The French Landing at Bantry Bay

This bay was known to the ancients by the name of Inber Sceine. It is a noble sheet of water, landlocked by beautiful mountains. The scenery is picturesque, bold, and grand, and equals, if it does not surpass, the best to be found in these kingdoms. It is a historic spot. Caesar, with fifty women and three men, landed here at Dun-a-Marc before the Deluge. Keating, who, generally speaking, was a firm believer in everything recorded by the old poets, is a bit sceptical on this point. The story, however, runs that Caesar, the daughter of Bith, requested Noah for an apartment in the Ark for herself and her father to save them from the Flood. Noah, having no authority from heaven, refused, and thereupon she consulted an idol, and the oracle enjoined them to build a ship, and, having fitted it out, they committed themselves to the mercy of the waves. The oracle was not able to tell them exactly when the Flood was to come, and so they were tossed about from sea to sea for the space of seven years until they arrived on the western coast of Ireland, at Dun-a-Marc, situated within a mile of the present Bantry. Partholanus and his followers, and also Queen Scota and the Milesians made their first landing at Bantry Bay.

There are four safe and commodious harbours in Bantry Bay. The largest and best known is Berehaven Harbour. It is one of the finest harbours in the world. Nature has done everything for it—man nothing. Enormous sums of money have been spent on improving other harbours in these countries, not a cent. on Berehaven. It lies between Beare Island and the mainland, and is seven miles long, and from one to four wide. It is of considerable depth, having 2,900 acres covered with from six to fifteen fathoms at low water spring tides; and 1,900 acres with over five fathoms at low water. It has two entrances, one at the east, the principal one, which is well lighted by two lighthouses, and one at the west, which is of considerable width and great depth, so that sailing ships may go in and out in any weather. It is considered the best harbour in the United Kingdom for naval purposes, and can accommodate the whole British Navy. Ships can lie in safety there at present, as it is one of the best fortified in the British dominions. Forts have been constructed at both ends of Beare Island, and are mounted by the best and most up-to-date cannon, which command both entrances of the harbour. Many necessary improvements could be effected, and as it has been appointed a naval base for H.M. ships of war, the Lords of the Admiralty would be the proper persons to take action in the matter. A coaling station is badly needed, for a supply of coal should be always at hand to meet any emergency that may arise, as also a dockyard for the repairs of ships.

The harbour presents many advantages for trade purposes. It lies well for vessels trading with Western and Southern Europe, also the West Indies and America. Some centuries ago it was a busy place, and ships from France, Belgium, Spain and Portugal brought their merchandise hither—wines, brandy, etc., and carried home wool, fish, etc.

Bantry Bay is remarkable for the descent of two French fleets. A naval battle was fought here between the English and French in 1689, the French having come to the aid of James II. The French fleet comprised forty-four sail. Admiral Herbert received intelligence that they were coasting near Baltimore. He set out in pursuit of them, and found that they had anchored in Bantry Bay. The Admiral lay off the Bay all night, and next morning entered it. The French weighed anchor, and were soon under sail, and bore down upon the English. When they came within musket shot the battle began by the firing of small and large guns. The English wanted to engage them closer, but the wind was against them, and they were under a disadvantage. Admiral Herbert then put off to sea with the view of putting his ships into line, and of gaining the wind, but the enemy was very cautious, and kept bearing down on him, so the manoeuvre was foiled. He continued the fight until five o’clock p.m., when the French Admiral, Perrault, stood into the bay. Some of the British ships being disabled in their rigging, Admiral Herbert did not follow him, but set out with his fleet for Plymouth, where he arrived on the 7th of May. In the action, one captain, one lieutenant, and 94 seamen were killed, and 250 wounded.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century there was great unrest in this country. Ulster was torn to pieces with strife and disorder, and the rest of the country was almost in a similar state. We had then a Parliament sitting in College Green, but it was the most corrupt Parliament the world ever saw. All the members belonged to the Protestant party, though they were far inferior in numbers to the Catholics. The latter were completely ground down. They were simply regarded as slaves, and were treated worse than slaves. Some of the Protestants themselves were getting sick of the whole affair, and were commencing to fraternise with their Catholic fellow subjects. Many patriotic societies and leagues were formed.

Wolfe Tone was the founder and secretary of United Irishmen. He was a man of considerable ability, great perseverance, indomitable courage, and bore an undying hatred to English misrule. He resolved to free his country or die in the attempt. On founding the United Irish Society he stated clearly his objects, and the means to be employed in these words:—

“To subvert the tyranny of an execrable government, to break the connection with England—these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant and Catholic and Dissenter—these were my means.”

He was born in Dublin on the 20th of June, 1763. He graduated in Trinity College, obtained a scholarship, tried the bar and failed. He wrote some political pamphlets against the Government, and was obliged to fly to America. In February, 1796, he was in France, and soon ran short of money. He encountered many hardships which would have broken the spirit of a less resolute man. At last he was introduced to Hoche, the French General, who undertook the Bantry Bay expedition. Tone kept a journal of the proceedings, from which we shall now quote:—

“As I was sitting in my cabinet, studying my tactics, a person knocked at the door, who, on opening it, proved to be a dragoon of the third regiment. He brought me a note from Clarke, informing me that he was arrived, and desired to see me at one o’clock. I ran off directly to the Luxembourg, and was showed into Fleury’s Cabinet, where I remained till three, when the door opened, and a very handsome, well-made young fellow, in a brown coat and nankeen pantaloons, entered and said: ‘Vous vous êtes le citoyen Smith?’ (I thought he was chef de bureau). ‘Qui citoyen, je m’appelle Smith,’ he said; ‘vous vous appelez, ’ausi je crois, Wolfe Tone?’ I replied, ‘Oui citoyen, c’est mon veritable nom.’ ‘Eh bien,’ replied he, ‘je suis le General Hoche.’ At these words I mentioned that I had for a long time been desirous of the honour I then enjoyed, to find myself in his company, and then embraced him tenderly.

“He then said he presumed I was the author of the memorandums which had been transmitted to him. I said I was. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘there are one or two points I want to consult you on.’ He then proceeded to ask me, in case of the landing being effectuated, might he rely on finding provisions, and particularly bread? I said it would be impossible to make any arrangements in Ireland previous to the landing, because of the surveillance of the Government; but if that were once accomplished there would be no want of provisions; that Ireland abounded in cattle, and, as for bread, I saw by the Gazette that there was not only no deficiency of corn, but that she was able to supply England, in a great degree, during the late alarming scarcity in that country, and I assured him that, if the French were once in Ireland, he might rely that, whoever wanted bread, they should not want it.

“He seemed satisfied with this, and proceeded to ask me, might we count upon being able to form a provisory government, either of the Catholic committee mentioned in my memorials, or of the Chiefs of the Defenders? I thought I saw an opening here to come at the number of troops intended for us, and replied that that would depend on the force which might be landed; if that force were but trifling, I could not pretend to say how they might act; but if it was considerable, I had no doubt of their co-operation. ‘Undoubtedly,’ replied he, ‘men will not sacrifice themselves when they do not see a reasonable prospect of support; but, if I go, you may be sure I will go in sufficient force.’ He then asked, did I think ten thousand would decide them? I answered undoubtedly, but that early in the business the minister had spoken to me of two thousand, and that I had replied that such a number would effect nothing. ‘No,’ replied he, ‘they would be overwhelmed before anyone could join them.’ I replied that I was glad to hear him give that opinion, as it was precisely what I had stated to the minister; and I repeated that, with the force he mentioned, I have no doubt of support and co-operation sufficient to form a provisory government.

“He then asked me what I thought of the priests, or was it likely they would give us any trouble? I replied, I certainly did not calculate on their assistance, but neither did I think they would be able to give us any effectual opposition; that their influence over the minds of the common people was exceedingly diminished of late, and I instanced the case of the Defenders, so often mentioned in my memorials. I explained all this at some length to him, and concluded by saying that in prudence we should avoid, as much as possible, shocking their prejudices unnecessarily, and that, with common discretion, I thought we might secure their neutrality at least, if not their support. I mentioned this as merely my opinion, but added that, in the contrary event, I was satisfied it would be absolutely impossible for them to take the people out of our hands.

“We then came to the army: he asked me how I thought they would act? I replied, for the regulars I could not pretend to say, but that they were wretched bad troops; for the militia, I hoped and believed that when we were once organised, they would not only oppose us, but come over to the cause of their country en masse; nevertheless, I desired him to calculate on their opposition, and make his arrangements accordingly; that it was the safe policy, and if it became necessary it was so much gained. He said he would undoubtedly make his arrangements so as to leave nothing to chance that could be guarded against; that he would come in force, and bring great quantities of arms, ammunition, stores, and artillery, and, for his own reputation, see that all the arrangements were made on a proper scale. I was very glad to hear him speak thus; it sets my mind at ease on divers points. He then said there was one important point remaining, on which he desired to be satisfied, and that was what form of government we would adopt on the event of our success.

“I was going to answer him, with great earnestness, when General Clarke entered, to request we would come to dinner with citizen Carnot. We accordingly adjourned the conversation to the apartment of the President, where we found Carnot and one or two more.

“Hoche, after some time, took me aside and repeated his question. I replied, ‘most undoubtedly, a republic.’ He asked again, was I sure? I said, ‘as sure as I can be of anything,’ and that I knew nobody in Ireland who thought of any other system, nor did I believe there was anybody who dreamt of monarchy. He asked me was there any danger of the Catholics setting up one of their chiefs for King? I replied, ‘not the smallest,’ and there were no chiefs among them of that kind of eminence. This is the old business again, but I believe I satisfied Hoche; it looks well to see him so anxious on this topic, on which he pressed me more than all the others. Carnot joined us here with a pocket map of Ireland.”

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