The United Irishmen

The United Irishmen movement began at a meeting off Crown Entry in 1791 in Belfast with quite philanthropic objectives  - to secure equality under the law and representation for all people without regard to religious beliefs and stemmed, amongst other things, from the desire of The Catholic Committee to obtain the help of the Protestant community.

The original declaration of the United Irishmen which was adopted by the various district societies, stated among other things

" In the present great era of reform, when unjust governments are falling in every quarter of Europe ... when all government is acknowledged to originate from the people, and to be so far only obligatory as it protects their rights and promotes their welfare, we think it our duty as Irishmen, to come forward and state  what we feel to be our heavy grievance, and what we know to be its effectual remedy.

Their grievance was essentially :-

...we are ruled by Englishmen, and the servants of Englishmen, whose object is the interest of another country... the weight of English influence in the government of this country is so great as to require a cordial union among  all the people of Ireland, to maintain that balance which is essential to the preservation of our liberties and the extension of our commerce ... the sole constitutional mode by which this influence can be opposed is bu a complete and radical reform of the representation of the people in Parliament.

The Society was the successor to the Volunteers , who ceased to exist in 1793. In the preceding 20 years they had carried the flag of greater freedom for Ireland and all its populace. However, by the end of 1795 the aims and objectives of the United Irishmen were focused more on republicanism and the overthrow of government by force which rent its leaders with disagreement and indecision. Regrettably small violent factions  - the Peep O` Day Boys ( Protestant) and and the Defenders (Catholic) were at odds. Following a battle at Loughall in 1795 the Orange Institution was formed.

 By 1798 there was a force of some five hundred thousand, of whom about one half were armed, and of these about seventy thousand were Presbvyterians and thirty thousand Ulster Catholics.In 1797 the army commander, General Lake carried out searches for arms and rebels, indulging in much cruelty that gave rise to a smouldering resentment.

Within the the Belfast branch were a number of Orr`s the most prominent being William Orr of Farranshane, Co Antrim, who was convicted by a drunken jury for allegedly administering a treasonable oath to two soldiers. He was convicted despite pleas for clemency and clear evidence of a mistrial, and hanged at Carrickfergus on 14. October 1797. "Remember Orr " was a rallying cry in the subsequent 1798 rebellion in which his brothers James and Samuel took part.

[Have a look at the oath and see if there is anything that you might think is treasonable.]

The United Irishmen movement suffered greatly from government spies who infiltrated at all levels such that the government were always well advised of developments. This resulted in the seizure of all the ring leaders, including Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and in many cases their execution. The scene was set for armed rebellion which began in the south on 24 May 1798 but it was a month later before the north rebelled.


The United Irishmen, Educational Facsimiles 61 - 80, produced by PRONI  are particularly good and provide facsimiles of actual correspondence between interested parties from the PRONI archives.

There is a long history of rebellion and resistance in Ireland, and despite the modern media hype and focus on violence, much was in fact peaceable. The sad thing is that many of the brave rebels gave their lives, or had it taken by a vengeful government for giving voice to their beliefs. The book " Speeches from the Dock: Or, Protests of Irish Patriotism; by T.D, A.M., and D. B. Sullivan ( M H Gill & Son Ltd Dublin & Waterford) contains not only the speech of William Orr, but of other United Irishmen including Wolf Tone; The Sheares Brothers; Robert Emmett and Thomas Russell. A list of persons mentioned in the book, which includes later patriots, is here.

An excellent and objective book about the rebellion is "The Great Irish Rebellion of 1798" being the Thomas Davis lectures, edited by Cathal Poirteir. Mercier Press, Dublin (1998) ISBN 185635 226 9.

Orr Name Study Ulster Scots Reference material