The SOCIETY OF UNITED IRISHMEN was founded as a liberal political
organisation in 18th-century
* 1 Background
* 2 Foundation
* 2.1 Movement spreads
* 3 Differences of opinion * 4 Catholic rights and emancipation * 5 1793–97 * 6 1798 Rebellion * 7 Desertion of the United Irishmen cause * 8 The United Irishmen and sectarianism * 9 After 1798 * 10 See also * 11 References * 12 Further reading * 13 External links
The United Irishmen
During the 1780s, a few liberal members of the ruling Protestant
Ascendancy , organised as the
Irish Patriot Party led by Henry Grattan
, campaigned for: reform of the Irish parliament ; a lessening of
British interference in Ireland's affairs; and expanding the rights
and voting franchise for Catholics and Presbyterians. Backing them up
By the mid-1780s, radicalism in
Also in 1789 the Whig party was founded in
The enthusiasm for the French Revolution saw great Irish interest in Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man released in May 1791, which defended it and saw around 20,000 cheap copies printed for digest in Ireland. A couple of months later the Belfast Volunteer company gathered to celebrate the second anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. It was intended that a new radical society was to be announced during the celebrations which William Drennan, who was to give a declaration, asked to add in resolutions. Drennan refused due to the short notice of the request and suggested that a Theobald Wolfe Tone be asked.
Tone's reformist radicalism had advanced beyond that of the Whigs,
and he proposed three resolutions for the new society, which he named
the Society of United Irishmen. The first resolution was for the
denouncing of the continuing interference of the British establishment
in Irish affairs. The second was for the full reform of the Irish
parliament and its representation. The last resolution called for a
union of religious faiths in
This seemed to delay the launch of the new society and by August
1791, Tone in response to the rebuff of his third resolution,
published the popular and robust An Argument on Behalf of the
Catholics of Ireland, which argued why they should be included in
attempts at reform. That October, Tone was invited to a debate on the
creation of a new society by a group of people including Neilson.
Here he found that his resolutions were now found a few months later
to be "too tame". A new set of resolutions were drafted and agreed to
on 14 October, which the Belfast branch of the Society of United
Irishmen adopted on 18 October, and the
“ We have no national government; we are ruled by Englishmen, and thus servants of Englishmen, whose object is the interest of another country, whose instrument is corruption; whose strength is the weakness of Ireland. ”
All attendees at the first meeting of the Belfast branch were Protestant. Two (Theobald Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell ) were Anglicans and the rest Presbyterian; most of whom were involved in the linen trade in Belfast. Along with Tone and Russell, the men involved were: William Sinclair , Henry Joy McCracken , Samuel Neilson, Henry Haslett , Gilbert McIlveen , William Simms, Robert Simms , Thomas McCabe and Thomas Pearce. After forming, the Society named chandler Samuel McTier as its first President.
Masthead of the Northern Star
As 1791 drew to a close there were references to other lesser
branches of the United Irishmen in a number of places such as: Armagh
The movement quickly developed a strategy of spreading its ideals by means of pamphlets, leaflets, newspapers, ballads, "catechisms" and travelling emissaries. Whilst the Belfast Newsletter was a liberal newspaper, the society sought for the publication of a more radical one in Belfast, resulting in the Northern Star . It was especially successful, both commercially and politically and had a wide readership until its suppression in 1797.
The spread of the society was watched with growing alarm by the authorities and it was banned in 1793 following the declaration of war by France .
DIFFERENCES OF OPINION
Members of the United Irishmen had a varied range of differing and
divisive views and opinions on different matters, some of which
persisted even when the society had moved firmly in one direction.
Whilst many of the divisions were between members, there were also
some between the Belfast and
A problem in forming policies troubled the early years of the
society. Issues such as universal male suffrage, restricting the
franchise, and secret balloting etc. divided members of both the
Another divisive issue was that of Ireland's relationship with
Britain. The United Irishmen from the onset sought a fully
independent and representative parliament for
In regards to cultural identity the time of the Patriot Party and the Volunteers in the late 1770s and early 1780s saw cultural nationalism become a central theme of the reformist tradition. Yet cultural nationalism remained independent of political leanings, and even within the United Irishmen there were those such as Tone himself, who had no interest in it at all.
By 1794, the authorities had increased their suppression of the
United Irishmen, and possibly as a result, they came up with the
extremely radical proposal for annually elected parliaments, with 300
equally-sized electoral districts where all males over the age of 21
would have a vote. The
The makeup and conduct of the two main branches of the United
Irishmen also revealed stark differences. The Belfast society was
predominantly made up of a close-knit group of middle-class
Presbyterians from the town, headed by an internal committee that met
in secret. The
CATHOLIC RIGHTS AND EMANCIPATION
The ideal of religious equality and Catholic Emancipation was a central commitment of the United Irishmen. The reform movement on the early 1780s was limited to the Protestant minority in Ireland, and this was seen as key to the failure of it to gain emancipation. Some such as Tone realised that this movement was "built on too narrow a foundation", and that for it to be successful it would need the support of Catholics themselves.
In 1790 the Catholic Committee , which had lain dormant since 1784, was revived, seeking further reforms and relief bills for Irish Catholics. Some Catholic Committee members such a John Keogh had already joined the United Irishmen, with Tone appointed secretary of the Committee. The Committee would show a high level of political dexterity in campaigning for its aims.
In 1791, the government passed the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1791 , which gave some concession. In 1792, a town meeting in Belfast, saw a declaration in favour of full Catholic emancipation, opposing suggestions for a gradual process. In an attempt to prevent a union of the Catholic Committee and radicalised Protestants, the government during 1792 passed yet more bills repealing laws against Catholics. Despite this, whilst they could appeal for further civil rights, Catholics were to be firmly refused political enfranchisement. This refusal only help cause the union that the establishment had been seeking to prevent.
When the next Bastille Day celebrations were to be held that July, volunteer companies from throughout Ulster gathered in Belfast, such support was not secure. Tone remarked that some of the volunteer companies who had gathered were no better than the sectarian anti-Catholic Peep o\' Day Boys movement. Despite having a resolution for full religious equality passed, it required nervous prior discussion, with the exact wording of it being changed so that: "Irishmen of all religious denominations" was changed to simply "Catholic".
The methods employed by the Catholic Committee to advance their cause caused mixed feelings amongst the United Irishmen, with some fearing that if things advanced too far, then they would lose the moderate conservatives in the society. Drennan also observed that the Catholics sought to have "two strings to their bow" so that if one failed they could try the other, in reference to either working with the government or the Protestant radicals to achieve their aims.
By working together the Committee and United Irishmen had in 1793 earned more concessions for Catholics, resulting in the winding up of the committee and thus an end to their alliance. In a parting show of support the Committee declared its support for parliamentary reform. Emancipation however had still not been secured, and the United Irishmen continued to press for it.
Following the French declaration of war on Britain in February 1793, the movement was outlawed and went underground from 1794 as they became more determined to force a revolt against British rule. The leadership was divided into those who wished to wait for French aid before rising and the more radical elements that wished to press ahead regardless. However, the suppression of a bloody preemptive rebellion, which broke out in Leitrim in 1793, led to the former faction prevailing and links were forged with the revolutionary French government with instructions to wait sent to all of the United Irish membership.
Worried by its presence, the
William Drennan became the first leader to be arrested and
tried for sedition as the authorities began to react to the growth of
the United Irishmen, followed by the
Reverend William Jackson . In
1795 the loyalty of the hierarchy of the
A French fleet carrying 15,000 troops set sail for
Main article: Irish Rebellion of 1798
By early 1798, the United Irish membership on the ground (by now
280,000 sworn members) was under severe pressure, suffering from the
terror of a roving campaign of disarmament while under instructions to
do nothing until the arrival of French aid. In March 1798, the bulk of
the leadership was arrested and preemptive risings had already broken
out in Tipperary but indecision still divided the rump leadership.
Finally, the unrelenting pressure led the militant faction of the
United Irishmen to set the date for a general uprising on 23 May
without French aid. However, information from the informers Thomas
Francis Magan led to the arrests of Lord Edward
Samuel Neilson shortly before the rising but more
crucially foiled the planned rising in
General Napper Tandy, a leader of the uprising, authored a proclamation entitled 'Liberty or Death': "Can you think of entering into a treaty with a British Minister? A Minister too, who has left you at the mercy of an English soldiery, who has laid your cities waste, and massacred inhumanely your best Citizens ... Horrid crimes have been perpetrated in your country, your friends have fallen a sacrifice to their devotion to your cause, and their shadows are around you and call for vengeance ... wage a war of extermination against your oppressors, the war of Liberty against tyranny, and Liberty shall Triumph."
Nevertheless, tens of thousands rose in the surrounding counties but
the resulting rebellion was severely hampered by the lack of
leadership and was crushed with vicious brutality. The campaign met
with little success except in Wexford where a number of massacres of
loyalist civilians who were largely Protestant raised the spectre of
sectarianism which was seized upon by enemies of the United Irishmen
to weaken their non-sectarian appeal. The eventual arrival of 1,000
French troops in Killala,
County Mayo in August was too little and too
late to turn the tide for the United Irishmen. In October, Wolfe Tone
himself was captured when a supporting French fleet of 3,000 troops
was intercepted and defeated by the
Upon his capture,
Wolfe Tone famously said, "From my earliest youth I
have regarded the connection between
The suppression of the rising was followed by a period of renewed
repression of the United Irishmen as the general amnesty offered by
Lord Lieutenant Cornwallis specifically excluded rebel leaders many of
whom were United Irishmen. However the United Irishmen still managed
to survive as both a functioning clandestine organisation, especially
DESERTION OF THE UNITED IRISHMEN CAUSE
Prior to uprising in County Antrim, some Belfast merchants who had been ardent supporters of revolution, abandoned the radical cause for economic reasons. Events in France, such as the Reign of Terror and the invasion of Holland and Switzerland also helped cool support. Thomas Percy, a Church of Ireland clergyman, stated that "A wonderful change has taken place amongst the republicans in the North, especially in and near Belfast. They now abhor the French as much as they were formerly partial to them, and are grown quite loyal".
During the rebellion itself sectarian massacres of Protestants by the Defenders in County Wexford "did much to dampen" the rebellion in Ulster. News of these massacres, most notably the one at Scullabogue , were spread by government agents to increase Protestant fears and enhance the growing division.
By mid-1798 a schism between the Presbyterians and Catholics had firmly developed, with radical Presbyterians wavering in their support for revolution. The government capitalised on this by starting to act against the Catholics in the radical movement instead of the northern Presbyterians. Prior to the rebellion, anyone who admitted to being a member of the United Irishmen was expelled from the Yeomanry, however former Presbyterian radicals were now able to enlist in it, and those radicals that wavered in support saw it as their chance to reintegrate themselves into society. Anglican clergyman Edward Hudson claimed that "the brotherhood of affection is over", as he enlisted former radicals into his Portglenone Yeomanry Corps. On 1 July 1798 in Belfast, the birthplace of the United Irishmen movement, it is claimed that everyman had the red coat of the Yeomanry on.
Highlighting the increased division between Presbyterian and Catholic radicals, one of the insurgent leaders who was about to be executed in Belfast is claimed as saying: "the Presbyterians of the north perceived too late that if they had succeeded in their designs, they would ultimately have had to contend with the Roman Catholics".
THE UNITED IRISHMEN AND SECTARIANISM
Most of the United Irish leadership and ideologues were born into
Presbyterian families. While the United Irish had declared themselves
to be non-sectarian from 1791, there were other liberal Protestants in
the Irish Parliament who were also anti-sectarian and sought a more
democratic franchise, such as
The formation of the Orange Order in 1795 was to prove particularly useful as it provided the government with allies who had detailed local knowledge of the activities of their enemies. The brutal disarming of Ulster in 1797, where the United Irish had successfully radicalised both Presbyterians and Catholics, saw thousands of Catholics driven from counties Antrim , Down and Armagh , and the murder, torture and imprisonment of hundreds of Protestants suspected of United Irish sympathies.
Also in 1795 the
Religious division and hatred was, therefore, never completely buried and a minority of the Defenders did not reject completely their previous anti-Protestant outlook. During the course of the 1798 rebellion , the Defenders who had risen with the United Irishmen perpetrated several sectarian massacres, most notoriously in County Wexford at Scullabogue and Wexford Bridge. While sectarianism undoubtedly played a part in many murders during the rising, religion was often taken as a signifier of loyalty or disloyalty by both sides and the fact that Protestants were often among the perpetrators and Catholics among the victims of rebel massacres indicates that victims lost their lives for being perceived as loyalists as opposed to purely religious reasons. Such subtleties were ignored in the aftermath, as the memory of such massacres was simplified and exploited in following years by politicians to cement the sectarian divide and to ensure the loyalty of Protestants to the British Crown.
The decision to abolish the Irish Parliament resulting in the Act of
Union in 1800 that created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
The failure of
* ^ Latimer, Rev. W. T. (February 2007). "Samuel Neilson". Belfast
Magazine. Glenravel Local History Project (57): 33–37. ISSN
* ^ A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z AA AB AC AD
AE AF AG AH AI AJ AK AL AM AN AO AP AQ AR AS AT AU AV AW AX AY AZ BA
BB BC BD BE BF BG Sean J. Connolly (2008). Divided Kingdom; Ireland
1630-1800. Oxford University Press. pp. 434–449. ISBN
* ^ Cronin, Sea. Irish Nationalism: A History of Its Roots and
Ideology. Dublin: Academy, 1980.
* ^ Liberty or Death, by James Napper Tandy, 1798
* ^ A B C Stewart, A.T.Q., 1798 in the North. History Ireland, Vol.
6, 1798 Rebellion
* Flanagan, Thomas. The Year of the French. New York: The New York Review of Books, 1979. * Frank Jacob (Hg.): Geheimgesellschaften: Kulturhistorische Sozialstudien: Secret Societies: Comparative Studies in Culture, Society and History, Königshausen ;background:none transparent;border:none;-moz-box-shadow:none;-webkit-box-shadow:none;box-shadow:none;">v
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Society of United Irishmen