The Erl of Desmond and his kin hath of lands under him 120 miles. Four hundred horse, eight battles of Galoglas, 1 battalion crossbow men and gunners, three thousand kerns. His country is long, and so environed, and hateth the kings laws, so they give none aid. A part of Burghs, called the Bourgh country, twenty four horse, one battalion, two hundred kern environed and dissevered. Part of the Butlers in Tipperary, sixty horse, two battalions, two hundred kern. Severed amongst themselves and enemies, and environed.1
The Fitzgeralds, Earls of Desmond, were lords of a vast estate covering much of north Kerry, Limerick and west Cork.
Castleisland was part of the Fitzgeralds’ vast Munster estate. The castle at Castleisland was one of the main Desmond castles in Kerry and there were others nearby (including Kilmurry, Ballyplimoth, Ardnagragh).
Gerald Fitzgerald was killed in 1583 after the defeat of the second Desmond rebellion and was later regarded as the last true earl of Desmond.
The collection comprises material relating to the Earls of Desmond but with particular focus on Gerald. A tale of him was recorded in The Schools Collection:
There is a place in Glounowen called Tig an Iarla. Here are the ruins of a mud-walled cabin where the Earl of Desmond found shelter for some time before he went to Glounnaneenta.2
In volume one of Gaspey’s The Self Condemned, Desmond’s final hour is imagined:
It was in a lonely glen … that the noble fugitive, about an hour before midnight, determined to halt. He entered a little grove, and in the ruins of a fallen hovel his attendants made a fire round which they seated themselves and prepared to repose till the return of day … The hour of 12 had struck and sleep was descending on their closed eyelids when a sudden rush disturbed them and by the light of their fire they saw the kerns approach.
‘In the wild alarm’ they had not time to recover their arms:
All fled, some of them being wounded as they passed, and the aged Earl alone remained to confront his foes. A blow on his sword arm, which almost severed the limb from his trunk rendered him defenceless … his head struck from his body was carried by Ormond. By him it was sent … pickled in a pipkin to England. There this relic of a brave murdered man was greeted as a trophy of victory …3
The Earl was buried at Kilnananima graveyard – a traditional Fitzgerald burial ground – near Cordal, a few miles east of Castleisland.
The history of the Earls of Desmond continues to fascinate as evidenced by publications on the subject in recent times.4
A small selection of notes on the Earls of Desmond (series ref IE MOD/23) is transcribed below in illustration of the research conducted by Michael O’Donohoe. The notes are extracted from published sources and in isolation, provide a vivid picture of ‘the last true earl’, a man described by Sir Henry Sidney as ‘void of judgement and will to be ruled’.
Notes on the Earl of Desmond 1569-1584
(from Romantic Hidden Kerry by T F O'Sullivan, 'The Desmond Tragedy', pp48-52) 1569 Adventurers submit confiscation plan to Sir Wm Cecil (Lord Burleigh) McCarthy, Fitzmaurice (cousin Gerald in Tower of London) and others seek help 1570 August 20. Sir John Perrot, President of Munster report – 6 Fitz's men killed Dingle. Examination of James Trant interpreter. Sidney made aware that chieftains had sent for help to Spain 1572 Castlemaine besieged by Perrot 1573 January 21. Desmond undertakes to observe his oath and also to suppress FitzMaurice. Also not to levy and to refer disputes with Ormond to Lord Deputy. Desmond and brother transferred to Dublin from London. Desmond escapes. Fitzmaurice submits 1573 Earl reported to Justice Walsh from the Island of Kerry that he had apprehended his men who had taken Castlemaine and placed a ward in the castle 1574 January. Desmond at Dingle threatening to spoil Lord Clancare's territory 1574 March 8 Lord Deputy wrote to Desmond requiring delivery of Castlemaine and all other castles and places in Munster under his control and to render himself simply before the last of March. Desmond refused 1574 June 15 Queen writing from Greenwich to the Lord Deputy instructing him to proceed against the Earl without attending further answer 1574 July 7 Desmond submitted before the Lord Deputy and Council in Dublin July 18 Desmond writing from Askeaton to the Privy Council complaining that though he had submitted, the Lord Deputy had concluded upon a war with him 1574 Sept 2 Desmond submits to the Lord Deputy at Cork Sept 3 Castlemaine delivered to Captain Apsley Sept12 Lord Deputy writes to Queen – everything OK Sept 12? Earl wrote to the Queen promising to faithfully and dutifully obey her and prays for one drop of grace to assuage the flame of his tormented mind Elizabeth not very much impressed apparently 1575 February 28 Fitzmaurice informed Ormond that he had gone to the continent for the recovery of his health and to make friendship to come to the Queen's favour March 12 Wrote to Ormond – keep an eye on Desmond. Thanks for telling me of the departure of Fitzmaurice and the White Knight to the continent without licence 1578 The Earl of Desmond refused to associate himself with the struggle from the start and offered to suppress it...and informed English officials of Fitzmaurice's movements. Refused to hand over Sanders. Desmond had Bishop Hely of Mayo and a Franciscan named O'Rourke arrested ... followed by the death of the prelate and companion after suffering excruciating torture 1579 20 April Desmond wrote to Sir Wm Drury stating that his relative James Fitzmaurice (who had acted as his representative while he was locked in the Tower of London) was at St Malo with 300 men and several ships 1579 Andrew Martin, Constable of Castlemaine – Fitzmaurice at Dingle on July 18 1579 23 August Sir Wm Drury reported to the Privy Council that James Fitzmaurice had been killed and that Desmond was suspected of complicity. The Earl crazed – see 1574 Sept 12 1580 Fitzmaurice secured the assistance of Pope Gregory XIII who sent soldiers, a consecrated banner and an accredited papal Legate (Dr Nicholas Sanders) an English refugee. Fitzmaurice was killed shortly after he landed at Dun an Oir in Smerwick harbour Sir Walter Raleigh under the orders of Lord Grey of Wilton the new Lord Deputy who arrived in Ireland in August 1580 carried out the massacre of the Papal forces at Dun an Oir 1580 Hooker's Chronicle The Earl of Ormond took Castleisland Sir George Butcher divided his soldiers into 2 companies and burned the country from Castleisland to Dingle, a distance of 28 miles The heads of Desmond's two brothers John and James were impaled on spikes in Dublin Castle 1581 27 Jan Captain John Zouche afterwards Colonel Zouche governor of the country, wrote from Dingle to Walsingham complaining of the illness and sufferings of his men In April 1581 the slaughter officially ceased with the publication of the Queen's Pardon to all the rebels except Desmond 15 June Zouche made a surprise attack from Dingle on Desmond's camp at Castlemaine and killed over 60 men. The Earl escaped with difficulty 1581 Doctor Sanders died a miserable death in the woods of Cloonglaishe near Castleisland 1582 The Age of Christ 1582 At this period it was commonly said that the lowing of a cow or the voice of the ploughman could scarcely be heard from Dun Caoin to Cashel in Munster – Four Masters 1583 Nov 11 Garret murdered in a hut at Glanageerty. His head was sent to Queen Elizabeth exposed in cage on London Bridge. Headless body secretly buried at night in the little chapel of Killanamanagh 1584 January 8 Thomas Cheston, constable of Castlemaine, sent a petition to Burleigh, Elizabeth's minister, praying for £1000 head money as he was the officer who procured Desmond's head to be taken Daniel Kelly, "my beloved subject and soldier" was granted a pension of £30 a year 25th Sept 24th year of our said lady the queen, Gerald, by ordinance of law, was attainted Conoghor O'Dalye, gentleman, Kiltarcon, forfeited his estate Notes on the Earl of Desmond 1558-1584 (from The Ancient and Present State of the County of Kerry by Charles Smith) 1558 Gerald, son of James, confirmed to the regalities of Kerry Opposed initially by half brother Thomas and others. Very ambitious 1564 Attempted to levy Coin and Livery, Black rents, cosheries etc on the Decies Feb 15 Defeated by Ormond at Affane. Both to England. No solution. £20,000 bail At issue – wine profit Youghal and Kinsale, boundaries, depredation, trespasses, etc Encamped on frontiers of Ormond. Barry, Roche etc with 2000 men. Show of strength With brother John he defended the frontiers of Leinster while Sir Henry Sidney the Lord Deputy waged war against O'Neill in Ulster 1567 Earl reprimanded by Sidney at Youghal and bail forfeited Cork, the pleasantest county, ravaged and burnt by Desmond and supporters Desmond in arms. Confined in Kilmallock, Dublin, London Sir John of Desmond, Henry Davells or Danvers and Skiddy appointed to govern 1568 Sir John makes reparations to injured parties (£3000) Ormond got him imprisoned in the Tower 1570 July 11 Desmond made humble submission. Acknowledged loss of bail. Desmond and brother allowed return to Ireland some time after. Irish chieftains in general revolt. Ormond from England to serve v. rebels 1572 Sir John Perrott appointed Lord President of Munster Fitzmaurice surrenders at Kilmallock which he had burnt, plundered and executed, McCarthy also reconciled and sat in Parliament 1573 March 25 Desmond lands in Dublin. Committed to custody of Mayor. Escapes Proclaimed a traitor. Reward of £1000. Pension of £40 alive 1574 July 18 Signed a confederacy with several others 1576 Sir Wm Drury, new Lord President of Munster appointed Earl to his Council Sir Wm intended to reform province. Narrow escape near Tralee 1577 James Fitzmaurice sent to Pope. Returned via Spain 1578 Springtime Following complaints from President, Desmond meets Deputy at Kilkenny. Gave information on Fitzmaurice's movements 1579 Fitzmaurice, Saunders (Eng Jesuit) with consecrated banner and authority to curse and bless, Allan (Irish Jesuit) landed at Smerwick. Built fort Sir John and James joined them (Earl rebuilding castle in Limerick), sent for help to Glencar. Fitzmaurice heads for Holy Cross Abbey, Tipperary (a vow) Stole 2 horses of Sir Wm Bourke of Castleconnell. Chased and slain (Theobald) Drawn, quartered and fixed on gates of Kilmallock Wm Bourke created Baron of Castleconnel Sir John murders Sir Henry Danvers. Meade and Charters in Tralee Castle in order to ingratiate himself with Spaniards who wished for licence to go Sir Wm Drury, now Lord Justice, encamped near Kilmallock Sent for Earl of Desmond who came, submitted and was freed Drury drove John of Desmond from Slievelogher and returned to Kilmallock Later Sir John defeated a party of the Justices' forces with little loss Drury, being reinforced, marched through Tipperary towards Waterford where he met the Countess who presented her only son as a pledge. He was put under the care of Ormond and later taken to Dublin (and thence to London) Drury sick. Sir Nicholas Malby commands the army Malby defeated Sir John (2000 men) at Monasterniva near Limerick. Allan slain Fight watched by Earl and Lord Kerry. Earl sent congratulations to Malby That night he attacked them with great loss. Another unsuccessful attack next night Joined by Lord Kerry's son Patrick who had been a hostage in England In spite of pleas the Earl refused to reform. Drury died at Waterford Sir John unsuccessfully attacked Adair. Sir Wm Pelham becomes Lord Justice 1579 Sent Ormond to treat with the Earl who vacillates. Ormond, Malby, Bishop of Waterford, Lord Mountgarret, Lord Dunboyne, Sir Edward Butler and others sign a proclamation declaring the Earl a traitor at Rathkeale 2 Nov 1579 where the Countess pleaded unsuccessfully Earl plundered Youghal and took spoils to castles in Waterford manned by Spaniards Wrote arrogant letter to Lord Justice Pelham. You come to me! 1580 Ormond made governor of Munster. With Sir Wm St Leger he destroyed the castles in Waterford and slew the Spaniards. John by Pelham (Lord Justice) they entered Kerry, burned as far as Slievelogher and slew 400 Palm Sunday 1580 Pelham battered and stormed Carrigafoyle. Put 50 to the sword hanged 6 and later executed Spanish commander Julio Askeaton and Ballylohane castles deserted by Irish 15 June Army takes large number of Earl's cattle 4 August Sir James takes cattle from Sir Cormac MacTiege of Muskerry, chased by Cormac's brother, James mortally wounded. Executed in Cork. Earl and brother John on the run. Countess pleads unsuccessfully with Lord J Pelham Army mutiny for want of pay discreetly quelled by Pelham Lord Justice Ormond divided his men. One group to Castleisland, other from Castlemaine to Tralee where they joined and drove all before them to Dingle Sir John and Saunders attempted to join Lord Baltinglass who had revolted in Leinster Intercepted at Kilmallock and forced to return September 700 Spaniards and Italians at Dun an Oir. Ormond, Pelham, Capt Zouch, Raleigh, Denny etc massacred them Zouch appointed to govern Kerry marched towards Castlemaine. Surprised the Earl at Aghadoe. Fled in his shirt to Aharlow Wood. Pursued by garrison of Kilmallock Many of his men killed. Carriages and cattle taken Zouch appointed governor of Munster. Took Sir John of Desmond and James Fitzjohn prisoners and executed them. Thereafter he reduced the size of the army 1581 Lord Kerry attacked Adare. Slew many. Took Lisconnel Castle. Failed at Adnagh. Ranged through Tipperary and Waterford without resistance. Zouch came on him at Lisconnel. Fled, overtaken by Captain Dowdal at Glenflesk. Heavily defeated Appealed to Ormond, though he had damaged him, for protection which that generous nobleman readily granted and procured a queen's pardon Earl of Desmond attacked the garrison of Adair 1582 Saunders died miserably of ague and flux in the woods of Clonigh (Tullygarron) Lord Justice Loftus and Wallop endeavoured to bring Desmond to a sense of duty Spent Christmas in Wood near Kilmallock (with Countess), surprised, escaped by hiding, up to his neck in water, under a bank with his Lady Earl of Ormond made General of Munster. Slew many of the rebels Most of rebels submitted and were pardoned 1583 June 5 Earl wrote a most submissive letter. Ignored by Ormond August. Earl surprised in Aharlow Wood September Escaped from Lord Roche's men at Duhallow Sent servants towards Castlemaine to take some cattle – which they took from a poor woman named Moriarty. Her brother Owen got help from the governor of Castlemaine Castle. Followed the cattle track. Came on Earl at Glenageerty Nov 11 Daniel Kelly cut off the Earl's head. Pension of £20 for 30 years. Tyburn Ormond sent head to England as present for Elizabeth. Fixed on London Bridge Body after 8 wks hiding, interred in a small chapel near Castleisland 1584 Sir John Norris made Lord President. Received hostages from all suspected persons View of Sir Henry Sidney, Lord Deputy, on Earl of Desmond "He was a man both void of judgement and will to be ruled" Notes on the Earl of Desmond 1532-1576 (from 'The Fall of the House of Desmond' by Sister Margaret MacCurtain, Journal of the Kerry Archaeological & Historical Society, No 8, 1974, pp28-43) 1532 Thomas Butler (Ormond) born 1554 Took possession of estate 1554 Wyatt Rebellion 1556 Granted abbeys and estates by Queen Mary 1558c Elizabeth made him Lord Treasurer of Ireland. Continued by James I 1573 Castlemaine taken for the Crown 1573 Gerald, Earl of Desmond, transferred to Dublin after a long sojourn in the Tower of London, dashed to freedom unopposed by the mayor. Met the Countess at Lough Gur. Proclaimed that no cess or constable or sheriff should ever exercise their office in his county. Repaired to Castleisland Changed dress 1576 2 October Wm Drury hanged 42 at Cork Assizes (2 McSweeneys)
1 From 'Ireland, as described by Lawrence Nowel, Dean of Lichfield, who died 1576', History of Ireland, as disclosed by Irish Statutes passed by Irish Parliaments between 1310 and 1800 (1893) by Annie M Rowan. 2 The Schools' Collection, Cait Ní Tarrant, as related by Mr Jerh Sullivan, Glounawaddra, Kingwilliamstown, Gleanntán, Scairteach an Ghleanna (Cordal east), p257. 3 The Self Condemned (1836), 3 vols, by Thomas Gaspey (1788-1871). Quotation from a description in Researches in the South of Ireland (1824) by Thomas Crofton Croker, to whom Gaspey's book was inscribed. 4 The Earls of Desmond: the Fall of a Munster Lordship by Gerald O'Carroll was published in 2014. The Legend of the Castleisland Goose: a tale of Gerald the Poet, 4th Earl of Desmond (2015), contains references to further reading on the subject. See also chapters 11 (The Earls of Desmond) and 13 (The End of The Geraldine League. Death of the last Earl of Desmond) in The Story of Kerry (1935) by Pádraig Pléimionn (Patrick J Fleming) in IE MOD/A15. Further reference IE MOD/23, IE MOD/39, IE MOD/71.