Thursday, October 30, 2003

Thomas Reynolds - 1798 Informer



One of the more interesting, if hateful characters, to emerge from the 1798 Rebellion in this part of South Kildare was Thomas Reynolds who came to live in Kilkea Castle in December 1797.  A distant relation of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and a nephew of Thomas Fitzgerald of Geraldine House, Athy, Reynolds was a Catholic whose father Andrew Reynolds, a silk merchant in Dublin, had married Rose Fitzgerald of Kilmead.  Thomas Reynolds spent the first eight years of his life at the Kilmead home of his maternal grandfather Thomas Fitzgerald.  Educated at a school in Chiswick, England and later at Liege in Flanders, he returned to Dublin in 1788 just a few weeks before the death of his father Andrew.

Mr. Reynolds Senior had been a delegate to the Catholic Committee and at the age of 17 years his son Thomas was elected in his place.  Thus was Thomas Reynolds “without any kind of restraint pushed forward in a career of politics and family business for neither of which he possessed the requisite knowledge or experience”.  So wrote his own son in “The Life of Thomas Reynolds” published in 1838. 

Reynolds’ biographer claimed that his father was inveigled into becoming a member of the United Irishmen in January or February 1797 through the efforts of a Richard Dillon, a Catholic and Oliver Bond, a Presbyterian.  He was sworn in as a member of the organisation by Oliver Bond at his home at Bridge Street in Dublin.  Oliver Bond’s house was later to be inextricably linked with Thomas Reynolds’ name because of events which occurred there in March 1798.  Some time previously Reynolds had agreed to take a lease of Kilkea Castle from the Duke of Leinster on the death of the then lessee, a Mr. Dixon, an elderly man who passed away at the beginning of 1797.  Under the terms agreed, Reynolds employed the Duke’s builder, a Mr. Shannon, to provide new roofing, flooring and ceiling for the castle and generally to put the building into repair.  When the work was completed Reynolds and his family moved into Kilkea in December 1797, his mother, the former Rose Fitzgerald of Kilmead having died in Dublin on 6th November.  Reynolds was soon admitted into the Athy Cavalry Corps and as a frequent visitor to Athy befriended many of the local townspeople.

Having accepted Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s invitation to take over from him as Colonel of the United Irishmen in the Barony of Kilkea and Moone, Reynolds was soon visited by Matthew Kenna, one of the mainstays of the organisation in South Kildare.  Kenna informed Reynolds of the strength of the United Irishmen in that part of Kildare and arranged a vote of the Athy based captains of the organisation to confirm his appointment as their Colonel.  At the same time Reynolds was appointed as County Treasurer of the illegal organisation, thereby entitling him to attend meetings of the Provincial Council of the United Irishmen.  Reynolds, whose name was later to become synonymous with the terms “traitor” and “informer” passed on information to Dublin Castle regarding a planned meeting of the Provincial Council.  As a result twelve high ranking members of the Leinster Directory of the United Irishmen were arrested on 12th March, 1798 at the home of Oliver Bond in Bridge Street, Dublin.  Amongst those arrested were Lawrence Kelly from the Queens County, now Laois, George Cummins from Kildare and Peter Bannon from Portarlington.

Two days later Reynolds met Lord Edward Fitzgerald at the home of Dr. Kennedy in Aungier Street in Dublin and again the following day by appointment when Lord Edward gave him a letter for the County Kildare Committee.  On 17th March Reynolds left Dublin for Kilkea and stopped overnight in Naas.  There he was met, apparently to Reynolds surprise, by Matthew Kenna, the man who was Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s principal contact person in South Kildare.  Kenna told Reynolds of a meeting arranged for March 18th at the house of Reilly, a publican near the Curragh, of the County Committee members of the United Irishmen.  Reynolds attended the meeting, although he was somewhat concerned lest he should be suspected by his colleagues of involvement in the arrests which occurred six days previously.  Nothing untoward happened to Reynolds at that meeting and he proceeded to arrange a meeting in Athy on 20th March of six of the local captains of the United Irishmen.  The meeting was held in a room at the back of Peter Kelly’s shop in the main street and to allay suspicion was arranged to coincide with the holding of the town fair.  Reynolds showed the Athy men Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s letter and then proceeded to burn it in their presence.

Anxious lest his double dealing with Dublin Castle should become known, Reynolds at that same Athy meeting made some initial moves to resign his position within the illegal organisation.  Still not suspecting his involvement with Dublin Castle, the Athy men decided that Reynolds should share his position as Colonel of the United Irishmen with Dan Caulfield of Levitstown.  Reynolds never again involved himself in the affairs of the United Irishmen and he shortly thereafter left Ireland and took up a number of differed appointments for the British Government, eventually settling in Paris where he died in 1836.  Reynold’s infamy as an informer was matched in equal measure by another local man, Thomas Rawson of Glassealy House whose participation in the events of 1798 was recorded by several contemporary writers.

I was delighted to receive from Eddie Wall of Luton during the week a letter in which he set out some of his interesting experiences as barman in Anderson’s over 40 years ago.  I hope to return to Eddie’s story at another time, but in the meantime my thanks to Eddie for his kind remarks and the comment in which he referred to the “Eye on the Past” as “engendering kinship amongst the people of Athy at home and abroad”.

My thanks also to Michael Linsley who responding to the recent articles on the Athy 75 and donated to the Heritage Centre a medal won by W.K. Hosie for 5th place in the Athy 75 Race of 12th May, 1928. I’m sure there are many more such mementos out there which might usefully be presented to the Heritage Centre.

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