Fitzgerald, Edward (c.1770–1807), landed gentleman and insurgent leader, was born in Co. Wexford at his wealthy catholic family's country estate, Newpark, in the parish of Killisk, situated between Enniscorthy and Wexford town. Details of his early life are sketchy and later accounts rely largely on information gathered by Richard R. Madden (qv) in his monumental The United Irishmen, their lives and times, first published in the 1840s. Accordingly, Fitzgerald may have been descended lineally from the Kildare Fitzgeralds and appears to have been an only child. His parents died young and he inherited the estate. Well educated, he was a keeper of hounds, had a stud farm, and was engaged in growing and selling grain. Fitzgerald was charismatic and popular, and rivalled his uncle, Harvey Hay, in hunting and steeplechasing. His catholicism extended to supporting his poorer co-religionists in disputes with ‘Orange bashaws’, i.e. protestant neighbours with a superior attitude, and he was attracted by the radical non-sectarian politics of the United Irishmen.
Fitzgerald became one of the Wexford ‘colonels’ in the insurrection that began in May 1798, cooperating closely with Bagenal Harvey (qv) and John Colclough (qv). Concealing his United membership from the authorities until the brink of hostilities, Fitzgerald even used his home as an official surrender point for weapons until he, Harvey, and Colclough were discovered and held in Wexford gaol from 26 May. The arrests caused confusion and delay among the insurgents, as Fitzgerald and Colclough were sent (29 May) to urge the rebels occupying Enniscorthy and nearby Vinegar Hill to vacate their positions. The pair were received with suspicion although Fitzgerald, who ostensibly followed his instructions, may have intimated his desire to join the rebellion while sending Colclough back to Wexford with the insurgents' defiant message of no surrender. Fitzgerald himself later returned to Wexford, where Harvey and Colclough were held hostage.
The following day, the prisoners were freed when the garrison astonishingly abandoned Wexford and its protestant loyalists. Fitzgerald was entreated by the mayor to reason with the insurgents as they swarmed into town. His undoubted diplomacy did not, however, prevent several murders of loyalists before relative calm prevailed. Fitzgerald subsequently took a prominent part in leading the ‘northern division’ of Wexford insurgents in June–July, reaching into the counties of Wicklow, Carlow, Kildare, Meath, and Louth. He personally commanded the Shelmalier cavalry at the disastrous battle of Arklow, Co. Wicklow (9 June), but had some success in other engagements.
Meanwhile, despite the climate of atrocity and the wilful destruction of his home and extensive properties by the military, Fitzgerald ordered humane treatment of defeated enemies and prisoners, particularly at Gorey, Co. Wexford, where he found enough evidence of pillage to justify his followers’ lust for revenge. In Wexford town, he had no such influence when on 20 June dozens of protestant prisoners were piked on the bridge as the forces of Brig.-gen. Sir John Moore (qv) approached to retake the town. Fitzgerald led part of the rebel evacuation (21 June) and fought his way north through Co. Carlow, briefly encouraged by success at the battle of Hacketstown on 25 June. He reached the Kildare insurgents under William Aylmer (qv) about 10 July but found them unfit for further action. By now the rebellion was as good as over, although the force pressed onward in fading hope of opportunity. Their attack (11 July) on the small but well defended garrison at Clonard, Co. Meath, was called off and Fitzgerald led the retreat. On 14 July, having reached the River Boyne in Co. Louth amid worsening reports of defeat and executions, he made a last stand at Knightstown and was wounded before escaping in the mêlée which followed. On 18 July he, Aylmer, and Garret Byrne (qv), leader of the Wicklow insurgents who had joined the march north, began to negotiate surrender with Gen. Dundas and Gen. Wilford at Sallins, Co. Kildare. Although assured of being spared execution, they were fortunate that during a delay of three days over the formalities of cessation, an amnesty act (20 July) was passed on the eve of the British acceptance of surrender.
Fitzgerald and his colleagues were transferred to gaol in Dublin and were exiled in 1799, first to England (where they were detained for a period, March 1800) and in 1803 to Altona near Hamburg, Germany, where the United Irishmen had been a familiar presence since before the insurrection. Fitzgerald's surviving estate at Newpark was taken over by his cousin (also Edward), and by Hay relatives. Formally pardoned in 1803, Fitzgerald died in 1807 in Hamburg. A small mezzotint portrait by W. T. Annis after Thomas Nugent is in the NGI.