The Story of Napper Tandy − Chapter 2.

Chapter 2. Meath and Dublin

I was born in 1737, at the Jenkins house near Drewstown in County Meath. That was because my father was an ironmonger in Dublin, with premises in Charlotte Street. Infant mortality was high in Dublin in those days, due to the generally poor sanitary arrangements, and the chances of survival of both myself and my mother were considered greatly enhanced by being in the countryside. And rightly so.

The Jenkins were my mother’s people, and their house became as much mine, I felt, as our own house in Dublin, and much more fun. My Grandmother, that’s my mother’s mother, was a Naper of Loughcrew, also in County Meath. They often put an extra ‘p’ in the name, to make it Napper, which is where I got my second name.

Anyhow the whole thing must have gone well, because here I am! My first real memory is of the Jenkins place, too, and of snow and ice. The great freeze of 1740 to 1743. It must have been the third year I remember I suppose, as I would have been too young else. There was snow, FEET of snow, blocking the drive and covering the fields. The rivers were all ice, too, and we children had a great time. I know now, of course, that the impact on the general populace wasn’t so great. The ice was reported to be nineteen inches thick on the Shannon. The ordinary people had little or nothing in the way of heat, even the turf was frozen, while we had huge log fires. The staple foods of the people in Meath were barley and wheat then, and harvests of virtually everything had failed for the last two years. 400,000 people died in those three years.

My next real memory is of school. I wasn’t allowed to go to the school down the road like the other lads in Charlotte Street, but was sent off into the country again. My father was a countryman at heart, and came from a country family, but being the fourth son he’d had to make his own way. He had an aptitude for metal-work, and I suppose that was why he drifted into ironmongery. The school chosen for me must have been a bit of an experiment, though, because it was a Quaker School, and we weren’t Quakers!

How to describe Ballitore School? Well, for a start you need to understand a little of those extraordinary people, the Quakers. They call themselves not Quakers, but the Society of Friends. That pretty much describes the school actually, for the teachers were not ogres with whips as are so many, but friends. And it worked. Our Euclid and our grammar were not beaten into us, but presented in such a way that we loved it, and worked the harder. And it wasn’t just the school that was Quaker run, but the entire village. There was nothing there but marsh when the first Quakers arrived in the previous century, and drained an area and built a flour mill. They were from Yorkshire, over the water in England, and more of their people followed. So the only Catholic Irish we saw were the servant girls who came in. The school belonged to a lovely, kind old English man named Shackleton, Abraham Shackleton. He must have been approaching 60 when he taught me.  I was there from the age of eleven until I was sixteen, and such learning as I have I owe to those Quakers. Even what passes for my French!

But you don’t need to hear about my schooldays. They were happy, is the main point I make. I was insulated there from the troubles that beset Ireland at the time. And the Penal Laws, of course, affected us not at all. For we were Protestants. I never queried it then, the difference between us and the Catholics. It just …. was.

Anyhow back in Dublin my father was doing well in his trade. This was the time when Dublin was growing. While I was at school we had moved from Charlotte Street to Cornmarket Street, down by the river, I suppose to be nearer the other ironmongers. Skilled tradesmen tend to live near others of the same skill in Dublin, which increases turnover to the benefit of all. The development of Dublin, which for the previous fifty years had been on the Northside, the area to the north of the river, was now coming back on the Southside where it had started, and where Cornmarket Street was situated. All the great squares were developing around Fitzgerald’s Mansion, which seemed to act like a magnet. All the world loves an aristocrat in Dublin, unlike Paris! Fitzgerald, who was Earl of Kildare then, had built this enormous mansion, a chateau you’d call it in France, when I was a child, and called it Kildare House. Later he became Duke of Leinster so the house was renamed Leinster House. He’s the fellow who ran the Volunteers in Dublin, but I’ll come to that. Of course all the Ascendancy Aristocrats wanted to be near him, so Merrion Square was laid out, and Fitzwilliam Square, and St. Stephen’s Green was developed, and College Green. All the huge houses built round them needed railings, and gates, and nails … nails! Literally millions of nails! And pots and pans and fire irons and scuttles. It was a prosperous time for ironmongers.

And so I became an ironmonger then, and worked with my father. At the age of 23 I was admitted as a freeman, ‘by birthright’, to the Guild of the Holy and Undivided Trinity! Isn’t that a grand name? In fact it was the Merchant’s Society. And brave stout fellows we thought ourselves, too! My son followed me in his time, and at about the same age. He had become a soldier, a Lieutenant in Bengal with the East India Company by then. And a year after young James was admitted, I was made Junior Master! The papers were very kind about it. They said that my parts eminently entitled me to every mark of esteem my fellow citizens could bestow, or something like that! So next year, ’89, they made me Senior Master! The Church, the Protestant Church that is, the one round the corner from where we used to live in Cornmarket, St. Audoen’s, made me a Master too, of their Guild of St. Anne’s. Perhaps I should have stuck to business. I was involved in public works, as well, and helped quite a bit with our new canals. I was even a shareholder in the Grand Canal company. And still am! It’s taking a long time to finish it, though. But it’s a hard thing not to try and improve things when you see stupidity and arrogance ruling everywhere. But I digress.

I was fully involved in business for four or five years after that, but then I got married. That happened in ’65, when I was 28 years old. Her name was, is I should say, Anne, Anne Jones. She’s from Platten in the County Meath not far from my cousins and the Jenkins, and of course I knew her well. We had often danced the night away when I was staying there. And she was possessed of a large fortune which is never a bad thing in a wife! So we had our own house, in Dorset Street, number 16 it was. A very grand place, we thought it! On the Northside! There was a theatrical family near us, the Sheridans, Thomas and Frances. He ran the Theatre Royal. One of their sons, a boy called Richard who was around 15 years of age at the time, later became very famous in London where I think he owns a big theatre. I heard tell he’s in politics, now, too. They used to live down the road at number 12. Dorset Street is close to Rutland Square, which used to be one of the most fashionable areas to live.

The ironmonger’s business, though, remained in the old family premises on the Southside, at Cornmarket Street. Increasingly I had been finding it difficult to work with my father there. He was still very active, and in fact remained so for another twenty five years, so we were inclined to squabble. We agreed that for the time being at any rate I would seek pastures new, which was how I became a land agent – much more respectable than an ironmonger, my wife insisted! And respectability somehow brought influence.

My enquiring mind brought me to the forefront of all kinds of things, for these were stirring times. In the countryside the Whiteboys were protesting the practice of enclosures of large areas of hitherto common land. This was done by often absentee landlords to supply the increasingly profitable European market with beef. The Whiteboys invaded estates, filled in the enclosing ditches, hamstrung cattle, and generally made themselves troublesome. And in the city thinking Protestants were joining movements aimed at the removal of the bar which separated the Catholic Irish from us Protestants. That meant the removal of those iniquitous Penal Laws. Catholics couldn’t vote, couldn’t become lawyers or join the police or hold any other public office, or buy freehold land, or send their children to the only University in the country (Trinity College) or abroad to be educated, nor could they run their own schools, or own a horse worth more than £5 or a hundred and one other things. Their parcels of land were getting smaller and smaller too, as they were subdivided under the inheritance laws applicable only to Catholics, so that it became impossible to plant enough barley and wheat to survive.

These laws would have to be removed in Parliament in Dublin, but the English Parliament would have to agree as theirs was superior to ours, and in theirs sat all the Landlords whose Estates were being invaded. So it became an anti-English protest. ‘Burn everything British,’ Dean Swift was crying, ‘except their coal.’ A book written over 70 years earlier by William Molyneaux, known mainly for his scientific studies, was republished, and was very popular. It was called ‘the Case of Ireland being bound by Acts of Parliament in England’. I was 31, and absorbed every page, and felt that it made a great deal of sense.  And in fact the worst of those Penal Laws have now been removed, thanks to Henry Grattan and his friends in Parliament, and I flatter myself thanks to my own tub thumping out of it. But much still remains to be done.

It was around this time that I met Dr. Charles Lucas. He was an active political activist, if you understand me. He was the darling of the Protestant populace, and always stood up for anyone or anything which he felt was being badly treated by the Administration. He and I and another gentleman much like Lucas formed ourselves into a ‘Society of Free Citizens’. We saw ourselves as Champions of the People, and took upon ourselves the responsibility of explaining local legislation and regulations to ordinary people who didn’t really understand them, and protesting to the authorities where the people and we thought that the legislation was unreasonable. I got involved in dozens of similar things over the next few years.

My protests  against the legislative agenda of the new Lord Lieutenant in 1767, the Marquess Townshend, kept me much in the public eye while he stayed. I spoke repeatedly at the hustings in favour of different candidates for local and Parliamentary elections. I had a different style of speechifying to most of the plum voiced would-be politicians in those days. I could speak in the language of the people with their broad local Dublin accents, use their own rough humour to them, and generally make them understand me. It didn’t do my reputation in the corridors of power much good though. They didn’t like me. But they were beginning to fear me! And that, I knew instinctively was very valuable indeed.

Townshend left in ’73, and soon after that things began to happen. But at first those that effected us were happening outside Ireland, in America. For 1775 was the year in which the American War of Independence broke out. That had a huge impact in two quite different ways. The first was psychological. I had been following with increasing indignation the escalating legislative assault on America from London –  the Tea Act and the Boston Tea Party, the Massachusetts Government Act, which altered the Massachusetts charter and restricted town meetings; the Administration of Justice Act, the Boston Port Act, which closed the port of Boston until the British had been compensated for the tea lost in the Boston Tea Party, and the Quartering Act of 1774, which allowed royal governors to house British troops in the homes of citizens without requiring permission of the owner. Outrageous, I thought. So when the Americans actually took up arms against this high handed authoritarianism, I was elated!

The other impact on us was quite different – the English withdrew huge numbers of troops from garrisons in Ireland to fight in America! That meant that we had official sanction to ‘protect ourselves.’ So a Militia was formed, made up of volunteers from all walks of life. I joined that crowd with enthusiasm, but first a quite unexpected thing happened. I was approached to know would I join the Dublin Corporation Common Council as a Representative of the Guild of Merchants! You need to understand what this means. The Dublin Corporation consists of a Lord Mayor, 23 aldermen, and most importantly, a common council. The Lord Mayor is elected annually from among the aldermen by a majority of them, but with the approval of the common council. The aldermen are elected for life from among those common-councillors who have served as sheriff. The sheriffs are annually elected at Easter by the Lord Mayor and aldermen from a list of eight freemen nominated by the common council, and must have property of at least £2,000. The members of the common council are chosen from the different guilds, which was what was happening to me. There are 25 of these, at the head of which our Merchants’ guild which returns 31 representatives out of the total of 96. The others come from the 23 minor guilds, from Tailors to Apothecaries. So the Common Council is really the Government of Dublin.

Looking back, I think that this honour, the result of many hours of tub thumping and speeches at elections, was the beginning of my real career, my Political Career. It was from that point that I resolved that I would do everything in my power to help to bring about the end of the authoritarian and ill advised rule of London in Ireland. Just like the Americans. And I was 38 years old – ancient, I thought! And by sheer good luck, as a Common Councillor, I was in a position to do something.

I was seen as a Whig, which is to say that I was seen to favour the opposite to rule by the established aristocracy. The term encompassed a wide range depending on time and place, and was pretty loose. If you supported a constitutional – as opposed to an absolute – monarchy, you were a Whig. If you were seen to favour Republicanism, you were a Whig. Or worse, a Revolutionary! I was proud to be called a Whig.  I also came to be called the unofficial Lord Mayor of Dublin! That was due to my voice of course, and the fact that I used it at every opportunity, and usually succeeded in persuading ordinary people that I was right. So I supported popular nominations to important positions such as the Sheriff, and I opposed people I thought venal. And I usually won, which is why they began calling me the unofficial Lord Mayor. I talked, I talked, oh God how I talked! And much to the alarm of Dublin I publicly supported the American rebels! And in 1777 they nominated me as Sheriff! That happened for each of the next seven years, and at each successive nomination I was rejected by Dublin Castle! And that I really did see as an honour.

I mentioned the Militia. That was very important to me, for it was a fundamental departure from the past. In the past we had the English Army. Now we had our own citizen army. A very different thing. And I wore gaudy uniforms and paraded, for they made me the Colonel in charge of the Volunteer artillery. I’ve always been fond of gaudy uniforms as ye’ll have noticed, but there’s reason in my madness, for not only do the common people love them, but it saves me a fortune in tailors’ bills! You can wear the same uniform everyday and nobody thinks it odd, but wear the same civilian clothes every day and you are soon recognised as a pauper.

The Artillery job was again almost accidental, but by Jasus it was useful! Gradually the Militia began to look like a real army. We were a citizen army, but an army for all that. We were goldsmiths, ironmongers, drapers, all sorts. But we had guns. Big guns! The threat we were established to counter was real enough, and it was seen as coming from your fellows, from the French. France, as y’know, had supported the Americans in the War of American Independence, and the possibility that French soldiers might descend on Ireland was seen as very real indeed, and not welcomed by Protestant Dublin. I suppose it was during that time that I started writing to friends in France, and that was to be a great help to me later.

I need to explain a bit of background to you here, otherwise the story of the Volunteers makes little sense. In Ireland since the imposition of King William’s repression at the end of the last century, we were not allowed to trade as we wished with England, or her colonies. Or indeed any foreign countries. It wasn’t an anti-Catholic thing, for it applied to everybody. And since the big trading houses were mostly Protestant, it was we Protestants who were most affected. So neither our cattle nor our beef, which were (and are) excellent, and would have sold well abroad, could be exported. Our sheep and mutton and wool could not be exported. And the same applied to everything we tried which looked like succeeding in export markets, from timber to glass. That created poverty, and many country people were too poor to pay their rents. That I saw at first hand, for collecting rents was my job then, as a Land Agent. Processions of unemployed paraded the streets of Dublin carrying a black fleece to emphasise their poverty and its cause. It wasn’t just the Catholics either who paraded, but the Protestants too, even the Landlords whose rent was no longer forthcoming.

So we, the Protestant business community, supported wholeheartedly the Volunteers. Again, I was talking. Rabble rousing, Dublin Castle called it, men who scarcely understood my speeches in the broad Dublin argot. Talking all that summer of 1778, explaining what Free Trade meant and the profits that would ensue to the members of the Dublin Corporation. The Corporation was in reality autonomous, independent, the Government of Dublin if not Ireland, and by the end of the summer they were demanding Free Trade. And it was quite clear that the English Government were unwilling to let us compete with the English. Hitherto they had been able to fall back on the English army if we protested too much. Now the English army was in America!

It was a combination of our Volunteers outside Parliament and Grattan and his Patriot Party’s persistence inside which was to win the day.  On November 4th next year it was King William’s birthday, which was normally celebrated with parades and drums and music. I was in charge if the artillery, Colonel Tandy! And so I had the guns, and had them, and the statue of King Billy in front of Parliament where we were parading, bedecked with banners proclaiming:





It may have been a bit crude, especially the dog Latin bit which was supposed to mean “Fifty Thousand are joined together and ready to die for their country” – Grand words! But the message was clear. And the message was received. Three weeks later Grattan’s motion that ‘at this time it would be inexpedient to grant new taxes’ brought Government to a halt – without new taxes they couldn’t function. It was of course an understood stratagem. Free Trade, or else! It was well understood by the MP’s voting that they were holding a pistol to the head of  the Ministers. So those Ministers had no option but to concede the right to trade within the empire, and on the equal terms which Grattan and we Volunteers deemed were Ireland’s by right! That was implemented in the spring, and made us popular overnight. It had worked!

The next step was use this coalition which we had forged – the Volunteers, the Public, and the Patriot Party in Parliament – to give the Government of Ireland, the real Government, back to the Parliament of Ireland. Because until then it was fettered by an old law, Poyning’s Law, which meant that the Parliament in England could overrule them. So what we needed, I reasoned, was the repeal of Poyning’s Law. I persuaded the freemen and freeholders of Dublin city to issue declarations in the spring of 1780, right after the Trade victory, in favour of ‘such a modification of Poynings’ Law as should effectually prevent all usurped, improper and unconstitutional interference between the King, Lords and Commons of Ireland’.

Then I tried to get the Volunteers to do the same thing, but ran up against a problem. The Commander of the Dublin Volunteers, Fitzgerald who was now the Duke of Leinster, had to agree. And he didn’t. He mouthed platitudes about constitutional points being forced at the point of a bayonet. What had we just done? I countered. We got our Free Trade at the point of a bayonet, did we not? But he was implacable. I strongly suspect it was because he liked neither me nor my accent, although he never said so to my face.

He wasn’t really fitted for the job and cared more for his pleasures than for the sort of legislative independence the Volunteers were aiming for. He vacillated, and was really unwilling to make himself any more unpopular with his peers. So we replaced him in 1780 with a man of an altogether different stamp, Lord Charlemont. For one thing Charlemont was older, around 52 in 1780. I’d met him some years before with Charles Lucas who was his doctor. But more than that, he was committed. He was committed to the Patriot Party of Flood and Grattan which was working so hard for all the things I believed in. And once he became Commander of the Volunteers he committed himself wholeheartedly to that too. It was under him that the Volunteers became a real force to be reckoned with in Ireland fifteen years ago.

So now the Volunteers were supporting the Dublin Corporation. The publicity outside Parliament and Grattan and the Patriot Party inside had done their stuff. By May 1782 we had won that fight too. And so there I was, in my grand uniform with my Volunteers behind me, guarding the approaches of Parliament, as the passing of Yelverton’s Act in London was announced. It was nothing less that the complete repeal of Poyning’s Law and all related legislation. Now we had teeth!

The next few years seemed very full at the time, but looking back on them now they seem like only the run-up to the United Irishmen. The Affair of the Custom House was in 1781, and I was already 44 years old. I was fairly prominent in commercial circles as well as political ones by then, and my cousin Thomas back in Meath had been High Sheriff of Drewstown the year before. My wife and I had moved back south to be nearer my father who was 75, and now lived just up the road at number 21, Cornmarket Street.

There was a move afoot to move the Custom House further east, downstream along the river, following the eastward development of Dublin. There were good commercial reasons for doing this, even though the old Custom House built 80 years earlier  was in good repair and was a very handsome edifice. Larger ships were coming down, and inclined to get stuck on ‘Standfast Dick’ as it was known, a reef in the middle of the river. The Custom House really had to be where the ships were, or close to them.

What I thought wrong was the scale of the new place. It was a  fellow named Beresford, John Beresford, was the man responsible. He was the Commissioner of Revenue, and had had a grand new palace designed by a London architect. Palaces were going up everywhere in the great Palladian style, but they were all built by wealthy individuals as a sort of statement of their wealth. This one was to be built with public money, and I thought it unreasonable. Anyhow I joined a protest led by the High Sheriff of Dublin who was of like mind, and we led a small crowd to tear down the fences by the North Wall surrounding it. But the small crowd quickly became a big crowd, and a major disturbance resulted. Nothing came of it in the end and the great new Custom House was of course built, but my presence had been. And many agreed with my views, from Grattan down, and I met with all of them quite frequently.

There was John Curran, a rising young Barrister, and a very unlikely Barrister he looked, too, with his slight, spindly frame, his sallow face, and his deformed hand. But he was a tiger in the courtroom, is a tiger I should say. And a good friend and very honest. There was Arthur Wolfe, a man of my own age who is now Lord Kilwarden. There was Sir Edward Newenham who I could never quite make out, but who always supported me. There was George Ponsonby, who never seemed to be able to make his mind up whether he was a lawyer or a politician, but was bloody good at both. And of course, superior to all of us in every way, Grattan, Henry Grattan. In every way except for his physical appearance that is, for this fearless, brilliant, bold champion of Ireland and Irish freedoms was a small bent figure, meagre, yellow, and ordinary. He would be quite likely to appear, if you called on him at home, with one slipper and one shoe, his breeches’ knees loose, his cravat banging down, his shirt and coat-sleeves tucked up high, and an old hat upon his head. He did of course dress correctly when out, but nothing could disguise his frame save his oratory which rapidly made one forget it. In spite of which he was a fearsome duellist, and fought frequently and with cool ferocity. There were quite a few others, and we formed together a sort of unofficial Cabal.

I had  supported the reform programme which came out of the Grand National Convention of Volunteer Delegates in November the next year, but I was beginning to find myself marginalised in the Protestant Community by my support for the cause of Catholic Emancipation. Although at Grattan’s level the people with whom he associated were too august to be threatened by an inflow of Catholics, at my more humble level people felt very threatened. And with justice! But that still didn’t justify the retention of a system that was fundamentally just plain wrong. So I had to tread carefully. My high profile subjected me to verbal assaults from the government-controlled press, where we were caricatured as ‘America bitten Patriots’, quite unjustly. I was also suspected of ‘treasonable intrigue’ with you French – but they were premature, my critics. For at that time it was parliamentary reform, not political independence, that I sought.

Essentially it was turning into a class thing. Our family are country folk, though well-off country folk. We were also ‘in trade’, and we are considered socially inferior by the aristocracy. We considered ourselves to be superior in the things that mattered, for those so-called gentry often behaved like hoodlums, caring nothing for whom they might hurt. ‘Bucks’, those young over indulged super rich chinless wonders called themselves. And they drank. God, how they drank! No man was considered by them to be a serious drinker in Dublin who could not ‘take off his gallon coolly’ – eight pints of Bordeaux wine in an evening. And to be a serious drinker was considered by these people to be a badge of manhood. And such was their idea of fun that they would often participate in the gang warfare which terrorised parts of Dublin then. There were two notorious gangs, the Liberty Boys and the Ormond Boys, and they usually joined the Liberty Boys, as did the students from Trinity College. They would spend the evening joyfully fighting alongside people whom in the normal course of the day they would contrive not to notice. To do so would have been considered degrading for a gentleman. Duelling, drunkenness, bull-baiting, all were rife. My inclination as much as my accent separated me from these people. Yet these were the people that presumed to look down on me.

Some things stand out in my memory of those years, like the time when the attorney-general, John FitzGibbon, issued statements about me which I considered defamatory at best. Specifically, among a lot of unspecific diatribe, he alleged that my ‘Bills would not be taken upon Change’. Unlike so many aristocrats, I had never had a Bill refused by anyone in my life, so I was quite safe in placing a long newspaper advertisement in which I called him a CALUMNIATOR and a LIAR.  I then paraded in front of Parliament wearing a large sword, tantamount to a challenge. He declined it, on the grounds that I was not a gentleman!

I remained active, but was becoming rather frustrated. Dublin was in turmoil in ‘84, many were out of work. I was by now in effect running the Dublin Corporation, and I continued at the head of the Volunteers. And so when I supported something, or objected to it, I was heard. I objected strenuously to William Pitt’s proposal for a commercial union between Britain and Ireland in 1785. I objected strenuously to the new and wholly ineffective police introduced 1786. I supported strenuously the Prince of Wales during the regency crisis of 1788–9, largely because Curran was supporting him, as well as the playwright Sheridan who used to live virtually next door to me as a youngster, and Edmund Burke who had been to the same school as me, although earlier. I supported strenuously  the rights of the common council in an acrimonious dispute with the board of aldermen over the nomination of a lord mayor. And so on.

And all of that ended with my becoming Master of the Guild of Merchants in 1788. The Hibernian Journal wrote in 1788 that I was ‘a proper person to represent the metropolis in parliament’. And in 1789 I was received into Henry Grattan’s new Whig Club. As Lord Clare wrote (and I memorised!) ‘Mr. Napper Tandy was received by acclamation as a statesman too important & illustrious to be committed to the hazard of a ballot.’ The Whig Club was a little overrated I thought, more of a dining club, so I founded a support group in the city, the Dublin Whigs. I supported the elections of Henry Grattan and Lord Henry Fitzgerald as MPs for Dublin city. But I still remained a social outcast from the circles of the Ascendancy Establishment, to my great delight!

You know better than I what happened then, of course. The Bastille was stormed by the mob and the Gardes Françaises on July 14th 1789, and the Revolution in France was irreversibly started. I was elated with the motives and the fact that like the Americans the French were proving that you didn’t have to put up with an autocracy simply because it had been there time out of mind. Developments were quite slow, ye’ll remember. For a while it was patriotic in Dublin to support the new France. We even paraded on the second anniversary of the Bastille affair, with myself and a 200 strong unit of Volunteers. We paraded at night, with an illuminated display lighting the slogan ‘we do not rejoice because we are slaves; but we rejoice because of the French being free’. And that October, in Belfast, the Society of United Irishmen was formed. And on November 9th I was asked to convene a Dublin branch.

By now I was Mayor of Dublin in all but name. I called a meeting, inviting a mix of Catholics and Protestants, 18 people in total. Our objective, I explained, was a Citizen Club. We preferred not to have lawyers, orators, professional critics, as they tend to turn clubs into cock-pits. I’d arranged for one lawyer though, a brother of Lord Moungarret named Butler, and he took the Chair. He was really the only ‘man of fashion’ as the Ascendancy families called their men, there. The others were Professionals and Merchants and people of that ilk, like myself. We adopted all the Resolutions which had been drawn up in Belfast, and named ourselves The Society of United Irishmen. Some of the clauses I thought sailed pretty close to the wind and could have been actionable, but Butler didn’t bat an eyelid, and so they were adopted unanimously. We then balloted on other names for inclusion in the Society, a further 18 people – including Rowan and Tone of course, and I was elected Secretary. We thereafter formed a Committee to draw up our rules. There were six of us, led by myself and Dr. Drennan. Our purpose was recorded as that of ‘forwarding a brotherhood of affection, an identity of interests, a community of rights, and a union of power among Irishmen of all religious persuasions, and thereby an impartial and adequate representation in Parliament.’

The objective of the Society was as its name implied, to unite Irish men and women, of whatever faith. The main divisions of course were Protestants and Catholics but there were others, notably the Presbyterians who were mostly in Ulster. I’d expected a Society like this to be a populist, radical grouping, one that would need moulding and directing if it was to achieve anything. And I was only partly right, because it came to be dominated by professional people. Foremost among these was a most unlikely individual for a patriotic revolutionary, Theobald Wolfe Tone. Apart from myself, of course!

Wolfe Tone was an educated young man, around 26 or 27 years of age at the time. He came of a family of successful coach builders and had been through Trinity College. Although not without incident. You’d never imagine it to look at him, but he became involved in a duel there, and the other fellow died. So he was sent away from the University for a year. And during that year he spent most of his time with a lady, the wife of an MP named Richard Martin. The ladies always found him attractive, though the Lord knows why, for to me he seemed a pallid, weedy, insignificant looking fellow. But that didn’t stop him from marrying, while still at University, a 16 year old girl! And not just any girl, but one with important connections, Martha Witherington. She and her children are in Paris, now, you may have seen them. In the end, though, he did well at Trinity, and developed a great love of history and music and of writing.

And it was his writing made his name. He was brilliant in that department. He’d a head on him, too, and had most recently written a diatribe in favour of Catholic Emancipation after watching a debate in Parliament. ‘An Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland’ it was called, and it attracted a great deal of notice. That debate brought him something else, too, the friendship of Thomas Russell who was also watching it. They took to each other immediately. Russell was a Cork man who had been with the British army in India for a while. Joined up when he was 16! Anyhow he  was 23 now, and was posted to Belfast later that year, and after Tone’s article he asked him to come up there, and with a group of like minded people they started the United Irishmen there.

So that’s how it started. I felt so old at my ripe old age of 52! I thought of these two as a pair of children, for indeed I’d been older than they then were when they were born! Russell was hugely influential through his close friendship with Tone, but didn’t spend a great deal of time in Dublin. The man who did was called Archibald Hamilton Rowan. Another child! Though I’m sure he thought himself very mature at 38 – I know I did! Rowan was a huge man. Tone and I were both around 5’ 8”, but we felt like pygmies beside him. And a very handsome man too, with his large wide forehead and his courteous manner. He always had a large dog with him, and carried a big stick. He was known for his great work for the Dublin poor and under privileged. Tone was quite the opposite – slight and almost effeminate, with a hatchet face, an aquiline nose which he always appeared to look down, he seemed totally listless. Until he started writing! In print, he was very effective indeed.

Looking back on it, I made a cock of the United Irishmen after the first few years. Especially over the Toler affair. Thinking to defend my reputation and thereby that of the Irishmen, I managed to arrange for a duel with John Toler who had libelled me. Personally. He made fun, in public, of my admittedly ugly visage. It was all a bit involved, but the net result was that Parliament had decided that a gross breach of privilege had been committed – by me! The Sergeant at Arms was sent to bring me before the Bar, where I duly appeared and refused to answer questions. Now Parliament, you must understand, has the power to commit anyone to prison during the currency of the present sitting. I knew that this was the last session and that accordingly I could not be held beyond a few hours, and that is exactly what happened. I was held, at the old Newgate Prison, and released later in the day to great celebrations! But it was to turn out to be a Pyrrhic Victory.

They prosecuted. I was told that the prosecution was for having sent a challenge to the Solicitor General, John Toler. I had no hesitation in rising to that, because I hadn’t. When I arrived at the Court as requested, though, they read out not that charge but a whole heap of technical charges arising out of the subsequent events. I was well defended mind you. Emmet was there for me, Thomas Emmet. He and his brother Robert were two of our most valuable United Irishmen members. And the Recorder and three others.

Toler took the stand first, and explained how he had made arrangements to meet my Friend Colonel Smith at another’s house. He started to read my letter to him.

“Objection, My Lord!” cried Emmet. “There is no evidence that those letters were indeed written by my client, and they should therefore be inadmissible”. The objection was not sustained though, and Toler continued. He expressed surprise that I should have taken exception to anything he said. He concluded by saying that if I was found guilty, he hoped the court would be as lenient as possible! His aim was of course to create the impression of injured innocence. At this stage I was asked whether I wished to comment on the evidence so far.

“My Lord,” says I, “I freely admit to having written the three letters read out by the witness, but only the first two were, to the best of my knowledge, delivered. How the witness obtained the third, I do not know. And as for the conversations alleged to have taken place between the gentleman who would have acted as my Second had it come to that, Colonel Smith, and the witness Toler, this is the first I have heard of them. Nobody prior to this relayed these conversations to me.” So they called Smith. McNally, one of my team, asked him:

“Colonel Smith, it has been said in this Court that you asked the witness Toler if he would propose a time and place for a duel between himself and my client. Is that in fact what happened?”

“It is, my Lord” said Smith to the Judge.

“And was that request to the witness Toler made with, and upon the authority of, my client?”

“No, My Lord. He had no knowledge of it, either before or after. It was made entirely upon my own initiative. Mr. Toler had said in response to the first letter that he supposed Mr. Tandy had put his honour into my hand, and it was in response to that statement that I put the question.”

The Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, asked at this point:

“Let us be clear, Colonel Smith. Were you, or were you not, empowered by Mr. Tandy to issue a challenge to Mr. Toler to fight Mr. Tandy?”

“No, my Lord, I was not so empowered.”

“So what happened then? In your own words if you please.”

“Mr. Toler said to me that if Mr. Tandy wished to issue a challenge, he would meet him in half an hour”.

“And did you deliver that message to Mr. Tandy?”

“I did, my Lord”.

“And what did he say?”.

“He said he had no intention of issuing a challenge to Mr. Toler, but that the affair would be put in the  public papers”

“My client” interposed McNally, “would place his pen in opposition to Mr. Toler’s sword, a much more civilised form of combat.”

And so it went on and on. I can’t remember the detail, but the general import was that all I had done was to ask for an explanation, that I had been arrested in the street like a common criminal and thrown into a common prison, all without having been tried or even accused of a common offence, and so on. There was also much talk as to where the offences had taken place and into whose jurisdiction they fell, all a bit over my head. But at the end of the day, after an absence of what seemed like about five hours but which I am told was an hour and forty minutes, the jury returned. After the usual preliminaries they were asked,

“How find you the Defendant – Guilty or Not Guilty?”

“Not Guilty, My Lord,” said the foreman, “on all counts”.

I will confess to a feeling of relief! Toler was a famous duellist with pistols, who had even fought with ‘Fighting Fitzgerald’ perhaps the most famous duellist of the century. He won a lot of arguments this way, legal and otherwise, and so rapid was his promotion and success that he was said to have shot up into preferment. I was fêted afterwards, all over Dublin. There were bonfires, illuminations, ‘respectful addresses’. The Whig Club elected me their President, and even their fellows in London, the Grand Lodge of Constitutional Whigs, extended honorary membership to me with lots of flowery and flattering compliments. The United Irishmen appointed a special committee to draw up a declaration of approbation of my actions, and that too was flowery and flattering. It all went to my head, I’m afraid, and I sought a formal investigation by the Volunteers, anticipating yet one more round of plaudits.

I got the investigation in the shape of a formal Court Martial, and it unanimously acquitted me of any imputation of cowardice in not meeting Toler, but it also gave it as their opinion that my approach to the whole Toler affair had been “imprudent and unadvised”. The findings were confirmed by Lord Charlemont. It was a dash of cold water, and effectively dampened my ardour. For they were quite right. I’d lost my temper because of the sort of taunt about my appearance that I should have been used to, since I’d been on the receiving end of such taunts since my schooldays. And I’d been lucky to escape without a duel. For Toler was a noted and successful dueller, and I’d never fought one in my life! So perhaps there was something in the cowardice allegations.

They may have dashed my ardour, but that of the United Irishmen seemed renewed. They issued writs on everyone involved in the Toler affair on the side of Government, from the Lord Lieutenant down. They were based on a technicality, that the supposed authority of a Lord Lieutenant was based on an order given under the Great Seal of England and was therefore of no effect in Ireland. In the proceedings which followed Emmet created a sensation by declaring “I boldly assert that there has been no legal viceroy in Ireland for the last six hundred years, and not only will Counsel for Lord Westmorland not deny the fact but they will not dare to let his patent come under a train of legal investigation”. This was all Tone’s work of course, even though the writs were in my name. He was a great fighter with the pen, and never expected to win, but rather to embarrass and keep the whole subject of devolution and emancipation in the public eye.

The wolves were closing in on me. First a case was brought against myself and Rowan for distributing libellous and seditious papers and the rest. We were bound over on our own recognizance to the first day of the next term, some time off, and then the case was postponed again. In the meantime I had joined the Defenders as part of the United Irishmen’s plans to unite with them, but a spy at the ceremony reported the fact to Government and I was issued with another summons, this time in Dundalk. I was on my way there to answer it, stopping at Castlebellingham for the night at the Hughes’, my son James’ parents-in-law. There my nephew caught up with me (another James Tandy!).

“Mr. Butler and Mr. Tone sent me after you” he said, “to tell you that they thought that this was a trap of some sort. They think you should at least ask Mr. Dowling to go to the court first, and see can he find out what it’s all about. But they see no reason to get you to Dundalk except to get you out of Dublin. They’re afraid to move too strongly against you in the city.”

It made a sort of sense, and so Matthew (Dowling, my attorney) went ahead into Dundalk while I waited with the Hughes. In due course he returned, and the news was not good. It appeared that in addition to the misdemeanour with which I had been acquainted, a case of felony was set down to be heard against me. Moreover 19 young men had been convicted on capital felony charges the previous day, ‘treasonable offences’, the very charge set down against me. The court was full of packed juries and hired informers. The Defenders’ oath I’d taken was technically treason. I’d be convicted for sure if I turned up, and more than likely hanged.

They advised me to fly. So fly I did.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Yahoo! Buzz

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply