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The Knight of Glin Papers

The Knights of Glin are a Geraldine family whose title can be traced back to Sir John FitzJohn or Seán Mór na Sursainge who lived ca. 1260, and whose grandfather, Maurice FitzThomas had been granted the barony of Shanid, near Glin. John FitzJohn had established much authority in west Limerick, having built castles at Glin and Beagh (near Askeaton) in 1260. In 1299, he was holding half a tuath in Glancarbery which corresponds to the present parish of Kilfergus or Glin.


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The romantic title, The Knights of Glin, can be attributed to the gaelicising of the Anglo-Normans of Desmond, the titles being similar to Gaelic chieftainships. Up to the end of the 17th century, the Knight of Glin was sometimes referred to as the Knight of the Valley, valley being the English translation of “Glin”, a corruption of the Irish “Gleann”, itself an abbreviation of Gleann Corbraighe (Glancarbery).

The history of the Knights of Glin is an interesting one as it reveals the struggle of a Catholic landed family against English rule, and ultimately its’ capitulation when the Penal Laws came into effect. The eighteenth century is indeed one of the more interesting periods in which they moved from being medieval Norman overlords and Irish chieftains to become Anglo-Irish gentry . John FitzGerald succeeded as the 19th Knight of Glin in 1732. When the Penal Laws swung into force, whereby a Catholic owned estate could be handed on intact only if one of the sons became protestant within 3 months of the father’s death, John was under enormous pressure to convert and convert he did.

John’s brother Edmond, succeeded as 20th Knight of Glin and ran up huge gambling debts. He was imprisoned in the Four Courts Marshalsea Prison for non-payment of debts and consequently his brother Richard, succeeded as the 21st Knight. One of Richard’s more famed hobbies was that of duelling which he is said to have learned on the continent. He also excelled at horseracing and Byrne notes that it was during his time that a race-course was established at Glin. He also raced at Clogheen, Co. Tipperary and the Curragh, Co. Kildare. Thomas, the next brother in line, succeeded Richard in 1775. He, like his brothers before him, was frequently in debt and passed this debt to his son John Bateman FitzGerald in 1781, with whom the collection as it is today begins. 

The Collection
The Glin Papers, unfortunately, do not reflect the long history of the family, as many of the older documents were allegedly burnt in a tantrum by the apt nick-named ‘Cracked Knight’ or John Fraunceis Eyre FitzGerald, 25th Knight of Glin. They date from 1800 onwards and have been arranged according to the tenure of the various Knights. 

Section A: John Bateman FitzGerald, 23rd Knight of Glin
Unfortunately, there is only one document in the collection relating to this most enterprising of individuals, who, despite great financial difficulties, initiated the building of Glin Castle, which has been lived in by the Knights of Glin and their families ever since. The document is in the form of a volume which contains a printed copy of a private Act of Parliament which was passed to force John Bateman to raise money by mortgage or otherwise to pay off incumbrances. The Act shows the incumbrances to amount to almost £14,000 and notes that Colonel John had incurred legal costs of at least £1500 and had spent more than £6000 on Glin Castle and demesne. (Ballinderry de Pauillac: p3) By the time of his death, the family had successfully transformed themselves from medieval Irish chiefs to Anglo-Irish gentry, due to John Bateman’s marriage to an English lady, Margaretta Maria Fraunceis Gwyn, and the building, against all odds, of a Georgian pile.

Section B: John Fraunceis FitzGerald, 24th Knight of Glin
The beginning of John Fraunceis’ tenure as Knight coincided with a bankruptcy sale at Glin, but fortunately, he was able to replenish the family coffers through gambling. He was particularly interested in his Gaelic background and was a fluent Irish speaker and antiquarian. Known locally as both ‘Ridire na mBan’ (Knight of the Women) due to his extra-marital activities, and Seán Gruama (Grim-faced John) due to his bouts of temperamental behaviour, John Fraunceis was indeed a colourful character. A ballad from 1830 illustrates his detractors views:

His vices have made, and still make him so poor
That bailiff or creditor is ne’er from his door.
And deep tho’ in debt, he’s deeper in sin,
That lecherous, treacherous, Knight of the Glin

This hoary old sinner, this profligate rare,
Who gloats o’er the ruin of the virtuous and fair;
In gambling and drinking and wenching delights
And in these doth spend both his days and his nights.

Yet there is the man who’s heard to declare
‘Gainst O’Grady he’ll vote if the priests interfere.
But the priests and O’ Grady do not care a pin
For the beggarly, profligate, Knight of the Glin!

It is interesting to note, however, that John Fraunceis was also recognised for his generosity towards tenants, particularly during the famine. He died of cholera in 1854 which he contracted while attending to the unfortunates in the Poor House in Glin. His obituary in the Limerick Chronicle of 26 April 1854 stated ‘…the influence of his position and his personal exertions were ever directed to relieve the wants of the poor…’

John Fraunceis leaves us a wide selection of material ranging from his marriage settlement with the long-suffering Bridgetta Eyre (1812), to a deed poll appointing him as High Sheriff of Limerick (1830). The marriage settlement burdened the estate to the tune of £8,000, and when his eldest son and heir married in 1835, the estate was further burdened with £6,000 to account for the portions of younger children. By the time of his death in 1854, John Fraunceis had managed to create or oversee principal sum incumbrances amounting to at least £14,000. (Ballinderry de Pauillac: p3) There are also documents in this section which show how short-term cash was raised, as was the practice in 19th century, by creating mortgages. 

Interestingly, John Fraunceis’ daughters, Geraldine Anne and Margaretta Sophia married the Blennerhassett brothers, Gerald and William Massey respectively. The latter brother was a sub-inspector with the Royal Irish Constabulary and both his constabulary journals and personal journals have survived and are included in the collection (P1/20-33).

Section C: John Fraunceis Eyre FitzGerald, 25th Knight of Glin
The afore-mentioned ‘Cracked Knight’ or ‘Cracked Jack’ also married a Blennerhassett, Clara Anne, in 1835. Like his father before him, John Fraunceis Eyre was a somewhat eccentric character prone to being ‘temperamental’. Folklore surrounding his antics and erratic behaviour abound. Among the many mentioned by Gaughan include his habit of riding his horse into the homes of those he was visiting, going so far on one occasion as attempting to ride the horse up the stairs; the time he publicly whipped Colonel Henry H. Kitchener (his ‘pet aversion’) at the Tralee races; and his curious fascination with chamber-pots. He was sympathetic to his tenants however, and was popular with the locals.

The most interesting of the documents related to this section are the mortgages raising money from the Glin lands and reflect the almost ever-present insolvency facing the family (P1/44-50). One in particular from 1864 (P1/48) lists incumbrances on the estate which then totalled £14,000 in principle sums not including the £1539 charge that was being transferred. It would appear, therefore, that incumbrances had risen to approximately £15,500 by the end of The Cracked Knight’s tenure (Ballinderry de Pauillac: p3). Also of note are the estate day books which span form 1858-1867 and record the receipt of rents from the estate (P1/51-52). 


Section D: Desmond John Edmund FitzGerald, 26th Knight of Glin
Continuing with the custom of nick-naming the Knights, Desmond John Edmund’s moniker was ‘the Big Knight’. He married Isabella Lloyd Apjohn in 1861 and she proved to be instrumental in managing the estate, which was just as well, as her husband ‘showed little interest or inclination in this matter’ (Gaughan: p124). Desmond John Edmund was a deputy lieutenant and a justice of the peace of county Limerick, and in general, had a the typical Anglo-Irish gentleman’s life which was taken up mainly with hunting, shooting, fishing and entertaining.

It was during his tenure that the Long Rock Weir on the Shannon was refurbished and salmon fishing in the area became a profitable enterprise. It was also, however, the time of the Land League and agrarian unrest, which resulted in various outrages committed on farms of evicted tenants in Glin. Desmond John Edmund came under extreme pressure as a result of the Land League and the National League and ‘bitter denunciations between him and the supporters of the League continued in the press’. (Gaughan: p132). 

The Big Knight was under much financial pressure. In 1867 he borrowed £2000 by way of mortgage and this raised the principal sums charged on the Glin estate to £17,091. It seems by the numerous mortgages created in the 1860’s and the 1870’s that he was simply borrowing from one creditor in order to pay the other. (Ballinderry de Pauillac: p4) 

The documents in this section comprise mainly of leases, conveyances and mortgages relating to lands on the Glin estate. Also of interest are the Long Rock fishery records which span from 1866-1890 (P1/144-145). Another document of note is the will of his cousin, Jane Augusta Richardson (P1/148) as a later annotation to the document reads: ‘The beautiful Mrs. Richardson probably mistress of Desmond John Edmund FitzGerald, Knight of Glin’.

Section E: Desmond FitzJohn Lloyd FitzGerald, 27th Knight of Glin
By the time FitzJohn inherited in 1895, the estate was in a state of semi-permanent insolvency. He had made the wise move of marrying Lady Rachel Charlotte Wyndham-Quin, younger daughter of the 4th Earl of Dunraven, who brought with her much needed funds as specified in the marriage settlement of 1897 (P1/160). She tragically died after the birth of their first child, Desmond Windham Otho, in 1901. The respite was brief, however, and under the Land Act of 1903, he sold 3,200 acres of the estate, as well as the Riddlestown Park estate, which he had inherited, and a further 800 acres of the Glin estate a few years later.

During FitzJohn’s tenure, the Irish revolution took place, and life for the Knights of Glin took another dramatic turn. Unusually, he remained resident in Glin Castle during the War of Independence, when anti-treaty forces had destroyed great houses of other landed families, and it was this lofty defiance that ultimately saved Glin Castle from being burnt down by a band of rebels in February 1923. As the present Knight of Glin recounts: 

‘When a gang came to burn the house down in 1923, he roared at them 
from his chair, “Well, you will have to burn me in it boys”. The “boys” 
repaired to Glin for a few libations and it was said that the locals got 
them so drunk they never returned to finish the job.’ 

FitzJohn’s main interests in life were attending shooting parties in Adare Manor, Curragh Chase, Hollypark or playing in golf tournaments in Lahinch. Indeed, many surviving letters written by him to his son, Desmond Windham Otho, while attending boarding school, describe little else (P1/540). He suffered a stroke in 1914 which left him partially paralysed and in later life became reclusive.

The documents in this section contain the usual leases, mortgages and marriage settlements but there is also a small amount of personal correspondence which is of interest, including a letter from his father-in-law, the 4th Earl of Dunraven, in which he declares that if FitzJohn were to hire a woman to look after the young Desmond Windham Otho, ‘she would have to be appallingly old and ugly to save your character’ (P1/303).

Section F: Desmond Windham Otho FitzGerald, 28th Knight of Glin
Desmond Windham Otho was educated at Winchester and then Lancing. In 1924, when in his early twenties, he moved to London and, having always been mechanically minded, set up a garage in the fashionable St James Street area with a Captain Alistair Miller, the son of a Scottish baronet. The business was called Miller & FitzGerald Ltd and specialised in buying and selling exclusive cars such as the ‘Voisin’. His personal diaries which commence in this period and continue until his death in 1949, are a fascinating insight into his life (P1/335-339). While in London, he was one of the “Bright Young Things” socialising in the Bachelor’s Club and the Savoy. There are endless accounts of dining out, parties, concerts, dances and trips to the casino. When the high life got too much, he set off with his grandfather, the 4th Earl of Dunraven, and some of his Blennerhassett cousins (Hilda, Vera and Nesta) on sailing trips to the Mediterranean and back, some lasting as long as 3 or 4 months. Monte Carlo was a favourite resting place as too was Cowes, where they attended the famous yacht races. Unfortunately, the business back in London went under and a protracted court case between the former business partners ensued. Papers and correspondence concerning the case illustrate clearly the bitter legal wrangle (P1/550-555).

In 1929, he married Veronica Villiers, a cousin of Sir Winston Churchill, and a veritable tour de force who set about restoring Glin Castle while her husband set about improving the farm. An avid correspondent, the collection is home to many hundreds of letters written her by family members, friends and acquaintances (P1/370-497). There is also much official correspondence with stockbrokers, solicitors, and land agents (P1/354-369). Other interesting items in Veronica’s possession include watercolour sketches (ca. 1850) by her great-aunt, Amelie T. Amherst (P1/504-506), and a small collection of b/w photographs (P1/507-518).

This section also contains leases, conveyances, con-acre agreements and rental accounts (P1/604-638). A large amount of material concerns household and estate accounts with cashbooks and hundreds of tradesmen’s receipts and invoices for various goods and services surviving (P1/639-695). There are also account books for the Long Rock Fishery, which was established in part by his grandfather, Desmond John Edmund. The weirs were closed in 1935 when the Government took them over (P1/707-709).

Desmond Windham Otho contracted tuberculosis and was ill for a long period. He sought treatment in Arizona and Switzerland but finally succumbed to the disease in 1949, leaving a young widow and three children. Veronica remarried in 1954 to Horatio Ray Milner, a very wealthy Canadian businessman, and subsequently relocated to Canada. Milner was instrumental in saving the Castle and the Estate from certain financial ruin by investing £60,000 in restoration work in the late 1950’s.

Section G: Desmond John Villiers FitzGerald, 29th Knight of Glin.
Desmond John Villiers, the present holder of the title, was educated in Stowe, England; Trinity College, Port Hope, Ontario; University of British Columbia; and Harvard University. He is a leading figure in Irish architecture and decorative arts and has for many years been Christie’s representative in Ireland. A keen historian of his family’s history, he has left The Glin Papers on permanent loan to the University of Limerick since 1998. The Knight is married to Madam Olda FitzGerald and has three daughters.

The papers contained in this section include school reports (P1/744, P1/749) and volumes containing lecture notes from his time at UBC and Harvard (P1/751-776); leases, undertakings and rentals (P1/777-817); and correspondence concerned with the estate (P1/818-843). There is much in this section devoted to the afore-mentioned refurbishment of the Castle, including correspondence with Horatio Ray Milner (P1/844-852), and plans and drawings of the restoration work (P1/854-878). There are also very interesting documents related to the development of Glin Castle as a guest house (P1/884-948), which show how the estate survived by utilising the tourist trade. Correspondence from these papers reflects the success of Irish tourism enterprises, especially in this case, in attracting the upper end of the American market. 

Milner also provided money to improve the farm at Glin in order that it become viable and self-sustainable. Correspondence, farm invoices, account books and bank statements are the main document-types in this section (P1/949-1138).

Access restrictions
Some of the documents in the collection are closed to researchers for a number of years due to their sensitive content. Such documents are indicated by a note in the list.

Other notes
The spelling of place-names appears in the list as it appears in the documents, with some standardisation of archaic forms. Researchers are advised to consult the List of Placenames and their Variations (p. xxxiii) for the official modern-day equivalents. This list also contains the original Irish place-names as well as highlighting the variations in the spelling throughout the collection.

The family surname is written in a variety of different ways throughout the papers (“FitzGerald”, “Fitz-Gerald”, Fitz Gerald” and “Fitzgerald”). For consistency, the surname has been rendered “FitzGerald” throughout the descriptive list.


Lisa Collins 
November 2001 

The University of Limerick is proud to announce the acquisition of papers from Dr Tiede Herrema, a Dutch industrialist and former Managing Director of Limerick’s Ferenka factory.

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Dr Tiede Herrema
Dr Tiede Herrema

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