Remembering Theobald Wolfe Tone
Theobald Wolfe Tone was born in Dublin on June 20th 1763. He studied law in Trinity College Dublin where he graduated with a BA in 1786. He qualified as a barrister in King's Inns at the age of 26 and attended the Inns of Court in London.
The French revolution of 1789 greatly influenced Tone especially Thomas Paine's revolutionary book 'The Rights Of Man" which sets out the reasons for the revolution, inspired by this book Tone published in 1791 'An Argument on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland'.
Tone urged co-operation between the religions in Ireland as the only means of obtaining redress of Irish grievances, many similar thinkers of that time including Thomas Russell who first met Tone in the public gallery in Dublin's parliament believed his publication could be the foundation of a new revolutionary movement.
In October 1791 eleven men including Wolfe Tone met in Belfast and founded a new Revolutionary movement called the United Irishmen which sought more rights for the Catholic majority in Ireland, but Tone and other United Irishmen leaders believed it would become a revolutionary movement that would fight for an Irish Republic.
When war broke out between Britain and France in 1793 the United Irishmen became an illegal organisation and was forced underground, most of its leadership were arrested so Wolfe tone fled Ireland to the United States in 1795 and then moved to France in 1796.
While in France, Tone persuaded the French to send an expeditionary force to Ireland to help the United Irishmen fight for freedom. On December 15th 1796, the expedition, consisting of forty-three sail and carrying about 14,450 men with a large supply of war material for distribution in Ireland, sailed from Brest with Tone. They waited for days outside Bantry in Co Cork but were unable to land due to bad weather so headed back to France.
The rebellion in Ireland had started in June 1798, Tone again convinced the Franch to send more help. This time the French sent three small expeditions to Ireland. Tone accompanied the third expedition which included 3,000 men and encountered an English squadron at Buncrana on Lough Swilly on 12 October 1798. Tone, onboard the ship Hoche, refused Bompart's offer of escape in a frigate before the battle of Tory Island and was taken prisoner when the Hoche surrendered.
Tone was brought ashore at Letterkenny Port and all French forces of the Hoche were taken to Lord Cavan in Letterkenny's home where he was recognised, arrested and sent to Dublin for trial. Despite been an officer in the French army Tone was charged with treason to the crown because he was Irish, Tone's court-martial began on Nov 8th 1798.
At his trial Tone made a speech in which he called for the complete separation of Ireland from Britain, convinced that he would be found guilty Tone asked the court that he be given a soldiers death, that he may be shot instead of a traitors death of hanging.
On November 10th Tone was found guilty of treason and was sentenced to death by hanging, his request for a soldiers death had been denied. Before his execution was carried out which was set for Nov 12th, Tone was found mortally wounded either by attempted suicide or after been tortured by his captors.
Theobald Wolfe Tone died of his wounds on November 19th 1798 at the age of 35 in Provost's Prison, Dublin and is buried in Bodenstown Graveyard in Co Kildare. Every summer Irish Republicans visit his graveside to recommit themselves to the Irish Republican cause.
"To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country—these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissentions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in the place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter—these were my means.
To unite Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter under the common name of Irishmen in order to break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils, that was my aim'.
If the men of property will not support us, they must fall. Our strength shall come from that great and respectable class, the men of no property."