The Defenders originated in County Armagh in 1784, to protect the Catholic population from attack by the Protestant 'Peep O'Day Boys'. Sectarian conflict had arisen out of the entry of Catholics into the linen producing business and their being blamed for the downturn in employment.
The actual cause was the increasing industrialisation of the business which was steadily eroding the previous largely cottage-based nature of the industry. Violence continued until the 'Battle of the Diamond' in 1795 saw the 'Peep O'Day Boys' emerge victorious. This victory was marked by the foundation of the Orange Order and the waging of a campaign in mid Ulster which forced thousands of Catholics to seek refuge in Connaught and Leinster, and in many cases, bringing the Defender organisation with them.
The fortunes of the Defenders were closely tied to the United Irishmen by the outbreak of the rebellion in 1798 and they did not survive its failure; however their influence endured in the later formation of similar groups like the Ribbonmen in the 1830s.
The Defenders were active around Navan 1793 to 1795.
(above) Finn's Leinster Journal 20th February 1793
Letters from Navan mention that a number of Defenders appeared in that vicinity a night or two ago and committed great excesses. It is said that the houses of Baron Dillon, Mr. Forth and others suffered severely from their outrage.'
(above) Finn's Leinster Journal 18th May 1793
In its edition dated 26th October 1795, The Times reported that
“on Thursday, the 8th inst. late at night, that active and useful magistrate, Sir Wm. Dillon, arrested one Peter Kennedy and committed him to Trim gaol. Kennedy was an inhabitant of Navan, a noted Defender, and was one of that daring banditti who in July last, in open day, robbed the house of David Thompson of Oatlands, Esq., of fire arms, for which one of his gang was since convicted and executed.”
The 17th March 1796 edition of the paper reported on Trim Assizes held on 8th March 1796:
"Michael Kennedy and James Grimes convicted of murdering Mrs Fullam, near Navan, by shooting her through the head, were executed on Monday, at the front of the gaol and confessed the fact. The operator on this occasion was a woman. Their bodies still remain hanging, and are to be gibbeted in chains on top of the gaol."