James Napper Tandy was born in the Cornmarket area of Dublin in 1740; one of three children born to James Tandy, an iron works merchant, and Maria Bella Jenkins. Tandy received his education at the Quaker boarding school in Ballitore, Kildare, amongst its alumni Edmund Burke, a champion of Catholic emancipation and a supporter of American independence.
Originally a small tradesman in Dublin, he gained attention by his attacks on municipal corruption and his proposal to boycott English goods as a reprisal for the restrictions placed on Irish commerce. He joined the Irish volunteers, and he aided Theobald Wolfe Tone in founding the Dublin branch of the United Irish Society in 1791. When faced with a sedition charge in 1793, Tandy fled to the United States and then to France in 1798, where he was given the title of General. He landed in Ireland, but when he discovered that the French expedition of General Humbert to aid the Irish rebellion had failed, he realised that any further action was futile, re-embarked and sailed north to Norway to avoid British warships.
On his way back to France he was arrested and imprisoned in Hamburg before being turned over to the British. He was returned to Dublin where he was tried for complicity in the Rebellion of 1798. He was acquitted. He was tried a second time in Lifford in Co Donegal in April of 1801 for his part in the attempted invasion. He was found guilty and sentenced to death.
His life was spared when Napoleon Bonaparte refused to sign the Treaty of Amiens until Tandy was released. The British conceded and Tandy was set free in March of 1802. The Treaty of Amiens temporarily ended hostilities between France and England. Tandy returned to France where he was received as “a person of distinction” and awarded a full General’s pension.
He died in Bordeaux on 24 August 1803. He was given a full military funeral that was attended by local dignitaries and a large entourage of local people. Unconfirmed accounts have it that his body was secretly returned and buried in the churchyard of the Castlebellingham Parish Church in Co Louth.
Tandy’s name lives on in Irish folklore in the song ‘The Wearin’ of the Green’.
O Paddy dear, and did ye hear the news that’s goin’ round?
The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground!
No more Saint Patrick’s Day we’ll keep, his colour can’t be seen
For there’s a cruel law ag’in the Wearin’ o’ the Green.”
I met with Napper Tandy, and he took me by the hand
And he said, “How’s poor old Ireland, and how does she stand?”
“She’s the most distressful country that ever yet was seen
For they’re hanging men and women there for the Wearin’ o’ the Green.”
Photo: Stone plaque in the grounds of St Audoen’s Church, Cornmarket, 5 High Street, Jamestown, Dublin. “Adjacent to this house was born AD 1740 James Napper Tandy civic tribune soldier and patriot, Secretary Dublin Society United Irishmen, Chef de Brigade Armée de la Republique Francaise, died in Bordeaux 1803. Erected by Quay Ward branch Wolfe Tone and ’98 Memorial Association A.D. 1900”