The Geraldines, participants in the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland 1169-72, were aristocrats and connected by blood and shared aspirations with the monarchy. Henry I had progeny with Nesta, the princess of Wales who was the mother of the invader Maurice, first of the Irish Geraldines. The Angevin monarchy of England had a European and Middle Eastern reach, and inhabited a culture that was refined and cosmopolitan, a world, drawing its imaginative inspiration from the mythical King Arthur and the very real Charlemagne, and denoted at this time by chivalry and the Crusade. By the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion there had already been two Crusades to recover the Holy Land from the forces of Islam.The king of England governed vast estates in France, principally Normandy, Aquitaine and Gascony, but acknowledged the King of France as his overlord.
The aura surrounding the Geraldines and Geraldine descent are ever present in the pages of historians of Cork like Charles Smith and W. Maziere Brady – and here I might mention the name of the Protestant curate of Whitechurch and later Treasurer of Cloyne, Rev. George Edmund Cotter. He amassed a great collection of Geraldine material, which was later put in print by the rilway engineer and antiquarian Abraham FitzGibbon of England. Geraldine ancestry was greatly prized, and the fall of the Munster Geraldines, earls of Desmond, was considered tragic and without parallel in its finality. Many families fell with them. John Brown of Camus, the last Warden of Awney (Knockainy-Hospital), died fighting for the last Earl of Desmond. Many antiquarians claimed Geraldine descent. Abraham FitzGibbon was of White Knight, or Clangibbon, descent. Gaelic families claimed Geraldine ancestry, as did Old English like Barry, so also New English like Denny and Boyle, two outstanding names from among the New English who gained Geraldine estates. Two examples may suffice. The Dennys of Tralee Castle descended (working back) through McGillycuddy, O’Sullivan and FitzMaurice of Lixnaw from the last Earl’s daughter; another is John FitzGibbon, the tyrannical Earl of Clare at the time of 1798 – his descent is from the White Knights, or Clan Gibbon. JFK is a Geraldine from his mother’s side: Rose FitzGerald, the granddaughter of Thomas FitzGerald of Bruff.
Geraldines proliferated more than other, smaller Norman lineages, like Ferriter, Prendergast, Roche, Bowler, Lacy, Magner, Lombard, Stack, Burgate (Kilmallock), and at least as much as the larger lineages: Burgo, Butler. (It has been well said that the Geraldines were ‘more a nation than a family’.)
County Limerick is the nucleus of the Geraldine settlement, Shanid its most ancient caput, anterior to the New Castle of Connello. Ardpatrick is a very ancient Geraldine seat. Kerry was the Liberty jurisdiction granted with the Earldom of Desmond in 1329; Tralee is the burial place of many Geraldine earls of Desmond. But Geraldine rule quickly extended over Munster in consequence of intermarriage, followed by confirmatory royal grants: 1259 Edward 1 granted to John of Callan all the land of ‘Decies and Desmond which had belonged to his father-in-law Thomas FitzAnthony’. (Dungarvan port was part of ‘the greatest ancient honour belonging to the King in this land’.) The link with monarchy was strengthened over time. Thomas ‘An Appa’, father of the first Earl of Desmond, married ‘the King’s cousin’. She was a Berkeley, of Berkeley Castle near the Severn River. Later, the blood of the Plantagenet and Spanish monarchies flowed in Geraldine veins from the marriage ‘at the king’s command’ of Geraróid Iarla (3rd Earl, d. 1398) to Eleanor Butler.
Significant cadet branches grew before the earldom of Desmond was created, first among which is FitzMaurice of Lixnaw, the lords Kerry, descended from a son of the invader. Sons of John of Callan (grandfather of ‘An Appa’, and so called because he was killed in battle with the MacCarthys at Callan, near Kenmare) are the ancestors of the Knights of Kerry, of Glin and the White Knight – and the Claonglais, or Springfield FitzGeralds. Gibbon is father of the first White Knight, or Clan Gibbon. Territory included Mahoonagh, later Kilmallock area, and Castle Ishen, and Clangibbon barony. The FitzGeralds of Kilmore (the ‘great Wood’; Ch’ville: barony of Kilmore and Orrery) are of Clangibbon, White Knight, descent.
‘… Clan Gibbon … gradually reduced the O’Briens, O’Scanlans, O’Ryans, and other native tribes to the position of tenants and vassals on what had been their own territory, or obliging them to seek in walled towns by trade a compensation for their losses elsewhere’ (Mary Hickson, JRSI 1876)
Another cadet branch is the Seneschal of Imokilly, whose seat was Castlemartyr.The Seventh Earl of Desmond, son of Geraróid Iarla, was made Seneschal of Imokilly and he conferred that title on Richard, one of the FitzGeralds Knights of Kerry. The Seneschals would become staunch allies of the Earl of Desmond at the time of his fall during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Their near neighbours, the FitzGeralds of Cloyne are also descended from the Knights of Kerry, and they take the side of the English when the Desmond rebellons take place under Elizabeth. Near Buttevant, the FitzGeralds of Castle Ishen are also descended from the Imokilly branch of the FitzGeralds Knights of Kerry. We find echoes of the Knights of Kerry in Imokilly in a lament by the poet Piaras Feirteir for the son of the Knight, who died in Europe, in the seventeenth century.
Lament For The Son of the Knight of Kerry, by Piaras.
‘The Lady of Knockany did proclaim/Your loss and Lough Gur’s Earl your fighting name,
Woe rose melodious from Glenogra’s vale/And Shanid sung your Geraldine domain’
In Youghal the female elf upheld your sway,/Moygeela by the Brede alliance claimed,
Nor more could Cahermore nor Kenelmaigue/ Nor Imokilly yet wet tears restrain.
The settled Saxon gentry learnt to quake/ In royal Tralee from whence your seed we trace,
With shee-wives keening you in every gate,/ Assumed their ouster to be destinate.’
These cadet branches would long survive the Fall of the Desmond Earls, as would Desmond’s enemies, the Butlers, and all the great Irish lordships, including the Kildare Geraldines, who would become the Dukes of Leinster. Of the cadet branches of the Desmond Earls, the FitzGeralds of Springfield (Claonglais) were mourned by the poet Dáibhi Ó Bruadair when they became exiles with the Stuart in the 17th century. The 18th c. FitzGeralds of Cashel Ishen appear in a monument in Buttevant Friary. The FitzMaurices of Lixnaw survive as the Marquesses of Lansdowne to this very day. The Decies FitzGeralds are the Villiers Stuart family of Dromana.
The Gaelic resurgence is a feature of the 14th century following the Bruce invasion, which the first Earl of Desmond exploited from the time when Edward Bruce set foot in Carrickfergus in 1315. He is the father of Gearóid Iarla, so well known around Lough Gur. The first Earl levied Gaelic charges and imposts and he aspired to the high kingship. In a brutal regime he often ignored the rules of chivalry, and with him we see the first evidence of affiliation with the Gaelic septs. The second Earl (lost at sea) is eulogised in an Irish lament by Godfraidh Ó Dálaigh. Gearóid Iarla, his brother, writes poetry in the Irish language. The Geraldine Earls granted the Ó Dálaighs territory described, as ‘rhymers land’ by the Elizabethan soldier and genealogist Sir George Carew’s – roughly the territory south and east from Bearna to Brosna. Cultural influence was a two-way street when the conventions of courtly love imbued contemporary Irish poetry: Gearoid Murphy has written that the majority of Gearóid Iarla’s poems contain the theme of Diarmuid and Grainne, which is the Irish version of Tristan and Isolde (Isheult) from the Arthurian cycle.
Alliance with the native Irish strengthened Geraldine independence from the Crown, though rivalry with individual MacCarthy septs, or MacCarthy factions and MacCarthy alliances, led to defeats in battle at Callan, 1261, and Mourne Abbey, 1520. (The MacCarthys of Muskerry were the Masters of Mourne, the Hospitaller foundation Manistir Mor na Mona.) The Geraldines levied the famous ’67 Carbery beeves’ from the Carbery MacCarthys, but they failed to conquer Carbery. Yet, Desmond, the name they took for their peerage, is significant, a reminder of the old Geraldine claim to the southern coastal lordship.
It was this ambiguity in their rule, part feudal vassal of the King, part Irish chief, that led to their downfall, which can be traced to life and death of the 8th Earl (Thomas). Thomas’s father Earl James, son of Gearóid Iarla, had greatly extended Geraldine power in Irish south, doing so after Henry V, in a renewal of the war with France, had led his armada across the channel to lay siege to Harfleur. (This was the Hundred Years War, started in the time of the violent first Earl of Desmond when King Edward III claimed to inherit the crown of France in right of his mother Isabella.) During this latest phase of the war, a new Geraldine house was established by Earl James at Dromana. In time its representatives would become the Lords of the Decies (and the Villiers Suart family already mentioned). And in 1420 James was created Seneschal of Imokilly. The Cogans turned over their estates in Cork county to him. (Charleville is Rathgoggan.) He ruled for 40 years, dying in 1462. His son Thomas founded the College at Youghal. He Thomas the family back to the centre of government, serving as Deputy to Lionel Duke of Clarence (the King’s son). The marriage of his daughter Cathleen to MacCarthy Reagh (Carbery) is testament to the continued Gaelic influence: this is the couple that sponsored the creation of the Book of MacCarthy Reagh, better known as the Book of Lismore after Lewis Boyle, Lord Kinalmeaky, brother of Roger, the founder of Charleville, defended the town of Bandon and transferred the Book from Timoleague Abbey to his father’s residence at Lismore. Earl Thomas seems to have continued to use coign and livery, which made him odious to some English of the Pale. He established a new Geraldine house for one of his sons in Coshmore and Coshbride, Co. Waterford. Earl Thomas was hastily executed at Drogheda 1468 after a kangaroo court convicted him of imposing coign and livery. Munster was in shock, turmoil ensued among the Geraldines and more than a century and a half of alienation from central government. The sons of the Earl executed conspired with the exiled Yorkists in the Netherlands to dethrone the first Tudor, Henry VII. In the reign of Henry VIII, Earl James (he of the Battle of Mourne Abbey) signed the Treaty of Dingle with the emissaries of the King of Spain/Emperor of Germany. Despite this, the Geraldine lordship survives. They become extremely well known in Europe.
Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso (written in 1516)
‘Now see the Irish, next the level land,
Into two squadrons ordered for the fight.
Kildare’s redoubted earl commands the first;
Lord Desmond leads the next, in mountains nursed.
A burning pine by Kildare is displayed;
By Desmond on white field a crimson bend.’
What saved the Desmond lordship from royal revenge was probably the insurrectionary activity of the other Geraldines, the house of Kildare. Kildare bore the brunt of Crown reaction to Geraldine sponsorship of foreign conspiracy when Silken Thomas was executed with his uncles in 1537. An astute Earl of Desmond exploited the situation, and he has his eye on Kildare territory in County Limerick where the Franciscan Abbey at Adare had been founded by an earlier Earl of Kildare. This Earl of Desmond was another James, James FitzJohn. He was a usurper and his faction murdered the rightful heir, an individual raised at Henry VIII’s court and in whom Henry invested his hopes for peace in Munster. The usurper offered to realise Henry’s hopes and promote Henry’s religious revolution – in return for recognition as Earl. He privately recognised the power of new technology – the canon that destroyed Lough Gur castle and the castle at Carraig O gConnell. County Limerick had by now become the centre of Geraldine operations. The usurper’s offer to come in was accepted and he received recognition as Earl of Desmond in 1541.
The first Desmond rebellion, in 1569, is precipitated by the arrival in east Cork and Waterford of adventurers brandishing claims to Geraldine and Butler territories. Historically the Desmond Geraldines were weakened by struggle with the Butlers, struggle over control of the line of fortresses along the lower river Suir, and struggle over the prise of wines at the southern ports. (Cups, representing wine, appears in the Butler coat of arms.) In the time of the ealy Earls of Desmond this rivalry was not so marked, but in 1380 the Bishop of Cloyne stated the following (speaking in Latin) in the presence of the viceroy:
“There are two in Munster who destroy us and our goods, namely the Earl of Ormond and the Earl of Desmond with their followers, whom in the end the Lord will destroy, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”
Two battles are noteworthy: the Battle of Pilltown (1462, Geraldine victory), Battle of Affane (1565, Butler victory). But the first Desmond rebellion enjoys considerable Butler support; indeed Kilkenny historiography has written about it as a Butler rebellion.