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Last updated:15 June 2015

Irish Rebellion

The immediate origins of the 1798 Rebellion can be traced to the creation of the Society of United Irishmen in October 1791. Inspired by the American War of Independence and the French Revolution of 1789. the United Irishmen were led by Theobald Wolfe Tone, Thomas Russell, Henry Joy McCracken and William Drennan. They sought to secure a reform of the Irish parliament. To this day an annual commemoration of the rebellion is held at Bodenstown, Ireland.

The rebellion lasted several months and was probably the most concentrated outbreak of violence in Irish history. It united the middle class struggle for political reform, the peasantry's demand for land reform and the national struggle for independence from Britain. It also helped to overcome religious divisions by uniting Presbyterians, of whom Tone was one, and Catholics.

The plan was first to take Dublin with the counties surrounding Dublin then to rise, preventing the arrival of reinforcements, whereupon the remainder of the country would rise and tie down other garrisons. Things did not go quite to plan however, and British forces were soon heading to victory as they fought off almost every rebel attack.

The immediate aftermath of almost every British victory in the rising was marked by the massacre of captured and wounded rebels, sometimes on a catastrophic scale. The last remnants of the first wave of rebels fought on until final defeat on 14 July. On 22 August, however, around 1,100 French soldiers landed on the shores of Ireland, to bring their aid to the cause. Despite initial success, the French troops and second wave of rebels were defeated at the battle of Ballinamuck, on 8 September.

Largely in response to the 1798 Rebellion and under pressure from the British, the Irish Parliament passed in 1800 the Act of Union with Britain, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which brought Ireland under closer British control.  Independence was finally won in 1921, though the Anglo-Irish Treaty which was negotiated then allowed Northern Ireland to opt out of the new Irish Free State and remain under British rule.

The Library has an amazing collection of material relating to Ireland - find out more here.