Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. I.: 1789. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
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Sect. I.: 1789. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 1.
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The French revolution found an immense echo in the miseries and passions of Ireland; it introduced new elements of reform into that country.
Until then, the chiefs of the popular party, that is to say, the Whigs, having at their head Grattan and Lord Charlemont,* pursued liberty, such as it is understood by the English, that is to say, feudal liberty, claimed and obtained as a privilege and under the name of concession.
When the influence of France made itself felt, the liberals of Ireland invoked liberty as a right—a right natural, general, and imprescriptible. The radical who demanded reform in the name of Magna Charta, henceforth claimed it as part of the rights of man.
Irish reform thus assumed a philosophical character, which it had hitherto completely wanted; its circle was enlarged, it had higher aims, and it advanced farther. All those who were embued by this philosophical spirit, could not comprehend the refusal to Catholics of the rights recognised as belonging to Protestants; all men being equal, they ought to share equally in the benefits of the constitution, and hence universal suffrage followed as a necessary consequence.
All minds were then seized with an ardent fever of general innovation. Society was to be made anew; all reforms were to be proposed at once; social reform, political reform, religious reform. Everybody had his system, and everybody had speculated on the plan of a new constitution.*
The French revolution agitated all nations; but there was not a country in the world to which the impulse was communicated so quickly and so faithfully as Ireland.
Henceforth Irishmen had their eyes fixed on France, and everything which passed in that country excited their deepest sympathy. The cause of France was, in their eyes, that of all enslaved nations who aspired to freedom. “Right or wrong,” said Wolf Tone, who only gave vent to sentiments generally felt, “right or wrong, success to the French. They are fighting our battles, and if they fail, adieu to liberty in Ireland for another century!”
Not only did Ireland sympathise with France and assume its passions, but it even adopted its manners, its language, the style of its laws, and all its new revolutionary allurements.
The volunteers of Dublin assumed the name of a national guard, (but a proclamation was issued against their meeting, and they never assembled on parade). The triumph of French liberty was annually celebrated at Dublin and Belfast. The anniversary of the capture of the Bastile became a national festival. In public assemblies the cap of liberty was substituted for the Irish harp. Orators at clubs and meetings styled themselves citizens of the world.
The following toasts were given at civic banquets, (in 1792,) “The sovereignty of the people,” “The rights of man,” “May philosophy illuminate all nations and people, and make them one great family.” At a national festival, a flag, bearing the goddess of liberty, was displayed with the inscription, “To our sister of Gaul. She was born the 14th of July, 1789,—we are yet in embryo.”
Ireland rejoiced in all the triumphs of France, and grieved at her reverses. A victory obtained by the French on the Rhine was celebrated by a general illumination in Dublin. The press shared the imitation of French language: patriotic letters bore the signature of “A Liberty Boy;”* friends gave each other the title of “Citizen,” and United Irishmen raised the cry of “Long live the Nation!”
When a French expedition, sent in 1798 to revolutionise Ireland, landed in Killala bay, on the western coast, the following song was widely circulated through the country.
A SONG OF THE UNITED IRISHMEN.*
Sometimes Irish patriotism blundered in its adoption of French language and symbols; thus, in one song the Fleur-de-lys appears to have been mistaken for a symbol of republican France.
But it is to the French revolution that we must especially attribute the immense change which took place in the feelings and principles of the Irish Volunteers. Liberal as the volunteers were, they did not cease to be Protestants, and they sought for themselves only the liberties and privileges of which, either from prejudice or religious passion, they believed the Catholics unworthy. They had, it is true, claimed for them some modifications of the penal laws, but they rather sought an abatement of persecution than a return to justice. Their liberalism was never entirely free from a sectarian spirit. They treated the Catholics as inferiors, even when they lent them aid, and exercised over them a sort of patronage; but in 1792, in order to unite all ranks and parties, they took the name of United Irishmen.*
This new union between Protestants and Catholics was not only manifested by political acts, it was manifested in the minor details of social life. A patriotic dinner was given at Belfast, where Protestants and Catholics sat side by side in token of their harmony. The metamorphosis of the volunteers into United Irishmen is one of the most remarkable facts of this epoch, and deserves especially to fix the attention of the reader.
And, in the first place, the principal trait in the character of the United Irishmen was, that they derived the greater part of their inspiration from France. We see in Tone’s Memoirs, that one of the principal objects of the committee was, to verify and publish everything of importance which occurred in France. This was a new starting-point for Irish freedom. Until then, the Irish revolutionist had been chiefly inspired by American genius; now he invoked at the same time the names of Washington and Lafayette, of Franklin and Mirabeau.
The military organisation of the United Irishmen was entirely modelled on that of the volunteers, but their principles were not the same. The volunteers of Ireland were associated to protect Ireland from an invasion of the enemies of England. The United Irishmen were openly friends to France, and bargained with her for an invasion. But what especially characterises the transformation of the volunteers into United Irishmen was the sudden and fundamental change wrought in their political principles.
They suddenly exhibited a violent hatred of the Whigs, and a thorough contempt for the slow and regular progress of reform. Hitherto they endeavoured to obtain the abolition of oppressive statutes, and the enactment of good laws from the English government and their own parliament; they now required an entire change of system. They wanted either a complete, absolute reform, or to have nothing altered. We find from his Memoirs that Tone was grieved because a partial emancipation (1793) might give the Catholics some satisfaction. “The English yoke must be shaken off!”—“The connexion with England, the source of all Ireland’s woes, must be broken!”—“To ameliorate the condition of the people, a vile and odious aristocracy must be humbled.”—“In emancipating Ireland, the right arm of England must be cut away.” Such were the wishes, the sentiments, and the new principles of the Irish reformers.
In proportion as republican France advanced in revolutionary paths, they followed her. The doctrine that “the end justifies the means” was established in Ireland, and ardent friends of their country and of freedom were seen using their utmost endeavours to produce a French invasion. Here is the order of their ideas: “Ireland must be delivered from the English yoke; she is too weak to emancipate herself; there is consequently a necessity for asking assistance from a stranger.” All the ardent patriots eagerly invoked the aid of the French armies. “Ten thousand men would suffice to separate Ireland from England,” said Tone, in 1793. And what will be done when the government is overthrown? Terrible dreams of vengeance and extermination presented themselves to the minds of some of the reformers. “The aristocrats,” said Tone, “have no mercy, and deserve none.”
Still, in the midst of these revolutionary meditations, Wolf Tone, the head of the United Irishmen, who came to France to negociate for an invasion with the Directory, was brought into connexion with General Hoche, the head of the intended expedition, who, in a private conversation with the Irish patriot, used the following memorable words: “When you guillotine a man, you get rid of an individual, it is true, but then you make all his friends and connexions for ever enemies to the government.” Struck by this language, Wolf Tone adopted the opinion, that, in case of a revolution, it would be better to avoid sanguinary retaliation.
[*]The following character of this distinguished nobleman is taken from Grattan’s reply to Lord Clare’s pamphlet:—
[*]The very able sketch of the state of the public mind in Ireland during the French revolution, given by M. de Beaumont, will be recognised as perfectly accurate by all acquainted with the publications of that period. The principal authorities quoted by M. de Beaumont are Tone’s Memoirs, Hardy’s Life of Lord Charlemont, and a collection of detached papers called Belfast Politics, published at Belfast, 1794. The mention of these authorities here will supersede the necessity of further reference.—Tr.
[*]This is a cant phrase in Dublin, and not an imitation of the French; part of Dublin is called “The Liberty.”—Tr.
[*]This song was found on the mother of Dogherty, a United Irishman, who was killed at Delgany, in the county of Wicklow, in the autumn of 1798.—From Mulgrave’s Irish Rebellions, Second Edition, p. 78 of Appendix.
[*]This name was first proposed by T. W. Tone.