The period from 1790 to 1803, one of upheaval and turbulence, has been the subject of a surge in interest in the past two decades. This study examines the scene in County Kildare. During the 1790s, a vocal liberal establishment headed up by the duke of Leinster, Catholic and reformist politics, militant Defenderism and a large United Irish Society involving prominent liberals, all contributed to the politicization of the Kildare populace.
Against this background a faction loyal to the Dublin government attempted to stabilize and secure the county, with the increasing support of the administration. The 1798 rebellion engulfed Kildare, lasting two months and involving thousands of rebels. After initial success it evolved into a 'fugitive' war centred on the Bog of Allen where rebels held government forces at bay for weeks. During the post-rebellion period radicalism persisted at a local level and thousands of Kildaremen were prepared to participate in 'Emmet's rebellion' in 1803. In examining Kildare in this period this study contributes to the wider debate on the forces of radicalism and reaction which polarised Irish society in the 1790s.
Liam Chambers is currently completing a PhD at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.