Informers of 1798

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXVI

Meanwhile, the Society of United Irishmen spread rapidly, and especially in those places where the Orangemen exercised their cruelties. Lord Edward FitzGerald now joined the movement; and even those who cannot commend the cause, are obliged to admire the perfection of his devoted self-sacrifice to what he believed to be the interests of his country. His leadership seemed all that was needed to secure success. His gay and frank manner made him popular; his military bearing demanded respect; his superior attainments gave him power to command; his generous disinterestedness was patent to all. But already a paid system of espionage had been established by Government.

A set of miscreants were found who could lure their victims to their doom—who could eat and drink, and talk and live with them as their bosom friends, and then sign their death-warrant with the kiss of Judas. There was a regular gang of informers of a low class, like the infamous Jemmy O'Brien, who were under the control of the Town-Majors, Sirr and Swan. But there were gentlemen informers also, who, in many cases, were never so much as suspected by their dupes. MacNally, the advocate of the United Irishmen, and Mr. Graham, their solicitor, were both of that class.

Thomas Reynolds, of Killeen Castle, entered their body on purpose to betray them. Captain Armstrong did the same. John Hughes, a Belfast bookseller, had himself arrested several times, to allay their suspicions. John Edward Nevill was equally base and treacherous. However necessary it may be for the ends of government to employ spies and informers, there is no necessity for men to commit crimes of the basest treachery. Such men and such crimes will ever be handed down to posterity with the reprobation they deserve.