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Saturday, 2 April 2016

Ireland and Independence III: The Spies

Lord Edward Fitzgerald.

Ireland trembled on the brink of rebellion in the spring of 1798. The United Irishmen had resolved to fight or die for independence. But careless talk cost lives. James Tandy, son of the famous United Irish leader Napper Tandy, was a terrible blabber-mouth. Little did he realize that whenever he discussed his father’s movements, the information was relayed straight to Dublin Castle by the spy Leonard McNally.

It was difficult for the Castle’s spies to infiltrate the United Irishmen from top to bottom because of the localized and secretive nature of the organization, parts of which are still obscure today.However, the United Irish leaders were watched by (amongst others), Samuel Turner and Thomas Reynolds. Turner was deep in the rebels’ counsels and they trusted him completely. Samuel was friends with Lord Edward Fitzgerald and his wife Pamela.

Reynolds was a relative of the Duke of Leinster, the brother of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and was also related to Wolfe Tone by marriage (he and Tone had married two sisters). A tip-off from Reynolds led to the arrest of 14 top United Irishmen in March 1798.
Thomas Reynolds.
The arrest of the secret committee mortally wounded the United Irishmen’s organization. Lord Edward Fitzgerald was now their de facto leader, aided by an attorney, John Sheares. But Fitzgerald was a weak leader, despite his personal charm – and little did he realise that his ‘friend’ Samuel Turner betrayed his every move.

Two more spies who played a crucial role were Francis Higgins, a newspaper editor, and Francis Magan (code-name ‘M.’). Higgins recruited Magan, a Catholic barrister who was down on his luck, to spy on Fitzgerald, who was now a marked man - a reward of £1,000 had been offered for his head…

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