Drifting towards Rebellion (1795-1797)

Patrick Weston Joyce

882. A few days after the departure of lord Fitzwilliam, the new lord lieutenant earl Camden arrived. Grattan brought in his emancipation bill, but it was rejected by more than three to one.

883. The people were exasperated and desperate; and the active spirits came to the fatal determination to attempt revolution, hoping for foreign aid and the ultimate establishment of a republic. The United Irishmen banded themselves as a secret oath-bound — and of course illegal —society, with branches all through the country, and a central directory of five persons in Dublin. Every precaution was taken for secrecy, but the government were kept well acquainted with their proceedings through Leonard MacNally and others within their body.

884. By May this year—1795—the organisation of the new society was complete. Tone had taken an active part in it; but now he had to leave Ireland. He was compromised by some evidence that had come out on Jackson's trial; but he escaped prosecution by the interest of powerful friends, on condition that he should immediately quit the country. Before leaving Dublin he promised the leaders that he would negotiate for help in America and France. Passing on his way through Belfast he took three leading members to Mac Art's Fort on the very summit of Cave Hill overlooking the town, and there made the same promise, and got them to swear to work to the last for Irish independence. He then sailed for America.

885. In consequence of the penal code Catholic young men who wished to become priests had long been in the habit of going to France for their education. The government, in order to stop this, as they feared the introduction of revolutionary principles, founded the college of Maynooth this year—1795—for the education of the Catholic clergy, and endowed it with an annual grant of £8,000.

886. The great majority of the leaders of the United Irishmen were Protestants, who were all of course for Catholic emancipation. But, in Ulster especially, there was, all along, bitter strife between the Catholics and Protestants. Tone, himself a Protestant, had done all in his power to bring them to friendly union and co-operation, but in vain: religious animosity was too strong for him. At last the Peep-o'-day boys and the Defenders fought a regular battle on the 21st September 1795, at a village called The Diamond in Armagh: the Protestants, though inferior in number, were better armed, and the Defenders were defeated with a loss of 48 killed.

887. The Protestants next banded themselves in a new society called "Orangemen," with the openly expressed intention to expel all the Catholics from Ulster. The Catholics were now attacked and persecuted everywhere in Ulster without any distinction, and suffered ruthless cruelties in person and property. General Craddock was sent with the military to restore order, but so close a watch was kept on his movements that he found it almost impossible to arrest the bands of armed Orangemen; and outrages still went on.

888. General Henry Luttrell lord Carhampton was sent to Connaught to repress the Defenders: he seized all who were in the jails awaiting trial, and the magistrates, imitating him, seized on many of the peasants; and all, both prisoners and peasants were, without any trial, sent off to compulsory service in the navy.

889. Meantime the society of United Irishmen spread, until finally, it numbered 500,000. There were now many Catholics, but to the last the confederacy was mainly Protestant; and the members were more numerous and active in Ulster than elsewhere.

890. In 1795 lord Edward Fitzgerald, brother of the duke of Leinster, bad joined them. As a major in the British army he had served with credit in the American war, after which he entered the Irish parliament as an ardent supporter of reform. The government dismissed him from his post in the army for openly expressed sympathy with the French revolution In 1796 the society was joined by Thomas Addis Emmet, by Arthur O'Connor formerly member of parliament for Philipstown, and by Dr. William J. MacNevin of Dublin, one of the few Catholics among the leaders.

891. Tone had been arranging in Paris for a French invasion: the object was to make Ireland an independent republic. In May 1796 lord Edward Fitzgerald and O'Connor went to Hamburg, and O'Connor had an interview with general Hoche about an invasion; for the French and English were still at war. The matter was at last arranged. On the 16th of December 1796 a fleet of 43 ships of war with 15,000 troops and 45,000 stand of arms sailed from Brest for Ireland under general Hoche. General Grouchy was second in command, and with him sailed Theobald Wolfe Tone as adjutant-general.

892. The authorities prepared to repel the attack, but it was repelled without their intervention. The ships were dispersed by foul winds and fogs, and only sixteen that had kept together entered Bantry Bay. Here they waited in vain for general Hoche, whose vessel had been separated from the fleet by the storm. But the wild weather continued—tempest and snow—and at the end of a week, Hoche not having come up, they cut their cables and returned to France.

893. Next came a stringent Insurrection act in 1796. The Habeas Corpus act was suspended, which suspension gave the magistrates the power to arrest any one they pleased. General Lake got command of the army in Ulster, and he proclaimed martial law in Down, Antrim, Tyrone, Derry, and Donegal, which placed the people entirely at the mercy of the military.

He arrested two committees of United Irishmen sitting in Belfast, seized their papers, and suppressed their journal, the Northern Star. He disarmed Ulster, seizing vast numbers of muskets, cannons, and pikes. For publishing a violent address Arthur O'Connor was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin castle.

894. The yeomanry were called out; militia regiments were sent over from England; and military, yeomanry, and militia were let loose on the people with little restraint. The soldiers were scattered through the country in small parties, billeted and living in free quarters on the peasantry; there was no discipline; and they did what they pleased without waiting for orders. Fearful brutalities were perpetrated, and thousands of peaceable people were driven in desperation to join the ranks of the United Irishmen.

895. Grattan and his party having ascertained from the leaders of the United Irishmen what measures of reform would satisfy them, were assured that all agitation would cease if full representation for the whole people of Ireland irrespective of creed, with the admission of Catholics to parliament, were granted. George Ponsonby moved in parliament the granting of these reasonable reforms; but the government outvoted the party by 170 to 30 and refused the concessions. Whereupon Grattan and the other leading members of his party, despairing of doing any good, and as a protest against the conduct of the government, seceded from parliament.

896. There was yet another abortive attempt at invasion. A Dutch fleet with 15,000 men commanded by admiral De Winter prepared to sail for Ireland in July 1797; but again the weather proved unfavourable; they were delayed; and when at length they sailed, the fleet was utterly defeated at Camperdown by admiral Duncan. In September of the same year Hoche died.