The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The Union with Ireland

Category: 19th century

Ireland had been more affected by the French Revolution than, perhaps, any other country in Eu­rope. Some of the Irish united under the leadership of Wolfe Tone and began to demand independence for Ireland. They formed an organization known as the United Irishmen.

The united Irishmen quickly took the lead of the whole national movement and, for a time, succeeded in breaking down the hostility between Catholics and Protestants and combining both against England and her adherents in Ireland.

Preparations for revolt were pushed ahead, and in 1796 Wolfe Tone went to France hoping to persuade the French Directory to help the Irish in their struggle for liberty and send a French expedition to Ireland to cooperate with the rebels there. It was a hard job, but finally a force of 15,000 men was prepared to invade Ireland. However, when at the end of the year the French fleet left Brest for the Munster coast bad weather and military blundering prevented a landing at Bantry Bay.

For two years the Irish had waited for help, and, now that it was apparent that no help was coming, the policy of the English authorities was to torment the peasants into a hopeless insurrection. Sir Ralph Abercrombie, the English commander in Ireland, himself declared that every crime, every cruelty that could be committed had been committed there.

In March 1798 the Government seized a number of the leaders, and the whole of Ireland was declared in a state of insurrection and placed under military law. The United Irishmen faced the alternative of ris­ing without the French help or of being destroyed. At last May 22nd was fixed as the day for rebellion, but the arrest of the Irish leaders created confusion. Fur­ther, the mixture of terror and appeal to personal in­terests had won over many of the upper and middle class supporters of the rising, which, when it came, had a peasant character.

In the South the effective risings were mainly in Wexford and Wicklow. In the North, under Protestant leadership, the men of Antrim and Down came out on June 7th. In both areas there were some initial suc­cesses of a limited character, but the rebellion in gen­eral was hopeless. The rising was suppressed, after some fighting, with such brutality that the rebellion was soon over. Wolfe Tone was captured and commit­ted suicide in prison.

Rebellion and a French invasion threat led to the Act of Union with Ireland (1801). The Dublin legisla­ture was abolished, and 100 Irish representatives be­came members of the Parliament in London. Only an Irish viceroy and a London-appointed administration remained in Dublin. The Act of Union caused great indignation in Ireland, and another powerful insurrec­tion led by Robert Emmet took place in 1803.

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