Theobald Wolfe Tone: 1763 -1998 Considered to the the Father of Republicanism

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Theobald Wolfe Tone was born in 1763. Descendant from  French Protestant family who fled Religious Prosecution in the mid-16th century. One branch of the Tone family settled in Dublin. Peter Tone,  the son of one of these descendants, and Wolfe Tones father [ !! ]. was. a Church of Ireland Coach Maker and Tone;s [snr] father owned a farm near Sallins Co Kildare. Baptized Theobald Wolfe Tone, in honour of his Godfather, Theobald Wolfe. However, some sources would suggest that Theobald Wolfe was, in fact, Wolfe Tones biological father, and it was widely accepted in this era [ although the Tones never confirmed or denied this] ..If this is true, this would make Wolfe Tone a half -brother of the well know poet Charles Wolfe.

Wolfe Tone’s mother was a Catholic and came from a wealthy Merchant family, but she converted to Protestantism after Theobald was born. His maternal grandfather was a Captain of a West India. Trading Ship. The brothers Tone, Theobald, William,  and Matthew attended a school run by the Rev.William Craig .. Theobald was said to be highly intelligent, in fact, he was considered too be a genius, but not fond of lessons, so he only ever attended school three days per week. He liked to wander by the canals, and take country walks, attend Garrison Brigade parades, and in general terms, he just liked to be ideal so he could think and plan. This small amount of education, however, was sufficient to allow him to pass exams and get top grades. When his studies finished at Rev Craigs School, Trinity College awaited him, and with much reluctance, he enrolled to study there. He became a member of the College Historical Society, where thinking and debate were much more agreeable to him than just study, which he preferred, and was elected 1785 as Auditor.  He Graduated from Trinity in1786 with a BA  much to the surprise of his parents, ...

It was when he took a job as a tutor to Richard Martins the  Galway MP younger half-brothers, Anthony and Robert1783 that he became aware of Martins involvement in the Catholic emancipation network, and he too became highly involved in this .. Falling in love with Martins wife, Wolfe Tone later admitted was a mistake and it came to nothing.  He considered a career in Theatre as an actor at this time, but this also came to nothing, anything is possible, he was wont to say.

By 1783 he had met and fallen in love with Martha Witherington, a 16-year-old who was the sister of a friend of his in Trinity. At that time, she lived with her elderly grandfather who was a Clergyman and much to the dismay of her grandfather and her family [who changed her name to Matilda at Wolfe Tone insistence,] eloped with Wolfe Tone. However, her grandfather relented and gave them £500 as a dowry ..  They married in St Anne’s Church 21st July 1785 Dublin honeymooning in Maynooth, and when they returned to Dublin, they spent time living with Matilda parents in Dublin and when his father became bankrupt, he and Madelia went to reside with his father in Bordentown.

Their first child was born Maria was in October 1786 with a son, Richard, following the next year 1787. Matilda lived with Wolfe Tones family in Bordentown while he went off to London from 1787-1788,  when he returned to Dublin he was called to the bar, describing this as a job no man should be asked to do, for him it was boring to work days on end to make a living, was just beyond his comprehension. They had two more sons William Theobald Wolfe Tone April 1991 . and Francis Rawdon Tone, name after Francis [ Frank] Rawdon- Hastings June 1993 ... [after Marquess Francis Rawdon.]

While he was in London he met up with his brother William, who had run off to join an Indian Trading Ship, and they both contemplated going to India via this route, but they were turned down.

The Wolfe Tone family moved a great deal between the years of 1785 to  1793, from Dublin to Bordentown and back, but by this time they were living in a cottage that Wolfe Tones Uncle Jonathan had left him in his will, which they referred to as Château Boue [meaning Mud Hut ]. The Wolfe Tone family lived there until  1795. Matilda and the family did not see much of him during this time, preoccupied as he was with founding the Radical Irishman Group, writing Pamphlets and being a part of the Whig Club, in any and every attempt he could make to secure an Ireland free of British tyranny.

By late 1790, radicals like Wolfe Tone, John Stack, William Drennan, Joseph, Peter Burrows, William Johnson, Whitley Stokes, and Thomas Russell formed a  club for the discussions of political and literary subjects. These discussions were not enough, however, to stave off the rising tide of anger and frustration of what needed to be done to overthrow Irish government.   So that by  October 1791, Wolfe Tone converted these ideas into practical policy by founding, in conjunction with Thomas Russell., Napper Tandy and, John Stack, William Drennan, Joseph, Peter Burrows, William Johnson, Whitley Stokes, and Thomas Russell the Society of United Irishman. 

In 1794, this society aimed at more than the formation of a political union between Catholics and Protestants with a view to obtaining a liberal measure of parliamentary reform.  A petition was written that went before Parliament, and added to this Wolfe Tone had published “An Argument on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland." [ He wrote several pamphlets,}.and In 1792 he was appointed an assistant secretary of the Catholic Convention. Irish Parliament was of course very aware of this petition and that all of the Pamphlets had been written and inspired by Wolfe Tone, as they had spy’s in Wolfe Tones' ranks, unfortunately.

Evermore radical, Wolfe Tone himself, however, was anticlerical and hoped for a general revolt against religious creeds in Ireland as a sequel to the attainment of Irish political freedom.

The attainment that Wolfe Tone sough was by acting on his criticism of the Government in 1791 when he became one of the founders of the Nationalist group the Society of United Irishmen. This group initially fought for governmental reform but became revolutionaries after the English government banned them from meeting in 1794. At this point the United Irishman became a sworn association, using oaths that aimed at the overthrow of the Kingdom of Ireland.

So with Thomas Russell who he had met in the gallery of the Irish House of Commons,  and other radicals, notably James Reynolds, Archibald Hamilton Rowan,  and others [noted above] began to seek arms and by 1794, he and the United Irishman radicals began to seek armed aid from a revolutionary France, to help them overthrow the Kingdom of Ireland.

Then into this scenario the Irishman Rev William Jackson was sent over from England, where he was residing, but had a great deal of knowledge and understanding of revolutions, having spent many years in France undertaking opinions, observations and learning about revolutions. His task was to ascertain as to what extent the Irish people were ready to support a French invasion. Wolfe Tone drew up a memorandum for Jackson on the state of Ireland's angry and frustrated people, with regard to the penal laws and the treatment of Catholics and Presbyterians in which he described Ireland as, “as ripe for revolution immediately”

An attorney named Cockayn, to whom Wolfe Tone had advised Jackson, ‘not to place his trust in ’,   Jackson did just that, and imprudently disclosed his mission to Cockayn, betraying Jackson and Wolfe Tone to the Irish Parliament. In April 1794 Jackson was arrested on a charge of treason and dramatically committed suicide during his trial. ..

Knowing it was only a matter of time before all of the radicals were arrested, lots of them left Ireland. Wolfe Tone also knew that it was only a matter of time before he too was arrested. So Wolfe Tone began to make arrangements to get him and his family out of Ireland. Having friends among the government party, including members of the Beresford family, Wolfe Tone succeeded in making terms with the government and emigrated to the United States, where he arrived in May 1795. Before leaving Ireland, he and his family traveled to Belfast, and it was at the summit of Cavehill that  Wolfe Tone made the Cavehill Compact with fellow Irish radicals, including Russell and McCracken promising "never to desist in our efforts until we had subverted the authority of England over our country, and asserted our independence.”  At this time, the United Irishman was broken up for a while but reformed in 1796.

Wolfe Tone used this time in the USA, to his and the United Irishman’s advantage, and set about obtaining introductions from the French Minister in Philadelphia to the Committee of Public Safety in Paris, better known as the  Directory [Directorate] who were the governing five-member committee in the French First Republic. So with these introductions in place. Wolfe Tone set sail for France, leaving Matilda and the children behind in the USA, he arrived in the French Capital in February 1796.  

This time his plan was received favourably [an earlier plan had been rejected] and the Directory appointed one of its most brilliant generals, Lazare Hoche, to command this expedition, and made Wolfe Tone an adjutant in the French Army.

This first expedition set sail from 'Brest' Southern France on the 16th Dec 1796. and depending on which sources are read, this expedition was made up of anywhere between forty-three to forty-eight Ships, and between fourteen to fifteen thousand men.

Research also suggests that these ships were not handled properly so that by the time they reached West Cork and Kerry, they were dispersed by vicious storms making it impossible to land. Wolfe Tone was depressed and subdued by this but did not give up on this idea of overthrowing the Irish government. By October 1797, he had plans organized once again for a French invasion of Ireland, this time however he was dealing with Napoleon Bonaparte, who took little interest in another expedition to Ireland.

However, when news reached Paris that the rebellion had already broken out Oct 1798, Wolfe Tone made hast to urge the Directorate so all the Directorate could promise was a number of small raised to descend simultaneously around the Irish coast. One of these under General Humbert, had some success by landing in Killala, Co Mayo and carried forth through Connacht, into  Castlebar before it was met by British Forces, whose commanders General Lake and Charles Cornwallis, held and captured all those of prominence. Including. Wolfe Tone's brother Matthew was captured, tried by Court Martial and hanged. The second raid, took place on the Coast of Donegal, with Napper Tandy onboard which also came to disaster. The third raid with Wolf Tone onboard the ship ‘Hoche’ took place at Buncrana, on Lough Swilly under the command of Admiral Jean- Baptiste- Francois Bompart with General Jean Hardy in command of three thousand men. After a battle that lasted approximately three hours  Wolfe Tone refused the offer of escape on a frigate when the Hoache surrendered. He was brought ashore in Letterkenny. All of the men on board the Hoche were taken prisoner and were transported to Lord  Cavan’s home in Letterkenny, where Wolfe Tone was arrested. The French ships were allowed to sail back to France

There is still some confusion with regard to Wolfe Tone’s death. Some sources would suggest that while waiting to be hanged, he pierced his own throat with a sharp blade, and bled to death over several days. Whatever the cause of his death. His last words in Court would show his devotion to Ireland and his concern for his adored wife and family. His own words below, show his true strength of character, and al that he had fought for.


I entered into the service of the French Republic with the sole view of being useful to my country. To contend against British Tyranny, I have braved the fatigues and terrors of the field of battle; I have sacrificed my comfort, have courted poverty, have left my wife unprotected, and my children without a father. After all, I have done for a sacred cause, death is no sacrifice. In such enterprises, everything depends on success: Washington succeeded – Kosciusko failed. I know my fate, but I neither ask for pardon nor do I complain. I admit openly all I have said, written, and done, and am prepared to meet the consequences. As, however, I occupy a high grade in the French Army, I would request that the court, if they can, grant me the favour that I may die the death of a soldier......


I do hope I have done justice to this extraordinary rebel. Know as Tone before death, the name Wolfe Tone is now synonymous with him being the Father of Republicanism.



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