[1791] - United Irishmen founded by Wolfe Tone in Belfast to fight for Irish nationalism

The United Irishmen were inaugurated in Belfast on 14 October 1791 by Theobald Wolfe Tone, James Napper Tandy and Thomas Russell. A non-sectarian organization, it sought radical parliamentary reform as a means of counteracting English influence in Ireland. Following the outbreak of war with France in 1793, however, the British attempted to suppress the organization. As a result, the United Irishmen became an underground movement that aimed to secure complete Irish independence through the assistance and support of Revolutionary France.

In its early years the Society developed rapidly. On 9 November 1791 a branch was established in Dublin, and the following year the Society began publishing a newspaper, The Northern Star, which was a particularly successful vehicle for disseminating its ideas. In 1794 it began negotiations with Revolutionary France for military support for an uprising. As a result, the British government responded by arresting the Society’s leader, William Drennan. The following year the Protestant Orange Order was founded to oppose the influence of the United Irishmen.

In 1796 Wolfe Tone embarked on a mission to Paris to secure military assistance for an Irish revolution. Consequently, French plans for an Irish invasion were drawn up and Tone was appointed adjutant-general in the French army. A fleet of almost 15,000 troops commanded by Lazare Hoche sailed from Brest on 15 December 1796. Although it arrived in Bantry Bay on 22 December, storms decimated the fleet and it was compelled to return to France.

On 2 March 1797 the British imposed martial law throughout Ireland and moved to arrest the bulk of the leadership of the Society. Over the next year the United Irishmen were hampered by internal disagreements as around 280,000 members awaited further French assistance for a revolution. The uprising finally began on 23 May 1798, but it was easily foiled in Dublin. Furthermore, a lack of leadership hampered progress elsewhere. In October a French fleet was intercepted and defeated as it tried to land on Irish soil. Tone, who had worked to assist the French invasion, was captured. Denied a soldier’s death by firing squad, he took his own life on 19 November 1798.

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