Wolfe Tone was one of the founders of the United Irishmen. In efforts to free Ireland from English rule, he had encouraged a French invasion of Ireland which due to bad planning and bad luck was never successful. In October 1798, French forces consisting of eight frigates were intercepted by British ships off Buncrana, Co Donegal. Retreating French ships offered Tone escape but he allegedly said “Shall it be said that I fled, whilst the French were fighting the battles of my country?” He was captured on the ship Hoche.
He appeared before the Court “dressed,” says the Dublin Magazine for November, 1798, “in the French uniform: a large cocked hat, with broad gold lace and the tri-coloured cockade; a blue uniform coat, with gold-embroidered collar and two large gold epaulets; blue pantaloons, with gold-laced garters at the knees; and short boots, bound at the tops with gold lace.”
In his final speech from the dock, Tone said, “From my earliest youth I have regarded the connection between Great Britain and Ireland as the curse of the Irish nation, and felt convinced that, whilst it lasted, this country could never be free nor happy. My mind has been confirmed in this opinion by the experience of every succeeding year, and the conclusions which I have drawn from every fact before my eyes.”
Two years previously, Wolfe Tone had attempted to land at Bantry Bay, Co Cork on another French “invasion.” High winds and storms would mean the planned landing would be aborted some days later. He wrote in his journal:
“We are now, nine o’clock, at the rendezvous appointed; stood in for the coast till twelve, when we were near enough to toss a biscuit ashore; at twelve tacked and stood out again, so now we have begun our cruise of five days in all its forms, and shall, in obedience to the letter of our instructions, ruin the expedition, and destroy the remnant of the French navy, with a precision and punctuality which will be truly edifying.”
Some days previously, Tone’s brother, Matthew Tone, was executed having been captured at the ‘Battle of Ballinamuck’ fighting with French forces.
Photo: Theobald Wolf Tone’s grave, Bodenstown, Co Kildare