Did the 1798 Irish Rebellion ever have a chance?

Out from many a mud wall cabin eyes were watching through that night;
Many a manly heart was throbbing for the blessed warning light.
Murmurs passed along the valleys, like the banshee’s lonely croon.
And a thousand blades were flashing at the risin’ of the moon.

I’ve heard it in song, and read the wackypedia summary, it seems like the rising was amaturistic and ill-fated, so like many Hibernian hopes of independence.

But, let us speak a bit hypothetically, was there ever a real chance of a successful Irish rebellion c1798? Supposing a good general, better organization, was there any good chance? It almost seems hopeless considering the proximity to Britannia, who could always (I presume) send reinforcements to the Royal armies, as well as the Protestant/Saxon/Orangemen who appear to have been 1/5 of the total population, and would obviously be extremely partial to continued union.

It just seems a bit ridiculous according to some accounts, a bunch of scattered peasants with Pikes trying to have a rebellion against presumably hordes of Musketeer Redcoats, but there must have been chance or why would they have tried it? And why in 1798, and in the few years before or after?

So is young Roddy McCorley fated to die on the Bridge of Toome, or not?

There were Protestant Republicans, you know; the most legendary name of 1798, Wolfe Tone, was one. The virtual correlation of religion and politics wasn’t yet fixed.

But to answer your question, briefly: no. The Irish of 1798–like the Irish of 1641, 1848, and 1916–were long on heart, short on weapons and organization. Usually they were short on allies as well. Had the French fleet landed intact, maybe

To answer another question–why did they keep attempting apparently hopeless insurrections? Because they were sorely oppressed and pathetically desperate. Really, a comprehensive reading of Irish history leads one (me, anyway) to marvel not at supposed Irish hotheadedness, but rather their forbearance, and endurance of long injustice. But the pot must someday boil over…

I recommend this book to start, written by an Englishman, and a pretty fair treatment of all parties.

A more interesting counterfactual would be: Is there any way Ireland could have kept its independence in the first place? The problem was always lack of unity. No High King ever put together an enduring national state, so the English could always play one king or chieftan off against another as they gradually took over the whole country. But what if Brian Boru had not been killed at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014? Could he have made a real kingdom of Ireland?

No. He was already over 70 at that point and had done as much as reasonably could be expected. More than likely he would have died in his sleep in a year or two anyway, with much the same aftermath ( i.e. Mael Sechnail reassuming the High Kingship Boru had bounced him out of ).

It has been argued that Ireland was indeed slowly centralizing and might have been in a position to better maintain themselves against the Anglo-Norman incursions a few generations later, but that is highly speculative.

Of the rebellions/invasions against the English, the most likely to succeed was probably the Nine Years War which stretched Elizabeth’s resources to the breaking point. Whether it would have been permanent is hard to say, but a scenario where Ireland at least temporarily achieved independance under a shaky O’Neil overlordship isn’t hard to envision.

Edward Bruce also made a good stab at it. Edward II of England was less than competent and had a mostly miserable reign, including after 1314 an unusual period of being on the strategic defensive vis-a-vis Scotland ( annual raids into the north of England devastated the countryside for many years ). Up until the end Bruce was consistently successful, but it is probably true that in the end Irish disunity, greater English resources and limited Scottish ones were a major impediment to long-term success.

Yes a lot were protestant, McCracken, FitzGerald, Emmet (more known for 1803), and again in 1848. It wasn’t until the 20th century that it really became sectarian.

It probably had little chance of succeeding. It did inspire a lot of great songs, though.

I recently listened to this podcast, which I found informative on the subject.

There was also a televised history called “Rebellion” that may be available on DVD.

One of the historians in the podcast says that the Irish rebellion was doomed to failure partly because there was no significant outside help available. Although French forces did come ashore, they did not do so in strategically important numbers.

By 1798, Ireland existed at the pleasure of Britain. The difference in capability between the two was too great and Britain’s interest in Ireland too huge to see any Rebellion land.

If the French fleet landed… well hard too say, but if there is one thing that history has shown us, do not bet against the Royal Navy. Max it would have steched the war out longer and seen more British troop committed, but would have doubtless had the same result.

The problem witht he Irish was that they kept on getting themselves involved with, and used by, those who were players in a far bigger picture.

There is absolutely no chance that a country fighting almost continously with its mortal enemies, France and Spain could or would countenance a ready made army of supporters of these countries right on its borders.

The Irish were used by both France and Spain for other ends, not to benefit the Irish themselves, and what happened, right or wrong, is simply a consequence of backing the wrong horse.

How do you imagine things would have gone if France or Spain had been successful, we only need look at the persecution practised by Bloody Mary to know that England would have ended up crushed under Catholic repression under the control of foreign powers.

In many ways, what happened to the Irish is simply what would have happened to England had it not won out, and this was reasonably well understood by the English for several hundred years.

So, in answer, the Irish rebellion could not have succeeded, the English would never have given it any hope at all, they could not afford to do this, and generations of English leaders would have had this deeply ingrained into their world view.

I think there was a chance. The American Revolution had spooked Parliament. As they would demonstrate in Canada in 1837, the politicians in London were now willing to negotiate with rebels rather than risk losing a colony. If there had been a Nelson, a Papineau, and a Durham around in 1798, Ireland might have won considerable autonomy, which could then have developed into full independance.

Ireland is no more “on the borders” of Britain than France is.

Are you serious? You think the Irish would have occupied, ruled, and exploited Britain?

No kidding. Looks like London is closer to Paris than to Dublin. About 25 miles from Calais to the shores of England, about 60 from Dublin to closest point in Wales, maybe about 25 from Belfast, but then you have to go the long way through Scotland.

Only if there’s work available.

I think his point was that if England hadn’t kept control of Ireland, some other country, like France or Spain, would have used the island as a base against England.

Well, as noted, France itself is just as convenient a “base” against Britain as Ireland.

If the Brits didn’t want Ireland cooperating with Britain’s enemies, they shouldn’t have given Ireland so many reasons to do so.

They were well on their way to doing so in the Sixth Century. That was why the Britons invited the Saxons in to help. (In hindsight, a mistake on the land-war-in-Asia level.)

I can see how the American revolution might have given them some unrealistic optimism.

The sixth century? The Britons weren’t yet “the British.” In the context of a thread that started with 1798, can’t we at least limit ourselves to the post-Norman millennium? :stuck_out_tongue:

The French Revolution was another, more recent, inspiration for their activities.

The French did not have the manpower to invade Britain, you may, or may not understand that throughout nearly of of the 18thC France was in competition with Britain, and would use any tactic it could to make life more difficult, this is the nature of warfare, especially on a global scale such as this.

At stake, the entire world, when you think of the 18thC and 19thC, and you look at the dominant world powers, they were in a struggle for complete control.

Do you not understand the meaning of 'pax Brittannia?" This was no idle boast.

The overseas power of France declined dramatically once it’s dreams of expansionism had been crushed by the British, and that was evident for all to see throughout the 19thC.

The only reason the Irish were encouraged to rebel was the hope of support by France, and the only reason France fostered that hope was in turn to distract or diminish British power.

It is not very difficult to work out.

While we are at it, the French revolution added a good deal of spice to the mix, because the struggle between these empires in this period was not only about power, it was about idealogy, and also religion.

The war with Spain was pretty m uch the same thing, and you need only to look at the Catholic excesses in the Low countries, in the German States right through to eastern Europe to see what sorts of atrocities and repressions were undertaken in the name of the ‘Holy Roman Empire’. You can be well assured that the British, ahving fought for hundred of years, having funded and supported the anti-papists throughout Europe, would certainly not allow anything remotely resembling a Catholic takeover on what it would have seen as being firmly in its sphere of influence.

This is one of the constant moans you get from the Irish, that the British just went in and carried appalling acts in their lands (which they did) becuase of some anti Irish sentiment, instead of acknowledging that actually, this was a strategic matter, one which operated right across the globe, and that the Irish themselves had an unfortunate knack of bad timing and selecting pretty piss poor allies.
The Irish like to see themselves as victims, when their leaders were trying to become players.Sorry boys, play the big boys games and you’d better be able to handle it. In the end, Britain itself was not big enough, and still tries to play with the big boys, to its cost.

If you want a more recent comparison, all you need do is look at the Munroe doctrine, or the current situation in the nations around Russia, that’ll give you some idea of how it played out.

That’s the beauty of a flank threat. France could have forced Britain to split its defenses.