We first hear, not of Decies, but of ‘Decies and Desmond’. The FitzGeralds became the rulers of this territory long before they became Earls of Desmond. That huge territory came to them by marriage, the marriage of John FitzThomas to Margaret FitzAnthony: Margaret’s father, Thomas FitzAnthony, one of the leading Anglo-Norman settlers, was the previous owner. It was regranted to the FitzGeralds in 1292.
It is one thing to have a grant of territory, but quite another to make that grant effective. The first Earl of Desmond (cr. 1329) was very effective indeed. He moved in to take over Youghal and the manor of Inchiquin, near the mouth of the Blackwater, after the male heirs to those places died young or the husbands of their female members lost their lives in the wars in England at this time.
When King Richard II came to Ireland for the second time in the late 1390s, the enemies of the Earl of Desmond attacked Dungarvan, which was ‘wasted by the Irish enemies of the King’, according to the Ormond Deeds. Chief among the enemies was the Anglo-Norman family, Butler, earls of Ormond. Desmond launched a counter-attack. Peace was made and the Earl departed. But on his way home he drowned in the Suir near Ardfinnan.
In 1411 the drowned earl’s son, Thomas, was deposed by his uncle, but the English supported the son. Shipping was commandeered at Bristol and other west of England ports for an Irish invasion, which took place in 1414. This event is recorded by the Irish annals, which do not state the port where Earl Thomas landed. The invasion was a failure because the uncle, James of Desmond, survived to become a great Earl of Desmond, dying in 1462. One of Earl James’s actions was to plant the Desmonds in the region of Kerrycurrihy, the region lying beyond the Blackwater from the Decies. He was made Seneschal of Imokilly (where Youghal and Inchiquin are situated) by Butler of Ormond who was the husband of his aunt FitzGerald.
In 1463, we find the citizens of Dungarvan seeking permission and support for the construction of town wall. Thomas, the new Earl of Desmond, is deputy to the Irish viceroy at this time, and their statement asks Desmond to defend the town against ‘Irish enemies and English rebels’. In 1464 Earl Thomas showed his love of learning by founding the College at Youghal.
But Earl Thomas had enemies elsewhere in Ireland, including the English of Co. Meath who complained Earl Thomas for the practice of extorting coign and livery. Thomas was a great lover of Irish ways and he was not the first of the Desmond earls to adopt this Irish custom. But it is believed to have led to his downfall when a new ingredient was added to the mix. A new Viceroy, names Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, was appointed, and in 1468 Earl Thomas was hastily tried in the town of Drogheda – and summarily put to death. It is believed that this new man had a personal reason for removing Thomas. He had an inherited claim to Youghal.