Sunday, May 22, 2011

Athenry and the 1798 Rebellion by Ronan Killeen

In 1775 the American colonists had successfully rebelled against British rule, while in France the monarchy had been overthrown by the Revoultion of 1789.
   In 1798 the revoultionary organisation - United Irishmen were inspired by theses acts and were responsible for Ireland's insurrection in 1798. The Society of United Irishmen held its first meeting in Belfast on 18 October 1791, a gathering summoned by Samuel Nielson, Theobald Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell. All three of the founders were Protestants as so was James Napper Tandy, who helped host the society's second meeting in Dublin a few weeks later.
   Not all members thought alike, in any case, Wolfe Tone arguing passionately for universal sufferage, to include Roman Catholcs, as a means of presenting a genuinely 'United' Irish front against English domination, whilst other Protestants remained uncomfortable about the idea of mobilizing a mass electorate of papists.

Sheer sectarian prejudice played its part but many genuinely radical Protestants would have wondered how progressive politics were to be advanced by electorates brought up from birth to slavish obedience to its parish priests. For most of this era these issues were brought at the Society’s meetings and in the columns of its widely read newspaper, the Northern Star.
   In 1793 the Convention Act was enacted which was to outlaw quasi-parlimentry gatherings while the Gunpowder Act prevented the legal import of guns, such as legislation, it was subsequently argued, compelled the society to choose between extinction and plotting in secret. 
   In 1795 the clergyman-turned-agent William Jackson came to Dublin to test the reaction among radicals there to the idea of an invasion on the part of his French revolutionary masters, he little realized that his travelling companion, John Cockyane was an English spy. Tone had said enough to the unguarded jackson
to covince the authorities that he and his fellow United Irishmen were a real threat: The United Irishmen Society was suppressed and Tone himself was forced into exile:

'I...sought for aid wherever it was to be found'-Wolfe Tone

Tone would eventally tell the military court which tried him, and he may indeed to some extent had been driven by desperation. From the middle of the decade, the society had nowhere to go but towards armed insurrrection: by the middle of 1796 it had completed its reinvention as an oath-bound revoultionary organization.
  The planned French invasion of  that year had been foiled which smashed the 33 feet long fleet of Admiral Hoche which was fatal blow for the plans of the United Irishmen. At the beginning of 1798, the Society of United Irishmen could boast some 280,000 members and a small expeditionary force was sent by the French came late.
    The famous Wexford uprising in paticular was to some extent 'peasants revolt' and involved secterian massacres of which the UIS would have never approved of. In Dublin and Kildare the rebellion went ahead in spite of the opposition of important sections of a divided leadership.
   Volunteers in Ulster also rose spontaneoulsy in support of their fellows in south-east Leinster, exasperated by caution of their nominal chiefs, while 2,000 rallied to the revolutionary banner of General Humbert in the west and were massacred. The insurrection of the '98 failed.

Was there one in Galway? Apparently so, according to Patrick K. Egan's article 'Progress and Suppression of United Irishmen in the Western Counties in 1798-1799'  in the Journal of Galway Archaeological and Historical Society.
   Three men from Athenry Mathias Kinnamore, Micheal Kinnamore and John Higgins committed the crime of houghing and carrying away the flesh of cattle forcebly. Their trial was on the 6 March 1799 and there sentence was to find security for 7 years. They were the lucky ones compared to the rest of men who were executed in the Loughrea, Gort, Galway and Tuam areas and others who were given 5,000 lashes!
   I remember being up in the National Archives of Ireland last year and when I was looking through the rebellion papers I found that a Luke Conway was arrested for taking an illegal oath in 1798 (The United Irishmen?) at the Athenry Post Office.

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