Chasing Ghosts: Fitzgerald of Ardnagragh and Ballymacadam

When the unfortunate Earl fell at Glaunageentha it was the Fitzgeralds of Ardnagragh, faithful to 
the last, who stole the headless body at night from the wood and laid it in their own burial place 
– Mary Agnes Hickson[1]

John Oge Fitzgerald was Constable of the Island of Kerry for Gerald, ‘The Rebel Earl of Desmond,’ generally regarded as the last Earl of Desmond.[2]  The Fitzgerald castle at Ardnagragh, about three miles distant from the ‘Castle of the Island’ (Castleisland) and of which nothing remains, appears to have been a place of significance.


The Carew Manuscripts show that in the late sixteenth century, John Oge Fitzgerald of Ardnagragh Castle had ‘sworn to continue in rebellion.’[3]  In a discourse about the relationship between Gerald, the last Earl of Desmond, and John Oge, his Constable of the Island of Kerry, Kerry historian Mary Agnes Hickson dismissed the suggestion that John Oge was ‘an old uncle’ of the Earl of Desmond and showed that he was a Fitzgerald of Ardnagragh, the same branch as Fitzgerald of Ballymacadam.[4]


Hickson’s assertion was borne out in the research of a later Kerry historian, Jeremiah King, who noted the correspondence of John Oge to the incarcerated Earl of Desmond in September 1568.[5]  King described John Oge as ‘son of the 14th Earl of Desmond’ – John FitzThomas Fitzgerald.[6]


John Oge Fitzgerald – otherwise John FitzJohn Fitzgerald – had three daughters and two sons.  One of his daughters married three times, her first husband being Thomas Lacye, who ‘fledd into Spayne.’[7]  His two sons were Maurice, and James of Ballymacadam.


The following is recorded of James in the year 1580 (Four Masters):


James, the son of John Oge, son of John, son of Thomas the Earl of Desmond, was slain … by the Lord of Pobble-Brien and Carigogunnell namely, by Brian Duv, the son of Mahon, son of Donough, son of Brian Duv O’Brien.  This James was worthy to have inherited the principality of his ancestors.[8]


According to the record, his brother Maurice married a McSwineye (McSweeney).


It was shown in an article about Ballymacadam Castle published on this website that Elizabeth Marshall, wife of Robert Leeson, was descended through the Geraldines of Co Kerry from her ancestor, Tristram Marshall.[9]  Tristram came to Kerry in the expedition of Charles Wilmot in 1602 and married Mary, daughter of Maurice FitzGerald of BallymacAdam Castle, Co Kerry.


Today, no vestige remains of Ardnagragh Castle, confiscated from Thomas FitzDavid Fitzgerald in 1587, or its sister-castle, Ballymacadam, the remnants of which were demolished some years ago to make way for a quarry.[10]


John Fitzthomas Fitzgerald (left) otherwise Sir John of Desmond, and Gerald The Rebel Earl (right) who was murdered at Glanageenty, as depicted by Noel Nash in ‘Earls of Desmond.’  Johnnie Roche, Chairman of Castleisland District Heritage, is pictured with Davy O’Connor at Ballymacadam Farmhouse besides a wall said to have built with stone from Ballymacadam Castle


Fitzgerald Diaspora


Fitzgerald descendants still come searching in Kerry for the old stones of Desmond castles, as they imagine the life and times of their ancestors.[11]  Like a scion of the Milltown Leesons,[12] who lives in New Zealand, and who has a connection to the Ballymacadam Fitzgeralds.


He writes:


I don’t think I’m a Fitzgerald (as far as I know) but my relative May Ruth (Mary Leeson-Marshall) of Callinafercy was one through her great grandmother, Elizabeth Marshall.  May and I both descend from Joseph Leeson, 1st Earl of Milltown; I’m descended from Joseph’s first marriage through the youngest son Brice, 3rd Earl of Milltown, and May was descended from Joseph’s third marriage through the youngest son from that marriage, Hon. Robert Leeson, father of Robert Leeson who married Elizabeth Marshall.  I have read that the Leeson Marshall’s (Markham’s era) placed staff with the Fitzgeralds at Glin Castle.


I have some admiration for Elizabeth Marshall because she seems to have survived the awful predicament of protecting her children’s legacy from their own father at the expense of her marriage.


In the time of the 1st and 2nd Earl of Milltown, the family were great friends of the Carton Fitzgerald’s (Emily Lennox Duchess of Leinster, her Lennox sisters, and Lord Edward Fitzgerald, who was Emily’s son).


My ancestor Brice had three sons: Joseph Leeson (1766-1800), the oldest, John Leeson (1767-1835), the middle son, and Robert Leeson (1772-1842), the youngest, who is my great (x4) grandfather.  John was Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s lawyer and was present at Newgate prison when Lord Edward was dying.  After the 1798 rebellion, both John and Joseph were watched by agents working for Major Henry Charles Sirr, the man who had shot Lord Edward.


Joseph (1766-1800) married Emily Douglas, whose second marriage, following Joseph’s youthful death, was to Valentine Lawless (1773-1853), 2nd Baron Cloncurry, who together with Lord Edward was a leader of the United Irishmen.  Valentine’s daughter, Hon Mary Lawless, from his first marriage, married secondly Lord Sussex Lennox, who was Emily Lennox’s grand-nephew (he was a son of her nephew the Duke of Richmond).  My great (x3) grandfather, Rev Joseph Leeson, was Lawless’ chaplain.


Carton was designed by Richard Cassels who also designed the Earl of Milltown’s seat Russborough with both homes decorated by the Lafranchini brothers.


The Leesons have many points of connection with the Carton Fitzgeralds and their extended families over generations.  Of the few stories that have come down in my family there is a tradition that one of the Leesons was great friends of Lord Edward who I can remember my grandmother talking about with great admiration.  I can hear her saying his name … “Lord Edward Fitzgerald …”.  I suspect that this was possibly his lawyer, John Leeson, Brice’s middle son, or perhaps his older brother Joseph.


An extract from the Correspondence of Emily Duchess of Leinster shows in what regard Emily’s sister Louisa held the 2nd Earl of Milltown (“Lord Russborough”):


Dearest Charles goes to-morrow or next day; I shall miss him sadly, having had a good deal of his agreeable company.  Lord Russborough and he dined with me to-day.  You cannot think what a favourite Lord Russborough is with Mr Conolly and me.  Mr Conolly quite tastes him; and I flatter myself Lord Russborough likes him; we are all best of friends.  Lord Russborough has very friendly good qualities.  I have a great regard for him, and entertaining he is to be sure to the last degree.  He told me that our two countesses were arrived at Dover.  And to-night Dazarin informed us that they were detained there for want of money, and had sent a servant up to town to Lady Anne Conolly to send them down some, by which means they can’t be in town before to-morrow.  I long to see them.  But think of their being so giddy as to let their money run short![13]


A letter from Emily to her husband James Fitzgerald, the then Marquis of Kildare, regarding a dispute between Lord and Lady Kerry (aka “Girouette”) and with Russborough:[14]


I really believe Lord Kerry [Francis Thomas-Fitzmaurice] and Mr Leeson must fight in consequence of the violent quarrel they had t’other night at Mrs Martin’s on account of Mr Leeson’s saying that Girouette (as he calls her), the new dancer, who it seems is frightfully ugly and old, was reckoned very like a lady in this town.  He named no names, but a lady in company took it to herself (for whom to be sure he intended it), and said that if it was a woman that had found out such a likeness for her she shou’d forgive it, supposing that must proceed from envy (looking at Lord Kerry), but if it was a man she must tell him he was very impertinent and shou’d have every bone in his body broken.  Many smart repartees follow’d between her and poor Dody, but at last Lord Kerry interfered, abused his family, etc.; in short, sent him away in a violent passion, which luckily for me he came and vented here, telling Louisa and I the whole story in a very- ridiculous way and mimicking the lady so well that it was delightful; but I now hear that it will come to something serious; but I hope they will think better of it.[15]

Jean Louis Faesch (left) portrait miniature of Lady Kerry, seated wearing a grey dress; Lord Kerry and Lord Russborough, both standing (from the Duke of Northumberland Collection).  In the centre, Castletown House, the former home of “Conolly” and “Louisa” mentioned in the above correspondence.  Thomas Conolly appeared in the will of the 1st Earl of Milltown as follows: “Lands of Quolins and Par-sonstown, Co. Meath, etc. purchased from Rt. Hon. Thos. Connolly and his trustees.”  On the right, Lord Edward Fitzgerald

Around 1913, when the Irish Georgian Society was preparing Volume V of The Georgian Society Records of Eighteenth Century Domestic Architecture and Decoration in Dublin, the last Countess of Milltown, Geraldine-Evelyn Leeson née Stanhope, gave the Society a circumstantial account of the history of Russborough.  The chronicle included how in 1801, Lord Milltown, at that time Brice Leeson, a former soldier who served in Germany and the West Indies, had challenged Lord Tyrawley to a duel ‘with blunderbusses and slugs in a sawpit.’


It remains a mystery why almost no records appear to have survived from the Milltowns’ own hand including the original correspondence sent to the Society by the Countess.


If anyone can help in this respect, please contact Castleisland District Heritage.


[1] Selections from Old Kerry Records (1872) by Mary Agnes Hickson, p187.  ‘Reduced to the condition of cottier tenants under the shadow of their ruined castles, the old Sept lived on, whispering round their peat fires many a tale of the glories of their fallen chieftain, fancying they heard the strains of his piper in the wail of the winter night’s wind, and burying their dead around him in the lonely little mountain churchyard of Killonanaim (the Church of The Name) the one sad remnant of their ancient inheritance left to them where until very recently none but Geraldines were ever buried.’

[2] Gerald Fitzjames Fitzgerald (c1533-1583).  Further reference, ‘The Legacy of Baron de Monte Marisco, Lord of Castle Island’ by Mary Agnes Hickson,   ‘John Oge was probably the head of the family of Fitzgeralds of the Island descended, according to Collins’ Peerage, from the youngest son of John FitzThomas.’ 

In a Desmond genealogy, only the name of the eldest son, Maurice, is given: ‘John Fitzthomas, Lord of O’Connelloe and of Decies and Desmond was slain at Callan (Glean-naroughta) in 1261, buried Tralee Abbey, which he founded.  By his first wife Margery, daughter of Thomas FitzAnthony, Lord of Decies and Desmond, he had Maurice Fitzjohn, slain with his father in 1261 at Callan in Desmond (Glean-naroughta).  See Earls of Desmond (2022), p11.

[3] ‘John Oge of the Island’ is mentioned in a ‘Survey of Ireland and account of persons of note there AD 1570’ and ‘John Oge Fitzgerald of Ardnagragh Castle’ is named with certain men ‘sworn to continue in rebellion.’

[4] Selections from Old Kerry Records (1872), p187.  Hickson referred to the Fitzgerald family tree from 1500 to 1620 as provided in the Carew MSS.  In Appendix V of this publication (p306), Hickson writes, ‘There is indisputable proof amongst the Carew MSS at Lambeth that this John Oge was not, as the Calendar suggests, Desmond’s uncle.  The pedigree of the Fitzgeralds of Ardnagragh is there given in Carew’s writing and of the correctness of its entries concerning the family from 1500 to 1620 there can be no question … David Fitzgerald of Ardnagragh married and had three sons.  1. **** Fitzgerald Kilcostenye (Kilcushna). 2. Thomas of Ardnagragh. 3. Thomas (?) attainted.’

[5] King’s History of Kerry from the Kerry Weekly Reporter, 27 July 1912.  ‘John Oge, son of the 14th Earl of Desmond, writes from Traly to Gerald, the 16th Earl of Desmond.  Informs him that he had been in the parts of Kerry resisting the enemy with James Fitzmaurice’ (letter dated Sept 11, 1568).

Two letters from the Earl of Desmond dated November 1568 and July 1569 instruct John Oge in several private and business matters: ‘1568 November 18.  Earl of Desmond, Tower of London, writes to the Knight of Kerry, and his constable of the Island in Kerrie, John Oge, to assist the Countess and James Fitzmaurice, and for collecting the revenues’ (Kerryman, 2 October 1915).  ‘1569 July 17 Earl of Desmond, Tower of London, to the Queen.  To write to the Lord Deputy to take of Desmond’s officer, John Oge, of the Island in Kierrie, so much money as will discharge the Earl and his brother John of the £902 15s owing to Her Majesty and for a quarterly supply for their expenses’ (ibid).

It is worth noting that in an Inquisition of 1588, one John Og Fitzgerald possessed Ballymullen Castle.  This was noted in a lengthy description of Tralee published in the Kerry Evening Post on 12 October 1895 (‘Old Tralee and its Neighbourhood’).  The author cited ‘a lengthy document, twelve skins going to describe the Kerry portion of the estate’: ‘Another castle, called New Manor, with the old and broken castle called the Countesses, occupied by the Countess of Desmond and a street called New Manor, with gardens in the same street, all now lying waste and prostrate (excepting the small castle with mill and 5 acres adjacent the said castle [Ballymullen], in possession of John Og Fitzgerald).’ 

Other castles mentioned in this document are ‘Two castles and gardens in possession of Robert Ryce; Castle Farran McBrandon escheated for want of heirs; Castle Garwenieraughton, lands of O’Harraghton, Burgess of Tralee (‘present Garran’); the broken castle of the Manor of Tralee; Great Castle of Loghorteconnanne.’ 

The above is enlarged on in ‘Notes on Kerry Topography, Ancient and Modern, with Extracts from the Unpublished Desmond Survey and Inquisition’ by Mary Agnes Hickson (The Journal of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland, Fourth Series, Vol 5, No 44 (Oct 1880) pp349-364).

[6] For the sons of John FitzThomas Fitzgerald (Sir John of Desmond), see Earls of Desmond (2022) produced by Castleisland District Heritage, p41.  The fifth son was John Oge,

Hickson noted in Selections from Old Kerry Records (p187): ‘David Fitzgerald of Ardnagragh married and had three sons.  1. **** Fitzgerald Kilcostenye (Kilcushna). 2. Thomas of Ardnagragh. 3. Thomas (?) attainted.’ In another genealogy (Kerryman, 2 October 1915), John Oge, son of Thomas of Ardnagragh is noted but not named though his siblings are: ‘David Fitzgerald of Ardnagraph had three sons:1. ____ son of Kilcushna; 2. Thomas of Ardnagragh; 3. ____ son attainted.  Thomas of Ardnagraph married having two daughters and a son.  Margaret married Thomas O’Daly of the Brosnaghe in Slieve Louchra.  Catherine married O’Mahony of Desmond.’

The third son of David Fitzgerald of Ardnagragh, Thomas Fitzgerald (attainted), married first, ‘says Carew, the dau of Mac Owen Mac Carthy of the Duffe in Muskerry, by whom he had a dau md to Maurice, brother to William Fitzgerald, Knight of Kerry, and 2dly Ellen O’Leary of Muskerry the widow of Goran Mac Swineye. The Septs of Maurice Duffe Fitzgerald and Slught Edmond Fitzgerald, according to Carew, were branches of the Ardnagragh tree and the probability is strong that they were the old settlers at Gallerus and Morrogane’ (ibid).

‘The Seneschals of Imokilly and the Fitzgeralds of Cloyne descended from the Knights of Kerry who obtained Imokilly by the marriage of the first knight with ‘the daughter of the Lord Coursie.’  In the Carew MSS there is an account of the rebel Earl’s rents in Kerry which says, ‘The bloodshedde of the Countie of Kerye is due to the Manour of the Island together with the rent of Killarcon and the Rimer’s lands for candle light to the said manour allowed, the lands held by the Earl’s Rimers in the Mountain of Slieve Lougher named the Brosnaghe and by the Rimers of Templay Egleantine and Ballyroho.’ (?) In the same document it is mentioned that the ‘Rimers of Brosnaghe are bound to entertain the Earl when he goes from Kerrie to Connilloe’ (ibid).

[7] ‘One of John Oge’s daughters md Mc Swineye, and another md 1st Thomas Lacye who ‘fledd into spayne’ and 2ndly O’Moriertagh the sonne of the Pryor of Killaghie and 3dly one of the McSwineyes.  Another daughter of John Oge md Donell MacOwen of Muskerry.’

See also The Roll of the House of Lacy (1928) by De Lacy-Bellingari, pp122 and 175.  ‘There is also a record of Thomas FitzRobert de Lacy of Ballingarry-Lacy being pardoned with some other de Lacys in 1584, and of a certain Thomas de Lacy who fiedd into Spayne.’

[8] Annals of the Four Masters (M1580.12)  Quoted in Earls of Desmond (2022) by Castleisland District Heritage (p41).  The preceding entry to the above (M1580.11) describes the conflict, and may relate to a nephew of John Oge:  ‘James Oge, the son of James, son of John, son of Thomas the Earl of Desmond, set out in rebellion to seek a prey in Muskerry; but Cormac, the son of Teige, son of Cormac Oge, son of Cormac, son of Teige Mac Carthy, Lord of the country, had all his forces assembled to oppose him.  Cormac, being informed that James had passed by him, proceeded to a certain place, through which he knew James would pass; and he soon perceived James coming towards him with a prey, and he attacked him, and slew and destroyed the greater number of his people. James himself was taken, and sent to Cork to be imprisoned.  He was confined nearly a month in this town, daily preparing himself for death, doing penance for his sins, and asking forgiveness for his misdeeds. At the end of that time a writ arrived from Dublin from the Lord Justice and the Council, ordering the mayor to put that noble youth to death, and cut him in quarters and little pieces. This was accordingly done.’

[9] ‘Ballymacadam Castle: Towards a History of a Geraldine Stronghold’


The following relates to the confiscation of Ardnagragh from the records of Kerry historian, Jeremiah King: ‘1587 May 31  The castle called Ardnagragh, late Thomas FitzDavid Geralds, with the castle and lands of Kilcosteny, and certain other lands of the said Thomas’s over against Monasterfealy, Stradbally, Ballygawley, and Ballyduffe, late the lands of Gerald FitzRichards, the four quarters of the Cross, late Mac Shane’s lands, another parcell called Terranauwicke, landes called Knoppoge, late in controversye between the said Mac Shane and the Earl of Desmond, the town and landes of Ballynaclonnesig and Kilvallylahive part of it late the lands of Shane Oge McShane McThomas. ______ lands of the sept were granted to Sir Wm Herbert Knt with Castleisland district’ (Kerryman, 2 October 1915).

Sir William Herbert recorded the following a few years later: ‘1589 May 24 Sir Wm Herbert.  There was dwelling upon those lands which are now come into my possession a gentleman of the Geraldines called Thomas Oge who was committed to the Castle of Dublin by Sir John Perrott.  I met him in Cork, on coming over from England and found him to be a man sensible, modest, and tractable, and so hoped he might be made a good man.  By my entreaties I got him released and brought him into the country with me, where by persuasions used unto him he reformed himself in religion in manners, in habit, and hath been a principal means by me used to reduce others to the like amendment.  Sir Edward Denny to frustrate my endeavours in those parts has got an order from Dublin for his arrest.’

An entry from the year 1600 (Four Masters) transcribed in Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland (1856) by John O’Donovan (Vol VI pp2181-2181) relating to James ‘The Queen’s Earl’ and his disappearance, records that Thomas Oge Fitzgerald was then Constable of Castlemaine.

[11] See Kenny of Ballymacadam at this link:  Some of the castle stone survives in the Kenny farmhouse at Ballymacadam.

[12] “Milltown Leesons” is a term coined by historian Francis ‘Frank’ Leeson (1926-2009) to describe forebears and descendants of Joseph Leeson (1701-1783), 1st Earl of Milltown.

[13] Fitzgerald, B. (Ed.). (1957). Correspondence of Emily, Duchess of Leinster (Vol. 3). p.189 Dublin Stationery Office. 

[14] ‘Russborough’ is Joseph Leeson who became 2nd Earl of Milltown.  Dr. Stella Tillyard (expert in all things Lennox and Fitzgerald) says that the Carton Fitzgerald’s wrote “Fitzgerald” with a small “g”.

[15] Fitzgerald, B. (Ed.). (1949). Correspondence of Emily, Duchess of Leinster (Vol. 1). p.136 Dublin Stationery Office.