Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A different take on '98?
Now for another curiosity that Malcolm's book clearance has turned up.

This is a small pamphlet from the Cumann Cuimhneacháin '98, which looks like a front for several radical groups in Irish politics sixty years back. The back cover (see below) lists some of the great and good of Left-wing circles of the time. There are interesting names there:

  • George Gilmore, one of the survivors of the War of Independence and the Civil War, who was a mover and shaker in the Republican Congress, and served a stint in Spain.
  • Kathleen Clarke, widow of Tom Clarke who was executed in 1916, was the first woman (and first Fianna Fáil) Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1939. She then left FF to stand for Clann na Poblachta in 1948.
  • Rosamund Jacob was a Quaker from Waterford, novelist and historian (she may well be the brain behind the contents of the pamphlet, though some of the tub-thumping is too crude for her hand).
  • Máire Comerford was one of the bourgeois Anglo-Irish converts to Irish Nationalism. She had been a runner in 1916, was a stalwart of Cumann na mBan, and survived into the 1980s supporting the Provos (and, notably, being arrested on a public platform while in her 70s: respect!).
  • Greg Murphy had been out in 1916, and was with the Irregulars in the war of Independence. Malcolm recalls Eugene Dowling, International Brigader who lost his leg at the Battle of the Ebro, recounting how he learned his radicalism from his uncle Greg Murphy.
In short, we are on and of the Left with this pamphlet.


It belongs to a critical moment in modern Irish history. The post-war years were a time of compacent discomfort for Ireland. On the one hand, the Establishment (De Valera and the Catholic hierarchs to the fore) were pulling one way. On the other, there were pressures for radical reform: these were represented, even in de Valera's inner circle, by the likes of Seán Lemass. Malcolm's recent post, from The Bell, could be matched by extracting a mood-piece by Anthony Cronin from the July 1954 (and final) issue:
One looks out of the window at the wet Sunday morning, ineffable grey above melancholy deep green and dull red bricks; at the girls hurrying to mass in their glowing mackintoshes, at the man with the six soaked Sunday newspapers under his arm and a face as grey and expressionless as the sky. Here, if ever was, is a climate for the death wish.
Public dissatisfaction resulted in the election of a Coalition Government to replace Fianna F
áil: one of the two short breaks in the forty-years hegemony of FF from 1932-1973. It was, of course, a false hope: Seán MacBride, for all his posturing, lacked sufficient backbone. All the hopes that many, looking for a radical republicanism, had placed in MacBride's Clann na Poblachta (which was, in reality, a front organisation of old IRA men) were to be dashed. Noel Browne's biography adequately explains the situation:
We were to find that Irish republicanism in Clann na Poblachta had many forms. First there was the elite body of republicans, former members of the Republican Army, often with blood-satined active service to prove it. Then there was a lesser breed, such as ourselves, young people with no record of violence. We could have been in the 'movement' and had not joined. Next was the category of young menwho to their undying shame, judged by the Republican Army group, had joined the national army; they were despised. Jack McQuillan was one of these. Finally there were those, like Noel Hartnett, who had impeccable republican credentials. Yet in the opinion of the IRA, and this included Seán MacBride, Hartnett had betrayed the Republic by siding with de Valera who, by entering parliament in the early thirties, had in their opinion also betrayed the Republic. We of the lesser breeds hadone thing in common: we were not to be trusted as republicans. Neither were we to be trusted with any power in the management of Clann na Poblachta.
The Coalition entered Government in February 1948. We can assume that this pamphlet was written in the spring of that year. It should be read, then, as a plea by leftist outsiders for a radical, socialist-republican approach. It is also a justification of cross-border and cross-denominational politics. That, too, needs a thought.

The Irish Left, mid-century

One of the reasons why so many were so disappointed (and so quickly so) in the Clann was because the Left was badly riven:
  • the Labour Party was still working through the conflict between the ITGWU and the WUI, effectively a struggle between William O'Brien and James Larkin. In 1944 this went as far as five of the eight ITGWU Labour TDs defecting, on the grounds of the in-comers' tendencies to "communism" (they were not wrong: see below), to caucus as the "National Labour Party".
  • The Irish communists were few in numbers, and themselves deeply divided. The National Committee of the CPI had abolished itself in 1941, in favour of entryism into the Labour Party, which created the anomoly for the next three decades of a rump, "the Communist Party of Northern Ireland", supporting partition. There was no formal link between Ireland and Moscow until 1957. Meanwhile, the heavy hand of Stalinism operated remotely from London's King Street. Malcolm, by the way, still wonders about the role of "Lev", whom he twice encountered at Frank Edwards's house in Blackrock.
This, then, is a small attempt to put the pamphlet in perspective. It clearly needs to be read on two levels:
  • A worthy attempt to summarise the history. In that respect, we might assume the hand of Rosamund Jacob, who knew her stuff; and
  • An ideology from T.A.Jackson, the author of Ireland Her Own, which was effectively the CP's manifesto for a 32-counties workers' republic, derived from Connolly.
Other commentators may have different mileage across all this, of course. So, to the text. Malcolm sweated blood, dealing with "foxed" paper, to achieve this scan. He believes he has been fair to the original, printed in letter-press on post-War "emergency" paper. No ISBN references are available, for obvious reasons. Page-breaks are indicated. Feel free to use as desired ...


Who fears to speak of '98?

'98, when the “cause of long down-trodden man” brought Wexford man and Antrim man, Catholic priest and Presbyterian minister together in one great brotherhood of struggle?

'98 when the common people under the banner of an Irish Republic, matched home-made pike-heads against the war machine of an empire.

'98, an hour in the life of a nation, an eternal inspiration to a people.

That hour in the life of the nation has been the subject of much study. Time has made the background of conditions which produced the rising very clear to us. We see in the rebellion the inevitable outburst of a freedom-loving people against the execrable tyranny of British rule.

To-day, in a series of great hostings, the Irish people are paying homage to the struggle and to the ideals of '98. They cannot do that worthily unless they understand the purpose of the heroes of the insurrection, and determine from that knowledge to apply themselves to the fulfilment of their tasks.

No one to-day fears to speak of '98.

But let the voice of the great common people whose hearts still beat as true to Republican principles as those of Tone and McCracken themselves, pay tribute to the brave Irishmen and women who, from Antrim to New Ross and Castlebar, poured out their heart's blood for the unity and independence of our country.

In briefly sketching the political and social causes which produced the Societies of United Irishmen, we do so in the belief that history, the story of our struggles and failures in the past, provides the key to our future successes.

Who were the United Irishmen to whose memory so much voluble service is paid-too often by people who by no stretch of charitable imagination could be envisaged donning the Liberty Cap or declaring for the rights of man in a democratic Irish Republic?

Whence arose this intrepid body of evangelists, who, in a time when an English-controlled Government and an alien feudal landlordism fostered artificial divisions between the oppressed people of North and South-dared to preach that all men are equal and all peoples brothers.
Whence came the men who had the audacity to stand [page 1/2] where Tone stood when he declared :- “To subvert the tyranny of an execrable government, to break the connection with England, the never-failing source of our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country -- these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter -- these were my means.”

What exactly were the aims of these United Irishmen? Have they left any record of their ideals so that the generations to follow might understand how it came to pass that a Presbyterian minister should exhort bis congregation to pray for fine weather on the next occasion when a French fleet should reach our shores bringing men and arms to help the Irish in establishing a Republic, while at the same time the Irish Catholic peasant, unsubdued by the long slavery that followed Aughrim, considered as his proudest possession the pike hidden in the thatch for use on the same day of deliverance?


Let us briefly trace the historic conditions which produced the “United Irishmen” who were so vitally to affect the future course of the nation, raising the aspirations of the people to hitherto undreamed-of heights, and dispelling for ever any lingering belief in the return of a Messiah-like King James or Prince Charlie.

Following the defeat of the Jacobite army at Aughrim, society in Ireland hardened into two distinct divisions. The broad line of demarcation was religion; and it was possible to mark out the defeated Gaelic race and despoil it by proscribing its particular creed.

This class-religious distinction prevailed for the greater part of the 18th century, and formed an impediment to national progress until a new economic alignment, no longer corresponding to sectarian moulds, expressed itself in the demand for national democratic unity to overthrow foreign rule and colonial feudal despotism.

By the year 1791 it was no longer true to say that there were in the country only the British colonists and the enslaved Irish. A new division had come about, and on one side were arrayed those who stood for privilege and foreign government, and on the other those both of Irish [page 2/3] and planter stock who demanded popular reform based on national independence.

What had occasioned this change? Partly the American and French revolutions; partly English dominance in Irish politics, which gave rise to the first expression of the colonial nationalism of Swift and Molyneux, and which was to find eventually a happier, saner, and more literal interpretation from the Ulster Presbyterians stirred into life by the American and French revolutions. Acts of the Imperial Parliament crippling Irish trade in the interests of British commerce, the shameful denial of civil and religious rights to Catholics and Dissenters, together with the imposition of tithes on people of all religious persuasions for the upkeep of one, and general feudal oppression, rapidly prepared the ground for far reaching changes.

In 1762 an outbreak of cattle-disease on the Continent had produced a huge demand in Britain for Irish live stock, which in turn resulted in the wholesale conversion of arable lands to pasture, the enclosure of commons, and wholesale evictions. The dispossessed peasantry formed secret societies, such as the Whiteboys, and exercised primitive justice on their oppressors. In the North similarly, small holdings were converted into ranches, which, together with compulsory service on the roads, tithes, and so forth, produced organisations alike in purpose to the Whiteboys, but consisting only of Presbyterians, who called themselves Hearts of Steel, or Oakboys. They met in great numbers and frequently clashed with the military.

The Whiteboys in time gave place to the Defenders, and the Steelboys were swallowed up in the Volunteers (or in the American Army in the war of independence across the Atlantic), both to merge in a great degree into one in the Societies of United Irishmen.

The Defenders were an object of close attention to the United Irishmen from the very foundation of the latter organisation. As they were composed almost entirely, at first, of the poorest class of Catholics, the United Irish leaders thought their minds would be fertile soil for doctrines of social revolt.

Thomas Addis Emmet informs us :-
“From the first formation of the Union (the United Irishmen), its most active members were extremely anxious to learn the views and intentions of the Defenders.... Many Catholics had from the commencement belonged to [page 3/4] both. They persuaded other members to follow their example. Protestant United Irishmen too, were sworn into that body, and carried along with them their information, tolerance, and republicanism. They pointed out to their new associates ... that the something which the Defenders vaguely conceived ought to be done for Ireland was by separating it from England to establish its real as well as its nominal independence, and they urged the necessity of combining into one body, all who were actuated by the same views. At last their exertions were favoured with entire success. The Defenders, by specific votes in their own societies, agreed to be sworn United Irishmen and incorporated in large bodies in the Union.”

Meanwhile another factor had appeared on the scene; a wealthy Catholic merchant class opposed to the Whiteboys and Defenders alike. This class expressed its demand for civil rights in the Catholic Committee -- property well over ten millions was in the hands of those who signed its decrees. Lord Fitzwilliam, when Viceroy. declared that he had “no fear of the richer class of Catholic, whose interests were the same as those of the Protestants; if a Union with Britain were ever needed in order that property may be preserved, they would be as zealous for it as the Protestant rich.”


Thus, the unity of Ireland when it emerged was bound to assume a very democratic form, and to antagonise the wealthier classes, Protestant and Catholic alike.

Hear Wolfe Tone on this subject:-
“Does he (the peasant) find the Catholic landlord more easy to deal with, and less exorbitant in his demands, than he found the Protestant? Or does the Catholic magistrate distribute justice more impartially for being of the same persuasion? Have tithes been abolished or regulated? Has the hearth-money collector passed by the poor man's cottage, where there was not the luxury of a chimney, to demand his entrance? Have the manufacturers of the country been encouraged and protected? Where then are the vaunted favours yielded by the English to damp the enthusiasm for liberty, that is spreading itself throughout Europe? ... Liberty, equality, and independence, are within your grasp. Seize upon independence and every good will follow. Let every man, rich and poor, possess his rights by equal law, [page 4/5] and be obliged to perform the duties of a citizen; then will commence the reign of true equality, and talents and industry having fair scope, the aristocracy fostered by English tyranny will insensibly be undermined.”
(“Address to the People of Ireland.” Life of T. W. Tone, Vol. 2, 1826 edition.)

Again we read in the Catechism of the United Irishmen:
“Q.-How shall we arrive at the blessings so certain from independence?
A.-By a union of all the people.
Q.-Do you mean the privileged orders in this union?
A.-No: were we to wait their concurrence, our delivery would be as distant as the general death of nature.
Q.-Who do you mean should compose this favourite object?
A.-Every man that is oppressed, every man that labours, every honest man of every religion, every man who loves, and whose love of his country raises the human mind above other trifling distinctions, and loses the petty idea of sects in the name of Irishman.”
But the coming together of the oppressed within the nation irrespective of creed was not a matter of weeks or months, but the culmination of a historic process extending over decades. The two great sections of the people, the Catholics and the "Dissenters”, lived as much apart as if they were two distinct castes, and before they spoke in one voice for liberty, tireless work had to be done by the most conscious and liberal thinkers. To extirpate prejudices deeply rooted in the centuries and nourished by fear-born ignorance of one another was the achievement of the most enlightened minds and bravest hearts our nation has given to humanity.

The first demand, on a national scale, for civil and religious liberty, came from the Volunteers.

We have seen that because the Irish Parliament was subject to the British legislature, English penal tariffs had been imposed on Irish trade. But with the outbreak of the American war of independence, the opportunity of the Irish trading classes presented itself.

One evening in the year 1778 an American sloop, "The Ranger," commanded by Paul Jones, cruised leisurely around Belfast Lough. Out of this incident arose citizen defence corps to protect our shores from "foreign" invasion. The Volunteer Army soon numbered 100,000 [page 5/6] men. The story of how they threatened to turn their cannon not upon American warships but upon the Dublin Castle government, is too well known to need repetition here. But when Free Trade was won, and the Sixth of George I repealed, the fervour of the aristocratic leadership of the Volunteers was no longer evident. They, having achieved their object, strove now with all their energy to destroy the instrument by which they had gained it. It was not so easy, however, to still a newly-awakened democracy, and Volunteer Conventions demanding popular Protestant representation in the nominally-freed Parliament, gave great uneasiness to Lord Charlemont, leader of the Volunteers, and his friends. Some of the Volunteers even favoured Catholic emancipation! though the movement, with very few exceptions, was entirely Protestant in personnel.


Was Parliamentary reform a matter of such importance? Let us glance at the legislature for the freedom of which so much gunpowder had been wasted.
“The state of Parliamentary representation is as follows: 17 boroughs have no resident electors; 16 have but one; 90 have but 13 electors each; 90 persons return for 106 rural boroughs -- that is 212 members out of 300, the whole number; 54 members are returned by 5 noblemen and 4 bishops, and borough influence has given the landlords such power in the counties as make them boroughs also.”
(United Irishmen of Dublin to the English Society of the Friends of the People, 1792.)

It must be remembered that the great mass of the people, the Catholics, comprising three-fourths of the nation, had no civil rights, and did not possess five-sixteenths of the land of their country. The Presbyterians of the North, who numbered nearly a million, were also denied complete civil rights and compelled to pay tithes to the Established Church which they detested at least as much as did their Catholic neighbours.

In Parliament Grattan spoke of the Volunteers of the nineties as “an armed rabble”, while Charlemont moaned “Alas, they are no longer what they were.” Stringent Arms Acts were passed, and the volunteers of Belfast and Dublin were proclaimed illegal.

But the volunteers had achieved their purpose, and more than their original purposes. In their ranks Presbyterian and [page 6/7] Established Church liberals had come together to exchange views. At Dungannon the Ulster Volunteers had declared, “As Irishmen and as Protestants we rejoice in the lessening of penal enactments against our Catholic fellow-countrymen.” The Volunteers might be regarded as the transition stage from which was to evolve the modern conception of the Irish Nation -- a Republic independent of Britain.

The nucleus of the first Society of United Irishmen was the Secret Committee of the Green Corps of Belfast Volunteers. In co-operation with Wolfe Tone, the secret committee met on the 14th October, 1791, and founded the first Society of United Irishmen. Thirteen men were present at this epochal meeting, _ -- Samuel Neilson, William McCleary, Henry Haslett, William Tennant, Thomas MacCabe, Samuel MacTier, William Sinclair, Gilbert MacIlveen, __ Campbell, Robert and William Simms, Thomas Russell and Theobald Wolfe Tone. They were all Presbyterians except Tone and Russell who belonged to the established Protestant Church. The eleven Presbyterians were the leading democrats in Ulster, and determined advocates of reform and Catholic emancipation. MacCabe had struck a blow for liberty and humanity some years earlier when, in 1786, he stopped the formation in Belfast of a company of merchants to take part in the Negro slave trade.

Belfast was, in 1791, ablaze with enthusiasm for the French Revolution, and according to Tone, Paine's book -- “The Rights of Man” -- was the Koran of the citizens. Tone named the United Irish organisation and outlined it general aims. While he and most of those present were convinced that a Republic must be the ultimate issue, their address voiced ideals of reform broad enough to secure immediate unity for a national advance. This first address of theirs makes inspiring reading:

“In the present great era of reform, when unjust governments as
re falling in every quarter of Europe, when religious persecution is compelled to abjure her tyranny over conscience, when the rights of man are ascertained in theory and that theory substantiated by practice, when antiquity can no longer defend absurd and oppressive forms against the common sense and common interests of mankind, when all government is acknowledged to originate from the [page 7/8] people, and to be only so far obligatory as it protects their rights and promotes their welfare; we think it our duty as Irishmen to come forward, and state what we feel to be our heavy grievance, and what we know to be its effectual remedy.

We have no National Government; we are ruled by Englishmen and the servants of Englishmen, whose object is the interest of another country, whose instrument is corruption, and whose strength is the weakness of Ireland; and these men have the whole of the power and patronage of the country, as means to subdue and seduce the honesty and the spirit of her representatives in the legislature.”

They resolved therefore:
“That the weight of English influence in the Government of this country is so great, as to require a cordial union among all the people of Ireland, to maintain that balance which is essential to the preservation of our liberties and the extension of our commerce ...”
“That no reform is practicable, efficacious, or just, which shall not include Irishmen of every religious persuasion.”

Therefore they called upon all Irishmen “in general to follow our example, and to form similar societies in every quarter of the Kingdom, for the promotion of constitutional knowledge, the abolition of bigotry in religion and politics, and the equal distribution of the rights of man through all sects and denominations of Irishmen.”

This Declaration was transmitted to Napper Tandy, Dublin's earliest Republican leader, and was printed and circulated widely.

The first Dublin Society of United Irishmen was formed on November 9th, 1791. It adopted the resolutions of the Belfast Society, and declared: “The policy of our rulers has always been to keep the different sects at variance, in which they have been but too well seconded by our own folly.”

By this time the Catholics were making great strides in their demand for the removal of the burdens of the Penal Laws, and presently a determined Catholic Committee emerged, of which Wolfe Tone was to become Secretary.

Among the most vigorous opponents of the policy of pressing the Catholic claim to equality were Lord Kenmare and "the Sixty-Eight" Catholic clergy and gentry, all once members of the Committee. The Catholic bishops in general were by no means well disposed towards the [page 8/9] Catholic Committee in its new progressive temper, and it is amusing to read Wolfe Tone's description of how Keogh, the Catholic leader, converted bishops to the cause of Catholic emancipation.

“Good news from Munster,” he writes in his diary in 1792. "Gog (Keogh) preaching for three days to six bishops, who are at last converted.”

And, on a journey from Belfast,
“Gog converts a bishop at Newry, another at Downpatrick... Leave Gog converting another bishop (the Catholic Primate) and drive off in the stage.”

Everywhere, the foremost champions of the Catholic cause were the United Irishmen, especially the Belfast leaders -- most notable among them, after Neilson and MacCabe, being perhaps the Rev. Kelburne and Rev. William Steel Dickson who the Catholic historian Teeling tells us “had been the early asserter of Ireland's independence, the eloquent advocate of his Catholic countrymen for the full enjoyment of their civil rights, and had on some occasions to encounter a torrent of bigotry which required no ordinary nerve to resist.”

In 1792 the people of Belfast celebrated the third anniversary of the opening of the French Revolution, with a great parade of Volunteers. Banners were carried in procession bearing such slogans as “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity,” “The Union of Irishmen without which we can never be free,” “The Rights of Man -- may all nations have wisdom to understand and spirit to assert them.”

In December of the same year the Convention of the Catholics of Ireland, the "Back Lane Parliament," met in Dublin with 244 delegates present. They made their demands for civil liberty and emancipation in very clear terms, and Belfast publicly supported them.


The Catholic Relief Bill, giving the vote to Catholics, at last became law in April, 1793. The government had found itself compelled to a partial yielding before the democratic storm; Presbyterians and Catholics were united in apparently indissoluble bonds, the United system was spreading apace and was making serious progress in the ranks of the Defenders. Another important consideration with the government, no doubt, was its need to recruit among the Catholic peasantry of Ireland for armies to invade [page 9/10] the French Republic upon which it was soon to declare war.

Events were now moving quickly. A Secret Committee appointed by the “Irish” House of Lords to inquire into the state of the country reported that the Defenders, “poor ignorant labouring men,” sworn to secrecy and deeply influenced by United Irish ideas, were causing great trouble to landlordism. Seditious pamphlets issued in Dublin and Belfast were responsible for grave ferment, especially in the North. Through the activity of the clubs and committees these publications were distributed widely. In Dublin and Belfast also the Volunteers were enrolling the poorer classes freely -- Grattan described them in parliament as an “armed beggary," and some, styling themselves the National Guard (in imitation of the French) also adopted as an emblem on their buttons a liberty cap surmounting a pike. The report emphasized the need for unsparing repression.

Then began in real earnest the Crown policy of coercion which was to extend and develop as the power of the new movement increased, until at length it became the official design of the government to provoke a premature rebellion while they still had force to defeat it.

The same year --1793 -- British Imperialism launched its war of intervention on the French people. The Dublin Parliament, with the warm approval of Grattan's party, supported the war and voted 20,000 men to the British Army. The attempt to recruit a militia to help in this predatory venture caused minor peasant risings throughout the country.

Paine's' writings were being widely distributed; the Clubs of United Irishmen were organising opinion against this war everywhere, and grew more powerful as they came more and more in contact with the militant agrarian nationalism of the Defenders.


In the spring of 1794 the Rev. William Jackson came from Paris to confer with some United Irish leaders in Dublin on the prospects of an armed revolution in Ireland, if the French government sent help. Tone furnished him with a report on the state of Ireland outlining the dispositions of the people generally. The Presbyterians were “the most enlightened body of the nation, and enthusiastically attached to the French revolution,” and “the Catholics, the great body of the nation, are in the lowest degree of [pages 10/11] misery and want; ready for any change, because no change can make them worse.”

“In Ireland,” he said, “the Dissenters are enemies to the English power, from reason and reflection; the Catholics from hatred to the English name.”

Then he added a military appreciation of the situation for the French Directory.

Jackson was betrayed and Tone and Rowan obliged to leave the country. Rowan escaped to France where he was welcomed by Robespierre, while Tone prepared to depart for America, and thence to France, where he proposed to solicit aid for the coming insurrection.

The Societies of United Irishmen were suppressed by law, and the organisation became a secret one, preparing for armed revolution.

In Paris Tone secured ready admission to the heads of the Directory. They were inclined to be sceptical of the disposition of the Irish Catholic peasants, so long deprived of any but secret education, towards the benefits of Republican freedom, and had doubts also about the influence of men of property in Ireland.

In his autobiography Tone paints these hesitations of the French leaders very clearly. They questioned him as to the attitude of the nobles and clergy.

“I replied ... that he might expect all the opposition they could give ... the revolution was not to be made for the people of property; but as to those of them who were our friends, the spirit of enthusiasm would induce them to much greater sacrifices; as to those who were our enemies, it was fit that they should suffer ... He asked me did I think it was likely that the men of property, or any of them, wished for a revolution in Ireland? I replied, most certainly not, and that he should reckon on all the opposition that class could give him, that however, it was possible that when the business was once commenced, some of them might join us on speculation, but that it would be sorely against their real sentiments."
General Clarke then inquired:
“What form of government I thought would be likely to take place in Ireland, in case of separation being effected, adding that, as to France, though she would prefer a Republic, yet her great object was the independence of Ireland under any form. I answered, I had no doubt whatever that, if we succeeded, we would establish a Republic, [page 11/12] adding that it was my wish as well as that of all the men with whom I co-operated... Clarke said, perhaps after all, we might choose a king, -- I asked him, in God's name, whom would we chose, or where would we go to look for a king? He said, maybe the Duke of York? I answered him that he himself or his aide-de-camp Fleury, who was present, had full as good and indeed a much better chance, than his Royal Highness; and I added, that we neither loved the English people in general, nor his Majesty's family in particular, so well as to choose one of them for our King, supposing, what was not the case, that the superstition of royalty yet hung about us.”
At this time the revolutionary ardour of the French was very high. On the borders of their country were arrayed the armies of almost every reactionary country in Europe, including the British army with its complement of 20,000 Irish soldiers, mostly forced into it by poverty.


The Directory perceived in Tone's plan an effective way of attaching this important enemy in the rear through a democratic revolution in Ireland. Accordingly, early in December, 1796, the white sails of a French fleet tossing in Bantry Bay sent Irish aristocrats fleeing in terror from all parts of Munster to the capital. The Castle junta was desperate, everything was in confusion, prisons crowded with republican leaders, the nation seething with revolt, troops disaffected; even the artillery was useless as bullets had by mistake been supplied which were unfitted to the calibre of the guns. The French fleet carrying the bravest troops of the Republic were commanded by the great General Hoche who had crushed the counter-revolutionaries and interventionists in La Vendee. But storms dispersed the fleet, Hoche was separated from his troops. and a land breeze saved the reign of despotism from those who did reach Bantry Bay.

Tone worked on, and in July, 1797, another naval expedition was prepared in Holland. Once again calms and contrary winds intervened, keeping it locked up in harbour while the British fleet was in full mutiny at the Nore.

Meanwhile, at home, the United Irishmen had reorganised the system and had adopted a secret military form in preparation for armed rebellion. Ulster was still the centre of expressed discontent. Statistics illustrate the [pages 12/13] strength of the movement and the depth to which Republican propaganda had penetrated.

In 1797 a glorious opportunity presented itself when at a Convention in Dublin of representatives of every militia regiment in Ireland, those speaking for the Dublin garrison pledged themselves to take the city without the assistance of the citizens. The revolutionary committee, however, with the exception of that magnificent figure Arthur O'Connor, were timid and hopelessly unfitted for their task which required equally military and revolutionary skill, failed to rise to the occasion. Lord Edward Fitzgerald deplored the Leinster Directory's failure to seize this glorious opportunity; Wolfe Tone was also astonished at their indecision.
In the same year Martial Law was proclaimed in Ulster and other parts of the country. Raids for arms were taking place on a large scale, and the United Irish newspapers “The Northern Star” and “The Press” were suppressed. This year also died on the gallows at Carrickfergus Ireland's first Republican martyr, a young Presbyterian farmer, William Orr.


In a feverish effort to provoke a premature outbreak the British Army was loosed like wild beasts to plunder and murder to their hearts content. These troops composed mainly of the dregs of English society were sent to live at free quarters amongst the people, with full knowledge that the high command would turn a “Nelson eye” to their depredations. The result was a wave of authorised murder, pillage and bloodshed. Torture was commonly applied to “suspects” to procure “confessions.” Every British officer constituted in his person judge, jury, and sometimes the gallows. At this time there was concentrated in Ireland a force of 130,000 soldiers, about three times as many as British Imperialism considered necessary to match against the mighty Napoleon at Waterloo. So degenerate was this army that when Sir Ralph Abercromby was appointed to command it he declared it to be “in a state of licentiousness that rendered it formidable to everyone but the enemy.”

On March 12, 1798, the Leinster Directory, having been betrayed, were arrested in Oliver Bond's House in Bridge Street, Dublin. Lord Edward Fitzgerald was not present, and he with John Sheares and Arthur O'Connor constituted the new Directory. They were men who would act and [page13/14] immediately drew up plans for revolution to commence on May 23rd. Very briefly, the intention was to isolate Dublin from the provinces while the forces of Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare were to march on the capital, surprise the camp at Loughlinstown en route and with the assistance of the United Irishmen within the gates seize the offices of government. The signal for revolt was the stopping of the mail coaches. Arrangements were made to dispatch this intelligence to every part of the country; Sheares left for Cork. Fitzgerald was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the United Army, a post for which his military talents, republican virtue, and gigantic courage, eminently equipped him. Alas, for the hopes of Ireland, he too was betrayed, arrested after many thrilling escapes, and conveyed mortally wounded to Newgate where he died on June the 4th, 1798.

Dr. McNevin, the most prominent Catholic United Irish leader, pays tribute to Lord Edward in these terms:
“The Irish nation could not sustain a greater misfortune in the person of one individual than befell it at the loss of Fitzgerald at this critical moment... With unquestionable intrepidity, republicanism, and devotion to Ireland, with popularity which gave him unbounded confidence, and integrity which made him worthy of the highest trust, had he been present in the Irish camp to organise, discipline, and give the valour of his country a scientific direction, we would have seen the slaves of Monarchy fly before the Republicans of Ireland as they did before the patriots of America. ... The voluntary sacrifices he made, and the magnanimous manner in which he directed himself to the independence of Ireland, are incontestable proofs of the purity of his soul.”

On the appointed day, May the 23rd, the rising took place in almost every part of Leinster, and on the 26th, Wexford rose. But a central command no longer existed, and, deprived of effective military leadership, lacking every essential necessary to the conduct of warfare, the people, though they rallied in their thousands and fought with the courage and endurance that has characterised the struggle of our nation for freedom, inevitably failed before the technical superiority of the Crown forces. Apart from Wexford where the war assumed more formidable dimen- [page 14/15] -sions the fiercest fighting took place in the Counties of Kildare, Dublin, Wicklow, Meath and Carlow, but, although the people's arms carried the day on several battlefields, the general lack of co-ordinated plans and a central command made it impossible for their heroism to succeed.

Meantime, what of Ulster? The United Army there, more highly organised and trained than elsewhere, was the greatest hope of the Republic. But alas, when the hour for action struck the ardour and courage of the rank and file was rendered almost useless by the shameful treachery of their leaders. Almost the entire merchant-class leadership betrayed their trust and deserted at the critical moment. Dr. Madden says of them:
“The United Irish System originated in Ulster, and so long as the struggle was a war of words, the aristocratic leaders of that province were active, bold, and violent. For seven years the organisation was continually going on, and the end of all this organisation was an ill-directed movement that was speedily defeated. The prominent position, however, of the Ulster leaders in the concoction of this conspiracy, had early drawn on them the notice of government. The different Northern counties were overrun with troops; the men whose abilities and fidelity to this cause were most signal, were in prison; the mercantile leaders who were appointed to places of trust in the Directory, and to posts of danger in the military organisation, were not forthcoming when their services were required. Some became doubtful of the issue, others had large debts outstanding, and were not inclined to act until these debts had been got in; many were connected by ties of property with the other portion of the commercial aristocracy, whose political views were opposed to theirs, and not a few, by their position in society.”
And Henry Joy McCracken, after the defeat at Antrim, wrote of them in a letter to his sister:
“These are the times that try men's souls -- you will, no doubt, hear a great number of stories respecting the situation of this county. Its present unfortunate state is entirely owing to treachery. The rich always betray the poor."
The orders from the Directory in Dublin, although delivered to the commander-in-chief in Ulster, Robert Simms, were never transmitted to the Societies, and so precious days elapsed after hostilities had opened in the South. At length, forced by Henry McCracken and Jemmy Hope to [page 15/16] confess his treachery, Simms resigned and this example was followed by other vitally important merchant leaders. Not content with deserting their posts three of the United Irish colonels unfolded McCracken's plans to the British Commander, General Nugent, in less than an hour after they were decided upon.

The people, however, were clamouring for action, and, when at last Henry McCracken was appointed Commander in Chief of the Northern Army and Henry Munro replaced the Revd. Steele Dickson (who had been arrested on the eve of the Rising) as Commander in Down, the northern folk prepared to strike their blow for Republican liberty, and from all parts of Down and Antrim the Presbyterian farmers and working men answered the call.

On the morning ot the 7th of June, the day after his appointment to the command, McCracken raised the standard of revolt -- the green flag Hope had smuggled out of Belfast. From every part of Antrim the United men marched with gleaming pikes to swell the ranks of the Republican Army. A fierce engagement was fought at Antrim Town. Singing “The Marseillaise,” the French hymn of liberty, the pikemen marched into the Town and charged the Yeos. The battle lasted for several hours and Antrim was captured and lost again by the Irish Army.

In Down the rising was widespread. Well nigh 10,000 answered the call of General Munroe, whose immediate objective was to capture Ballinahinch, and establish communications with McCracken and with the Republican forces of Dublin and Wexford. Throughout the day, one of the most ferocious battles of the rising was waged for the key town of Ballinahinch, which eventually fell to the irres[is]tible onslaught of the pike-charge. The tragic circumstances of what followed is just another of those galling incidents of Irish history, which make victory so uncertain for untrained armies, and set at nought the mighty work of battle. The blast of retreat blown by the buglers of the routed Britishers was mistaken for the call indicating the arrival of reinforcements. The Republican Army caught unawares and thrown into confusion suffered a severe reverse and the mighty day was lost. Henry McCracken, Munroe and most of the other leaders were hanged in Belfast.


While the men of Antrim and Down were thus playing [page 16/17] their part, the men of Wexford had already defeated the trained forces of the Crown in several major engagements, and were marching on New Ross. At this time all Wexford with the exception of Ross, which held the key to communication with Munster, was in Republican hands.

Although the rebels failed to take Ross, the rising was by no means defeated until their second division operating in the North of the County failed to capture Arklow and to open up the road to the Capital. The mistake of retreating back into Wexford instead of marching past Arklow through friendly Wicklow, and so on Dublin was one of the major errors of the Republican command. Defeated but not routed at Vinegar Hill, the Republican Army reformed and marched northwards in an attempt to join the Ulster Army, which they believed to be still in the field. This column fought its way through County Dublin and Meath and actually reached the Boyne before it was surrounded and defeated by overwhelming numbers.

When the Rising was crushed in Wexford, the principal leaders were executed. The Catholic priests, Fr. John Murphy and Fr. Roche, and the Protestant leaders Keogh and Bagenal Harvey were among the number. The heroic struggle of the men of Wexford, who held their county so long for the Republic, and who matched with such brilliant success, their home-made pikes and sporting guns against the military might of England, will be remembered as long as the Irish nation lasts, and will be an inspiration to their sons of to-day to complete the task to which they set themselves.

Republican Arms flashed again in battle before the darkness of defeat settled on the people's cause. On August the 12th, the French landed at Killala. At Castlebar their march was opposed by a vastly superior force of British troops and Yeomanry under the command of General Lake. This engagement is known in Irish History as the “Races of Castlebar.” The English forces, after making a bad stand for half an hour, made a brilliant run, covering the ground between Castlebar and Athlone in less than 24 hours. The French, joined by thousands of Connaughtmen, proclaimed the Republic of Connaught, and marched towards Longford. A force of 30,000 British regular troops met and defeated them at Ballinamuck, and the war was already lost when Napper Tandy and a second small French fleet arrived in Donegal. A third naval expedition with Wolfe [page17/18] Tone on board was engaged by the British Fleet in Lough Swilly, and, after a terrific battle against overwhelming odds, Tone was captured and taken to Dublin where he died in mysterious circumstances while in the hands of his gaolers.

After the defeat at Ballinamuck all hopes of successful overthrow of the Government vanished until, five years later, Robert Emmet took the streets in Dublin.

Before we close this very brief story of '98 there are one or two points to which we must refer.


The charge was made in 1798 and has been kept in circulation ever since to foster fear and bigotry and prevent a return to the unity and brotherhood that characterized the insurrection, that the rebellion in Wexford was in the nature of a religious sectarian war. This is a falsehood refuted by the facts of history. It is true that a few Catholic priests in Wexford played a noble part as leader in the rising but they did this as patriots, not an anti-protestant pogrom-organisers. These men were frowned upon by the Catholic Hierarchy and by the majority of the clergy who were bitterly hostile to the United Irishmen and to the rising and did everything in their power to prevent and hinder it.

On the Sunday after Father Murphy had taken the field, the following circular letter was sent to the priests of the arch-diocese of Dublin “to be read distinctly at each Mass until further directions.”
“Dearest Brethren,

In the present awful and alarming period when every good subject, every good Christian views with grief and horror the desperate and wicked endeavours of irreligious and rebellious agitators to overturn and destroy the constitution, we should deem ourselves criminal in the sight of God did we not, in the most solemn and impressive manner, remind you of the heinousness of violating the laws of our country and of attempting by insurrection and murder to subvert the Government of our gracious King to whom the allegiance we conscientiously owe in common with all our fellow subjects has been with regard to most of us solemnly attested in the presence of God by the religious bond of an oath.

Let no one deceive you by wretched impracticable speculations on the rights of man and the majesty of the [page18/19] people; on the dignity and independence of the human mind; on the abstract duties of superiors and exaggerated abuses of authority -- fatal speculations, disastrous theories not more subversive of social order and happiness than destructive of principle of the christian religion ... submission to established authority and obedience to the laws are amongst the duties prescribed by religion; every violation of these duties is highly criminal. Wherefore if any amongst you have been unfortunately seduced into a combination against the state ... without this sincere sorrow and amendment you cannot expect absolution in the tribunal of penance nor mercy from Government. ... Resolve then we beseech you to deliver up your arms ... unite with all your loyal and peaceable fellow subjects to crush the wicked spirit of insurrection. ... JOHN TROY, Archbishop of Dublin.”
This pronouncement was published in the Dublin newspapers the following day (upon which Father Murphy gained his first victory) and was signed by every Catholic archbishop and bishop in Ireland, with the sole exception of Bishop Hussey, of Waterford.

Those priests who favoured the rebels were suspended from the performance of their religious duties, and Dr. Caulfield, Bishop of Ferns, has left it on record that while Wexford Town was in the hands of the British troops it was crowded with priests who had fled before the rebels.

Equally false is it to assert like Lord Plunkett that '98 was a “Protestant Rebellion,” because, while it is true that the leadership of the United Irishmen was almost exclusively Protestant and included several Presbyterian clergymen (who were also frowned upon by their Synod), it was Catholic blood drenched the plains of Kildare and Wexford, just as Protestant blood stained the gallows in Belfast and dyed the slopes of Ballinahinch. In short, the rebellion was neither Catholic nor Protestant; not a war for the predominance of any particular creed but a National rising of the great common people of Ireland, Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, for full civil and religious liberty as a principle of the rights of man in an Irish Republic.


The heroes of '98 sleep in their graves. The task to which they set their hands has still to be accomplished. To-day, when there is so much talk of perpetuating their [page 19/20] memory in monuments of stone, let us determine to erect to them an everlasting monument by establishing again the Irish Republic for which they died. And no amount of lip-service paid to them by reactionary demagogues must be allowed to obscure this fact -- the United Irishmen of Antrim and Down and of Wexford and Killala visualized an Irish Republic as independent of Empire as the newly freed United States of America, and as truly devoted to liberty and democracy as the French Republicans of their day.

Our commemoration of '98 must see itself as a hosting of the forces that must carry through the unfulfilled task of separating the Ireland of the men of Antrim, Wexford, and Mayo from the British Empire. It must see itself, too, as one of the great armies of all submerged nations struggling to be free. With the United Irishmen we must declare as our highest aspirations :
“The greatest happiness of the Greatest Number -- On the rock of this principle let society rest; by this let it judge and determine every political question.”
We must pledge ourselves anew to the Irish Republic. We must pledge ourselves anew to resist the whittling down of Ireland's claim to anything less than that. And we must pledge ourselves to maintain those liberties of organisation that have been won by us and by our fathers, and to resist all attempts, from no matter what quarters they may come, to hamper our advance to freedom.

We declare that the will of the overwhelming majority of the Irish people is loyal to the principle of an Irish Republic, and just as the United Irishmen called to English democracy we call on friends of liberty in Britain to demand the withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland and the termination of subsidies to the Craigavon junta in Belfast. .

We declare that the principle of civil and religious liberty which inspired the rising at 1798 is not merely the sentiment of the Irish people but a sacred trust to which the Republic of Ireland is inseparably attached.

The Irish nation which this summer salutes the memory of the pioneers of Irish Republicanism, must not read their story as an inscription on a tombstone, but as the text-book of this generation in carrying through their task.
“Then here's their memory -- may it be,
For us a guiding light,
To cheer our strife for liberty,
To teach us to unite!”
Sphere: Related Content


Sean Boylan said...

Thanks very much for going to the trouble of scanning and putting this on the web.

It reads like the time it was written in! (but the content is as relevant as ever)

How did you go about scanning and then loading the pamphlet as text - I have some old pamphlets I'd like to give the same treatment.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

Thank you Seán: compliments and acknowledgments are rare in this business.

For a start, I'm working on an Apple Mac system, so the distance to be travelled on the Dark Side may be different.

I've tried various approaches: while OCR has improved in recent years, it's still pretty crude. However, what I did here was:
use a low-resolution scanner (an elderly Canon, rather than the Epson Perfection (not that would make any difference, except in desk acreage);
scan pages to create .jpegs;
import the jpegs into Adobe Acrobat Professional;
convert to .pdfs; and
export to Word.

That sounds a long way round, but I reckon the OCR facility in Acrobat is as good as it gets. I knocked off this whole 20-page job in an evening. Obviously, one still needs to use the human eye, version 1.0, to clean up; but there are very few literals to the page.

On a wider issue, I see this as something more than a time-waster: over the years I've accumulated quantities of such ephemera. Unless we can get them scanned and out into the wild, they're going to be lost and gone for ever. As you say, they are creatures of their time; but that does not make them irrelevant or disposable.


Subscribe with Bloglines International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add to Technorati Favorites