The Geraldines spread out in all directions through Munster, much more effectively than the smaller Norman lineages, Ferriter, Prendergast, Roche, Bowler, Lacy, Magner, Lombard, Stack, Burgate (Kilmallock). They reduced O’Ryan, Hurly, O’Brien, O’Scanlan, Ó Coilean. In the invasion era, and for generations after, they were cousins with English and Spanish royalty; and they married exclusively among the Anglo-Norman lineages . They held high office in the Irish Government.
Cadet branches appeared before the creation of the earldom: Gibbon – the White Knight, whose first territory was around Mahoonagh (Castlemahon). Clangibbon barony is named after them.
They became progressively Gaelic. Gearóid Iarla, the 3rd Geraldine Earl of Desmond (d. 1398) wrote poetry in Irish. He would become a symbol of Irish resistance: at the time of the sieges of Limerick (1691) his name is said to have been invoked. The folklorist Daithi Ó hÓgain, a Bruff native, believed that some of the traits of the great Emperor Frederick II accreted to Gearóid. Frederick, known as ‘Stupor Mundi’, ‘the wonder of the world’, lived in the previous century. He was part Sicilian, part German, and had a reputation for magic and mathematics, and much more. So had Gearóid Iarla. The Florentine cousins of the Irish Geraldines are believed to have communicated the fame of Frederick to their Irish cousins.
The Geraldine earls of Desmond expanded beyond County Limerick. 1443 James Earl of Desmond (son of Gearóid Iarla) obtained a patent for the government and custody of the counties of Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Kerry.
They never enjoyed effective rule in the very the Gaelic south of Munster. Gearóid’s dynasty claimed to rule the south, including the vast territory of the Carbery MacCarthys centred on Bandon, near the sea in south Cork. The Annals of the Four Masters carry this entry under the year 1560:
‘Thomas and James, the two sons of Maurice Dubh, son of John, son of Thomas, the son of the Earl, marched with an army into Carbery. The son of MacCarthy Reagh (confronted them on the banks of the Bandon river); at Inishannon they defeated the Geraldines and 200 to 300 Geraldines troops were slain and drowned.’
Geraldine pride was proverbial. It made them blind. The English were sending ambassadors and advice to the MacCarthys, who were the vassals of the Geraldine Earls, and they were quick to pardon the MacCarthys.
The Butlers, Earls of Ormond, applauded the MacCarthy effort to drive back the Geraldines. The Butlers, at least the principal line, were pro-English. When the final suppression came, ‘Black Tom’ Butler was the leading Irish commander and ally of the English. That was in the two decades after the attack on Carbery described above – in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Many septs suffered exile or ruin by the overthrow of the Desmonds, various Stacks, Lacys, FitzMaurices, O’Connors, FitzGeralds, Browns (of Camus) and Ferriters included.
The aura of the Geraldines survived, and the mantle of the Geraldines was claimed by the likes of the Geraldines of Castle Ishen.