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The History of Ulster
Insurrectionary and Legitimate Fights for Independence

Wolfe Tone urges French Directory to invade Ireland — Humbert's Expedition— He lands at Killala, and is defeated by Lake at Ballinamuck— Hardi's Expedition arrives at the Entrance to Lough Swilly with Wolfe Tone on board the Hoche—Is attacked by the English Squadron under Admiral Warren — The Hoche is shattered and brought into Lough Swilly — The Prisoners, including Tone, marched to Letterkenny — Wolfe Tone identified, and sent in Irons to Dublin—He is sentenced to Death, and anticipates his Fate in Prison—Pitt's Projects for the Legislative Union—Progress of the Measure—Grattan and Daniel O'Connell oppose it — Castlereagh and Corn-wallis support it—Debates on the Subject—The Methods by which the Measure was carried.

While the rebellion was at its height in Wexford, and the south of Ireland presented a pitiful picture of widespread woe and desolation, Wolfe Tone was busy in Paris urging upon the French Directorate the wisdom of striking while the iron was hot, and pointing out to them that they should lose no time in carrying out their projected invasion of Ireland. For this preparations were made without delay. Hoche being dead, his second in command in an abortive expedition to Bantry Bay, General Humbert, was appointed commander of a new expeditionary force of about 1000 men assembled at Rochelle, with 3000 under General Hardi, and 9000 under Kilmaine. The Directory, hampered in many ways, and with but little money at their command, delayed longer in making any decisive move than Humbert could tolerate. He took the bold step of acting on his own responsibility, and set sail for Ireland with a small squadron consisting of three frigates and a smaller vessel, having on board troops to the number of about 1000 men, rank and file, with a large proportion of officers. Several Irishmen, including Matthew, a brother of Wolfe Tone, and Bartholomew Teeling, accompanied him.

On the 22nd of August, 1798, Humbert entered the Bay of Killala, in Mayo, sailing under the English colours. Landing without opposition, he left Killala with a quantity of ammunition in the charge of 200 men and six officers, and on the 25th took possession of Ballina, from which the garrison fled at his approach. On the 26th he proceeded to Castlebar with 800 of his own men and about 1500 Irishmen who had joined him. He succeeded, after putting the royalist troops to flight, in taking possession of Castlebar without resistance, save from a few Highlanders stationed in the town, who were soon put to death.

Humbert's object evidently was to join forces with those of General Hardi, whose arrival in the north he daily expected. His campaign in Ireland was brilliant but short. Abandoning his design to take Sligo, he pushed on to Manorhamilton, arriving at Ballinamuck, County Longford, on the 8th of September. Here he was obliged to surrender to General Lake, who commanded a large army.

Before the news of Humbert's defeat had reached France, Hardi's small expedition, consisting of the Hoche—of seventy-four guns—eight frigates, and a schooner, under the command of Commodore Bompart, and 3000 men, had sailed. Some Irishmen, headed by Napper Tandy, embarked before Bompart in a small and fast-sailing vessel, and on the 16th of September reached the Isle of Raghlin, off the coast of Donegal. Here they heard of Humbert's disaster, and, contenting themselves by spreading some bombastic proclamations, they sailed for Norway.

Hardi's expedition set sail on the 20th of September, Theobald Wolfe Tone accompanying Hardi on board the Hoche. In order to avoid the English fleets, Bompart, who was an experienced seaman, took a wide sweep to the westward, and then to the north-east, in order to bear down upon the northern coast of Ireland; but, meeting with contrary winds, it was not till the 10th of October that he arrived off the entrance to Loch Swilly with the Hoche, two frigates, and a schooner. Here at break of day, on the nth of October, before he could enter the bay or land his troops, the English squadron, under Admiral Warren, bore down upon him. A terrific action ensued; the Hoche had to bear the brunt of the action alone. "During six hours", says Wolfe Tone's son in his memoir of his father, "she sustained the whole fire of the fleet, till her masts and rigging were swept away, her scuppers flowed with blood, her wounded filled the cock-pit, her shattered ribs yawned at each new stroke, and let in five feet of water in the hold, her rudder was carried off, and she floated a dismantled wreck on the waters." At length she struck. The two fleets were dispersed in every direction, nor was it till some days later that the Hoche was brought into Lough Swilly and the prisoners landed and marched to Letterkenny.

During the action Wolfe Tone commanded one of the batteries, fighting with desperation, and even courting death; but he was, nevertheless, untouched. For some time after the capture he remained unrecognized among the French officers, but being identified at the Earl of Cavan's table by an old fellow-student at Trinity College, Dublin, Sir George Hill, he was sent in irons to Dublin, and tried by court martial and condemned to be hanged on the 12th of November. He anticipated his sentence by cutting his throat in prison.

"Mr. Pitt", says Sir Jonah Barrington, "now conceived that the moment had arrived to try the effect of his previous measures to promote a legislative union, and annihilate the Irish legislature. The loyalists were still struggling through the embers of a rebellion, scarcely extinguished by the torrents of blood which had been poured upon them; the insurgents were artfully distracted between the hopes of mercy and the fear of punishment; the Viceroy had seduced the Catholics by delusive hopes of emancipation, whilst the Protestants were equally assured of their ascendancy, and every encouragement was held out to the sectarians."

That is one side of the picture. In Pitt's own words we see the other side. "Great Britain had", he said, "always felt a common interest in the safety of Ireland; but that interest was never so obvious and urgent as when the common enemy made her attack upon Britain through the medium of Ireland, and when the attack upon Ireland tended to deprive her of her connection with Britain, and to substitute in lieu of it the new government of the French Republic. When that danger threatened Ireland, the purse of Great Britain was open for the wants of Ireland, as for the necessities of England."

The Union was first proposed indirectly in a speech from the throne on the 22nd of January, 1799. The project was next made the subject of a pamphlet written by Under-Secretary Cooke, the arguments in which were replied to in one by Lord Chancellor Plunkett. The question was discussed at a meeting of the Irish Bar, on the 9th of December, when the division was, against the Union, 166; in favour of it, 32. Five debates on the subject took place in the Irish House of Commons. On the one side, it was held that there was no safety for Ireland save under the protection of England; on the other, it was argued by able lawyers that Parliament was incompetent even to entertain the question of a union. "Such", says Barrington, "was the opinion of Mr. Saurin, since Attorney-General; Mr. Plunkett, since Lord-Chancellor; Sergeant Ball, the ablest lawyer of Ireland; Mr. Fitzgerald, Prime Sergeant of Ireland; Mr. Moore, since a judge; Sir John Parnell, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; Mr. Bushe, since Chief Justice; and Lord Oriel, the then Speaker of the House of Commons." Such also was the opinion of Grattan, Curran, Ponsonby, Burrowes, and other eminent men.

In order to ascertain the attitude of the country generally on this subject, the Viceroy, Lord Cornwallis, made a tour through the south, and in writing to the Duke of Portland he said: "In the north the public opinion is much divided on the question. In Derry and Donegal, the gentry are in general well disposed. The linen-merchants are too busily employed in their trade to think much on the subject, or to take an active part on either side; but I understand they are, on the whole, rather favourable, wishing to have their trade secured, which they do not feel, notwithstanding the Speaker's argument, to be independent of Great Britain." Later he wrote: "The measure has not, as yet, made the same progress [as in the south] in the province of Ulster. Although we have very formidable opponents to contend against in that quarter of the kingdom, I by no means despair of the public sentiments being ultimately favourable, and feeling strongly the importance of the object, my exertions shall be particularly directed to dispose the public mind to the Union. In the northern counties, we have already established the question strongly in Derry and Antrim." In this Cornwallis was eventually very successful.

Daniel O'Connell now first appeared upon the scene, and threw all the weight of his opinion into the many arguments against the "injurious, insulting, and hated measure". When the Irish Parliament met on the 15th of January, 1800, the speech from the Throne contained no reference to the subject. Lord Loftus made a slight allusion which gave an opening to Sir Laurence Parsons to open a violent attack on the Government. He was supported by Plunkett. Fitzgerald, Ponsonby, Moore, and Bushe followed, stating the case against the Union, and Egan, at seven o'clock in the morning, was referring to the constitution of 1782, when Henry Grattan entered. Worn with severe ill-health, he had been induced to appear once more. He came dressed in the old Volunteer uniform, armed with his pistols, to prove that if his frame was feeble his heart was undaunted and his spirit as daring as ever. Intense excitement thrilled the House, and all the members at once rose to their feet. Grattan, while seated, delivered an admirable speech, which he concluded by declaring that Irishmen were called upon to destroy the body that restored Ireland liberties, "and restore that body which destroyed them. Against such a proposition," he said, "were I expiring on the floor, I should beg to utter my last breath, and to record my dying testimony."

It was ten o'clock in the morning when the debate was brought to a close, and then, on a division, 138 voted for, 96 against the measure, giving the Government a majority of 42, in reality only 38, for two members (for Clogher) were unseated and replaced by patriots. Immediately on the adjournment (to 5th February) of the House an aggregate meeting of the citizens was held, the High Sheriff presiding, to protest against the Union, and to thank Grattan, Foster, Beresford, and Ogle for their services. The Guild of Merchants met with the same object, and warmly thanked their Roman Catholic fellow-citizens for their manly and patriotic conduct. The yeomanry, Orangemen, and Catholics were called upon to form a solid force to resist the Union.

When the House met on the 5th of February, Lord Castlereagh outlined the advantages derivable from the measure. He was strenuously met, and on a division had but 158 to 115—a majority of only 43. Petitions came in great numbers from the counties and corporations against the measure; Pitt desired counter-petitions, but succeeded in getting only a few, the Government not daring to risk public meetings. Nevertheless, the measure was pressed on. In the debates which followed, Foster pointed to the fact that the Irish House included country-gentlemen, merchants, lawyers, and men of all professions; removal to London would exclude the commercial and professional elements. Every article was fought against. Proposals were made to address the King, to inform him of the actual feeling of the nation, and again to ask him to dissolve Parliament and take the opinion of the country on so important and complete a change. The Government rejected every motion by its hired majority.

On the 26th of May Grattan opposed the committal of the Union Bill in a memorable speech, and concluded with an eloquent peroration. His concluding words were: "I do not give up my country, I see her in a swoon, but she is not dead; though in her tomb she lies helpless and motionless, still, there is on her lips a spirit of life, and on her cheeks a glow of beauty.

'Thou art not conquered; Beauty's ensign yet
Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks,
And Death's pale flag is not advanced there'".

Lord Castlereagh reprobated this as prophetic treason and rebellion, but his majority of 45 fell to 37 on a second division. Lord Corry, member for Tyrone, made the final effort of the party, moving a long address to the King against the completion.

On the 7th of June the Bill was read in the Commons a third time and passed after a division, many members, "finding all useless", as Grattan said, "retired with safe consciences, but with breaking hearts". At the gate without, Curran, hearing the result, turned to a member of the United Irishmen and asked in indignation: "Where are now your thirty thousand men?"

The story of how the Union was carried has often been told. Walter Savage Landor, who must be considered an impartial judge, declared that the means by which it was carried "would have disfranchized a pocket-borough in England". The means employed cannot and need not be defended. The most nefarious corruption was openly practised. Votes were publicly bought and sold. Money, titles, offices, were given as bribes in the light of day. A tariff of corruption was announced. For each rotten borough the price fixed was from £14,000 to £16,000; each member who had purchased his seat was to be repaid the amount of the purchase-money out of the Treasury; all who might otherwise be losers by the Union were to be compensated for their losses, and for that purpose a vote of £1,500,000 was demanded; but these sums were quite distinct from those paid for the private purchase of votes, which were very large. The entire amount paid for the rotten boroughs, at an average of £15,000 each, was £1,260,000.

Attempts were made in some instances by the English Government to repudiate promises made by their agents in Ireland. In the correspondence between Lords Castlereagh and Cornwallis are to be found some very frank statements on the subject, made by the former. In a letter to Under-Secretary Cooke, who was at the time in England, Castlereagh wrote on the 21st of June, 1800: "It will be no secret what has been promised, and by what means the Union has been carried. Disappointment will encourage, not prevent, disclosures; and the only proceeding on their (the ministers') part will be, to add the weight of their testimony to that of the anti-unionists, in proclaiming the profligacy of the means by which the measure has been accomplished." And writing to Lord Camden on the 25th of the same month, he said: "The Irish Government is certainly now liable to the charge of having gone too far in complying with the demands of individuals; but had the Union miscarried, and the failure been traceable to a reluctance on the part of the Government to interest a sufficient number of supporters in its success, I am inclined to think we should have met with, and in fact have deserved, less mercy".

The progress of the measure through its various stages culminated on the 1st of August, on which day, the anniversary of the accession of the House of Brunswick, the royal assent was given to the Act of Union.

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