Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. IV.—: French Invasion of Ireland. Insurrection of 1798. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
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Sect. IV.—: French Invasion of Ireland. Insurrection of 1798. - 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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French Invasion of Ireland. Insurrection of 1798.
Tone’s Memoirs contain the most interesting account of this insurrection, and of the three French expeditions. The Irish insurrection and the French invasion were to be so combined as to afford each other mutual aid; and Wolf Tone had been accepted by the Directory as a general of brigade, though he was in reality only the diplomatic agent of the United Irishmen with the French government. Tone, Irish to the heart’s core, an enthusiast by nature, an ardent partisan of French and republican ideas, displayed extreme zeal and rare intelligence in engaging the Directory to send an expedition to Ireland. He cleverly dispelled the fixed notion of all the French politicians of the time, which was a descent upon England, and succeeded in persuading the members of the French government that England could be best attacked through Ireland.
We see in his Memoirs, that at the close of the year 1796, an expedition commanded by General Hoche was prepared, and that the fleet separated by a storm from the vessel that carried the general; it was compelled to return to Brest, from whence it had started, without even attempting a debarkation.
If we believe Tone’s Memoirs, it depended on a mere trifle, whether Napoleon might not have made an expedition to Ireland instead of a campaign in Egypt. Two reasons prevented him; he was reluctant to execute an enterprise which Hoche had planned; and secondly, he displayed at this time a singular repugnance for the French Jacobins, with whom the United Irishmen had formed very close connexion.
Hoche’s expedition failed from a concourse of unfortunate circumstances; a thousand other events retarded the execution of French designs on Ireland. Still the French were expected in that country, and the plan of a vast insurrection was prepared without relaxation. This insurrection was immediately to follow the landing of the French troops; but such was the dominion of events, that the insurrection took the lead. After a thousand successive adjournments, which could not be renewed without the greatest peril to most of the conspirators, the insurrection exploded.
It had been too long uncertain and languishing for the people to have faith in it; badly concerted, badly directed, received with coldness by some, and with terror by others—guided by men divided amongst themselves, some of whom wished for reform, and others for revolution—rejected by the aristocracy in a body,* and even by the middle classes themselves—reduced to support itself solely on the lowest of the people—composed of the most heterogeneous elements, of Presbyterians fighting for a republic, and Catholics contending for the freedom of their creed† —mutual enemies associated by surprise in a common course, though they aimed at different ends. Guided by such chiefs, sustained by such a base, the insurrection could not succeed. It might be said to have died before it was born: its only effect was to bring from the British government the most atrocious and sanguinary measures of repression.
The recital of the horrors committed during this fatal crisis would of itself be a long and mournful history; luckily for the author, the limits of this summary do not allow him to discuss the details of this terrible epoch.*
I do not know if the sanguinary annals of Ireland exhibit war in a more horrible aspect; I speak not here of the acts of barbarity committed in the heat of action, and by which the insurgents and their opponents were equally sullied. What civil and religious war is there that does not bring frightful violence, murder, pillage, devastation, and flame? I mean to speak of the cruelties committed in cold blood by the victorious party.
Perhaps one sentence will suffice to show all the miseries of Ireland at this moment; even after the war, the country was delivered over to the mercy of the soldiery.† In the middle of the insurrection, martial law was proclaimed; when the revolt was subdued military justice was not withdrawn; and the English army, after having struck down the enemy on the field of battle, pursued them still with sentences of death pronounced by courts-martial. A few examples will suffice to show the proceedings of this soldier-justice, stimulated by passion and unrestrained by rule.
Lord Charlemont declares in his Memoirs, that suspected and accused persons were, without any form of trial, tortured, flogged, and half hanged, in order to extort confessions.* A gentleman of eminent merit, Sir Edward Crosbie, had declared himself favourable to reform in parliament; the military judge concluded that he was a republican, and had him brought to the bar. At the trial, “Protestant loyalists, witnesses in favour of the accused, were forcibly prevented by the bayonets of the military from entering the court.”† This was not all: “Catholic prisoners had been tortured by repeated floggings, to force them to give evidence against him, and were promised their lives upon no other condition than that of his condemnation.” Notwithstanding these and other violent measures, no charge was proved; of which the members of the court-martial who sentenced him to death were so sensible, that, in defiance of an act of parliament, the register of the proceedings was withheld as a secret from his wife and family. The court was irregularly constituted, and illegal, destitute of a judge advocate. The execution of the sentence was precipitate, at an unusual hour, and attended with atrocious circumstances, not warranted even by the sentence. After he was hanged, his body was abused, his head severed from it, and exposed on a spike.* The president of the court was an illiterate man, unable to write the most common words of English without mis-spelling.
In the course of this savage administration of justice, every art was employed to accumulate proofs of guilt; even proofs of innocence were used for the purpose. Who would believe it? It was a grave subject of charge before these military tribunals to have rescued Protestants from the fury of the rebels; for this influence over the insurgents was deemed a proof of attachment to their party. “I thank my God that no person can prove me guilty of saving any one’s life or property!” was the sudden exclamation of a Catholic gentleman in a company where the notoriety of the practice was the subject of conversation. These, and many similar facts, are recorded by the Rev. Mr. Gordon, a clergyman of the Established Church, all whose sympathies were in favour of the men whom impartiality forced him to condemn.
In a short time two hundred victims fell by the hand of the executioner. The legal punishment of the condemned did not always satisfy the passions by which it had been procured. When the sentences pronounced by the court-martial at Wexford were executed, the bodies of the victims were mutilated, insulted by a thousand indignities, and thrown into the river, after their heads had been severed and spiked on the walls of the court-house. Sometimes, after the victim was turned off, he was lowered on his feet until he recovered; he was then again suspended, and thus the tortures of strangulation were multiplied at pleasure.*
The deep wounds which Ireland received from these dreadful measures of repression long remained open and bleeding. The English army destroyed all the harvests on its march, and the consequence to the people of Ireland was a general famine, which lasted two years. The number of individuals slain on both sides during this calamitous period has been estimated at thirty thousand men, and the destruction of property during the continuance of the civil war, at 2,000,000l.
The insurrection was suppressed in Ireland when two French divisions arrived. The first, amounting to about one thousand men, sailed from Rochelle, under the command of General Humbert, and, on the 22d of August, 1798, landed in Killala bay, on the coast of Connaught. After gaining a victory at Castlebar, it was met by Lord Cornwallis, the viceroy, who took the command in person, with an army twenty times its strength; it was defeated and made prisoner. The armament, consisting of three thousand men, embarked in a ship of the line and eight frigates, sailed from the bay of Camaret, on the 20th of September, 1798, and on the 10th of the following October reached the entrance of Lough Swilly, in the province of Ulster. Preparations for landing were made, when a superior fleet, under the command of Sir John Borlase Warren, appeared, and, after a terrible engagement, the French squadron was compelled to surrender. Wolf Tone shared in this expedition; he was taken, recognised,* tried, and condemned to death.
Such was the sad and fatal termination of those attempts at invasion from which some ardent spirits expected the regeneration of Ireland, but which were to her only the cause, or the pretext, for new and terrible persecutions.
[*]With one splendid exception, Lord Edward Fitzgerald. The life of this amiable and unfortunate young nobleman, by Moore, is, perhaps, the most interesting piece of biography in any language. It unites all the charms of romance to the importance of truth.
[†]In some cases, no doubt, for its supremacy; they had been taught the lesson of exclusion by the ascendency, and had they succeeded, they would have in all probability proved themselves apt scholars.—Tr.
[*]The most impartial history of the Irish insurrection yet published is that by the Rev. Mr. Gordon, a Protestant clergyman.—Tr.
[†]A soldiery, be it remembered, so totally demoralised, that General Abercromby declared it to be “formidable to everybody but the enemy.”—Tr.
[*]On this repulsive subject it is not necessary to enlarge; but it is sufficient to say, that the torture of the suspected was made the subject of boast in public, and was even vindicated in pamphlets.—Tr.
[†]See Gordon, vol. ii. p. 393. See also Curran’s speech in the case of Heavey versus Sirr.
[*]The rank of the unfortunate baronet rendered it impossible to conceal the iniquity of his fate; but there were many other victims to brutal ignorance invested with power, whose cases were not less atrocious, but for obvious reasons they may now be permitted to rest in oblivion.—Tr.
[*]Prisoners were sometimes strangled by being suspended from the shoulders of tall men; an officer in his Majesty’s army, for his services in this way, was honoured with the title of “the walking gallows.”—Tr.
[*]The British naval officers were willing that Tone should escape, and affected to believe that he had fallen in the action, but he was recognised and denounced by Sir George Hill, who had been his fellow-student in the Dublin University.—Tr.