An Account of the Arrest of Lord Edward Fitzgerald

Foreword by Frederick Fitzgerald:

“The Irish National Anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann (The Soldier’s Song) has been the subject of much comment in recent years. I am reliably informed by the ‘educated’ types who listen to the Irish national airways: that to make serious and profound pronouncements to the effect that it is time to change our national anthem is considered trendy and that it now enhances one’s Irishness or perhaps I should say ‘Oirishness’. Indeed I read that Dublin 4 types who express this idea and promote it in the best bistros and lounges also find it possible to describe themselves as republicans, albeit Post Paschal Republicans 1998 vintage. I have coined this title or appendage for these types who apparently believe that following the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ the Irish nation should now proceed to throw out the baby with the bathwater as it were. These people are confident that the tune is a major cause of division between north and south, it being to militaristic it it’s sentiment.

Perhaps these people should read or better still This extract is taken from the original narrative written by Mr. Nicholas Murphy, at whose house (now 151 Thomas Street, Dublin) Lord Edward Fitzgerald was arrested. The narrative is dated 29th November 1831, and is now in the possession of the Duke of Leinster at Carton.

Murphy was confined in Newgate as a state prisoner, without being brought to trial, for fifty-five weeks. During this time his house was occupied as a barrack, and all his goods were looted or destroyed.”

Contributed by Lord Frederick Fitzgerald to the Journal of the Kildare Archaeological & Historical Society.

“Arrest of the Late Lord Edward Fitzgerald”

“On the night of Friday, the 18th of May 1798, Lord Edward Fitzgerald came to my house, No. 153 Thomas Street, in company with a lady, (A Mrs. Moore, in whose husband’s house, No. 119 Thomas street, Lord Edward had been previously concealed) about the hour of ten or eleven o’clock at night. I did expect him the previous evening, and the reason I state this is, that a friend of his came to me, and requested that I would receive him, as he wished to move from where he was at present.. I was getting the house cleaned down and scoured, and I brought his friend in, and he saw the persons employed as I told him; he mentioned that it was not intended to remove him immediately, but said, “I think a week or ten days would answer.” I assented, and indeed with reluctance. However, I made no mention of that. In a few days previous to Lord Edward’s coming the Government had offered One Thousand Pounds Reward for his apprehension. I certainly felt very uneasy at this circumstance, and I wished very much to see Lord Edward’s friend, and where to see him I did not know. As a man of honour I wished to keep my word, and I could not think of refusing him admittance when he came. Unfortunately for him and myself, I did so. I expected him on Thursday, but he did not come till Friday, 18th May’98. I perceived he looked very bad from what he appeared when I saw him before. The lady that came with him did not stay long, and I made a tender of my services to go home with her as she lived in the neighbourhood. There was a person we met on our way that I believe was waiting for her. I had some knowledge of him myself, so I returned to the house with a troubled mind.

Lord Edward told me he was very bad with a cold, and it was easy to perceive it. I had procured for him some whey, and put some sherry wine in it. At this time he appeared quite tranquil, and went up to the room intended for him; the back room in the attic story. In the morning, he came down to breakfast, and appeared better than the night before. The friend that spoke to me concerning him came, I believe, about eleven o’clock; then it came out for the first time an account of the ‘recontre’ that took place the night before between Lord Edward’s party and Major Sirr’s (The Town Major). It is perfectly clear in my humble judgement that Major Sirr had known of his removal and the direction he intended to take ; for his part and Lord Edward’s party came in contact in a place called Island Street, the lower end of Watling street; they there met, and a skirmish took place, and in the confusion Lord Edward got off. However, one of the party (William McCabe) was taken, but could not, I believe, be identified. I found my situation now very painful, but nothing to what it was afterwards.

In the course of the day (Saturday 19th) a guard of soldiers, and I believe Major Swan, Major Sirr, a Mr. Medlicot, and another, were making a search at a Mr. Moore, Yellow Lion, in Thomas Street. A friend came and mentioned the circumstance to me. I immediately mentioned it to Lord E., and had him conveyed out of the house in a valley to one of the warehouses. While I was doing this, Mr. N. (i.e. Samuel Neilson) came and inquired of the girl if I was at home. I belive she said not. ‘Bid him be cautious,’ I think was what she told me that he said. I considered that conduct very ill-timed ; however, I am led to believe it was well-intended. On Saturday morning, the day of the arrest, there came a single rap on the door. I opened it myself, and a woman with a bundle appeared, and inquired if that was Mr. M (Murphy) and I said it was ; she informed me that she came from Mrs. M (Moore) and was desired to leave that bundle there. I knew not what it contained, but to my surprise, when I opened it, I found it to be a uniform of a very beautiful green colour, gimpt or braided down the front, with crimson or rose-colour cuffs, and a cape. There were two dresses – one a long-skirted coat, vest and pantaloons : the other, a short jacket that came round quite close, and braided in front; there was also a pair of overalls that buttoned from the hip to the ankle, with, I think, black Spanish leather inside; I suppose they were intended for riding. The bundle contained a cap of a very fanciful description, extremely attractive, formed exactly like a sugar-loaf, or, as Mr. Moore says, conically ; that part that went round the forehead green, the upper part crimson, with a large silk tassel, and would incline one side or the other occasionally when on the head. After placing Lord. E in the valley of the warehouse, I came down in a little time, and stood at the gate; the soldiers still at Mr. Ms (Moores) I perceived four persons walking in the middle of the street, some of them in uniform; I believe Yeomen. I believe Major Swan, Captain Medlicot, (of the City of Dublin Militia) &c., was of the party. Toward four o’clock Lord E. came down to dinner. Everything was supposed to be still now at this time. S. N. (Samuel Neilson) came to see us; dinner nearly ready; I asked S.N. to stay and dine, which he accepted. Nothing particular occurred, except speaking on a variety of subjects, when Mr. N., as if something struck him, immediately leaving us together. There was very little wine taken ; Lord E. was very abstemious ; in a short time I went out. Now the tragedy commenced. I wished to leave Lord E. to himself. I was absent, I suppose, about an hour ; I came to the room where we dined, being the back drawing room. He was not there. I went to the sleeping room. He was in bed. It was, at this time, about seven o’clock. I asked him to come down to tea. I was not in the room three minutes when in came Major Swan and a person following him with a soldier’s jacket, and a sword in his hand; he wore a round cap. When I saw Major Swan, I was thunderstruck. I put myself before him, and asked his business. He looked over me and saw Lord E. in the bed. He pushed by me quickly, and Lord E., seeing him, sprang up instantly and drew a dagger which he carried about him, and wounded Major Swan slightly, I believe. Major Swan had a pistol which he fired without effect; he immediately turned to me and gave me a severe thrust of the pistol under the left eye, at the same time desiring the person that came in with him to take me into custody. I was immediately taken away to the yard ; there I saw Major Sirr and about six soldiers of the Dumbarton Fencibles. Major Swan thought proper to run as fast as he could to the street, and I think he never looked behind him till he got out of danger, and he was the parading the flags, exhibiting his linen, which was stained with blood. Mr. Ryan supplied Major Swan’s place and came in contact with Lord E., and was wounded seriously. Major Sirr at that time came upstairs and keeping a respectful distance, fired a pistol shot at Lord E., in a very deliberate manner, and wounded him in the upper part of the shoulder. Reinforcements coming in, Lord E., surrendered after a very hard struggle. Lord Edward was imprisoned in Newgate.

Two surgeons attended daily on Lord E. Fitzgerald. It was supposed, the evening of the day before he died, he was delirious, as we could hear him with a very strong voice cry out ‘Come on! Come on! Damn you! Come on!’ He spoke so loud that the people in the street gathered to listen to him. He died the next day, early in the morning on the 3rd of June. The surgeon attended and opened the body. Then he was seen for the first time by the prisoners. He had about his neck a gold chain suspending a locket with hair in it. Thus died one of the bravest of men, from a conviction, I believe, that he wished to ameliorate the condition of his country. I shall endeavour to describe his person. I believe he was about 5 feet 7 inches in height, and a very interesting countenance ; beautiful arched eyebrows, fine grey eyes, a beautiful nose and high forehead, thick dark-coloured hair, brown or inclining to black. I think he was very like the late Lady Louisa Connolly about the nose and eyes. Any person he addressed must admire his manner, it was so candid, so good-natured, and so impregnated with good feeling; as playful and humble as a child, as mild and timid as a lady, and when necessary as brave as a lion. He was altogether a very nice and elegant formed man. Peace be to him ‘manes’.”

Note by Lord Walter FitzGerald

The two informers implicated in the betrayal of Lord Edward were Francis Higgins (proprietor of ‘The Freeman’s Journal’, at that time a paper in the interest of the Government), and Francis Magan, M.A., Barrister at Law. On the 20th of June 1798, Francis Higgins was paid the Government reward of £1,000 for Lord Edward’s capture (Fitzpatrick’s “Secret Service under Pitt”)
Lord Edward’s remains were placed in a vault under the East end of St. Werburgh’s Church in Dublin; and, owing to the damp state of these vaults, it became necessary to renew the coffin three times, viz.: – In February, 1844, by the orders of Lord Edward’s daughter, Lady Campbell ; again in 1874, by the 4th Duke of Leinster ; and lastly, in May, 1896, by the Trustees of the Leinster Estates.