1796 – Wolfe Tone and French Fleet set sail for Ireland.

“If the men of property will not support us, they must fall. Our strength shall come from that great and respectable class, the men of no property”. –Theobald Wolfe Tone

The founder of the United Irishmen had an abiding hatred of England declaring his objective was “to subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country—these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissentions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman, in the place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter—these were my means.”

The French moved fast and on 15 December 1796, Wolfe Tone, in the company of 45,450 experienced French troops set sail from the Breton port of Brest. The fleet consisted of 43 warships, carrying a vast amount of arms, and it was hoped that by sailing in mid-winter they would avoid the English fleet. As the fleet left harbour one of the vessels, the Séduisant, struck a rock and 1,255 men lost their lives. Only 45 survived. Then soon after this the Fraternité, with General Hoche onboard, sailed out of sight. It was unable to rejoin the fleet again.

The rest of the fleet continued towards Ireland and on 22 December they anchored in Bantry Bay. General Grouchey, second in command to Hoche decided to wait until the Fraternité would appear. When there was no sighting of the ship Grouchey agreed to land on Christmas day. This was a mistake for the weather grew much worse and on 26 December in the face of violent gales the French were forced to cut ropes and return back to France.

Photo: Wolfe Tone’s grave, Bodenstown, Co Kildare

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