When Trinity College Dublin recently hosted a conference to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of the Great Earl of Kildare in 1513, the conference gave due recognition to the Munster cousins of the Kildare Geraldines – the Earls of Desmond. And deservedly so; it was, after all a conference about the Irish Geraldines and not just the Leinster branch.
If Scotland has William Wallace and Robert Bruce, then Munster has any number of Geraldine chiefs, the first of whom settled in Co. Limerick generations before Wallace’s victory at Stirling Bridge. The lordship grew to cover much of Munster, as far as and including the Decies, and their rule lasted nearly 400 years. The ending of medieval lordship was nowhere marked with greater calamity than in Munster where the Geraldine lordship was overthrown and then conviscated, and the reigning Earl decapitated.
Following the death of the Earl, and the confiscation of his lordship for distribution among the New English, King James I was careful to reinstate the lesser Geraldine lineages, and they survived to our day: the FitzMaurices of Lixnaw (as the Marquesses of Lansdowne), the Knights of Kerry and Glin, the White Knight. (The Irish lord chancellor John FitzGibbon took a great interest in his White Knight, i.e. Clan Gibbon ancestry.)
In the eighteenth century it was the proudest boast of the disfranchised of Kerry, a county notable for its intermarriage of native and settler, that they were of Geraldine stock. Working quietly to dismantle the penal laws, their leaders corresponded with O’Briens, who were the Viscounts Clare and colonels of the Clare regiment in the Irish. During the Sieges of Limerick of 1691, the Irish were said to have been inspired by the spirit of Gearoid Iarla, the mythological and magical fourth Earl.
One of the world’s most famous Geraldines, Caroline Kennedy, visited Bruff in the summer of 2013, to walk up the aisle of the church which Honey Fitz’s father Thomas had worshipped before emigrating for Boston.
“The Geraldines may be considered less as a family than a nation descended from one Patriarch (wrote Kilkenny antiquarian Rev. James Graves in Journal of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland, 1876): it is almost incredible that so large a tribe should in a few centuries have sprung from a common ancestor. The history of the Geraldines, the Butlers, and the Burkes, may be said to be the history of Ireland for some centuries… The Earl of Desmond … was in the reign of Elizabeth able to bring 10,000 troops into the field, and to brave his sovereign’s power; he was considered the richest and most potent subject in Europe”
John of Callan is the ancestor of the Earls of Desmond, the White Knights, the Knights of Kerry, and Glin. Waterford has the FitzGeralds of Coshmore and Coshbride, Cork the Imokilly Geraldines, those of Cloyne and the FitzGeralds of Ballymartyr, supplanted by Boyle Earl of Shannon. From John of Callan also descend the Slught (progeny of) Edmund, i.e. the race of Edmund FitzGerald, who owned the lands around Camp until 1649 – Gallerus, near Dingle, Liscarney and also Murreregan, near Cloghane, on the eastern side of the BrandonMountain, until about 1756
In truth, their demise began from the judicial execution of an Earl at Drogheda in February 1468. Thereafter, the Geraldine heirs married O’Briens and MacCarthys. Many consider it a fatal choice, one compounded by their decision to identify with the Catholic cause in the time of the Tudors when their enemies the Butlers promoted the religious revolution of Henry the Eighth. How different to the first centuries of their settlement, about which Mary Hickson wrote: “They (the earls of Desmond) preserved all the state and magnificent social habits of the old Anglo-Norman barons, and guarded with jealous pride the honours bestowed on them by their kinsmen the Plantagenet kings.”