James Napper Tandy

Tandy, James Napper, a prominent actor in Irish affairs between 1780 and the Union, was born in Dublin in 1740.

He was engaged in business, and from an early period took part in every popular movement in the Irish capital.

In 1780 he was expelled from the Dublin Volunteer Artillery for the expression of extreme opinions, and two years afterwards was imprisoned by an order of the House of Commons for breach of privilege, in sending a challenge to Mr. Toler, the Solicitor-General.

Wolfe Tone remarks in his Journal:

“It is but justice to an honest man, who has been persecuted for his firm adherence to his principles, to observe here that Tandy, in coming forward on this occasion, well knew that he was putting in the most extreme hazard his popularity among the corporations in the city of Dublin, with whom he had enjoyed the most unbounded influence for near twenty years; and, in fact, in the event, this popularity was sacrificed. This did not prevent him taking his part decidedly.”

At times Tandy did not figure very creditably, as when he headed a mob that endeavoured to destroy the works connected with the new Custom House in Dublin, because they feared its erection would injure the trade of those who lived in the vicinity of the old one.

In the spring of 1793 proceedings were instituted against him for distributing a pamphlet, entitled Common Sense, embodying severe strictures on the Beresford family; and, finding that a bill had been found against him for communicating with the “Defenders” in the County of Louth, with a view to induce them to join the United Irishmen, he thought it wise to fly to America.

He established himself at Wilmington, Delaware, until 1798, when the progress of events in Ireland induced him to proceed to France. He was there given the provisional rank of general, and entrusted with the command of a small body of Irish refugees intended to form the nucleus of an army in Ireland.

They sailed in the frigate Anacreon, and on 16th September landed on the island of Aran, off the coast of Donegal, where they heard of Humbert’s defeat at Ballinamuck eight days previously.

They almost immediately re-embarked, after scattering a few bombastic proclamations calling upon Irishmen “to strike from their blood-cemented thrones the murderers of your friends,” and to “wage a war of extermination against your oppressors.”

To avoid British cruisers, the Anacreon sailed north, and landed Tandy and his companions in Norway. Thence he endeavoured to make his way to France, but was arrested at Hamburg through the influence of the Czar, detained in prison for some years, and ultimately delivered to the British authorities.

He was tried in Dublin for complicity in the Insurrection of 1798, but was acquitted on a point of law.

He was then sent to Lifford, and on 7th April 1801 was arraigned for his part in the attempted invasion, and the proclamations. He pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to death.

Two months before the trial Lord Cornwallis had interceded with the Ministry in London on his behalf; and, in Cornwallis’s own words, “considering the incapacity of this old man to do further mischief, the mode by which he came into our hands, his long subsequent confinement, and, lastly, the streams of blood which have flowed in this island for these last three years,” his life was spared, on condition of his leaving the country for ever.

He spent the remainder of his days at Bordeaux, where he died in the latter part of 1803, aged 63.

His name occupies a prominent place in the government despatches of the time. Barrington says of Napper Tandy:

“His person was ungracious; his language neither eloquent nor argumentative; his address neither graceful nor impressive; but he was sincere and persevering, and though in many instances erroneous and violent, he was considered to be honest. His private character furnished no ground to doubt the integrity of his public one; and, like many of those persons who occasionally spring up in revolutionary periods, he acquired celebrity without being able to account for it, and possessed influence, without rank or capacity.”


21. Barrington, Sir Jonah, Historic Memoirs of Ireland. 2 vols. London, 1835.

72. Castlereagh, Viscount: Memoirs and Correspondence, edited by the Marquis of Londonderry. 12 vols. London, 1848–’53.

87. Cornwallis, Marquis, Correspondence: Charles Ross. 3 vols. London, 1859.

Cotton, Rev. Henry, see No. 118.

330. United Irishmen, their Lives and Times: Third Series: Robert R. Madden, M.D. 3 vols. Dublin, 1846.