“Edward (III) (Edward Fitzgerald)”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1798 (Zimmermann)
Keywords: rebellion fight betrayal death Ireland patriotic


Surrounded by "ruthless villains" as he slept, Edward wakes and stabs Swan but is seriously wounded by Ryan and Sirr. "Proclaim that Edward's blood is spill'd! By traitor's hand, by coward Sirr, Revenge! Revenge! for Edward's kill'd."


Zimmermann 8: Fitzgerald, hiding in Dublin, is betrayed [by Francis Magan who received a reward] and wounded and captured by a raiding party. Members of the raiding party named in the ballad are Major Sirr, Major Swan and Captain Ryan. One of his captors [Ryan] is killed. Fitgerald was taken to Newgate jail where he died.

For a brief biography of Lord Edward Fitzgerald(1763-1798) see The Princess Grace Irish Library (Monaco) site entry for [Lord] Edward Fitzgerald.

For more about Major Sirr see "Henry Downs," "The Major" and "The Man from God-Knows-Where." - BS

Edward Fitzgerald (1763-1798) was a younger son of the Duke of Leinster. He spent time in the British army, but the French Revolution turned him against monarchy. If Thomas Pakenham (_The Year of Liberty_, p. 38 and following) is to be believed, he was not really very bright -- but the United Irishmen still found him useful, because he was handsome and gallant, a good Man on Horseback to inspire recruiting. The brains of the movement -- Thomas Addis Emmet and the like -- knew a good thing when they saw one.

Of course, they had to do something with him to keep him attached to the movement. And he was a hothead. By mid-1798, the moderates were trying to calm things down -- but all of the leaders, except Fitzgerald, were in custody by May. Soldiers had come to Fitzgerald's home in March and found his wife shoving incriminating papers into the fire (see Terry Golway, _For the Cause of Liberty_, p. 80). Fitzgerald was still at large but unable to show himself. He and the few other free leaders decided to rebel even without the French. On May 12, the English place a reward of a thousand pounds on Fitzgerald's head.

On May 18, Fitzgerald barely avoided capture. The next day, as he suffered from a severe cold, Major Swann and Captain Ryan arrived at his door and tried to arrest him. Fitzgerald stabbed Swann three times, then Ryan 12 or more times, but Swann was able to run for help, and Ryan grabbed Fitzgerald's legs even while dying. Major Sirr, who was commanding a guard outside, arrived and shot Fitzgerald in the shoulder. He was taken into custody, and died of his wounds and blood poisoning on June 4 (Pakenham, pp. 92fff, 235ffff. Golway, pp. 81-84)

There were several spies involved. In addition to Francis Magan, a member of the United Irish executive, Thomas Reynolds was to betray the organization's plans (Pakenham, pp. 43-44).

For the general context of the aftermath of Fitzgerald's arrest and the 1798, see the notes to "Boulavogue." Fitzgerald is also mentioned in "The Green above the Red" and "The Shan Van Voght."

There is a recent biography of Fitzgerald, Stella Tillyard, _Citizen Lord: The Life of Edward Fitzgerald, Irish Revolutionary_ (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1997). It seems to have been fairly popular, but it has no footnotes, an extremely thin bibliography, and -- as I discovered upon trying to read it -- it casually assumes things it cannot possibly know. It appears to me to be more a historical novel than an genuine biography. - RBW

Historical references

Cross references


  1. Zimmermann 8, "Edward" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Moylan 52, "Edward" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. BI, Zimm008