Front gates of Belfast City Hall, Donegall Square North
26th March: 1.30pm – 3.00pm
Towards the end of the 18th century the spirit of the enlightenment had spread across the western world and Belfast was at the forefront. These radical opinions coalesced and, angered at the discrimination they faced, the United Irishmen rose up in rebellion. 1798 was a turning point in the history of Ireland and Belfast was a focal point.
American independence, the French revolution, the blossoming of philosophy, art, poetry and science – all these things had led to a new spirit of equality and an assertion that society should be fair and just to all. When Thomas Paine published his magnus opus The Rights of Man in 1795, the Presbyterians of Belfast grabbed it with both hands until it was to become known as the “Koran of Belfast”. In his book Paine argues that men have inalienable rights and that a government’s sole purpose is to safeguard the person and these rights.
The 18th Century was also the time in which these same radical thinkers were subject to the ‘Penal laws’. Denied certain jobs, and religious recognition, those who were subject to the Penal laws banded together and rose in rebellion against the establishment. 1798 was a turning point in the story of Belfast, Ireland and in some ways the enlightenment itself. Come along and walk in the footsteps of such men as Henry Joy McCracken, William Drennan and Jemmy Hope. The tour is conducted by the Northern Irish Tourist Guide Association.