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Society of the United Irishmen
The Society of the United Irishmen was a political organisation in eighteenth century Ireland that sought independence from Great Britain. They held their first meeting on October 18, 1791 and passed the following three resolutions:
- That the weight of English influence in the Government of this country is so great as to require a cordial union among all the people of Ireland, to maintain that balance which is essential to the preservation of our liberties and the extension of our commerce
- That the sole constitutional mode by which this influence can be opposed is by a complete and radical reform of the people in Parliament
- That no reform is just which does not include Irishmen of every religious persuasion.
Although the 20th century campaign to remove Ireland from the United Kingdom was led mainly by Roman Catholics, the society was formed largely by Belfast Protestants. Leading figures in the society were Theobald Wolfe Tone, James Napper Tandy and Robert Emmet. The Orange Order was founded in 1795 with the aim of promoting a protestant pro-British unity, in part as a reaction against the United Irishmen.
The movement went underground from the mid 1790s as they became more determined to force a revolt against British rule. They forged links with those responsible for the French Revolution and a French fleet set sail for Ireland in 1796, under General Hoche. It spent days in sight of the Cork coast, but weather conditions meant it could not land. The British government executed and transported many of the society's leaders in response. With promises of French aid the United Irishmen instigated a rising against British rule in 1798. However the campaign did not go well and by in large the insurgents were defeated. Wolfe Tone was exiled in France when the insurrection began but as events turned against the United Irishmen he chose to return to Ireland with a French fleet with 3,000 men.
The fleet was intercepted by the British Navy and Wolfe Tone was captured in Donegal Bay. Upon his capture he famously said, "From my earliest youth I have regarded the connection between Ireland and Great Britain as the curse of the Irish nation, and felt convinced, that while it lasted, this country would never be free or happy. In consequence, I determined to apply all the powers which my individual efforts could move, in order to separate the two countries." Wolfe Tone committed suicide in prison shortly afterwards.
The revolt was suppressed and the decision was made to close the Irish Parliament resulting in the Act of Union 1800 that brought Ireland into an encompassing union with Great Britain. This was largely due to British worries that the French would continue to use Ireland as a post from which to attack Britain.
The United Irishmen forms the beginning of organised Irish activity against Britain and the campaign for Irish independence.
- Theobald Wolfe Tone
- United Scotsmen
- United Irish Uprising in Newfoundland
- Société des Fils de la Liberté (Quebec)
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