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This embodied the overthrow of the monarchy, something that could not be contemplated by the ruling class whose privilege devolved from royal bounty. The overthrow of the privileged class was certainly the aim of the militant United Irishmen emerging in the wake of the recall of the liberal Earl Fitzwilliam who was dismissed from his post of Lord Lieutenant for his appeasement policies towards the Catholic population. This appeasement policy introduced by Prime Minister Pitt was soon undermined by the Ascendancy here in Ireland. This in turn led to the militant core in the United Irishmen gaining control and a new and tougher order of Insurgent emerged.
Regardless of how '98 is interpreted it did cast a long dark shadow on our history. It created divisions that were difficult to heal; we cannot pretend otherwise. Two centuries on we must make a fresh attempt to lay that ghost. Laws of a most repressive nature were passed to prevent the growth of peasant agitation and to ensure the survival of the Ascendancy Class. For example: -The Convention Act that made all delegate assemblies illegal; The Insurrection Act which prescribed death for administering a seditious oath, transportation for taking one, for possession or concealment of arms, for tumultuous assembly and for selling seditious papers. Transportation was to the Australian colonies and usually for a seven-year minimum period. These laws were enacted in 1796 in an effort to halt the growth of the United Irishmen's organization. Brutal punishments, mainly directed by Lord Carhampton, were introduced. Flogging, Pitch-capping, Half Hanging, Drawing, Feet roasting and Barrelling became commonplace tortures
All of these tortures were calculated to cow the people or else goad them into premature insurrection. The heinous Indemnity Act was the greatest travesty of all. It exonerated any person who had exceeded his legal powers in the preservation of public peace. This was a certain licence to kill, torture and maim without any accountability in law. Justice was suspended and only might was right. These laws and punishments were applied to Catholics, Protestants, and Presbyterians alike. Anthony Perry, Matthew Keough, Bagenal Harvey, Cornelius Grogan, John Colclough, the Sheares brothers, Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken, Dr John Esmonde and Thomas Russell were non-Catholics who suffered and died for "transgressions"'. Neither class nor creed mattered.
The fundamental division at that time was between those who had, and were determined to keep, power, property and privilege and those who were being denied basic human rights and justice. There was a further real grievance in the rural areas based on the payment of tithes, taxes and in the matter of land tenure. If there are those who want to represent 1798 as a war of religion, so be it. Some of the many fine accounts of the period written in recent years show another dimension to that sad time in our history. Political or other agendas at any given time may make it expedient to put a certain spin on events. Propaganda is -and always was-just as crucial a part of war as the engagement on the battlefield.
A wave of republicanism was sweeping across Europe and North America at that time. Ireland soon became part of that wave. A small country perched on the doorstep of a larger and greedier one that saw itself as an Empire and a world power, equal, if not superior, to any of the other conquering nations who were at that time expanding their realms at the expense of oppressed peoples. No attempt was ever made by Britain to woo the friendship of the Irish people. The preferred option was to conquer, colonize and rule.
The English Crown had given the Ascendancy or ruling class their estates here. They mandated them to rule as the English Parliament dictated. Ireland did have its own Irish Parliament but Poyning's Law, enacted in 1494 and the "Sixth of George 1st" in 1719 taken together ensured that control lay in London and not in Dublin. Our Parliament was a puppet one. The Irish peasant aided by some of the old recusants, many of whom were of English descent, sought to break the yoke and bring some measure of Home Rule back to the Irish nation. It was a ceaseless battle that flared up periodically and culminated in the insurrection of 1798. Next