Tone and the French Expeditions to Ireland, 1796–1798: Total War, or Liberation?

  • Sylvie Kleinman
Part of the War, Culture and Society, 1750–1850 book series (WCS)


Shortly after landing on a remote spot of the Atlantic coast of Ireland and occupying the town of Killala on 23 August 1798, the small French expeditionary force under the command of General Humbert had hoisted a green flag to rally local rebels. On it was the slogan ‘Erin go Bragh’, the Gaelic for ‘Ireland forever’, and a Harp without a Crown, as a local eyewitness had described. Somewhat cynically, this loyalist had mocked its potency as a martial symbol by recycling key phrases in Humbert’s landing proclamation, taking up the effusive phraseology which vindicated the republican mission of the liberators. The flag invited them to ‘assert their freedom’ from English tyranny, and join France’s citizen soldiers who had ‘come for no other purpose but to make them independent and happy’.1 That the French had paid such attention to detail in their pre-deployment planning is corroborated in the diary kept by Theobald Wolfe Tone, revolutionary Ireland’s most influential secret negotiator in Paris and an iconic figure in Irish nationalist history. He had proposed such a standard to the Directory in Paris on 23 June 1796 for the vanguard of the French invasion force for which he had successfully lobbied, essential to the success of Ireland’s revolution. Its device, an uncrowned harp ‘surmounted with the Cap of Liberty’, was that of the United Irishmen, a radical society he had helped found in Belfast and Dublin in 1791.2


External Relation Irish People French Nation French Republic French Army 
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  1. 48.
    Général Gastey, ‘L’étonnante aventure de l’Armée d’Irlande [1798]’, Revue historique des Armées 4 (December 1952): 20Google Scholar
  2. 51.
    [James Little], ‘Little’s diary of the French landing in 1798’, ed. Nualla Costello, Analecta Hibernia 11 (1941): 75Google Scholar

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© Sylvie Kleinman 2013

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  • Sylvie Kleinman

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