Theobald Wolfe Tone, who would eventually earn the title “father of Irish republicanism,” was born in 1763 in Dublin to Protestant parents. After a failed business venture as a coachmaker, Tone’s father moved the family from Dublin to the family farm near Bodenstown, Ireland. Although Tone wished to join the army, his father insisted that he attend college; he graduated from Trinity College in 1786. When he was 21, Tone eloped with Matilda Witterington, age fifteen (Wallace 66).
“She didn’t know why Presbyterians were reckoned to be dangerous; the great Wolfe Tone had been a Presbyterian; he had fought and died for Ireland as captain of the revolutionaries in ’98.”
-Star of the Sea, 67
After graduation, Tone, along with his friend Thomas Russell, began to criticize the government (Wallace 66). One of Tone’s most famous pamphlets was An Argument on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland, in which he wrote, “That Ireland, as deriving her Government from another country, requires a strength in the people which may enable them, if necessary, to counteract the influence of that Government, should it ever be, as it indisputably has been, exerted to thwart her prosperity:… no reform is honorable, practicable, efficacious, or just, which does not include, as a fundamental principle, the extension of elective franchise to the Roman Catholics” (Wolfe Tone).
Tone acted on his criticism of the government in 1791, when he became one of the founders of the Nationalist group the Society of United Irishmen. This group initially fought for governmental reform, but became revolutionaries after the English government banned them from meeting in 1794. Although himself a Protestant, Tone was particularly concerned with extending rights to Catholics, and served on the Catholic Committee of the United Irishmen.
After the United Irishmen began working towards revolution in 1794, Tone enlisted the help of the French, united in their hatred of the English. Unfortunately, the English were able to squash the rebellion, and harshly punished those Irish who had participated. Tone was charged with treason and sentenced to die in 1798; he instead killed himself in his prison cell (Wallace 69).
One point that O’Connor makes throughout the novel is that nobody should be judged solely on their nationality or religion; there are both English who do good and Irish who commit atrocities in Star of the Sea. Wolfe Tone, as the quote at the top of the page demonstrates, was Protestant, yet fought to the death for the rights of Irish Catholics. Wolfe Tone’s identity as a Protestant who cared deeply for the Irish Catholic people demonstrates the Postmodernist idea of disorientation; like many main characters in the novel, his true identity is far more complex and contradictory than one realizes at first glance.
O’Connor, Joseph. Star of the Sea. Orlando: Harcourt, 2002. Print.
Wallace, Martin. 100 Irish Lives. Totowa: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983. Print.
Wolfe Tone, Theobald. An Argument on Behalf of the Catholics in Ireland. CELT: The Corpus
of Electronic Texts. Cork, Ireland: UCC. Accessed 15 February 2016.
Researcher/Writer: Audrey Gunn
Technical Designers: Lindsey Atchison and Sarah Liebig
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