The Story of Napper Tandy – Chapter 1.

Chapter 1. The last invasion of Ireland.

It was the 10th September, 1798. Napper Tandy was afloat, which he hated. She was a corvette. Her name was the Anacréon. What a name for a bloody ship-of-war, he thought. Whether she was named after a Greek composer of drinking and love songs or a French composer of operas, it was not a name for a war-ship.

She was fast, though, that he admitted. And well armed, this 100 ton corvette, with  her fourteen four pounders and a pair of swivels, but her main protection was her speed. The fastest vessel in the Navy of France, they said, and with her yellow hull and new top masts she was any young officer’s dream command. But God, how she pitched. He clutched his hand to his mouth and made once more for the scuppers. What it was to be so old. He felt all of his 61 years today.

After a while he felt sufficiently recovered to return to the ward-room, where he found Rey. General Rey. A real General this Rey, not a paper general like himself. Brigadier General Tandy! The thought amused him unreasonably, even though he understood the necessity. If he was caught he could claim to be a prisoner of war, and exchanged. Otherwise he could be condemned as a traitor, and hanged. Rey had done very well indeed in Bonaparte’s Italian campaign the previous year, and was a real professional. Most of Tandy’s countrymen had retired to their bunks, but he preferred to feel sick in the fresh air than sicker in the nauseous cabin.

“Please God we’re in time, General” he said as he entered. “It’s taken us six bloody days to get this far, and Humbert must have been there well over a month. I wonder how did they do….” he tailed away, accepting a glass of wine from the wardroom servant.

“If anyone could do it, Jean-Joseph should have been able to. A lot depends on how the fighting round Wexford went. 20,000 troops should have kept the English occupied there, I should imagine. Even Irish troops”. This last under his breath, as he had no wish to offend this huge ugly Irishman who had so impressed Talleyrand and the Directory in Paris. And who technically was in command here.

“Ye have the numbers right, General, but they were short of equipment. The English will have had around 10,000 men in the area, but well armed and equipped, far better than our lads. So will the numerical superiority be enough? Your opinion would be far more valuable than my own”.

“It depends on how they are led, those Irish. Ah, good evening, Citoyen Capitaine” this to their Captain, Captain Blankmann, who had just come in, “and how goes the vessel? Shall we land in Ireland tomorrow?”

“Indeed we should do, Citoyen, although nothing is certain at sea. But I expect to sight the northern tip of the Inishowen peninsular at dawn tomorrow” said Blankmann. “If the wind holds”.

“The wind! The wind! Always the wind! I would have thought we have had enough wind to last us a lifetime in the last six days. Ah well, let us contain our impatience. A glass of wine with you, Capitaine”.

“Thank you. Well, Citoyen, we are some miles off the north east coast now, the wind has veered nicely for us, but in the last hour it has been dropping.”

“General Tandy will be pleased, anyhow” smiled Rey. “He really suffers in the rough weather”.

“As do his compatriots, Citoyen, every last one of them!” laughed Blankmann, “although I’m sure we’ll see them all on deck in an hour or two. God send the wind doesn’t drop too much”.

“Humbert was to land in Donegal and should be well established by now.”

“Well tomorrow should see us in Donegal ourselves” said Blankmann, “if the wind holds!”.

“She steadies, though, does she not?” queried Tandy. “The floor seems less unsteady, I’d swear. My nausea is quite gone”.

“Indeed, she does, Sir. The deck is now as stable as your own home” laughed Blankmann.

Tandy was up before dawn the following morning, unable to contain his excitement. As usual, he was immaculate. How he always appeared so resplendent in the close confines of the ship was a mystery. The men said he slept in his uniform, with its twin lines of embroidery on the facings and pockets, its huge epaulettes, it’s high stiff gold laced collar. Early as he was, the sailors were there before him, holystoning the decks which was how they met every new day. The sky seemed to be brightening on his left, he thought, as he gazed forward hoping for a glimpse of his homeland, even though he knew that was an impossibility just yet. Would Humbert have been successful, he wondered? Would the day bring a new dawn for Ireland? He dreamed of the future. He would be the Liberator, the toast of all Ireland. And more importantly he would be with his family again. How was his son, he wondered, with his pretty little wife Mary, and their son. James Napper Tandy they had called him! He supposed he should be flattered. Half an hour passed, and his reverie was interrupted. A cry from the masthead brought him promptly back to the present.

“Sail Ho!” came the cry. He had been expecting a cry of ‘Land Ho’. Blankmann had materialised beside him.

“Where away?” cried the Captain to the masthead lookout.

“Two points fine on the starboard bow, Citoyen” came the response. “A Frigate. And there’s another, Citoyen, smaller. A Corvette, I’d say”.

“We have to put about, with your permission, Sir”. This to Tandy. “We can’t risk a confrontation, they’re too heavy for us. The frigate alone will have twice our firepower, and they are always very well handled, these English frigates. They’ll be patrolling the entrances to Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle. Which means they’re expecting us. I suggest we head north and consider our options. And the wind” he smiled.

“It’s your command, Blankmann, whatever you think best.”

“All hands!” called Blankmann, followed by a stream of orders Tandy did not understand, and the deck dissolved into a chaos of rushing feet and flapping sails as the vessel slowly swung away from the land. Bitterly disappointed, he sought the shelter of the wardroom.

Rey was there. Of course. He never seemed to sleep. So was Blackwell. Colonel Blackwell. An odd fish, that fellow, thought Tandy. Charming wife, though. Originally from Ennis he had started for the priesthood, gave that up a studied medicine, and then the army, all by the age of 21, and all in Paris. Now he was 35 and a Colonel, and above all bilingual, completely fluent in English and French, and that alone made him invaluable at the moment. Tandy was well aware that his own French, though serviceable, was heavily accented.

“We’ve been rumbled” he said as he came in. “They were waiting for us. Or Bompard. Or both. They seem to be a step ahead of us always. Spies everywhere. So what the hell do we do now?”

“Try further west, I should think” responded Blackwell. They tossed the problem round and round all morning. Soon they were joined by the other Irish, Will Corbet from County Cork, Donovan, McCann, Orr, McKenna and three or four others. They were very crowded in the little Brig’s wardroom, but at least the sea was now calm. Too calm, they found out, when Denize, the first lieutenant came in around midday.

“I regret, Messieurs, that we have lost the wind. We are becalmed. The Captain has asked me to advise you, and to say that he thinks the wind will return when the sun goes down, and he expects it to be suitable for passage westwards.”

“Where are we now?” asked Tandy.

“Approximately 45 nautical miles north of Donegal, mon Général.” Here he spread a chart on the table and pointed out their position.

“I propose we should head in this direction” said Tandy, pointing, “towards Tory Island.”

“That makes sense” said Blackwell. “Come” in rapid French to Denize, “Let us go and discuss the position with the Captain”.

Dawn the next morning saw Tandy on the foredeck again, excited again, his reverie interrupted again, by the same cry.

“Sail Ho!”.

His heart sank to his boots. Surely to God the bloody English weren’t here too.

Captain Blankmann materialised next to him again, and hailed the lookout:

“Where away, and what d’ye see?”

“Dead ahead, Citoyen, sloop. Small trader, I’d say”.

“He’s a good, Jacquot, if he says she’s a trader, a trader she is. And she’s bound to be English. Maybe a little prize money, Sir?” “Maybe”, replied Tandy quietly, his excitement mounting, “but more importantly, maybe a little information”.

“Some deception is called for, Mon Général,” said Blankmann, “because as you see, the wind is foul for an approach to her directly. We need to carry on this tack, gradually but unnoticeably coming closer to the wind, until we can turn and sail down to her. She is working out from the islands, and in this wind that will take her almost all day. We shall also hoist English colours, so as not to alarm her.”

“Is that not contrary to the rules of war, Capitaine?” asked Tandy.

“Not at all, M’sieu. It is merely a ruse de guerre, so long as we hoist our own before we open fire.”

And that is what happened. It took almost all day, six or seven very nerve wracking hours, but eventually they were able to run down on the vessel, a 50 ton sloop, fire a single unshotted gun, launch a boat and so take possession of the sloop. She was the Swan, sailing in ballast from Lough Foyle to Galway, her home port, and her master and owner William Kelly came aboard the Anacréon quite willingly, no doubt to see could he bargain for his vessel. He sat down with Tandy and Blackwell in the wardroom, Captain Blankmann in attendance, but speaking little English he had only a slight grasp of what was said.

“You are good Irishman, I’m sure” opened Blackwell.

“I am of course, Your Honour” said Kelly, addressing Tandy who he assumed was in charge, dressed as he was in the full uniform of a French Brigadier General, a very flamboyant affair. But when Tandy spoke he was clearly Irish, not French as Kelly had supposed, nor English. He relaxed, leaning back. Tandy, pleased to be able to hold forth in his own language for once, enlightened him.

“We are here to bring supplies to General Humbert of France, but we have had difficulties in getting here. Our first attempts at landing were frustrated by two large English men of war” he exaggerated, “and now we seek a suitable port free of English, and we seek General Humbert. If you can assist us you may keep your vessel. If not, not.”

“Well, you’re straight forward, anyhow. Let me tell you what I can. First, I’m from Galway, and that vessel there is my livelihood and my life. As it is for the five lads aboard her, they’re all family. Second, your French General landed at Killala Bay in Mayo, not Donegal. He took Ballina without any opposition at all, stole a march  on the English at Castlebar by going round the back door and belting the hell out of them. They fled to the east, so fast the locals are calling it the Races of Castlebar, and they could have gone as far as Athlone so far as I know. Well beyond Mayo anyhow. But that was  two weeks ago now. Anything could have happened since then.”

“And tell me now, were there many Irish supporting him?”

“Not many. The United Irishmen raised maybe 1,400 men. But nothing in the nature of a general rising, no Sir. The people round here are too poor to rise, and would not risk what little they have. Have you ever tried to grow crops in Mayo? Potatoes is all, and none so many of them either. Galway, now, if you’d all landed in Galway, that’d be different, but this part is just too damned poor.”

Tandy said nothing for a long time, and Blackwell respected his silence. For this was the most disappointing news. Humbert could be anywhere from Castlebar to Dublin, captured or victorious. And they were here, in a French corvette, off Tory Island. Miles away still.

“You’re an honest man, Kelly. I wish more were like you. We’ll make a plan for your boat, but first we need to get our own into port. Where would you suggest, from here?”

“How about Dunfanaghy?” interposed Blackwell.

“Ah, no Sir, ‘tis too close to Letterkenny and there may well be British there who ye’d best avoid at first. I’d suggest Inishmacadam, or Rutland Island they call it now. It’s not too far, it has a good port and excellent holding ground off, all the facilities ye’ll need, and being an island is seldom visited by those without business there”.

Blackwell had been carrying on a running commentary in French for Captain Blankmann, who now said he had no charts of the area.

“We’ve no charts with that much detail, Kelly” said Blackwell. “Would you show us the way?”.

He thought about this a little before answering, and then said he could do that, but arrangements would have to be made for his own vessel. The crew were under the impression that he was detained by a French pirate, and he couldn’t just leave them. Eventually it was decided that he would send his son, who was the Mate, a message to go to his brother in Galway and say that he was being held for a ransom of a hundred guineas.

“He owes that sum, d’ye see” laughed Kelly, “so I’ll get that back and ye’ll get your pilot! They’ll bring the money to Inishmacadam”.

And so it was arranged. The weather took a hand now, as ever. It blew a gale, a contrary gale. For two days. So it was late in the morning of Sunday September 16th that they finally reached their destination.

The Anacréon was still flying English colours, and signalled for a pilot as any English ship would do. The pilot duly arrived, a man named Teague Boyle who was well known around those parts as an expert coastal pilot as far south as Limerick. He knew Kelly, and the two were soon chatting away in Irish as he brought the ship into a safe anchorage. The shore was close by, and the houses seemed very numerous for so remote a location, thought Tandy. In fact it was a flourishing herring port, and they had unknowingly arrived at the largest commercial operation in this part of Ireland. It boasted, among other facilities, a post office, the mail time to Dublin being just three days. This would prove to be significant.

In the meantime the formalities of their arrival had to be completed. The customs launch came alongside, and her hapless crew on boarding were incarcerated with Kelly and Boyle – for the time being only, they were assured. By now there were fifteen of these temporary prisoners. Tandy, resplendent in his blue and gold, interviewed each of them separately, and all told the same story – the French had been defeated and the Irish combatants slaughtered.

And then, onto that sombre scene came another boat, this one full of United Irishmen. They were full of bravado, but said that all Ulster would rise if they could, but for the time being they could not. There was a 25,000 strong English force abroad who would kill you as soon as look at you. But locally they could raise around 5,000, they said. Indeed, this being Sunday, there would be perhaps a thousand of them at Mass not so far away.

Tandy left them on deck and retired to the ward-room where he called a meeting. There was himself and Blackwell, Rey, the other four French army officers, Colonel Ameil, and Captains Luxemburg, Le Duc, and Borie, and of course the ship’s Captain Blankmann.

“Gentlemen” said Tandy, “We need to decide now what is to be done. The situation as I see it is this: General Humbert has been defeated and his force imprisoned. There is an increase in English presence throughout the north, and the local Irish in Ulster are unwilling or unable to support us. These fellows aboard now, however, claim to be able to raise 5,000 good men. Maybe that is true, but my countrymen are prone to exaggeration. So do we land, or do we go home?” There was a long pause.

“There is no immediate threat which I can see.” Rey as the senior French Officer eventually spoke. “We came here to support Humbert’s people with men and munitions. True, we have heard rumours of his defeat, but as you said, Tandy, your countrymen are prone to exaggeration. We can land and make ready to support if and when needed, and bide our time until the position is clarified. I see nothing in the present situation to threaten that course of action. Let us land and see for ourselves how much truth there is in all these reports. Quite apart from anything else, the men are heartily sick of being confined in this little boat – sorry, Citoyen Capitaine, ship, but you will admit it is somewhat crowded”.  That brought a laugh, and lessened the tension. Everyone now chipped in with their views, and the conversation became general. In the end it was agreed to land an exploratory force, to be led by Rey and Tandy. Tandy would be responsible for the Irish Volunteers.

The first thing to do was to seal off the island, so Colonel Ameil and Captain Borie moved immediately to seize all small craft and so cut communications with the mainland. Men were landed and a camp set up. Lookouts were posted and the deputy postmaster, a man named Francis Foster, confined to his house. And a big meeting was called at which a makeshift flagpole was erected and the new flag of Ireland was hoisted, a golden harp on a green background with the words ‘Erin go Bragh’ underneath. The camp was named ‘Headquarters of the Northern Army of Avengers.’ Laudatory pamphlets were handed out signed by General James Napper Tandy, but since these were written in English and the intended recipients spoke and read only Irish, their impact was negligible.

Mail was due that day, Sunday, and the boat carrying it was intercepted by Tandy in person, and the newspapers scanned. They confirmed the worst – Humbert had been defeated and taken eight days earlier, on 8th September, so nothing was to be gained by proceeding with the landing. The sea sick soldiers would have to endure a little more. They had formed the basis of a good working relationship with the islanders during their short stay, but now determined on leaving. All the temporary prisoners were released around 10 pm that night, and at dawn the following morning, September 17th , Anacréon set sail.

Tandy decided to head for Norway. A direct course for France would almost certainly have run them into English naval patrols, for the news of their landing would have reached the vessels in Lough Swilly before they could work there way past.

“It’s like this” said Tandy to Rey and Captain Blankmann when they were discussing it that morning. “Quite apart from the wind” he smiled at Blankmann, “assuming it blows in the right direction, the cat will be will and truly out of the bag by now. There’ll be horsemen nearing Letterkenny as we speak. That’s at the end of Lough Swilly, and its only twenty miles from there to Derry and Lough Foyle. By the end of the day every Royal Britannic Navy vessel between here and Belfast will be on the look out for us. Our best chance is to sail north I think. With Anacréon’s turn of speed and sailing qualities, the English would have no advantage since we are all starting from around the same latitude, and we have a head start. Even if they knew where we were going, which they don’t. They’ll surely expect us to head the fastest way possible for France. Am I right, Captain?”

“Indeed you are, Citoyen, you should have been a sailor!” laughed Blankmann. “It’s likely to take five days or so, though. Can you put up with the sea for so long?”

“The alternative is even less pleasant” smiled Tandy, and retired.

Dawn next day found the ship heading towards Bergen in Norway with a fine following wind and a relatively calm sea. Rey found Tandy gazing over the stern towards Ireland.

“We so nearly made it, you know” he said. A few days earlier, ten maybe, and we might have given Humbert the support he needed”.

“Sadly, my friend, we have to live life as we find it, not as we would like it to be” mused Rey. “But tell me, Tandy, what got you into this business in the first place?”

“That’s a long story, Rey my friend. It’d take all day to tell.”

“We have all day” laughed Rey. “All week, perhaps”

“Well, if you wish. I’ll start at the beginning. I was born sixty one years ago….” and the story kept them occupied, Tandy talking and Rey entranced, for the whole of the next two days.

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