Humbert’s Raid on Ireland, 1798
Thomas Pakenham describes the ill-fated but remarkable efforts of a tiny French naval expedition to help conquer Ireland for the rebels during the 1798 Rising.
‘If instead of the Expedition to Egypt,’ Napoleon remarked one day when reviewing the lost opportunities of his career, ‘I had made that of Ireland... what would England have been today?’
Yet the French did send an Expedition to Ireland in 1798; and its success was astonishing. Its size was barely a twentieth of that of Napoleon’s army in Egypt, and its timing was most unfortunate; for it arrived too late to help the main Irish rebellion that had broken out earlier that year.
But for three weeks this absurdly small commando force, under the direction of General Joseph Humbert, led the British Viceroy, Lord Cornwallis, a dance round Ireland. Humbert marched more than half-way to Dublin, and rocked the government to its foundations. He finally surrendered to Cornwallis’s army of 100,000 men and 43 generals. If much of the Irish rebellion of 1798 makes gruesome reading, Humbert’s expedition certainly provides the missing elements of gallantry, bravado and farce.