James Napper Tandy
A Dublin Protestant and the son of an ironmonger, Tandy was baptised (as 'James Naper Tandy') in St. Audoen's Church on 16 February 1739. He went to the famous Quaker boarding school in Ballitore, south Kildare, also attended by Edmund Burke, who was eight years older.
He started life as a small tradesman. Turning to politics, he became a member of Dublin Corporation and was popular for his denunciation of municipal corruption and his proposal of a boycott of English goods in Ireland in retaliation for the restrictions imposed by the government on Irish commerce.
In April 1780, Tandy was expelled from the Dublin Volunteers (see Henry Flood) for proposing the expulsion of the Duke of Leinster. He was one of the most conspicuous of the small revolutionary party, chiefly of the shopkeeper class, who formed a permanent committee in June 1784 to agitate for reform, and called a convention of delegates from all parts of Ireland, which met in October 1784.
Tandy and John Binns persuaded the corporation of Dublin to condemn by resolution Pitt's amended commercial resolutions in 1785. He became a member of the Whig club founded by Henry Grattan, and he actively co-operated with Theobald Wolfe Tone in founding the Society of the United Irishmen in 1791, of which he became the first secretary.
His opinions, strongly influenced by French Revolutionary ideas, now brought Tandy to the notice of the British Government. In February 1792, an allusion in debate by Toler, the attorney general, to Tandy's personal ugliness provoked him into sending a challenge to a duel. This was treated by the House of Commons as a breach of a Member's privilege, and a Speaker's warrant was issued for his arrest, which he managed to elude till its validity expired on the prorogation of Parliament. Tandy then took proceedings against the lord lieutenant for issuing a proclamation for his arrest; although the action failed, it increased Tandy's popularity, and his expenses were paid by the Society of the United Irishmen.
Planning a revolution in exile
Sympathy with the French Revolution was rapidly spreading in Ireland. A meeting of some 6,000 people in Belfast voted a congratulatory address to the French nation in July 1791. In the following year, Napper Tandy took a leading part in organising a new military association in Ireland modelled after the French National Guards; they professed republican principles, and on their uniform the cap of liberty instead of the crown surmounted the Irish harp. Tandy also, with the purpose of bringing about a fusion between the Defenders and the United Irishmen, took the oath of the Defenders, a Roman Catholic society whose agrarian and political violence had been increasing for several years.
He was about to be tried in 1793 for distributing a seditious pamphlet in County Louth when the government found out he had taken the oath of the Defenders. Being threatened with prosecution for this step, and also for libel, he took refuge by changing his Dublin address often; some are recorded as follows: 16 Dorset Street in 1779, 21 Cornmarket till 1783, 180 Abbey Street till 1785, 67 Bride Street in 1786, 97 Bride Street till 1788, and a return to 67 Bride Street from 1789 till 1795 when he fled to the United States, where he remained till 1798. In February 1798 he went to Paris, where at this time a number of Irish refugees, the most prominent of whom was Wolfe Tone, were assembled, planning rebellion in Ireland to be supported by a French invasion, but quarrelling among themselves over tactics.
Return to Ireland
Tandy accepted the offer of a corvette, the Anacreon, from the French government and sailed from Dunkirk accompanied by a few United Irishmen, a small force of men and a considerable quantity of arms and ammunition for distribution in Ireland. He arrived at the isle of Arranmore, off the coast of County Donegal, on 16 September 1798.
The locality, however, was sparsely populated and showed little enthusiasm in joining with the expedition. Tandy took possession of the village of Rutland, where he hoisted an Irish flag and issued a proclamation; but learning the defeat of Humbert's expedition, and that Connaught was now subdued, the futility of the enterprise was soon apparent. Tandy sailed his vessel round the north of Scotland to avoid the British fleet. He reached Bergen in safety having brought with him a British ship captured along the way. Tandy then made his way with three or four companions to the free port of Hamburg but a peremptory demand from the British government to detain the fugitives was acceded to despite a counter-threat from the French Directory. In 1799 HMS Xenophon, under Commander George Sayer, brought Tandy and some of his associates back to England as state prisoners.
On 12 February 1800, Tandy was put on trial at Dublin and was acquitted. He remained in prison in Lifford Jail in County Donegal till April 1801, when he was tried for the treasonable landing on Rutland Island. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death; he was reprieved and allowed to go to France.
This leniency may have been partly due to doubts as to the legality of the demand for his surrender by the Hamburg authorities. Moreover, Napoleon vigorously intervened on his behalf and is even said to have made Tandy's release a condition of signing the Treaty of Amiens.
Notwithstanding his vices and his lack of all solid capacity, there is no reason to suppose that Napper Tandy was dishonest or insincere; and the manner in which his name was introduced in the well-known ballad "The Wearing of the Green" proves that he succeeded in impressing the popular imagination of the rebel party in Ireland. In France, where his release was regarded as a French diplomatic victory, he was received, in March 1802, as a person of distinction; and when he died on 24 August 1803 in Bordeaux, his funeral was attended by the military and an immense number of civilians.
- Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Tandy, James Napper". Encyclopedia Americana.
- The parish record book lists the entries for January and February 1739 as '1738', apparently in clerical error.
- Keogh, Dáire. "An Unfortunate Man". History Ireland. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- The United Service Magazine: With which are Incorporated the Army and Navy Magazine and Naval and Military Journal, Part 2 (1831), p.221.
- Patton, Billy. "The Court Will Rise". L.A.T.C.H, 2004, p63