Desmond FitzGerald (politician)
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.
Marriage and family
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 FitzGerald's interest in the Irish language; she met him 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).
FitzGerald joined the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and organised a Volunteers group in County Kerry. As an organizer he was expected to drill even the most unsuited recruits. This offended his disciplined morality. The organization was under enormous pressure: many leaders were expelled in July 1915 under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914. FitzGerald took the place of Ernest Blythe. In 1915 FitzGerald was imprisoned for making a political speech. He was later expelled from Kerry, and moved to County Wicklow. FitzGerald's 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. Ever the sceptic, FitzGerald, who was in charge of rations, mentions in his 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 describe the Rising as a form of blood sacrifice, FitzGerald discussed its wider rationale with the leader 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 over a reformed kingdom of Ireland after the war, where Irish would again become the vernacular.
FitzGerald was released in 1918 when he was elected as a Sinn Féin MP for the Dublin Pembroke constituency. Following the assembly of the First Dáil in 1919, he 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 he made to the Dáil that 'our chief means of publicity was by means of publicity'. He struggled to make an impression on the British press, who supplied most of Ireland's foreign news.
In May 1919 Erskine Childers, FitzGerald's 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 Dáil's credibility with Sinn Féin. Despite the Dáil's complaint in 1920 that the lists were "inadequate", the momentum behind the Propaganda Department threw their opponents into confusion. 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 devising a strategy to retain Ulster, leading republican Ernest Blythe believed a blockade would be disastrous for Belfast. Conversely, Sean McEntee demanded a response to what he considered to be a war of extermination against nationalism; there was, he argued, "the potent weapon of blockade". Many leading republicans were firmly against it: FitzGerald declared a blockade would be tantamount "to a vote for partition". The Dáil's department seemed to be winning the propaganda war with the Castle, whose operations could not convince the public. The Secretariat was convinced the Bulletin should continue, when its papers and materials were seized in a raid. FitzGerald was arrested in March 1921, but was released. In late August 1921 Éamon De Valera reshuffled his Cabinet, in which FitzGerald was not included; although in replacing Childers he was named Minister of Publicity. He was one of the TDs who were unsuccessful in persuading de Valera to join the negotiators of the Anglo-Irish Treaty that was signed on 6 December.
He supported the Treaty and became the first Minister for External Affairs of the Provisional Government 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.
Desmond FitzGerald died on 9 April 1947 in Dublin, aged 59.
- "Mr. Desmond FitzGerald". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
- "Desmond's Rising Memoirs 1913 to Easter 1916", with foreword by Garret FitzGerald; Liberties Press, Dublin, published 1968 and 2006; pp.9, 11.
- C Townshend, "Easter 1916", (London 2006), p.44-5.
- Townshend, p.82.
- J.M.Heuston, "Headquarters Battalion, Army of the Irish Republic, Easter Week, 1916" (Tallaght 1966), p.44. Townshend, p.210.
- Townshend, p.264.
- "Desmond's Rising Memoirs 1913 to Easter 1916", op.cit., p.142-144.
- "Desmond FitzGerald". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
- Report of the Propaganda Department, n.d., (May 1920), National Archives of Ireland DE:2/10.
- C Townshend, "The Republic", p.94-6.
- Bureau of Military History WS 939 (Ernest Blythe).
- Townshend, "The Republic", p.177.
- Townshend, "The Republic", p.299.
- Townshend, p.324.
- Townshend, Charles, Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion (London 2006)
- Townshend, C, The Republic: The Fight For Irish Independence (London 2014)
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|Minister for Defence