Resources

Who's Who of 1798

Listen to a podcast of this page

Some interesting Primary source material on Tone

Death mask of Wolfe Tone

Death Mask of Wolfe Tone

Wolfe Tone

Theobald Wolfe Tone was born in Dublin on 20th June 1763. Educated at Trinity College, he studied law and was called to the Irish bar in 1789.  He  married a sixteen year old girl called Matilda Witherington in 1785.

He believed that the existing Parliament in College Green,Dublin was corrupt. The Protestant landed gentry kept their power at the expense of both Catholics and Presbyterians. The French Revolution had shown that people were able to overthrow a corrupt monarchy and improve the life of ordinary people.

He disagreed that in way that the Protestant Ascendancy treated the Catholic majority and how the Presbyterians were also discriminated against. Other Protestants were of a similar mind and they set up the United Irishmen Society in Belfast.

His great aims was to unite Irishmen of all religions, initially he wanted the Irish Parliament to have more independence from Britain but later grew to believe that complete separation was what was required. Towards this end, he published several pamphlets (booklets) including one entitled "Argument of Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland" which endeared him to Catholics and open minded Protestants alike. Deeply impressed by the ideals of the French Revolution, he travelled to Belfast on 17th October 1791. A few days later, along with Thomas Russell and Napper Tandy, founded the Society of United Irishmen in that city.

Wolfe Tone, although a Protestant, was appointed secretary of the Catholic Committee in July 1792. Equal rights for Catholics now become one of the main aims of the United Irishmen and this, they felt, could best be obtained in an independent Irish Republic based on the French model.

In grave danger of arrest, Wolfe Tone left for America in June 1795 and from there he went to France in an effort to get military assistance for an United Irishmen Rebellion. He took part in Hoches attempt to invade in 1796, bitterly disappointed that he was so close that he could "throw a biscuit onto the beach". His association with Hoche kept him in the French Army for the next few years.

Click for enlarged image on National Library website

When the rebellion broke out, Tone was in Paris and attempted to get to Ireland to take part in the rebellion he helped to organise. He set sail again for Ireland with 3000 men from Dunkirk in Oct 1798, not knowing that the rebellion was finally over. The British Navy captured his ship and he was brought to Dublin for trial. He committed suicide by cutting his throat. He sought to cheat the hangman after his request to be shot like a soldier was refused.

He is regarded as the Father of Irish Republicanism and is commemorated every year in Bodenstown, County Kildare.

"We have come to the holiest place in Ireland: holier to us than the place where Patrick sleeps in Down. Patrick brought us life, but this man died for us. And though many before him and some since have died in testimony of the truth of Ireland's claim to nationhood, Wolfe Tone was the greatest of all that have died for Ireland whether in old time or in new. He was the greatest of Irish nationalists. I believe he was the greatest of Irish men. And if I am right in this I am right in saying that we stand in the holiest place in Ireland and that the holiest sod of a Nation's soil is the sod where the greatest of her dead lies buried."

That is the first paragraph of the address delivered by Pádraig Pearse at Bodenstown on June 12, 1913.