The French Alarm, or Billy Budget’s Terror

W. O’Keefe, ‘The French Alarm or Billy Budgets Terror’ (1797-8)

Oh dear me. 😉 I should possibly look up when this was actually published, but it may well have been either a reference to the 1796 invasion scare in Ireland when the French invading forces were only dispersed by bad weather; the 1797 invasion attempt at Fishguard, which caused a run on the banks and a suspension of cash payments; or the 1798 French invasion of Ireland in the wake of the 1798 rebellion. William O’Keefe was, after all, Irish.

Given the reference to “Bounaparte” I would say it was 1798, though. It may in fact have been less a reference to a specific invasion scare and more a reference to the Defence of the Realm Act of 1798, which first provided for the calling out of volunteer soldiery (at this point mainly but not uniquely limited to the propertied classes) and began the process of inventorying the nation’s manpower and materials that could be called on in an emergency.

O’Keefe clearly believed the government was all of a panic, but the 1797-8 was a bad period for invasion scares and there were several attempts on the British Isles as I detailed above. I wonder what O’Keefe would have made of the 1803 Levy en Masse Act, which effectively legalised mass conscription in the event of an invasion, and the various defence acts that followed it.

Edited to add:

A quick google turned up http://www.rechercheisidore.fr/search/resource/?uri=ark:/12148/btv1b6940564m, which suggests the print was published in January 1797. I’m not entirely convinced of this but it is plausible, in which case the event referred to would be Hoche’s failed invasion of Ireland in 1796.

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