James Napper Tandy, Irish Rebel & French General

by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey, hand-coloured etching, published 8 November 1799

ON this day, March 7, in 1801, the treason trial of Protestant Irish revolutionary and member of the Society of United Irishman, James Napper Tandy began.

While in exile from Ireland after a charge of sedition, Tandy fled to the United States then to France where he was made a general in the French army. In this capacity, he returned to Ireland to assist the French in the overthrow of the British Crown.  He landed a small force of men (mostly Irish refugees) in a small French corvette (a type of warship) on Rutland Island off the Donegal coast where he hoisted the Irish flag and issued a proclamation to raise an armed force against the British. Unfortunately, Tandy had no communication regarding the defeat of French forces at the Battle of Ballinmuck a week earlier.  Realizing in short order that the cause against the British was hopeless, Tandy and his men at arms evaded the British warships by sailing around the north of Scotland.  He and his crew also captured a British ship then made landfall on the European city of Bergen.  Soon after, Tandy was captured in Hamburg then turned over to the British against the wishes of the French.  The ensuing trial in Dublin was concluded with Tandy’s guilty plea and a sentence of death. Things looked grim for Napper Tandy but a reprieve was granted through the intervention of Napoleon Bonaparte who refused to sign the Treaty of Amiens with the British until General Tandy was released.  Tandy returned to France, was declared as a person of distinction and provided with a General’s pension. He lived out his remaining days in Bordeaux.

Napper Tandy lives on in popular Irish songs most notably The Wearing of the Green, an anti-British screed dating back to the rebellion of 1798, when wearing green clothing or shamrocks was considered a rebellious act in and of itself, potentially even punishable by death. The song mocks the policy and while promoting the color green and the shamrock as important symbols of Irish pride.

I met with Napper Tandy and he took me by the hand
And he said “How’s poor old Ireland and how does she stand?”
“She’s the most distressful country that ever yet was seen
For they’re hanging men and women there for Wearing of the Green.”

Another song worth mention regarding Napper Tandy is Spanish Lady.  The verse mentions Napper Tandy’s house.

I’ve wandered North, and I have wonder South
Through Stoney Batter and Patrick’s Close
Up and around, by the Gloucester Diamond
And back by Napper Tandys’ house.

This reference is thought to be a tongue-in-cheek statement of a time just prior to Napper Tandy’s exile to the US and France when he avoided arrest for sedition by moving around Dublin and residing in different addresses throughout the city.   The other places mentioned are also in or around Dublin city. Stoney Batter is historically known as Bohernaglogh, Dublin neighborhood on the Northside.  Patrick’s Close is the name of the road that travels beside St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the 18th century Marsh’s Library in the center of Dublin. Gloucester Diamond or ‘The Diamond’ got its name from the diamond-shaped intersection at Gloucester Place and Sean Macdermott Street where Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church is located.

The Roaring Kelly Band loves these rowdy rebel songs and we’re certain Napper Tandy would heartily approve of our hard-driving reels, vicious jigs, jumping hornpipes, lilting waltzes, and enchanting airs for a rambunctious good time.  Our next party is Sunday, April 17, starting at 4pm, at HJ O’Connor’s Pub in Delray Beach.