Sunday, May 11, 2014

Book Review: "Citizen Lord" by Stella Tillyard

Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1763-1798) is often portrayed as a romantic aristocratic revolutionary who was one of the leaders of the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland. On a recent trip to Belfast I came across Stella Tillyard's book "Citizen Lord" in a second hand book shop and picked it up for £1.

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The book is a mix of dramatization of stories like Lord Edward's gardening and his death, and fact from many letters and known history of the time. I'd prefer if the book was either a dramatization of his life or an historical account of his life. Nevertheless I found Tillyard's book a good read and found out a lot more about Lord Edward than I remembered from the late CCR history teacher Roderick Ryan' classes.

Lord Edward was an interesting historical figure. He was a great-great grandson of Charles II of England and brought up in privilege during the Ascendancy period in Irish history. He was also a British soldier who fought in the American War of Independence, and later an ardent supporter of the French Revolution. Tillyard explores his undoubted fascination with all things revolutionary and concludes that he was more than a follower of fashion as his "commitment to the cause [of Irish freedom] was complete, and his opposition to the English connection and to Castle rule implacable". That the 1798 Rebellion was a complete failure, which resulted in the deaths of over 50,000 people, is not usually attributed to Lord Edward as he was shot as it was about to start. There's no doubt that the rebellion would not have succeeded had he lived either.

The book is also an interesting account of the lives of Irish aristocrats in the late 18th century. It seemed to be a life of luxury with little actual work to do - plenty of eating, sex, drinking, travelling and sleeping seemed to preoccupy people like Lord Edward in the midst of the poverty of the vast majority of Irish people. At least Lord Edward had the courage and conviction to do something about this - even doing his own gardening while plotting rebellion. He was both foolish and courageous to continue with plans for rebellion after discovering the French would not come the aid of the United Irishmen rebellion in time.

Stella Tillyard does not paint a picture of Lord Edward as an "incurable and innocent romantic", but portrays him as reckless and a reluctant leader. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in late 18th century Irish history.

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