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Irish History

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This essay will be organized into three main parts: Introduction, body and the conclusion. The Introduction is a brief cross sectional look into the history of British’s invasion of Ireland. It is in the main body that the essay captures the works of Theobald in relation to Ireland republicanism, his life and his works in politics. In the conclusion, the relevance of relevance of Wolfe Tone will be clearly illustrated.


The “Great hunger “of Ireland was the turning point of Irish history.  It was caused by the continual failure of the potato which was the staple food and the crop on which the entire population relied upon which was risky at the time. It is estimated that at least one million people died of starvation and disease in the late 1840’s and another one million from the famine that followed. This hardened the resentment that already existed against the British, The death of so many of their own made the nationalist party gains a lot of sympathy from the Irish immigrants who had immigrated to America.  The anger from the death of so many people under British rule be can be said to be the birth of nationalism.  It was shown by secret societies –groups of farmers and workers who secretly gathered to implement their ideas on justice against land owners who were settlers. These groups had existed before but they were now more aggressive now since it was now clear that the British government was only interested in its own interests and not those of the Irish people.

The domination of Ireland by England started in the twelfth century through King Henry II securing Lordship over some part of the country and later designating the Lordship to his son. Only part of the country was under the British that is the Dublin and its environs however this changed with the onset of the Tudor monarchs, namely King Henry VII and Elizabeth l who took control over the entire country. The British governed the legal, administrative, civil service and the military, which reduced the Irish to subjects in their own country. The Tudor monarch plantation policy led to dispossession of land from the Irish, to the investors who had supported the invasion, and they also made attempts to ‘Anglicanise’ the locals which was composed  largely of a Catholic society . As a result, parliament became biased due to the low number of Catholic members despite having a predominantly Catholic population and was mainly composed of nominees by the settlers. This sparked the activities of various nationalist who sought after the reestablishment of an Irish parliament and some self autonomy through peaceful means.

With the threat of invasion of Ireland by France the British, not knowing they will be cooking themselves in their own fat so to speak, asked for volunteers to defend against the French, thousands joined and formed the Irish Volunteers who then used their newly acquired position to force the hand of the British crown into granting them permission to vote. The Irish patriot party under the leadership of Henry Grattan was in the forefront to push for greater enfranchisement for the people which saw some laws passed in which Catholics were allowed to vote. However others such as Theobald Wolfe did not see this feat as one that could be achieved through peaceful means but through the use of physical force.

The political turmoil in Ireland that would mark the 19th century actually began in the 1790s, when a revolutionary organization, the United Irishmen, began to take shape. Leaders of the organization, most notably Theobald Wolfe Tone, met with Napoleon Bonaparte who was well known for his military tactics against his enemies in revolutionary France, seeking help in overthrowing British rule in Ireland. This did not go unpunished as the British took action against the ‘rebels’ and anybody thought to be affiliated to then several Irishmen were captured tortured and killed, including Wolf who was captured and while in captivity gave an articulate speech on the need to continue with his work he was sentenced to hang although he requested to be shot and die like a soldier, his petition was denied and was sentenced to hang. He later died of wounds after an attempted suicide to avoid being branded a traitor for his involvement in the 1798 Irish rebellion. This made him a martyr and hero in the eyes of the Irish people.

The Works of Theobald Wolfe Tone

Since the end of the 15th century, Ireland was chiefly governed by the Anglican protestant though the group was a minority which constituted members of the established church loyal to the British crown. The discrimination faced by the majority Irish Catholics and the non Anglican Protestants as well as the success of the American Revolution inspired the liberal elements among the ruling class to achieve some reforms that would make Ireland autonomous. Some of the grievances  were the that the Irish Catholics as well as the non Anglican protestants were barred from voting as they did not possess a property threshold which was as a result of dispossession of land during the invasion by British in earlier centuries when the Tudor monarchs were in power. In addition to that, the fact that Ireland was sovereign kingdom governed by the monarch and a parliament on the island was a mere mirage. In reality, the English had veto power over the Irish law through the Poyings law of 1491 and the British was given the right to legislate for the kingdom by the Declaratory act of  1720, these acts acting together  reduced Ireland to nothing but  a colony with even less autonomy than  British’s North American colonies.

The Irish were forced from their lands and acted as a source of labour for the up and coming industries. England still had mercantilist practices and despite all, they still regulated the ability of Ireland to turn into a competitive commerce industry. This made the members of the Ulster’s nascent bourgeoisie to immigrate to America. With the success they saw of the American Revolution this helped them to fuel their own anti colonial revolution. This birthed the beginning of capitalism and subsequently two classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.  The advance of capitalism changed the temperament of Irish resistance of British rule giving rise to Irish republicanism. The ground breaking organization of Irish republicanism was the Irishmen Society led by an Ulster protestant Theobald Wolfe Tone who was from the capitalist class and had ties with the Ulster proletariat as well as the Irish peasants these went a long way in gaining support from both sides as the British were heavily relying on the differences that existed between the Catholics and the a protestants of Ireland. Theobald therefore acted as the needed missing link to start an insurrection

Theobald was born in Dublin 20th of June 1963. He studied law at Trinity College and qualified as a barrister at the age of 26.  He came into the limelight in 1790 when he wrote a pamphlet attacking the Marquees of Buckingham followed by an essay titled  the  “A Northern Whig”  in  which differed with the elements constitution that Henry Grant had shaken down from the British, Grants constitution did not address the continued  differences among Catholics and the Protestants . He wanted the union of all religions in Ireland and total emancipation from the British, a country cannot be granted independence when it is still ravaged by sectarian divisions. In his bid to put his ideas into practice Theobald in conjunction with others such as Thomas Russell and Nappy Tandy formed the Society of United Irish Men. It is impossible to talk of this society without mentioning the French revolution. This society came into being  in the backdrop of the French revolution, whose effects were being felt all over Europe in the 1700’s,  and whose views challenged the traditional  way of thinking by using scientific rationale it was championed by Rousseau.  It saw everyone as being equal.  

The United Irishmen fashioned relations with the Jacobean regime and sought for help from the directory government of France where they borrowed ideas from the French who had dissociated themselves with the followers of Babeuf which at the time was opposing the French directory government, this gave them perspective on how to deal with the British government which was determined to continue its hold on Ireland. The recollections of the events of the crush of the Gaellic civilization; which was the way of life of the Irish people before the invasion of the British, by the British, the confiscation of land and the exile of native rulers remained to the Irish descendants of the eighteenth century. The descendants of the Irish Catholics suffered under the penal laws which were meant to maintain powers in the hands of the settlers, by excluding the Catholics from seats of power such as parliament.

Despite owning large tracts of land many of the settlers lived in England and only visited Ireland, mean while the Irish Catholics lived as peasants in abject poverty. The Protestants also faced grievances though not as severe as those faced by the Irish Catholics.  They (Protestants) suffered legal from legal handicaps and showed antipathy towards the fact that the British used Ireland as a colony to further its interests and the Irish wanted to be an independent country with its own government. The Irish Volunteers attempted to address these injustices but failed due to sectarian divisions. Naturally, the British thrived on this and saw it as an opportunity to continue with its rule using the divide and rule policy that was very common in British colonies, as now the British regarded it as a colony. They incited the Protestants by telling them that they would lose their lands and suffer religious persecution if the Catholics were to gain equal rights, this caused sectarian violence between the Catholics and the Protestants. This is where the Society of United Irishmen came in order to try and unite the different sects to from a sovereign but unified Ireland that was divided along sectarian lines.  

Many young nationalist attributed all the strife facing Ireland to British occupation. The Society of United Irish men was the brainchild of Theobald and to be able to adequately see the relevance of   his work on Ireland, one has to look at it achievements and failures in depth as is common with any organization, union or political party that plays a major role in the attainment on independence of any country but in this case the development and growth of nationalism and republicanism in Ireland today.

The United Irish men wanted to abolish the penal laws and the system of government that allowed for the landed English aristocrats to have their own appointees to the Irish parliament, they wanted to see reduced interference in Irish affairs by the English parliament as well as changes in the ownership of land to bridge the gap that was so clearly evident in the ownership of land. This society’s vision would culminate to a country as that outlined in Tom Paines book ‘The Right of man’. Obviously these activities would not go down well with the British as the democracy of Ireland could spread over to Britain and an Irish only Parliament would reduce British interest in Ireland therefore after only three years of existence they outlawed   the group and the Society of United Irish Men.

This did not dampen the efforts of Theobald. The first attempt by Wolfe tone was in 1776 when he went to France to seek help to overthrow the British as it had become evident that constitutional efforts and diplomacy were not going to succeed in his efforts to liberate Ireland. However, this attempt was thwarted by bad weather where the French troops only got as far as the shore with no real physical confrontation taking place.  Secret societies continued to emerge throughout Ireland made up of both Protestants and the Catholics. Wolfe and his group distributed pamphlets as well as copieis rights of man as a way of informing the people. These efforts went a long way as peasants now started to push for the freeing of Catholics, abolition of tithes and the redistribution of land as well as lower rents and an end to evictions these was the very outcome that the British did not want to happen because in Ireland Sectarian rows had always led to the downfall of the up risings. With a Unified Ireland, British rule was threatened.

The British realized this and retaliated with brutal force and the country was placed in the hands of the military. Troops were brought in from England and a crusade of  terror was launched: towns were raided, men were whipped and tortured, men were half hanged this was done  so that they could  censure anyone involved in the societies activities, in short they tried to instill fear so as to reduce the involvement in the activities of the Irish society. Despite all this the Society remained strong especially in areas of Leignster and Connaught and culminated in a rebellion in 1798.  It resulted in the following: the in 1801 the Act of Union was forced upon Ireland which crushed the efforts of the rebellion and religious sectarianism was established. The United Irishmen did not swayed but continued to flourish and brought together native Ulster settlers in a national rebellion, the colonialists tried to crush it again by claiming religious narrow-mindedness. 

The ‘Orange order” was founded to  as a response to the United Irishmen and to date has continued to propagate sectarian violence  by calling for holy wars against the Catholics as well as to encourage the domination of Ireland by England at the time it also provided the English Government with the necessary information on the activities of its enemies. Theobald was unshaken by the ‘Orange boys’ and he only viewed them as a puppet of the British and believed that with proper organization of government their propaganda would easily be ended. In any case, this was not to be as ever since the orange boys have managed to shatter all hopes to end sectarian rows this was important to the British as continued sectarian divisions and the continued oppression of the Irish Catholics would ensure their continued rule. The bashing of Catholics led to Catholicism being the face of Irish nationalism which went ahead to bear fruit that saw the repeal of the penal code, it turned Catholicism into a force to be reckoned with in the Irish society.


The efforts of Theobald tend to orient towards Republican ideologies. Republicanism form of government may ideally mean a government in which power rests with the people as opposed to the monarch but it goes beyond this to mean a way of life in which people have an interdependence whose success or failure depends on the social framework they inhabit. It is not a perfect way of life. Therefore the questions posed to republicans in general are how to attain this freedom?  And what constitutes this freedom that is how to define it? However, all republicans agree that this freedom is fragile and must be jealously guarded by those that the people themselves elect into power. For this freedom to be achieved it requires political equality through active citizenship and self governing citizens who have some control over the direction of their lives rather than complete self sufficiency. With this in mind the   relevance of Theobald Wolfe Tone is obvious.  By asking the French for assistance he saw the French not as an enemy which was in contrast to how the Britain viewed the French. He viewed as an ally from whom he could not only borrow ideas but a military which was renown throughout Europe. At the time the French would help the people of Ireland become free of English rule.  Though his efforts did not succeed he had made attempts that continued to instill a sense of nationalism in the people which was important for any country that hoped to be free from the reigns of colonialism.

Theobald, wanted to see a society without preference and an end to ascendancy as well as the end of the connection between the church and the state, there was need for  a society where those who came to power were competent persons who could run a country.

Through the Society of Irishmen he campaigned for protection of personal property for all citizens and condemned anybody who would support continued British rule. It was important that Irish people saw the need for independence as opposed to forcing the idea of sovereignty down their throats.  He recommended that it is the people who should suggest those they want to see in the legislature, people who would represent their needs not those who used the seats in power to further their own interests as was the case with the settler appointed nominees where corruption was rampant. These very persons should be elected in the basis of courage zeal and ability as opposed to wealth, accordingly, the people should organize themselves in order to form a Government to administer the affairs of Ireland and seek to further the interests of the state. This was not going to be achieved when Ireland was still under the rule of the British Monarch.

It was the efforts of the united Irishmen that brought to the forefront the grievances of the Irish people. Theobald Wolfe Tone can therefore be credited with being the father of Irish Republicanism. His effort enabled the ordinary people of Ireland to realize they had rights and Ireland should be a democratic, egalitarian society devoid of interference from the British and sectarian divisions. The work of the United Irish men did not continue long after the death of Thobald, and after the Act of union of 1802 where the Irish parliament was abolished and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was formed.

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