Fitzgerald – more Irish than the Irish

History of the Irish name Fitzgerald. Image copyright Irleland Calling

The name Fitzgerald is a popular one in the English speaking world. For centuries the name carried great weight in Ireland, with the Fitzgerald dynasty of Earls and Dukes being powerful figures from the 14th century onwards.

Back to Irish surnames

The name is not actually Irish. Its origins are in medieval England where and the word Fitz, meant ‘the bastard son of’.

So Fitzgerald would have first been used as the name for an illegitimate child of a man named Gerald, although the exact dates and individuals involved are unknown.

It first came to Ireland with the Norman invasion in 1169. A member of the Welsh hierarchy, Lord Maurice Fitzgerald, was part of the Norman fleet that overpowered the Irish.

Two powerful families

He settled in Ireland and two powerful families emerged under the Fitzgerald name. There began a long line of Irish peers that are still in place today.

The Fitzgeralds of Kildare, who were made up of the Earls of Kildare and the Dukes of Leinster. And the Fitzgeralds of Desmond, known as the Earls of Desmond, the areas that are now known as Kerry and Cork.

The Fitzgerald families spread around Ireland so much over the centuries, that they were once described as ‘more Irish than the Irish’. The 3rd Earl of Desmond, Gerald Fitzgerald is a good example of this. He was a respected scholar but wrote his poetry in Irish as opposed to Norman French. His most famous poem, Mairg adeir olc ris na mnáibh (Speak not ill of womenkind) is still popular today.

Fought for Ireland’s freedom in the 1798 Rebellion

The Fitzgeralds of Desmond were often involved in violent rebellions against the British rule. Several of their leaders were killed in battle and when their 16th Earl of Desmond was killed in Elizabethan times, the family no longer had enough military might to remain a force.

The famous Irish poet Thomas Moore wrote the poem, Desmond’s Song, based on the love story between the 5th Earl of Desmond and Catherine MacCormac. The Earl had his land taken from him by his uncle for marrying Catherine, who was considered to be below him in status in society.

The Fitzgeralds of Kildare held numerous positions of power in the history of Ireland. Gearóid Mór, 8th Earl of Kildare held the title of Lord Deputy of Ireland in the 15th century, a post he handed down to his son Gearóid Óg, 9th Earl of Kildare.

Garret Mór was unofficially considered to be the King of Ireland for 40 years during the 16th century.

More members of the Fitzgerald of Kildare dynasty were key figures in Ireland’s history. Thomas FitzGerald, known as Silken Thomas, was the leader of a failed attempt to break free of British rule in the late 16th century. Lord Edward FitzGerald also fought for Ireland’s freedom in the 1798 Rebellion.

F Scott Fitzgerald

The name Fitzgerald spread all around the world in the 19th century when the Great Famine caused thousands of people to emigrate from Ireland to Australia, Europe and America.

Fitzgerald crater on the moon

Since then there have been several key figures in various fields named Fitzgerald around the world. George FitzGerald was a brilliant physicist and there is a crater on the Moon named after him.

F Scott Fitzgerald was a famous American author whose most famous work was the novel, The Great Gatsby, which was made into a Hollywood film starring Leonardo DiCaprio in 2013.

Garret FitzGerald was twice elected Taoiseach (leader) of Ireland in the 1980s.

Paul Fitzgerald is an Australian painter who has painted portraits of some of the world’s most famous faces, including Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John Paul XXIII and former Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Menzies.

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