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The 1798 rebellion and the origins of Irish republicanism

category national | history and heritage | opinion/analysis author Tuesday May 22, 2007 15:34author by Andrew Flood - WSM - personal capacity Report this post to the editors

On the 209 anniversary of the outbreak of the rebellion

Almost 210 years ago on the 23rd of May 1798 the largest popular republican rising in Irish history began. Across the island tens of thousands fought under the banner of the United Irishmen. Hundreds of thousands had been sworn into the organization in the preceding four years. On four occasions revolutionary France sent thousands of troops to aid the rebellion, the United Irishmen had built contacts with revolutionary republicans across the globe, including the USA, France, Hamburg and England.

The response of the British state to the rise of the United Irishmen was a brutal counterinsurgency campaign that stirred up sectarian conflict on the island. 1798 thus came to shape much of the political struggles that took place in the following centuries.
A loyalist view of the battle of Enniscorthy - note figure 'blocking' cannon with his wig
A loyalist view of the battle of Enniscorthy - note figure 'blocking' cannon with his wig

The 1898 centenary was accompanied by mass mobilisations. On the 15th August 1898 100,000 people gathered at the top of Grafton Street in Dublin to take part in the dedication of the first stone of a statue of rebel leader Wolfe Tone. However that centenary was used to write out of history many of the radical elements of the rebellion and people it commemorated. Revolutionary Irish republicanism was moving towards an increasingly sectarian nationalism which would remove British rule from 26 counties at the cost of cementing divisions between catholic and protestant workers and the partition of the island.

The bi-centenary in 1998, co-inciding with the 'Peace process' attracted considerable discussion with the formation of local history groups, the holding of conferences and large-scale interest, at least in the south, in the TV documentaries and books published around the event. Discovering the legacy of 1798 and the way it was used to shape both history and the idea of the Irish nation may be part of the process of overcoming the sectarian divisions and building a new radical mass politics today.

A quick summary of the Rebellion
The foundation of the Belfast and Dublin societies of United Irishmen took place in the autumn of 1791. This initially reformist organisation demanded democratic reforms including Catholic emancipation. In response to popular pressure the British government which effectively ruled Ireland initially granted some reforms. This period of reform ended in 1793 when war broke out between revolutionary France and Britain.

The United Irishmen's journey to revolutionary separatism was only completed with the Cave Hill oath of June 1795 where above the town of Belfast some of the leadership including Thomas Russell, Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken and Samuel Neilson swore "never to desist in our effort until we had subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted her independence." From this time on their program was for a revolution that with French backing would break the connection with Britain and usher in democratic reform. What seems remarkable today is that all these men who gave birth to revolutionary Irish republicanism were protestants.

In December of 1796 the United Irishmen came the nearest they would to victory when 15,000 French troops arrived off Bantry Bay. Only the bad weather and poor seamanship of the Jacobean sailors prevented the landing and saved Britain from an almost certain defeat. In the British panic after Bantry Bay Irish society became increasingly bitterly polarised as loyalists flocked to join the British army and the United Irishmen's numbers swelled massively. The British state launched a brutal counter insurgency campaign to destroy the United Irishmen before the French could return.

By the Spring of 1798 the campaign of British terror was destroying the United Irishmen organisation and many of the leaders had been arrested. The remaining leaders were forced to call an immediate rising, before French aid would arrive. The date was set for May 23rd. But a series of factors undermined the rising in Dublin it just served to spark major risings in Wexford in the south and Antrim and Down in the North. These saw large-scale battles in which tens of thousands participated. Elsewhere there were minor skirmishes particularly around Dublin. After the defeat of the main risings a small French Army landed on the west coast of Ireland at Killala on August the 22nd. Although there was almost no revolutionary organisation in that area thousands flocked to join them and the subsequent army succeeded in inflicting one major defeat on the British. By the Autumn the rebellion had been defeated, tens of thousands were dead and a reign of terror had spread over the country.

The International Context
The roots of the rebellion can be found in the transatlantic democratic revolutions that swept America and Europe at the end of the 18th Century. The American Revolution of 1771-81 and the French Revolution of 1789 were key events, which inspired a democratic revolutionary movement in Ireland. It was the demand for radical democratic reforms rather than a misty eyed nationalism that was the prime motivator for the United Irish movement.

The American Revolution
The American revolution, despite its deep flaws - it preserved and expanded slavery - was the first successful democratic revolution against monarchy and for republicanism. Events in the US were followed with keen interest, particularly among Presbyterians in the North, as "There was scarcely a family in the north of Ireland which did not have relatives living in the colonies"(1). Huge numbers had emigrated in the previous decades, some in a search for religious liberty, others to escape high rents. Some 250, 000 Presbyterians emigrated to the US from Ulster from 1717 to 1776.(2)

There were popular displays of support for the American rebels through out the north during this war with the British empire. United Irish leader John Cladwell described how "..on the news of the battle of Bunker Hill, my nurse Ann Orr led me to the top of a mount on midsummer eve, where the young and the aged were assembled before a blazing bonfire to celebrate what they considered the triumph of America over British despotism"(3). The contemporary historian Dr Campell describes how local Presbyterians "heard with pride that they comprised the flower of Washington's army".

The French Revolution
The French revolution of 1789 was seen to follow on and extend the promise of the American revolution. It was more radical and saw the more direct involvement of the popular masses. Theobald Wolfe Tone, who was later to be the United Irish leader of the last French expedition, described how "the French Revolution became the test of every man's political creed, and the nation was fairly divided into two great parties - the aristocracy and democrats".(4)

In July of 1791 at the Belfast Bastille Commemoration a Declaration of the Volunteers and Inhabitants at Large of the town and neighborhood of Belfast was distributed which stated
" ... if we be asked what the French Revolution is to us, we answer ... It is good for human nature that the grass grows where the Bastille stood. We do rejoice at an event that means the breaking up of civil and religious bondage ... We do really rejoice in this resurrection of human nature, and we congratulate our brother man coming forth from the vaults of ingenious torture and from the cave of death."(5)

For the Northern Presbyterian radicals France offered hope of change at home. Samuel Barber is his final sermon as Moderator of General Synod in 1791 said of France "that nation ... will now be the refuge and asylum of the brave and good in every nation".(6) France was not just seen as a refuge but also as an example that in the words of the paper of the United Irishmen, Northern Star, proved to the "people of every country ... that when they are oppressed, they have the power to redress."(7) The Northern Star went so far as to defend the execution of King Louis as "as the only mode of protecting internal tranquility."(8)

Importantly, as France was a Catholic country, the revolution there demonstrated to skeptical Northern Presbyterians that Catholics could act independently and against the teachings of their church. Wolfe Tone asked them to "Look at France; where is the intolerance of Popish bigotry now? Has not the Pope been burned in effigy in France."(9) The previous reform movements had focused on lobbying of the Anglican Irish and British Parliaments. With the French revolution a new strategy became apparent - one of the mass of the people striking for change.

Several of the future rebellions leaders spent time in France in the early 1790's, John Sheares attended the execution of Louise and once waved his red handkerchief under Daniel O'Connell's nose "saying it was stiff with the king's life-blood".(10) Edward Fitzgerald wrote to his mother from Paris that "the energy of the people is beyond belief - I go a great deal to the assembly"(11). In late 1792 these two together with the American radical republican Thomas Paine discussed in some detail a plan to start a rebellion in Ireland.(12)

The British state recognised the importance that the French connection had in mobilising mass support behind the United Irishmen. General Lake wrote in March of 1797 that "The lower order of people and most of the middle class are determined republicans, have imbibed the French principle and will not be contented with anything short of a revolution."(13)

However this close identification with revolutionary France became a two edged sword for the United Irishmen. In February 1793 Britain declared war on revolutionary France. Forced to choose sides many of the early middle class membership of the United Irishmen deserted their ranks. In an atmosphere of patriotism and propaganda the presence of a French 'spy', Willam Jackson, became the excuse for the raiding and disbanding of the Dublin Society in May of 1794.

Within the United Irishmen some saw the French influence as negative. Too much reliance came to be placed in French intervention rather than Irish self-organisation. The United Irishmen James Hope described how before the rebellion "The majority of the leaders become foreign-aid men and were easily elevated or depressed by the news from France, amongst their ranks spies were chiefly found."

The Rights of Man

This identification with America or France was through sympathy with the political demands or program of those revolutions. This was particularly the case in the north where popular support for the United Irishmen was linked to a search for a just and democratic society. A society in which all would be citizens rather then subjects. In the world of the 1700's this was a demand that seemed as impossible as that for an anarchist society does today. The success of the American and French revolutions turned what previously would have been seen as the impossible dream of a few into a realistic program for the masses.

The high demand for political literature and papers that was evident throughout the 1790's indicates the influence and spread of revolutionary ideas in this period. First amongst these was a two-part pamphlet called 'The Rights of Man' written by Thomas Paine. This pamphlet, starting from a defense of the French Revolution, argued that hereditary monarchy was unnatural and advocated a republican form of government. It was published in March 13 1791 and by July of 1791 the Dublin Whig club had already published a cheap edition for mass circulation.

By late 1793 over 200,000 copies of parts one and two had been circulated in Britain and Ireland.(14) Paine's prosecution for seditious libel by the British government only boosted its popularity and one United Irishman (and later British agent), Leonard McNally, writing in 1795 described how "His works are in every ones hands and in every one's mouths. They have got into the schools and are the constant subjects of conversation with the youth."( 15)

The political context in Ireland

Ascendancy / penal laws

Ireland of the 1790's was ruled by Anglican (Church of Ireland) landowners and aristocrats. The mass of the population was not Anglican and so even if they could accumulate wealth they were excluded from political power. Outside of Ulster and Dublin they were overwhelmingly Catholic. Complex religious divide along class and geographic lines had been created by the British ruling class as a mechanism to 'divide and rule'. This included a codified system of religious discrimination known as the Penal Laws.

Ulster was dominated by Presbyterians (Dissenters) who had moved there in the previous centuries, often displacing the earlier Catholic population of that region. Some of this migration was in the aftermath of wars when the London government created plantations, in particular after the Flight of the Earls in 1607 when the old catholic Gaelic ruling class had fled to France and Spain. Most arrived in later waves of migration, in particular the wave of Scottish immigration, which took place in the 1690s, when tens of thousands fled a famine in the borders region of Scotland.

The previous 150 years in Ireland had been marked by two vicious wars where the combatants were mobilised along religious divides, with Catholics and Protestants (including the Presbyterians) on opposite sides. Each side in these wars claimed religious motives and the religious divide led to various sectarian massacres. This period of massacre and counter massacre created the sectarian politics that have dominated Ireland since.

The penal laws were designed to draw a religious barrier between the landlord class (which would be restricted to Anglicans) and the Catholic / Presbyterian peasantry. Catholic landlords could retain their land but only at the price of converting. Between 1703 and 1788 some 5,000 Catholic landowning families became Anglicans (16). In addition by becoming agents for absentee landlords many of the Catholic gentry went underground. It's calculated that "If one includes 'convert' estates, the figures for 'Catholic' ownership of land reaches about 20%."(17)

In addition to breaking up Catholic owned estates the Penal laws also ruled that "No prelate was allowed to reside in Ireland under a penalty of being hanged, drawn and quartered. ... No Catholic could serve in the armed forces or possess arms... nor ride a horse worth more then £5. They could note vote or be members of parliament or citizens of an incorporated town"(18). In short even if Catholics could acquire wealth they were still excluded from any participation in decision-making.

The Penal laws also banned Mass and education, Presbyterians were subject to similar laws. A Test act excluded them from local government. In 1713 a Westminster act made Presbyterian schoolteachers liable to three months imprisonment and Presbyterian - Anglican marriage was also made illegal.(19) As late as 1771 four Presbyterians were arrested for holding a prayer meeting in Belturbet.(20)

So-called democratic politics in Britain at the time excluded all but rich men from electing MP's. Rotten boroughs where the MP would be elected by a handful of voters were not uncommon. But in Ireland the situation was far worse, according to a letter the United Irishmen sent to the English Society of the Friends of the People;
"The state of Protestant representation is as follows: 17 boroughs have no resident elector; 16 have but one; 90 have 13 electors each; 90 persons return for 106 rural boroughs - that is 212 members out of 300 - the whole number; 54 members are returned by five noblemen and four bishops; ...

With regard to the Catholics, the following is the simple and sorrowful fact: Three millions, every one of whom has an interest in the State, and collectively give it its value, are taxed without being represented, and bound by laws to which they have not given consent."(21)

By 1793 the laws discriminating against Presbyterians had largely been abolished (in part to head off revolt and in part to halt the loss of labour through emigration) and the worst of the penal laws against Catholics had also been abolished. However as the above quote demonstrates Ireland was still ruled by a tiny minority of wealthy Anglicans.
Orange Order

It is inevitable that both the history of religious war in the 16th and 17th century and inequalities still present in the 1790's led to sectarianism in the general population. But the period from the 1780's on was remarkable for the fact that these sectarian tensions temporarily retreated into the background.

Armagh was the major exception to this, here the population was evenly divided three ways between Anglicans, Presbyterians and Catholics. Under the Penal laws Catholics were not allowed to have arms but some of the more radical Volunteer companies had been recruiting and arming Catholics. In the 1780's a Protestant and loyalist force started dawn raids on Catholic homes, searching for arms. These were know as the 'Peep-O-Day boys'. In 1795 one such raid at 'The Diamond' near Dunmurry saw many Catholics killed. It was in the aftermath of this clash that the Orange Order was formed.

It was in the interests of both the Irish landlord class and the British government to promote sectarian conflict. As the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh pointed out of the land struggle in the 1780's "The worst of this is that it stands to unite Protestant and Papist, and whenever that happens, good-bye to the English interest in Ireland".(22)
Land conflicts

Central to understanding the motivation for many of the rebels in the 1798 rising were conditions for the peasantry. For the most part they had no rights, were treated as animals and were completely alienated from the landlord class. In 1831 there were 1,500 absentee landlords living outside Ireland who owned 3,200,000 acres and a further 4,500 absentee landlords living in Dublin and owning 4,200,000 acres(23) There were famines in 1740, '57, '65 and '70. The first of these killed 400,000.(24)

The complete subjection the peasantry were subjected to is hinted by a traveler through Ireland at the time who wrote "A landlord in Ireland can scarcely invent an order which a servant, labourer, or cottier dares to refuse to execute. ... Disrespect, or anything tending towards sauciness he may punish with his cane or his horsewhip with the most perfect security. A poor man would have his bones broken if he offered to lift a hand in his own defense . . . Landlords of consequence have assured me that many of their cottiers would think themselves honoured by having their wives and daughters sent for to the bed of their master - a mark of slavery which proves the oppression under which such people must live."(25)

Another source of resentment was tithes. Everyone regardless of their religion was required to pay a tithe to the local Anglican clergy. These payments were often the at the centre of agrarian struggle. The resolution below were adopted at a mass meeting of Munster Peasantry in 1786
"Resolved - That we will continue to oppose our oppressors by the most justifiable means in our power, either until they are glutted with our blood or until humanity raises her angry voice in the councils of the nation to protect the toiling peasant and lighten his burden.

Resolved - That the fickleness of the multitude makes it necessary for all and each of us to swear not to pay voluntarily priest or parson more than as follows: ".(26)

In this period the working class was also starting to develop and assert itself. Even in apparently rural areas many were at least somewhat dependant on manufacture for part of their income. The United Irishmen organisation in the north outside Belfast was to be focused on the 'Linen Triangle'.

There were at least 27 labour disputes in Dublin from 1717 to 1800 and the formation of the early trade unions had started(27). "There were 50 combinations in 27 different trades in Dublin in the period 1772-95. There were at least 30 food riots ... in the period 1772-94. "(28)

A handbill entitled The Cry of the Poor for Bread, from Dublin in 1796 read
"Oh! lords of manors, and other men of landed property, as you have monopolised to yourselves the land, ... can the labourer, who cultivates your land with the sweat of his brow, the working manufacturer or the mechanic, support himself, a wife and 5 or 6 children? How much comfort do you extort from their misery, by places, offices and pensions and consume in idleness, dissipation, riot and luxury?"(29)

Irish history was no longer to simply be a conflict over the religion of those who would rule. Previous rebellions had concentrated on winning back the land for the old catholic Gentry. But by 1798 in addition to families who converted in order to maintain their lands, many other catholic gentry families had become middlemen who sub-rented to smaller tenants. In Co. Dublin 60 of the previous land owning families were middlemen, in South Co. Wexford there were 21.(30)

These families were frequently indistinguishable to the outsider from the peasantry but "Especially in remote areas, or on the estates or absentee landlords, these old families retained effective cultural control of their communities"(31). They regarded themselves as above the peasantry and disliked the new 'gentry' of whom they said "It is not right that sons of churls or labourers should behave as the son of the gentlemen."(32) In turn even the Catholic new gentry like Lord Kenmare said of them "Every one of them thinks himself too great for any industry except taking farms. When they happen to get them, they screw enormous rents from some beggarly dairymen and spend there whole time in the alehouses of the next village."(33)

By the 1760's as capitalism had begun to penetrate Irish agriculture and enclosures began to create middlemen with vast landholdings the social bond that held this dispossessed catholic gentry to the peasantry began to break. Catholic as well as Protestant landowners and middlemen became targets for the various agrarian secret societies.
Secret societies

The complete absence of democratic rights made it impossible for ordinary people to organise in any public manner. But the harsh repression peasants lived under generated resistance. Peasants organised throughout the 18th Century through secret underground societies. Their members would often operate at night and in disguise, taking direct and often violent action against local oppressors.

In the 1760's one such society was the Oakboys. The Oakboys were particularly strong in the counties of Monaghan, Armagh and Tyrone and mainly organised against the system of compulsory and unpaid road repairing.(34) In 1762 the Whiteboys, an anti-enclosure movement involving poor Protestants and Catholics, were active.(35) The Steelboys of the 1770's were one of the most powerful. They organised in the counties of Down and Antrim and were for the most part Presbyterian. They fought for the abolition or reduction of tithes and were also against the enclosures of common land.(36)

These societies at times conduced mass public mobilisations. James Connolly notes of the Steelboys that "In the year 1772 six of their number were arrested and lodged in the town jail of Belfast. Their associates immediately mustered in thousands, and in open day marched upon that city, made themselves masters thereof, stormed the jail, and released their comrades".(37)

This suggests elements of organization and federation beyond the local level. The Defenders were organised nationally in Lodges.(38) The British Viceroy Camden claimed "They meet in bodies of several hundreds and on some occasions 3,000 or 4,000 had assembled".
The volunteers

If the secret societies represented the peasantry in the years before the rising the Volunteer movement was the clearest expression of progressive middle class and even ruling class organisation. It had arisen as a volunteer body to defend Ireland from invasion but by the early 1790's under the influence of the French and American revolution had evolved into a radical body seeking democratic reform.

However its structure prevented it from being open to anyone but the wealthy. Even its public demonstrations which were well-disciplined parades of uniformed men excluded the vast bulk of Irish society who could not afford the uniforms.

In their search for democratic reforms, which above all else meant giving the Irish parliament power to pass economic laws, the Volunteers provided an initial organisational focus for all the young middle class men radicalised by the American and French Revolutions. Many of the older United Irish leaders started off as Volunteers. Later the Volunteers served as a mass front through which the United Irishmen could operate. The 1792 Volunteer organised Bastille Day celebration was particularly important.(39)

The high point of the radical volunteer movement was the Dungannon convention of February 1792, when delegates claiming to represent 1,250,000 people endorsed both Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform. However as an omen of divisions to come they refused to condemn the British empires war against France. As the masses became radicalised and the demand for Catholic emancipation and radical parliamentary reform was pushed up the agenda the Volunteers split and the leadership dropped into inactivity. For the most part they failed to resist the British attempts to disarm and disband them from 1793 and indeed "Up to that date ... their only military engagement had been to suppress a strike of cotton workers in Belfast."(40)
The United Irish Men

From the early 1790's the British state was becoming increasingly wary of the way in which the Northern Presbyterians were seeking to overcome sectarian divisions. The Viceroy Westmoreland wrote on the 26 July 1791 that "the language and sentiments of these dissenters is to unite with the Catholics and their union would be very formidable. That union is not yet made and I believe and hope it never could be".(41)

Their fears were well founded, already several of the most radical figures in the Volunteers, the Whig Clubs and the supporters of Catholic emancipation were engaged in discussion. On the 18th October 1791 the Belfast United Irishmen formed with 36 members. On the 9th November the Dublin society was founded. Two days later the Home Secretary Grenville observed of the United Irish call for Irishmen to unite regardless of religion that "there is no evil that I should not prophesy if that union takes place".

Although many of the United Irishmen started off as reformists looking for an equal relationship with Britain they were significantly different from the earlier movements. Instead of lobbying the Irish ascendancy or British Parliaments for reform they aimed for mass mobilisations of the population. They also attached no limitations on Catholic emancipation and openly looked to a future where all men would be equal citizens.

The class basis of the United Irishmen

The United Irishmen were initially drawn from the same circles as the Volunteers, the Protestant middle class, and in particular the legal professions. Nancy Curtain's study of the class composition of the early United Irishmen (before 1794) shows that nearly 70% of them were "merchants and gentlemen".(42) Only some 20% of the membership were artisans, clerks and labourers. When a committee of 21 drafted the political program in December of 1792 they rejected a property qualification in order for men to vote. But this almost split the committee down the middle and was carried only by a vote of 11 to 9.

Their was a class conflict at the core of United Irish ideology, but this was not the class conflict between worker and capitalist anarchists speak of today. The class conflict the initial United Irish leadership was based around was that between industry and aristocracy. Many were even hostile to the developing union movement although "Thomas Russell ... defended the journeymen weavers in an industrial dispute with local linen merchants and the 'Northern Star' ... applauded the defeat of an anti-combination bill in the House of Lords."(43)

For their time however the United Irishmen were "in the vanguard of European radicalism".(44) In January of 1794 their Dublin Plan of Reform program included 300 electoral divisions, a vote for all men over 21, representatives to be over 25 but not required to own property, all representatives to be paid, and annual elections. This represented a radical program even in comparison with the wave of European revolutions in 1848, some fifty years later. It would be well over a hundred years before suffrage at this level became common in Europe.

The United Irishmen were republicans but at the time this was a very ambiguous term. As John Adams put it, the republic "may signify anything, everything or nothing".(45) The Northern Star summarised what the United Irishmen stood for when it proclaimed "Liberty, or Freedom consists in having an actual share in the appointing of those who frame the laws and who are to be the guardians of every man's life, property, and peace."(46)

The French expeditions of 1796 and 1798 carried copies of An Address to the People of Ireland, to be distributed on landing. This outlines the program that would be implemented if the rebellion had been a success.
"The aristocracy of Ireland which exists only by our slavery, and is maintained in its pomp and splendor by the sale of our livers, liberties and properties, will tumble in the dust; ... we shall have a wise and honest legislature, chosen by the People, whom they will indeed represent, and whose interest, even for their own sakes, they will strenuously support. ... Your peasantry will no longer be seen in rags and misery, their complaints will be examined, and their suffering removed; ... The unnatural union between Church and state ... will be dissolved".(47)
Organisational structure

The United Irishmen operated in the manner of the society they wished to create. That is they were a mass, democratic organisation open to all who took the oath. At first each local society was organised autonomously of the others. The Dublin Society was relatively public in its dealing until May of 1794 when it was raided. As well as regular meeting of all the membership it had a Publication Committee which produced pamphlets and monitored pamphlets being produced by others. The Correspondence Committee, which normally had a dozen members, dealt with national and international correspondence. The officer's posts were rotated every three months.

In Dublin any existing member could veto applicant members although this was rare. Well-known international republicans like Tom Paine and Thomas Muir were made honouree members.

Initially there was little formal contact between Dublin and Belfast. From the start the Belfast society was more secretive, with a secret committee from 1791. It is probable that one of the key organisers Samuel Neilson led a secret Belfast Committee of Public Safety from an early date, he certainly proposed a similar structure for Dublin in January of 1794.

The spread of ideas

Neilson also published The Northern Star, the United Irishmen's main paper until it was finally forced to close in 1796. At the end of the 18th Century the new technology of cheap mass printing and the mass literacy that accompanied it facilitated the rapid spread of democratic ideas. Printing was seen as important because in itself it was a political act as it treated the masses as citizens who should be involved in politics. In the north many Presbyterians could read because they had a strong desire to study the bible. Literacy rates among adult males in parts of Ulster were the highest in Europe, as high as 76%.(48)

But there was also a "revolution in English language literacy" in the 1790's outside the north as the result of work carried on by itinerant schoolmasters in rural Ireland. These were often radicals themselves.(49) Even in areas were literacy was very low oral reading was common, one United Irishman traveled Galway reading political literature to gatherings of peasants.

There is little doubt that this educational work played a major part in building mass support for the later rebellion. In 1795 Paine's 'Age of reason' was distributed among Belfast mill workers and discussion groups were held about it.(50) Observers reported that the Northern Star was "So ardently ... sought for and enjoyed by lower orders" while later rebels explained that "If it were not for newspapers we would not know that Napper Tandy or Thomas Paine were in existence". One English traveler in Ulster in June 1796 wrote "I often meet Sir John's labourers walking to work and reading their papers as they move along."(51)

The Northern Star reached a circulation of 5,000 making it not only the highest circulation Irish paper of the times but also giving it a higher circulation then the English Times. The police chief in the small town of Athlone warned "The press is destroying the minds of the people in this country ... "(52) The government reacted to mass literacy and the printing of 'dangerous ideas' by attempting to tax literature out of the hands of ordinary people. Although this had an effect on circulation it also meant that people would gather in pubs and coffee shops to read a copy of the paper there and that it would be passed from hand to hand. It is estimated that between 20 and 50 people read each copy of the Northern Star.(53)

This gathering of people together to read seditious literature had obvious advantages for those seeking to build a mass movement. One Loyalist writer commented in 1794 that "In the coffee houses of Dublin there is that kind of conversation which in London would produce serious consequences."(54) Prosecuting counsel John Schools recorded in 1797 that "The Northern Star [is] the principle and most powerful of all the instruments used for agitating and deluding the minds of the people. ... The lowest of the people get it. It is read to them in clusters. A whole neighborhood subscribe to it."(55)

The United Irishmen also made use of other means of getting the word out, the Earl of Westmoreland observed in 1792 that "they set ballad singers in the streets".(56) Indeed they translated the 'Ca Ira' and 'The Marseillaise' for publication along with specially written Irish ballads. Leaflets were also produced. The Dublin Society distributed 5,000 copies of the letter announcing its foundation in 1792. 20,000 copies of Gratten's 1795 address to the house of parliament were distributed in Dublin within hours of it being given.

In the period before 1795 the United Irishmen were not yet a mass organisation. They had grown since 1791 but relatively slowly, in July of 1794 the Dublin society had only 250 members. The structural changes in 1795 represented a turn to mass recruitment based on the new objectives of the society, revolution and separation from England. By February of 1798 the United Irishmen claimed 500,000 members of whom 280,000 were said to be battle ready.(57)

After the raids of 1794 the United Irishmen moved from reform to revolution so their organisational structures changed. On 10 May 1795 a new constitution was approved, under this each club would split in two once it had 36 members. . By the spring of 1798 the instruction was that "No society should consist of more then 12 members .. thoroughly well known to each other".(58) The clubs meet monthly with much of the business being conducted by committees between meetings. Each town or parish sent delegates to a regional committee. The national executive directory consisted of a director and one member from each of the four provinces.

Although it was later fashionable to criticise the United Irishmen's revolutionary organisational structures as being responsible for the informers that plagued the rebellion this is not how the British viewed it at the time. Camden wrote after the failure of the 1796 arrests to break the northern organisation that "It is therefore the regularity of their system which is to be dreaded more then any individual ability."(59)

In fact the United Irishmen successfully turned informers into double agents and they even recruited the man responsible for opening their mail in the Post Office. British counter measures were to prove successful from 1797 but in August of 1796 John Beresford capturing the panic of the ruling class wrote "We are in a most desperate situation, the whole North, Louth, Meath, Westmeath, Longford, Roscommon, Galway, the county and city of Dublin ready to rise in rebellion, an invasion invited by ambassadors, our militia corrupted, the dragoons of Ireland suspected; the United Irishmen organised, the people armed ... our heads are in no small danger, I promise you".(60)

A radical economic program?

The Report of the Secret Committee of the House of Lords reported that in June of 1791, shortly before the United Irishmen were formally founded, Tone, Samuel Neilson and others in the north circulated a Secret Manifesto to the Friends of Freedom in Ireland. Towards the end this contained a description of the failure of past movements that was to prove accurate as a description of events in 1798

"When the aristocracy come forward, the people fall backwards; when the people come forward, the aristocracy, fearful of being left behind, insinuate themselves into our ranks and rise into timid leaders or treacherous auxiliaries."(61)

Before 1794 the role consigned by republican leaders to the masses was fairly passive displays of support for change. For example Illuminations, where people put lights in their windows, were important to demonstrate large-scale public support.

Following the 1794 banning of the Dublin United Irishmen ways to encourage active mass participation were favoured. Riots were organised by the United Irishmen, particularly those around Camden's arrival in March 1795 when aristocrats were stoned in the streets. Rioting continued throughout April, the rioters included students from Trinity College. By the summer the United Irishmen were moving on from this tactic and beginning underground insurrectional organisation.(62)

Once the United Irishmen had decided to take the direction of rebellion they had to win the mass of the people actively to join in such a rebellion. Gaining the vote for rich Catholics landowners would mean little to those paying rent for this land. Therefore in order to create a mass organistaion they also began to held out promises of economic reforms.

Historian Nancy Curtin points out that "Some united Irish recruiters ... suggested that a major redistribution of land would follow a successful revolution"(63) and that as a result "To a certain extent republicanism became associated in the common mind with low rents, the abolition of tithes and a tax burden borne by the wealthy and idle rather then by the poor and industrious."(64) In 1794 a United Irishmen text asked "Who makes them rich. The answer is obvious - it is the industrious poor".(65)

The Union doctrine; or poor man's catechism, was published anonymously as part of this effort and read in part
"I believe in a revolution founded on the rights of man, in the natural and imprescriptable right of all citizens to all the land ... As the land and its produce was intended for the use of man 'tis unfair for fifty or a hundred men to possess what is for the subsistence of near five millions ..."(66)

United Irish leader Dr William James MacNeven was under interrogation by the House of Lords in 1798. When he was asked if Catholic emancipation or parliamentary reform mobilised 'the lower orders' he replied "I am sure they do not understand it. What they very well understand is that it would be a very great advantage to them to be relived from the payments of tithes and not to be fleeced by the landlords."(67)

From 1794 with the turn towards revolutionary politics and the need to mobilise the masses the class basis of the United Irishmen also underwent a radical change. In Dublin membership of artisans, clerks and labourers rose to nearly 50% of the total.(68) In Dublin there were also working class republican clubs independent of the United Irishmen. A member of one such club, 'Huguenots' published several issues of a broad sheet called The Union Star.(69). This named leading loyalists and suggested they should be assassinated. The United Irishmen leaders formally condemned the Union Star.(70)

Other popular political societies in Dublin in 1790's included 'the strugglers'. One judge referred to "the nest of clubs in the city of Dublin." Their membership was said to consist of "The younger part of the tradesmen, and in general all the apprentices."(71) The informer Higgins described these clubs as comprising "King killers, Paineites, democrats, levellers and United Irishmen."(72)

As public demonstrations were banned various ruses were used to gather United Irishmen together. Race meetings were used as pretexts for mass assemblies. Mock funerals with up to 2,000 'mourners' would be held, sometimes the coffin would actually contain arms. Or alternatively there would be enormous turnouts for the funerals of relatively unknown ordinary people. In the countryside mass potato diggings (often for imprisoned United Irishmen) were organised and often conducted as military drills. These were a way of seeing who would turn out and how well they would follow orders. All of these gatherings, unlike the earlier Volunteer style parades, gave the masses an active and central role.

Learning to follow orders was central to this process as the United Irishmen's leadership wanted to be able to control and discipline the masses in the event of a rising. This was also why a French landing was central. The French army would help not just to beat Britain but also to control the masses during and after the rebellion. The original strategy for the rebellion saw only a few thousand United Irishmen joining the army of the French to be quickly disciplined. The rest would act "to harass the escorts of ammunition, cut off detachments and foraging parties, and in fine, to make the King's troops feel themselves in every respect in a foreign country."(73)

This is the context in which Tones "Our freedom must be had at all hazards. If the men of property will not help us, they must fall; we will free ourselves by the aid of that large and respectable class of the community - the men of no property."(74) must be taken. Yes the United Irishmen turned to the 'men of no property' but the leadership still intended to run the show and with French help hold back the masses from redistribution of the property of the wealthy.

Although the United Irishmen are remembered as the authors of the rebellion this should not be reduced down to a small middle class leadership 'tricking' the mass of the population into rebellion through the use of economic slogans they never intended to implement. Even within the United Irish leadership some leaders had quite radical economic ideas while others opposed the early unions. The workers and peasants who formed the mass of the rebellion were not an empty vessel without ideas but very often self-organised through the secret societies and clubs already mentioned. The republican movement represented a coming together of many such forces around a limited common program but with each faction hoping to use the rebellion to advance its own vision of how a free society should be organised.

The link with the defenders

A central part of the strategy of mass rebellion was to build links with the already established movements, and in particular the Defenders. It was also hoped the links with the Defenders would help win over the Militia, the local state defense force.(75)

The Defenders in Armagh had started as a local 'faction' (gang) and were initially non-sectarian, their first Captain being Presbyterian.(76) . They then grew out of the political agitation around the arming of Catholics which had "the full support of a radical section of Protestant political opinion", and the Peep-O-Day Boys opposition to this (77). These origins are important to understand as later historians have attempted to portray the Defenders as simply a Catholic sectarian organisation, a sort of mirror image of the Orange Order.

Despite their rural origins the Defenders were not just a peasant movement but "drawn from among weavers, labourers and tenant farmers ... and from the growing artisan class of the towns"(78). Late 18th century Armagh experienced rapid social change generated by its thriving linen industry.(79) The Defenders were already politicised to some extent by the hope of French intervention and their anti- tax and anti-tithe propaganda. They proclaimed "We have lived long enough upon potatoes and salt; it is our turn now to eat mutton and beef."(80)

The Defenders spread well outside Armagh. By 1795 there were some 4000 Defenders in Dublin, closely linked with many of the republican clubs in the city. Their spread there was facilitated by "the pre-existence of illegal 'combinations' (proto-trade unions)". They had their own links with revolutionary France as early as 1792. (81) Historian Deirdre Lindsay offers a further illustration that the Defenders were not simply a sectarian organisation when she points out that "in Dublin there were Protestant Defenders"(82). All the same she states "revenge against Protestants was certainly an important element in Defender thinking."(83)

In 1795 up to 7,000 Catholics were driven out of Armagh by Orange Order pogroms. Many Catholics saw the hand of the government behind this making them more sympathetic to the United Irishmen. The United Irishmen provided lawyers to prosecute on behalf of the victims of Orange attacks. "Special missions were dispatched there in 1792 and again in 1795 and senior figures like Neilson, Teeling, McCracken, Quigley and Lowry worked the area ceaselessly ... ".(84) Many expelled Catholic families were sheltered by Presbyterian United Irishmen in Belfast and later Antrim and Down.

The United Irishmen were aware that the nature of these attacks had inevitably introduced sectarianism into the Defenders. But they saw this sectarianism as being due to the influence of priests and directed only against Protestant landlords. This was to prove a serious under estimation of the problem, particularly outside of the north. But the link with the Defenders did bring recruits. Robert Wadell a Co. Down magistrate, reported in July '96 that Orange attacks "have driven some hundreds to join the United Irishmen".(85)

Defenders at local level were led by Catholic, "alehouse keepers, artisans, low schoolmasters and a few middling farmers". At regional level they were led by a "handful of really successful Catholic families".(86) It was these families who were to provide the link with the United Irishmen through the individuals mentioned above. Later this limited contact would prove to be a problem as many of these individual United Irishmen were killed or jailed before the rebellion got underway.

1798 and the colonial model

There is a strong argument for saying that the 1798 rebellion represents one of the first anti-colonial struggles of the modern era the other being the successful rebellion in Haiti which has started in August of 1791. Every national liberation struggle since has been marked by the tension that caused the failure of the rebellion. A middle class leadership needing to turn to the masses in order to get the numbers needed to defeat the colonial power but having to seek safeguards against the masses gaining so much power that they go on to attempt to smash the class system itself.

After the French Revolution 'the people' had started to move to centre stage. They were no longer just foot soldiers for various factions of the ruling class but instead the much-feared 'mob' which was beginning to insist that it could run society. Time and again in the next 200 years wealthy nationalists would show they would sacrifice 'the nation' to protect their wealth and class. At best they were treacherous allies in the struggle against colonialism.

On the other side of this equation 1798 saw the use by Britain of many of what would become the core tools of modern colonial wars.

Tools of counter insurgency

One of the most successful British strategies of 1798 and the years that followed was to encourage the further growth of sectarianism in order divide the workers and peasants of Ireland. It would be an oversimplification to claim Britain invented this sectarianism, the tensions were already there but it provided the careful nurturing in which it grew. Key to this process was encouraging the growth of the Orange Order and sectarian warfare in Armagh. Kevin Whelan summarises the benefits of this project for the British state as "It inserted an implacable barrier to the linking of the United Irishmen and Defender territories; it stopped the spread of radical Freemasonry; it pulled Protestants in general firmly to a conservative pro-government stance; it split the nascent Presbyterian - Catholic alliance in mid-Ulster; it checked United Irishmen infiltration of the yeomanry and militia."(87)

General John Knox was the architect of this policy and described the Orange Order as "the only barrier we have against the United Irishmen."(88) In 1797 he wrote "I proposed some time ago that the Orangemen might be armed and added to some of the loyal corps as supplementary yeomen ... They are bigots and will resist Catholic emancipation."(89) Later he wrote to the administration in the castle that "the institution of the Orange Order was of infinite use."(90)

Many mechanisms were used to promote the Orange Order but most importantly its members were effectively given impunity (as many death squads were in 1980's Latin America) for pogroms against Catholics. One victim recalled "every magistrate in Ulster, but one or two, was an Orangeman, and no justice could be obtained either in courts or law ... "(91) In 1795 this policy became so obvious that Camden complained "some of the magistrates have been incautious enough not to carry on this measure so secretly as to have escaped the notice of the public."(92)


From 1796 the British state carried out a campaign of terror directed against the United Irishmen and the Defenders. The law and constitution were effectively suspended. Camden ordered General Lake to take action "if necessary beyond that which can be sanctioned by the law."(93) Lake himself said "I am convinced that the contest must lay between the army and the people." Nancy Curtain describes how "From the beginning of 1796 hundreds of men were seized and disposed of without the formalities of charge or trial"(94) as suspect's were jailed, sent to the British fleet in their thousands or simply killed.

A number of ways of terrorising the general population were used including house burning's, crop destruction, confiscation of food and goods. Sometimes victims was picked on the basis of intelligence, sometimes the army simply arrived in a suspected rebel village and selected random people for its terror in order to force them to reveal who the rebels were or where arms were located. Many women were raped and other men and women were subjected to a wide range of other tortures which included pitch capping where the victims head was set alight, half-hanging where the victim was repeatedly hung until they passed out and flogging with hundreds of lashes to the point where the victims skin would split and their innards be exposed. After one victim, Anthony Perry, was pitch capped, it "raised all the skin of his head and part of his face"(95) and in fact unknown numbers if victims died during and after these tortures.

Alongside these deaths were dozens of executions of United Irishmen. You could even be executed for allegedly swearing new members into the United Irishmen! In April of 1797 four United Irishmen from the Monaghan militia were executed in front of thousands of other soldiers who were then marched past their bodies.(96) These executions were effective in particular at challenging and undermining the United Irish organisation in the Militia although they also created martyrs for the United Irishmen like William Orr,

Alongside this a campaign was launched against the United Irish publications. Those who were sympathetic to the United Irishmen were bribed or threatened into silence. Those like the Northern Star or The Press which could not be bought were physically closed down so that by the spring of 1798 there were no radical or opposition papers in print. This allowed the pro-British press to spread unchallenged all sorts of lies before and during the rebellion.

As well as the stick Britain used the carrot to buy off sections of the population, in particular wealthy Catholics who were given additional rights and the Catholic hierarchy who were given a college at Maynooth in 1795. The hierarchy repaid this debt in 1798 when they came out in strong opposition to the rebellion.

The Rebellion

In December of 1796 a French Fleet appeared off the shores of Bantry Bay with 15,000 French soldiers and Wolfe Tone. Rough seas and inexperienced sailors prevented a landing which would have had a good chance of liberating the country from British rule. The British campaign of terror against the United Irishmen over the next two years was seriously undermining the organisation by 1798. In the Spring of 1798 pressure was mounting for a rising without the French and after the arrest of most of the Leinster leadership those who escaped set a date for the rising, May 23rd.

The Dublin rising
The key to the rising was to be Dublin. It was intended to seize the city and trigger a message to the rest of the country by stopping the mail coaches. Their non arrival would be the signal for local rebellions. However although thousands turned out for the rising in Dublin it ended up as a fiasco with almost no fighting. The reasons why this happened and why there was no significant rising in Belfast can be found in the class basis of the leadership of the United Irishmen.

Once it was clear that the rising was going to happen without the French it was also clear that there was no mechanism to hold back the workers and peasants from going beyond the bourgeois democratic and separatist aims of the bulk of the leadership. The French Revolution had shown that particularly in the cities 'the mob' were capable of creating their own demands and attempting to implement them even where they went beyond the wishes of the leadership.

Edward Fitzgerald, Neilson and the others who planned the May 21st rising in Dublin were willing to risk this. But they were arrested and thus removed from command by May 19th. The British on the information of informers had seized Smithfield square which was to be the gathering point for the rising. In the confusion there was thus little chance of the rank and file of the United Irishmen spontaneously gathering to create an alternative plan. The second rank of leadership which should have created an alternative plan failed to do so precisely because it now feared the uncontrolled 'mob'. From the British side General Carhampton, expressed this as a fear the "the city [would] be handed over to a municipality formed of the dregs of the people, who, armed with pikes and whiskey, would probably plunder and burn the town, and the whole kingdom then be undone for a century to come."(97)

Precisely as had been warned "when the people come forward, the aristocracy, fearful of being left behind, insinuate themselves into our ranks and rise into timid leaders or treacherous auxiliaries."

The Wexford Republic
A limited rising happened around Dublin, just enough in fact to encourage the Loyalists and British forces to unleash further terror in the rest of the country. In Wicklow and North Wexford this included the execution of over 50 United Irish prisoners, the attacking of civilians and the burning of cabins. Although Wexford had over 300 United Irishmen the bulk of them do not appear to have been preparing for a rising and would probably have been against one for the reasons outlined above.

A historian of the rebellion, Dickson states that "without a French landing and without the compulsion applied by the magistrates and their agents ... there would have been no Wexford rising at all."(98) and his account demonstrates that the early battles were spontaneous clashes. Indeed at the all-important victory at Oulart on the 27th May there was no real commander and some of the United Irishmen were armed only with stones. There, in part due to very poor militia tactics and a successful ambush, the rebels wiped out a detachment of the Cork militia.

The Oulart victory demonstrated that even a well armed and organised British force could be defeated. This victory and the increasing brutal counter insurgency campaign saw hundreds and then thousands flock to join the rebel hilltop encampments. On the 30th May a second successful ambush on the militia included the capturing of the artillery, in turn leading to the capture of Wexford town. The town of Enniscorthy was also taken.
Eventually the superior tactics, arms and training of the British forces was to prove a match for the rebels except where the British army was ambushed and heavily out numbered. On the 1st of June the rebels captured Bunclody but a lack of discipline led to looting and in the confusion the British army counter attacked and retook the town. On the 4th and 5th of June the rebellion suffered its most decisive defeat at the battle of New Ross with over 10% of the Wexford rebels being killed in the battle or massacred in the aftermath.

The Wexford rebel's second (and final) major attempt to spread the rebellion to neighboring counties failed at the Battle of Arklow on the 9th June. The rebel army was increasing demoralised and restricted to defensive battles and guerrilla raids. On the 21st the final major battle was fought at Vinegar Hill after which the remaining rebels broke into small parties some of which carried out guerrilla attacks for three more years. It had taken some 20,000 British soldiers almost a month to crush the 30,000 rebels who were "utterly untrained, practically leaderless and miserably armed."(99)

Wexford town had however been liberated for a short while. At the time it was thriving and had a population of 10,000, many of whom were Protestants. After liberation a seven-man directory of the main United Irishmen and a 500 strong senate took over the running of the town. Both of these included Catholic and Protestant members. In addition each district had its own local committee, militia and elected leader. The three weeks before it was retaken did not allow time for much constructive activity beyond the printing of ration coupons.(100)

Events in Antrim/Down
Robert Simms was Adjacent-General of the United Irishmen in the north and he simply refused to acknowledge that the signal from Dublin indicated he should rise. Instead, presumably in part for the class interests already outlined, he preferred to wait for the French.

The situation in the North had also changed since 1796. A savage campaign of British torture had terrified, disorganised and disarmed many of the United Irishmen. General Knox had told General Lake that his methods were also intended to "increase the animosity between the Orangemen and the United Irishmen." The Presbyterian link with America, once a recruiter for the United Irishmen's cause had become a liability. France and America had fallen out and were now enemies. One observer reported of northern Presbyterians that "They now abhor the French as much as they formally were partial to them."

Nevertheless the rank and file were determined there should be a rising and the lower officers with Henry Joy McCracken - who had just returned from jail in Dublin - forced Simms to resign on June 1st and got an order for a rising agreed at a delegate meeting on June 2nd. This delay meant it was not till the 7th that the rising started in Antrim and the 9th in Down. In the course of this delay the Northern rising was further weakened. Three of the United Irishmen colonels gave the plans to the British taking away any element of surprise and allowing them to prepare for the rising.

More seriously rumors started reaching the north from the Wexford rebellion with the newspapers "rivalling rumour in portraying in Wexford an image of Catholic massacre and plunder equalled only by legends ..."(101) Many of these stories were false although Protestant men had been killed in Enniscorthy. The distorted version that reached the north by 4 June (before the northern rising) was that "at Enniscorthy in the county of Wexford every Protestant man, woman and child, even infants, have been murdered."(102) Alongside this were manufactured stories like a supposed Wexford Oath "I, A.B. do solemnly swear ... that I will burn, destroy and murder all heretics up to my knees in blood." In addition there was "ample time" before the battle of Ballynahinch on the 13th for news of the Scullabogue massacre to have reached the North.

Later commentaries have tried to deny the significance of the Northern rising or have claimed the many Presbyterians failed to turn out. However given all of the above what is truly remarkable is how little effect all this had, in particular as by the 6th the Wexford rising had clearly failed to spread. At this stage there were 31,000 United Irishmen in the area of the rising in the north of which 22,000 actually took part in the major battles, more turned out but missed the major battles.(103)

Like the Wexford rising the Northern rebels succeeded in winning minor skirmishes against the British but were defeated in the major battles by the British armies superior training, arms and tactics. Henry Joy McCracken issued the proclamation to rise on June 6th and in Country Antrim the towns of Ballymena, Portaferry and Randalstown were quickly taken. As many as 10,000 United Irish and Defenders assembled at Donegore Hill and marched on Antrim town on June 7th. There they were initially successful in their assault on the garrison but the arrival of additional artillery with British reinforcements from Belfast caused the disintegration of the rebel army.

In County Down a second army of around 8,000 under Henry Munro won a battle at Saintfield on the 7th when they ambushed the York Regiment and the local Comber and Newtownards Cavalry. The towns of Portaferry and Strangford were attacked with the result that after the battles their garrisons withdrew and these towns were also captured. On the 12th June the British forces which had put down the Antrim rising retook Saintfield, which they set on fire. They proceeded to Ballynahinch much of which was also set on fire. On the 13th June Munro attacked Ballynahinch and initially the battle went in favour of the United Irish. However when the British general Nugent ordered the retreat his bugles was misunderstood by the rebels to signal the arrival of British reinforcements with the result that many panicked and fled. Taking advantage of the rout the British forces massacred the retreating rebels with grapeshot.

As in Wexford the British burned towns, villages and houses they considered sympathetic to the rebels and massacred both prisoners and wounded during and after the battles. After the battle of Antrim some were buried alive.(104). In addition 32 United Irishmen leaders were executed in the North after the rising, including two Presbyterian ministers.

The last major battle of the Northern rising was at Ballynahinch on the 13th June. In Wexford the rebel army was dispersed at the battle of Vinegar Hill on the 20th June. By the time the French arrived in Killala in August it was two late although their initial success does suggest that either the Wexford or Antrim rebels may have been much more successful if they had the benefit of even the small number of experienced French Troops and arms landed at Killala.

Henry Joy McCracken was captured and executed in Belfast on July 16th. But for a while he had managed to go into hiding after the rising where he wrote a letter to his sister in which he sums up the causes of the failure of the rising as "the rich always betray the poor". The key informer who betrayed the Dublin rising, Reynolds, had turned informer in 1798 because of fears of his ancestral estates being confiscated.(105)

Agendas in writing the history

It is a common observation that history is written by the victors. The British and loyalist historians who wrote the initial histories of the rising described it as little more then the actions of a sectarian mob intent on massacring all Protestants. Even nationalist reformers sought to hide their program of uniting Irishmen regardless of Creed. After 1798 nationalists turned to the confessional politics of mobilising Catholics alone. Daniel O'Connell, the main architect of this policy went so far in 1841 as to denounce the United Irishmen as "... wicked and villianously designing wretches who fomented the rebellion."(106) O'Connell had served in the militia in 1798.

James Connolly described the Irish nationalist history that emerged of 1798 as "The middle class 'patriotic' historians, orators, and journalists of Ireland have ever vied with one another in enthusiastic descriptions of their military exploits on land and sea, their hairbreadth escapes and heroic martyrdom, but have resolutely suppressed or distorted their writings, songs and manifestos.".(107) In short although the name of the United Irishmen was honoured their radical democratic ideas were buried even before the formation of the 26 county state.

The grave of Wolfe Tone who today is remembered as the main figure of the United Irishmen was unmarked until 1844. Around this time radicals in Ireland once again fell under the influence of a wave of international republicanism that was to climax in the European democratic revolutions of 1848. Part of this meant exploring the real causes and aims of the 1798 rebellion. The organisation of this period, the Young Irelanders, erected a plain black marble slab on Tone's grave and "celebrated the United Irishmen not as passive victims or reluctant rebels, but as ideologically committed revolutionaries with a coherent political strategy."(108) Paying homage at the grave of Wolfe Tone became an essential annual rite for any party wishing to claim the republican legacy.

What is meant by this legacy in itself became a battleground in the years that followed, at times literally! In 1934 when protestant members of the Republican Congress arrived from Belfast with a banner proclaiming 'Break the connection with capitalism' they were physically assaulted and driven off by IRA members. Not simply because they were protestants but because they were raising a communist slogan that was seen as well beyond what republicanism was about.

The first response to the Loyalist history in Ireland was an alternative but parallel history produced to suit a Catholic and nationalist agenda. Both of these agendas neatly dovetailed in showing the rising as a fight for "faith and fatherland". This is illustrated by the treatment of two portraits of prominent figures in the rebellion. Edward Fitzgerald's had his red cravat(109) painted out and replaced with a white one. Farther Murphy had his cravat painted out and replaced with a priests collar. Within factions of republicanism and the left there were attempts to rescue this history, starting with the memoirs of United Irishmen like Myles Byrne who had chosen exile over compromise. But all too often this history has been crushed beneath histories designed to fulfill the contrasting needs of the British and Irish ruling class.

Women in 1798
Of particular note is the way the women of 1798 have either been written out of history all together or exist only as the faithful wives or sisters of the nationalist histories and the blood crazed witches of the loyalist accounts. Like other republicans of that period the United Irishmen for the most part did not see a political role for women in their future republic although "one proposal was made that women should have the vote as well."(110) Women did however organise, a "Society of United Irish Women" whose secretary was Lucy Sterling is mentioned in a letter in the Northern Star, October 1796. (111) The Northern Star also prominently advertised a printing of 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman', Mary Wollstonecrafts pamphlet written in 1792.

Many women either formally or informally organized as past of the United Irishmen. Court matial records indicate that a number of women were sworn into the United Irishmen, at least as far as taking the secrecy oath(112). Mary Ann McCracken played an important role from an early period in promoting the organization. Later like many other women she was involved in the hiding and movement of weapons as well as the role of messenger.

In the run up to the rebellion women were particularly active in subverting the Militia. They would swear in soldiers and also spread rumours that the troops were going to be sent abroad.(113) Women were active in the rebellion, not just in 'traditional roles' of medical aid etc but also in quite a number of cases as combatants. Sir Jonah Barrington said at Vinegar Hill many women "fought with fury". However almost all of these roles seem to be ones that individual women demanded and fought for, there is no evidence of any serious effort on the part of the United Irish leadership to mobilise women.

Post rebellion republicans
In the immediate aftermath of the rising it was in the interests of those who had taken part to deny all knowledge or insist they were ignorant dupes or forced by 'the mob' to play whatever role they had. A popular republican song asked "Who fears to speak of '98". People researching oral histories have indicated that the answer was 'just about everyone' and indeed even the year of death on the gravestones of those who died in the rising was commonly falsified. The British campaign of terror before the rising carried on into the following century with chapel burning's and deportations of cartloads of suspects.

In Wexford, where the death penalty still applied to anyone who had been a United Irish officer, it was a common defense for ex-leaders to claim they were forced into their role by mobs of rebels. This explanation was handy for both the official and Catholic nationalist versions of the history. It suggested that the Protestant portion of the leadership was coincidental in what was otherwise a confessional or sectarian rising, depending on your point of view. What made this deception possible was, unlike in most other counties, the membership roles for Wexford were never captured. This allowed ex-rebel leaders like Edward Hay to argue that "there were fewer United Irishmen in the county of Wexford then in any other part of Ireland."(114)
The Orange Order

On the loyalist side there was a need for the Orange Order to minimise the scale of Presbyterian involvement in the rising so it could be portrayed as a sectarian and Catholic affair. So loyalist accounts have tended to focus on the Wexford massacres, often making quite false claims about their scale, who was massacred and why they were massacred. Musgrave (the main loyalist historian) in his coverage of the rebellion gives only 2% of his writing to the Antrim and Down rebellion while 62% of his coverage concentrates on Wexford.(115) The limited accounts Loyalist historians give of the Northern rising portray it as idealistic Presbyterians being betrayed by their Catholic neighbors and so learning to become 'good loyal Orange men'. The scale of British and loyalist massacres of these Presbyterians is seldom mentioned.

The Centenary & the Catholic Church
More then anything else the nationalist (and largely Catholic) history of the rising was determined by the needs of the Catholic church when faced with the danger of socialist influence on the radical Fenian movement one hundred years later. This is a history that had several aims; to hide the role of the church hierarchy in condemning the rising (and instead claim that the church led the rising); to blame the failure of the rising on underground revolutionary organisation (as an attack on the Fenians); and to minimise the involvement of Northern Presbyterians and radical democratic ideas. In so far as these radical ideas are mentioned it is to put forward the view that "it was the turbulent and disorderly Presbyterians who seduced the law abiding Catholics." (116)

This history has therefore emphasised the rebellion in Wexford and elevated the role of the handful of priests who played an active part. Father Murphy thus becomes the leader of the rising. The fight was for 'faith and fatherland', as a statue of a Pikeman draped in rosary beads which was erected in Enniscorthy on the hundred anniversary of the rising proclaims. Finally the role of the United Irishmen is minimised. The leadership role of United Irishmen like Bagnal Harvey, Matthew Keogh and Edward Lough who were Protestant is hidden. The failure of the rebellion is explained by the inevitability of revolutionary movements being betrayed by informers. Patrick Kavanagh's 'A Popular history of the insurrection of 1798' published in 1870 presents Father Murphy as the sole heart of the insurrection and the United Irishmen as "riddled by spies, ruined by drink, with self-important leaders ... "(117)
Issues of '98

To a large extent these histories are the accepted ones. It would be very time consuming to address all the issues they raise. But there is a need for current revolutionary organisations in Ireland to dispel the illusions created of the past. Protestant workers in the north are largely unaware that it was their forefathers who invented Irish republicanism, nor indeed that the first Republican victim of a show trial and execution was a Presbyterian from Ballymena, William Orr.

In the 1990's the post cease-fires debate on the release of political prisoners might have been somewhat different if Orr's pre-execution words were remembered "If to have loved my country, to have known its Wrongs, to have felt the Injuries of the persecuted Catholics and to have united with them and all other Religious Persuasion in the most orderly and sanguinary means of procuring Redress - If these be Felonies I am a Felon but not otherwise ... "(118)

Was the rebellion Protestant in the north and Catholic in the south?
A sophisticated attempt to deny the reality of 1798 is to suggest that the northern and southern risings were not really connected. That the northern rising was Presbyterian and democratic while the southern was Catholic and sectarian.

Although the rebels in the north were mainly Presbyterian and those in the south mainly Catholic both armies contained considerable number of both religions. I've already mentioned some of the Protestant leaders in the south. In the south, partly to head off sectarian tension within the rebel army, United Irishmen commander Roche issued a proclamation on 7th June "to my Protestant soldiers I feel much in dept for their gallant behaviour in the field". For the reasons discussed below the Wexford rising was seriously mired by sectarianism but right to the end there were Protestants among the rebels. Indeed it is still remembered around Carlow that after the battle Father John Murphy was hidden by a Protestant farmer only to be betrayed by a Catholic the next day.

It is true that in the north there were also sectarian tensions present. A catholic United Irish officer urged a column of Presbyterians to "avenge the Battle of the Boyne" just before the battle of Antrim! Also in the north at Ballynahinch the Defenders (who would have been overwhelmingly Catholic) fought as a distinct unit. However the figures also show that thousands of Catholics and Protestants turned out and fought side by side in a series of battles despite the obvious hopelessness of the situation. Even in Emmet's abortive 1803 rising Thomas Russell succeeded in gathering a few rebels together in Antrim.

The sectarian background in Wicklow and Wexford
There were also strong sectarian elements in the Wexford rising. To understand where these came from we need to look at events immediately before the rising. About 25% of the population was Protestant, these included a few recently arrived colonies that must have displaced earlier Catholic tenants and thus caused sectarian tensions.

The high percentage of Protestants in Wexford also made it possible to construct a militia and later Yeomanry that was extremely sectarian in composition, in the words of Dickson in Wexford "these Yeoman were almost entirely a Protestant force."(119) This Yeomanry was responsible in part for the savage repression that preceded the rising and the initial house and chapel burning during it. Col. Hugh Pearse observed "in Wexford at least, the misconduct of the Militia and Yeomanry ... was largely to blame for the outbreak ... it can only be said that cruelty and oppression produced a yet more savage revenge."(120)

When faced with a Protestant landlord class mobilising Protestant local troops to torture them and burn their chapels it is perhaps unsurprising that many Catholics were inclined to identify Protestants as a whole as the problem. The United Irish organisation in the area before the rising was too small to make much progress in overcoming this feeling, and in fact one of their tactics added to the sectarian tension. There were Orange Lodges in Wexford and Wicklow and as elsewhere there is evidence that the United Irishmen deliberately spread rumours of an Orange plot to massacre Catholics. The intention was the Catholics would join the rebellion in greater numbers but such rumors inevitably heightened distrust of all Protestants and probably played a direct role in the massacre of prisoners at Wexford.

The role of the Catholic priests in the rising
Although by 1898 the Catholic church would choose to pretend it had led the Wexford rising in 1798 nothing could be further from the truth. Dr Troy, Archbishop of Dublin said within days of the rising (27 May 1798) that "We bitterly lament the fatal consequences of this anti-Christian conspiracy."

In fact the Catholic hierarchy was opposed to the radical ideas of the rebellion and especially since the opening of the Catholic seminary at Maynooth supported the British state. Three days after the rebellion had started the following declaration came out of Maynooth
"We, the undersigned, his Majesty's most loyal subjects, the Roman Catholics of Ireland, think it necessary at this moment publicly to declare our firm attachment to his Majesty's royal person, and to the constitution under which we have the happiness to live ... We cannot avoid expressing to Your Excellency our regret at seeing, amid the general delusion, many, particularly of the lower orders, of our own religious persuasion engaged in unlawful associations and practises" (30 May 1798)
This was signed by the President of the Royal College of Maynooth and 2000 of the Professors and students, 4 lords and 72 baronets.(121) One of the Wexford rebels, Myles Byrne, wrote afterwards that "priests saved the infamous English government in Ireland from destruction."(122)

Individual Catholic priests like Farther Murphy did play an important leadership role in the rising alongside the mostly protestant United Irish leaders. According to Dickson "at least eleven Catholic curates took an active part and of these three were executed."(123) But their own Bishop described the rebel priests after the rebellion as "excommunicated priests, drunken and profligate couple-beggars, the very faeces of the Church." (124) The leadership role some priests played in the rising was against the wishes of the hierarchy. It often arose out of a motivation to protect there parishioners from loyalist atrocities. It also has to be said that many of these rebel priests did what they could to protect innocent Protestants.

The Wexford massacres
Throughout the Wexford rising sectarian tensions were never far from erupting. This was expressed throughout the rising as a pressure on Protestants to convert to Catholicism, particularly in Wexford town where "Among the insurgent rank and file ... heresy hunting became widespread ... Protestants found it prudent to attend mass as the only means of saving their lives."(125) When the rebels carried out massacres they often had strong sectarian undertones although the loyalist historians and indeed Pakenham, the most widely read historian of the rising are guilty of distorting the nature of these massacres by claiming only Protestants were executed.

These historians are also guilty of ignoring or minimising the causes of most of the massacres, the far larger massacres by British army and loyalist forces of civilians, rebel prisoners and wounded. The murder of over 50 United Irish prisoners at Dunlarvin and Carnew from the 24th June was almost certainly a major force in sparking the rising in Wexford. The massacres during and after the battle of New Ross were of a scale such that even the Loyalist historian Rev. James Gordon admits "I have reason to think more men then fell in battle were slain in cold blood."(126) The exact scale of this massacre can only be guessed at but after the battle 3, 400 rebels were buried, 62 cart loads of rebel bodies were thrown in the river and many others (particularly wounded) were burned alive in the houses of the town. According to many accounts the screams of wounded rebels being deliberately burned alive may have played a significant part in the murder of 100 loyalist civilian prisoners at nearby Scullabogue on the morning of the battle.

At Scullabogue around 100 prisoners were murdered, 74 were burned alive in a barn, (nine of whom were women and 8 of whom were Catholic) and 21 men were killed on the front lawn. A survivor, Frizel stated that the cause was the (correct) rumour that the military were murdering prisoners at New Ross.(127) At least three Protestants were amongst the rebels who carried out these killings, the presence of Protestants amongst the murders and Catholics among the victims gives the lie to the claim that this was a simple sectarian massacre.

Many other rebellions where considerable cruelty has been used by the ruling class see massacres of that class and their perceived agents. Massacres were also a feature of the rebellion in the north where no sectarian motive can easily be attached. At the start of the Down rising the rebels near Saintfield led by James Breeze attacked and set fire to the home of Hugh McKee, a well known loyalist and informer, burning him, his wife, five sons, three daughters and housemaid to death. (128)

The leadership of the Wexford rebellion both United Irishmen and the Catholic priests tried to defuse the sectarian tension and prevent massacres. On 7th June Edward Lough of Vinegar Hill camp issued a proclamation "this is not a war for religion but for liberty."(129) Vinegar Hill was the site of many individual executions over the 23 days the rebel camp existed there. Between 300 and 400 were executed, most were Protestant although Luke Byrne one of the organisers of the executions is quoted as saying "If anyone can vouch for any of the prisoners not being Orangemen, I have no objection they should be discharged" and indeed all captured Quakers were released.(130)

A proclamation from Wexford on 9th June called to "protect the persons and properties of those of all religious persuasions who have not oppressed us"(131) and on the 14th June the United Irishmen oath was introduced to the Wexford army in order to help impose discipline. None of this is to deny that there were sectarian tensions and indeed sectarian elements to the massacres, perhaps most openly after the rebel army had abandoned Wexford. Thomas Dixon and his wife then brought 70 men into the town during the night "from the northern side of the Slaney" and plied them with whiskey. The following day a massacre started at 14:00 and lasted over five hours. Up to 97 were murdered.

However even here not all the 260 prisoners from whom those massacred were selected could be described as innocent victims. One of those killed, Turner, was seen burning cabins in Oulart shortly before the battle there.(132) Another prisoner who survived was Lord Kingsborough, commander of the hated North Cork Militia and popularly regarded as having introduced the pitch cap torture.(133) Most significantly the massacre happened when the rebel army had withdrawn from the town and stopped when they returned.

Dealing with sectarianism
It is an unfortunate feature of some republican and left histories of 1798 that the sectarian nature of the Wexford massacres is either avoided or minimised. To northern Protestant workers today this merely appears to confirm an impression that this is the secret agenda of the republican movement. The stories both true and false of sectarian massacres in Wexford that were circulated in the North before and during the rising must have undermined the unity of the Northern rising.

Although the Wexford leadership did act to limit sectarianism in hindsight it is obvious that the United Irishmen were too complacent about sectarianism amongst the Defenders and in Wexford in particular more could and should have been done. In particular the final and most blatantly sectarian massacre at Wexford bridge could probably have been avoided if the Dickson's, the couple at the centre of it, had been removed in advance of it. They had spent the period of the rebellion in Wexford trying to whip up a pogrom and sharp action by the United Irish leadership in removing them from the scene could have prevented the tragedy that followed.

1798 and Irish nationalism

The debate around nation is in itself something that divides the Irish left. In particular after the partition of Ireland in 1922 there has been a real and somewhat successful effort to divide people into two nations. One consists of all the people in the south and the northern catholics. Catholicism was a central part of this definition with the Catholic Church being given an informal veto for many decades over state policy.

To a large extent this definition is tacitly accepted by many parts of the republican movement. Francie Malloys 1996 election campaign posters based on their being 20,000 more nationalists (i.e. Catholics) then Protestants in Mid-Ulster being a case in point. This has led to a situation where sectarian murderers of Protestants were not treated as seriously by the republican movement as alleged informers or even those judged guilty of 'anti-social' crime.

However in the last couple of decades the south has emerged from under the long dark shadow of Catholic nationalism. In the urban centres at least De Valeras comely maids at the crossroads and the threat of the Bishops crosier have faded into a distant and bizarre past. In the last decade the power the catholic church retained in rural areas collapsed under the weight of revelations about religious child abuse.

However in the north the peace process has if anything reinforced the sectarian divisions by introducing the concept of a head count into the very heart of the Good Friday agreement. In any case many northern loyalists had made the political decision to start referring to themselves as British or 'Ulster-Scots'. This is a quite a remarkable turn around even in the history of loyalism, and would have been an insult to the Orangemen of 1798, one of whom James Claudius Beresford declared he was "Proud of the name of an Irishman, I hope never to exchange it for that of a colonist."(134)

A couple of years after the rising Britain succeeded in forcing the Irish Parliament to pass an 'Act of Union' which effectively dissolved that parliament and replaced it with direct rule from Westminster. 36 Orange Lodges in Co. Armagh and 13 in Co. Fermanagh declared against this Act of Union. Lodge No. 500 declared it would "support the independence of Ireland and the constitution of 1782" and "declare as Orangemen, as Freeholders, as Irishmen that we consider the extinction of out separate legislature as the extinction of the Irish Nation."(135) The bankruptcy of the Irish nationalist project is demonstrated by its achievement in driving their descendents in the opposite direction.

What was the nation fought for in 1798

The rewriting of the history of 1798 by loyalists and nationalist alike has a common purpose, to attempt to define being Irish as containing a requirement to being a catholic. The greatest defeat of 1798 was the success of this particular project, in particular after partition when the southern and northern states adopted opposed confessional definitions of themselves. The legacy of that failure is that we not only live on a divided island but the vast majority of our hospitals and schools are either catholic or protestant controlled.

The United Irishmen's core project, to replace the name of Irishman for the labels of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter was not an abstract nationalist one. It came from a concrete analysis that unless this was done then no progress could be made because a people divided were easily ruled. Here lies the greatest gulf with republican today who reverse this process and imagine that such unity can only be the outcome rather then the cause of progress.

The rebellion of the United Irishmen was not a rebellion for four abstract green fields, free of John Bull. It was inspired by the new ideas of equality, fraternity and liberty coming out of the French revolution. Indeed at first it did not even necessarily mean separation from Britain, as late as July 1793 Wolfe Tone wrote in a letter to 'Freeman's Journal' that he was "not yet an advocate of separation".(136) Separatism became a necessary step once it was realised that fulfilling these ideas required the ending of British rule. For many and indeed particularly for those who rose it also represented a rebellion against the ownership of land by a few and for some move towards an equality of property. Even the most aristocratic of the leaders, (Lord) Edward Fitzgerald had under the influence of experiencing life amongst the settlers and Iroquois of Canada returned "with idealistic 'Leviling' schemes - named after the Levellers."(137)

Those leaders who planned the rising dreamt of creating a new society. They were part of a revolutionary wave sweeping the western world, they were internationalists and indeed an agreement for distinct republics was drawn up with the United Scotsmen and the United Englishmen.(138) They corresponded with similar societies in Paris and London. Some like Thomas Russell were also active anti-slavery campaigners, others went on to fight with Simon Bolivar, the key figure in liberation of South America from Spanish rule. Exiled United Irishmen were involved in risings in Tasmania and in South Africa in 1803 an Irish man was executed for attempting to ferment a black rebellion. Everywhere struggles for democratic rights were breaking out, in 1797 the London poor stoned George III carriage shouting "Peace! Bread! No War! No King!"(139) and in that same year 50,000 sailors were involved in the Spithead and Nore mutinies setting up delegate committees in the British fleet with the aid of United Englishmen(140) and of course the United Irishmen who had been sent to the Fleet.

As Connolly puts it "these men aimed at nothing less than a social and political revolution such as had been accomplished in France, or even greater."(141)

We know a lot of the leadership of the United Irishmen were not so driven by ideals and indeed when the time came rather then risk what they had they stayed at home or even betrayed the rebellion. Few of the rank and file rebels were able to write their memoirs so we can only guess as to their motivations. None of this is to claim that socialism was on the agenda in 1798. Common ownership of the means of production would not become a logical solution for some years yet when large numbers of people started to work in situations where they could not simply divide up their workplace. But there is no denying that radical ideas that are well in advance of today's republicans were on the agenda of many in 1798 and we know from recent history that these ideas will be the most deeply buried and hardest to recover.

The central message of 1798 was not Irish unity for its own sake, indeed the strongest opponent in that period of the British parliament had been the Irish ascendancy, terrified that direct rule might result in Catholic emancipation. Unity of all people in Ireland regardless of creed, or when their ancestors arrived, offered to remove the sectarian barriers that enabled a tiny ascendancy class to rule over millions without granting even a thimble full of democratic rights to the mass of the population.

The struggle for freedom has changed more than a little since as many of the basic democratic rights fought for in 1798 have been won, but in terms of creating an anarchist society the words of James Hope, the most proletarian of the 1798 leaders still apply "Och, Paddies, my hearties, have done wid your parties. Let min of all creeds and profissions agree. If Orange and Green min, no longer were seen, min. Och, naboclis, how aisy ould Ireland we'd free."

Andrew Flood
22 May 2007
Text based on a heavily revised draft of text written in 1998 and only partially published in Red & Black Revolution then

1The United Irishmen, Nancy Curtin, 1994, p 16
2A history of the Irish Working Class, Peter Berresford Ellis, 1972, p51
3The United Irishmen, p 18
4quoted in Labour and Irish History, James Connolly, Chap VII
5Labour and Irish History, Chap VII
6Presbyterian Radicalism Pieter Tesch in United Irishmen: republican, radicalism and rebellion, Ed: Dickson et al, p46
7 Northern Star, 3 March 1792
8 Northern Star, 26 Jan. 1793
9 An argument on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland, Wolfe Tone
10Citizen Lord : Lord Edward Fitzgerald, 1763 - 1798, Stella Tillyard, p163
11Citizen Lord, p136
12Citizen Lord, p153.
13The United Irishmen, p120
14The United Irishmen, p179
15The United Irishmen, p180
16A history of the Irish Working Class, p57
17The Tree of Liberty, Radicalism, Catholicism and the Construction of Irish Identity 1760 - 1830, Kevin Whelan, p6
18A history of the Irish Working Class, p52
19A history of the Irish Working Class, p51
20A history of the Irish Working Class, p51
21Address from the United Irishmen of Dublin to the English Society of the Friends of the People, dated Dublin, October 26, 1792, quoted in Labour and Irish History, Chap VII
22A history of the Irish Working Class, p68
23A history of the Irish Working Class, p55
24A history of the Irish Working Class, p54
25Arthur Young, in his Tour of Ireland quoted in Labour and Irish History, chap IV
26Munster peasantry, in 1786, in Labour and Irish History, Chap IV
27The United Irishmen, p147
28 The Tree of Liberty, p92
29Quoted in The Tree of Liberty, p46
30The Tree of Liberty, p7
31The Tree of Liberty, p8
32 quoted from Pairlement Chloinne Toma/in The Tree of Liberty, p9
33The Tree of Liberty, p13
34Labour and Irish History, Chap IV
35A history of the Irish Working Class, p59
36Labour and Irish History, Chap IV
37Labour and Irish History, Chap IV
38The United Irishmen, p161
39The United Irishmen, p229
401798: the United Irishmen and the early Trade Unions, Mary Muldowney in SIPTU Fightback No 7
41Revolt in North, Charles Dickson, 1960, p91
42The United Irishmen, 1994
431798: the United Irishmen and the early Trade Unions
44The United Irishmen, p26
45The Burden of the present, Thomas Bartlett in United Irishmen: republican, radicalism and rebellion, Ed: Dickson et al, p2
46Northern Star, 28 Jan. 1792
47A history of the Irish Working Class, p75
48The Tree of Liberty, p66
49The United Irishmen, p.9
50The Tree of Liberty, p63
51The Tree of Liberty, Kevin Whelan, p66
52The Tree of Liberty, p64
53The United Irishmen, p176-8
54The United Irishmen, p177
55The Tree of Liberty, p69
56The United Irishmen, p193
57The United Irishmen, p255
58The Tree of Liberty, p84
59The United Irishmen, p111
60The Tree of Liberty, p113
61Quoted in Labour and Irish History, Chap VII
62The United Irishmen, p240
63The United Irishmen, p120
64The United Irishmen, p119
65The Tree of Liberty, p76
66quoted in 1798: the United Irishmen and the early Trade Unions
67The United Irishmen, p28
68The United Irishmen, 1994
69The United Irishmen, p225
70The United Irishmen, p225
71The Tree of Liberty, p77
72The Tree of Liberty, p79
73Citizen Lord, p234
74A history of the Irish Working Class, p74
75The United Irishmen, p167
76The United Irishmen, p149.
77The Defenders, p18
78The Defenders, p20
79The men of no popery, p29, Jim Smyth in 1798 ; 200 years of resonance, Ed. Mary Cullen
80The Defenders, p19, Deirdre Lindsay, in 1798 ; 200 years of resonance, Ed. Mary Cullen
81The United Irishmen, p162
82The Defenders, p20
83The Defenders, p22
84The Tree of Liberty, p128
85The United Irishmen, p163
86The Tree of Liberty, p41
87The Tree of Liberty, p124
88The Tree of Libertyp119
89The Tree of Liberty, p124
90The Tree of Liberty, p120
91The Tree of Liberty, p123
92The Tree of Liberty, p120
93The Tree of Libertyp125
94Revolt in North, Charles Dickson, 1960, p121
95The Wexford Rising in 1798, Charles Dickson, 1955, p44
96The United Irishmen, p173
971798: the United Irishmen and the early Trade Unions
98 The Wexford Rising in 1798, p36
99The Wexford Rising in 1798, p41
100The Wexford Republic of June 1798 : A story hidden from history, Kevin Whelan in 1798 ; 200 years of resonance, Ed. Mary Cullen
101The United Irishmen, p262
102The United Irishmen, p260
103The United Irishmen, p267
104Revolt in North, p135
105Citizen Lord, p246
106Freeman's Journal, 22 May, 1841
107Labour and Irish History, Chap VII
108The Tree of Liberty, p167
109 Which represented not only a revolutionary badge but also a defense of the execution of the French king Louis.
110A history of the Irish Working Class, p71
111 The Women of 1798, ed Daire Keogh, Nicholas Furlong, p53
112 The Women of 1798, p70
113The United Irishmen, p171
114History of the Insurrection in the county of Wexford, 1798
115The Tree of Liberty, p138
116 The Tree of Liberty, p150
117The Tree of Liberty, p170
118William Orr, pre-hanging declaration, 2.45pm, 14 October 1796
119The Wexford Rising in 1798, Charles Dickson, 1955, p13
120Col. Hugh Pearse in 'Memoir of the life and service of Viscount Lake' (1744 - 1808) p95 quoted in The Wexford Rising in 1798, p12
121The Wexford Rising in 1798, p16
122Memoirs, Vol. 1, p39 (1906)
123The Wexford Rising in 1798,, p17
124'A vindication of the Roman Catholic Clergy of the town of Wexford during the late unhappy rebellion' pub 1799
125The Wexford Rising in 1798, p18
126The Wexford Rising in 1798, p116
127The Wexford Rising in 1798, p129
128APRN, 11 May 1998
129The Wexford Rising in 1798, p126
130The Wexford Rising in 1798, p77
131The Wexford Rising in 1798, p126
132The Wexford Rising in 1798, p62
133The Wexford Rising in 1798, p149
134Revolt in North, 1960, p243
135Revolt in North, p243
136The Burden of the present, Thomas Bartlett in United Irishmen: republican, radicalism and rebellion, Ed: Dickson et al, p 14
137Citizen Lord, p113
138A history of the Irish Working Class, p72
139A history of the Irish Working Class, p78
140A history of the Irish Working Class, p78
141Labour and Irish History, Chap VII

Related Link: http://www.wsm.ie/history

The execution of Henry Joy in Belfast
The execution of Henry Joy in Belfast

Counter insurgency - Pitchcapping
Counter insurgency - Pitchcapping

Counter insurgency - hanging gibbet
Counter insurgency - hanging gibbet

Loyalist cartoon of United Irishmen in training
Loyalist cartoon of United Irishmen in training

author by Andrewpublication date Tue May 22, 2007 15:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors


United Irish seal with the harp of liberty - the female figure subsequently vanished on later harps
United Irish seal with the harp of liberty - the female figure subsequently vanished on later harps

Earl Camden
Earl Camden

Henry joy
Henry joy

author by iosafpublication date Wed May 23, 2007 16:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

So it was 209 years ago today that the extraordinary wave of republicanism which passed over Europe and the world in the 18th century came to Ireland. It's just over 2,000 years since the collapse of the Roman republic which had as much to do with "republicanism" as Luke Skywalker has to do with meritocracy. Yet general understanding of how a political idealism which originally meant either plutocracy or oligarchy could develop and morph into an "-ism" and count "republicans" ready to champion its cause. As the last time you published an excellent piece, I'm going to read it and enjoy it a few times. It is a timely reminder that "republics" and "republicanism" meant more and still mean more than the vaguely epicurian notions of "a self-evident desire to pursue happiness or prosperity". For failing to win a republic for the Irish & for succeeding in creating a "republic of connaught" (whichever was worse?) ,the French general Jean Joseph Amable Humbert was imprisoned as an officer and gentleman on what is now D'olier street till later being exchanged for a British naval officer and finding himself taking part in Napoleon's suppression of republicanism in the Caribbean.
You can change the swords, hats, wigs and boots - but somehow the pernicious nature of the mythology survives to hide the truth. Republicanism with a middle class of "have a lots" is as rotten as any monarchy. I wish I had a chance tomorrow to express my disgust at those who in our days so pervert the ideology - but I don't. So I'll just read and savour Andrew's piece. Thanks Andrew!

author by Croppy Guypublication date Wed May 23, 2007 17:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Good article and fair play for the reminder of the anniversary of the rebellion, the popular memory of which is still largely the simple sectarian one of catholic fanatics led by priests murdering protestants. The lack of understanding of so many aspects of the rebellion is a product of the maxim that history belongs to the victors, and is a chilling indication of the savagery of the repression of the rebellion and the fear it induced for decades in Ireland. This is a legacy we are still living with to some extent. ANyway a few points I would like to add.

The rebels were respnsible for no more than 3,000 of the c.30,000 deaths in 1798 and most of their victims were members of the military yet the focus has always been on the Scullabogue and Wexford Bridge massacres. For example, who has heard of the 500 victims of the massacre by the British army at Kilalla on September 23rd 1798?

Re. the north/south v protestant/catholic rebellion question, it is interesting to note that one of the surviving Wexford armies marched to Ulster to link up with the rebels they hoped were still in the field. Forward units of this force reached county Cavan before being worn down and finally defeated at Knightstown on the Louth/Meath border on July 14th, over three weeks after the defeat at Vinegar Hill.

Historians perception of United Irish movement suffers from the focus on it's penetration by touts, (though most information on the organisation was obtained by torture) at the expense of it's undoubted ability to organise and recruit at all levels of Irish society. For example, the summer of 1797 saw practically the whole of the previously impenetrable Defender movement join the United Irish en masse and it's partial success at "turning" members of the crown forces is underestimated. The initial outbreak of the rebllion saw many soldiers turning out for the rebels and one of the factors in the initial success of the Wexford rising was that almost all the low ranking members of the yeomanry had joined the rising. There are even confirmed instances of soldiers joining the rebels during the battles of New Ross, Vinegar Hill, Castlebar, and Castlecomer to name but a few.

"Charge of the 5th Dragoon Guards on the insurgents – a recreant yeoman having deserted to them in uniform is being cut down" - William Sadler (1782-1839)
"Charge of the 5th Dragoon Guards on the insurgents – a recreant yeoman having deserted to them in uniform is being cut down" - William Sadler (1782-1839)

author by Eamon a Chnoicpublication date Tue Jun 05, 2007 15:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Today is anniversary of the bloodiest battle of the rebellion, remember all those who fell in New Ross on June 5th 1798 "for the cause of long downtrodden man" - it's mentioned on Wikipedia front page "On this day..." section.

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