FitzGerald was one of the leading instigators of the 1798 Rebellion. Like many of his rebel colleagues, he came from a privileged background. He was the son of the Duke of Leinster and fought with the British army in the American Revolutionary War. He was seriously wounded at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on 8 September 1781, his life being saved by an escaped slave named Tony Small (nicknamed “Faithful Tony”). FitzGerald commissioned a portrait of Tony Small by John Roberts in 1786. Lord Edward freed Small and employed him to the end of his life.
Influenced by the French Revolution, he determined that Ireland should be free of English rule. He joined the United Irishmen and planned for a rebellion. Lord Edward FitzGerald’s social position made him the most important United Irish leader still at liberty. On 9 May, a reward of £1,000 was offered by Dublin Castle for his apprehension. FitzGerald’s hiding place was disclosed by a Catholic barrister and informer named Francis Magan and on 18 May, Major Henry Sirr led a military party to the house where Lord Edward was in bed suffering from a fever. Alerted by the commotion, he jumped out of bed and, ignoring the pleas of the arresting officers, Captain William Bellingham Swan and Captain Daniel Frederick Ryan, to surrender peacefully, FitzGerald stabbed Swan and mortally wounded Ryan with a dagger in a desperate attempt to escape. The weapon used by Lord Edward to defend himself was later stolen from Major Swan’s house. He was only secured after Major Sirr shot him in the shoulder. The scabbard reputedly used by Lord Edward Fitzgerald at his arrest in 1798 is held at Limerick Museum.
He was conveyed to New Prison, Dublin where he was denied proper medical treatment. After a brief detention in Dublin Castle, he was taken to Newgate. Inflammation set into his wound. His wife, whom the government probably had enough evidence to convict of treason, fled the country before he died without seeing him again, but his brother Henry and his aunt (Lady Louisa Conolly) were allowed to see him in his last moments. At the age of 34 he died as the rebellion raged outside on 4 June 1798. He was buried the next day in the cemetery of St Werburgh’s Church, Dublin. An Act of Attainder confiscating his property was passed, but was eventually repealed in 1819.
Photo: The plaque stating Lord Edward FitzGerald lived at Frescati House, Blackrock, Dublin. This plaque is located at the pedestrian entrance to the Frascati Shopping Centre.