On this day, June 4th, in 1798, Lord Edward Fitzgerald died in Newgate Jail, Dublin.
He was born at Carton House, Maynooth, Co. Kildare (a place I know well!), on 15th October 1763, of the first Duke of Leinster. In the 1790s, he visited France, adopted revolutionary ideas and renounced his title. In 1976 he joined the United Irishmen and his home, Leinster Lodge, in Kildare town became a meeting place for the members.
With his military training (having served in Ireland and north America), he was well-suited to his position as military commander of the United Irishmen. Politically, he was influenced by French revolutionary ideas and endorsed thinkers like Paine and Rousseau – believing in liberty, equality and fraternity and the Rights of Man.
Of course, he’s best remembered as one of the leaders of the 1798 Rebellion, a Rebellion that in many ways failed before it began. The United Irishmen was banned and Fitzgerald went into hiding. Eventually he was found at a house in Thomas Street, Dublin. He, naturally, resisted arrest, resulting in him being wounded in the right shoulder, and in the death of a militia officer. He was brought to Newgate Jail, where he later succumbed to his wounds.
I often find myself reflecting on Irish history with a ‘what if?’ thought. What if the organisation had not been infiltrated? What if Lord Fitzgerald and his comrades had succeeded in achieving their aims? Well, the Act of Union probably wouldn’t have happened. Dublin probably would have continued to amass wealth, and we probably wouldn’t have suffered the Famine, yet perhaps we wouldn’t have had a 1916?
And what if Hugh O’Neill had won the Battle of Kinsale?
You could contemplate so many historical events which, had they had different outcomes, may have resulted in a better present situation. But the trials and tribulations are what define a people. And, as much as I would have preferred Irish independence to come sooner, I’m glad it came at all. And, as much as I am haunted by our tragic past, I know that I, and all Irish people, would not be who I am today without it.