Soul on Fire: A Life of Thomas Russell
Thomas Russell, the United Irishman and close friend of Wolfe Tone, had an eventful and varied life. He fought in India as an armed officer, was a journalist with the radical Northern Star, librarian with the Linen Hall Library, and one of the most important radical political activists of the 1790s. Russell played a key role in the founding of the United Irishmen, and in transforming the constitutional society into a revolutionary conspiracy. He is also accepted as the most socially radical of all the United Irish leaders, and was a fervent opponent of the slave trade and industrial exploitation. He was seen by the government as perhaps the most dangerous of the United Irishmen, and as a result he spent six years in prison without a trial. He emerged from prison in 1802 still intent on revolt, and is unique in being the only founder of the United Irishmen to participate in the society's last stand - the Emmet revolt of 1803. To assist Emmet's efforts in Dublin, he attempted to raise Ulster, but failed and was hanged in Downpatrick.
There was, however, much more to his life than politics. He participated fully in the intellectual ferment of the late eighteenth century, and had wide-ranging interests in philosophy, politics, science, literature and Gaelic culture. On a personal level, he was a fascinating man, his dark striking looks and engaging personality winning him the admiration of both men and women. Yet he was an enigmatic and tortured soul, his heavy drinking and sexual promiscuity sitting uneasily with his deeply-held Christian beliefs. Born a Protestant, he was a deeply religious man, sympathetic to all forms of Christianity, and his religious views, most notably his belief in the advent of a Christian utopia or `millenium', offer the key to understanding his life.
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