FitzGerald Family History

The Knight of Glin is a title, which was in existence for six centuries, borne by a branch of the Fitzgerald family who have been settled at Glin, county Limerick since the 14th century.

In the 19th century the estate of the Knight of Glin was in the parish of Kilfergus, barony of Shanid, county Limerick and it amounted to 5,268 acres in the 1870s. At the same time the Reverend Richard Fitzgerald of Ballydonohue owned 403 acres. In the early 1840s William O’Leary was agent to the Glin estate. The Compton interest in the lands of Glin and other county Limerick lands was advertised for sale in March 1852. The Fitzgeralds still reside at Glin and Desmond Fitzgerald, the 29th and last Knight of Glin who died in 2011, was a well-known authority on the Irish country house and its contents. Some estate papers are now in the University of Limerick but most of the family archives were destroyed in 1860.

The present castle of Glin is basically a plain Georgian house with later castellation’s and many windows-locally they used to say there was a window for every day of the year! The property has been in the family of the Knights of Glin since the early 13th century. The Alice in Wonderland title ‘the Knight of Glin’ dates back to the 14th century when three branches of the great Norman FitzGerald family became Gaelicised and the distinction is akin to a Gaelic chieftainship. 111 the middle ages the title was often known as ‘the Knight of the Glen’ or ‘the Knight of the Valley’, indicating their extensive lands along the valley of the river Shannon between Limerick and the sea.

All the FitzGeralds descend from the Norman Maurice FitzGerald, a companion-in¬ arms to Strongbow. The FitzGeralds were mercenaries who left Wales and came to Ireland at the request of King Dermot MacMurrough to help him with his wars to subdue his subjects in the 1170s. Thomas FitzGerald was granted land in West Limerick and built his first Norman castle at nearby Shanid around 1200. ‘Shanid Abu’ translated means ‘Shanid forever’ and was always the Desmond Geraldines war cry. The family has been in County Limerick ever since, marrying into the local Gaelic aristocracy and into the ‘old English’ families in the area. You can see their war cry on the back of the hall chairs, on the coat-of-arms on the ceiling, and on many pieces of silver in the house.

Surrounded by history

Several colourful characters have held the title, including Edmund, Knight of Glin, whose son was taken hostage and tied to the mouth of a cannon during the famous Siege of Glin in 1601; to the much loved 25th “Knight of the Women”, who installed mistresses in each of the Gothic lodges; to “Cracked Jack” the 26th knight, who used to ride his horse up the flying staircase to bed.

The 29th and last Knight, Desmond, was perhaps one of the most colourful of all. A respected scholar of Irish art, he also kept the FitzGerald tradition of entertaining and hospitality alive in the castle, something which continues to this day. His grandson will become the 30th.