Fitzgerald Clan History:
The FitzGeralds are one of the two greatest families that came to Ireland with the Anglo-Norman invasion in the 12th century. The name means simply ‘son of Gerald’ and may have its origins in Britain and France and possibly trace back to French Norman conquest/English times. There is evidence also present in Ireland with roots beyond the isle of Britain to German (Teutonic) areas.
Interestingly, all four origins (English, French, Irish, German) translate into the same definition: son of Gerald. This naming style was common and transferred beyond any one Gerald or any one son. In other words, being a Fitzgerald could mean literally being the son of someone named Gerald or being the son’s son or any line of grandsons from that Gerald. Further, there was not necessarily any one noteworthy or famous Gerald. It could be used like “Jr.” or “III” is today to identify the ancestors of someone with the same name.
The Fitzgeralds of Ireland are said to be descended from Maurice, son of Gerald (husband of Nesta, Princess of Wales), constable of Pembroke and of a royal heritage in Wales. He accompanied Strongbow in Ireland during the Norman invasions and received lands as a result. Over the following eight centuries the family became one of the most powerful and numerous in Ireland. The Fitzgeralds were located in Counties Kerry and Kildare. The name is now widespread in those ancestral counties, as well as in Dublin, Cork and Limerick.
The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Fitzgerald (Gaelic form Mac Gerailt), which was dated c1400, in ‘The Annals of Ireland’.
In Leinster the head of the main branch became the Earl of Kildare and then the Duke of Leinster and was the foremost peer in Ireland. There were twenty Earls of Kildare from 1316-1766 when they became Dukes of Leinster. The Kildare family was very powerful and had castles in Maynooth and Kilkea. One of the most illustrious of these was Garret Mor Fitzgerald, eighth Earl of Kildare (deceased 1513), of whom Henry V11 is reputed to have said ‘All Ireland cannot govern this Earl; then let this Earl govern all Ireland’.
Among the places associated with the FitzGeralds is Kilkea Castle, near Athy in Co. Kildare. It was once the residence of a branch of the FitzGeralds, the Dukes of Leinster, but is now a luxury hotel.
The Munster branch who served as Earls of Desmond, were located at Dingle and were known as the Knights of Kerry. Between the years 1329 and 1601, sixteen Fitzgeralds held the title ‘Earl of Desmond’. They were estimated to have owned one million acres of land and they had castles in the baronies of Coshmore and Coshbride in Waterford. Glin Castle, eight miles west of Foynes, on the southern shores of the Shannon estuary, is open to the public. This is the seat of Desmond FitzGerald, 29th Knight of Glin, whose family has been in continuous possession of the castle for 700 years.
The Fitzgeralds of Kilkenny were transplanted to Mayo in the 17th century and settled in the parish known as ‘Clanmorris’ (now Claremorris), where their chief was called MacMorris.