Rush light Holder from Kilkea Castle – Home of Lord Edward Fitzgerald
Even though the Independence Museum Kilmurry is situated in the heart of the War of Independence battlegrounds of that era there was little or no recorded activity around this area during the United Irishmen Rebellion of 1798. This rebellion still being sung about to this day seems to have passed this area by. This was probably due in no small part to the militias led by the local gentry like the Warrens and the Ryes.
However we do have one artefact and it comes from the home of one of the main instigators of the rebellion. The item is a rush light holder. A rush light is a type of candle or miniature torch formed by soaking the dried pith of the rush plant in fat or grease. For several centuries rush lights were a common source of artificial light for people throughout Ireland. This particular rush light holder comes from Kilkea Castle in Kildare and this castle was home to Lord Edward Fitzgerald.
Lord Edward Fitzgerald was born the twelfth son of James Fitzgerald the 1st Duke of Leinster on October 15th 1763. As was the custom of the time he joined the British Army and fought against the Americans in 1781 in the American War of Independence. He was first elected to the Parliament of Ireland in 1783. His support for the French Revolution led to his dismissal from the army.
This sense of revolution in Europe along with the continuing barring of Catholics from society led to the setting up of the United Irishmen in 1791 by Wolfe Tone, James Napper Tandy and Thomas Russell. Their main aims were Catholic Emancipation and with Protestant cooperation parliamentary reform. However the British government suppressed the United Irishmen and the society went underground and refocused its aim to complete Irish independence. It was into this society that Lord Edward Fitzgerald joined in1796.
In May 1796 he and his wife proceeded by Hamburg to Basle, for the purpose of communicating with the agents of the French Government relative to obtaining armed assistance in Ireland. It is now known that his proceedings were carefully watched by spies, and information of all his negotiations conveyed to Pitt. In the spring of 1797 Edward J. Lewins was sent to France by the Leinster Directory of United Irishmen, and resided at Paris as accredited agent of “the Irish nation.” In May of the same year Lord Edward again visited the Continent, and met an emissary of the French Government. Wolfe Tone was then, and had been for some time, working within France. Meanwhile the United Irish leaders were working from without, urging on the French expeditions that eventually led to the failed invasion at Bantry Bay in December 1796, Humbert’s landing at Killala in August 179 , the proclamation of the Republic of Connaught and the engagement off Lough Swilly in September 1798, in which Wolfe Tone was taken prisoner.
Lord Edward now assumed the military leadership of the United Irishmen, determined to assert by arms the independence of Ireland. He was well qualified with his military experience. It was decided that the rebellion would be held in March 1798. The society planned to have 270,000 men armed for the rebellion. As the time got closer it was said to Lord Edward that he might be forced out of the country. On this he said “It is now out of the question; I am too deeply pledged to these men to be able to withdraw with honour”
On the 12th March 1798 he was at his residence in Leinster House the present day seat of Dail Eireann when the military tried to arrest him. His papers were examined but he was let go. He then went on the run until the 19th of May. He stayed in various places in the city and was visited by a man named Reynolds, who unbeknownst to Lord Edward was an informer.
It was during this time that the United Irishmen decided that the French could no longer be relied upon for support so it was decided that Lord Edward would lead them into battle on the 23rd of May 1798. On the 17th May he arrived to a Mr. Murphy, a feather merchant on 153 Thomas Street. With a reward of a thousand pounds on his head he stayed in a valley on the roof of an outhouse. The following day while sick in bed the house was surrounded and soldiers rushed in and up to the room he was in. In the struggle that followed Lord Edward shot more than one of the soldiers. He however was shot in the arm and arrested. He was taken under heavy guard to Dublin Castle and then onto Newgate prison. Newgate Prison was located near Smithfield and had been built 25 years earlier. This prison closed in 1863.
Lord Edward Fitzgerald lingered on from his mortal wounds for sixteen days and through this time all communication with his friends and relatives was denied. He died at two on the morning of the 4th June 1798.
The 1798 rebellion although failed had far reaching consequences for Ireland. William Pitt the Younger used it as the reason to tighten Britain’s grip on Ireland. The 1800 Act of Union led to the amalgamation of the parliaments of Britain and Ireland. This act came into being on January 1st 1801. There would not be another parliament in Ireland until 1918.
The United Irishmen made one last bid for independence in 1803 under Robert Emmett but this rebellion was even less successful than its previous rebellion. The United Irishmen then faded into history.