In Wexford there had been more success, but its sectarian nature had little to do with United Irish ideals. The seal of ignominy was set on the Southern movement when 100 Protestant captives were slaughtered indiscriminately at Wexford on 20 June. Paradoxically it was among the loyalist ranks that sectarian animosities were overcome. The Catholics of the militia and yeomanry fought side by side with Orangemen and the force which had contained the rebellion in June was an overwhelmingly Catholic one. However, urged on by their leaders, who were of the Ascendancy class, the Roman Catholic Monaghan Militia were not content with defeating the Liberty men of Antrim and Down, but burned and pillaged everything in sight, including the entire town of Templepatrick. The Belfast News Letter of 15 June 1798 reported that they had retired laden with booty. By the time the French arrived at Killala Bay, County Mayo, in August and at Lough Swilly in September, the rebellion was virtually over. Both these expeditions were defeated and Tone, who was with the latter one, was captured. Rather than be hanged the brave idealist committed an honourable suicide.
Rory Fitzpatrick gave this assessment of the Rising in the North: “The ’98 Rebellion in Ulster was ill-conceived, badly organised and ultimately pointless, but it sprang from generous hearts and the rebels died with hardly a blemish on their name. The Presbyterian community gave some of their brightest and best in a cause that was only partly their own. The patriotism which inspired the Ulster rebels was a broad one, concerned with the rights of human beings and social justice rather than narrow tribal interests. It had nothing in common with the ‘ourselves alone’ approach of the later Catholic nationalism.”
Ironically, the failure of the Rebellion led directly to an Act of Union being passed, and on 2 January 1801 the Kingdom of Ireland became part of the United Kingdom. This new Union between Great Britain and Ireland was seen by several of the imprisoned United Irish leaders as actually an achievement of some of their aims and an admission by the Westminster Parliament that the Irish Parliament had been corrupt and unjust. In 1799 Samuel Neilson had written from Fort George prison in Scotland: “I see a Union is determined on between Great Britain and Ireland. I am glad of it. In a commercial point of view, it cannot be injurious; and I can see no injury the country will sustain from it politically.”
Another ’98 leader saw in the Union “the downfall of one of the most corrupt assemblies I believe ever existed, and instead of an empty title, a source of industrious enterprise for the people.” As for the Ulster Protestants, disgusted, dismayed and finally fearful of the new sectarian aspect of ‘Irish Freedom’, many joined the Orange Order, which ironically opposed the Union Act, fearing Catholic emancipation. It is noteworthy that not a single Orange resolution in favour of the Union was passed in Ulster.
In 1802 one of the ’98 leaders, Thomas Addis Emmet, met the First Consul of the French Republic, Napoleon Bonaparte, who promised him aid. Article One of Emmet’s revolutionary proclamation provided for the confiscation of all church property, an idea not entirely relished by the Irish Roman Catholic hierarchy. Emmet’s brother Robert planned a new rebellion in 1803, but this was poorly organised and ended in debacle. Among those who turned out with the Dublin Lawyer’s Yeomanry Corps to hunt down the rebels was a young man named Daniel O’Connell.
The United Irish movement had been an unusual alliance of classes. The Presbyterian leadership were predominantly middle class, while the rank and file membership in the South were from the Catholic peasantry. Although this joining together of forces must have delighted those who strove to unite ‘Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter’, the barely-developed political consciousness of the period no doubt prevented many of the participants from realising the inherent instability and contradictions within such an alliance, especially when we take into account that both groupings would have held widely differing perceptions of just what was meant by ‘Liberty’ and ‘Equality’ — to the Protestant middle class it would have meant ‘political’ liberty and ‘commercial’ equality, while for the Catholic peasantry, with their precarious subsistence lifestyle, it would have meant something much more fundamental.
Not that all the United Irish leaders were remote from the social realities of the period. One of them, Jemmy Hope, a hand-loom weaver from Templepatrick who taught himself to read and write, was well aware of the contradictions. He had sensed that in some quarters the movement for reform was “merely between commercial and aristocratical interests, to determine which should have the people as its prey… None of our leaders seemed to me perfectly acquainted with the main cause of social derangement, if I except Neilson, McCracken, Russell and Emmett. It was my settled opinion that the condition of the labouring class was the fundamental question at issue between the rulers and the people.”
Hope began his political career by joining the Roughfort Volunteers, and then in 1795 the Liberty Men. His great ideal was to help create a movement which would restore to the people their natural right — “the right of deriving a subsistence from the soil on which their labour was expended.” With such views Hope had obviously gravitated towards McCracken. As Mary McNeill wrote: “It is not surprising that between Henry Joy McCracken and Jemmy Hope there arose a bond of deep attachment and confidence: here was the leader who cared nothing for privilege and possessions and everything for the advancement of the labouring man; here, on the other hand, was the labouring man possessed of an unusually alert and sensitive mind, able and willing to put theories into practice. There is little doubt that they learned much from each other.”
Between 1795 and 1798 Hope travelled widely throughout the island organising the working people. A member of the United Army of Ulster he played a leading part in the Battle of Antrim and distinguished himself under difficult circumstances. After the defeat of the Rising he pursued both his trade and his politics in Dublin, was involved in the Emmet Rebellion of 1803, before returning to Belfast in 1806. James Hope remained convinced of his ideals until he died in the bosom of his family in Belfast, in 1847. He is buried at Mallusk, County Antrim and his name is commemorated in Hope Street, Sandy Row, Belfast.
To be continued