Updated: Jun 26, 2020
June the 4th marks the 222nd anniversary of the death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald at Dublin’s Newgate Jail following his violent arrest in Thomas Street seventeen days before. One of the handful of individuals who concealed Lord Edward when he went into hiding from March to May of 1798 was Henry Kennedy, who lived and worked as a medical doctor at 13 Aungier Street Dublin. He was one of the few people caught up in the story who did not suffer arrest, interrogation, imprisonment or banishment. Who was Dr. Henry Kennedy?
Henry McNeill Kennedy was born in about 1747, the second son of George Kennedy, a linen merchant, and Mary Simpson. According to Don Johnston, (Journal of Co. Louth Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol 28, no. 1, pp 46-70), Mary’s father, the Rev. Patrick Simpson, was a well-known Gaelic speaking Presbyterian preacher from the Dundalk/Ballymascanlon areas. George's father, Gilbert Kennedy, was also a Presbyterian minister. It’s thought that the first Kennedy ancestor to arrive in Ireland was Thomas Kennedy, who served as chaplain to General Monroe’s Confederate regiments in 1646. The family settled in Tullyllish Co. Down, naming their homestead Kennedy’s Grove.
Henry Kennedy’s siblings included Patrick Simpson and Malcolm Kennedy, both Dublin-based attorneys, George Kennedy a medical doctor like Henry, and James Thomas Kennedy, who made a great fortune as a merchant in Calcutta before returning to Dublin to live.
At the Music Hall on Fishamble Street in March 1792, Henry Kennedy was inducted into the Society of United Irishmen. His proposers were Dr. William Drennan and Oliver Bond.
He appears to have been the only one of his family to have joined the Society.
A year before the 1798 rebellion, he was listed on the committee of the Dublin General Dispensary which had its headquarters at Temple Bar, Dublin. As his address was 13 Aungier Street, Henry Kennedy was the next door neighbour to Moore's grocery shop, the family home and birthplace of writer Thomas Moore, also one of the first biographers of Lord Edward Fitzgerald.
According to the Report from the Committee of Secrecy of the House of Commons in Ireland in the aftermath of the rebellion, Lord Edward went from the lodgings of Dr. William MacNevin (Thomas Street) to the house of Dr. Kennedy (13 Aungier Street.) In the report, Kennedy was referred to as a “Swaddler”, a pejorative term at the time for a Methodist. It is believed that Fitzgerald’s stepfather Ogilvie, his friend the surgeon William Lawless and his beloved wife Pamela visited him during his time at Kennedy's. (Although much of 18th century Aungier Street survives, this was not so for 13 Aungier Street which is now a modern building occupied by Dublin Business School.)
Regarding the fate of the other people who hid Fitzgerald, Dr. MacNevin became a state prisoner until 1802. James Moore, who kept the house in Thomas Street where Lord Edward was arrested, spent over a year in prison. Feather merchant, Nicholas Murphy, who sheltered the rebel leader before Moore, spent 55 weeks at Newgate Jail without trial and had his property confiscated. John Cormick, feather merchant of Thomas Street, was arrested as far away as Guernsey and became a state prisoner.
Nowhere in the official records is there any account of Dr Kennedy’s arrest or even interview. It would be interesting to know what insulated him from the full wrath of the Dublin Castle authorities. And what impact did his involvement with the United Irishmen have on his medical practice after the rebellion and in subsequent turbulent years ?
Regarding his own family, Henry Kennedy was married to Ann Smyth, the daughter of John Smyth of Cootehill, Co. Cavan. He had two daughters, Mary and Margaret, who married barrister Robert Smyth in 1819. The Kennedys had one son, also Henry, who died in 1822 aged 35.
Henry McNeill Kennedy died aged 62 in December 1809. His final resting place was at the north-east corner of St. Anne’s graveyard, Dawson Street, which is sadly now a car