Tone, Theobald Wolfe

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Tone, Theobald Wolfe

Revolutionary leader and founder of the Society of United Irishmen, Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763–1798) was born in Dublin and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. Called to the Irish bar in the summer of 1789, he grew tired of the law and soon became embroiled in radical politics. He was an ardent supporter of Catholic Emancipation and acted as an agent and then secretary of the Catholic Committee. It was during this time that his gifts as a polemicist and organizer became evident. Indeed, his pamphlet An Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland was considered to be one of the most influential of the 1790s.

Growing disillusioned with the pace of reform, he founded the Society of United Irishmen in 1791. This was initially an organization committed to peaceful agitation, but it became radicalized in 1794 after the British government made it illegal. With the suppression of the United Irishmen, Tone dedicated his life to overthrowing British rule in Ireland and uniting Catholics, Protestants, and Dissenters in an independent Irish republic. In 1794 he emigrated to America but found it difficult to adjust to life in that country. From there he moved to France, where he became involved in various schemes to liberate Ireland. The abortive Bantry Bay invasion of 1796 did not deter him, and he sailed to Ireland in October 1798 with a French army to take part in the 1798 rebellion. Captured at Buncrana in County Donegal on 3 November, he was taken to Dublin and charged with treason. Proudly admitting his guilt, he committed suicide in prison to avoid execution by hanging. However he botched the job and it was three days before he died on 19 November. Because of his inspirational legacy Wolfe Tone has been called the father of Irish republicanism.

SEE ALSO Catholic Committee from 1756 to 1809; Eighteenth-Century Politics: 1778 to 1795—Parliamentary and Popular Politics; Eighteenth-Century Politics: 1795 to 1800—Repression, Rebellion, and Union; United Irish Societies from 1791 to 1803; Primary Documents: United Irish Parliamentary Reform Plan (March 1794); Grievances of the United Irishmen of Ballynahinch, Co. Down (1795); Speech Delivered at a United Irish Meeting in Ballyclare, Co. Antrim (1795); The United Irish Organization (1797); Statement of Three Imprisoned United Irish Leaders (4 August 1798)


Bartlett, Thomas. Theobald Wolfe Tone. 1997.

Bartlett, Thomas. Life of Theobald Wolfe Tone. 1998.

Elliott, Marianne. Partners in Revolution: The United Irishmen and France. 1982.

Elliott, Marianne. Wolfe Tone: Prophet of Irish Independence. 1990.

P. M. Geoghegan