It's my pleasure to welcome Bliss Bennet, who is here to share the tale of the Irish Rebellion.
Since I turned eleven the same year the United States turned two hundred, my childhood was filled with tales of the glories of the American Revolution. And by my high school years, I had been taught more than a bit about the terrors and triumphs of the Revolution that took place in France in 1789. But it wasn’t until I started researching the history of the Regency period as a writer of historical romance that I discovered that the Irish, too, had taken up arms against their government during the same period in history, with hopes similar to those of the Sons of Liberty in America and the sans-culottes in France: hopes of establishing an independent country, free from the oppression of aristocratic rule.
Why did so many Irishmen rebel against their government in 1798? England had been meddling in the affairs of the Irish since the twelfth century, and took full control of its government in 1542, when the Irish Parliament declared Henry VIII “King of Ireland” after an uprising by the Earl of Kildare threatened English interests in the country. In the years that followed, thousands of English and Scottish immigrants settled in Ireland, turning the small island into a de-facto English colony. Penal Laws enacted in 1691, which discriminated against the property rights of Roman Catholics, aided such settlers in displacing many Catholic landowners. And these same Penal Laws also barred Catholics, as well as non-Anglican Protestants, from voting or holding government office in Ireland.
The Society of United Irishmen’s symbol
(Co. Kildare Federation of Local History Groups)
During the 1780s, a handful of liberal members of the ruling Protestant Ascendancy, sympathetic to demands from Catholics and non-Anglican Protestants to overturn the Penal Laws, spoke out on behalf of political reform in Ireland. But their successes were limited. In the wake of such limited reforms, a radical group of Protestants, inspired by both the American and the more recent French revolutions, formed the Society of United Irishmen in 1791. The United Irishmen agitated for the complete removal of English control of Irish governance. A central tenet of the group was the need for all Irishmen, no matter what religion they practiced, to band together to achieve their common political goals.
The Society of United Irishmen’s symbol; here, the woman on the harp wears a cap of liberty instead of a crown
The oath that each member had to take illustrates the non-partisan nature of the organization:
I, A. B. in the presence of God do pledge myself to my country, that I will use all my abilities and influence in the attainment of an impartial and adequate representation of the Irish nation in Parliament; and as a means of absolute and immediate necessity, in the establishment of this the chief good of Ireland, I will endeavor, as much as lies in my ability, to forward a brotherhood of affection, an identity of interest, a communion of rights and an union of power among Irishmen of all religious persuasions, without which every reform of Parliament must be partial, no national, inadequate to the wants, delusive to the wishes, and insufficient for the freedom and happiness of the country (McNeil, 86–87).
A cartoon by English caricaturist James Gillray, lampooning the United Irishmen as more interested in pillaging and looting their fellow countrymen rather than struggling for political liberty. (“United Irishmen on Duty” source: Wikimedia Commons)
Unsurprisingly, the English-controlled government viewed this new organization with suspicion, especially after war between England and France broke out in 1793. Fearing the United Irishmen’s admiration of the French revolutionaries would lead the group to aid the French in invading Ireland, Dublin Castle actively suppressed the society, arresting many of its leaders, sending spies to infiltrate its ranks, and silently condoning violent retaliation against suspected Society members and sympathizers by both the English military and by the loyalist Orange Order.
Forced underground, the United Irishmen became a secret society. And its focus shifted, from reforming the government to overturning it. The group in fact did work with the French on a plan of invasion, but bad weather prevented the 14,000 French soldiers sent in 1796 from landing.
Despite English efforts to suppress the group, leaders of the United Irishmen planned a countrywide insurrection for May of 1798. But the citizens of Dublin, the country’s major city, failed to heed the call to rise. The rebels won temporary victories in counties surrounding Dublin, and later, in Antrim in the north, but by September English troops had stamped out every cinder of revolt.
During the brief, bloody conflict that later became known as the Rebellion of 1798, between ten and twenty five thousand rebels were killed. Many lost their lives actively fighting; others were massacred by the English military after they surrendered. In contrast, only six hundred English soldiers lost their lives.
Mary Ann McCracken
(HistoryIreland.com, via the Ulster Museum)
I could not help but feel sympathy for a movement that began with hopes of “a communion of rights and a union of power among Irishmen of all religious persuasions.” I began reading more about the Rebellion, in particular, accounts of women who had played a role. My reading led me to Mary Ann McCracken, the sister of northern rebel leader Henry Joy McCracken. This single line in her biography, taken from a letter by one of her family members, provided me the inspiration for my first historical romance, A Rebel without a Rogue:
We have got an addition to the family since you were last here, it is a little Girl said to be a daughter of poor Harry’s, it was bro’ very much against my inclinations.
Henry Joy McCracken, hung as a traitor for his role in the Rebellion, had left behind him an illegitimate child. What would it have been like, I wondered, to have been that child? To have been born the bastard daughter of an Irish peasant, to have lived with a rural Irish Catholic family for the first years of one’s life, and then suddenly to find oneself uprooted and thrust into a genteel city family, one with Scottish roots and Presbyterian beliefs? And, on top of it all, to know that one’s father had been executed as a traitor? As I thought about this “what-if,” the main character of A Rebel without a Rogue, and her quest to redeem her father’s reputation and win a secure place in her father’s family, was born.
For more information about the Irish Rebellion of 1798, check out:
Nancy J. Curtin, “Women and Eighteenth-Century Irish Republicanism.” In Margaret MacCurtain and Mary O’Dowd, eds. Women in Early Modern Ireland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1991: 133-144.
Gahan, Daniel. The People's Rising: Wexford 1798. Dublin, Gill and MacMillan, 1995.
Keogh, Dáire and Nicholas Furlong, eds. The Women of 1798. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1998.
_____. The Mighty Wave: The 1798 Rebellion in Wexford. Dublin, Four Courts Press, 1996.
McNeill, Mary. The Life and Times of Mary Ann McCracken: A Belfast Panorama. Dublin: Allen Figgis, 1960.
Whelan, Kevin, ed. The Fellowship of Freedom: Companion volume to the Bicentenary Exhibition by the National Library and National Museum at Collins Barracks, Dublin 1998. Cork University Press, 1998.
About the Author
Bliss Bennet writes smart, edgy novels for readers who love history as much as they love romance. Despite being born and bred in New England, Bliss finds herself fascinated by the history of that country across the pond, particularly the politically-volatile period known as the English Regency. Though she’s visited Britain several times, Bliss continues to make her home in New England, along with her husband, daughter, and two monstrously fluffy black cats.
web site: www.blissbennet.com
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/blissbennetauthor
A Rebel without a Rogue
Fianna Cameron has devoted her life to avenging the death of her father, hanged as a traitor during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Now, on the eve of her thirtieth birthday, only one last miscreant remains: Major Christopher Pennington, who both oversaw her father’s execution and maligned his honor. Fianna risks everything to travel to London and confront the man who has haunted her every nightmare. Only after her pistol misfires does she realize her sickening mistake: the Pennington she wounded is far too young to be her intended target.
A man who will protect his family at all costs
Rumors of being shot by a spurned mistress might burnish the reputation of a rake, but for Kit Pennington, determined to win a seat in Parliament, such salacious gossip is a nightmare. To regain his good name, Kit vows to track down his mysterious attacker and force her to reveal why she fired on him. Accepting an acquaintance’s mistress as an ally in his search is risky enough, but when Kit begins to develop feelings for the icy, ethereal Miss Cameron, more than his political career is in danger.
As their search begins to unearth long-held secrets, Kit and Fianna find themselves caught between duty to family and their beliefs in what’s right. How can you balance the competing demands of loyalty and justice—especially when you add love to the mix?
Hearts Through History’s Romance Through the Ages contest (Georgian/Regency/Victorian category)
The Beau Monde’s Royal Ascot contest
The Valley Forge Romance Writers’ Sheila Contest
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Written content of this post copyright © Bliss Bennet, 2016.