Through the investigation of primary and secondary sources, students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the role played by leading figures in the rebellion, including Wolfe Tome and the United Irishmen, the reasons the French got involved in the 1798 rebellion and the subsequent consequences for the French government as a result of that involvement, and finally the legacy of the Rebellion for the Irish today.
To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils and to assert the independence of my country- these were my objectives. 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
Theobald Wolfe Tone
To unite Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter under the common name of Irishmen in order break the connection with England, the never failing source of all our political evils. That was my aim.
Memoirs of Theobald Wolfe Tone (1826)
Our independence must be had at all hazards. If the men of property will not support us, they must fall; we can support ourselves by the aid of that numerous and respectable class of the community, the men of no property.
Memoirs of Theobald Wolfe Tone (1826)
I have laboured to abolish the infernal spirit of religious persecution, by uniting the Catholics and Dissenters. To the former I owe more than ever can be repaid. The service I was so fortunate as to render them they rewarded munificently; but they did more: when the public cry was raised against me—when the friends of my youth swarmed off and left me alone—the Catholics did not desert me; they had the virtue even to sacrifice their own interests to a rigid principle of honour; they refused, though strongly urged, to disgrace a man who, whatever his conduct towards the Government might have been, had faithfully and conscientiously discharged his duty towards them; and in so doing, though it was in my own case, I will say they showed an instance of public virtue of which I know not whether there exists another example.
Wolf Tone at his military trial, 8 Nov 1798
On 19 Nov 1798, one week after slitting his own throat to avoid being hanged by British military authorities after he was convicted of inciting rebellion and treason, Theobald Wolfe Tone, leader of the society of United Irishmen, died in Provost Prison in Dublin. His death marked the end of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. While other rebels would continue fighting using guerrilla tactics over the next few months, resistance to British authority was effectively over.
The rebellion cost the Irish dearly. Thousands of men, women and children had died across the island over the short span of 6 months. Atrocities had been committed on both sides, leaving a legacy of mistrust and hatred. Torture was used against soldiers, prisoners and civilians. Executions ensured that the leaders were dealt with, but what about the public at large? No one across the island seemed immune from the rebellion. What had started out as a movement dedicated to independence, freedom and equality for all Irish men and women based on principles from the Enlightenment, the American Revolution and the French Revolution ended in the splintering of Irish society into religious factions that still haunt Ireland today. Tone’s dream of a united Ireland, free from British rule and dedicated to religious tolerance and equality, would be smashed when the British government passed official policies designed to get Catholics and Protestants to fight each other. In the end, the Rebellion of 1798 was a lost opportunity.
Through the investigation of primary and secondary sources, students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the role played by leading figures in the rebellion, including Wolfe Tome and the United Irishmen, the reasons the French became involved in the 1798 rebellion and the subsequent consequences for the French government as a result of that involvement, and finally the legacy of the Rebellion for the Irish today.
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While on tour in Ireland, students traveling across the island will inevitably come across memorials to the 1798 Rebellion or various men and women who participated in it. They’re everywhere (including a famous 10 ft. statue of Wolfe Tone in Dublin at the Wolfe Tone Memorial at the corner of St. Stephan’s Green and Hume Street). As they come across such memorials, students should consider the goals of the United Irishmen, which included creating a nation-state for all the Irish regardless of their religious beliefs. Unfortunately, after the rebellion was put down by the British, Irish nationalism too often focused on divisions between Catholics and Protestants, many of which still exist today… a lost opportunity.
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