Gerald FitzGerald, 3rd Earl of Desmond

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Gerald FitzGerald
Born Gearóid mac Géarailt
Died 1398
Title Earl of Desmond
Tenure 1358–1398
Nationality Hiberno-Norman
Predecessor Maurice FitzMaurice FitzGerald
Successor John FitzGerald
Spouse(s) Eleanor (or Ellen) Butler
Issue John FitzGerald
Maurice FitzGerald
James FitzGerald
Robert FitzGerald de Adair
Joan FitzGerald
Catherine FitzGerald
Parents Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald
Aveline (or Eleanor)
Norman Ireland, showing the Earldom of Desmond in the southwest

Gerald FitzMaurice FitzGerald (1335–1398),[1][2] also known by the Irish Gaelic "Gearóid Iarla" (Earl Gerald), was the 3rd Earl of Desmond, in southwestern Ireland, under the first creation of that title, and a member of the Hiberno-Norman dynasty of the FitzGerald, or Geraldines. He was the son of Maurice FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond, by his third wife Aveline, daughter of Nicholas FitzMaurice, 3rd Lord of Kerry.[3][4] He was half-brother to Maurice FitzGerald, 2nd Earl of Desmond.[5]

Career and poetry[edit]

Alfred Webb tells us of this earl that:

"[He was] surnamed "Gerald the Poet," [and] succeeded to the estates and honours of the family. He married, by the King's command, Eleanor, daughter of James, 2nd Earl of Ormond, who gave her for portion the barony of Inchiquin in Imokelly. Gerald was Lord-Justice of Ireland, 1367. In 1398 he disappeared, and is fabled to live beneath the waters of Lough Gur, near Kilmallock, on whose banks he appears once every seven years. O'Donovan quotes the following concerning his character: 'A nobleman of wonderful bountie, mirth, cheerfulness in conversation, charitable in his deeds, easy of access, a witty and ingenious composer of Irish poetry, and a learned and profound chronicler; and, in fine, one of the English nobility that had Irish learning and professors thereof in greatest reverence of all the English in Ireland, died penitently after receipt of the sacraments of the holy church in proper form.' Fragments of Anglo-Norman verse attributed to him, known as "Proverbs of the Earl of Desmond," survive."[6]

Although made Lord Chief Justice of Ireland in 1367,[7] Gerald was imprisoned by Brian O'Brien of Thomond in 1370.[8] While in prison, Gerald wrote poetry in the Irish language, most famously the poem Mairg adeir olc ris na mnáibh[9] ("Speak not ill of womenkind"). Indeed, although an accomplished poet in Norman French,[10] Gerald was instrumental in the move by the Desmond Geraldines toward greater use of the Irish language.[11]

In legend[edit]

Lough Gur, beneath which the Earl Gerald was said to sleep

In local legend, Gerald was romantically linked with the goddess Áine,[12] a legend which drew upon a pre-existing local Celtic legend about liaisons between Áine and the King of Munster, Ailill Aulom,[12] but updated it with themes drawn from the Francophone courtly love poetry of Continental Europe,[12][13] in particular the motif of the man who falls in love with a swan maiden.[14][12] The Geraldine claim to an association with Áine represents an extreme degree of Gaelicisation.

After his disappearance in 1398, another legend grew up that Gerald sleeps in a cave beside (or under) Lough Gur,[15][16] and will someday awaken and ride forth on a silver-shod steed to rule again in Desmond.[17]


Marriage and issue[edit]

In 1359 Gerald married Eleanor(or Ellen) Butler, daughter of James Butler, 2nd Earl of Ormond. She died in 1404. They had issue three sons:

  1. John FitzGerald, 4th Earl of Desmond
  2. Maurice FitzGerald
  3. James FitzGerald, 6th Earl of Desmond, 'the Usurper'
  4. Robert FitzGerald de Adair

and two daughters:

  1. Joan, married Maurice FitzJohn, Lord of Kerry
  2. Catherine, married John FitzThomas


External links[edit]

  • "The Noble Earl" a review in the Dublin Review of Books of Scéal Ghearóid Iarla by Máire Mhac an tSaoi
Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
Maurice FitzGerald
Earl of Desmond
1st creation
Succeeded by
John FitzGerald