The 1798 Rebellion in Ireland and its Impact in Eastern Ontario, Canada

New January 6, 2014:

This web page is the beginning of a project to provide information regarding the 1798 Irish Rebellion.
Directly or indirectly, thousands of Irish immigrants came to Eastern Ontario, as a result of
conditions during and after the Rebellion. We welcome your input to this page. If there is interest 
among our readers, we will be glad to set up family web pages on our site. 

Some Reference Material:

(I have some of these books in my personal library at home. There are references also to the library of 
the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society (OBOGS) and to the library of the British Isles Family 
History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO). Both of these libraries are located in the City of Ottawa Archives 
Building at 100 Tallwood Drive at Woodroffe Avenue in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada).

History of the Rebellion in Ireland, in the year 1798, &c., containing an impartial account of the proceedings of 
the Irish revolutionists, from the year 1782 till the suppression of the rebellion. With an appendix to illustrate 
some facts. 2d edition with considerable additions and a pref. containing a reply to the observations of Sir Richard 
Musgrave, upon this work. (Available as an E-Book in .pdf format), by James Bentley Gordon and Sir Richard Musgrave.

The Rebellion in Wicklow, 1798, by Ruan O'Donnell, Irish Academic Press, 1998, ISBN 0-7165-2694-8.

The Mighty Wave: The 1798 Rebellion in Wexford, Synopsis of this book (OBOGS).

Emigration from South Leinster to Eastern Upper Canada, Professor Bruce Elliott, in Kevin Whelan, ed. 
Wexford: History and Society (Dublin: Geography Publications, 1987) pp. 422-446
(Carleton University Library DA990.W5W49 - 5th Floor), ISBN 0 906602 0 68

The Elly List of 1817

Leinster to Lanark, by Carol Bennett McCuaig, 2010, Synopsis of this Book (OBOGS).

People of the rebellion: Wicklow 1798, by Pat. Power, etc., BIFHSGO Library

The year of liberty: the story of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, by Thomas Pakenham, BIFHSGO Library

Some Notes of an Irish Exile of 1798, Being the Chapters from the Memoirs of Miles Byrne relating to Ireland (1910), 
Available from Archive CD Books Canada

Protestant Women's Narratives of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, edited by John D. Beatty, 2001, Synopsis of this Book (OBOGS).

more to come ...




1. Background to the Rising

		Protestant Ascendancy

		The American Revolution and the Volunteers

The United Irishmen and the Catholic Convention

Popular politics and Defenderism

Loyalist reaction

The Orange Order and the founding of Maynooth

The recall of Fitzwilliam

Bantry Bay and the 'dragooning of Ulster'

2. The Rebellion

The United Irishmen go-it-alone


3. Effects of the Rebellion

Double defeat

1. Background to the rebellion

The last decade of the 1700s was a most important time in Irish history. Republicanism and 
Loyalism both found real identity, the Orange Order and Maynooth College were both 
founded as the century ended with the rebellion in Ireland and the subsequent Act of Union.
The repercussions of these events define Irish history even up to the modern day.

The rebels were very influenced by the effects of uprisings in America, France and Australia.
They seized the opportunity to try to create a society not based on religion but based on 
democratic principles and freedom of expression. This policy was to prove popular with Irish 
people of different creeds who all wanted the same thing, freedom from English rule.

This philosophy was to provide a means whereby counter-revolutionaries could try to 
disrupt the organisation by inciting sectarian hatreds and fears within the movement. 

Protestant ascendancy

The social and political systems in Ireland in the 1790s was such that the vast majority of 
the population of over 5 million people were excluded. Only the ruling Protestant class, 
comprising of about 10% of the population, were entitled to vote or to sit in parliament. The 
vast majority of the land in Ireland was owned by Church of Ireland emigrants from 
England. Ireland was independent in theory but in practice it was ruled by the English 
parliament who severely restricted the growth of the Irish economy. The presbyterian class 
were also excluded and many emigrated to America to seek out a more favourable situation.

The effects of worldwide revolution

It is not surprising, therefore, that when the American colonists revolted against British 
government in the 1770s, they found a sympathetic ear amongst their kin in Ireland. In 
1778 France, Britain's traditional enemy, entered the war on the American side, thus 
threatening Ireland with invasion. The British government was caught without an army to 
defend Ireland, since its regular troops had been sent to America, nor the revenue to raise 
an alternative, due to the economic dislocation caused by the war. An Irish Protestant army, 
the Volunteers, was raised to fill the breach, financed locally. Unfortunately for government 
it became the focus for various grievances, both political and economic. A convention of 
Ulster Volunteers (predominantly Presbyterian) at Dungannon in 1782 demanded 
parliamentary reform (a broadening of the franchise and the abolition of 'rotten' boroughs) 
and Catholic emancipation (the abolition of remaining anti-Catholic laws). However a 
national Volunteer convention the following year split on the Catholic question and 
Volunteering declined thereafter.

The United Irishmen and the Catholic Convention

The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 with its ideals of liberty, equality and 
fraternity provided fresh impetus to the reform movement in Ireland. In the autumn of 1791 
Societies of United Irishmen were founded in Belfast and Dublin with the twin aims of 
parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation. The leading ideologue was Theobald Wolfe 
Tone, a Church of Ireland lawyer from Dublin, who, having witnessed the disarray of the 
Volunteers on the Catholic question years earlier, was determined to forge a united reform 
movement of the various denominations. In addition he increasingly focused critical 
attention on the cornerstone of the existing Irish political system, 'the connection with 
England', although his evolution into fully fledged separatist and republican was to take a 
while longer. He found willing allies amongst the middle class leaders of the Catholic 
Committee who had recently displaced their more conservative land-owning predecessors. 
Determined to push more aggressively for concessions from government the new Catholic 
Committee appointed Tone as their secretary and over the course of 1792 mobilised for a 
'Catholic Convention' held in the Tailors' Hall, Dublin in December. The Convention 
presented its demands directly to the London government, over the head of the implacably 
hostile Dublin administration. The London government, anxious to maintain the loyalty of 
the Catholic majority in the face of the impending war with revolutionary France, conceded 
almost all of the demands, except the right of Catholics to sit in parliament.

Popular politics and Defenderism

The Catholic Convention had a politicising effect out of all proportion to the 233 delegates 
who directly participated. The delegates were elected in a series of meetings that reached 
down to parish level involving broad sections of the people in political activity for the first 
time. At the same time the country was awash with a deluge of political pamphlets. In 
particular the campaign politicised and broadened the horizons of the Defenders. This 
shadowy organisation first made its appearance in County Armagh in the late 1780s as a 
defence against the arms raids on Catholics of the 'Peep o' Day Boys', forerunners of the 
Orange Order, who, as a symbol of Protestant supremacy, were anxious to maintain the ban 
on Catholics bearing arms. By 1792/93 Defenderism had spread throughout south Ulster 
and north Leinster (it had even penetrated into Dublin City), and its propaganda had 
become more articulate and socially radical in tone. Throughout this period Tone, Samuel 
Neilson, Thomas Russell, and other radical United Irishmen, established contact with them 
which was to provide the basis for a mass-based revolutionary United Irish organisation 
later in the decade.

Loyalist reaction

Meanwhile the upholders of the status quo in Ireland were not idle in the face of these 
challenges. Along with the carrot of concessions to Catholics went the stick of repression: 
the gunpowder act which placed restrictions on firearms; the militia act, which envisaged a 
largely Catholic rank-and-file home defence force officered by Protestants, and which 
provoked widespread disturbances; and the convention act, which outlawed any repeat of 
December 1792's 'Back Lane parliament'. The latter in particular stymied United Irish plans 
for a repeat of that success on the issue of parliamentary reform. An Ulster convention, 
dominated by United Irishmen, demanding parliamentary reform met at Dungannon in 
February 1793 just before the convention act was passed. The Dublin Society of United 
Irishmen was dispersed in May 1794, a fate shared by like-minded reform movements in 
England and Scotland. In the circumstances of Britain's war with revolutionary France 
demands for reform were equated with subversion. The war acted as a pressure-cooker 
polarising the situation even further and Ireland became a crucial theatre in this wider 
ideological struggle. At grassroots level the struggle was joined by the Defenders who 
became increasingly bold in their actions. As law-and-order deteriorated in the countryside 
government repression intensified, culminating in commander-in-chief Carhampton's brutal 
campaign against the Defenders in 1795. Liberal Protestant opinion was outraged at the 
scale of the illegalities many suspected Defenders were transported without a trial. The 
government response was the insurrection act which retroactively enshrined Carhampton's 
activities in law.

The Orange Order and the founding of Maynooth

Sectarian hostilities flared up anew in County Armagh, culminating in the expulsion of 
thousands of Catholics and in the foundation of the Orange Order, dedicated to the 
maintenance of Protestant ascendancy. Under landlord and government sponsorship it 
spread rapidly over the following years providing the government with a mass-based 
counter-revolutionary alternative to the United Irishmen. A more subtle variation of the 
overall counter-revolutionary strategy was the foundation of a Catholic seminary at 
Maynooth. Catholic seminarians would no longer be obliged to get educated in France where 
many of them had developed an enthusiasm for the revolution. Thus the government 
cultivated the support of a Catholic hierarchy itself fearful of the spread of 'French 

The recall of Fitzwilliam

Early in 1795 the arrival of Fitzwilliam as lord lieutenant had raised Catholic hopes only for 
Those hopes to be dashed by his sudden recall having over-stepped his brief. His successor 
Camden reinstated the policy of defending Protestant Ascendancy at all costs. The United 
Irishmen, meanwhile, had continued to meet clandestinely under various guises. The recall 
of Fitzwilliam removed whatever lingering hope they may have entertained for constitutional 
reform. The Catholic Committee dissolved itself (on the basis that 'there was no longer a 
Catholic question only a national question'); a new constitution was drawn up for a single 
mass-based revolutionary United Irish organisation; and Tone was dispatched to France (via 
America) to solicit military aid for an armed revolution.

Bantry Bay and the 'dragooning of Ulster'

By the end of 1796 Tone's mission had borne fruit in the form of the dispatch of 16,000 
French troops under General Hoche to Bantry Bay. Bad weather and bad French 
seamanship, however, prevented the landing of the force which in all probability could have 
liberated the country. Within Ireland, meanwhile, the United Irishmen had build a 
formidable underground network, especially in Ulster where they claimed 100,000 armed 
and organised men. While they waited confidently for another French invasion attempt, 
government forces went on the offensive. Throughout the spring and summer of 1797 the 
army under General Lake, augmented by the Orange Order, was let loose on the people of 
Ulster. The 'dragooning of Ulster' effectively disarmed and crippled United Irish organisation, 
especially in the middle and south of the province.

2. The rebellion

The United Irishmen go-it-alone

By the winter of 1797/98, with hopes of a renewed French attempt fading, the United 
Irishmen were forced to adopt a go-it-alone military strategy focused on Dublin. Their 
organisation was strengthened in and around the capital and it also expanded in south 
Leinster. The planned insurrection was to have been a three-phased affair: the seizure of 
strategic positions within Dublin city; co-ordinated with the establishment of a crescent of 
positions outside in north County Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow; and backed up by the 
engagement of government forces in the counties beyond to prevent reinforcement. 
Disaster struck on 12 March 1798 with the arrest of most of the Leinster leadership. Further 
arrests on the very eve of the rising in May effectively decapitated the movement. The 
seizure of Dublin from within was aborted; as they waited for orders that never came, 
United Irish positions outside the city succumbed one by one; of the counties beyond, only 
in Wexford did the United Irishmen meet with success. A fortnight later (7-9 June), despite 
the mauling at the hands of Lake's forces the year before, the United Irishmen of Antrim 
and Down managed to rise up but they too were quickly defeated.


The Wexford insurgents met with a string of early successes but were ultimately prevented 
from spreading the insurrection beyond their own county by defeats at New Ross (5 June) 
and Arklow (9 June). Massive government forces began to move in for the decisive military 
showdown at Vinegar Hill, outside Enniscorthy (21 June). Although the insurgents suffered 
defeat, the bulk of their forces escaped encirclement and carried on the struggle for another 
month, one group in the Wicklow mountains and the other in a 'long march' into the 
midlands before being worn down and forced to surrender. A month later (22 August) over 
a thousand French troops under General Humbert landed at Killala, County Mayo, but it was 
too little too late. Despite some initial successes, including a spectacular victory at 
Castlebar, Humbert and the United Irishmen who flocked to his standard were defeated at 
Ballinamuck, County Longford (8 October). The insurrection of 1798 was over.

3. Effects of the Rebellion

The defeat of the United Irishmen also signalled the end of Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland 
as the Act of Union of 1800 abolished the parliament in College Green and moved all 
authority back to the parliament in London.

Some United Irishmen welcomed this development as the first step on the road to 
parliamentary reform as did many of the Catholic peasantry who envisaged their election in 
the English parliament. Catholic Emancipation followed in 1929 by which time the context 
had changed from being a wholly national issue to being a Catholic issue.

The United Irishmen ideals of a non-sectarian democracy became obscured by the politics of 
the ballot box based on religion. The rebellion of 1798 heightened the awareness to the 
Catholic peasantry of the situation that they were in and showed them that there may be 
alternatives to be won.

Daniel O’Connell, the Irish Famine, Parnell, Davitt and the land reform movements, all did 
the same thing as the majority of people in Ireland demanded more and more freedom and 
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