In 1798 the Wicklow Mountains near Dublin became embroiled in a major political uprising. Fighting for Irish independence, members of the Society of United Irishmen established stations on the Mountains from which they launched guerrilla attacks on the British administration. The uprising, known as the Irish Rebellion, lasted four months and was ultimately unsuccessful.
In its aftermath the British began to re-landscape parts of the Wicklow Mountains to make the terrain more penetrable and strategically favourable. They built a series of military roads across areas which were previously inaccessible and had sheltered rebels. The project was overseen by Philip Yorke, 3rd Earl Hardwicke, the bluecoat depicted in the foreground of this view. Yorke is shown ordering soldiers to blast chunks of rock from the mountainside to make way for a new road to Dublin Castle, the stronghold of the British government. In the middle distance, the British Camp Aurora can be seen, illuminated by a powerful beam of sunlight. This pictorial device emphasises Britain’s reclamation of the terrain from the hands of Irish rebels and its ultimate colonial authority, as if it were somehow pre-destined.
This King’s Topographical Collection aquatint is after a watercolour by Thomas Sautelle Roberts. He exhibited the original design as part of a series commissioned for Yorke’s official opening of Dublin’s old Parliament House in January 1802. Roberts went on to publish eight views from the series, each depicting aspects of County Wicklow’s romantic and military topography re-captured for Britain.