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THE GREATEST OF THE GERALDINES, LORD EDWARD'S CONNECTIONS WITH CO. KILDARE

Leinster Leader Supplement, April 27th 1907
 
The Greatest of the Geraldines
 
Sketch of his Career
 
Lord Edward’s connections with Co. Kildare
 
By Fred V. Devers
 
 
“True Geraldines! Brave Geraldines! As torrents mould the earth,
You channelled deep old Ireland’s hearts by constancy and worth;
When Ginckle ‘leaguered Limerick, the Irish soldiers gazed
To see if in the setting sun dead Desmond’s banner blazed.
And still it is the peasant’s hope upon the Cuirreach’s mere
They live, who’ll see ten thousand men with good Lord Edward here –
So let them dream till brighter days,
When, not by Edward’s shade,
But by some leader true as he their lines shall be arrayed.”
 
So wrote one of Ireland’s true geniuses – Thomas Davis, of that proud race who first came amongst the Irish as adventurers and afterwards became “more Irish than the Irish themselves.” There is one, however, of the family whose name is cherished beyond all others in the hearts of the Irish people for his services to his country. That one is Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the very mention of whose name must bring before their minds as if it were but an event of yesterday the harrowing incidents connected with the times in which he lived and the tragic circumstances under which he died. Over a century has passed since the life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald was immolated in the cause of Freedom, but his patriotism, his self-sacrificing nature his trials and subsequent tragic death as a result of wounds inflicted in his struggle with Sirr and his satellites, must ever remain green in the memory of Irishmen the world over. He was a patriot when, to evince patriotic feelings was criminal, but his was indeed a noble spirit, and if the bullet of the assassin had not put an end to his life, in all probability the cause for which he died would have soon be achieved – at least the struggle which ensued would have had a different issue.
His noble characteristics, his talents, his chivalrous nature, his indomitable courage command respect and evoke sympathy even from those in opposition to the cause in which his life was sacrificed. He belonged to a proud race, was born to a high position, and might have achieved fame in other directions, but he preferred to die the patriot’s death and laid down his life in seeking “to free his land from thrall of stranger.”
According to the records of the family, the progenitor of the Geraldines was “Dominus Otho,” who in 1057 was an honorary baron of England. History tells us that the family first became planted in Ireland in 1169. In May of that year, Robert Fitzstephen disembarked at Bagaubun or Bannow, County Wexford with 30 knights all his own kinsmen, 60 men-at-arms, and 300 skilful archers. Dermot MacMurrough, king of Leinster, persuaded Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, surnamed, Strongbow, to help him in recovering his kingdom from which he had been driven by Roderic O’Connor, King of Ireland. After having secured Strongbow’s aid he was returning to Ireland and having reached St. David’s, paid a visit to the Bishop, whose name was David Fitzgerald. This David had a brother named Maurice, and a half-brother Robert Fitzstephen, and as they had nothing to do and had ample means and numerous followers, the Bishop suggested to Dermot that he should avail himself of their services until Strongbow’s arrival. Dermot at once closed with the offer, and the two young warriors, seeing in this excursion a rich field for adventure, agreed to go to Ireland.
In May, 1169, as has already been pointed out, Fitzstephen arrived. He was shortly afterwards followed by Maurice Fitzgerald, who also brought a small company of knights and archers. Dermot had a beautiful daughter, Eva, whom he offered in marriage to either Fitzgerald or Fitzstephen if they would bring over a sufficient force to conquer the island. The offer was, however, declined, as they were already married. Strongbow soon arrived and took Waterford by assault, and a few days later his marriage with Dermot’s beautiful daughter was celebrated in that city.
In April, 1172, Henry II, on his departure to England appointed Maurice and Fitzstephen Wardens of Dublin under Hugh De Lacy, Chief Sovereign of Ireland. In the same year a conference took place between DeLacy and Tieran O’Rourke, Prince of Breffney and husband of the faithless Devorgilla, whose flight with the traitor MacMurrough was the cause of the invasion. The conference was held at Flahta, now Hill of Ward, near Athboy, County Meath. A cessation of hostilities did not however result.
In 1173, on the recall of DeLacy, Maurice returned to Wales in consequence of the manner in which Strongbow had acted towards him. Strongbow soon realised how valuable his assistance had been and accordingly recalled him and granted him the barony of Offaly, in which Rathangan was included, but Kildare was excepted, and also the territory of Offellan, in which were Maynooth and Naas.
Thus the Geraldines were first planted in Ireland, and have since continued to figure largely in the country’s history. Perhaps no member of the family occupied a more prominent position in the history of Ireland than Lord Edward Fitzgerald, certainly not, at all events, in the hearts of the Irish people. An abhorrence of wrong and his experience of the oppression under which Ireland had been suffering inflamed within his heart that patriotism which is reflected in his every action through life. 
Lord Edward
Lord Edward was born on the 15th October, 1763, and was one of nineteen children- nine sons and ten daughters, He was the fifth son and twelfth child of James, the 20th Earl of Kildare and first Duke of Leinster. Lord Edward’s father married in 1747, Lady Emily Mary Lennox, second daughter of the second Duke of Richmond. They were a noble family in every sense of the word, but the noblest Geraldine of them all was the man who surrendered all, even life itself, for Ireland’s sake. There were few positions under the English Crown to which he could not have attained had he so desired, but he preferred to risk his life in seeking to throw off the yoke under which his country suffered and against which his very nature revolted. For his effort, unsuccessful though it was, he will be deservedly mentioned at all times as one of Ireland’s most illustrious sons and truest patriots. The Earls of Kildare have a proud history, but around the name of Edward Fitzgerald the gratitude of Irishmen shall ever centre – a name which shed unfading lustre on the family history.
Lord Edward was only ten years of age when his father died, and his mother again married a Scotch gentleman, named Ogilvie, who was a great favourite of his step-son. Lord Edward’s studies were, under his charge, all directed towards the acquisition of such knowledge as would fit him for a military career. From his earliest boyhood he showed a marked aptitude for the calling which he afterwards embraced. In this alone did he not bear a resemblance to Napoleon the Great, who was afterwards a conqueror in many bloody fights?
After the marriage of the Duchess of Leinster with Mr. Ogilvie, they removed to Aubigny, in France, and there resided for sometime at a house given them by the Duke of Richmond. In 1779 the family again left Aubigny for England, and Lord Edward was appointed to a commission in the Sussex militia, of which his uncle the Duke of Richmond was Colonel, and a deep affection seems to have been entertained for him by the Duke.
The life of a militiaman, however, ill-fitted in with Lord Edward’s temperament and he determined to enter the “line” and accordingly in the autumn of the year 1780 we find him in a marching regiment, the 96th. In 1787 he sailed with his regiment from Cork, for America, where the power of England was crumbling under the swords of the patriots, Green, Washington and Lee. Lord Edward was then young and that excitement necessary to his nature being forthcoming, he considered not whether the cause for which he was fighting was a just or unjust one. He had not been long in America when he showed himself not only a brave but also an able and intelligent officer. About the beginning of September in an engagement with the Americans he fell fighting in the foremost ranks of the British Army, and was carried off the field dangerously injured.
He seems to have been a general favourite, his frank and open manner, his chivalry, and above all his unassuming disposition endearing him to all with whom he had any intercourse. In 1783 he found himself in the West Indies, where the fortunes of the British army suffered much. Towards the middle of that year he returned to Ireland. He was, as we have seen, fighting the battles of England in America whilst the revolution of ’82 was taking place at home. In 1783 – almost immediately after his return- he was elected Member for the Borough of Athy.
In the Irish Parliamentary Register, amongst the Irish members, occurs the names of – Right Hon. Lord Charles Fitzgerald, Kildare Street, and Carton, Maynooth; Right Hon. Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Kildare Street, and Carton; right Hon. Lord Henry Fitzgerald, Kildare Street, and Carton. His Parliamentary career, however, is perhaps the least interesting period of his life. Curran entered Parliament the same year, and they always voted together against the Government.
Lord Edward was only twenty-one years when he became a member of the Irish House of Commons. He did not speak often, but when he did speak it was always on the right side. The first time he seems to have spoken in Parliament was in moving an amendment to the motion that an address should be presented to the King thanking him for his great solicitude about Ireland. The amendment was, however, lost. During the years 1784-5 Lord Edward spent the greater part of his time with his mother and Mr. Ogilvie at Frescati. He was not fond of Parliamentary life, being a man of deeds and not words. Compared with the splendid orators who sat on the same benches with him he could hope to make but a poor figure. He could, however, express his views well on any subject he took up, and obtained a reputation for good sense and judgment. In the years 1784-5 he formed a deep attachment for Lady Catherine Mead. His love, however, seems to have been unrequited for four or five years later this lady married Lord Powerscourt. In 1787, while in Gibraltar, Lord Edward formed the acquaintance of Major Sirr, by whom, he was afterwards assassinated. Lady Catherine seems to have been supplanted in Lord Edward’s affections by a Miss G ---, whom he met at Goodwood, and the Duke of Richmond endeavoured to arrange a match between the lovers, but the young lady’s father offered such a determined opposition to the alliance that he forbade him even to enter his house. This refusal seems to have seriously affected him, and in order to rid himself of the despondency which had take possession of his spirits, he left Ireland again for America in May, 1788. In 1789, while in New Orleans, he heard of the marriage of Miss G---.
On his return to England a proposal made to him that he should be placed in charge of the expedition against Cadiz was accepted. A short time afterwards, however, he paid a visit to his mother and discovered that the Duke of Leinster had returned him for Co. Kildare. His intention to abandon politics was thus frustrated, and he at once withdrew a promise he had made on accepting the appointment to the charge of the expedition, that he would no longer appear in opposition. As the Irish Parliament had already expired he considered he could make this promise without violation of principle. The Duke of Richmond accused him of a breach of faith in withdrawing the promise, and an altercation ensued. The command was as a result relinquished, and Lord Edward was again thrown back into the political arena. He attended to his Parliamentary duties up to 1792, when he went to Paris. An announcement appeared in the papers in Paris and London to the effect that at a festival to celebrate the triumph of the armies of France over their late invaders, “Sir Robert Smith and Lord Edward Fitzgerald renounced their titles and a toast proposed by the former was drunk, “The speedy abolition of all hereditary titles and feudal distinctions.” Lord Edward and some other English officers who were present at this festival were dismissed the service without notice.
In December, 1792, Lord Edward married the beautiful Pamela Sims, said to be the daughter of Madame de Geulis and Philip Egalite, Duke of Orleans. Pamela was a Catholic, and the probability is that her marriage with Lord Edward was celebrated in a Catholic Church, but of this there appears to be no record. In the official contracts Pamela is described as the “daughter of William de Brixey and Mary Simms,” and Lord Edward as “residing ordinarily in Dublin, in Ireland; born at White Hall, London.” During the summer of 1794 we find Lord Edward and his beautiful wife living at Kildare “in Mr. Connolly’s cottage.” Both he and his wife seem to have been charmed with the place. It was in this year that their first child was born. Up to 1796, Lord Edward was not a member of the United Irishmen, but in this year joined their ranks. As also did M Nevin, Emmet, and Arthur O’Connor. Once Lord Edward became a member of the Society, the successful execution of their plans was always foremost in his thoughts. During the greater part of the year in which he joined them (1796) he lived in County Kildare. Here his friends came frequently to visit him, and here many of their plans, which seemed then so sure of success, were discussed. Perhaps I might here mention an anecdote told of Lord Edward and an encounter with some dragoon officers. Lord Edward and his friend O’Connor, were riding home across the Curragh from races, when a party of from ten to a dozen dragoon officers galloped out before them and intercepted their progress. Lord Edward was wearing a green cravat and the officers demanded that he should remove it as it was offensive to them as English officers. “As to that,” Lord Edward Replied, “all I can say is – here I stand, and let any man amongst you who dares come forward and take it off!” No member of the gallant party was; however, bold enough to attempt to comply. O’Connor suggested that if they would appoint two of their number, he and his friend would be happy to meet them with the pistols and give them satisfaction for the “wearing of the green.” This challenge was not accepted either, the bullies sneaking off, and as a result we are told that at a county ball held in Kildare a short time afterwards, all the ladies in the room refused to accept any member of gallant dozen as a partner.
We next find Lord Edward with his friend Arthur O’Connor selected to act as agent of the Irish revolutionary party to the French Government. In the end of May, 1796, he left with Pamela and O’Connor for France. Wolfe Tone was all this time striving to persuade the French Government to undertake the expedition, though it would appear he was unaware of the efforts being made by the United Irishmen or of Lord Edward’s mission. With the failure of this expedition, which set out from Brest on the 13th December, 1796, we are all familiar. Once more hopes which had run so high were dashed to the ground.
The conduct of the Irish Government in 1796 and 1797 left no hope of amelioration. Grattan withdrew from the House in disgust, and refused afterwards to be put in nomination at the General Election. So did Lord Edward Fitzgerald and Lord Henry Fitzgerald. In his address to the electors of Co. Kildare, on July 14th, 1797, Lord Edward says he felt there could be no free election in Ireland. He would not offer himself at present as a candidate. He hoped his fellow citizens in the County Kildare would not look upon this as an abandonment of their interests. “I trust” he concluded, “to see the day when I shall offer myself to represent them in a Parliament that will be freely and fairly elected, and can be venerated by all honest men.” He had served 14 years in the House of Commons, and now turned to the other means on which all his thoughts were centred.
About this time, it was that a deputation of sergeants from the Clare, Kilkenny, and Kildare militia regiments, stationed in Dublin, waited upon the provincial committee of the United Irishmen with an offer to seize the Royal Barracks and the Castle without requiring the assistance of the people. The acceptance of this proposition was strongly urged by Lord Edward, but the majority were in favour of declining it, considering their preparations were not sufficiently advanced. The Government then got wind of the narrow escape they had had, and Lowry, Teeling, and Tennant, had to fly the country.
On the 12th March, 1798, in consequence of information given by Thomas Reynolds, of infamous memory, Major Swan proceeded to the house of Mr. Oliver Bond, 13 Bridge Street (now 9, Lower Bridge Street) with thirteen detectives, They procured admittance to the house by telling the pass-word, which had been obtained for them by Reynolds. It was, “Where’s McCann? Is Ivers from Carlow Come?”
Oliver Bond was seized as also were Peter Ivers, Carlow; Laurence Kelly, Queen’s County; James Rose, Windy Arbour, Dublin; George Cummins, Kildare; Edward Hudson, Dublin; John Lynch, Dublin; Laurence Griffin, Carlow; Thomas Reynolds, Kilkenny; John McCann, Dublin; Patrick Devine, Dublin; Thomas Traynor, Dublin; William Michael Byrne, Park Hill, Wicklow; Christopher Martin, Dunboyne, Meath; and Peter Bannon, Portarlington. Amongst the names mentioned in the warrant were Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Emmet, Dr. McNevin, and Sampson. Lord Edward was now and outlaw. The high position which his family occupied in the country would have been sufficient to enable him to escape did he so desire, but his heart was too much with his brave followers and he loved his country too dearly to desert her even in this dark hour. Soon the bloodhounds of the Government were searching for him everywhere. Pamela, his wife, all this time lived at Leinster House. Various were the reports afloat as to where he gone. Some said he had gone to America, while others averred that he was in hiding amongst the Wicklow Hills.
An incident which is worth recording occurred one morning while Lord Edward was being sought everywhere – when there was £1,000 on his head. He had made a journey to County Kildare, where he attended a meeting of some of those true and tried ones. Lord Edward had on starting from Dublin for the Council, donned the rough garb of a peasant in order to minimise the risk of detection, which meant so much to him. It was while returning from this meeting that the incident I am about to relate occurred. He had reached the bridge of Leixlip a little before daybreak, when he discovered that it was guarded by a solitary yeoman who was pacing backwards and forwards with his musket shouldered. Lord Edward at once realised the perilous position in which he was placed, but there was now nothing for it but to face matters boldly as he had been observed by the sentry. He therefore advanced driving his sheep before him, hoping to pass the guard without his identity being discovered. In order to allay any doubts the yeoman might entertain of the bona fides of the ‘peasant’ he saluted him as he passed, inquiring at the same time if there was a field anywhere near where he might rest his sheep, as he felt somewhat fatigued. The yeoman stopped, peered into the features of Lord Edward, and the replied in a low voice; - “No, my lord, there is no field here for your sheep!” So saying he resumed his beat, allowing his lordship to proceed on his way unmolested, but convinced that an honest heart could sometimes beat even under the jacket of a yeoman. The yeoman’s name was Nicholas Dempsey, whose fame was commemorated last August – Sunday, 19th – at Confey Churchyard, Leixlip, when a numerous assemblage of Irishmen assisted at the decoration of his grave, and when an interesting and eloquent address on the dead Irishman was delivered by Mr. Jas. Collins.
On the Thursday after the arrests, Lord Edward was removed from the house in which he had at first been concealed at Harold’s Cross to that of a widow lady named Dillon – a lady who, like many of the noble hearted women of that day, was an enthusiast in the cause for which the patriot was suffering. In this house Lord Edward went under the name of Mr. Jameson. From this, about a month later, he moved to the house of a man named Murphy, a feather merchant in Thomas Street. A reward of £1,000 was offered for his arrest. From Murphy’s house he moved to that of a man named McCormick, and also spent some time at Mr. James Moore’s.
Although tracked by the bloodhounds of the Government, Lord Edward was able to keep the United Irishmen in check, waiting for assistance from France. As, however, the promised assistance had not come by the beginning of May, Lord Edward determined to commence the work without them, and the 23rd May was fixed for the rising. On the 17th May Lord Edward was on his way from Thomas Street to Moira House to visit Lady Edwards, when an attempt was made to arrest him. Sirr, who had previously been informed of Lord Edward’s intention, kept a look out and having seen him recognised him immediately. He was about to seize him when he found himself pinioned in the grasp of two powerful men, members of Lord Edward’s bodyguard, who always accompanied him, although somewhat scattered to prevent suspicion being aroused. One of the men, Gallagher, endeavoured to plunge his dagger in Sirr’s neck, but the latter made a desperate struggle and inflicted a wound on Gallagher by which he was afterward identified. While this struggle was going on Lord Edward escaped back to Murphy’s. According to another version of the affair, Lord Edward was not proceeding to Moira House, but to the house of Mr. Francis Magan, at 20 Ushers’ Island, who is said to have been the person who betrayed Lord Edward through the infamous Higgins.
On the night of the encounter with Sirr, Lord Edward stayed at the house of Mr. Moore, and the following night returned to Mr. Murphy’s. Next day a party of soldiers visited the house and searched it but Lord Edward having be apprised of their presence, escaped through a skylight and lay for some time in the valley between the roofs. Soon afterwards, thinking that all danger was past he descended to the house again and lay on his bed with his coat off. Here he was found by Murphy soon afterwards, and in the course of a conversation they were startled to hear trampling on the stairs. Immediately afterwards Major Swan appeared at the door. “You know me, my lord” he said, “and I know you, it will be vain to resist.” Lord Edward sprang from the bed, Swan put his hand into his breast pocket and perceiving the action, Lord Edward struck at him with a dagger, which he drew from under the pillow, and pinioned his hand to his breast. Swan lost three fingers by this but in the struggle which followed he succeeded in firing his pistol at Lord Edward, wounding him in the shoulder and causing him to fall backward against the bed. He again recovered, and threw himself upon his adversary. A Captain Ryan now came to Swan’s assistance and thrust at Lord Edward with a sword –cane while he was engaged in the struggle with the Major. The blade bent upon his ribs without inflicting much injury. With a superhuman effort he threw Swan to the other end of the room and fell upon Ryan, whom he trampled under his feet after having wounded him with the dagger. Major Sirr, during the brief but desperate struggle, was below in command of some two or three hundred men. Hearing the report of Swan’s pistol he hurried upstairs with a body of soldiers. Coming to the door of the room he saw Lord Edward engaged in struggling with his assailants. Keeping at a safe distance, Sirr drew his pistol which was loaded with slugs, and taking deliberate aim, fired at Lord Edward wounding him in the shoulder. The gallant patriot reeled, and the dagger fell from his hand. Recovering himself, he made a last desperate effort to break through the guard of soldiers surrounding the door, but was overpowered and captured. Captain Ryan died afterwards from his wounds. After his capture, Lord Edward continued to struggle fiercely, and it required the efforts of the whole party of soldiers to hold him down, which they did by crossing their muskets on him until he could be secured. While this was being done, a drummer wounded him very severely with a sword in the back of the neck. Several papers were found upon the prisoner, one containing the line of advance from Kildare to Dublin.
After the struggle Lord Edward was placed in a sedan chair and hurried off to the Castle, whence he was removed to Newgate prison, where Lady Fitzgerald sought, but was refused admission to see him. She, however, bribed the under jailor and was permitted to see her dying husband for a short time. She hoped to be able to eventually rescue Lord Edward through the jailer. But he, having got from her a large sum of money, gave information to the authorities and this had probably something to do with the order given by the Privy Council for her immediate banishment from the country. She had at this time three children, the youngest of which was only six weeks old. A few days after his admission to Newgate, Lord Edward’s wounds had developed fatal symptoms. None of his friends would be permitted to see him until a few fours before his death, when his Aunt, Lady Louisa Connolly, and his brother, Lord Henry, obtained access to his bed side. At 2 o’clock on the morning of the 4th June, the spirit of Lord Edward passed away. Thus perished one of Ireland’s most patriotic sons, the fame of whose deeds is imperishably embedded in the minds of his country-men.
It is a curious fact that for over sixty years the name of Lord Edward’s betrayer remained a secret, and it was not until 1859 the mystery of the entry “F.H. discovery of L.E.F, £1, 000,” appearing in the secret service money accounts was cleared up and that infamy became fixed upon the right person – Francis Higgins, a well known character of that day in Dublin. He was nicknamed the “Sham Squire” and became the proprietor of the “Freeman’s Journal,” which he diverted from its advocacy of popular rights to a base organ of an unprincipled government.
The doubts which existed as to the burial place of Lord Edward have been removed through the efforts of his daughter, Lady Campbell, who went to a lot of trouble to discover the coffin within which the remains of her illustrious father had been laid. At length she met with an old man who informed her he knew the exact spot in St. Werburgh’s churchyard where the coffin lay, and she subsequently verified his story by a visit to the spot. In this same churchyard are buried the remains of Major Sirr, a bullet from whose pistol caused Lord Edward’s death
  

An account of the life and times of Lord Edward Fitzgerald is given by Fred V. Devers in a Leinster Leader Supplement of April 27th 1907


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