United Irishmen. A society formed in Belfast and Dublin in 1791 by Theobald Wolfe Tone and James Napper Tandy to agitate for parliamentary reform and equal religious rights. Revolutionary events in France made them more radical in 1793, while fears of growing catholic strength caused many protestants to secede and form the Orange Society. In 1795 the United Irishmen were reconstituted as a secret society pledged to work for a republic. A rising with French help was thwarted when the invasion force was scattered by a storm off Bantry Bay in 1796. The government now encouraged the Orange Society to help suppress the United Irishmen, which increased its appeal to catholic peasants resentful of tithes and rents. A rising fixed for May 1798 was aborted by the arrest or flight of the leadership and the peasants were routed at Vinegar Hill in June, shortly before Tone arrived with a small French invasion force. Irish-inspired subversion, also present in Britain in the later 1790s, was destroyed with the exposure of the Despard plot in 1802 and the failure of Robert Emmet's rising in Ireland the following year. Though some protestants remained in the United Irishmen, the society's legacy was one of anti-protestant republican nationalism based on armed struggle.
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