On the evening of the 6th of June 1798, James Orr witnessed the preparations in the Ballycarry area for rebellion, writing about them in his poems. The following morning he and other Ballycarry men ‘turned out’ and marched on Antrim town as part of Henry Joy McCracken’s United Army of Ulster.
The United Irishmen were defeated at the Battle of Antrim, and Orr was one of a small group who remained with their leader McCracken for a time afterwards, seeking refuge at Slemish Mountain before it became clear that the cause was hopelessly lost. James Orr escaped for a time to the United States of America. Henry Joy McCracken was captured and hanged for his part in the ill-fated revolt.

The United Irish Society had been formed in October 1791 by Presbyterians in Belfast who wanted to see constitutional change in society. After the authorities outlawed the Society in 1795, those who remained as members went underground and plotted a rebellion, with the aid of the French. The end result was the 1798 Rebellion, referred to in Ulster as ‘The Turn Oot’.

Although Orr survived the Rising and returned to live at Ballycarry under amnesty, he remained a radical. In his poem To the Potatoe, he speculates on the impact on England if Irish labourers withdrew their effort, noting how this would “clip her wing, An’ pair her talons.” Orr the radical was not silenced by the impact of 1798, and several poems reflect on the events of that summer, including the comment in Donegore Hill as to how the insurgents were let down by their fellow Presbyterians; “in tryin’ times maist folk ye’ll find, will act like Donegore men…”

The radicalism of Orr was reflected in other ways by the community from which he came. Presbyterians had participated to large degree in the Ninety Eight in Antrim and Down, and their radical outlook continued to ensure support for Liberalism up until at least 1886 when Home Rule for Ireland became an issue. For several years from the early 1900s Independent Orangeism existed in Ballycarry and Magheramorne, the lodges being opposed to the then more conservative established lodges which were seen as being dominated by landlords.