Reynolds, Thomas (1771–1836), heir to a fortune, United Irishman, informer and consul, was born at his father's house, 9 West Park St., Dublin, on 12 March 1771. His family history is well documented. His great-great-grandfather was Connor Reynolds of Rhynn Castle, Co. Leitrim, who married the daughter of Sir Robert Nugent, bart, by whom he left three sons, Conor, George Nugent and Thomas. The second of these renounced his family's catholicism and became a protestant in order to obtain possession of the greater part of the family estates and was grandfather of the George Nugent Reynolds (qv) who was killed in a duel in 1786. The third son, Thomas, a successful wool-stapler in Dublin, married Margaret Lacy, the sister of the famous Austrian general, Francis Maurice Lacy (1725–1801), and by her had three sons and one daughter. Thomas's eldest son, James, inherited his business and was one of the seven catholics who in 1757 met at the Globe coffee-house, Essex St., to form a committee to request the removal of legal disabilities imposed on catholics. Thomas's second son, also Thomas, a manufacturer of woollen poplins, had three daughters, whose marriages connected him with several distinguished catholic families, and an only son, Andrew, father of the main subject of this article. Andrew Reynolds (1744?–88), admitted into partnership with his father (c.1764), later developed a new poplin ‘by having the warp of silk and the weft, or shoot, of worsted’. These poplins came to be ‘prized in foreign countries as Irish tabinets’. He had an annual turnover of £100,000 to £150,000 and eventually made profits of £15,000 to £20,000 a year (Life of Reynolds, i, 56). Andrew Reynolds married (20 April 1767), as his second wife, a second-cousin, Rose Fitzgerald (d. 1797), eldest daughter of Thomas Fitzgerald of Kilmead, Co. Kildare, a distant kinsman and substantial creditor of the duke of Leinster (qv), and his wife Rose, daughter of Francis Lacy of Inns Quay, Dublin. By Rose he had two sons and twelve daughters.
Until the age of eight Thomas Reynolds, the future United Irishman and the only son to survive to adulthood, lived at the seat of his maternal grandfather in the care of a Catholic priest, William Plunkett. He was moved then to the school of a Protestant clergyman named Crawford at Chiswick near London and by the age of twelve ‘he passed all the vacations in the house of Sir Joshua Reynolds, who appeared to take pleasure in teaching him the first principles of drawing’ (ibid., i, 57). From Chiswick he moved (1783) to Liège to be educated by catholics priests, former Jesuits, returning to Ireland shortly before his father's death, at the age of 44, on 8 May 1788.
After 1784 the introduction of cottons to Ireland spoilt Andrew Reynolds's trade; loans to the O'Reilly brothers (Thomas, Patrick and Andrew) iron-smelters at Arigna, Co. Leitrim, nephews of his, worsened his losses, which on his death reached £200,000. Lodging with his mother in Dublin, Thomas Reynolds, ‘a thoughtless, inexperienced lad of seventeen years’, mixed with ‘dissipated idlers’ such as Simon Butler (qv) and Valentine Lawless (qv) (ibid., i, 63–4). He revisited the Continent and was in Paris in July 1789 when the Bastille was stormed. At the behest of his mother he became a member of the Catholic Committee in succession to his father (9 February 1791), and attended the Catholic Convention as a delegate of the Dublin parish of St Nicholas Without (December 1792). He chose not to enter his late father's business, preferring, despite his small income, the carefree life of a gentleman, doing the rounds of his well-to-do country relations. On 25 March 1794 he married Harriet Witherington, fourth daughter of William Witherington, a Dublin woollen merchant, and a younger sister of Matilda Tone (qv). His mother thereupon assigned to him half of the capital in the family business – now carried on by a relation, Thomas Warren (d. 1815?), formerly clerk to Andrew Reynolds – and one third of the profits. Reynolds had other property too and expectations of more including a life-interest in an estate in Jamaica and the promise from the duke of Leinster of the reversion of Kilkea Castle in Co. Kildare. A poor manager, Warren was forced out and later testified against Reynolds in a judicial process. Reynolds still had £18,500 in assets and in 1797 obtained possession of Kilkea Castle and wound up his business affairs.
On the eve of the rebellion of 1798 Thomas Reynolds was a gentleman ‘of ample fortune and of the first connexions in the country’ (ibid., i, 99–100). In January or February 1797 he was drawn into the United Irish organisation by Peter Sullivan, a confidential clerk in the Reynolds family business, who referred him to Richard Dillon, a catholic linen-draper, and to Oliver Bond (qv), in whose house in Bridge St. he was sworn in, believing, according to his son, that the sole objects of the organisation were catholic emancipation and the reform of parliament. Soon he was attending meetings of a baronial committee but only after meeting Lord Edward FitzGerald (qv) in November 1797 did he achieve a position of importance – that of Kildare county treasurer and membership of the Leinster provincial committee (18 February 1798). After being informed of a plan for an insurrection and for ‘the assassination of about eighty individuals’ (Life of Reynolds, i, 187), some of them his own relations, and knowing the provincial committee was to meet on 12 March at the house of Oliver Bond to decide finally on a general rising, he communicated the United Irishmen's plan to Dublin Castle through William Cope, a merchant. Those present at Bond's house were arrested and so the plan spoilt. Reynolds resigned as county treasurer (18 March) to be replaced by John Esmonde (qv). Later Reynolds, known to the United Irish leadership as an informer and in danger of his life – at least two unsuccessful attempts on it were made – but known to Dublin Castle only as an influential United Irishman, suffered the ransacking of his house at Kilkea by dragoons and militia, who believed FitzGerald was concealed there (20 April). Finally Reynolds was arrested and was to face a court-martial at Athy but, his true identity being disclosed to Dublin Castle by Cope, he was delivered to a grateful Irish privy council (5 May).
During the rebellion Kilkea Castle, which in 1797 had been renovated by Reynolds at an expense of over £2,500 and had contained priceless paintings, was garrisoned by troops and attacked by insurgents, rendering it uninhabitable for many years – it was refitted in the late 1830s. Reynolds was the principal prosecution witness in the trials of John McCann (qv), William Michael Byrne (qv) and Bond (17–23 July). There being few other grounds of defence, the defence counsel, John Philpot Curran (qv), sought to impeach his character and motives, which, with adverse remarks by Thomas Moore (qv) in his Life and death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1831) and a hostile obituary in the Morning Chronicle, gave rise after his death to a two-volume apologia by his son, Thomas, based on family papers and a remarkably detailed source for the history of the Reynolds family. For his action in ‘coming forward at a critical period to save [Ireland] from the wicked plans of the conspirators’, Reynolds was honoured by Dublin corporation with the freedom of the city (19 October 1798).
His life threatened, Reynolds resided for some months in Leinster St., Dublin, then moved with his family to Britain, spending some time in Monmouthshire before settling in London (1803). In 1810 he was appointed British postmaster-general in Lisbon, an onerous but lucrative appointment owing to the Peninsular war. In September 1814 he returned to England. In July 1817, favoured by Lord Castlereagh (qv), he went to Copenhagen as consul to Iceland at £300 p.a. He had to visit that remote island part of the kingdom of Denmark only once (June–August 1818) and in January 1820 finally quitted Copenhagen leaving his younger son, Thomas, in charge of consular affairs. With his wife and daughters Reynolds settled in Paris. There in 1825 his elder son, Andrew Fitzgerald, fought a duel with Thomas Warren, a French army officer and son of Thomas Warren who had been Reynolds's clerk, and was later a United Irishman. In 1831, Reynolds underwent a religious experience and embraced evangelical protestantism. He died 18 August 1836 in Paris and was buried in a vault in the churchyard at Welton, near Brough, Yorkshire.
Thomas and Harriet Reynolds (d. 1851) had been married by a protestant minister and then, within the hour, by a catholic priest, both ceremonies at Mrs Catherine Witherington's house in Grafton St., Dublin. They had, beside two daughters, Catherine (1796–1858) and Harriet (1801–30), both of whom married Frenchmen, two sons, Andrew Fitzgerald (1795–1856), educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, who became a barrister and distributor of stamps for Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire, and Thomas (1798–1850), Thomas senior's biographer, who later played some role in protestant missionary activity in Paris. Andrew, Catherine and Thomas were born in Ireland and baptised by catholic priests, Andrew by a future bishop, Thomas Hussey (qv), Catherine by an Augustinian, William Gahan (qv); but Harriet, born in London, was baptised by a protestant minister. In his apologia for his father (which reads in places like a ghosted autobiography) Thomas Reynolds junior answers the charge of betrayal by blaming the executions of Byrne and McCann on Bond's refusal to allow a compromise with the government (Life of Reynolds, ii, 178–9) and by claiming that Reynolds was instrumental in getting such a compromise to the benefit of the United Irish leaders under arrest (ibid., ii, 175). Reynolds was characterised by R. R. Madden (qv) as ‘a man both greedy of gain and ambitious of distinction’ (Madden, i, 225). In fact, a wealthy man at the beginning of 1798, he suffered heavy financial losses in the rebellion which £5,000 in payments from the secret service did not fully cover, he was in danger of his life from both sides, and he did not obtain an official position until 12 years later.