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Who's Who of 1798

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What have you in your hand?

A Green Bough

Where did it grow?

In America

Where did it bud?

In France

Where are you going to plant it?

In the crown of Great Britain

Password of United Irishmen

Causes of the Rebellion

The factors that brought around the events of 1798 ranged from religious discrimination, influence of the American and French Revolutions and the ideals of republicanism.

In the decade of 1790, the Irish Parliament was comprised of landed Protestant gentry, despite that Catholics provided the vast majority of the population. The Penal Laws although not enforced as strongly as in the previous century, still provided a barrier for the increasing Catholic population. Political and economic power lay in the hands of Protestant landlord class. All influential sectors of society such as the army, banking, education and business were closed off to both Catholics and Presbyterians.

Since it's formation, the Society were concerned with liberty and republicanism more in principle than in fact; as many of the United Irishmen leaders were Protestant gentry themselves, they had much to lose by giving the vote to Ireland’s more numerous Catholics. They sought “an equal representation of all people in parliament”.  Only a few prominent leaders advocated strong action against the Protestant landed gentry, among them one of the Society’s founders, Wolfe Tone.

The main leaders of the United Irishmen were men from professional backgrounds and middle classes. As France and Britain went to war again in 1793, the British government began to fear what the United Irishmen were saying and of their admiration for France. As a result the organisation was declared illegal and forced underground.  Government informants were planted in the United camp, several of whom reached prominent positions within the organization, and such activities paid off as the rebellion came to fruition.

Bantry Bay Expedition 1796 

In February 1796, Wolfe Tone convinced  the French Government to supply a military expedition to Ireland. On December 15th 1796, along with one of France's finest soldiers; General Lazare Hoche, Tone set out from Brest with over 40 ships and 14,000 men and sailed for Ireland. Arriving at Bantry Bay in County Cork, this first French expedition was cursed with ill-luck as severe storms prevented their landing on the Irish coast. Scattered by the gale force winds, the expedition had no option but to return to France, in January 1797 with a very disappointed Tone aboard.

Click for enlarged image on Wikimedia website

This scared the British Government, as very few units of the British army in Ireland were based in the south of the country at this time. A short term solution was to arm the local loyalists and form them in to militas and yeomary (a more organised form of minutemen with regular or ex-army officers).

In 1797 they attempted to tackle the United Irishmen and to restore control over the country. The government now declared martial law, (giving the army stronger powers). They allowed the army to treat the ordinary people very harshly and allowed them to commit floggings and hangings of suspected United Irishmen. This plan backfired as many innocent people were affected and the army lost the respect of the local population.

Click for enlarged image on National Library website

Dublin just before the Rebellion

The ensuing campaign was in many regions a horrible ordeal for Irish citizenry. Although huge numbers of pikes and guns were confiscated, General Lake, believed in the heavy use of force. The searches were characterized by torture, house-burning, plundering, and executions. The experience of pitch caps and public whipping on portable triangles (a wooden frame to which victims were tied before being flogged and tortured) would remain fresh in people’s memories.

By early March 1798, Lord Edward Fitzgearld and the other leaders drew up plans for rebellion in May 1798. Dublin City United Irishmen would capture main parts of Government and Army buildings, United Irishmen in the suburbs would ring the city to prevent the army from advancing into the city centre. Rural United Irishmen in the surrounding counties would rise up and join up with the French invasion force, where ever it landed. Government spies in the United Irishmen in Dublin informed on the plans and the majority of leaders were arrested at a meeting of the Leinster Directory on 12th March. Lord Edward Fitzgearld and others escaped and continued their plans for a rebellion on 24th May.

On the 20th May, Fitzgearld was arrested and was seriously wounded, dying from his wounds a few weeks later. With the leadership in Dublin arrested or killed, the rebellion in Dublin was over before it started.