The United Irishmen

Justin McCarthy
Chapter IX | Start of Chapter

Meanwhile the success of the American War of Independence had aroused intense sympathy throughout Ireland and a passionate aspiration for complete national freedom. The effect of the American revolution had done much to encourage the revolution in France. The downfall of the French monarchy aroused among Irishmen a strong belief that a new force was coming up in Europe which might help Ireland, too, in the attainment of political freedom. A new organization had been formed in Ireland, called the Society of United Irishmen. The original purpose of the United Irishmen was merely to form a number of clubs all over the country to promote a political union among Irishmen of all religious persuasions, and to obtain by constitutional means a fair and full representation of all religions and classes in the Irish Parliament. The leaders were all, or nearly all, Protestants. The first president of the society, Hamilton Rowan, was a distinguished Irish Protestant. Theobald Wolfe Tone, a brilliant young Protestant, who afterwards made a name in war as well as in politics, acted for a time as secretary. But there were influences at work which soon led or drove the United Irishmen out of their appointed course of constitutional agitation. One of these influences was the obstinate resistance offered by George III. to any proposal for the political emancipation of the Roman Catholics. Among King George's own Ministers were men enlightened enough to know that emancipation ought to come and must come. William Pitt was himself a convinced friend of emancipation; but whenever he offered any advice in that spirit to the King he was always met with such fierce and bitter refusals that at last he made up his mind to let the King have his way.