FitzGerald, the fifth son of James Fitzgerald, 1st Duke of Leinster, and the Lady Emily Lennox the daughter of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, is born at Carton House, near Dublin on October 15, 1763. He spends most of his childhood in Frescati House at Blackrock in Dublin where he is tutored in a manner chiefly directed to the acquisition of knowledge that would fit him for a military career.
FitzGerald joins the British Army in 1779 and in 1781 is aide-de-camp on the staff of Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings in the southern theatre of the American Revolutionary War. He is seriously wounded at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781.
Fitzgerald is first elected to the Parliament of Ireland in 1783. His enthusiasm for the French Revolution leads to dismissal from the army in 1792. Four years later he joins the Society of United Irishmen, a nationalist organization that aspires to free Ireland from English control. This group appoints him to head the military committee formed to plan an uprising and obtain aid from the French revolutionary regime.
Although the French delay in supplying arms and troops, Fitzgerald’s committee proceeds with its plans for a general rebellion. The insurrection is set for May 23, 1798. In March his co-conspirators are seized by government agents, making him the most important United Irish leader still at liberty. On May 9 a reward of £1,000 is offered by Dublin Castle for his apprehension.
FitzGerald’s hiding place in a house in Thomas Street, Dublin is disclosed by a Catholic barrister and informant named Francis Magan. On May 18 Major Henry Sirr leads a military party to the house where FitzGerald is in bed suffering from a fever. Alerted by the commotion, he jumps out of bed and, ignoring the pleas of the arresting officers Captain William Bellingham Swan and Captain Daniel Frederick Ryan to surrender peacefully, FitzGerald stabs Swan and mortally wounds Ryan with a dagger in a desperate attempt to escape. He is secured only after Major Sirr shoots him in the shoulder.
FitzGerald is conveyed to New Prison, Dublin where he is denied proper medical treatment. After a brief detention in Dublin Castle he is taken to Newgate Prison, Dublin where his wound, which had now become infected, becomes mortally inflamed. His wife, whom the government probably has enough evidence to convict of treason, had fled the country, never to see her husband again, but his brother Henry and his aunt Lady Louisa Conolly are allowed to see him in his last moments.
FitzGerald dies at the age of 34 on June 4, 1798 as the rebellion rages outside. He is buried the next day in the cemetery of St. Werburgh’s Church, Dublin. An Act of Attainder confiscating his property is passed as 38 Geo. 3 c. 77, but is eventually repealed in 1819.
(Pictured: Portrait of Edward FitzGerald by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, 1796. National Portrait Gallery, London.)