Why Did the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland Fail?

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Why did the 1798 rebellion in Ireland fail?

Student name: STEVEN HEMPKIN

Date: 25 February, 2013

Word count: 1420

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To understand the failure of the 1798 rebellion we need to consider the nature of Irish society prior to the rebellion. The upheavals of the 1600s resulted in the confiscation of almost all land owned by Catholics.[1, 2] The Penal Laws aimed at the Catholic majority and the dissenters meant that Ireland in the 18th century was dominated by a Church of Ireland elite (Protestant Ascendancy) who owned most of the land and monopolised politics.[3] Dissenters, including Presbyterians, who constituted the majority of Ulster Protestants, were second-class citizens while Catholics were third-class citizens.

Ireland underwent a period of economic growth in the 1700's with the emergence of a dissenter and Catholic urban middle class which became increasingly irritated at the restrictions on Irish trade imposed by the British parliament. The vast majority of Catholics and many dissenters lived an impoverished existence on the land and was bound to cause later unrest.[4]

The American Revolution of 1776 appealed to dissenters because of the key role played by emigrant Ulster dissenters. It also caused the need to withdraw British troops from Ireland and send them to America. The Protestant Ascendancy established the Irish Volunteers in 1778 to defend Ireland from invasion.[5] The Volunteers came under the influence of the liberal patriot opposition in the Irish parliament who sought political reform. The Irish Government was based on a thoroughly undemocratic franchise controlled by individual aristocrats and by the British government through the patronage system. They were unwilling to permit Catholic emancipation while the more liberal members of the ruling class sought to improve the the rights of Dissenters and Catholics.[5]

In 1791 the United Irishmen were established to promote parliamentary reform in Ireland. Their leadership consisted of well-educated liberal members of the Protestant Ascendency, landed Catholic gentry and wealthy Presbyterians and demanded Irish independence and Catholic and dissenter rights.[5, 6] Besides Catholic and dissenter middle class support, the United Irishmen developed a base among urban workers in the Belfast area who wanted a republic based on universal franchise and a social program for the poor.[6]

The United Irishmen were strongly aligned with the French and were proclaimed illegal in May 1794 shortly after the declaration of war by Britain against France. They went underground and decided that an insurrection was necessary in order to establish an Irish Republic and reorganized themselves. They set up a cell structure in order to facilitate preparations for an insurrection. They sent emissaries across Ireland, Scotland and into the British navy. Crucially, they absorbed the Defenders, the main Catholic rural organization.[5, 6]

United Irishmen numbers were estimated at 280,000 men before the rebellion.[5] They sent Wolfe Tone to seek French military help. In December 1796, 14,000 troops were sent to Ireland but delays, violent storms, indecisiveness and poor seamanship prevented a landing and the French fleet were forced to return home.[7]

The formation of the Orange Order in 1795 in Ulster provided the Government with allies who had local knowledge of the activities of their enemies. The brutal disarming of Ulster in 1797, where the United Irishmen had successfully radicalised both Protestants and Catholics, saw thousands of Catholics driven from counties Antrim, Down and Armagh and the murder, torture and imprisonment of hundreds of Protestants suspected of being United Irishmen sympathisers.[5]

Sectarianism was encouraged in Ulster where the United Irishmen were especially strong in the hope that the Presbyterian republicans would not rebel. The placement of informants within the United Irishmen enabled the...
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