In 1790, a confederacy, calling themselves "The United Irishmen of Belfast," was formed in the north of Ireland; on the 9th of November, 1791, the Society of United Irish men of Dublin commenced their meetings, choosing for their chairman the Hon. Simon Butler, second son to Lord Viscount Mountgarret, and for their secretary the celebrated James Napper Tandy, who at that time was a citizen of a considerable interest and political influence in Dublin, and a member of the Whig Club. This extraordinary demagogue was afterwards convicted of high treason, pardoned, went into France, and died at Bordeaux, a general in the service of Bonaparte.
After a recapitulation of grievances, they say, "In the present great era of reform, when unjust governments are falling in every part of Europe: when religious persecution is compelled to abjure her tyranny over conscience; when the rights of men are ascertained in theory, and that theory is substantiated by practice; when iniquity can no longer defend absurd and oppressive forms against the common sense and common interests of mankind: when all government is acknowledged to originate from the people, and to be so far only obligatory as it protects their rights and promotes their welfare; we think it our duty, as Irishmen, to come forward and state what we feel to be our heavy grievance, and what we know to be its effectual remedy." This declaration then states several resolutions, complaining of the English influence in Ireland, the necessity of an equal representation of all the people in Parliament, the rejection of a place bill, of a pension bill, and of a responsibility bill; the sale of peerages in one house; the corruption avowed in the other; the borough traffic between both, symptoms of a mortal disease which corrodes the vitals of the constitution, and leaves to the people in their own government but the shadow of a name.
The society then specially resolves "that the weight of English influence in the government of Ireland is so great, as to require a cordial union among all the people of Ireland to maintain that balance of power which is essential to the preservation of liberty, and the extension of their commerce. That the sole constitutional mode by which such influence can be opposed, is by a complete and radical reform of the representation of the people in Parliament; and that no reform is practicable, which shall not include Irishmen of every religious persuasion."
From the above resolutions it is clear, that a principal object of the society was completely to emancipate the Irish Roman Catholics, and to admit them into the House of Lords and Commons; and, indeed, a great majority of the society were of that religious persuasion; and since its origin, the Catholic claims have been unceasing. Mr. Emmet, and a few others, had, however, two different objects—first, to separate Ireland from England; and, secondly, to establish a republic. This party formed a private society among themselves, and with them originated the system of insurrection which in 1798 broke out into a rebellion, in which several thousands lost their lives, and many of the promoters suffered on the scaffold, before it could be suppressed.
England now charged Ireland with disaffection—Ireland replied, that beyond endurance, was she oppressed by her elder sister; and brooding on her complaints, a well digested conspiracy against the state (with which government was not acquainted till nearly the moment of explosion) in 1803, threatened the city of Dublin with the most serious calamities.
At an early hour on the evening of July the 23d, a variety of inflammatory proclamations were distributed in every part of the town, calling upon the people to unite as before, in opposition to English oppression, &c. and at so early an hour as eight o'clock, a large party forced into the Lord Mayor's house, and seized all the arms and pikes which were in the house; and about ten o'clock, a general engagement took place in the neighbourhood of James street, Thomas street, and in every part of the Liberty.
One of their early acts was the murder of Lord Kilwarden (the Chief Justice of the King's Bench) a healthy man, and about sixty years of age, and his nephew the Rev. Mr. Richard Wolf. Miss Wolf, the daughter of Lord Kilwarden, was with them in the post-chaise. They were returning from his Lordship's country seat, drawn from thence, as reported, by a forged message. Just as the carriage came along the market house in Thomas-street, Lord Kilwarden was soon recognized, and a mob hitherto concealed, rushed upon it in every direction, armed with guns, blunderbusses, pikes, swords, &c. Some seized the horses by the head, and dragged the postillion from his seat; while others rushed on each side of the carriage, and opened the doors. Miss Wolf sat between her uncle and brother, who were dragged out by inhuman fiends from her side, one from each door. In a state of distraction at this inhuman proceeding, and terrified by the horrid banditti, who surrounded the carriage, Miss Wolf jumped out, and was received in the arms of one of them, who carried her through the crowd, unhurt, to an opposite house, where she remained secreted, until four o'clock on Sunday morning, when she was conveyed to the Castle.
Major Swan, with a strong detachment under his command, was ordered by Government to repair to Thomas street, the principal scene of the insurrection. A small part of the military had already skirmished there with the rebels, and a considerable number of the latter were killed and wounded. When the Major arrived there, he saw several lying dead in the streets, and one man only with a pike who was fired at.
Lord Kilwarden had been carried to the watch-house, in Vicar-street, where Major Swan saw him lying on the guard-bed, dreadfully lacerated; his nephew, Mr. Wolf, was killed on the spot. His Lordship, although near expiring at the time, knew the Major, and appeared perfectly in his senses. He eagerly enquired as to the fate of his daughter; and, being assured by the Major of her safety, he exclaimed, with an emotion of gratitude to Heaven, "Thank God" A military gentleman present, naturally filled with indignation, observed, that every man taken with a pike in his hand, ought to be instantly hanged: which Lord Kilwarden overhearing, turned to Major Swan, and most impressively exhorted him "to let no man be hanged without being brought to trial." A detachment of the military, under the command of Colonel Brown, who with Mr. Edmiston, and Mr. Parker, of the Liberty-rangers, lost their lives in this most disagreeable of all services, attacked a large body of the disaffected, in Francis-street, and dispersed them, but not without a shocking scene of slaughter. The unfortunate Chief Justice lingered in excruciating pain, about two hours, and expired a martyr to his profession. He was a great lawyer, and, what is more meritorious, a truly good man. It was said, that he had frequently expressed a presentiment, that he should fall by the hands of the assassin.
Dublin now became a scene of confusion and horror. The Habeas Corpus Act was suspended, and the military were left uncontrolled by the Civil Power. At length peace was somewhat restored, and large rewards were offered for the apprehension of the principal actors in this rebellion. We therefore proceed, without further comment, which indeed our limits will not allow, to the trial of Emmet, the chief of the rebellion.