heady days of the ’98 rebellion in Down and Antrim. And not least in the story is the captivating character of Betsy Gray herself.


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