20 June 1763: Theobald Wolfe Tone was born on this day. His birth took place in the City of Dublin at 44 Stafford St – a house situated opposite the old St Mary’s Church of Ireland just off Mary St on the north side of the Liffey. His parents were Peter and Margaret Tone. His father was from near Clane in Co Kildare and his mother originally from Drogheda, Co Louth. Theobald was their first born. In all they had 16 children of whom 5 survived till adulthood. His parents were of the Established Church and came from respectable backgrounds but were not very well off. His father held a position as an Inspector of Globes with the Paving Board of Dublin Corporation that generated a salary of some £50 per annum. Wolfe Tone considered them to be pretty much like other people.
Until he reached adulthood Wolfe Tone led a fairly regular existence. He was a good scholar but inclined to be a somewhat indifferent student. As a young man he hankered after becoming a soldier and pleaded with his father to release him from his studies to enter Trinity College. His appetite was whetted by skipping off from class and observing the drill and parades carried out in the Phoenix Park by the regiments based in Dublin. He wanted to apply for a career in the British Army, then at war with the American Revolutionaries. His father refused and Wolfe Tone duly entered the College and studied for a Law Degree.
After an unhappy love affair in the summer of 1785 Wolfe Tone first set eyes on Matilda (Martha) Witherington. She was very pretty and some 15 years old. She lived on Grafton St with her father, a draper by trade. They quickly fell in love and eloped. At first they lived near her family but after a family quarrel he removed himself to Bodenstown with his bride and resided there for a while. After study in London he returned home and was called to the Bar in early 1789. He had returned to Dublin, reconciled himself to his wife’s family and joined the Leinster Circuit. While competent he was soon bored and the more exciting public arena of Politics now drew his attention. And never was politics more exciting.
However it was only in the wake of the Revolution in France that he began to slowly but surely realise that the Ascendancy here would never accept serious Reform but at the point of a sword and in the wake of a Revolution from within Ireland itself. It took a couple of years for the import of the upheavals in France to sink in here in Ireland. He wrote that:
The French revolution became the test of every man’s political creed and the nation was fairly divided into two great parties, the aristocrats and the democrats…it is needless to say that I was a democrat from the very commencement.