Society of United Irishmen

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXVI

Pitt was again thwarted by the Irish Parliament on the Regency question, when the insanity of George III. required the appointment of his heir as governor of England.

The Marquis of Buckingham, who was then Lord Lieutenant, refused to forward their address; but the members sent a deputation of their own.

This nobleman was open and shameless in his acts of bribery, and added £13,000 a-year to the pension list, already so fatally oppressive to the country.

In 1790 he was succeeded by the Earl of Westmoreland, and various clubs were formed; but the Catholics were still excluded from them all.

Still the Catholics were an immense majority nationally; the French Revolution had manifested what the people could do; and the rulers of the land, with such terrible examples before their eyes, could not for their own sakes afford to ignore Catholic interests altogether. But the very cause which gave hope was itself the means of taking hope away.

The action of the Irish Catholics was paralyzed through fear of the demonlike cruelties which even a successful revolution might induce; and the general fear which the aristocratic party had of giving freedom to the uneducated classes, influenced them to a fatal silence.

Again the middle classes were left without leaders, who might have tempered a praiseworthy nationality with a not less praiseworthy prudence, and which might have saved both the nation and some of its best and bravest sons from fearful suffering.

A Catholic meeting was held in Dublin, on the 11th of February, 1791, and a resolution was passed to apply to Parliament for relief from their disabilities.

This was in truth the origin of the United Irishmen. For the first time Catholics and Protestants agreed cordially and worked together harmoniously.

The leading men on the Catholic committee were Keogh, M'Cormic, Sweetman, Byrne, and Branghall; the Protestant leaders were Theobald Wolfe Tone and the Hon. Simon Butler.

Tone visited Belfast in October, 1791, and formed the first club of the Society of United Irishmen. He was joined there by Neilson, Simms, Russell, and many others. A club was then formed in Dublin, of which Napper Tandy became a leading member.

The fundamental resolutions of the Society were admirable. They stated:

“1. 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. 2. That the sole constitutional mode by which this influence can be opposed, is by a complete and radical reform of the representation of the people in Parliament. 3. That no reform is just which does not include every Irishman of every religious persuasion.”