Rourke, Felix (1765–1803), United Irishman, was the son of a small farmer who kept the turnpike gate and carman's stage on the Naas Road, half a mile from Rathcoole, Co. Dublin. In early life he served an apprenticeship in Dublin as a shoemaker and then became a clerk in a tanyard before returning home to assist his father in his businesses. There he joined the United Irishmen in 1798, and drew the attention of Lord Edward FitzGerald (qv), who gave him the gift of his favourite horse and employed him as an organiser. He was appointed United Irish secretary for the barony of Uppercross, Co. Dublin, and nominated as a county delegate for Kildare, probably the best organised county in Leinster. When Thomas Reynolds (qv) was accused of being the informer responsible for the arrests of the Leinster directory (12 March 1798), he denied the charge and accused Rourke, who was placed on trial by the society but found not guilty.
On the outbreak of hostilities in May 1798 Rourke was appointed colonel of the Kildare insurgents. After their defeat he linked up with rebels who attacked the army garrison at Hacketstown, Co. Carlow (25 June 1798). The poorly-armed rebels suffered heavy casualties and were forced to retreat to the Wicklow mountains. He also took part in the attack on the local barracks at Clonard, Co. Meath (11 July 1798). Again the rebels were repulsed and retired to Johnstown, Co. Kildare (12 July 1798), from where they were later dispersed. After these setbacks the rebellion in Leinster collapsed, but Rourke held out until 7 August 1798 when he surrendered at Kilcullen. He had expected to receive an amnesty from Gen. Ralph Dundas but was imprisoned in Naas gaol until the summer of 1800.
After his release he travelled to Belfast, where he made his living as an actor before returning to Dublin in late 1801. There he earned £100 a year as a clerk in a brewery off St Stephen's Green. He made contact with the United Irishmen once again, and the first meeting of Robert Emmet (qv) with fellow rebels after he arrived back in Dublin in autumn 1802 was held at Rourke's home. Rourke's brother John Rourke ( fl. 1798–1840s) ran a public house, ‘The Golden Bottle’, 138 Thomas St., Dublin, which was one of the venues used to plan the insurrection. Felix Rourke liaised with the United Irish leadership in Kildare and Wicklow to persuade them to bring men into Dublin at the outbreak of revolt.
On 23 July 150 men left Naas for Dublin, having only been informed of the intended revolt the previous day. Rourke advised them to return home when he realised the rebellion was doomed to failure. A few days later he was arrested in the liberties of Dublin by Alderman Bonham. The chief witness at his trial (6 September 1803) was Michael Mahaffy, a pedlar serving in the Kildare militia who swore he saw Rourke in Dirty Lane, Dublin, on the night of the insurrection, armed with a blunderbuss and giving orders to the rebels. Rourke produced alibis contradicting Mahaffy's evidence, but was found guilty of high treason. He was hanged on 10 September 1803 from one of the rafters of the burnt-out home of a fellow rebel, Fr James Harold (qv), parish priest of Rathcoole, who had been transported to Australia. Rourke was accompanied from Newgate, Dublin, to Rathcoole by a large body of yeomanry commanded by Capt. Bernard Clinch who is said to have treated him with wanton brutality and to have attempted to prevent a priest administering the last rites. Rourke's body was given to his friends (there is no record that he ever married) and interred in Hospital Fields near Dublin. John Rourke was imprisoned and came out of jail a ruined man. R. R. Madden (qv) claimed he lived the rest of his life in poverty in the liberties of Dublin at no. 3 Tripoli, Pimlico, making a meagre living as a comb maker.