Desmond FitzGerald (politician)

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Desmond FitzGerald

Desmond FitzGerald (13 February 1888 – 9 April 1947) was an Irish revolutionary, poet, publicist and Cumann na nGaedheal politician.[1]

Early life[edit]

Desmond FitzGerald was born Thomas Joseph FitzGerald in London in 1888. His parents were Patrick Fitzgerald (1831–1908), a labourer from south Tipperary, and Mary Anne Scollard (1847–1927) from Castleisland, County Kerry. He changed his first name as a teenager to the more romantic "Desmond", and first visited Ireland in 1910.[2]

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1911 FitzGerald, a Roman Catholic, married Mabel Washington McConnell (1884–1958), a daughter of John McConnell, a whiskey salesman from Belfast, and granddaughter of a Presbyterian farmer near the city. Educated at Queens University Belfast, she shared an interest in the Irish language and met Desmond in Dublin at a language seminar. They lived in France until moving to Kerry in March 1913. During this period he became involved with the Imagist group of poets. They had four children Desmond (1912–1987), Pierce (1914–1986), Fergus (1920–1983) and Garret (1926–2011).

Irish nationalist[edit]

As an organizer in Kerry, Fitzgerald was expected to drill even the most unsuited recruits. This offended a disciplined morality of the poet.[3] He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and organised a Volunteers group in County Kerry. The organization was under enormous pressure: many leaders were expelled in July 1915 under Defence of the Realm Act: Fitzgerald took the place of Ernest Blythe.[4] In 1915 FitzGerald was imprisoned for making a political speech. He was later expelled from Kerry and moved to County Wicklow. Fitzgerald abstemious, parsimonious character, backed up by a long Anglo-Irish family history, made him an unpopular figure in the movement. He felt his bosses were unaware of his situation. During the occupation of the General Post Office during the 1916 Rising, he commented, "I was bemused by the general attitude of security". At the height of the battle: he was in the midst of the conflagration that shook the GPO garrison.[5] Ever the sceptic, FitzGerald, who was in charge of rations, mentions in the memoir of the 1916 rising the sudden and unexpected mobilisation, followed by a description of conditions in the GPO, the rebels' headquarters. While many accounts place the rising as a form of blood sacrifice, FitzGerald discussed its wider rationale with the leader[6] Patrick Pearse, and with Joseph Plunkett who had travelled to Germany in 1915 for assistance. They expected that Germany would win the First World War and that a rising of at least three days would allow Ireland to take a seat at the peace conference. Though declaring an Irish Republic in 1916, they considered it would probably be necessary to invite the Kaiser's youngest son Joachim to reign a reformed kingdom of Ireland after the war, where Irish would again become the vernacular.[7]

He was released in 1918 when he was elected as a Sinn Féin MP for the Dublin Pembroke constituency.[8] Following the assembly of the First Dáil in 1919, FitzGerald was appointed Director of Publicity for Dáil Éireann, first joining the paper Nationality, from May to replace the arrested Laurence Ginnell. Fitzgerald remarked in the first report, the propagandist made to the Dail, that 'our chief means of publicity was by means of publicity'. Fitzgerald struggled to make an impression the British press, who supplied most of Ireland's foreign news.[9]

In May 1919, Erskine Childers, Fitzgerald friend and colleague went to Versailles intending to be part of the Peace Conference. Childers became increasingly frustrated by the high-handed British attitude towards Irish freedom. Fitzgerald started a mimeograph entitled Weekly Summary of Acts of Aggression by the Enemy in July 1919. By November, he had joined with Childers to produce the Irish Bulletin. For twenty-two months, they publicized the crimes of England with the purpose of bolstering the Dail's credibility with Sinn Fein. But despite the Dail's complaint in 1920 that the lists were "inadequate", the momentum behind the Propaganda Department threw their opponents into confusion.[10] During the Irish War of Independence (1919–21) the Bulletin managed to publicise the aims of the Irish Republic to the wider world with increasing success, and removed the likelihood of the conflict being widened. In the devising strategy to contend Ulster, leading republican Ernest Blythe believed a blockade would be disastrous for Belfast.[11]Sean McEntee demanded a response to what he considered to be war of extermination against nationalism, there was he argued, "the potent weapon of blockade". Many leading republicans were dead against it: Fitzgerald declared a blockade would be tantamount 'to a vote for partition'.[12] The Dail's department seemed to be winning the propaganda war with the Castle, whose operation could not convince the public. The Secretariat was convinced the Bulletin should continue, when its papers and materials were seized in a raid.[13] Fitzgerald was arrested in March 1921, but was released. In later August 1921, there was a reshuffle, when De Valera remodeled his Cabinet, to which Fitzgerald was not included. But in replacing Childers, he was called Minister of Publicity.[14] He was one of the TD's who were unsuccessful in persuading Éamon de Valera to join the negotiators of the Anglo-Irish Treaty that was signed on 6 December.

Government minister[edit]

He supported the Treaty and became the first Minister for External Affairs of the Provisional Governments that in 1922 formed the Irish Free State. He represented the new state at the League of Nations and at Imperial Conferences. In 1927 FitzGerald became Minister for Defence. Following the defeat of the government in 1932 he remained as a TD until 1938. That year he was elected to Seanad Éireann, where he remained until retiring from politics in 1943.

Descendants[edit]

One of their sons, Garret FitzGerald, also served as Minister for Foreign Affairs in the 1970s and served as Taoiseach on two occasions in the 1980s.

Desmond FitzGerald died on 9 April 1947, in Dublin, aged 59.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Mr. Desmond FitzGerald". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 12 February 2012. 
  2. ^ "Desmond's Rising Memoirs 1913 to Easter 1916", with foreword by Garret FitzGerald; Liberties Press, Dublin, published 1968 and 2006; pp.9, 11.
  3. ^ C Townshend, "Easter 1916", (London 2006), p.44-5.
  4. ^ Townshend, p.82.
  5. ^ J.M.Heuston, "Headquarters Battalion, Army of the Irish Republic, Easter Week, 1916" (Tallaght 1966), p.44. Townshend, p.210.
  6. ^ Townshend, p.264.
  7. ^ "Desmond's Rising Memoirs 1913 to Easter 1916", op.cit., p.142-144.
  8. ^ "Desmond FitzGerald". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 12 February 2012. 
  9. ^ Report of the Propaganda Department, n.d., (May 1920), National Archives of Ireland DE:2/10.
  10. ^ C Townshend, "The Republic", p.94-6.
  11. ^ Bureau of Military History WS 939 (Ernest Blythe).
  12. ^ Townshend, "The Republic", p.177.
  13. ^ Townshend, "The Republic", p.299.
  14. ^ Townshend, p.324.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Townshend, Charles, Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion (London 2006)
  • Townshend, C, The Republic: The Fight For Irish Independence (London 2014)


Political offices
New office Minister for Publicity
1921–1922
Succeeded by
Office abolished
Preceded by
Michael Hayes
Minister for External Affairs
1922–1927
Succeeded by
Kevin O'Higgins
Preceded by
Peter Hughes
Minister for Defence
1927–1932
Succeeded by
Frank Aiken