The United Irishmen and the United Scotsmen.

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 by 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.

The United Scotsmen.

With their origins in Scotland and continuing family ties it was inevitable that similar strong feelings about the injustice of government should spill over into Scotland where a parallel United Scotsmen emerged. Like the Irish group there were many literate people among their sympathisers who had read Tom Paine`s "Rights of Man" and were enthused by the success of the French Revolution. This of itself frightened the English Government who had already had the rebellion in Ulster to deal with and a hard line existed towards any perceived trouble makers. Nine prominent Scotsmen, including some members of the London parliament and several Scottish peers, were named as members of the 'Provisional Government of the Scottish Republic'. Their president was  a  Scottish lawyer named Thomas Muir who had already been sentenced to 14 years transportation to  Botany Bay but had  escaped in an American warship and made his way to France where he was made a citizen of the republic. He was a friend of Napper Tandy ( United Irishman) and the Marquis de la Fayette who had fought in the American War of Independence and was a prominent voice in the demand to continue with a separate Breton parliament.

In Scotland a Rev Thomas Palmer was sentenced to transportation for seven years for distributing seditious pamphlets. In 1798 a United Scotsman, George Mealmaker was sentenced to 14 years transportation for rabble rousing. The unrest bubbled away with feelings especially strong among the self employed hand loom weavers who had enjoyed a golden age but which was fast disappearing as  mechanisation replaced them. As skilled men they were well paid and demanded better treatment and representation. In 1812 they had a nine week strike, In 1813 some 40,000 weavers and associated tradesmen went on general strike. This led to a network of spies and informers being set up to keep an eye on troublemakers.  Following the Napoleonic wars the returning soldiers added to the unemployed and by 1816 bankruptcies were soaring. In 1819 the enmity broke into the open with the "Peterloo Massacre". This was a meeting in Manchester in August 1819 which was broken up by a troop of Yeomanry and Hussars. 11 people were killed and over 500 wounded. Widespread indignation at this did much for the Reform Movement, but in the short term at least, a very tough line was taken against alleged treason rather than public disorder.

In Scotland the resentment and dissent of the workers, especially the weavers, concentrated  around Glasgow and Paisley, with protests in the surrounding districts. A bill was posted in Glasgow on 1 April 1820 calling for resistance and a free Scotland. This  culminated in an encounter with the military at Bonnymuir. It was far from a pitched battle and the few weapons the group had were hurriedly dropped and the men ran. 18 prisoners subsequently appeared before a full session of `Oyer and Terminer` at Stirling on 23 June 1820. Along with them was Andrew Hardie who had published a pamphlet while a prisoner that set out their demands. The outcome of the trials were almost inevitable with sentences of death passed to be hung, beheaded and quartered, but a Royal Warrant ordered their beheading and their corpses to be decently buried. Sentences on the others were then commuted to Transportation.

Executed were :
James Wilson - hung and beheaded, Glasgow Green, 30 Aug 1820. His story is told at

John Baird - hung and beheaded, Stirling, 8 Sep 1820
Andrew Hardie - hung and beheaded, Stirling, 8 Sep 182

19  Radicals sentenced to transportation to New South Wales were:

John Anderson , Weaver , Camelon , Life
John Barr , Weaver , Condorrat , 14 years
William Clackson or Clarkson , Shoemaker , Glasgow , 14 years
James Clelland , Blacksmith , Glasgow , Life
Andrew Dawson , Nailer , Camelon , Life
Robert Gray , Weaver , Glasgow , Life
Alexander Hart , Cabinet-maker , Glasgow , 14 years
Alexander Johnston , Weaver , Glasgow , 14 years
Alexander Latimer , Weaver , Glasgow , 14 years
Thomas McCulloch , Stocking-Weaver , Glasgow , 14 years
Thomas McFarlane , Weaver , Condorrat , Life
John McMillan , Nailer , Camelon , Life
Benjamin Moir , Labourer , Glasgow , 14 years
Allan Murchie , Blacksmith , Glasgow , Life
Thomas Pike or Pink , Muslin Slinger , Glasgow , 14 years
William Smith , Weaver , Glasgow , 14 years
David Thompson , Weaver , Glasgow , 14 years
Andrew White , Bookbinder , Glasgow , 14 years
James Wright , Tailor , Glasgow , 14 Years

James Clelland was due to be executed with Baird and Hardie on Friday 8th September, but  his sentence was commuted. William Crawford of Balfron, was sentenced but was ‘subsequently released’ And John Anderson Jnr, a printer in Glasgow who had printed  a poster, was ‘transported’ on 4 August 1820 to a Government job in the East Indies.

The prisoners were held in the prison hulk HMS Bellerophon lying at Sheerness in Kent (The Bellerophon had served at Trafalgar and was the vessel on which Napoleon surrendered in 1815). On 22 December 1820 some 156 prisoners, including the Scots, were embarked on the ship Speke and arrived in Port Jackson, NSW, 18 May 1821.

A detailed history of the United Scotsmen and the reform movement in Scotland can be found at and elsewhere via Google search.

Australian descendants of Thomas Macfarlane produced a definitive record of the 19 transported prisoners in 1975 " The Scottish Radicals. Tried and transported to Australia for treason in 1820. Margaret & Alastair Macfarlane"  Reprinted Spa Books Ltd 1981. ISBN 0-907-590-004.

Updated 18/07/2011

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