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CITIZEN LORD by Stella Tillyard


The Life of Edward Fitzgerald, Irish Revolutionary

by Stella Tillyard

Pub Date: June 15th, 1998
ISBN: 0-374-12383-7
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

In this bicentennial of the failed United Irishmen rising against Britain, a charismatic Protestant aristocrat, soldier, and radical politician receives the extended treatment usually given to the rebellion’s legendary Wolfe Tone. Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1763—98) was the son of the senior peer of Ireland; his mother, Emily, was a member of the Lennox family that Tillyard chronicled in Aristocrats (1994). After serving with the British army in the American Revolution, Lord Edward grew increasingly alienated from his ruling-class milieu and committed to Enlightenment ideals of liberty and equality (he was a friend of the radicals Charles James Fox and Tom Paine). As a member of the Irish Parliament, he came to believe that incremental freedom would never rescue Ireland from the injustice, poverty, and sectarianism that had become rife under British rule. Despite his wish to concede leadership to others in the secret revolutionary group the United Irishmen, he became a leading figure in the gathering anti-English agitation because of his military background, conspicuous bravery, wealth, ties to revolutionary France, and easy familiarity with Irish peasants. In May 1798, however, having become the most hunted man in Dublin, Lord Edward was betrayed and mortally wounded while being captured. His death turned the rebellion into a doomed series of uncoordinated uprisings. Tillyard quotes copiously from letters to and from her hero, vividly bringing to life the privileged background he rejected. However, she is less successful in depicting the course of his life as —logical, consistent, and tragically inexorable.— This failure results partly from his passionate nature, partly from Tillyard’s inability to penetrate deeply into Lord Edward’s Enlightenment ideals. Nevertheless, with a near-novelistic depiction of scene, Tillyard recreates the physical and emotional world of this reckless, almost Byronic aristocrat with great flair. Lord Edward materializes here as not just an Irish martyr, but as a remarkable figure far in advance of his turbulent times. (8 pages b&w photos, 4 pages color photos, not seen)