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Ireland and the Irish Rebellion of 1798

Background

In 1791, the United Irishmen were born in Belfast and Dublin. At first, the organization’s aim was demanding democratic reforms, among them Catholic liberation. The British government was at that time ruling over Ireland. The government granted some of the reforms the Irishmen demanded. However, the period of reform came to an abrupt end in 1793 as a result of the war that broke out between Britain and France.

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The Irishmen almost won in 1798 when French troops of about 15000 entered Bantry Bay. The Britons were reinforced and the United Irishmen increased. Nevertheless, by 1798, the British were destroying the United Irishmen organization. Most of the leaders of the organization were arrested. Those who remained called for an uprising. The rising took place in Wexford, Antrim, and Down. In Dublin, it was undermined by several factors. The rebellion was defeated by the autumn of that year and many deaths were reported. Terror reigned over the country.

Origin of the rebellion

Bartlett (1) traces the origin of the 1798 Rebellion to the establishment of the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast. This was in 1791. Theobald Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken, Thomas Russell, and William Drennan, after inspiration by the French Revolution, led the United Irishmen in the rebellion. The four men united in securing an Irish parliament reform. To do this, they aimed at bringing together the Catholic, Dissenter, and Protestants in one movement.

The rising took place at a moment when the world’s politics were distinctively unusual. Monarchy and feudalism were being replaced by democracy and capitalism. Before the rising, there had been the American Revolution from 1771 to 1781 and the French Revolution in 1789. For one of the leaders of the uprising, Wolfe Tone, the French Revolution was the test for everyone’s ‘political creed’ (The 1798 Rebellion). The nation was divided into two; the aristocracy and democrats.

In addition to this, the Irish people lived under a lot of oppression and the country was divided along religious lines. This was the result of two wars that had been fought in the century before. The Catholics previously owned the land. They were forced to give up their lands or convert to Anglican. Presbyterian farmers were brought from Scotland to occupy the land from which Catholic tenants were forced out. Consequently, there was religious rivalry to the advantage of the British who were now able to divide and rule the people.

By the 1970s, the Anglicans were in power. The Presbyterians had little power and the Catholics had none. However, the population enjoyed no rights. Capitalism generated a working class. Labor disputes, trade unions, and food riots characterized this period. The United Irishmen was formed in 1791amid an environment characterized by revolutionary ideas and brutal oppression. The organization was at first made of Protestant middle class. It is later that they chose to initiate the revolution (The 1798 Rebellion).

The rebellion

In the month of December the year 1796, Bantry Bay admitted a French fleet of about 15000 French soldiers. They were led by Wolfe Tone. The sea had been rough and the sailors were not experienced. Consequently, they did not land in time to liberate Ireland from British rule. By 1798, the British had led a campaign of terror which undermined the United Irishmen a great deal. By the spring, there was a lot of pressure for a rising in the country. Those who escaped the arrest of the leaders of the organization set a date for the rising (Musgrave; Bartlett).

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Dublin was the central region for Irish Rebellion. The organization meant to grab the city and send a message to the rest of the population by holding back the coaches that delivered mail. Unfortunately, the rising in Dublin turned out a failure. People turned up in numbers but there was almost no battle. Reynolds was the key informer but he betrayed the Dublin revolt due to fears of confiscation of his estates. The rising was going to occur without the French and nothing would hold back the workforce and peasants from surpassing the aims of the rising. The leaders were arrested before the rising and the British had seized the point where the gathering was going to take place. There consequently arose confusion and an alternative plan could not be created immediately. The leadership also feared the unruly crowd (Spielvogel).

At first, the outbreak of the rebellion was only restricted to counties that were neighboring Dublin. The government had succeeded in suppressing the rising in Kildare, Carlow, Wicklow, and Meath. The capital was secured. This was until news of the success of the rising in Wexford was received. On May 29, 1798, it was confirmed that a group of about 100 soldiers had been slaughtered in Oulart in Wexford. The flare-up in Wexford was therefore unexpected and uninvited as the county had gotten away from official inspection for a long time before the rising. The Dublin Castle did not have many informers in Wexford and for that reason, they thought that this implied the calmness in that county (Bartlett, 3).

Irish advancement

Wexford was determined to fight after the campaign of terror by the British government. There were hangings, whippings, and burning of housing in the North which ignited that part of Wexford. On May 26, 34 United Irishmen were executed at Dunlavin and 35 at Carnew. Irishmen vowed to resist. In addition, rebels triumphed at Oulart. This excited the country and many other people joined the rebellion. In other areas where there were signs of cowering, people were also reignited. There, therefore, arose renewed efforts in the resistance.

On the 29th of May, Father Murphy of Boolayogue volunteered to lead the Wexford rebels. Bartlett (4) writes that the force gained force as it advanced. It stormed Enniscorthy, taking the defenses by surprise. The day after, they came upon Wexford town. The defenders fled. This was the climax for the rebels. The rebels were however defeated at Arklow, Newtownbarry, and New Ross. They suffered numerous losses and were disheartened. They retreated to Vinegar Hill to re-strategize.

Ulster rising

Once news of the rising in Leinster was received in the otherwise quiet North, a meeting was held in Ulster Provincial Council on the 29th of May. Irishmen protested over the holding back of the existing control. As Bartlett (5) writes, the leadership was blamed for betraying the people of Leinster and Ulster and was hence removed from power. After the inception of other leaders, plans went underway for the rising.

On June 7, several rebels gathered in parts of Antrim. Attacks were made on Glenarm, Toomebridge, Ballymoney, and Carrickfergus. The success of the rebels with the capture of Antrim was short-lived. They were ousted by government forces with a lot of deaths in their wake. By the end of the second day, the rebels had retreated. McCracken, who had been appointed leader was captured and executed a few weeks later.

Musgrave writes that the rising began fading soon after. On the 10th of June, or what is now known as Pike Sunday, United Irishmen in Down started gathering their forces under Henry Monro. At Ballynahinch, the rebels fled after suffering hundreds of casualties. Monro was captured and executed outside his door. This marked the end of the rebellion in the North-East. It was the last major battle. The French arrived at Killala in August but it was already too late. According to the article on the 1798 Rebellion, Wexford or Antrim would have succeeded if they had the advantage of the more experienced French army.

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Pakenham (117) reports that 32 United Irishmen were executed in the North after the rebellion. McCracken wrote to his sister before his execution that the reason the uprising was a failure was that “the rich always betray the poor”.

Conclusion

The result of the 1798 Rebellion was the destruction of existing relationships in Ireland. Fear was sown among the people and memories of the devastating rebellion of 1641 were awakened. There was uncertainty over the future of Ireland’s politics. Marquis Cornwallis was charged with taking advantage of the rebellion to initiate a union between Ireland and England (Pakenham, 110). The Irish parliament suffered from the rebellion. Union was attained in January of 1801.

While the decade had begun with hopes of establishing international togetherness and freedom for the Irish, the opposite happened with an increase in religious rivalry. The Irish parliament was phased out while the relationship between Ireland and England was strengthened. What was left for future generations was the heritage of republican autonomy, heroic martyrdom, vicious government retaliation, and religious cruelty. The rebellion has continued to shock, charm, and inspire people.

References

Bartlett, Thomas. “The 1798 Irish rebellion”, pp. 1-9. Web.

Musgrave, Richard. Memoirs of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, 1802.

Pakenham, T. The year of liberty: The great Irish rebellion of 1798, 120pages, 1998.

Spielvogel, J. J. Western Civilization, Volume II: Since 1500, Seventh Edition.

“The 1798 Rebellion.” Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, October 28). Ireland and the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/ireland-and-the-irish-rebellion-of-1798/

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StudyCorgi. (2021, October 28). Ireland and the Irish Rebellion of 1798. https://studycorgi.com/ireland-and-the-irish-rebellion-of-1798/

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"Ireland and the Irish Rebellion of 1798." StudyCorgi, 28 Oct. 2021, studycorgi.com/ireland-and-the-irish-rebellion-of-1798/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Ireland and the Irish Rebellion of 1798." October 28, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/ireland-and-the-irish-rebellion-of-1798/.


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