There was an undercurrent of sectarian unrest in Ireland during the 18th Century. So the French Revolution of 1789 rekindled the dream that Ireland one day would be free again.
The Ulster Presbyterians admired the French doctrines as they resented the restrictions placed on them by the Anglicans in Dublin.
The Society of United Irishmen is founded
In Belfast a group of Dissenters formed the Society of United Irishmen in 1791. Their original objective was to be that there would be less religious discrimination. This was granted in the 1793 treaty the Catholic Relief Act but by then spurred on by what was happening in France their objective had changed. They now sought freedom from England and for Ireland to become a republic. The loudest supporter of this cause was a young protestant lawyer by the name of Theobald Wolfe Tone.
Wolfe Tone is to-day known as the father of republicanism. He once wrote that he wanted:
‘To substitute the common name of Irishman
In place of denominations of Protestant,
Catholic and Dissenter’
Help from the French
In 1794 he was nearly caught by a French spy but managed to escape to America. On arriving back in France he persuaded the French government that Ireland was ready to revolt. They sailed for Ireland in 1796 but strong winds made it impossible to land so the ships returned to France. The British government and the Dublin administration breathed a sigh of relief.
The government tried to repress the population by any means necessary and an army commander named General Gerard Lake carried this order out to the letter. In 1798 he captured and imprisoned the Lenister Leadership of the United Irishmen. The Irish rebellion of 1798 was without those that had sought to give the rebellion purpose. In their absence the rebellion took a turn for the worse as Ireland was about to find out with the Act of Union in the 1800’s.
Wolfe Tone was sentenced to be hanged on November 12th 1798 but instead he slit his own throat and died on November 19 1798.
This article was first published on 07-06-2011 and last modified on 21-03-2017.