Select Fitzgerald Miscellany

Here are some Fitzgerald stories and accounts over the years:

The Ape in the Kildare Arms

The ape in the crest and supporters of the Kildare arms is commemmorative of an incident which occurred in the thirteenth century.  Thomas, infant son of Maurice  FitzGerald, is said to have been snatched from his cradle by a tame ape which, having carried the child to the verge of the battlements at the top of the castle and terrified the family by the danger involved, safely returned him to his cradle.

This traditional story is also related in a slightly different form for the first Earl of Kildare.  But as the said Thomas was nicknamed Thomas an Apa or Thomas Simiacus, it may be ascribed to the Desmonds if not also to their kinsmen the Kildares.  The war cry of the Kildares was crom abu, of the Desmonds shanid abu.

The Legend of Gearoid Iarla Fitzgerald

Gearoid Iarla Fitzgerald, the third Earl of Desmond, was appointed Chief Justice of Ireland in 1367.  Three years later, during the Gaelic-Norman wars, he was imprisoned by Brian O'Brien of Thomond.  Whilst in prison Fitzgerald composed poetry in Gaelic and is credited with introducing the theme of courtly love into medieval Irish poetry.  Under Fitzgerald's influence the Geraldines (the supporters of the Normans in Ireland) abandoned the French language and spoke Gaelic thereafter, making Fitzgerald a pivotal figure in the Gaelicization of Norman Ireland. 

Fitzgerald disappeared in 1398 and thereby gained a place in Irish folklore.  It is believed that he sleeps enchanted in a hill cave near Loch Gur in county Limerick.  Legend has it that when Fitzgerald rises from his sleep and rides a silver shod horse, he will rule again over the plains of Desmond. 

A Hero of Irish Nationalism

Lord Edward FitzGerald was born into privilege.  His father, James FitzGerald the first duke of Leinster, was Ireland's most important aristocrat; and his mother, Emily Lennox, was the sister of one of England's most powerful lords, the duke of Richmond.   In spite of these origins, Edward is known to Irish history as a republican and a revolutionary who became one of the most influential members of the Society of United Irishmen.

He expected to be the commander-in-chief of the revolutionary army which that organization brought into the field in May 1798 with the intention of overthrowing the British-controlled Irish government and founding an independent republic in its place.  The date of the rising was planned and he lay in hiding in Dublin for the day to arrive.

However, his hiding place was revealed and police agents captured him on May 19, four days before the anticipated revolution was due to break out.  He died in prison on June 4, succumbing to the wounds he received while being beaten unconscious by the rifle butts of his assailants.  The next day, the rebels he had hoped to lead suffered a decisive defeat at the battle of New Ross in county Wexford.

In spite of this inglorious end, he has become a toweringly romantic figure in Irish history and takes his place indisputably in the hagiography of Irish nationalism and republicanism.   

Edward Fitzgerald's Upbringing

Edward Fitzgerald was born in 1809 in Woodbridge in Suffolk, the seventh of eight children, to John Purcell and Mary Fitzgerald.  When he was nine his father John assumed the name and arms of his wife's family.  It was at that time that Mary, related to the Kildare Fitzgeralds, inherited a fortune on the death of her father.

A wealthy Mary soon found that her husband and country life in Suffolk bored her.  So she set up a splendid London house in Portland Place where she entertained painters, authors, musicians, actors, and architects. She had her box at the opera and became a generous patron of the arts.  She rarely saw her children. Benson, a contemporary, described her as "superb and majestic, with a haughty face, eagle nose, and thin mouth."   

Edward grew up under the care of nannies and tutors, as was customary in that period.  Later he refused to reside at Boulge Hall with the rest of his family and chose instead to live in a single storey thatched cottage on the family estate.  He was a friend of the poets of his time and was a prolific letter writer.  However, with respect to his family, his comment was: "All of his relatives were mad; and further, that he was insane as well, but was at least aware of the fact."

Edward Fitzgerald is remembered today for his translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

The Fitzgerald Family Bible

On St. Patrick's Day 2003, to mark the 40th anniversary of President Kennedy's trip to Ireland, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum opened for the first time to the press the Fitzgerald family Bible.  This bible contains a handwritten chronicle of generations of the Fitzgerald family from 1857, including the birth of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on May 29, 1917.

Kennedy was a descendant of the Fitzgeralds of Bruff in Limerick and the Kennedys of New Ross in Wexford. The Fitzgeralds and Kennedys worked in Boston as peddlers, coopers, and common laborers, and became clerks, tavern owners, and retailers.  By the end of the 19th century, Patrick "PJ" Kennedy and John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald had become successful Boston politicians. 

Fitzgeralds in County Clare and America

Mary Downes of Kilmaley in county Clare has a stack of American newspaper cuttings.  Her husband who refuels planes at Shannon Airport has collected the newspapers left by passengers and brought them home. Recently the front pages have been screaming headlines about Mary's first cousin Patrick Fitzgerald, the unrelenting federal prosecutor who indicted VP Dick Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby for revealing a CIA agent's identity.

Patrick Fitzgerald has been a frequent visitor to his cousin's home over the years.  As a child Mary's mother Mary Fitzgerald, a sister of Patrick's father, grabbed Petrick from the back of a pony just as he was being led into a cow shed.  Mary Fitzgerald recalled her famous nephew as being well mannered and a little mischievous as a young boy.

Patrick would often come to Kilmaley for vacations with his father Pat, his mother Tiffie, and siblings.  Pat senior had left Kilmaley to better himself in America.  Paki, as he was known in the family, had a reputation for hard work.  He got a job as a doorman on an apartment block on Manhattan's East Side and there he and Tillie started a family together. 


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