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Who's Who of 1798

Badge of Society of United Irishmen

A typical French Regimental Flag of the period

Year of the French

Napoleon had decided that Egypt held more interest and wealth to him than Ireland but he did see merit in causing trouble for the British in their backyard. He and the French Directory authorized 1100 soldiers and weapons to arm 5000. Wolfe Tone's friend Hoche, had died in 1797 so a former fur trapper by the name of Jean Humbert was put in charge with the promise of reinforcements of 3000.

The French set sail from Rochefort with three ships called Concorde, Franchise, and Médée which landed at Killala in Mayo on August 22th. Here, they established a republic of their own. He attacked Castlebar which was held by General Lake. However, Lake and his men had to retreat and the event became known as The Races of Castlebar with many British soldiers retreating as far as 30 miles away. The arrival of the French really scared the British so the Viceroy, Lord Cornwallis (of Yorktown fame -remember !) took control of the government forces.

Mural in Castlebar Co.Mayo

Mural in Castlebar Co. Mayo

Humbert had intended to march north to Ulster through Sligo but changed his route and went eastwards to meet the rebels of the midland counties of Longford and Westmeath. Humbert fought against the advancing British regiments at Ballinamuck on 8th September but was defeated after a brief engagement by the combined forces of Lake and Cornwallis.

After the defeat

Humbert and his French were treated with the civility and courtesy demanded by the conventions of war to brave prisoners after an honourable defeat.

It appears the same generosity was not afforded to the Irish. It seems that many of the Irish were cut down where they stood, or hunted down and slaughtered by calvary. Captured Irish born officers, even those bearing legitimate commissions in the French army, were hanged as traitors.

Napper Tandy a famous United Irishman exiled in Paris arrived in Donegal with a ship full of soldiers and weapons but returned once he learnt that Humbert force had been defeated a week earlier.

However, another French fleet was preparing to leave bouyed up with Humbert's early reports on the Battle of Castlebar which had taken three weeks to arrive. 3000 men and weapons it also contained Wolfe Tone. It left Brest after difficulties with paying soldiers and for provisions. It was met with British naval forces in Lough Swilly where the French ships were captured. Wolfe Tone was recognized by a former Trinity student and was sent to Dublin for trial for treason.

Like many of the captured rebels in other parts of the country, many were transported to Australia and others were pressganged into joining the British army and navy overseas. Several hundred were sent into the Prussian (German) army who were an ally of Britain. Some even ended up in Silesian salt mines.