HOME to at least one species of rare flower, the Blue Heaps on a windy edge of County Durham is a lonely beauty spot frequented only by dog walkers and ramblers.

Few would guess it, but the Consett soil that now sprouts quaint-sounding bristly oxtongue and northern marsh orchid was once churned up and saturated in the blood of men from two very different worlds.

One English, mainly Protestant and relatively urban, the other Irish, Catholic, rural and distinctly unwelcome.

A frontier town in the wild north Durham hills, Consett was not the kind of place to welcome strangers with open arms in the mid 19th Century.

With no police force to speak of, no theatre and few churches, Consett was little more than a large work camp, with several rag-tag pubs where boozers huddled together to keep warm.

Into this volatile mix were thrown thousands of Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine and desperate for work.

Alex Watson, leader of Derwentside District Council, is a man who respects local history. Unveiling a plinth to mark the spot, he said: "Tension had been building up for a long time between Irish immigrants and locals, and it just exploded one day in 1858. Consett has many descendants of Irish workers and we don't forget what happened here."

The Battle of the Blue Heaps was, in fact, an armed stand-off between Irish immigrants fearing for their jobs at the steelworks, and Englishmen suspicious of their foreign rivals.

The arrival of the Irish led to years of tit-for-tat beatings and Wild West-style bar room brawls, which left three dead during the spring of 1858. An English worker was "beaten in so savage and ferocious a manner that for some days his life was despaired of".

The English retaliated with the beating of an immigrant, which led the entire Irish community to rise up. A 700-strong Catholic mob rampaged through the streets, besieging the Commercial Inn, in Blackhill.

Inside lay the two men suspected of the revenge attack, men they wanted delivered up to their "tender mercies".

The mob, wielding pistols, sticks and pitchforks, bashed down the door, and finding no one inside, demolished the place from the inside-out.

Several of the Irishmen were arrested and held in a lock-up at Shotley Bridge, while the main mob, now 2,000 strong, marched to nearby fields, The Blue Heaps.

There, they were met by an armed gang of several hundred English workmen, ready to greet them with pistols, bludgeons, scythes and sickles.

What stopped the ensuing riot becoming the biggest bloodbath since Culloden was a 200-strong contingent of militia, who had been rushed to the scene from Newcastle.

Meanwhile, the tiny number of police commandeered the steelwork's ceremonial canon, which they aimed at the melee to break up the initial skirmishes and scuffles.

For three days, the soldiers kept the two sides at arms' length before the last of the rioters finally dispersed.

The Battle of the Blue Heaps, which has long since passed into local folklore, marked a turning point in the relations between the Irish immigrants and the English steelworkers who would eventually be assimilated in to the community of Consett.

It was that assimilation of the two communities which is its lasting legacy and was commemorated for the first time by the Blue Heaps plinth, sculpted by artist Craig Knowles