Henry Haslett (United Irishmen)

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Hennry Haslett
Born 1758
Kingdom of Ireland
Died 1806
Belfast, County Antrim, United Kingdom
Resting place Knockbreda Cemetery, Belfast
Occupation Draper
Known for Irish Revolutionary
Political party United Irishmen Flag of Leinster.svg

Henry Haslett (1758 – 1806) was a founding member of the Society of the United Irishmen, a revolutionary organisation in late 18th century Ireland.

Early life

Born in Limavady, Haslett set up business as a woollen draper in Belfast. In the 1780s, he joined the Volunteer movement. Along with other future United men, such as Thomas McCabe and William Tennant, he was a Freemason.[1] By the 1790s he was involved in shipping, and became involved with a syndicate known as the 'New Traders'. This group espoused economic views about free trade and commerce, at odds with the system of the British Empire in the 18th century. This led them to sympathies with American Revolutionaries who shared those views, and eventually the views of democracy and republicanism. Almost all members of the New Traders would become United Irishmen.[2]

The United Irishmen

The United Irishmen were initially founded as a group of liberal Protestant and Presbyterian men interested in promoting Parliamentary reform, and later became a revolutionary movement influenced by the ideas of Thomas Paine and his book ‘The Rights of Man’. In 1791 Theobald Wolfe Tone published the pamphlet ‘Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland’ where he set out that religious division was being used to balance “the one party by the other, plunder and laugh at the defeat of both.” He put forward the case for unity between Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter.

A group of nine Belfast Presbyterians, including Haseltt, interested in reforming Irish Parliament read Tone’s pamphlet and liked his ideas. They invited Tone and his friend Thomas Russell to Belfast where the group met on October 14, 1791. The group became known as the United Irishmen, and among their number was Haslett.

Imprisonment

Following the French declaration of war against Britain in 1793, the Society was outlawed and went underground. At this point, more radical members like Lord Edward Fitzgerald and the Sheares brothers came to the fore, demanding an alliance with France and an immediate national insurrection against the government. In 1796, Lazare Hoche and Wolfe Tone tried and failed to land a massive French invasion army in Bantry Bay. In response, the government and the army began cracking down on dissension and the Society. In September 1796, Haslett was arrested along with Russell, Samuel Neilson and Charles Teeling.[3]

Haslett was held for 14 months in Dublin's Kilmainham Gaol before his release in December 1797. While he was in jail two of his children died, as well as his sister who was taken ill in Dublin while coming to visit him. She was 23.[4]

1798 Rebellion and later life

In March 1798, most of the leadership of the Leinster branch of the Society were meeting at the house of Oliver Bond in Dublin, when they were arrested. This crippled the organisation. Many of its leaders, such as Russell and Thomas Addis Emmet were already in prison, while others like Tone and James Napper Tandy were in Europe. Meanwhile, Lord Edward Fitzgerald was in hiding, with a government net closing around him.

Nonetheless, in May, the rising finally began. First in Kildare, it spread to other counties in Leinster before finally consuming Ulster. Ultimately, the rising failed with enormous bloodshed. Haslett took no part in the events, yet he was still arrested again for high treason, in spite of having done much to calm tensions in the Roe Valley during the rebellion.[5] However, by December 1799 he had been released and had returned to his business.

Haseltt died in 1806, at the age of 48, and was buried in Knockbreda Cemetery, Belfast. His oration was given by his old comrade in the United Irishmen, Reverend William Steel Dickson.[6]

Notes

  1. ^ Dawson 2003.
  2. ^ O'Regan & Magee 2014.
  3. ^ Wright 2012, pg 28.
  4. ^ O'Regan & Magee 2014.
  5. ^ Londonderry Sentinel 2012.
  6. ^ O'Regan & Magee 2014.

References

  • Londonderry Sentinel 2012, United Irishmen to workhouse guardians - Limavady ancestry, 15 September 2012
  • Jonathan Jeffrey Wright 2012, 'The 'natural Leaders' and Their World: Politics, Culture and Society in Belfast, C. 1801-1832', Liverpool University Press
  • Raymond O'Regan & Arthur Magee 2014, 'The Little Book of Belfast', The History Press
  • Kenneth L. Dawson 2003, Moment of unity - Irish rebels and Freemasons, 'Irish News', May 10, 2003
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