Stafford, Nicholas (c.1767–c.1816), insurgent and chief lieutenant to Robert Emmet (qv), was possibly from near Rathcoffey, Co. Kildare; nothing else is known of his family. He knew the United Irishman Michael Quigley (qv) from childhood, and was active in Kildare in 1798. He maintained his links with the United movement and in 1801 helped William Corbett (qv) to escape from Kilmainham gaol. He owned a public house at 131 James's St. c.1798, and like other United Irishmen was forced out of the trade despite having applied for a pardon in late 1798. In 1803 he ran a bakery at Thomas Court, off James's St. Shortly before the insurrection in July, he went to the White Bull Inn and there met Quigley, a trusted associate of Emmet. He was enlisted, and on the eve of the rising was introduced to Emmet, helping at the Marshal Lane arms depot and supplying bread. He and Quigley became Emmet's two chief lieutenants. On the morning of the insurrection (23 July) they flanked their leader, wearing the splendid tailored green uniforms of the republic, Stafford sporting a green feather in his hat. Despite the disappointing turnout, they followed Emmet in his march up Thomas St towards Dublin castle. Stafford remained by Emmet's side at the front, helping him as best he could to maintain order among the motley unit of undisciplined men, many of them intoxicated. When it became clear Emmet could not take Dublin castle, he fled with Stafford and others to the Wicklow mountains.
They stayed for a time at Kearney's Inn in Bohernabreena. The inn was searched at the end of July, but the rebels hiding in the attic were not found, as the officers had believed a warning that the stairs were unsafe. After this close call, the group split and Stafford and the others hid for a time on Rathcoffey demesne, Emmet having entrusted Stafford with his military coat. The fugitives then went to Ardfry, Co. Galway, and on 11 October a proclamation was posted offering £300 for information on Stafford. With the others he was seized the next day in a farmhouse, wearing his military uniform, except for the green coat, but this was enough to convict him. On 13 October they arrived at Dublin castle; the chief secretary, William Wickham (qv), stated in his dispatch that ‘Stafford is, I think, without exception, the finest looking man I ever saw’ (MacDonagh, 437). The police description remained factual – ‘5 ft 9. Black hair and eyes, pale thin face, stout made, bow knees’ (Hammond, 104). Committed to Kilmainham on 14 October, Stafford and Quigley were arraigned for high treason before Lord Norbury (qv) on 22 October. Given that several others had already been executed, they chose to make statements in the hope of avoiding the gallows. In contrast to the duplicitous Quigley, Stafford impressed the privy council with his statement on 4 November, cooperating with the authorities while refusing to incriminate his associates. Lord Redesdale (qv) declared he was the noblest man he had ever met, a view echoed by the under-secretary, Alexander Marsden (qv).
Stafford became seriously ill in prison, and fearing it was consumption, petitioned for release on 22 November 1804, but was refused. His business had collapsed in his absence and he was detained as an insolvent. Though formally charged with high treason, he was never tried, and was released on 11 July 1806. His friends helped finance a new bakery at 138 Thomas St. He married Catherine, a sister of John Hevey, a prominent republican. He died c.1816, probably of consumption, blaming his failing health on the poor conditions he experienced during his nearly three years in Kilmainham.