Book Review – The Geraldines and Medieval Ireland.

thomas_fitzgerald_10th_earl_of_kildare

Gerald FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare, father of ‘Silken’ Thomas. This image appears on the dust jacket of the new book on the Geraldines.

On this day four hundred and eighty years ago six men were ‘…draun from the Tower in to Tyborne, and there all hongyd and hedded and quartered, save the Lord Thomas for he was but hongyd and hedded and his body buried at the Crost Freers in the qwere…‘* This was the sixteenth century description of the execution of Silken Thomas, 10th Earl of Kildare, and his five uncles on the charge of rebellion against King Henry VIII.

This is an appropriate anniversary to discuss much needed book, The Geraldines and Medieval Ireland, which was published late in 2016 by the Four Courts Press, Dublin. Edited by two Trinity College Dublin scholars, Peter Crooks and Seán Duffy, the book provides new insights into the origins, power, and influence of the FitzGeralds/Fitzgeralds (the Geraldines of the title) in Ireland from 1169 to the end of the sixteenth century. The last of the fifteen chapters, that written by Ruairí Cullen, acts as something as a coda with the intriguing title ‘The battle for the Geraldines: a contested legacy in nineteenth century Ireland’.

The origin of the FitzGeralds is outlined in Chapter 1 by one of the editors, Seàn Duffy. He looks at Gerald of Windsor, the eponymous Gerald of the FitzGerald family, and traces their origins in Normandy to Gerald’s grandfather, the eleventh century Norse settler, Óttárr. The lattet’s son, Walter fitz Oter was the father of both William of Windsor and Gerald. (There is a delicious irony in the fact that William’s sons were originally given the surname Windsor – nearly nine centuries before the British royal house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha-Wettin-Geulf adopted the name Windsor in 1917 in an attempt to distance themselves from their Germanic origins.) One thing is very clear from Duffy’s chapter – the family links of Walter and his sons were impressive. Walter was the keeper of the king’s castle at Windsor with its great hunting park. Walter’s third son, Gerald, had moved to Wales by 1097, or more specifically, to Pembrokeshire.In 1102 Arnoulf de Montgomery sent an embassy to Ireland to seek the daughter of King Muirchetach O Bríain of Munster as a bride! The embassy included Gerald of Windsor, his steward. Gerald himself married a Welsh princess, Nest, daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwyr, King of Deheubarth. It was another six decades before Gerald and Nest’s sons took part in the Anglo-Norman incursion into Ireland.

maurice-fitzgerald

Maurice FitzGerald brought the Geraldines to Ireland in 1169.

Huw Pryce provides an interesting chapter on the writings of Geraldus Cambrensis’s (Geraldus de Barri/Gerald of Wales) about the Geraldines  a crucial source of contemporary information. Geraldus’ mother was, of course, Angharad, daughter of Gerald of Windsor and Nest of Wales. Angharad had married William de Barri. Their son Philip de Barri was granted what is now the barony of Barrymore in south-east Cork and other lands by his uncle Robert FitzStephen (another son of Nest of Wales!).

The third chapter by Colin Veach explores the Geraldines and the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland.and chapter four gives us Linzi Simpson’s fascinating  study of the early Geraldine castles at Maynooth, Naas, Rathmore, Geashill, Lea, Shanid and Croom. Her analysis of Croom and its comparison with Dungarvan is masterly. This chapter reveals how the Anglo-Normans secured their authority in their newly conquered Irish estates.

windsor-castle

The original ‘House of Windsor’ was descended from Walter fitz Oter, the Castellan of Windsor Castle. His son was the eponymous Gerald of Windsor who gave his name to the FitzGeralds, the famous Geraldines of medieval Ireland. The British Royal Family only adopted the surname Windsor a century ago….in 1917!

I must admit to a little local disappointment with Brendan Smith’s otherwise excellent chapter on Geraldine lordship in thirteenth century Ireland. His statement ‘A de Barri probably founded the Cistercian house at Middleton in 1180’ is most distressing given that all the evidence suggests very clearly that Corabbey was a Gaelic Irish foundation as was superbly demonstrated by Denis O’Sullivan in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society in 1945. To compound matters, there were no Barrys in Ireland in 1180 – Philip de Barri only arrived in 1182 to put down a revolt in Imokilly and Ui Liathain in south east Cork! Certainly the Barrys attempted to gain control of the abbey in the 1400s, finally succeeding in the early 1500s when Philip FitzDavid Barry became abbot. In fact Abbot Barry also became the first ‘farmer’ or leaseholder of the dissolved abbey in 1544. This was a very different matter from founding the abbey. Finally, Smith anachronistically calls the 1180 foundation ‘Middleton’ which is silly since the place was called Corabbey until 1670 – even William Penn called it that.. And ‘Middleton’ hasn’t been used as the town’s name since 1845 when the Postmaster General in London agreed to use the original 1870 spelling (Midleton).! Oh dear! I’m rather shocked at the editorial slippage there.Smith’s errors clearly show the importance of having a good local history with excellent references!

Paul McCotter’s chapter on the dynastic ramifications of the Geraldines is a delightful romp around the various branches of this sprawling clan. Reading this shows both extensive and intensive reach of the Fitzgeralds in various parts of Ireland. The Fitzgeralds of Imokilly were typical of the the local branches that established a tight grip on the area they occupied.

maynooth-castle-1

The ruined keep at Maynooth Castle. The fall of Maynooth to Sir William Skeffington in 1535 while ‘Silken’ Thomas was absent. Although the garrison surrendered, Skeffington ignored the usages of war and butchered them in what became known as the ‘Maynooth Pardon.’.

The peerless Robin Frame delves into the career of the first Earl of Desmond and his relationship with English authority. Peter Crooks, the other editor, examines the ascent and descent of the House of Desmond under the Lancastrians and Yorkists in the fifteenth century. Katherine Simms shows just how integrated into Gaelic culture were the various branches of the Fitzgeralds, while Aisling Byrne looks at their relationship with the culture of the wider world beyond Ireland. Sparky Booker investigates the sometimes problematic relationship between the Geraldines and the Irish.  The Great Earl of Kildare and the formation of the English Pale around Dublin is explored by Steven G Ellis.

For anybody interested in south east Cork David Edwards provides a thrilling study of the origins of the Desmond rebellions in the 1570s. What is particularly exciting is his analysis of the role of the two John FitzEdmund FitzGeralds – the seventh Seneschal of Imokilly and his cousin the Dean of Cloyne. The Seneschal is shown to be an member of the party of the FitzMaurice/Catholic rebel party amongst the Earl of Desmond’s advisers. The Dean is firmly identified with the peace party of advisers who cautioned the Earl of Desmond against fatal rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I. This chapter gives great insight into the politics in the ‘Court’ of the Earl of Desmond before the final fatal rebellion.

This blog post is being published on the anniversary of the execution of Silken Thomas – Thomas, Lord Offaly, on 3rd February 1537. Briefly 10th Earl of Kildare, Thomas Fitzgerald’s reputation among historians is considered by Ciaran Brady who reminds us that Thomas was actually a pretty astute political operator, although his rebellion against King Henry VIII was ill-advised, especially against such a monarch a vindictive monarch.

In all this is an excellent book. My own quibbles are very localized and they do not spoil this wonderful book’s contribution to the study of the most powerfully romantic family in later medieval Ireland.  Well done to the editors, contributers and the Four Courts Press for producing such a work.

Reference: *GG Nicholls The Chronicle of the Gray Friars of London. London, 1852. Pg 39. .

 

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Bringing the Imokilly Fitzgeralds back ‘home’ to Kerry.

Dingle Peninsula

The spectacular coastal scenery of the Dingle Peninsula, in County Kerry.

Last month (22nd July to 24th July) I took a trip to Ballyferriter in on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry to deliver a paper at a conference. The title of the conference was ‘The Fitzgeralds and the Earls of Desmond.’  The conference was opened on Friday evening by Sir Adrian Fitzgerald, Knight of Kerry. The first paper by Gerald O’Carroll considered the historiography of the Earls of Desmond. This was followed by Donal O’Cathain’s paper on the Gaelic sources about Gerald, the poet third Earl of Desmond (1335-1398). Sadly, the medieval Gaelic Irish sources are too often overlooked because too many scholars of medieval Ireland do not read Irish.

rahinnane-castle

Rahinnane Castle is built inside a ringwork or earthwork castle built y the twelfth century Anglo-Norman invaders. The ringwork itself may have been developed from an earlier Irish rath or fortified farmstead.

My own paper was delivered first thing on Saturday morning. A discussion on the descendants of Sir Maurice FitzRichard Fitzgerald, 2nd Knight of Kerry, in Imokilly might seem  heavy going for Saturday morning but I suspect that it came as a shock because few if any of the audience realized the profound influence the Kerry Ftizgeralds had on that little corner of south-east Cork. Joe Lennon then followed with a discussion of the Irish Fiants of the Tudor sovereigns as a source, particularly for the pardons given out after the Second Desmond Rebellion. He also revealed new information on the murder of the last Earl of Desmond at the end of the rebellion.

Joan Maguire then introduced the conference to the exciting Dingle/Corca Dhuibhne Interactive History Timeline. This can be downloaded here: http://www.dinglehistory.com/

This was followed by the launch of a poster for schools and interested groups: ‘The Geraldines and the History of Munster.’ The title is a little misleading because the poster refers to European historical events as well.

Gallarus Castle

Gallarus Castle is a later medieval tower house, probably missing its top floor. It is located just yards from the famous, and much older, Gallarus Oratory.

Saturday afternoon was spent touring three of the tower houses once held by the Knights of Kerry on the Dingle Peninsula. These were Gallarus, Rahinnane and Minard Castles. That evening a concert of traditional Irish music was laid on at the Blasket Centre. The music was played by a French family who love Irish music – it was hard to believe they were not Irish musicians!

All in all, it was a lovely weekend spent enjoyed good papers, interesting company, gorgeous scenery, fabulous food and lovely music. Oh, and the weather was great too, capped by the most spectacular sunset on Saturday night!

Minard Castle

Minard Castle perched on its knoll overlooking its storm beach and Dingle Bay. In the far distance to the right, across the bay, can be seen the mountains of the Iveragh Peninsula – where the Ring of Kerry touring route is located.