Rewind: The murder of Lord Kilwarden

By Danielle Walsh Ronan

Murdered in the midst of rebellion, Arthur Wolfe, 1st Viscount Kilwarden, was the target for some Irish rebels on the night of July 23, 1803.

A former politician and Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Lord Kilwarden was a well-known member of the Irish gentry during the eighteenth century and arguably the most famous occupant of Newlands House in Clondalkin.

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(Left)Newlands House, Clondalkin, (Right) Portrait of Lord Kilwarden (Images: Sourced from South Dublin Libraries)

Due to the positions he held, as an attorney general and Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Lord Kilwarden dealt with many cases relating to Irish rebels at the time.

Lord Kilwarden was an interesting figure who had gained the respect of many members of the United Irishmen for his efforts to help the Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone.

 

As Lord Kilwarden was a member of the Wolfe family and a cousin of Wolfe Tone, he used his position to help the Irish rebel to avoid prosecution in 1794.

Furthermore, Lord Kilwarden again used his position to postpone the date of Wolfe Tone’s execution after he had been found guilty and sentenced to hanging for his role in the 1798 rebellion.

For these efforts, Lord Kilwarden was well respected by many rebels, from the leadership down. However, while holding the role of attorney general, Lord Kilwarden had angered other rebels after a series of executions that had been carried out following a conflict involving a catholic secret society known as the Defenders who had close links with the United Irishmen.

The execution of some Defenders caused many rebels to resent Lord Kilwarden, which influenced their desire to have him killed during the 1803 rebellion.

The 1803 rebellion was a failed attempt by Irish republicans and nationalists to secure an independent Ireland led by the Irish republican, Robert Emmet.

The murder of Lord Kilwarden has been described as one of the worst atrocities to occur on the night of July 23. While travelling by carriage through the city centre on the night in question, Lord Kilwarden was accompanied by his nephew and daughter.

Some accounts state that he was travelling into the city centre to attend a privy council meeting in Dublin Castle to discuss reports of a rising.

However, other accounts of the event suggest that Lord Kilwarden had decided to travel to the city centre in the hope that he would be safer from the approaching rebels in a crowd rather than his Newlands House residence.

On approaching Thomas Street, the carriage transporting Lord Kilwarden was stopped by rebels. Lord Kilwarden was pulled out of the carriage and stabbed multiple times by rebels who were armed with pikes.

His nephew suffered the same fate and was piked to death as he tried to escape the attack. Lord Kilwarden’s daughter on the other hand, was allowed to escape the ambush unharmed by the rebels.

The rebellion was put to an end by authorities before mid-night on July 23, with many rebels retreating from the city centre to return back to Kildare, and a number of men stopping off to stay the night at the Cuckoo’s Nest where one of the rebel’s sister-in-law lived.

A man-hunt for those involved in the rebellion followed, with several arrests being made.

Lord Kilwarden had been the most high-profile figure to die during the rebellion and the news of his violent death spread fast and became a source of anxiety for other members of the gentry.

According to the historian Seamus Cullen, many of the gentry in rural areas outside of towns began to take precautions for their safety, such as moving their place of residence.

After the death of Lord Kilwarden his home, Newlands House, had numerous different owners until it was finally demolished in 1981 by Newlands Golf Club.

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