The Four Brothers

by Thomas J. Byrne - The Glencorbry Chronicle, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2001, p28-48.

The four brothers were John, Edmond, Richard and Thomas sons of Thomas Fitzgerald, 18th Knight of Glin and his wife Mary, who succeeded each other in turn as Knights between 1732 and1775. As far as the Fitzgeralds of Glin were concerned the 18th century was a time of entrenchment, conciliation, adaptation and above all, survival.

It was an epoch of great change for this heterogony while they moved from their role of medieval Norman overlords and Irish chieftains to become middle and late 18th century Anglo-Irish gentry. For them, this sea-change was not achieved without their gradual discarding of many of their traditional trappings - their adhesion to the Stuart cause, their Roman Catholic faith and their very language, for some a lingua franca, were abandoned. However for them, unlike many of their Irish and Anglo-Irish cousins this 'gentrification of eighteenth-century Ireland (1) was not reached at one fell swoop but by a slow progression and many of the to-be discarded cultural trappings were reluctantly and slowly abandoned.

One example will suffice - fosterage, this ancient Irish custom was practised by the Glin Geraldines until as late as 1850(2), and by the same family who fostered all the Knights from 1500 onwards - the Costellos of Killeaney. In fact many others of those ornamental accessories were retained by them, in an ambivalent and some what anachronistic fashion until well into the 19th century and later. John Fraunceis, Knight of Glin (d. 1854) known locally as Ridire na mBan (Knight of the Women) despite his Cantabrigian education was a devotee of the Irish language which he stoke with exceptional fluency (3), Some knowledge of the then vernacular was very necessary in the management of a large household and estate in 18th and 19th century Ireland.

The family's change from Romanism to Anglicanism was due to the punitive penal laws relative to land transference and John's conversion (1730) was certainly a ploy to save the Glin estate - there is some evidence, in legal documents as well as in folklore, to support the theory that his conversion was one of convenience rather than from conviction, and as Thomas Culhane wrote: 'D'iompaigh sé a chasóg ach iompaí bréagnach ab ea é (4~ ('he turned his coat but it was a false conversion'). Nor does John's conversion, albeit temporary perhaps, appear to have estranged him from his parents, both living in 1730 or from his family, as Hickson (5) and others have suggested.

Also John remained on cordial terms with his fellow Irish poets after 1730 - Papists to a man - including one priest, Liam English, O·S·A., who composed one of the many elegies on the Knights sudden death, in 1737. Richard's con version (1740) was due, in part, to a Protestant Discoverer, one Brice (6) who took advantage of the acts of the Dublin Parliament 'to prevent the further growth of Popery'(7) and thus attempted to obtain the Glin estates by this means. Richard, perhaps in collusion with Brice, foiled the attempt by his own conversion (1740) and at the same time deftly oust ed his elder brother, Edmond, from possession of Glin.

Edmond's own conversion, one year later, was a 'domino effect' tactic to regain his patrimony - in this he was only partially successful, as Richard, a dominant character, did not readily release the Glin estates having once got control. He believed that possession was not only nine points of the law but the entire ten. It is clear that Richard very much dominated Edmond who 'was much bullied by him' as the present Knight has written. (8) The surviving, if partisan evidence of one Darby Collins 'late of Glin' in July 1746, suggests that the Fitzgeralds were then regarded as being 'papists' and thus 'carrying arms' illegally. (9)

Even as late as 1767, one John Foster of Dublin, tried as a Protestant Discoverer to oust Thomas Fitzgerald from his future inheritance (10), in much the same fashion as Brice had earlier attempted with Richard. This attempt was successfully frustrated by Thomas who probably had the experience and counsel of Richard to rely upon. Later Fitzgeralds held their religious beliefs from conviction and were to their credit very tolerant towards their Roman Catholic tenants at all times. In mid 19th Century the then Knight (John Fraunceis) forcefully pre vented Creagh and Moriarty, two former Catholics from Kerry and both believed to have been spoiled priests themselves, from attempting to convert the natives of Glin from the errors of popery' (11)

Earlier (1829) the same Knight openly opposed certain practices of the local (Limerick) Brunswick Clubs which were abhorrent to the people. (12) The building of Glin house (modern Glin Castle) in the last quarter of the 18th century was the open manifestation of the 'gentrification' of the family - an extravagant and somewhat defiant gesture on a grand scale, considering their financial circumstances then. And over all those changes at. Glin loomed the' ever- increasing shadow of mounting - debt with its attendant spectres of litigation and the sheriffs bailiffs.

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