Taken from `Ireland since The Union' (1887) by Justin Huntly McCarthy.
The Parliament which Grattan and the Volunteers had created did much that was worthy of its founders, but the difficulties against which it had to struggle were too severe to allow the liberty-tree which had been planted to come to anything like a full maturity. Viceroy after viceroy was sent over to counteract by all the means in his power--and a viceroy in those days had many means--the gradual revival of Irish independence. The vast system of corruption which then existed rendered such efforts on the part of the viceroy comparatively easy, and practically placed the majority in the House of Commons in the hollow of his hand. Discontent and distress reigned over the greater part of the country. Religious feuds had broken out in the North, owing to the continued oppression of the supporters of the Ascendency party, who could not be induced to recognise the new spirit of toleration for the Catholic majority, which was gradually making its way into the political creed of the day. The feud, which gradually spread, was augmented and intensified by the existing system of tithes. The unpopular clergy of the Established Church paid little heed to their benefices. They left their very scanty congregations to be looked after by some unhappy curate, and followed themselves the majority of the landlord party in becoming absentees, and leaving to the middlemen and tithe-proctors the odious task of extorting from the suffering and reluctant Catholic population the heavy tithes enforced for the maintenance of the dominant Church.
It is small wonder that under circumstances like these there were disturbances in various parts of the country, and that secret and mysterious organisations came into existence under the guidance of an occult and potent Captain Rock, to protect the peasant against the tithe-proctor and the absentee clergyman. The Government, as usual, met the discontent and disaffection, which was engendered by misery, with coercion, and not with redress. Savage restrictive enactments were called into existence to curb the agitation which want and oppression had created. Under such circumstances, those Irish politicians who loved their country may well have thought that the work accomplished by the Volunteers was not sufficient, and it was time again to make an effort to protect the threatened rights and liberties of their country.
There was much to encourage a hopeful belief in the success of any cause which had Right and Liberty for its watchwords. Just then France was giving, as she gave half a century later, the signal to Ireland to make an effort for self-redress. The French Revolution had just broken out. Its brilliant success had fascinated the minds of ardent politicians, whose better natures had not yet been revolted by the atrocities which later on disgraced and degraded it. When politicians of no very advanced temper, like Lord Charlemont and the members of the Whig Club, were celebrating with triumphant banquets the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, and sending round such toasts as 'The Revolution' and 'The Rights of Man,' it is scarcely matter for marvel that younger and more impetuous spirits should have been fired by the example of democratic Paris, and thought that what the revolutionary clubs had accomplished across the Channel could be accomplished equally well in Dublin.
Grattan's first dream had been to obtain a free Parliament; his second was to make that Parliament worthy of its own freedom by recognising the right to liberty of the Catholics of Ireland. Catholic Emancipation was now the object of Grattan's ambition. The horrors of the Penal Code were no longer, indeed, enforced in all their naked brutality against the majority of the people of Ireland. In the words of Mr. Lecky, 'the Code perished at last by its own atrocity.' Its malignant ingenuity in the end defeated itself; to carry out with perfection and persistence the full clauses of that Code would have required the strength of a whole community as perverted as the original framers of the laws. Happily for human nature, no such corrupt community was to be found. The Irish Protestants sickened of the provisions of the Penal Code. Through the strength of public opinion most of its provisions fell into disuse, and only lingered in nominal existence on the pages of the statute-book. Even from the statute-book the clauses of the Penal Code were one by one being slowly effaced. In 1768 a Bill to modify the provisions of the Penal Code was passed in the Irish House of Commons and defeated in the English House. Relief Bills of various kinds were passed in 1774, 1778, 1782, and 1792. The effect of these measures was to restore to the Irish Catliolics a large number of those rights and privileges of citizenship of which they had been so ruthlessly deprived. Most--but not all, nor the most important. The right to vote for representatives in Parliament, the right to enter Parliament, and the right to advancement in law or in arms were still sternly denied to them.
There was at this time a young barrister in Ireland who was looked upon by his family and by his friends as rather a hopeless kind of person. He had not employed his time at the University with that diligence which leads to the capture of academic honours, he had not devoted himself to his profession of the Bar with that patience and endurance which afforded any prospects of a Lord Chancellorship. He seemed to the sensible, prudent people with whom he came in contact to be a hopelessly lazy, impracticable young man, a dreamer of absurd dreams, with his head stuffed with fantastic political notions which no right-minded person could tolerate, or, indeed, understand; the sort of young man, in fact, who never would come to anything, or bring credit upon his people. His name was Theobald Wolfe Tone. To Theobald Wolfe Tone, discontented with his lot, conscious, no doubt, of the waste of his fine genius in the narrow pursuits and possibilities of his daily life, and indignant at the oppression and injustice endured by his countrymen, the new ideas that were in the air very naturally commended themselves. It occurred to him that a union effected between the rising democracy in the North of Ireland with the long down-trodden and ignored Catholic interest might result in the creation of a formidable political party. He sketched out this idea in a pamphlet, and then went to Belfast and founded there a small association--destined to become one of the most famous organisations for political purposes ever founded--called the Society of United Irishmen.
Tone's pamphlet and Tone's organisation were the beginning of a new era. A branch society was immediately formed in Dublin, and joined by many conspicuous politicians.
Branches, too, were established in various parts of Ulster, and adherents came in with great rapidity. The objects of the Society would not seem to us of to-day to be very revolutionary, although they sounded horridly in the ears of the Ascendency. Every member of the United Irishmen pledged himself to use all his abilities to obtain an impartial and adequate representation of the Irish nation in Parliament, and to do all that lay in his power to forward a union of affection and of interest among Irishmen of all religious persuasions.
It must not be supposed, though it is too often imagined, that Wolfe Tone started with the desire of severing his country from all connection with England. Mr. Gladstone, in a recent remarkable speech, said very truly: 'If there is an Irish name associated with the idea of separation more than any other name, it is the name of Wolfe Tone; but in the year 1791 Wolfe Tone declared that he was not favourable to separation from the British Crown. He declared then, what O'Connell declared afterwards in very clear terms, that the two countries were in his view to be united by the golden link of the Crown.'
It was at once resolved to hold a convention in Dublin after the fashion of the Volunteer Convention. On December 2, 1792, the convention met in Taylor's Hall, Back Lane, Dublin, and five delegates were chosen to present a petition to the king, praying for the restoration of his Roman Catholic subjects to the rights and privileges of the constitution. A month later the five delegates gave their petition into the hands of his Majesty, and the result was the Roman Catholic Relief Bill of 1793. So much the Government conceded to the new organisation, and to the feeling of alarm and insecurity caused by the rapid strides of the Revolution in France. But if the Government conceded something to the Back Lane Parliament, as it was called, with one hand, it struck at the existence of that body with the other.
A relief measure of any kind is always accompanied in the history of Ireland with a coercion measure; and on this occasion the Catholic Relief Bill came into the world accompanied by three coercive measures, one of which--the Convention Act--was specially framed to prevent the possibility of any further Back Lane Parliaments dictating terms to the Government. As usual, coercive measures increased the disturbances in the country. United Irishmen became more active than ever in spreading their propaganda. And then the Government struck a decided blow at the new and dangerous body. Mr. Simon Butler, a brother of Lord Mountgarret and chairman of the United Irishmen, and Oliver Bond, were arrested, imprisoned, and fined. Hamilton Rowan, the secretary of the body, was arrested, imprisoned, and fined, but succeeded in escaping from prison to America. Wolfe Tone was to have been prosecuted, but, through the influence of powerful friends, he was allowed to go to America with his wife and family. Taylor's Hall, the Back Lane Parliament, was broken into by the police, and all the papers and United Irishmen were seized. An English clergyman named Jackson, who had joined the United Irishmen, was tried for treason in attempting to bring about an alliance with France. He would have been convicted on the evidence of the usual, and, indeed, inevitable informer, but he anticipated his judgment by committing suicide. The Government was under the fond impression that it had stamped out United Irishmen for good and all.
The very effort to suppress the United Irishmen, however, only gave it a newer and more dangerous existence. It had hitherto been a legal and constitutional body, acting, in accordance with the rights of every citizen, for the amelioration of the constitution; it was now to become a great secret society, spreading its influence into every part of Ireland, and having for its object the definite destruction of English dominion in Ireland, and the establishment of an Irish republic. Wolfe Tone, indeed, had gone away, in temporary exile, into the United States; but other and no less important leaders had joined the movement and filled his place. Wolfe Tone's absence was only temporary. He had said to a friend, as he was leaving Ireland, that he was going to France by way of America. To Richard Lalor Sheil, it seems surprising that Tone should have cherished in the security and prosperity of his American home the revolutionary doctrines which drove him into exile. 'There,' says Sheil, 'in the bosom of his family, with a wife whom he adored, and children who shared in his idolatry for their incomparable mother, he might have had a long and prosperous life, if he knew how to form a just estimate of felicity, and could have appreciated the opportunities of happiness with which he was encompassed.' Sheil was a great orator, but he was not capable of understanding the principles which animated the nature of a man like Wolfe Tone. It evidently surprised him that an Irishman, with the opportunity of a comfortable and peaceful home in a foreign country, should really risk his welfare and his life for such a dream as patriotism--'perverted patriotism,' he calls the generous heroism which sent Wolfe Tone back from America to France, to Ireland and to his death.
Tone might well, however, have found encouragement for his action in the treatment received by Irish statesmanship of the most constitutional type. Grattan made himself the mouthpiece of a movement organised by the Irish Catholics in 1793, and having for its object the removal of these final disabilities. One of them Grattan succeeded in abolishing. In 1793, thanks to his efforts and his eloquence, the Catholics were admitted to the elective franchise. But in his second effort to allow Catholics to be elected to Parliament, Grattan failed. That failure and the recall of Lord Fitzwilliam precipitated the rebellion of ninety-eight. Despairing of the condition of his country, unable to sympathise either with the party of rebellion or the party of repression, Grattan retired from political life.
The United Irishmen had found other leaders during Wolfe Tone's absence. Of these the most conspicuous and the most famous was 'the gallant and seditious Geraldine,' who is dear to so many Irish national songs as 'Lord Edward.' Lord Edward Fitzgerald came of an ancient family, which on one side traced its descent from a proud Italian house, and on the other was linked with the line of the Stuarts. The courtly poet, Surrey, who had the misfortune to live under a monarch like Henry VIII., had loved a daughter of the house of Geraldine, and has devoted to her praise sonnets almost as sweet as those that were written in the native Tuscan of herrace. It was of the Irish Geraldines that the phrase had come into existence that they were 'more Irish than the Irish themselves;' and more than one member of that brave and illustrious household had borne testimony to the truth of the saying with his blood. Latterly, however, the Geraldines had fallen away from their fame, and had ceased to play a conspicuous part in history. It was reserved for a young man, a soldier in the service of England, who had fought and bled in the American war, to revive the old glories of his race, and to lend them a blighter lustre.
Lord Edward Fitzgerald was almost the ideal hero of romance: young, handsome, brilliant, gallant, he shines in the darkness of the darkest pages in Irish history like the creation of a poet. It is easy to understand how Lord Byron was captivated by his story and by his untimely fate, and saw in him a magnificent subject for some future historical novel. There is a story, but we do not believe it, that Lord Edward Fitzgerald's beauty, bravery, and genius, were the means of inflicting a pang upon one of the most charming women of her time, and of causing a wrong to one of the greatest and most gifted of Irishmen. The legend is that Sheridan's beautiful and devoted wife fell hopelessly in love with Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and that her ill-fated passion hastened her death. Moore, however, denies the story strongly, and there is no reason for us to believe that the woman who was fortunate enough to have secured the homage and affection of Richard Brinsley Sheridan should have ever turned her heart towards another object, even were that another Irishman so handsome, so heroic, so accomplished as Edward Fitzgerald. Lord Edward Fitzgerald himself fell deeply in love with and married the fair and mysterious Pamela, who, in spite of the statements of Madame de Genlis, there is no reason now to doubt was indeed the daughter of Philippe Égalité. Fitzgerald adored his young and beautiful wife, who was, perhaps, hardly worthy of the devotion of that noble heart. It is curious to reflect that the three women whose names are associated with the three greatest figures of that revolutionary movement--the wife of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the wife of Wolfe Tone, and the affianced bride of Robert Emmet--should each have injured the memory of the great men with whose lives they were associated by consenting to accept the love and names of others. The widow of Fitzgerald, the widow of Tone, and the betrothed of Emmet might well have been proud to have carried to their graves the names by which they were known to their patriot lovers.
The French Revolution had captivated Fitzgerald as it attracted Wolfe Tone. One small fact illustrates in a curious way the difference in the character of the two revolutionary leaders. When the United Irishmen in their early days insisted upon addressing one another after the fashion of republican Paris as 'citizen,' Wolfe Tone protested strongly against the innovation, very much as Mirabeau had himself protested against it. 'With your citizen, Riquetti,' said Mirabeau, 'you have perplexed all Europe.' Wolfe Tone protested scarcely less vehemently against the use of a title which did not really alter the relative positions of those who used it. But the imagination of Fitzgerald, on the other hand, was seized by the picturesque and poetic notions of equality, and he insisted at once upon dropping his own courtesy title and being greeted and addressed merely as Citizen Edward Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald's republicanism, his admiration of the Revolution, and his alliance with the daughter of Philippe Égalité earned for him the anger of his kinsmen and of his class, and the removal of his name from the roll of the British army. He threw himself with enthusiasm into the cause of the United Irishmen, worked vigorously with Oliver Bond and Thomas Addis Emmet and MacNevin and the other leaders of the movement, and went over to France on a mission to the Republican Directory.
Once again his alliance with the House of Orleans was injurious to him. The French Directory prohibited him from entering France, and he remained at Hamburg while other emissaries went to point out to the Republican Government the possibility of a French invasion of Ireland. Wolfe Tone, true to his promise of going to France by America, had now once more made his appearance in Europe. The eloquence and the arguments of the United Irishmen impressed the French Directory, and an army of invasion was organised under the command of General Hoche. But disaster attended upon all the attempts to land a French army in Ireland. The winds and waves, which had protected England against the Invincible Armada, protected her now against two successive expeditions. A third expedition was destined to be turned, not against England, but against Egypt.
In Ireland, in the meantime, things were going from bad to worse; the country was being administered by a system of savage repression which recalled the worst atrocities of the Cromwellian occupation. Martial law was made the excuse for every system of lawlessness, and the Catholic population were subjected to every species of outrage, of insult, and of injury. The actions of the United Irishmen were perfectly familiar to the Government. The organisation was literally infested with spies. Every needy placeman, every broken-down officer, every desperate adventurer, every scoundrel who could find no other occupation, joined the association, and made himself a hateful livelihood by selling its secrets to the Government. The Government could at any time have seized upon the principal leaders of the organisation; but the Government was playing a deeper game. It was determined to force the movement into open insurrection, in order that it might be justified in crushing it out more completely. Other Governments since that time have pursued the same policy, in days much nearer to our own. The policy was completely successful in the case of the United Irishmen.
Visitors to Dublin to-day, who wander within Trinity, may often have pointed out to them by their friends an elderly man of scholastic appearance and academic garb, author of 'Who Fears to Speak of Ninety-eight?' There is something very curious about the cloistered life of a man who gave to a national movement one of its most powerful inspirations, who enriched the literature of Irish discontent with one of the most famous of rebellious ballads. For more than forty years 'The Memory of the Dead' has been dear to the hearts of Irishmen in every part of the world. When it was written, when it first appeared in the pages of the Nation, some of the 'brave, the faithful, and the few' still lived and looked upon the sun. In foreign exile the hearts of Arthur O'Connor, and Miles Byrne, of Wexford, still beat responsive to the aspirations of Irish liberty. In the long interval two fresh revolutionary efforts have been made. Through all this great gap of time the author of the seditious ballad which has 'played so brave a part' has lived his quiet, studious life, in self-chosen exile from the great world of politics, oblivious of the fierce emotions and strong passions which he did so much to stimulate. A Tyrtaeus for ten minutes, he gave Ireland an anthem, and then retired for ever into scholastic obscurity. Rouget de Lisle, singing his one wild war song, which was destined to become the voice not of one, but of a hundred revolutions, and straightway sliding back again into nothingness, an idle writer of foolish verses, known now only to the curious, finds his historical parallel in this professor of Trinity who was once the poet of rebellion. ' The Memory of the Dead' was only a tour de force to him; it was destined to become the hymn, the anthem, and the dirge of millions of his countrymen.
Certainly the Government did everything in its power to make 'Ninety-eight' an abiding memory with the Irish people. It had bided its time patiently until it thought the moment had come for swooping upon the United Irishmen and forcing a futile insurrection. It nursed revolution with the cruel care of the step-mother of a fairy tale. The country was ripe for revolt. The infamies of Major Sirr's gang had roused the anger and the indignation of others than revolutionary leaders.
The words, 'Remember Orr!' lingered on the lips of men who had never taken a secret oath. Men who might have been supposed to be friendly to the English Government were forced into horrified protestations against the atrocities which were being committed in the Government's name. Lord Moira, an Irish nobleman, who afterwards rose to high distinction in the English colonial service, spoke vehemently and earnestly against the way in which Ireland was being goaded into revolution. But his protest was met and answered by Black Jack Fitzgibbon, the hated Lord Clare, perhaps the basest of the many base tools that Pitt chose to employ against the Irish people. Sir Ralph Abercrombie was sent over to take command of the troops in Ireland, and was so disgusted with the disorder, the riot, and the undisciplined ruffianism of the soldiers placed under him, that he made a strong effort to curb their brutality; and when his action was not supported by the Home Government, he promptly resigned his command. The Government found a readier instrument in his successor, General Lake; and the picketing, the flogging, the torturing, and the bloodshed went on merrily as before. A recipe to make a rebel, which was popular in those days among Nationalists, ran thus: 'Take a loyal subject, uninfluenced by title, place, or pension: burn his house over his head; let the soldiery exercise every species of insult and barbarity towards his helpless family, and march away with the plunder of every part of his property they choose to save from the flames.' The recipe was excellent, and effected the purpose of the Government in enforcing the rebellion.
The Government now prepared to strike their final blow. Their favourite spy at the time was Thomas Reynolds, of Kilkea, the brother-in-law of Tone's wife, a man deep in the secrets of the United Irishmen. On March 12, 1798, the Dublin authorities, acting on the information of Reynolds, made a descent upon Oliver Bond's house, got in by means of the password supplied by the traitor, and seized Bond and thirteen delegates, with the most important papers of the United Irishmen. Lord Edward Fitzgerald was on his way to Bond's house when he received warning, and hid himself until he could head the general rising which was now resolved upon. But the Government spies were more than a match for the United Irishmen. Captain Armstrong, of the King's County Militia, who afterwards sent the brothers Sheares to the gallows, was, like Reynolds, deep in the councils of the United Irishmen, and faithfully transmitted to the Government all the plans of the proposed rising. Another traitor, Francis Higgins, the owner of the Freeman's Journal, sent word to the Castle that Fitzgerald was hiding in a house in Thomas Street. Major Sirr and a body of soldiers surrounded the house, and forced their way into the bedroom where Lord Edward was waiting unsuspicious of danger. Lord Edward knew well enough that there was small hope for a revolutionary leader who fell into the hands of the Government, and he offered a desperate resistance. In the narrow room he struggled with his assailants till the walls and the floor were splashed with his blood, and the blood of his enemies; and it was not until he had wounded one of his adversaries to the death, and was himself wounded in many places, that the soldiers were enabled to overpower him, and carry him to prison. In the prison Lord Edward Fitzgerald died of his wounds, and the revolutionary movement lost in him one of the bravest, the noblest, and the ablest of its leaders. To this day strangers in Dublin seek eagerly for the place where he met his death. Thomas Francis Meagher, in one of the finest of his speeches, speaks of 'the ducal palace in this city, where the memory of the gallant and seditious Geraldine enhances more than royal favour the splendour of his race.' The memory of Edward Fitzgerald, however, is more closely associated with that small, dismal room in Thomas Street, in which the last Geraldine who played any part in Irish history met his death.
The great insurrection which had been schemed out in the brain of Fitzgerald and his friends was destined to be dissipated in a series of untimely and unsuccessful local risings, the chief of which took place in Wexford. The rebels fought bravely, and in some parts, for a time, with something like success; but the odds against them were too heavy, and the revolution was crushed out with pitiless severity. The Catholic clergy played a conspicuous part in the rising. Many of them entered the rebel ranks, and led the rebel bands to action. Father John Murphy, Father Philip Roche, and Father Michael Murphy, were conspicuous among the revolutionary priesthood. The men who followed Father Michael Murphy believed him to be invulnerable; but he was killed at last by a cannon-ball at the fight of Arklow. Father Philip Roche also fell in battle. Father John Murphy, more famous perhaps than either of the others, and less fortunate in his fate, was captured and hanged. The assistance which the revolutionary party had hoped for from France came to nothing. A few troops, indeed, under General Humbert, did land in Killala Bay; but they were surrounded by the English at Ballynamuck, and compelled to surrender at discretion. The French soldiers were made prisoners of war; the unhappy peasants who were with them were slaughtered without mercy. The rebellion of ninety-eight was over. Many of its leaders died on the gallows. Bagenal Harvey, of Bargy Castle, and Anthony Perry, both Protestant gentlemen of fortune and position, who had been forced into the rebellion by the persecution of Government, were hanged. The two brothers Sheares were hanged. M'Cann was hanged. Of the other leaders, Oliver Bond died in Newgate; Arthur O'Connor, Thomas Addis Emmet, and MacNevin were banished. Arthur O'Connor entered the French service, and lived long enough to send, nearly half a century later, kindly messages of sympathy and encouragement to a subsequent body of revolutionaries--the Young Irelanders.
Great and unjust use has been made by the enemies of Ireland of some unhappy episodes in the history of the rising. It has surprised certain English historians beyond measure that a people goaded into frenzy by outrage, torture, insult, and oppression of every kind, should when their hour came have attempted some reprisals. The marvel rather is that so few reprisals have to be recorded. The Irish historian would be, indeed, happy who could say that rebel cause was unstained by other than the inevitable bloodshed of war. Unfortunately this cannot be said. 'Blood will have blood,' says Macbeth. It is not surprising that some fierce revenge was taken for the men who had been flogged, tortured, and murdered; for the women who had been outraged by a licentious and brutal soldiery.
Mr. Froude, who is at once the most famous and the most unfair of anti-Irish historians, seems almost paralysed with amazement because ignorant and unhappy men treated with merciless cruelty should have been cruel in their turn to their oppressors. Another historian of a very different temper from Mr. Froude has criticised Mr. Froude in language which it will be well to borrow. He sternly and justly condemns the atrocities that were committed by some of the rebels, but he goes on: 'An impartial historian would not have forgotten that they were perpetrated by undisciplined men, driven to madness by a long course of savage cruelties, and in most cases without the knowledge or approval of their leaders; and from the beginning of the struggle the yeomen rarely gave quarter to the rebels; that with the one horrible exception of Scullabogue, the rebels in their treatment of women contrasted most favourably and most remarkably with the troops, and that one of the earliest episodes of the struggle was the butchery, near Kildare, of 350 insurgents who had surrendered on the express promise that their lives should be spared.'
Even of Scullabogue itself another writer, the Honourable Lewis Wingfield, has written in his powerful novel, 'My Lords of Strogue,' after a fashion and with a temperance rare in those who write for an English audience--'the three hundred innocent women and children had been consumed as a holocaust on the altar of his Majesty King George, who, large-minded man, was consistently without mercy for the Isle which God had given to his keeping; who was pitiless for the professors of a faith which did not agree with his own fancy; who, by reason of his policy regarding Ireland, must be held accountable for the tragedy which took place on June 5 within the barn of Scullabogue.'
If there had been during the last eighty-five years more thinkers and writers in England like Mr. Lewis Wingfield and like Mr. Lecky, in the temper in which he wrote 'Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland,' and less like Mr. Froude, the quarrel between the two nations would not be where it is to-day.
It must never be forgotten by the serious student of ninety-eight that the rising was in no sense a religious war. The United Irishmen were organised openly first, and secretly afterwards, by Protestants; the most conspicuous leaders of the revolution were Protestants; some of its most famous martyrs were Protestants. Not only was the struggle not one of creed against creed, of Catholic against Protestant, but large numbers of Catholics were strongly opposed to the rebellion, and in many cases took active measures against it. Something of the character of a religious war was lent to the struggle in Wexford by the efforts of the Orangemen, but the movement as a whole was never of this complexion. The Irish Catholic race have never shown the slightest intolerance for the professors of the creed under whose special sanction the Penal Laws were promulgated. They have welcomed Protestant leaders in successive struggles, from the days of Grattan to the days of Parnell. The liberty of conscience which they asked for themselves, they have never sought to deny others. Ninety-eight, like the movements which succeeded it, was a national movement, an uprising against burdens too bitter to bear, and it was sympathised with and supported by Irishmen of all religious denominations, bound together by common injuries and a common desire to redress them.
There was still one more scene to be played out in the melancholy drama of ninety-eight. Some French ships were sent to Ireland, but were attacked by an English squadron before a landing could be effected. After a long and desperate battle the French were hopelessly defeated. A large number of French officers who were taken prisoners were brought to Lord Cavan's house on Lough Swilly. Among the guests there was Sir George Hill. Looking into the faces of the French officers Sir George Hill discerned one face very familiar to him--the face of an old college friend; the face of England's most dangerous enemy; of the most prominent of the Irish rebels--the face of Theobald Wolfe Tone. No one else had recognised Wolfe Tone. He was habited as a French officer, he spoke French easily, and everyone present assumed him to be a Frenchman--everyone with the exception of Sir George Hill. An honourable man would scarcely have cared to betray even his bitterest enemy under such circumstances; but Sir George Hill chose to play the Judas part. He went up to Wolfe Tone and addressed him openly by his name. Tone was too proud to affect further concealment. 'I am Theobald Wolfe Tone,' he answered to the greeting of his treacherous friend. He was immediately seized, and sent heavily ironed to Dublin. In Dublin he was tried by court-martial, and sentenced to death. As an officer in the French Republic he claimed his right to a soldier's death; he asked to be shot by a platoon of grenadiers. The members of the court-martial were inexorable. They had got their rebel, and they meant to show him no mercy. He was sentenced to be hanged.
On the morning fixed for the execution Wolfe Tone was found in his cell with his throat cut. There is some mystery hanging over these later hours of Wolfe Tone's life. It is said, and generally believed, that he strove to commit suicide in order to escape the indignity of being hanged like a dog, and to preserve the uniform of which he was so proud from disgrace. On the other hand, there are not wanting voices to maintain that Wolfe Tone was murdered in prison by those who feared that even yet he might escape the vengeance of the law. Indeed there was a chance of escape. Curran, heroically fighting his desperate fight single-handed for the men of ninety-eight, moved in the King's Bench for a writ of habeas corpus, on the ground that the civil law was still in force in Dublin, and that as Wolfe Tone held no commission in the English army, the court-martial had no jurisdiction. The point was an important one, and Curran carried, and obtained his writ. It came too late to save Wolfe Tone's life, but it saved him from a shameful death. His wound had not proved mortal, and he would have been hanged but for the arrival of the writ. He died of his wound in prison.
Some eighteen miles from Dublin, not far from the little village of Sallins, there is a little churchyard, the churchyard of Bodenstown. In that churchyard there is a little grave to which Irishmen make pilgrimages from all parts of the world. It is the grave of Theobald Wolfe Tone. Thomas Davis has devoted one of the noblest of his lyrics to the green grave in Bodenstown churchyard, with the winter wind raving about it, and the storm sweeping down on the plains of Kildare. Those see Wolfe Tone's grave best who see it under such aspects of earth, and air, and sky as Davis has immortalised in his poem. The desolate and deserted grass-grown graveyard of the little lonely church, ruined and roofless, the crumbling walls thickly grown with ivy, the mouldering tombs, are seen in their most fitting aspect on a sombre day, and under weeping heavens. When Davis wrote the poem no stone marked the grave. Since then the patriotic spirit of neighbouring Clongowes has railed it in with iron rails, wrought at the top into the shape of shamrocks; and the stone slab bears an inscription setting forth the name and the deeds of the man who lies beneath, and ending with 'God save Ireland!'
The rebellion of the United Irishmen had drawn into its eddies none of the leaders of the constitutional agitation. Neither Grattan nor Flood had ever belonged to the body, even in the days when it was an open organisation; and neither of them had any sympathy with its efforts, or had believed in its possible success. While the desperate struggle to which it gave rise was raging, they stood aside, dropped for the moment from the page of history, and their places were taken by a man no less gifted, no less eloquent, no less patriotic than either of them--John Philpot Curran. Curran, like Grattan and like Flood, had begun his career by trying to play on the double pipes of poetry and oratory, and like Grattan and Flood he soon discovered the superiority of his prose to his verse, and abandoned rhymes for rhetoric. Unlike Grattan, however, and unlike Flood, Curran might perhaps have been a poet. He has at least left behind him some verse which deserves to be, and will be remembered, while nothing of Flood or Grattan can seriously be said to have remained in literature. Curran's poem of 'The Deserter' is one of the most pathetic, and one of the most beautiful pieces of work in Irish literature.
Curran rose from very humble origin, by the sheer strength of his genius, to a high position in Parliament and at the Bar; and his patriotism was never sullied by the slightest political subservience. He had been remarkable before the rebellion broke out for his courageous defence of men unpopular with the Government. He had been threatened, like a new Cicero, with armed menaces, in his defence of Hamilton Rowan, but unlike Cicero he had faced the menaces undismayed. After the rebellion had broken out and been crushed, he made himself the mouthpiece of freedom, and championed one after another the causes of all the leading political prisoners with an eloquence, a courage, and an ability which have earned him immortal honour. It is one of the proudest features in the struggle of ninety-eight that it produced men of the robe who were worthy of its men of the sword.