The Irish Rebellion of 1798

Engraving of McArt's Fort-Cave Hill

Cave Hill


In June of 1795, several Irish Protestants gathered on top of Cave Hill, overlooking Belfast. They swore, “never to desist in our efforts until we had subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted our independence“.  Three years later as many as 100,000 rose against Britain in the first Irish republican insurrection.  (Quinn, 2002)

Ireland during the 1790s was a land of uncertainty, much of which caused by the dramatic interplay between the Society of United Irishmen (UI) and the Irish government.  The Society’s stated goals of Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform were contrary to the conservative administration’s aims, but the Society enjoyed much popular support and its numbers increased throughout the decade.  UI activities culminated in the ultimately futile 1798 rebellion.

The Origins of the Rebellion and the Society of United Irishmen

During the 1780s, a few liberal members of the ruling Protestant Ascendancy, led by Henry Grattan, organized as the Irish Patriot Party and campaigned for: reform of the Irish parliament; a lessening of British interference in Ireland’s affairs; and expanding the rights and voting franchise for Catholics and Presbyterians.   Continue reading

Weather, Famine, Disease, Migration and Monsters: 1816-1819




“We have had the most extraordinary year of drought and cold ever known in the history of America. In June, instead of 3 ¾ inches, our average of rain for that month, we only had ⅓ of an inch; in August, instead of 9 1/6 inches, our average, we had only 8/10 of an inch; and still it continues.  The summer, too, has been as cold as a moderate winter. In every State north of this there has been frost in every month of the year; in this State we had none in June and July, but those of August killed much corn over the mountains. The crop of corn through the Atlantic States will probably be less than one-third of an ordinary one, that of tobacco still less, and of mean quality.  The crop of wheat was middling in quantity, but excellent in quality.  But every species of bread grain taken together will not be sufficient for the subsistence of the inhabitants, and the exportation of flour, already begun by the indebted and the improvident, to whatsoever degree it may be carried, will be exactly so much taken from the mouths of our own citizens.  My anxieties on this subject are the greater, because I remember the deaths which the drought of 1755 in Virginia produced from the want of food.”

Thomas Jefferson writing to Albert Gallatin
September 8, 1816  (Jefferson, 1904-5)


1816 was known as ‘The Year Without a Summer’ or ‘Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death’ because of severe climate abnormalities that caused temperatures to decrease resulting in social, economic, and agricultural dislocations across the entire Northern Hemisphere.  These unusual climatic abnormalities had the greatest effect on New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, Atlantic Canada, The United Kingdom, and large parts of Western Europe. The effects were also felt in parts of Asia.


Evidence suggests the anomaly was predominantly a volcanic winter event caused by the April 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).  Tambora is just one of many volcanoes in the archipelago of Indonesia and once was a mammoth peak – almost 14,000 feet high, believed to have been silent for 5,000 years before the explosion occurred.  Then, in 1812, Tambora awoke from its slumber and small eruptions of steam and ash began to emanate from the mountain, accompanied by significant earth tremors.  This continued until 5 April, 1815, when the first great eruption occurred, generating a volcanic column over 15 miles high. This blast was heard over 600 miles away.  Five days later, on 10 April, a several colossal explosions occurred (heard almost 1600 miles away), creating columns of volcanic material that stretched up to 25 miles into the sky. Continue reading