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United Irishmen

society, ireland, dublin, france and confined

UNITED IRISHMEN, a society for polit ical reform founded in Belfast 1794; its aim was to promote union among all the people of Ireland without distinction of creed, for the preservation of their liberties and the exten sion of their commerce. At that time two thirds of the people of Ireland, the Catholics, were by law excluded from all participation in the government of their country. The first society of United Irishmen consisted wholly of citizens of Belfast, respectable merchants and professional men, all of them Protestants or Presbyterians. The same year a branch so ciety was formed in Dublin, and soon the Dublin society was recognized as the central directing body. In its membership were com prised many young men representative of the best elements of society —scions of ancient houses Anglo-Irish or Celtic, some prosperous Dublin merchants, and many young profes sional men who after the misfortunes of 1798 rese to eminent distinction in their own coun try, in France, or in the United States, with cut recanting any of the principles of the United Irishmen. At first the society was con stitutional and not secret : it was made a secret society in 1795, and steps were taken for the enrolment of men preparatory to a general in surrection when the promised aid in men and material should arrive from France. At the close of 1796 there were reported as enrolled 500,000 men, sworn members of the society, of whom 100,000 were more or less provided with arms — muskets and pikes. In the mean time Theobald Wolfe Tone, Arthur O'Connor, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and other agents of the society had been busy in France, and the Directory had given them assurance that aid would be forthcoming. On 16 Dec. 1796 a fleet

of 17 sail of the line, 13 frigates and 13 smaller ships bearing 15,000 French troops sailed for Ireland from Brest, commanded by General Hoche, Grouchy second in command; this ex pedition, defeated by continuous violent storms, had to return home without effecting a landing in Ireland. In the spring of 1797 adverse winds prevailing for weeks prevented the sailing of a joint expedition of troops of the French and Batavian republics for Ireland. Bonaparte's armee d'Angleterre was made an "army of Egypt" in the spring of 1798, and the long planned insurrection in Ireland, started with out any prospect of aid from France, met with inevitable defeat. After suppression of the in surrection, which was confined to three of the 32 counties, by an armed force of 137,000 men, the chief leaders of the United Irishmen in Dublin and Belfast were first confined in a fortress for four years and then banished; very many of the exiles settled in the United States. Of the 20 leaders confined in Fort George the religious affiliations were: Episco palians, 10; Presbyterians, 6; Catholics, 4. Though the society was secret the constitution and oath were published. Consult Plowden,