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The Irish Rebellion of 1798 ( ), also known as the United Irishmen Rebellion ( ), was an uprising in 1798, lasting several months, against Britishmarker rule in the Kingdom of Ireland. The United Irishmen, a republican revolutionary group influenced by the ideas of the American and French revolutions, were the main organising force behind the rebellion.


Since 1691 and the end of the Williamite war, Ireland had chiefly been controlled by a Protestant Ascendancy constituting members of the established Church loyal to the British Crown. It governed the majority Irish Catholic population by a form of institutionalised sectarianism codified in the Penal Laws. In the late 18th century, liberal elements among the ruling class were inspired by the example of the American Revolution (1776-1783) and sought to form common cause with the Catholic populace to achieve reform and greater autonomy from Britain. As in England, the majority of Protestants, as well as all Catholics, were barred from voting because they did not pass a property threshold.

When France joined the Americans in support of their Revolutionary War, London called for volunteers to join militias to defend Ireland against the threat of invasion from France. Many thousands joined the Irish Volunteers. In 1782 they used their newly powerful position to force the Crown to grant the landed Ascendancy self-rule and a more independent parliament ("Grattan's Parliament"). The Irish Patriot Party, led by Henry Grattan, pushed for greater enfranchisement. In 1793 parliament passed laws allowing Catholics with some property to vote, but they could neither be elected nor appointed as state officials. Liberal elements of the Ascendancy seeking a greater franchise for the people, and an end to religious discrimination, were further inspired by the French Revolution, which had taken place in a Catholic country.

Society of United Irishmen

[[Image:United Irish badge.gif|thumbnail|150px|left|
"Equality —
It is new strung and shall be heard

United Irish Symbol
Cláirseach (harp) with cap of liberty instead of crown]]

The prospect of reform inspired a small group of Protestant liberals in Belfastmarker to found the Society of United Irishmen in 1791. The organisation crossed the religious divide with a membership comprising Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, other Protestant "dissenters" groups, and some from the Protestant Ascendancy. The Society openly put forward policies of further democratic reforms and Catholic emancipation, reforms which the Irish Parliament had little intention of granting. The British government was just as unwilling to enforce such reforms until pressured to do so in 1793. The outbreak of war with France earlier in 1793, following the execution of Louis XVI, forced the Society underground and toward armed insurrection with French aid. The avowed intent of the United Irishmen was to "break the connection with England"; the organisation spread throughout Ireland and had at least 100,000 members by 1797. It linked up with Catholic agrarian resistance groups, known as the Defenders, who had started raiding houses for arms in early 1793.

Despite their growing strength, the United Irish leadership decided to seek military help from the French revolutionary government and to postpone the rising until French troops landed in Ireland. Theobald Wolfe Tone, leader of the United Irishmen, travelled in exile from the United States to France to press the case for intervention.

Aborted invasion (1796)

With the Expédition d'Irlande, Tone accompanied a force of 15,000 French veteran troops under General Hoche which arrived off the coast of Ireland at Bantry Baymarker in December 1796 after eluding the Royal Navy. But, unremitting storms, indecisiveness of leaders and poor seamanship all combined to prevent an invasion. The despairing Wolfe Tone remarked; "England has had its luckiest escape since the Armada." The French fleet was forced to return home. The veteran army intended to spearhead the invasion of Ireland was split up and sent to fight in other theatres of the French Revolutionary Wars.

Counter-insurgency and repression

The shaken Establishment responded to widespread disorders by launching a counter-campaign of martial law from 2 March 1797. It used tactics that would in modern terms be described as "state terrorism". This included house burnings, torture of captives, pitchcapping and murder, particularly in Ulster. It was the one area of Ireland where large numbers of Catholics and Protestants (mainly Presbyterians) had effected common cause. In May 1797 the military in Belfast violently suppressed the newspaper of the United Irishmen, the Northern Star.

The British establishment recognised sectarianism as a divisive tool to employ against the Protestant United Irishmen in Ulster. The divide and conquer method of colonial dominion was officially encouraged by the Government. They intended to counter the United Irishmen by encouraging the formation of the Orange Order from 1795; the government played on Protestants' fears of the secretive Catholic "Defenders". Brigadier-General C.E. Knox wrote to General Lake (who was responsible for Ulster): "I hope to increase the animosity between Orangemen and United Irishmen. Upon that animosity depends the safety of the centre counties of the North."

Similarly, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, John FitzGibbon, wrote to the Privy Council in June 1798, "In the North nothing will keep the rebels quiet but the conviction that where treason has broken out the rebellion is merely popish", expressing the hope that the Presbyterian republicans might not rise if they thought that rebellion was supported only by Catholics.

Loyalists across Ireland had organised in support of the Government; many supplied recruits and vital local intelligence through the foundation of the Orange Order in 1795. The Government's founding of Maynooth Collegemarker in the same year helped secure the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church to rebellion; with a few individual exceptions, the Church was firmly on the side of the Crown throughout the entire period of turmoil.

In March 1798 intelligence from informants amongst the United Irish caused the Government to sweep up most of their leadership in raids in Dublinmarker in March 1798. Martial law was imposed over most of the country and its unrelenting brutality put the United Irish organisation under severe pressure to act before it was too late. A rising in Cahirmarker, County Tipperary broke out in response, but was quickly crushed by the High Sherrif, Col. Thomas Judkin-Fitzgerald. Militants led by Samuel Neilson and Lord Edward FitzGerald dominated the rump United Irish leadership and planned to rise without French aid, fixing the date for 23 May.

Outbreak of the rebellion

The initial plan was to take Dublinmarker, with the counties bordering Dublin to rise in support and prevent the arrival of reinforcements followed by the rest of the country who were to tie down other garrisons. The signal to rise was to be spread by the interception of the mail coaches from Dublin. However, last-minute intelligence from informants provided the Government with details of rebel assembly points in Dublin and a huge force of military occupied them barely one hour before rebels were to assemble. Deterred by the military, the gathering groups of rebels quickly dispersed, abandoning the intended rallying points, and dumping their weapons in the surrounding lanes. In addition, the plan to intercept the mail coaches miscarried, with only the Munster-bound coach halted at Johnstown, near Naasmarker, on the first night.

Although the planned nucleus of the rebellion had imploded, the surrounding districts of Dublin rose as planned and were swiftly followed by most of the counties surrounding Dublin. The first clashes of the rebellion took place just after dawn on 24 May. Fighting quickly spread throughout Leinster, with the heaviest fighting taking place in County Kildaremarker where, despite the Government's successfully beating off almost every rebel attack, the rebels gained control of much of the county as military forces in Kildare were ordered to withdraw to Naasmarker for fear of their isolation and destruction as at Prosperous. However, rebel defeats at Carlow and the hill of Tara, County Meathmarker, effectively ended the rebellion in those counties. In County Wicklowmarker,news of the rising spread panic and fear among loyalists; they responded by massacring rebel suspects held in custody at Dunlavin Green and in Carnew.

The rebellion spreads

See also Wexford Rebellion

In Wicklowmarker, large numbers rose but chiefly engaged in a bloody rural guerrilla war with the military and loyalist forces. General Joseph Holt led up to 1,000 men in the Wicklow Hills and forced the British to commit substantial forces to the area until his capitulation in October.

In the north-east, mostly Presbyterian rebels led by Henry Joy McCracken rose in County Antrim on 6 June. They briefly held most of the county, but the rising there collapsed following defeat at Antrim townmarker. In County Down, after initial success at Saintfield, rebels led by Henry Munro were defeated in the longest battle of the rebellion at Ballynahinch.

The rebels had most success in the south-eastern county of Wexfordmarker where they seized control of the county, but a series of bloody defeats at the Battle of New Ross, Battle of Arklow, and the Battle of Bunclody prevented the effective spread of the rebellion beyond the county borders. 20,000 troops eventually poured into Wexford and inflicted defeat at the Battle of Vinegar Hillmarker on 21 June. The dispersed rebels spread in two columns through the midlands, Kilkennymarker, and finally towards Ulster. The last remnants of these forces fought on until their final defeat on 14 July at the battles of Knightstown Bog, Co. Meath and Ballyboughal, County Dublinmarker.


The intimate nature of the conflict meant that the rebellion at times took on the worst characteristics of a civil war, especially in Leinster. Sectarian resentment was fuelled by the remaining Penal Laws still in force and by the ruthless campaign of repression prior to the rising. Rumours of planned massacres by both sides were common in the days before the rising and led to a widespread climate of fear.


The aftermath of almost every British victory in the rising was marked by the massacre of captured and wounded rebels with some on a large scale such as at Carlow, New Ross, Ballinamuck and Killala. The British were responsible for particularly gruesome massacres at Gibbet Rath, New Ross and Enniscorthymarker, burning rebels alive in the latter two. For those rebels who were taken alive in the aftermath of battle, being regarded as traitors to the Crown, they were not treated as prisoners of war but were executed, usually by hanging.

Countless civilians were murdered by the military, who also practised gang rape, particularly in County Wexford. Many individual instances of murder were also unofficially carried out by aggressive local Yeomanry Units before, during and after the rebellion as their local knowledge led them to attack suspected rebels. "Pardoned" rebels were a particular target.


The rebels in turn were guilty of small-scale atrocities near Saintfield, County Down and at Rathangan, County Kildare, but the vast majority of rebel atrocities took place in County Wexford at the Vinegar Hill camp, Scullabogue, Wexford bridge and in the vicinity of Goreymarker. Despite the United Irishmen being an avowedly non-sectarian organisation, the rebel atrocities at times took on a sectarian nature especially where rebel discipline broke down, with Protestantism often being equated with loyalism.

French landing

On 22 August, nearly two months after the main uprisings had been defeated, about 1,000 French soldiers under General Humbert landed in the north-west of the country, at Kilcummin in County Mayomarker. Joined by up to 5,000 local rebels, they had some initial success, inflicting a humiliating defeat on the British at the Castlebar (also known as the Castlebar races to commemorate the speed of the retreat) and setting up a short-lived "Republic of Connaught". This sparked some supportive risings in Longford and Westmeath which were quickly defeated, and the main force was defeated at the battle of Ballinamuck, in County Longfordmarker, on 8 September 1798. The French troops who surrendered were repatriated to France in exchange for British prisoners of war, but hundreds of the captured Irish rebels were executed. This episode of the 1798 Rebellion became a major event in the heritage and collective memory of the West of Ireland and was commonly known in Irish as and in English as "The Year of the French".

On 12 October 1798, a larger French force consisting of 3,000 men, and including Wolfe Tone himself, attempted to land in County Donegalmarker near Lough Swillymarker. They were intercepted by a larger Royal Navy squadron, and finally surrendered after a three hour battlemarker without ever landing in Ireland. After he was captured at Laird's Hotel in the Main Street of Letterkennymarker, Wolfe Tone was tried by court-martial in Dublin and found guilty. He asked for death by firing squad, but when this was refused, Tone cheated the hangman by slitting his own throat in prison on 12 November, and died a week later.


Small fragments of the great rebel armies of the Summer of 1798 survived for a number of years and waged a form of guerrilla or "fugitive" warfare in several counties. In County Wicklowmarker, "General" Joseph Holt fought on until his negotiated surrender in Autumn 1798. It was not until the failure of Robert Emmet's rebellion in 1803 that the last organised rebel forces under Michael Dwyer capitulated. Small pockets of rebel resistance had also survived in Wexford and the last rebel group under James Corocoran was not vanquished until February 1804.

The Act of Union, having been passed in August 1800, came into effect on 1 January 1801 and took away the measure of autonomy granted to Ireland's Protestant Ascendancy. It was passed largely in response to the rebellion and was underpinned by the perception that the rebellion was provoked by the brutish misrule of the Ascendancy as much as the efforts of the United Irishmen.

Religious, if not economic, discrimination against the Catholic majority was gradually abolished after the Act of Union but not before widespread radical mobilisation of the Catholic population under Daniel O'Connell. Discontent at grievances and resentment persisted but resistance to British rule now largely manifested itself along sectarian lines as in the Tithe War of 1831-36. Presbyterian radicalism was effectively tamed or reconciled to British rule by inclusion in a new Protestant Ascendancy, as opposed to a merely Anglican one. The resulting effect was that Irish politics in the 19th century was steered away from the unifying vision of the United Irishmen, encouraged by Unionists, Dublin Castlemarker, and exploited by politicians such as Daniel O’Connell, towards a sectarian model which has largely endured to the present day.


The 1798 rebellion was probably the most concentrated outbreak of violence in Irish history, and resulted in an estimated 15,000-30,000 deaths over the course of three months. Research into casualty figures suggests that a maximum of 2,000 troops and 1,000 civilians died at the hands of the rebels and that the remainder were killed by government troops and loyalist militias. Atrocities were committed on both sides, the great majority being committed by the government forces, but rebel killings of Protestants in Wexfordmarker were given much greater emphasis by the victors in the following years, as the loyalist version of events reduced the rebellion to a sectarian Catholic plot to massacre Protestants—a repeat of the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

The post-rebellion repression meant few spoke or wrote of the events from rebel perspectives, and as a result almost all initial accounts of the rebellion were written from the loyalist perspective. In many, the role of Catholicism in the rebellion was greatly exaggerated, but ironically this distortion later suited the aims of the Catholic Church in Ireland, allowing it to claim a leadership role in Irish nationalism during the 19th century. The reality that it actively sided with the British during the rising was ignored and the role of the few Catholic priests who took part in the rising, such as Fr. John Murphy, was overemphasised. The secular Enlightenment ideology of the mostly Protestant United Irish leadership was deliberately obscured. By the centenary of the Rebellion in 1898, conservative Irish nationalists and the Catholic Church would both claim that the United Irishmen had been fighting for "Faith and Fatherland", and this version of events is still, to some extent, the lasting popular memory of the rebellion.

At the bi-centenary in 1998, the non-sectarian and democratic ideals of the Rebellion were emphasised in official commemorations, reflecting the desire for reconciliation at the time of the Good Friday Agreement which was hoped would end the "Troubles" in Northern Irelandmarker.

List of major engagements during the rebellion

Date Location Battle Result
24 May Ballymore Eustacemarker, County Kildaremarker Battle of Ballymore-Eustace United Irishmen repulsed
24 May Naasmarker, County Kildaremarker Battle of Naas United Irishmen repulsed
24 May Prosperous, County Kildaremarker Battle of Prosperous United Irish victory
24 May Kilcullenmarker, County Kildaremarker Battle of Kilcullen British victorious but abandon Kilcullen
25 May Carnewmarker, County Wicklowmarker Carnew massacre British execute 38 prisoners
25 May Dunlavinmarker, County Wicklowmarker Dunlavin Green massacre British execute 36 prisoners
25 May Carlowmarker, County Carlowmarker Battle of Carlow British victory
26 May Hill of Taramarker, County Meathmarker Battle of Tara Hill British victory
27 May Oulartmarker, County Wexfordmarker Battle of Oulart Hill United Irish victory
28 May Enniscorthymarker, County Wexfordmarker Battle of Enniscorthy United Irish victory
29 May Curragh, County Kildaremarker Gibbet Rath massacre British execute 300–500 rebels
30 May Newtownmountkennedymarker, County Wicklowmarker Battle of Newtownmountkennedy British victory
30 May Forth Mountain, County Wexfordmarker Battle of Three Rocksmarker United Irish victory, Wexford taken
1 June Bunclodymarker, County Wexfordmarker Battle of Bunclody British victory
4 June Tuberneering, County Wexfordmarker Battle of Tuberneering United Irish victory
5 June New Rossmarker, County Wexfordmarker Battle of New Ross British victory
5 June Scullabogue, County Wexfordmarker Scullabogue massacre Irish rebels kill 100–200 loyalists
7 June Antrimmarker, County Antrim Battle of Antrim United Irishmen repulsed
9 June Arklowmarker, County Wicklowmarker Battle of Arklow United Irishmen repulsed
9 June Saintfieldmarker, County Down Battle of Saintfield United Irish victory
12–13 June Ballynahinch, County Downmarker Battle of Ballynahinch British victory
15 June near Killmarker, County Kildaremarker Battle of Duncairn United Irish victory
19 June near Kilcockmarker, County Kildaremarker Battle of Ovidstown British victory
20 June Foulkesmillmarker, County Wexfordmarker Battle of Foulksmills British victory
21 June Enniscorthymarker, County Wexfordmarker Battle of Vinegar Hillmarker British victory
30 June near Carnewmarker, County Wicklowmarker Battle of Ballyellis United Irish victory
27 August Castlebarmarker, County Mayomarker Battle of Castlebar United Irish/French victory
5 September Collooneymarker, County Sligomarker Battle of Collooney United Irish/French victory
8 September Ballinamuckmarker, County Longfordmarker Battle of Ballinamuck British victory
23 September Killalamarker, County Mayomarker Battle of Killala British victory
12 October near Tory Islandmarker, County Donegalmarker Battle of Tory Islandmarker British victory

See also


  1. * The Writings of Theobald Wolfe Tone 1763-98, Volume Two: America, France and Bantry Bay - August 1795 to December 1796 (Journal entry 26th December 1796) - eds. T W Moody, R B MacDowel and C J Woods, Clarendon Press (USA) ISBN 0 19 822383 8
  2. Letter to Privy Council, 4 June 1798 "A Volley of Execrations: the letters and papers of John Fitzgibbon, earl of Clare, 1772-1802", edited by D.A. Fleming and A.P.W. Malcomson. (2004)
  3. p. 146 "Fr. John Murphy of Boolavogue 1753-98" (Dublin, 1991) Nicholas Furlong ISBN 0 906602 18 1
  4. p. 28, "The Mighty Wave: The 1798 Rebellion in Wexford" (Four Courts Press 1996) Daire Keogh (Editor), Nicholas Furlong (Editor) ISBN 1-85182-254-2
  5. Moore, Sir John The Diary of Sir John Moore p.295 ed. J.F Maurice (London 1904)
  6. p. 113 "Revolution, Counter-Revolution and Union" (Cambridge University Press, 2000) Ed. Jim Smyth ISBN 0 521 66109 9
  7. Guy Beiner, Remembering the Year of the French: Irish Folk History and Social Memory (University of Wisconsin Press, 2007).
  8. Richard Musgrave "Memoirs of the different rebellions in Ireland" (1801)
  9. Fr. Patrick F. Kavanagh "A Popular History of the Insurrection of 1798" (1880) ISBN 9781436744560


  • Thomas Bartlett, Kevin Dawson, Daire Keogh, Rebellion, Dublin 1998
  • W. Tone, The Life of T. W. Tone (Gales & Seaton, Washington 1826).
  • James Smyth, The Men of No Property: Irish Radicals and Popular Politics in the late 18th century. Houndsmills/Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992.
  • Miles Byrne (1780-1862)- Memoirs.
  • T. Packenham, The Year of Liberty (London 1969) reprinted in 1998.
  • Kevin Whelan, The Tree of Liberty: Radicals, Catholicism and the Construction of Irish Identity, 1760-1830. Cork: Cork University Press, 1996.
  • J.B Gordon "History of the Rebellion in Ireland in the year 1798" (1801)
  • Edward Hay "History of the Insurrection of County Wexford" (1803)
  • H.F.B Wheeler & A.M Broadley "The war in Wexford: an account of the rebellion in the south of Ireland in 1798, told from original documents" (1910)
  • Richard Musgrave "Memoirs of the different rebellions in Ireland" (1801)
  • C. Dickson "The Wexford Rising in 1798: its causes and course" (1955)
  • G.A Hayes-Mc Coy "Irish Battles" (1969)
  • CD by Martello Multimedia (National Library of Ireland, Dublin 1998).
  • R. Madden, The United Irishmen (4 vols. to 1862).
  • Brendan Whiting, 2004, Victims of Tyranny: The Story of the Fitzgerald Convict Brothers, Harbour Publishing, ISBN 0646433458

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