Blennerhassett Family Tree
Genealogy one-name study      by Bill Jehan
   Introduction      Connections      FitzGerald, Earl of Desmond
FitzGerald, Earl of Desmond

Desmond (Des-Mumha) was an ancient kingdom of Ireland, covering southern Munster and including within its boundaries the greater part of present-day counties Limerick, Kerry, Cork & Waterford.

About AD200 Oilill, King of Munster, divided his territory between his two sons, giving Desmond to Eoghan and Thomond (north Munster) to Cormac Cas. In the 10th century Brian Boru (Brian Boruma mac Cennetig, of Thomond, King of Munster in 976) united all Munster, but in the 12th century the MacCarthys, descendants of Eoghan, became kings of Desmond.

The Normans conquered England following the defeat of King Harold by William the Conqueror at the battle of Hastings in 1066, and little more than 100 years later Anglo-Norman adventurers arrived in Ireland. The Norman conquest of Ireland reduced Desmond in size to the present Co.Cork and south Co.Kerry, the MacCarthys being driven into the southwest of Munster where they ruled as “MacCarthy More”.

A FitzGerald had accompanied William the Conqueror in 1066 when he arrived in England and in 1169 Maurice FitzGerald came to Ireland with the the Normans. A Castle was built at Tralee c1243 by one of the Anglo-Norman adventurers, John FitzThomas FitzGerald, at what is now Tralee town centre, Tralee becoming the centre of Geraldine power in Munster. Thomas “FitzMaurice” Nappagh (“of the ape”) obtained a grant of the territory of “Decies and Desmond” in 1292. The family began to accumulate vast tracts of land in Kerry, North Cork, Limerick, Waterford & Tipperary, becoming very powerful and claiming supremacy over native Irish lordships such as McCarthy More. They were known as “Geraldines” (of the House of FitzGerald).

His son, Maurice FitzThomas or FitzGerald (d.1356), inheriting the vast estates in Munster, was created 1st Earl of Desmond (South Munster) on 22nd-August-1329 by King Edward III of England. The greatest Irish noble of his time, he later led the Anglo-Irish against the English. Subsequently Geraldines frequently joined the Irish against the English, they being charged by English writers as having become Irish in language and manners; hence the expression:

IPSIS HIBERNIS HIBERNIORES” or “More Irish than the Irish themselves”.

Sir Gerrot (Gerald) FitzGerald (“The Rebel Earl”) succeeded to the title as 15th Earl of Desmond in 1558 , this being also the year that the protestant Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne of England on the death of the catholic Queen Mary. He was knighted by the Lord Deputy Sussex.

Summoned to appear in London, to account for the misdeeds of his clan, the Earl went to London in 1562 and was detained there for two years. Returning home, Gerrot and his brother Sir John of Desmond resisted the reformation and waged open war against the government of Queen Elizabeth I. Defeated and taken prisoner, Gerrot and John were sent to England where they surrendered their lands to Queen Elizabeth after a short experience of the Tower of London.

The Earl also spent the years 1567-1573 in “honourable confinement” at London, following a clash with the Earl of Ormond. He was permitted to return to Ireland in 1573, being then detained for six months in Dublin before escaping. In 1574 the Geraldine chiefs signed the “Combination”, promising to support the Earl unconditionally.

On 1-Nov-1579 the Earl was proclaimed traitor and outlawed, starting the Desmond War of 1579-83.  In March 1580 the medieval town of Tralee was burned. After long contests the Earl's forces were defeated, he taking to the woods in June 1581. The Earl was siezed by a small party of soldiers and murdered (beheaded) by Daniel O'Kelly on 11-Nov-1583 at Glenageenty (Gleann na gaointe), Ballymacelligott, Co.Kerry, on the orders of Owen MacDonel.

The Earl's head was sent to London by Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond, as a present for Queen Elizabeth I, who caused it to be displayed on London Bridge. The headless body was buried near the place of his murder (on a ledge about 120 feet below) but later recovered & buried by his own people inside the church at Kilnananima (Cill na nAimne), near Cordal. This is “The Church of the Name”, where by tradition only Fitzgeralds, or others of Desmond blood, are buried. O'Kelly was hanged in London for highway robbery and Owen MacDonel was killed by the FitzMaurices, for the murder of their kinsman.

The Earl's brother Sir John of Desmond was caught & killed in December 1581 and John  FitzGerald, Seneschal of Imokilly, surrendered on 14-Jun-1583.

By his second marriage, the 15th Earl left two sons, the eldest being James FitzGerald, 16th & last Earl of Desmond (1570-1601) who spent most of his life in prison. After an unsuccessful attempt in 1600-01 to recover his inheritance, he returned to England, where he died, the title becoming extinct.
The lands of the Earl of Desmond were forfeit to the Crown, to become The Plantation of Munster.

Bill Jehan is on LinkedIn 

copyright © 2008-2020 Bill Jehan